Rise of the power road: Norway targets roads that produce more energy than they use

The roads of the future could function as a massive network of power stations, harvesting wasted energy from cars and generating additional power through bridges fitted with solar panels and wind turbines.

This is the focus of a new project between Scandinavia’s largest research organisation, SINTEF, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), which is looking to develop ‘power roads’ that generate more energy than they consume.

The plan is to incorporate these into an existing project by the Norwegian Public Roads Agency, also known as Statens Vegvesen, which is looking to replace the ferry crossing sections of the E39 motorway in Western Norway by 2030. The project will simultaneously reduce the energy required to build the roads, and incorporate energy-generating infrastructure.

As ambitious as the project sounds, SINTEF is confident that it is achievable within the timeframe, and is already planning test sites for next year.

“We hope to be launching the first projects in the spring of 2016,” said Berit Laanke, from SINTEF Building and Infrastructure.

“With the dedicated commitment of public sector organisations such as Statens Vegvesen, I’m convinced that the Power Road project will succeed.”

One of the bridges planned for Norway's E39 project. Image courtesy of Statens Vegvesen

One of the bridges planned for Norway’s E39 project. Image courtesy of Statens Vegvesen

In order to create roads that generate power in numerous different ways, SINTEF is planning an array of research projects tackling different aspects of the system.

“In the short term SINTEF is looking to launch a small number of specific projects”, said Laanke.

“This autumn we’re focusing on energy generation linked to bridges, involving systems integrated into safety barriers and noise screens. We’re also looking into how materials production can be made more energy efficient by using locally-sourced stone, and are working together with Statens Vegvesen on a project proposal involving the electrification of heavy-duty transport vehicles, incorporating a kind of ‘rubber track’, equivalent to a tram running on rubber wheels.”

Norway’s E39 project will require a significant number of bridges to be built, so there is also a strong focus on how to turn these structures into multifaceted power stations.

In addition to building solar panels and wind turbines into the bridges, the organisation wants to include systems that generate power from the waves and currents in the water the bridges are crossing.

Bhumibol Bridge in Thailand, which has solar panels built into its base.

Bhumibol Bridge in Thailand, which has solar panels built into its base.

However, the focus will need to be on harvesting energy using the roads themselves, if the project is to be replicated across the country and beyond.

For SINTEF, this means finding ways to extract energy from cars themselves.

“Electric cars are already able to recharge themselves as they go downhill,” said Laanke.

“Will it be possible to harvest some of this energy if the car battery is fully charged? Cars exert a pressure on the surface they roll along, so perhaps we can capture this energy for re-use?

“The same principle has been applied on football pitches. As the players run around, lights are activated to illuminate the pitch.”

Scientists, software developers and artists have begun using VR to visualise genes and predict disease

A group of scientists, software developers and artists have taken to using virtual reality (VR) technology to visualise complex interactions between genes and their regulatory elements.

The team, which comprises of members from Oxford University, Universita’ di Napoli and Goldsmiths, University of London, have been using VR to visualise simulations of a composite of data from genome sequencing, data on the interactions of DNA and microscopy data.

When all this data is combined the team are provided with an interactive, 3D image that shows where different regions of the genome sit relative to others, and how they interact with each other.

“Being able to visualise such data is important because the human brain is very good at pattern recognition – we tend to think visually,” said Stephen Taylor, head of the Computational Biology Research Group at Oxford’s MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM).

“It began at a conference back in 2014 when we saw a demonstration by researchers from Goldsmiths who had used software called CSynth to model proteins in three dimensions. We began working with them, feeding in seemingly incomprehensible information derived from our studies of the human alpha globin gene cluster and we were amazed that what we saw on the screen was an instantly recognisable model.”

The team believe that being able to visualise the interactions between genes and their regulatory elements will allow them to understand the basis of human genetic diseases, and are currently applying their techniques to study genetic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

“Our ultimate aim in this area is to correct the faulty gene or its regulatory elements and be able to re-introduce the corrected cells into a patient’s bone marrow: to perfect this we have to fully understand how genes and their regulatory elements interact with one another” said Professor Doug Higgs, a principal researcher at the WIMM.

“Having virtual reality tools like this will enable researchers to efficiently combine their data to gain a much broader understanding of how the organisation of the genome affects gene expression, and how mutations and variants affect such interactions.”

There are around 37 trillion cells in the average adult human body, and each cell contains two meters of DNA tightly packed into its nucleus.

While the technology to sequence genomes is well established, it has been shown that the manner in which DNA is folded within each cell affects how genes are expressed.

“There are more than three billion base pairs in the human genome, and a change in just one of these can cause a problem. As a model we’ve been looking at the human alpha globin gene cluster to understand how variants in genes and their regulatory elements may cause human genetic disease,” said Prof Jim Hughes, associate professor of Genome Biology at Oxford University.

Using CRISPR, UK scientists edit DNA of human embryos

For the first time in the UK, scientists have altered human embryos. Using the gene-editing tool CRISPR, the scientists turned off the protein OCT4, which is thought to be important in early embryo development. In doing so, cells that normally go on to form the placenta, yolk sac and foetus failed to develop.

Source: BBC

Tesla and AMD developing AI chip for self-driving cars

Tesla has partnered with AMD to develop a dedicated chip that will handle autonomous driving tasks in its cars. Tesla's Autopilot programme is currently headed by former AMD chip architect Jim Keller, and it is said that more than 50 people are working on the initiative under his leadership.

Source: CNBC

Synthetic muscle developed that can lift 1,000 times its own weight

Scientists have used a 3D printing technique to create an artificial muscle that can lift 1,000 times its own weight. "It can push, pull, bend, twist, and lift weight. It's the closest artificial material equivalent we have to a natural muscle," said Dr Aslan Miriyev, from the Creative Machines lab.

Source: Telegraph

Head of AI at Google criticises "AI apocalypse" scaremongering

John Giannandrea, the senior vice president of engineering at Google, has condemned AI scaremongering, promoted by people like Elon Musk ."I just object to the hype and the sort of sound bites that some people have been making," said Giannandrea."I am definitely not worried about the AI apocalypse."

Source: CNBC

Scientists engineer antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains

Scientists have engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and is built to attack three critical parts of the virus, which makes it harder for the HIV virus to resist its effects. The International Aids Society said it was an "exciting breakthrough". Human trials will begin in 2018.

Source: BBC

Facebook has a plan to stop fake news from influencing elections

Mark Zuckerberg has outlined nine steps that Facebook will take to "protect election integrity". “I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity," he said during a live broadcast on his Facebook page. "I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine our democracy.”