Pressure-sensitive artificial skin signals brain cells when touched

Artificial skin that sends pressure sensations directly to brain cells has been developed for the first time, bringing the eventual goal of flexible, healing and feeling artificial skin a step closer.

Developed by Zhenan Bao, professor of chemical engineering at Stanford, the skin is able to detect the level of pressure applied to it, be it a light touch or a hard press.

Bao, who has been working on the development of artificial skin for a decade, led a team of 17 researchers to create the technology, which has been detailed in an article published today in the journal Science.

“This is the first time a flexible, skin-like material has been able to detect pressure and also transmit a signal to a component of the nervous system,” she said.

Bao aims for the skin, which is designed to fit over a prosthetic limb, to eventually be able to heal, signal pain and detect touch and temperature.

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The artificial skin is made up of two layers of plastic, with the top layer providing sensing capabilities and the bottom sending the data to nerve cells as electrical signals.

The top layer’s sensing abilities are achieved by giving the plastic a waffle pattern, which makes the plastic very sensitive to pressure, and then dispersing billions of carbon nanotubes throughout it.

These nanotubes conduct electricity when squeezed together, so when pressure on the skin increases, the nanotubes are pushed closer together, and more electricity is conducted.

The second layer, which takes the form of a flexible electronic circuit, then transmits this electricity to nerve cells in pulses, allowing the level of pressure to be determined.

This is designed to mimic the way real human skin works, as our own awareness of pressure is the result of our brain interpreting short pulses of electricity in a similar manner.

The have not yet directly tested the skin by hooking it up to a human brain, however. Instead they took inspiration from a field known as optogenetics – where optics and genetics meet – to generate an artificial version of part of the human nervous system, which they signalled by transferring the electrical signals into pulses of light.

While this was an effective proof of concept, in the long run the researchers plan to use a different approach to directly stimulate human nerves with the electrical pulses. They are confident this can be achieved as other researchers have already found ways to stimulate neurons directly with such pulses.

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Images courtesy of Bao Research Group, Stanford University

There is still considerable work ahead before Bao’s dream of fully sensory artificial skin can be realised, but this work is an exceptionally important step along the way.

“We have a lot of work to take this from experimental to practical applications,” she said. “But after spending many years in this work, I now see a clear path where we can take our artificial skin.”

With just two layers in the current system, the researchers believe it will be easy to add additional sensors as they are developed.

Among those the researchers want to create are sensors to determine different textures, allowing the wearer to differentiate between fabrics, for example, and sensors to determine the temperature of an object.

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

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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

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Source: BBC

Facebook has a plan to stop fake news from influencing elections

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Renault unveils unorthodox ‘car of the future’: a dockable, peanut-shaped driverless pod

Renault has unveiled its take on the car of the future: a peanut-shaped, mulit-directional driverless vehicle that is capable of docking into a train of vehicles.

Designed by Yuchen Cai, a student of Central St Martins’ MA in Industrial Design, the vehicle is the winning design in competition run between Renault and the prestigious design school, and was honed during a two-week stay at Renault’s Paris studio by Cai this summer.

Dubbed The Float, the vehicle was unveiled today at DesignJunction, a four-day design event that kicked off today in London.

“Everyone has accepted that cars will be part of the sharing economy in the future – that’s what’s going to happen,” said Will Sorrel, event director of DesignJunction, this morning.

“This takes it one step further and these pods are this peanut shape so they can join together, so the autonomous vehicles can link up and join together if they’re going in the same direction, conserving energy.”

The Float by Yuchen Cai, winner of the Renault and Central Saint Martins, UAL competition

The Float is rather unusually designed to run using magnetic levitation – known more commonly as maglev – and would be capable of moving in any direction, eliminating the need for tedious three-point turns.

Made entirely of glass, the vehicle is designed to have sliding doors. Two bucket-style seats enable up to two passengers to travel per pod, and swivel mechanism ensures easy departure from the pods.

When the vehicle is docked to another, however, the passengers aren’t just stuck grimacing at each other through glass. Instead passengers can rotate their seats using built-in controls and power up a sound system that allows them to talk to the pod next door.

Those who are feeling less sociable can change the opacity of the glass, ensuring privacy when their neighbours are not so appealing to communicate with.

The Float is also designed to be paired with a smartphone app, through which would-be passengers could hail a vehicle as required.

“Central Saint Martins’ Industrial Design students really took this on board when creating their vision of the future,” said Anthony Lo, Renault’s  vice-president of exterior design and one of the competition judges. “Yuchen’s winning design was particularly interesting thanks to its use of Maglev technology and its tessellated design. It was a pleasure to have her at the Renault design studios and see her vision come to life.”

“From a technological viewpoint, the prospect of vehicle autonomy is fascinating, but it’s also critical to hold in mind that such opportunities also present significant challenges to how people interact and their experience of future cities,” added Nick Rhodes, Central Saint Martins programme director of product ceramic & industrial design.

“Recognition of the success of the projects here lies in their ability to describe broader conceptions of what driverless vehicles might become and how we may come to live with them.”