September 28, 2011

Tech Industry Visionaries Foresee "Internet of Everything" at Marconi Symposium

(September 28, 2011)  The "Internet of everything" has arrived, and according to a panel of prominent experts who assembled at the University of California, San Diego earlier this month for the 2011 Marconi Society Symposium, surfboards, dog collars and even tube socks will one day cross the digital divide and make for an increasingly Internet-enabled world.

This year's symposium, which was co-sponsored by the Center for Magnetic Recording Research and the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), explored the role that hardware (infrastructure) and software (applications) will play as the Internet evolves over the next several decades. The Marconi Society hosted the symposium in advance of its awards ceremony to recognize two scientists who–like radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi–pursued advances in communications and information technology for the social, economic and cultural development of all humanity. This year's winners of the Marconi Prize were former UCSD professors of electrical and computer engineering Jack Wolf and Irwin Mark Jacobs (Jacobs is also the co-founder of Qualcomm, Inc.). Speakers at this year's symposium included Jacobs and Google's Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf, as well as Calit2 Senior Research Scientist Thomas A. DeFanti, Calit2 Research Scientist Albert Yu-Min Lin and several representatives from Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent and the University of Texas at Austin.

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September 22, 2011

Scientists use brain imaging to reveal the movies in our mind

(September 22, 2011)  Imagine tapping into the mind of a coma patient, or watching one’s own dream on YouTube. With a cutting-edge blend of brain imaging and computer simulation, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, are bringing these futuristic scenarios within reach.

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and computational models, UC Berkeley researchers have succeeded in decoding and reconstructing people’s dynamic visual experiences – in this case, watching Hollywood movie trailers.

As yet, the technology can only reconstruct movie clips people have already viewed. However, the breakthrough paves the way for reproducing the movies inside our heads that no one else sees, such as dreams and memories, according to researchers.

September 21, 2011

Ultrasound for Mind Reading

HEARING THOUGHTS: University of Toronto graduate student Sarah Power
models ultrasound headgear that could see the difference between two brain tasks.

Ultrasound transducers could make a better brain-computer interface

(September 21, 2011)  Ultrasound is good for more than monitoring fetuses and identifying heart defects. According to engineers in Canada, it can help tell what people are thinking as well. Their research suggests that ultrasound-based devices could lead to a new kind of brain-computer interface.

Brain-computer interface technology allows users to control devices with brain activity alone. Researchers have focused primarily on clinical applications for people with severe disabilities who would otherwise have difficulty interacting with the outside world.

In addition to brain-computer interfaces that involve electronics inserted directly into a patient’s head, researchers are also developing a number of noninvasive methods. For instance, electroencephalography (EEG) relies on electrodes attached to a person’s head; functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) uses powerful magnetic fields to measure blood flow in the brain that telegraphs brain activity; magnetoencephalography (MEG) detects the magnetic fields generated by clusters of thousands of neurons; and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) uses light to scan for changes in blood hemoglobin concentrations.

Yet practical use of these methods has so far been limited due to a number of drawbacks. For instance, EEG faces "noise" from electrical signals sent by the muscles and eyes; fMRI and MEG are very expensive and require large equipment; and NIRS, while still early in development as a brain-computer interface technology, has a low data-transmission rate.

Now biomedical engineer Tom Chau and his colleagues at the University of Toronto reveal that ultrasound can also monitor brain activity, suggesting that it could be used for brain-computer interfaces.

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September 20, 2011

Proton-based transistor could let machines communicate with living things

(September 20, 2011)  Human devices, from light bulbs to iPods, send information using electrons. Human bodies and all other living things, on the other hand, send signals and perform work using ions or protons.

Materials scientists at the University of Washington have built a novel transistor that uses protons, creating a key piece for devices that can communicate directly with living things. The study is published online this week in the interdisciplinary journal Nature Communications.

Devices that connect with the human bodys processes are being explored for biological sensing or for prosthetics, but they typically communicate using electrons, which are negatively charged particles, rather than protons, which are positively charged hydrogen atoms, or ions, which are atoms with positive or negative charge.

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September 2, 2011

Autonomous Wheelchair

Computer Scientists from Freie Universität Berlin Present Novelty at IFA

(September 2, 2011)  Computer scientists from Freie Universität Berlin demonstrated a new type of wheelchair at IFA, an international trade fair for home electronics. The wheelchair, on loan from the Otto Bock company, makes it significantly easier to navigate inside buildings. It is equipped with laser and camera sensors and a computer under the seat. Laser sensors detect the position of walls and obstacles and prevent collisions. A so-called Kinect, developed for Microsoft Xbox 360 game consoles, is also mounted on the wheelchair. The sensor detects the three-dimensional structure of the environment and can, for example, prevent the collision of the wheelchair with people. Demonstrations and explanations are available in videos on YouTube.

A camera is installed for steering using eye movements. To cause the wheelchair go to the right or left, the user needs only to glance toward the right or left. Accelerating and braking are triggered by looking upward or downward. For steering by thought, the wheelchair user wears a cap with 16 sensors that continuously measure brain activation. The system is trained to distinguish four brain patterns: drive left, drive right, accelerate, and brake. After a training period, the user should be able to steer the wheelchair just by thinking. A great deal of concentration is required, as ideally the user should think of only the four practiced patterns the entire time. Since obstacles automatically cause the wheelchair to stop, the person remains accident-free in any case. Previously, the group had demonstrated steering a car using only brain power.

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The Mind Reader

How Frank Guenther turns thoughts into words

(September 2, 2011)  For thousands of years humans have spoken. Noam Chomsky and many other linguists argue that speech is what sets Homo sapiens apart in the animal kingdom. “Speech,” wrote Aristotle, “is the representation of the mind.”

It is a complex process, the series of lightning-quick steps by which your thoughts form themselves into words and travel from your brain, via the tongue, lips, vocal folds, and jaw (together known as the articulators), to your listeners’ ears—and into their own brains.

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