Robot that uses living muscle tissue

This "biohybrid" robotic finger melds a robotic skeleton with living rat muscle. The device is inside a container of water to keep the muscles from withering. The research is on the cover of this week's issue of the journal Science Robotics. Video below. From National Geographic:

“If we can combine more of these muscles into a single device, we should be able to reproduce the complex muscular interplay that allows hands, arms, and other parts of the body to function,” says study author Shoji Takeuchi, a mechanical engineer at the University of Tokyo. “Although this is just a preliminary result, our approach might be a great step toward the construction of a more complex biohybrid system.”

The research group began looking at living muscle tissue because plastic and metal provided a limited range of movement and flexibility. To grow their robot's muscles, they layered hydrogel sheets filled with myoblasts—rat muscle cells—on a robotic skeleton. The grown muscle is then stimulated with an electric current that forces it to contract.

"Biohybrid robot powered by an antagonistic pair of skeletal muscle tissues" (Science Robotics)

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Amputee drummer with bionic playing arm launches Kickstarter

Drummer Jason Barnes, who only has one arm, has been collaborating with engineer Gil Weinberg of Georgia Tech's Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines to develop a cyborg arm that enables Barnes not only to play his kit again, but to "play at speeds not humanly possible... and play strange polyrhythms that no human can play." Weinberg and Barnes have now launched a Kickstarter to build another prosthetic cyborg arm that Barnes can take on the road. From IEEE Spectrum:

The Cyborg Drummer Project Kickstarter is looking to raise $90,000; of that, $70,000 will go straight to production of the new arm. A big chunk of the cost comes from trying to replace the “couple of computers and a technical team” that are currently required to operate the arm with components that are portable, self-contained, and user operated. The remaining $20,000 will go towards organizing concerts and making recordings so that folks who contribute will be able to hear and enjoy some of the result, potentially in person.

One of the unique things about the prosthetic that Weinberg and Barnes want to build is that it will be partially autonomous. There are two drumsticks: Barnes controls one; the other operates autonomously through its own actuator. The arm listens to the music being played (by Jason and the musicians around him) and improvises its own accompanying beat pattern. It's able to do this on the fly, and if it chooses to, is capable of moving at speeds far faster than a human drummer can.

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Watch this nuanced analysis of sci-fi film Ex Machina

Film critic Allison de Fren examines some of the complex issues raised in the 2015 Ex Machina. Her voiceover alone makes it worth it, but the insights about how women are depicted helped me get over some of my discomfort with the film's themes. Read the rest

Fiction: Sgt. Augmento, Bruce Sterling's robots-take-our-jobs story

Bruce Sterling's new short story, "Sgt. Augmento," is an eyeball-kicky post-cyberpunk story full of Sterlingian zeitgeist: in the robots-took-our-jobs future, the narrator joins the army to augment his guaranteed minimum income, but finds that overseeing robot combat isn't to his liking, so he musters out into a precarious existence clinging to the side of the sharing economy. Read the rest

Stunning cyberpunky short film shows off Unity engine

This absolutely gorgeous under-six-minutes short film, called Adam, was rendered by the Unity team, in real-time, to show off the capabilities of the current Unity game engine. Here's what Unity Technologies has to say about the film.

The Unity Demo Team built Adam with beta versions of Unity 5.4 and our upcoming cinematic sequencer tool.

Adam also utilizes an experimental implementation of real-time area lights and makes extensive use of high fidelity physics simulation tool CaronteFX, which you can get from the Unity Asset Store right now.

To make Adam, the Demo Team developed custom tools and features on top of Unity including volumetric fog, a transparency shader and motion blur to cover specific production needs. We’ll make these freely available soon!

Adam runs at 1440p on a GeForce GTX980. Attendees at Unite Europe were able to play with it in real time, and we’ll make a playable available soon so everyone can check it out.

Open it to full-screen, HD, for maximum impact. It is quite impressive. Read the rest

Flexible circuit injected into living animals' brains

This is a flexible mesh circuitry that Harvard nanotechnologists have injected via syringe into the heads of live mice to test a new way of monitoring brain signals from the inside. Read the rest

LED lamp made from real dandelion fluff

Studio Drift's Dandelight uses a "stem" of copper that mounts directly to a 9V battery, and its halo of dandelion seeds are hand-plucked from a real plant and glued, one at a time, to the business-end. Read the rest

Wireless restoration of sight to the blind (rats)

Stanford researchers developed a retinal prosthesis that wirelessly transmits images from a video camera in a pair of glasses directly to a chip implanted inside the retina tissue. The innovations of lead scientist Daniel Palanker and his colleagues is that their system does away with any cable between the implant and the video eyeglasses, and buries the chip in the sub-retinal layers of the eye instead of on its surface to eliminate a kind of interference. They published their latest breakthroughs in the science journal Nature Communications. From Medical Daily:

In this study, Palanker's team from the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory placed these second-generation implants into the retinas of rats with or without macular degeneration. The researchers found that the new bionic retinas could transmit images into the minds of rats, which was observed by measuring brain activity in the visual centers of the rodents' brains.

"Solar-Powered Bionic Eye Developed By Stanford Scientist" (Medical Daily)

Restoration of Sight to the Blind: Optoelectronic Retinal Prosthesis (Daniel Palanker) Read the rest

Gweek 097: Ramez Naam and Jason Snell

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In this episode of Gweek, I talked to Ramez Naam and Jason Snell.

Ramez Naam is a computer scientist and the H.G. Wells Award-winning author of three books, including the sci-fi thriller Nexus.

Jason Snell is editorial director at IDG, the publishers of magazines and web sites about technology such as Macworld, PCWorld, and TechHive. He was the editor of Macworld for eight years. He's also the host of The Incomparable, an award-winning podcast about geeky cultural topics including movies, TV, books, and comics.

Here's what we talked about:

Real-life cyborg tech Ramez: "In the last couple years we’ve seen the approval of the first bionic eye, trials on implants that let paralyzed people move robot arms via their thoughts, and brain implants that make rats and monkeys smarter. What’s going on here? Are we headed towards The Matrix?"

Star Trek Into Darkness Jason: "A lot of complaints I see about this movie (which I really liked) seem to involve fans who are offended by divergences from continuity, or because the movie dares to tread over (and rewrite or subvert) old ground." Ramez: "How much do we expect our sci-fi to be scientifically accurate? Or even self-consistent? I enjoyed Avengers despite it being very silly and at times illogical. But much more minor flaws in logic ruined Prometheus for me."

Feedly Mark: "A replacement for Google reader, which is going away."

Morning Glories Jason: "Just started reading this comic, which just began its second "season." As a big fan of Lost, I'm intrigued by this time-bending combination of Lost and Buffy or Runaways."

Mark: "I'm buying a $100 Samsung Galaxy Pocket and a local SIM card when traveling to Japan instead of buying AT&T's expensive international data plan."

And a whole lot more! Read the rest

Lab rats with brain implants sense invisible infrared light

Duke University researchers implanted lab rats with a device enabling them to perceive invisible infrared light.