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Earlier this week, The Associated Press reported that a paralyzed man remotely controlled a simple robot using only thoughts. (The images shown here are not from that experiment, but from one done three years ago by Honda. More on that later.)
The robot was a small, simple device that moved on wheels, was equipped with a camera, and had a laptop computer perched on top. The paralyzed man, Mark-Andre Duc, was 62 miles (100 km) away and controlled it using only a head cap while trying to raise his paralyzed fingers. The electroencephalogram (EEG) cap measured his brain signals, which were interpreted as command movements.
Both the researchers and the Mr. Duc admit it is not easy to use. Jose Millan, the team’s leader said, “Sooner or later your attention will drop and this will degrade the signal.” Mr. Duc told The Associated Press through the video link on the laptop, “When I’m in pain it becomes more difficult.”
Using measureable thoughts to control an electronic device isn’t totally unique.
- Spring 2006: Honda Research Institute in Japan used feedback from an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine to remotely control a robotic hand. (Shown in video below.)
- Spring 2009: A team lead by Javier Minguez at the University of Zaragoza in Spain worked on robotic thought manipulated wheelchairs.
- Spring 2009: Honda Research Institute in Japan demonstrated how their robot Asimo could lift an arm or a leg through signals from a user with EEG and NIRS (near-infrared spectroscopy sensors). (Shown in video below.)
- Fall 2009: Toy maker Mattel released a game based on a simplified version of this concept with mixed reviews.
- Fall 2010: A team lead by Rajesh Rao from Neural Systems Laboratory, University of Washington, not only working on mind control of a robot, but also to how to teach the robot simple tasks using the same mechanism (The Robot That Reads Your Mind to Train Itself).
- Spring 2011: A team lead by C.T. Lin from California State University at Northridge creates EEG cap driven wheelchair that adapts to the operator’s unique brain patterns. For obstacle avoidance, the wheelchair is also equipped with a laser sensor and cameras. (See their video.)
Intricate manipulation such as tying shoelaces is not possible yet with EEG caps since the signal is inherently too noisy. To get cleaner signals, we have to tap directly into the brain. Ouch. That painful subject is for another blog.
On Friday, April 20, 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued tentative guidelines for food and cosmetic companies interested in using nanoparticles.
“This is an emerging, evolving technology and we’re trying to get ahead of the curb to ensure the ingredients and substances are safe.” — Dennis Keefe, director of FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety
The FDA is “an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products” (Source: FDA Press Release).
Nanoparticles are nanoscale materials generally less than 100 nanometers (a billionth of a meter) in diameter. To put the size in perspective, 100 nm is about 500 times smaller than the diameter of human hair. Something so small that they can’t be seen with a standard microscope.
But materials enhanced with nanoparticles can have physical, chemical, and biological properties that differ from those of their larger counterparts as the video below illustrates.
According to the FDA Press Release: “The submicroscopic particles are increasingly showing up in FDA-regulated products like sunscreens, skin lotions and glare-reducing eyeglass coatings. Some scientists believe the technology will one day be used in medicine, but the FDA’s announcement did not address that use.”
So are American consumers safe? The FDA does its best, but it’s limited in resources and scope. For example, it has less authority over cosmetics than food additives. Nanotechnology has been used in cosmetics since the 1990s. “Generally, the FDA does not review cosmetics before they launch, and companies are responsible for assuring the safety of their products” (Source: AP News: FDA proposes rules for nanotechnology in food). In addition, it’s limited testability. How do you test for a problem you never knew existed? How do you test for dangers that don’t show symptoms for ten or twenty years? What happens to the stuff when you’re done with it? What impact does it have on the environment? When it “decays,” what does it turn into?
I was a test engineer in the medical industry, and I was astonished by how sloppy some of the regulatory tests were handled.
In our rush for better products and profits, we may be endangering ourselves. Time for additional testing and thinking is worth the cost.
In my science fiction short story, Death Has no Shadow, a nanotechnology accident releases swarms of microscopic robots called forger nanites into the environment and a science intern finds that her lab is their target.
How do you get a nano-robot to target and kill just cancer cells but leave healthy cells alone?
Think like a suicide bomber:
- Carry a concealed mass killing weapon like a bomb,
- Act and look like you belong,
- Get into the enemy’s site, and
- Blow it up.
Nanotechnology for medicine does not necessarily mean robotic machinery. On the nanometer scale, the mechanism is more like a virus and can better be characterized by bio-chemistry. A nano-scaled robot uses molecular keys (cell targeting ligands) and special polymers (diblock copolymers) instead of gears and cogs.
This video explains it best:
So what are the healing stones? They are theoretical first-aid nano-bot factories and delivery systems. See other “Healing Stone” articles for more information.
Of all the future technological breakthroughs noted on this site, I hope this one comes first.
See Recruiting Angles for nano-medicine in action.
Image and video from Frank Gu Research Group, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
I just got back from the doctor for a cybernetic implant tune-up. She got on my case for going beyond the six month recommended tune-up cycle. I also haven’t been taking the prescribed minerals the nano-factories need to spit out the little doctors.
What? You haven’t heard about little doctors? (Yes, this is fictional.) How about nanites? No? What century are you living in, the 21st? OK, I’ll explain. Here in the 23rd Century, little doctors or bio-nano-robots are microscopic biomechanical engines — some as small as a large molecule — injected into your bloodstream either by needle, by healing stones, or more commonly by cybernetic implants. The implants create the little doctors on an as-needed basis.
I’ll expand on this more in future posts, but in summary, they extend your natural healing systems, reinforce bone and muscular structures, and help fight against aging. Here’s an old but good vid about the early uses of nanotechnology and bio-nano-robots:
Oh, by the way. If you do get the implants, be sure to keep your virus protection up to date. The implants makes potential computer viruses more deadly than some biological viruses.
See Recruiting Angles for healing stones in action.
See Death Has No Shadow for for nanites gone wild.
Image from Metallurgy for Dummies.