I didn't get to try these out but I'm awed by what's now possible on a consumer budget. They have a(n incredibly geeky and jargon-filled) shop: http://team-blacksheep.com/shop where $2k gets you a complete rig.
The future shock comes from the realisation that people who are worrying about police forces and drones are behind the curve. 's new book raises interesting questions about drones in the future but FPV is going to be bigger since it's more accessible and needs less infrastructure.
In short, William Gibson was right. The future is already here but it's not always where you're looking.
A Top 10 selection of the scientific and technological advances that I discovered this week.
1. DNA for Controlled Synthesis of Novel Nanoparticles.
Researchers have discovered that by specifying the sequence of DNA strands they can direct the synthesis of gold nanoparticles into specific sizes and shapes (spheres, disks, hexagons, stars) as well as intermediaries in a controlled and predictable fashion http://news.illinois.edu/news/12/0808nanoparticles_YiLu.html. The properties of gold nanoparticles are determined by shape and size and have a wide range of applications in biological and materials science. I wonder whether sequences of other polymer chains might allow the directed fabrication of an even wider array of sizes and shapes and other materials.
2. Neuronal Circuits Embody Simple Computations.
A team from MIT has demonstrated a wonderful implementation of optogenetics to tease apart the the mathematical workings of neuronal circuits that are involved in processing inhibitory signals in the brain http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/simple-mathematical-computations-underlie-brain-circuits-0809.html. The computations that these neurons and neural networks use for inhibitory signals are simpler than expected.
3. Content Centric Networking for Internet 2.0.
Content Centric Networking (CCN) is the biggest project currently occupying Xerox’s PARC. CCN is a networking protocol, under development for many years, designed to do away with the TCP/IP system that underpins the Internet today and in so doing solve many of the issues and problems that currently face the Internet and its backbone http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco/2012/08/07/the-next-internet-inside-parcs-vision-of-content-centric-networking/?single_page=true. BitTorrent and magnet links can be thought of as an embodiment of CCN. But replacing TCP/IP is . . . ambitious. Time will tell.
4. Metamaterials for Focusing Sound as a Lens Focuses Light.
Researchers have designed a new metamaterial that should be able to manipulate a variety of sound waves on the one device http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120807095742.htm, for example to provide superior ultrasonic imaging and surgical applications. The team has dubbed this “acoustic beam aperture modifier using gradient-index phononic crystals.”
5. Human Stem Cells Differentiate and Functionally Integrate into Existing Tissues.
A stem cell group has differentiated human stem cells into heart muscle cells and shown that they can successfully integrate into existing heart muscle tissue alongside older cells, and to start beating and contribute to the proper functioning of the organ http://www.nature.com/news/guinea-pig-hearts-beat-with-human-cells-1.11123. This particular proof-of-principle however involved the creation of chimeric hearts within guinea pigs; the human cells successfully integrated into the animal’s hearts and contributed to proper function.
6. GM Industrial Scale-Up: Nanomaterials in Batteries & Steel.
Backed by GM, Envia Systems have created the first 400 Wh/kg rechargeable battery pack for automotive applications http://enviasystems.com/announcement/, which is expected to provide a significant performance boost to electric vehicles by providing longer ranges, quicker recharge times, and much cheaper battery packs. GM-backed NanoSteel also looks set to introduce new advanced high-strength steel alloys that will allow significant reductions in weight for vehicles while maintaining the integrity needed for safety http://www.nanosteelco.com/pressrelease/nanosteel_gm_ventures_aug_2012.html.
7. Capturing Video of Molecules Moving Through Cellular Membranes.
By using an exquisitely sensitive microscopy technique researchers have for the first time recorded movies of how molecules move in and out of cells via the emergent self-assembly of cellular proteins at the membrane that pinch-off vesicles to bring the molecular cargo inside http://hms.harvard.edu/content/caught-film. The embedded video shows an animated simulation of the process that is particularly instructive.
8. First Logic Gates from Undoped Silicon Nanowires.
Researchers have discovered how to make diodes, transistors, and logic gates from pure silicon nanowires, without the need for dopants http://www.technologyreview.com/view/428801/first-logic-gate-made-from-undoped-silicon/. This overcomes a major barrier that was holding back the use of silicon nanowires in computation - lets hope we start to see other teams string them together into useful devices.
9. How the Brain’s Stem Cells Decide to Make New Neurons.
Researchers discovered that the stem cells in the brain monitor chemical communications between nearby neurons to identify stress and determine when they need to act http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/brains_stem_cells_eavesdrop_to_find_out_when_to_act. But perhaps most interestingly the group found that valium acts to inhibit the production of neural stem cells, while a common antidepressant drug acts to promote the production of neural stem cells.
10. Best of the Rest.
There were lots of other cool little developments that included (i) a soft autonomous robot that moves like an earthworm http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/autonomous-earthworm-robot-0810.html, (ii) photovoltaics that can be made from any semiconductor http://newscenter.lbl.gov/feature-stories/2012/07/26/photovoltaics-from-any-semiconductor/, (iii) first prototype fully flexible functional electronic system http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=26240.php, (iv) graphene coatings that make carbon nanotube areogels superelastic and fatigue resistant http://www.nature.com/nnano/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nnano.2012.118.html, (v) wearable system to modify people’s touch perception of any surface http://www.technologyreview.com/news/428736/disney-researchers-add-virtual-touch-to-the-real/, (vi) and RFID chips can now be given battery-less clock thanks to a novel application of SRAM memory http://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/memory/could-an-sram-hourglass-save-rfid-chips-just-in-time.
The weekly SciTech Digests are also available as a Google Currents Edition here:
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