Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year from 33rd Square

All the best in 2012 to everyone, everywhere!

A New Spin on 'Working From Home' - Telepresence Robotics

No longer do you have to rely on someone to reserve a room with video conferencing, remember an appointment or set up a conference call. Simply log in to your telepresence robot and interact with people just as if you were there.

A number of companies are now involved at the cutting edge of the telepresence robotics industry including Anybots, VGo and the Willow Garage spin-off, Suitable Technologies.

Anybots, whose founder, noted roboticist Trevor Blackwell, has a vision: to have the robot serve as an "avatar" - a replacement for a person who can't attend a meeting. His robot consists of a head, with eyes, and a display screen that allows users to show their faces. But it also goes a step farther - being an avatar, it serves as a replacement body for its remote users, enabling them to move around a conference table, wander from office to office, or just meet people in the hallway. 
"The next generation of robots will be about letting people to do something remotely in several locations over the course of a day, so they don't have to get on a plane and travel," Blackwell says. "Not having to fly places is a delightful advantage. That's our Holy Grail - to make business travel obsolete." - Design News

The two "eyes" on the Anybot are actually a camera and a laser. The camera "sees," the laser points, and the person on the screen controls it all.

Introducing VGo: From anywhere. Go anywhere.

For now, these robotic representations of remote workers are pretty neat, but still a bit clumsy and not yet close to accurately mimicking the presence of a real person.

Other than work, telepresence robots have been found to be useful for children who are too ill to attend school or other events.  Children’s Hospital Boston is sending some bedside manner home with its discharged patients via a pilot program that integrates telepresence robots into its regular post-op care regimen. Using five robots made by Vgo Communications Inc., doctors and nurses are opening a direct line of communication and observation between themselves and patients even as they recover at home.

China to Launch Manned Moon Mission by 2020

In an official white paper published here, the Chinese government has laid out its intentions to launch a manned mission to the moon by 2020.

The whitepaper cites
Accordance with the "around, down, back to the" three-step development of ideas, to promote lunar exploration project construction, launch lunar soft landing and lunar Surveyor, to achieve a soft landing on the moon and the inspection probe, the second step to complete lunar exploration mission . Start the implementation of the lunar sample return as the goal of lunar exploration mission the third step.  [Translation by Google]
In 2003 China became only the third country to send one of its citizens into space independently. Yang Liwei's mission aboard Shenzhou 5 was followed by another substantial milestone when Zhai Zhigang conducted the first Chinese spacewalk five years later.

China has mapped the moon from two orbiting spacecraft and has plans for an unmanned lander, a lunar rover, and a mission to return 2kg of moon rock to Earth by 2020. The space agency this year demonstrated in-orbit rendezvous and docking tests between two spacecraft, laying the foundations for the construction of a future space station.

The emergence of China as a space-faring nation has the potential to threaten US and Russian prestige in space, by inspiring a new generation with headline-grabbing crewed missions.

Mathematical Genius - The Art of Bathsheba Grossman

According to Bathsheba Grossman, her art is about life in three dimensions: working with symmetry and balance, getting from the origin to infinity, and always finding beauty in geometry.

Her work has been featured on TV's Numb3rs, and Heroes.

Using a background in mathematics and computer programming, Grossman creates intricate and complicated designs. 3D printing in metal her my main medium - in many cases this is the only way her creations could be instantiated. Traditional sculpture technology simply doesn't operate on un-moldable objects.

Selling her designs through Shapeways and her site, Grossman's pieces are widely available, as she eschews the limited editions common in tradional art-making.  Croudsourcing lets Grossman pursue her dream and continue to produce these facinating pieces.

You can see more of the artist's work (and even purchase some) at or at her Facebook page.

Robot DJ - Not Quite Ready for 2012

You might not want to hire this DJ for your New Year's Party this year.  The arm was created by designer Daito Manabe and programmed by Motoi Ishibashi.

Jonathan Ive Knighted

The world's most famous industrial designer just received a late Christmas present.  Jonathan Ive, head of design at Apple has been awarded a knighthood in the New Year Honours list.

Mr Ive, who can now style himself Sir Jonathan, has been made a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE).

Ive began working for Apple in 1992 and since then has been the brains behind many of its products.

He described the honour as "absolutely thrilling" and said he was "both humbled and sincerely grateful".

Mr Ive added: "I am keenly aware that I benefit from a wonderful tradition in the UK of designing and making.

"I discovered at an early age that all I've ever wanted to do is design."

The knighthood is the second time Mr Ive has been recognised in the honour's list. In 2005 he was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE).

Friday, December 30, 2011

Diet and Brain Health Link Established

In a recently released article in the journal Neurology, a study of relatively healthy elderly adults found that those with diets rich in several vitamins or omega-3 fatty acids had better cognitive function and less brain atrophy associated with Alzheimer's disease than their peers with diets less abundant in these nutrients.

The study identified 3 distinct nutrient biomarker patterns (NBPs) in blood that are related to cognitive performance and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measures of brain aging.

Two NBPs were associated with more favorable cognitive scores and more total brain volume on MRI. One was high in plasma B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, folate, and B12), as well as vitamins C, D, and E, and the other was high in plasma marine omega-3 fatty acids.

A third NBP characterized by a high trans fat pattern was consistently associated with less favorable cognitive function and less total cerebral brain volume.

Gene Bowman one of the authors of the study suggests that people should consider eating more fish, beans, citrus fruits [and] dark green leafy vegetables as a consequence of these finding.

NASA's GRAIL Mission 24 Hours Away From Moon

NASA's twin spacecraft to study the moon from crust to core are nearing their New Year's Eve and New Year's Day main-engine burns to place the duo in lunar orbit.

Named Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), the spacecraft are scheduled to be placed in orbit beginning at 1:21 p.m. PST  for GRAIL-A on Dec. 31, and 2:05 p.m. PST for GRAIL-B on New Years Day.

 During their final approaches to the moon, both orbiters move toward it from the south, flying nearly directly over the lunar south pole. The lunar orbit insertion burn for GRAIL-A will take approximately 40 minutes and change the spacecraft's velocity by about 427 mph (688 kilometers per hour). GRAIL-B's insertion burn 25 hours later will last about 39 minutes and is expected to change the probe's velocity by 430 mph (691 kilometers per hour).

The insertion maneuvers will place each orbiter into a near-polar, elliptical orbit with a period of 11.5 hours. Over the following weeks, the GRAIL team will execute a series of burns with each spacecraft to reduce their orbital period from 11.5 hours down to just under two hours. At the start of the science phase in March 2012, the two GRAILs will be in a near-polar, near-circular orbit with an altitude of about 55 kilometers.

Mission Objectives
GRAIL's engineering objectives are to enable the science objectives of mapping lunar gravity and using that information to increase understanding of the Moon's interior and thermal history. Getting the two spacecraft where they need to be, when they need to be there, requires an extremely challenging set of maneuvers never before carried out in solar system exploration missions.

Mission design
The two GRAIL spacecraft were launched together and then flew similar but separate trajectories to the Moon after separation from the launch vehicle, taking about 3 to 4 months to get there. They spent about two months reshaping and merging their orbits until one spacecraft was following the other in the same low-altitude, near-circular, near-polar orbit, and they begin formation-flying. The next 82 days will constitute the science phase, during which the spacecraft will map the Moon's gravitational field.

Spacecraft and payload
The two GRAIL spacecraft are near-twins, each about the size of a washing machine, with minor differences resulting from the need for one specific spacecraft (GRAIL-A) to follow the other (GRAIL-B) as they circle the Moon.

The science payload on each spacecraft is the Lunar Gravity Ranging System, which will measure changes in the distance between the two spacecraft down to a few microns -- about the diameter of a red blood cell. Each spacecraft will also carry a set of cameras for MoonKAM, marking the first time a NASA planetary mission has carried instruments expressly for an education and public outreach project.

Androids Among Us - Our Top Ten Humanoid Robots

Join us in counting down the Top Ten Android Robots currently available.  No Hollywood tricks here - these are all the real thing.  Enjoy!

Developed at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), the humanoid robot Mahru can be controlled in real time by a human operator wearing a motion-capture system.MAHRU and AHRA are the first network-based humanoids in the world that are endowed with artificial intelligence through network. Unlike other famous humanoids such as ASIMO, MAHRU and AHRA focus on network-based intelligence by using network infrastructure where Korea has world-class strengths. Unfortunately, speed does not seem to be a strength of MAHRU robots.

New Brain Imaging - Like Search Engine Predictive Text for Your Brain

 Brain Mapping
UCLA's Laboratory of Integrative Neuroimaging Technology, researchers use functional MRI brain scans to observe brain signal changes that take place during mental activity.
UCLA's Laboratory of Integrative Neuroimaging Technology, researchers use functional MRI brain scans to observe brain signal changes that take place during mental activity. They then employ computerized machine learning (ML) methods to study these patterns and identify the cognitive state — or sometimes the thought process — of human subjects. The technique is called "brain reading" or "brain decoding."

Machine learning algorithms were able to anticipate changes in subjects' underlying neurocognitive structure, predicting with a high degree of accuracy (90 percent for some of the models tested) what they were watching and, as far as cravings were concerned, how they were reacting to what they viewed.

In essence, the algorithm was able to complete or "predict" the subjects' mental states and thought processes in much the same way that Internet search engines or texting programs on cell phones anticipate and complete a sentence or request before the user is finished typing. And this machine learning method based on Markov processes demonstrated a large improvement in accuracy over traditional approaches, the researchers said.

Machine learning methods, in general, create a "decision layer" — essentially a boundary separating the different classes one needs to distinguish. For example, values on one side of the boundary might indicate that a subject believes various test statements and, on the other, that a subject disbelieves these statements. Researchers have found they can detect these believe–disbelieve differences with high accuracy, in effect creating a lie detector. An innovation described in the new study is a means of making these boundaries interpretable by neuroscientists, rather than an often obscure boundary created by more traditional methods, like support vector machine learning.

UCLA Newsroom
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Max More - The Singularity and Transhumanism

Founder of the Extropy Institute, Max More has written many articles espousing the philosophy of transhumanism and the transhumanist philosophy of extropy, most importantly his Principles of Extropy (currently version 3.11).

In a 1990 essay "Transhumanism: Toward a Futurist Philosophy", he introduced the term "transhumanism" in its modern sense.


"We have achieved two of the three alchemists' dreams: We have transmuted the elements and learned to fly. Immortality is next." — Max More, On becoming posthuman.

"No more gods, no more faith, no more timid holding back. Let us blast out of our old forms, our ignorance, our weakness, and our mortality. The future belongs to posthumanity." — Max More, On becoming posthuman.

"People's freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity. This implies a range of responsibilities for those considering whether and how to develop, deploy, or restrict new technologies. Assess risks and opportunities using an objective, open, and comprehensive, yet simple decision process based on science rather than collective emotional reactions. Account for the costs of restrictions and lost opportunities as fully as direct effects. Favor measures that are proportionate to the probability and magnitude of impacts, and that have the highest payoff relative to their costs. Give a high priority to people's freedom to learn, innovate, and advance." — Max More, The Proactionary Principle.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Profile - Juan Enriquez

If you have not seen a Juan Enriquez talk, you are missing out.  His skill at combining wit, humour and sarcasm with mind-blowing technological and historical data is impressive to say the least. He is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences. He is currently Chairman and CEO of Biotechonomy LLC, a life sciences research and investment firm.

Juan Enríquez was the founding director of the Life Sciences Project at Harvard Business School and a fellow at Harvard's Center for International Affairs. His work has been published in Harvard Business Review, Foreign Policy, Science, and The New York Times. He is the author of As the Future Catches You and The Untied States of America. He works in business, science, and domestic/international politics.

He has published several key articles including, "Transforming Life, Transforming Business: the Life Science Revolution", co-authored with Ray Goldberg, which received a McKinsey Prize in 2000 (2nd place). He co-authored the first map of global nucleotide data flow as well as HBS working papers on "Life Sciences in Arabic Speaking Countries", "Global Life Science Data Flows and the IT industry", "SARS, Smallpox, and Business Unusual", and "Technology, Gene Research and National Competitiveness." Harvard Business School Interactive picked Juan as one of the best teachers at HBS and showcased his work in its first set of faculty products.

The Harvard Business Review showcased his ideas as one of the breakthrough concepts in its first HBR List. Fortune profiled him as "Mr. Gene". The Van Heyst Group asked him to co-organize the life sciences summit commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of DNA. The summit, "The Future of Life", was sponsored by Time. Seed picked his ideas as one of fifty that "shaped our identity, our culture, and the world as we know it".

Juan represents Excel Medical Ventures on the boards of Shape Up the Nation, Activate Networks, Fina Technologies,, and Synthetic Genomics.

His most recent publication is an eBook, Homo Evolutis: A Short Tour of our New Species, which describes a world where humans increasingly shape their environment, themselves, and other species.

More Talks by Juan Enriquez

Aspen Ideas Festival (2010)

Intel talks (2010)

Big Think Interview with Juan Enriquez, December 7, 2009

10 Commandments for the President-Elect to Save the U.S. Economy, Poptech, October 2008

The Stars and Stripes Forever? Poptech, October 2006

Mapping the Frontiers of Knowledge, Long Now Foundation, October 2007

Washington Business Tonight, Business Effect of Stem Cell Research, March 9, 2009

Personalizing Care - US to Begin Genetic Testing Prior to Prescribing Medication

U.S. doctors will start working out what drug or therapy works best for a patient using their genetic code, it emerged today.

The revolutionary step of personalising their care will be taken by mapping a patient's entire genetic code in advance to make prescriptions more effective. It is hoped thousands will take part in the landmark project run by the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Volunteers will have all 23,000 genes in their genetic code sequenced and stored with their medical records from early next year. It is part of an ambitious move towards an era of proactive genomics that puts modern genetics at the centre of patient care.

The trial reflects a growing trend in medicine to use genetic information to identify those patients who will benefit most from a drug and those who will respond better to an alternative.

Read more

What's Next - Excellent Site for Top Trends

Richard Watson's Top Trends started off as a blog about current and future trends. The trends were originally sifted into a number of sections largely based on industry sectors. The site is a great resource for future tracking, including timelines (as above).

The big trends don’t change that often so much of the content is fairly static and is only changed when something changes. However, sightings, observations and ideas are added all the time.

There is then a category of trends named megatrends, which is a listing of trends that affect many industries or have wider future socio-economic impacts. This is a bit old and needs an update but there’s still some good stuff here. There’s also a section called columns, which is some of my writings for various newspapers and magazines and a section called predictions. Odd insights and innovations appear all over the place.  Watson is also adding to the categories all the time, which all relate in some way to trends, the future, strategy, scenarios, ideas and thinking.

Watson is a writer, speaker and scenario planning consultant with a deep interest in trends and a love of the future generally. My biggest passion of all is scenarios. He is based in London, England.

Future Minds, Watson's latest book is also about to be released soon.  In this absorbing new book, Watson argues that despite the advances of the digital age, it has also robbed us of some of our best ideas; to regain them, he advocates for the benefits of boredom and going solo, among other techniques. Future Minds illustrates how to maximize the potential of digital technology and minimize its greatest downside, addressing the future of thinking and how we can ensure that we unleash the extraordinary potential of the human mind.

Top Gadget Releases for 2012

As 2011 draws to a close, lets look at the most anticipated, soon-to-be-released gadgets for 2012.

1.Nintendo Wii U

Nintendo's Wii U controller with an embedded touch screen that allows you to continue a gaming session on the portable controller even when your TV is off.  No firm release date has been established, but it will be released in 2012 states the company.

2.Google Ice Cream Sandwich

Android 4.0 (codename Ice Cream Sandwich) products have already been released, but 2012 promises a flood of new devices with the operating system.

3. iPad Mini

Users would find the smaller screen of this mid-sized (7") system less convenient than the bigger iPad's, but of course they'd be able to buy the larger unit. The lower price--which is an assumption, but a reasonable one--would make the iPad "mini" more competitive in the soon-to-be-crowded tablet market, and would place it in financial reach of many millions more consumers.

4. Kindle Fire 2

Although we know very little about Amazon’s second tablet at this point, it is expected to be a huge improvement over its predecessor, with rumours claiming that the device will boast a bigger screen, a faster processor, cameras, and 3G connectivity. Foxconn is said to already be producing the Kindle Fire 2.

5. iPhone 5

Given the pattern of Apple's iPhone launches, we're expecting the next-gen iPhone 5 to debut in mid to late 2012. We reckon it's most likely to be shown off at Apple's Worldwide Developer Event (WWDC), which usually takes place in early June.

6. iPad 3

Everybody's expecting an iPad 3 with a higher-resolution display. If the past is any indication, hear all about it in February or March, with a release soon after.

7. Playstation Vita

Sony's next-generation handheld gaming device is slated to arrive in the U.S. on February 22, with dual analog sticks, a touch screen, and graphics that rival the PS3's. The Wi-Fi version is priced at $249 and the Wi-Fi/3G version will cost $299.99

8. Windows 8

We've already had a lot of hints at Windows 8 and the Metro style, but 2012 should see the shipping of the product as well.

9. Fitbit Ultra
Where would a New Year's prediction be without a mention to fitness and weight loss?  Fitbit is a pedometer on steroids, with a stopwatch and altimeter.

10. Asus Padphone
asus padfone model

OK, this one might fit with the Google Ice Cream Sandwich category, however the docking features of the Padphone make it worth watching out for.

We would love to hear from you if there are any missing items on our list.   Please fill in the comments to let 33rd Square know!

Slime Mold Intelligence - A New Path to AI?

A brainless, primeval organism able to navigate a maze might help Japanese scientists devise the ideal transport network design. Not bad for a mono-cellular being that lives on rotting leaves.

Amoeboid yellow slime mold has been on Earth for thousands of years, living a distinctly un-hi-tech life, but, say scientists, it could provide the key to designing bio-computers capable of solving complex problems.

Toshiyuki Nakagaki, a professor at Future University Hakodate says the organism, which he cultivates in petri dishes, "organises" its cells to create the most direct root through a maze to a source of food.
He says the cells appear to have a kind of information-processing ability that allows them to "optimise" the route along which the mold grows to reach food while avoiding stresses - like light - that may damage them.

"Humans are not the only living things with information-processing abilities," said Nakagaki in his laboratory in Hakodate on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido.

Slime molds can create much more effective networks than even the most advanced technology that currently exists. The researchers say that among applications of so-called "slime mold neuro-computing" is the creation of new algorithm or software for computers modelled after the methods slime molds use when they form networks.

Masashi Aono, a researcher at Riken, a natural science research institute based in Saitama, says his project aims to examine the mechanism of the human brain and eventually duplicate it with slime molds.

"Ultimately, I'm interested in creating a bio-computer by using actual slime molds, whose information-processing system will be quite close to that of the human brain," Aono said.

"Slime molds do not have a central nervous system, but they can act as if they have intelligence by using the dynamism of their fluxion, which is quite amazing," Aono said. "To me, slime molds are the window on a small universe."

Yahoo News

Displays on your T-Shirt? - Conductive Cotton

Researchers in the United States, Italy, and France have invented transistors made from cotton fibers that could be woven into clothing capable of measuring pollutants, T-shirts that display information, and carpets that sense how many people are crossing them.

“We want to create a seamless interface between electronics and textiles,” says Juan Hinestroza, director of the Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y.

Instead of attaching sensors or processors to clothing after the garments are fully formed, it would be more effective to incorporate such devices directly into the fabrics, says Annalisa Bonfiglio, an EE professor at the University of Cagliari, in Italy, whose student Giorgio Mattana worked on the cotton in Hinestroza's lab.

To make a fiber conductive, the team coated each strand with gold nanoparticles and added a thin layer of a conductive polymer. They created an organic electrochemical transistor and an organic field-effect transistor by doping the conductive fibers with a semiconducting polymer.

"For the moment, I think the most realistic application is in the sensor area," she says. For instance, firefighters' uniforms might be able to detect dangerous chemicals, while security personnel could be alerted to airborne signatures of explosives or drugs. Garments might also monitor heart rate or perspiration. Inside homes and businesses, fabrics—in the form of carpeting, wall coverings, and upholstery—could keep track of humidity levels and allergens.

"If you think about how many fibers you have in your T-shirt, and how many interconnections you have between the weft and the warp of the fabric, you could get pretty decent computing power," says Hinestroza.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Connectome - Welcome to the future of neuroscience

In our own Top Ten Innovations of 2011, we named the Mouse Connectome Observatory as our number one innovation.  In February, neuroscientist Sebastian Seung's book, Connectome is to be released, and it promises to delve into some of the key issues around whole brain scanning.

The excitement of studying the complete circuit diagram of the brain for which the book is named was clearly evident in Seung's TED talk last year. A full connectome might provide telling insight into what goes goes awry, for instance, in an autistic child or an Alzheimer’s patient (definitely worth reading for these bits alone).

We know that each of us is unique, but science has struggled to pinpoint where, precisely, our uniqueness resides. Is it in our genes? The structure of our brains? Our genome may determine our eye color and even aspects of our personality. But our friendships, failures, and passions also shape who we are. The question is how?

Seung believes it lies in the pattern of connections between the brain’s neurons, which change slowly over time as we learn and grow. The connectome, as it’s called, is where our genetic inheritance intersects with our life experience. It’s where nature meets nurture.  Seung introduces us to the dedicated researchers who are mapping the brain’s connections, neuron by neuron, synapse by synapse. It is a monumental undertaking—the scientific equivalent of climbing Mount Everest—but if they succeed, it could reveal the basis of personality, intelligence, memory, and perhaps even mental disorders. Many scientists speculate that people with anorexia, autism, and schizophrenia are “wired differently,” but nobody knows for sure. The brain’s wiring has never been clearly seen.

In the last chapters, though he takes up the claims of the transhumanists who desperately would like to get their hands on a full connectome for the ultimate upload into binary immortality.

Seung tries to come to grips with the controversial assertion that someday you might be able to transfer the equivalent of a connectome mind file to computer hardware, software or any robot or avatar.

Scientific American received an advanced copy and reviewed some of the concepts within Connectome.

“In his book Live Long Enough to Live Forever, the inventor Ray Kurzweil predicts that immortality will be attained in the next few decades,” Seung writes. “If you can manage to live long enough to survive to that point, you will live forever. Personally, I feel quite confident that you, dear readers, will die, and so will I.”

But Seung remains intrigued by the notion that a unifying mechanism drives the workings of the brain and its mechanics might be decipherable and reproducible. And he is at least willing to cast a critical eye on  the prospect of a 2.0 version of the self that, when transferred into a supercomputer, laptop, or software avatar, might then live on as an electronic ghost.

The central question for Seung—and the one that also keeps the transhumanists on tenterhooks—is whether you are your connectome. If you could deduce every connection point of every brain cell, the strength with which each neuron fires, and the way these firing patterns change as the cells interact with each other, would, in fact, you be left with a copy of you?

In a chapter called “To Freeze or to Pickle,” Seung undertakes, from multiple perspectives, an earnest and unsmirking analysis of the connectome as a pathway to immortality. All of his conclusions point to obstacles that could very well prove insurmountable.

The Human Brain Project is intended as an exploration of basic science, not a preparation for eternal life. But Seung points out that even an impressive endeavor of its magnitude might fail to capture all the necessary information.

One potential flaw: The model of the brain might have to take into account the way neurons communicate outside known channels—foregoing the transmission of chemical and electrical signals across the small gaps, called synapses, between brain cells. To overcome this hitch, it might be necessary to create a simulation of each atom in the brain, an undertaking of such unimaginable complexity that it would verge on the impossible. “It seems absurd to even consider the enormous computational power required, and is completely out of the question unless your remote descendants survive for galactic time scales,” he writes.

Seung ends his book with an epilogue that calls for a “return to reality”—a recognition that “grand challenges” remain, beyond quixotic quests for eternal life. A 10-year effort to find the connectome of a mouse brain is on his wish list. Such a quest lacks the box-office appeal of contemplating eternity as a file on a flash drive. In the end, though, Seung believes a project of this more modest scale would, like The Human Genome Project push researchers to the limit but vastly deepen our knowledge about an organ that remains largely a mystery.

Seung undoubtedly retains a lingering fascination with the possibility of an intersection between connectomics and transhumanism. At a TED talk given last year, he commented that connectomics might eventually put to the test whether a technology like cryonics will eventually be feasible. And Seung is a member of an advisory board to the Brain Preservation Foundation, which is offering a prize for technologies that would successfully preserve the structure of either a mouse or large animal brain after death for “science,” “memory donation” or “continued life.”

The Author Picture
Sebastian Seung
Pre-order at Amazon

Are Apple's Future Mobile Devices Going to be Powered by Fuel Cells?

Days or weeks of power on your laptop or tablet PC?  It may soon be possible according to two recent patent applications by Apple indicate the company is looking at developing a hydrogen fuel cell system to complement the rechargeable batteries in a “portable computing device” – which could refer to Apple’s range of mobile iDevices, its MacBook range of notebooks – or both. The applications say the technology could potentially power portable electronic devices for “days or even weeks,” which would be sure to silence critics and users who have long complained about the poor battery life of not just Apple’s, but all mobile computing devices.

On one of Apple's patent applications it is stated that its fuel cell design would be capable of both providing power to and receiving power from a rechargeable battery, which "eliminates the need for a bulky and heavy battery within the fuel cell system, which can significantly reduce the size, weight and cost of the fuel cell system." Such a system could also offer instant refueling by swapping in a full fuel cartridge instead of waiting by an electrical outlet until a battery recharges.

The two patents were published by the US Patent and Trademark Office on December 22, however they were both filed earlier. "FUEL CELL SYSTEM TO POWER A PORTABLE COMPUTING DEVICE" was filed on August 3, 2010, and "FUEL CELL SYSTEM COUPLED TO A PORTABLE COMPUTING DEVICE" on April 28th of this year.

Rodney Brooks Urges More Robotics

In the most recent MIT Technology Review, Rodney Brooks, robotics pioneer, founder of iRobot, and Heartland Robotics writes that in order for American business to succeed, our markets must not relent on producing the 'small stuff.'
Making ordinary stuff domestically keeps transportation costs low and creates short supply chains that respond quickly to customers. More significant, it offers the chance to empower factory workers with information technology, just as the personal IT revolution has empowered office workers.

Moreover, Brooks explains how the present-day factory is similar to the computer industry prior to the PC revolution.  When computers went from mainframes to individual desktop PCs, productivity, innovation and efficiency followed.
The same democratization of information flow and automation has yet to come to manufacturing. By analogy, our current industrial systems and robots are mainframes, and advanced-manufacturing innovation is concentrated on supercomputers. But the building blocks needed to create the PCs of manufacturing abound; these will be the robotics and automation tools for the masses. We can create tools for ordinary workers, with intuitive interfaces, extensive use of vision and other sensors, and even the Web-based distribution mechanisms of the IT industry.
If the rumour mill is correct, Heartland Robotics may have a lot to do with this advanced-manufacturing model in the near future.

Review - Design Futures by Bradley Quinn

Olzweg project from R&Sie(n)

Design Futures by textile and design expert, Bradley Quinn was released in April.  The 240 page hard cover books features lush illustrations and interviews with some forward-looking designers and practitioners including:

  • Mathias Bengtsson
  • Winka Dubbeldam
  • Freedom of Creation
  • Jane Harris
  • Toyo Ito
  • Suzanne Lee
  • Mathieu Lehanneur
  • Daniel Libeskind
  • Karim Rashid
  • David Shah
  • Helen Storey
  • Moritz Waldemeyer
  • Tokujin Yoshioka, and
  • Li Edelkoort

Throughout the book the author is relatively indiscriminate when it comes to design disciplines and keeps a broad approach making many of the lessons and influences very much applicable to industrial designers. When it comes to forecasting future technologies and trends, Design Futures plays it extremely safe; don’t expect too many sci-fi of fantasy ideas.The book is split up into the following chapters:

  • Urban Utopias
  • Interactive Interiors
  • Mega Materials
  • Dynamic Design
  • Hyper-surfaces, and
  • Future Frontiers

Bradley Quinn is a London-based writer and journalist who regularly contributes to such magazines and newspapers as Wallpaper*, Elle Decoration, Blueprint and the Evening Standard, as well as to trend-forecasting guides. His books include Ultra Materials: How Materials Innovation is Changing the World (2007) and Textile Designers at the Cutting Edge (2009)

Urban Utopias
Urban Utopias takes a look at the future of buildings and architecture. Quinn talks about how buildings and their external environments will be tightly fused together in the future. The chapter examines how buildings can be used to exploit the natural environment and are reactive, almost living creatures, that respond to the seasons and weather patterns to make our heating, cooling and health better controlled. Some interesting concepts like ‘hygroscopes’ (i.e. floating metropolises) are explored (somewhat related to the man-made islands of Dubai but more mechanical). Also, massive biospheres that can eradicate dust, radiation and chemicals harmful to humans are explored.

Interactive Interiors
Quinn believes interior landscapes will follow a similar fate as building exteriors by being more intelligent and responsive. Rooms will know where you are located to save energy, rooms will know how you’re feeling, and rooms will give you directions and help when necessary. Quinn makes some mega trend observations here, by not just mentioning what will influence the future, but more importantly why this will happen.  Here Quinn also discusses how robots will increasingly become part of our living and work spaces.

Interior by Karim Rashid

Mega Materials
This chapter highlights how recent scientific discoveries in material science are used to forecast new use cases for materials and their potential applications. Utilizing the keywords, stronger, brighter, lighter, smarter, softer and greener as his cues, Quinn shows how our everyday objects may be transformed by innovations in materials.  Use cases include aiding people with disabilities, making sports equipment more competitive and making buildings and structures stronger and lighter. Much of this section is based on current research in nanotechnology, carbon extraction and exploitation, and strong molecular structures. Quinn sees a future where these expensive and niche materials now will be disseminated to the masses and designers will discover exciting new contexts and scenarios where these materials can be utilised.
GKD Media Mesh

Dynamic Design
Dynamic design focuses on user ergonomics and user interfaces. Objects that can be empathetic to our needs and how new relationships will be forged between humans and objects where we are symbiotic to one another rather than being a relationship based on need and exploitation. Dynamic Design is probably the most relevant to the working industrial designer as it focuses on interfaces of consumer devices and looks at the ergonomics of furniture and interiors.
LED Jackets by Moritz Waldermeyer

The chapter on hyper-surfaces is definitely Design Futures most abstract and definiately weakest part of the book. It is difficult to piece together what on earth is going on in augmented reality and hyper-surfaces and how it relates and differs from the previous chapters. The chapter attempts to talk about surfaces, like screens and touch interfaces but due to the varied nature of these technologies, it seems as though Quinn assimilated these topics into a slightly ambiguous chapter. Potentially the author has diluted the ubiquity of screens and interfaces that will be a part of our future.
Augmented Reality

Future Frontiers
Future Frontiers acts almost as a conclusion to all the previous chapters linking them all together by mentioning the key mega trends that will affect the future design industries. Quinn makes some good insights here linking the present with the future.  The megatrends section contains many topics that will familiar to 33rd Square readers, including AI and the technological singularity.  For those not familiar with these topics, Design Futures might be a good introduction.
Kunstaus Graz in Austria

“The future of design rests on the objects we live with now, and many of the products, structures and environments surrounding us today are shaping things to come.”

As with most design books, the photographs are the star of the show. The photographs work very well alongside the main paragraphs and really help illustrate the designs and technologies around today that are in their infancy that mimic these future concepts. These photos make the concepts thrown around seem more believable, and for designers it makes the concepts seem more achievable to produce and pursue. It really is a tremendous achievement to document and collate all these photos, they are such rarities. Some of the designs appear to be not from this world at all and I was truly captivated and inspired by them.

The interviews in Design Futures are the strength of the book as they tend to be more pertinent and direct than the chapter outlines which are at times more free-flowing in their structure.  The text often lacks depth about hypothesising which specific technologies/manufacturing methodologies will power these ideas. The book never aims to achieve this endeavour though so Design Futures is best suited to a creative-driven mind rather than a mathematical/engineering mind. Despite not being specific, a skilled practitioner could be really empowered with the knowledge outlined in Design Futures. For students, Design Futures becomes a really exciting foundation of where to study and where to invest ones time as the book picks up cleverly these mega-trends, those subtleties that we experience blindly in our current world.

It would also be nice if Design Futures was a bit more forward-looking. For example, if our homes are going to see the efficiencies of business offices, why not go into why this will occur. Asking why these events will occur and getting into the more psychological and social reasons behind these changes could suddenly open up a whole new dimension and get to the real drivers of these design challenges. The book never bypasses some of these social/environmental factors like the global financial crisis and global warming, but even more of this content could have really excelled the title.

Many of the topics are not outlandish and many creative professionals today would probably be keenly aware of many of the topics brought up in Design Futures. But the great thing about the book is that it aggregates all these snippets of ideas and broadcasts them to designers who might be stuck in their own industry or workplace bubble.  Design Futures is an exhilarating ride into the potential future and beyond and is a subject matter than many authors would be too scared to touch.

Get Design Futures on Amazon.

The Human Brain in 700 Layers

The clip below, comprises 700 images of a cryosectioned human brain. Each snapshot corresponds to a single, horizontal brain slice, beginning at the top of the skull and moving downward in the direction of the neck, each slice progressing a mere .174-millimeters at a time.

Robots based on bats, locusts and grasshoppers

Roboticists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) are designing robots the emulate the jumping and gliding talents of grasshoppers, locusts, and bats.  Recent work suggests that wings can be used to prolong the jumps of miniature jumping robots. However, no functional miniature jumping robot has been presented so far that can successfully apply this hybrid locomotion principle. In their publication, the researchers present the development and characterization of the 'EPFL jumpglider', a miniature robot that can prolong its jumps using steered hybrid jumping and gliding locomotion over varied terrain. For example, it can safely descend from elevated positions such as stairs and buildings and propagate on ground with small jumps. The publication presents a systematic evaluation of three biologically inspired wing folding mechanisms and a rigid wing design.

EPFL's jumpglider hybrid jumping and gliding.

The locust-inspired folding mechanism in action:

Bat inspired wing design:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays from 33rd Square!