Plus: Controlling Robotic Limbs with the Mind, Computer Training in 1962 and the Most Remarkable Ancient Engineering Projects.
Mind-Controlled Prosthetic Limbs
In a major leap forward in medical technology and human-machine interaction, scientists have developed the first robotic leg that can be controlled through thought alone, which could drastically improve the process of limb replacement.
Researchers from the Long Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of California, Irvine have developed a brain-computer interface that enables a person to walk using a pair of robotic leg braces that are controlled through brain signals. The control mechanism relies on electroencephalogram (EEG) signals generated by small voltage fluctuations in the brain, which are measured by a cap worn on the subject’s head.
“The test subject in the study wore such a cap while standing on a treadmill inside leg braces known as a ‘robotic gait orthosis,’” Wired.com’s Wired Science blog explains. “The subject would imagine walking or standing, and the device was taught to associate each brain activity pattern with the appropriate action. Then, whenever those patterns were encountered, the braces would start or stop walking accordingly.”
The team also measured leg muscle activity with the braces powered off, with the braces providing support and with the braces providing all of the movement. They found that when a subject was using the braces under mind control, the muscle activity was different from natural leg movement, but similar to passive walking, meaning that no leg muscle control was needed to move with the robotic braces on.
“The movement predictions were approximately 95 percent accurate, although sometimes the machine moved when it wasn’t meant to. The researchers say that after further development and trials on people suffering with paralysis, the technology could be used to help those with spinal cord injury paraplegia,” SmartPlanet notes. “How would the Paralympics look if those with physical disabilities could use a pair of these?”
How Engineers Learned about Computers in 1962
Computer technology is so deeply embedded in every aspect of the modern world that it may be difficult to think about the basic functions of computational systems. However, we should all remember that at one point, computers were completely unfamiliar to most people, including our top technicians.
Uncovered in the AT&T Archives, the following video is a training film from 1962 prepared by the United States Navy for teaching naval engineers about the exciting new field of computer systems.
While the clip has some chuckle-worthy moments deriving from the 1960s view of computer capabilities, it also includes fascinating insights on the origins and development of the computer age.
Using Levitation to Improve Drugs
While some pharmaceutical drugs can make you feel like you’re floating, actual levitation is now being used to improve the processes of drug manufacturing and development, leading to more effective medicines with fewer side effects.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are using a levitation machine that employs sound waves to suspend liquids during the pharmaceutical production process. The method solves a long-standing problem: turning a liquid solution into an amorphous solid form, which enables drugs to be taken up by the body more efficiently than in the typical crystalline form.
“Amorphous medicines are the holy grail of the pharmaceutical industry. They are way more effective than their crystalline counterparts because they are highly soluble and, therefore, can be more easily absorbed by your cells, increasing the effectiveness of the drug,” Gizmodo notes. “This is something known as bioavailablity: a higher bioavailability results in lower drug doses which in turn is much better for your body.”
The machine being used is known as an Acoustic Levitator and was originally developed by NASA to simulate microgravity conditions. The device shoots inaudible sound waves from two parallel speakers. When the sound waves collide, they create nodes that essentially cancel out the effects of gravity, causing liquid drops to float and allowing researchers to experiment with them without outside contact.
Here’s a video showing how the levitation technology works:
5 Amazing Feats of Ancient Engineering
While still impressive, the availability of heavy equipment and advanced construction processes makes building a massive structure today considerably easier than it would have been centuries ago. But the ancient world provides numerous examples of remarkable building projects, highlighting the ingenuity and inventiveness of engineering in the pre-modern world.
The following infographic, courtesy of Engineering-Management.net, showcases five of the most amazing ancient engineering feats, and offers details on how each was accomplished.
Have a great weekend, folks.