February 22, 2011

Stanford researcher's new stretchable solar cells will power artificial electronic 'super skin'

(February 22, 2011)  Ultrasensitive electronic skin developed by Stanford researcher Zhenan Bao is getting even better. Now she's demonstrated that it can detect chemicals and biological molecules, in addition to sensing an incredibly light touch. And it can now be powered by a new, stretchable solar cell she's developed in her lab, opening up more applications in clothing, robots, prosthetic limbs and more.

"Super skin" is what Stanford researcher Zhenan Bao wants to create.  She's already developed a flexible sensor that is so sensitive to pressure it can feel a fly touch down.  Now she's working to add the ability to detect chemicals and sense various kinds of biological molecules.  She's also making the skin self-powering, using polymer solar cells to generate electricity.  And the new solar cells are not just flexible, but stretchable – they can be stretched up to 30 percent beyond their original length and snap back without any damage or loss of power. 

Super skin, indeed.

"With artificial skin, we can basically incorporate any function we desire," said Bao, a professor of chemical engineering. "That is why I call our skin 'super skin.' It is much more than what we think of as normal skin."

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February 17, 2011

Scientists Steer Car with the Power of Thought

Computer Scientists at Freie Universität Couple Brain Waves with Driving Technology – Testing at Former Tempelhof Airport

(February 17, 2011)  You need to keep your thoughts from wandering, if you drive using the new technology from the AutoNOMOS innovation labs of Freie Universität Berlin. The computer scientists have developed a system making it possible to steer a car with your thoughts. Using new commercially available sensors to measure brain waves – sensors for recording electroencephalograms (EEG) – the scientists were able to distinguish the bioelectrical wave patterns for control commands such as “left,” “right,” “accelerate” or “brake” in a test subject. They then succeeded in developing an interface to connect the sensors to their otherwise purely computer-controlled vehicle, so that it can now be “controlled” via thoughts. Driving by thought control was tested on the site of the former Tempelhof Airport.

The scientists from Freie Universität first used the sensors for measuring brain waves in such a way that a person can move a virtual cube in different directions with the power of his or her thoughts. The test subject thinks of four situations that are associated with driving, for example, “turn left” or “accelerate.” In this way the person trained the computer to interpret bioelectrical wave patterns emitted from his or her brain and to link them to a command that could later be used to control the car. The computer scientists connected the measuring device with the steering, accelerator, and brakes of a computer-controlled vehicle, which made it possible for the subject to influence the movement of the car just using his or her thoughts.

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February 13, 2011

The Brain-Machine Connection: Humans and Computers in the 21st Century

(February 13, 2011)  A bull is charging at full speed, riveted in its fury, straight at you. Rather than running for your life, you calmly flip a switch on a remote control you’re holding. Immediately, the bull halts its furious charge and awkwardly trots away. This sort of mind control is not science fiction – it was an actual experiment performed by one of the earliest practitioners of brain implants – José Delgado, a neurophysiologist at Yale University from 1946 to 1974.

Trained in the venerable tradition of neuroanatomists, José Delgado was a physiologist who primarily studied the neural anatomies of animals. After reading about how Nobel Prize-winning neurologist Walter Hess was able to induce various emotions through electrical stimulation, Delgado chose to further explore this concept. Over the next thirty years, he constructed increasingly sophisticated devices that would deliver measured electrical pulses to specific targets in the brain. For example, one of his innovations was a device known as a stimoceiver, a pacemaker-like device that could electrically stimulate a certain area of the brain when triggered by a remote electrical receiver. The device provided Delgado unprecedented control of an animal’s movement and emotional state. In his mind, the final purpose of these devices was to be able to control mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or depression, by stimulating various parts of the brain, a less invasive and destructive alternative to a then-popular surgical procedure known as a lobotomy. Using this device, he dramatically demonstrated his control of behavior by stopping a charging bull just a few feet away.

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February 2, 2011

The brain knows what the nose smells, but how? Stanford researchers trace the answer

(February 2, 2011)  Professor of Biology Liqun Luo has developed a new technique to trace neural pathways across the brain. He has mapped the path of odor signals as they travel to the higher centers of a mouse brain, illuminating the ways mammalian brains process smells.

Mice know fear. And they know to fear the scent of a predator. But how do their brains quickly figure out with a sniff that a cat is nearby?

It's a complex process that starts with the scent being picked up by specific receptors in their noses. But until now it wasn't clear exactly how these scent signals proceeded from nose to noggin for neural processing.

In a study to be published in Nature (available online now to subscribers), Stanford researchers describe a new technique that makes it possible to map long-distance nerve connections in the brain. The scientists used the technique to map for the first time the path that the scent signals take from the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain that first receives signals from odor receptors in the nose, to higher centers of the mouse brain where the processing is done.

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