A monthly digest of technologies, developments and trends that will shape our lives. (If you would prefer not to receive these digests, flip back 'NO THANKS' and you will be removed from the list).

How To Patch Up A Broken Heart

Bioengineers at Duke University in North Carolina are excited by what they believe could be an important first step toward growing a living 'heart patch' to repair damaged heart tissue.

In a series of experiments using mouse embryonic stem cells, the bioengineers used a novel mould of their own design to fashion a three-dimensional 'patch' made up of heart muscle cells. The new tissue exhibited the two most important attributes of heart muscle cells - the ability to contract and to conduct electrical impulses.

To mimic the way that natural embryonic stem cells develop into heart muscle, the researchers grew the cells in an environment much like that found in natural tissues. They encapsulated the cells within a gel composed of the blood-clotting protein fibrin, which provided mechanical support to the cells, allowing them to form a three-dimensional structure. They also found that the 'cardiomyocytes' (cardiac muscle cells) flourished only in the presence of a class of 'helper' cells known as cardiac fibroblasts, which comprise as much as 60 percent of all cells present in a human heart.

Sanitising A Keyboard

We all know that unwashed hands spread viruses and, according to 'Which?' magazine, computer keyboards carry more germs than a toilet seat.

Now a company called Vioguard thinks that its self-cleaning keyboard system might be just what you need to keep your shared PC safe from harm. By flooding the keyboard with germ-killing ultra-violet light for 90 seconds, Vioguard claims that nasty microbes will cease to exist and so reduce the risk that users of communal keyboards will inadvertently spread infection.

Hydrogen 'Muscles' Render Robots Silent

Today's robots are noisy in their electro-mechanical operation, but a team of researchers at the University of Nevada in Reno, USA, have now developed hydrogen-powered robot muscles.

To make a silent artificial muscle, the researchers first compressed a copper and nickel-based metal hydride powder into peanut-sized pellets. They then secured them in a reactor vessel and pumped in hydrogen to 'charge' the pellets with the gas. A heater coil surrounds the vessel and, as heat breaks the weak chemical bonds, stored hydrogen is released into an inflatable rubber tube surrounded by Kevlar fibre braiding. Two of these placed either side of a robotic joint can mimic the push/pull action of muscles by being alternately inflated and deflated.

A Car That Won't Let You Jump The Lights

Mercedes Benz has developed a wireless safety system, which allows traffic lights at intersections to communicate directly with vehicles automatically causing a car to stop at a red light should a driver fail to heed it.

A monitor incorporated into a car’s dashboard would also feature information shared by the car and the traffic light such as real time traffic data and the vehicle’s distance from the approaching intersection.

Cars implemented with the wireless transceivers would be able to communicate with one another – possibly alleviating the potential problem of a rear end pile up should one car be stopped suddenly.

A Robot 'Personal Trainer' For The Elderly

General Robotics In Japan is developing ‘Taizo’, a humanoid robot designed to lead the elderly in physical exercises.

Taizo, which is a play on the word 'taisou' meaning 'calisthenics', stands 72cm (28”) tall and is dressed in a velvety space suit. He sports a clown-like grin that is supposed to look silly to put the older generation, who are often wary of new technology, at ease.

The 6.5kg (14.3lb) Taizo has 26 degrees of freedom that enables him to smoothly demonstrate around 30 different moves for his followers to imitate. Since his assignment is to help the elderly, most of his exercise regime centres around chair-bound activities, but he can stand up to demonstrate some actions.




London Police Want Their Mobiles To Be Iris Scanners

Britain is one of the world's most intrusive surveillance societies (on a par with Singapore), but now London's Metropolitan Police have put out a tender which calls for a mobile 'phone' which can take iris scans.

According to the details of the tender document the mobile identification units (MIU) must be capable of capturing and displaying the information held on microchips and Machine Readable Zones (MRZ) contained within passports, bank cards, ID cards, credit cards and other identification documents.

The MIU must also be capable of capturing fingerprint images to industry standards and further biometric capabilities including facial recognition (2D and/or 3D), and/or iris recognition are also desired.

In addition the handheld device must be capable of securely transmitting and receiving data across the secure police gateway.

(Big Brother is here. Lucky he's a moron.)

Ready To Capture Your 'Lifelog'?

A camera you can wear as a pendant to record every moment of your life is soon to be launched by a UK-based firm. Originally invented to help jog the memories of people with Alzheimer's disease, it might one day be used by consumers to create 'lifelogs' that archive their entire lives.

Worn on a cord around the neck, the camera takes pictures automatically as often as once every 30 seconds. It also uses an accelerometer and light sensors to snap an image when a person enters a new environment, and an infrared sensor to take one when it detects the body heat of a person in front of the wearer. It can fit 30,000 images onto its 1-gigabyte memory.

Read what we're likely to be doing with such devices in 'Emergence'.

World's Deltas 'Sinking' Relative To Sea Level

As if the rising and expanding oceans weren't problem enough, scientists at the UK's University of Southampton have now found that 26 out of the world's 33 major delta regions are sinking relative to sea level. This is putting millions of people at risk of severe flooding, say the researchers.

Human activity, such as dam-building is the biggest reason for the deltas' decline. The researchers found that 85 percent of the major river deltas studied experienced severe flooding in the past decade.

Human Sperm Might Help To Slow Down Ageing

A new study by researchers at Graz University in Austria has found that spermidine, a compound that is present in human sperm, slows ageing processes and increases life spans in yeast, flies, worms and mice, as well as human blood cells, by protecting cells from damage.

Adding spermidine suppressed various processes associated with ageing, as well as reducing free radicals and increasing lifespan. Treated fruit flies lived 30 per cent longer than untreated ones, while worms lived 15 per cent longer.

Researchers 'Find Way To Protect Healthy Cells' From Radiation Damage During Treatment

American researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) may be hot on the heels of a Holy Grail of cancer therapy: They claim to have found a way to not only protect healthy tissue from the toxic effects of radiation treatment, but also increase tumour death.

More than half of all cancer patients are treated at least in part with radiation. But the same radiation that kills cancer cells can also destroy healthy ones, causing side effects such as nausea and vomiting, skin sores and rashes, and weakness and fatigue. Long-term radiation exposure can lead to the scarring and death of normal tissue.

The lead researcher on the topic is Jeff S. Isenberg, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, Pitt School of Medicine.

'We almost couldn't believe what we were seeing,' Dr. Isenberg said of the research. 'This dramatic protective effect occurred in skin, muscle and bone marrow cells, which is very encouraging.'

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