Light Friday: How Peanut Butter Can Detect Alzheimer’s

Plus:
Boston Dynamics Develops a Reason to Fear Parking Lots
Telekinetic Prank Gets ‘Carried’ Away
Smart Traffic System Reduces Time (and Stress) on the Road
A Dose of Pun 


A graduate student from the University of Florida has developed a surprisingly simple and highly accurate test that can detect early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. All you need is peanut butter and a ruler.

The ability to smell is associated with the first cranial nerve and is often one of the first things to be affected in cognitive decline. During the test, the patient covers his or her eyes and closes one nostril. A clinician places a ruler against the open nostril and opens a container of about one tablespoon of peanut butter. Each time the patient exhales, the clinician moves the container one centimeter closer until the patient can smell the peanut butter. The process is then repeated for the other nostril.

Test trials found that patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease experienced a dramatic difference in detecting odor between the left and right nostril. These patients were unable to detect the peanut butter with the left nostril until it was an average of 10 centimeters closer to the nose than the right nostril. This was not the case in patients with other kinds of dementia, who either discerned no difference in odor detection or whose right nostril was worse.

Many tests to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias can be time-consuming, costly or invasive.  The peanut butter test could be used by clinics that have limited or no access to the personnel or equipment to run more elaborate tests required for a specific diagnosis.

“At the moment, we can use this test to confirm diagnosis,” said Jennifer Stamps, the graduate student who developed the test. “But we plan to study patients with mild cognitive impairment to see if this test might be used to predict which patients are going to get Alzheimer’s disease.”

Boston Dynamics Develops a Reason to Fear Parking Lots

After terrifying you with the freakish abilities of the Big Dog and the obstacle course-running Pet-Proto, Boston Dynamics has developed a frightening new robot that can chase you down.

Dubbed the WildCat, it can gallop and bound, as shown in the video below (which you should watch only if you want nightmares about a robotic animal chasing you). The WildCat operates with a no-strings-attached motor, which enables it to move untethered and doggedly pursue its target wide and far. Although the WildCat is loud (no mufflers on the prototype version), it relies not on stealth to capture its prey, but speed: 16 mph on flat terrain, according to the Boston Dynamics team.

The WildCat is not yet up on the Boston Dynamics website, but the team revealed in its YouTube post that the WildCat is being developed for DARPA’s M3, or Maximum Mobility and Manipulation, program, which is dedicated to improving the way robots can move and interact with objects.

Telekinetic Prank Gets ‘Carried’ Away

Given enough caffeine, any young woman might be capable of sending a clumsy oaf flying against a coffeehouse wall — and many New Yorkers would hardly look up from their laptops.

When just such a confrontation happened recently in a West Village coffee shop, though, patrons screamed and scattered. The angry woman seemed to have used telekinetic powers to pin a man against the wall at about three feet off the ground.

And that’s exactly what marketers of a remake of the horror film “Carrie” wanted innocent bystanders to think.

The publicity stunt employed two actors, one of whom is yanked up a wall by a wire-rigging after “accidentally” spilling coffee into the laptop of the Carrie-like actor who loses her cool and gives him a telekinetic shove. The woman’s continuing rage sent other coffee-sippers fleeing, thanks to the use of remote-controlled tables and spring-loaded books.

A video of the panic-stricken customers had been viewed more than 18 million times on YouTube by Wednesday afternoon.  The actual movie, which stars Chloe Moretz, is scheduled for release in theaters next week.

Smart Traffic System Reduces Time (and Stress) on the Road

We usually rely on stressed-out traffic officers to help clear road congestion, but a new technology called Scalable Urban Traffic Control (SURTRAC) can do the job even more efficiently — cutting vehicle traffic wait time almost in half.

With the SURTRAC system, developed by researchers at the Intelligent Coordination and Logistics Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University, lights adjust to changing traffic conditions in real-time with adaptive traffic signal control technology. Video cameras monitor each intersection and communicate traffic flow information to the next intersection and beyond, part of a traffic “network.”

The technology responds to sudden changes in traffic conditions, such as accident pile-ups and parked cars, by adjusting the timing of the lights in the network and making flow of traffic significantly better. The pilot system has been tested in areas near the university in Pittsburg, and resulted in a 21 percent reduction in emissions, a 40 percent reduction in vehicle wait time and a 26 percent cut in travel time.

This news makes us wonder: Will blaming traffic for our tardiness become an outdated excuse?

Finally, A Dose of Pun

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