Heat-Activated Penis Implant: A Solution to a Hard Problem?

By Carl Engelking | December 29, 2016 5:03 pm

(Credit: Alberto Colombo, Southern Illinois University)

Brian Le hopes his new twist on the penile implant will appeal to a growing market.

Le, a faculty member in the department of urology at University of Wisconsin-Madison, wants to restore erectile function in men using a new, heat-activated metal called nitinol — a nickel-titanium alloy known for its elastic properties.

Le’s implant is essentially a nitinol exoskeleton that remains flaccid at body temperature, but expands when heated by just a few degrees. The nitinol scaffold “remembers” its erect shape, and assumes it when activated, returning to its flaccid state when cooled. The device could be implanted with a relatively simple operation, Le says. Read More

MORE ABOUT: medical technology

Amazon Has Patented Some Wild Drone Technologies

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 29, 2016 3:25 pm
A private trial of one of Amazon's delivery drones. (Credit: Amazon)

A private trial of one of Amazon’s delivery drones. (Credit: Amazon)

In its quest to streamline consumption, Amazon has wholeheartedly embraced the promise of drones.

Earlier this month, a fully autonomous Amazon drone delivered its first package in the United Kingdom — an Amazon Fire TV and a bag of popcorn — in just 13 minutes. The company says it hopes to expand the program in coming months, allowing select customers to have their packages brought to them via drone, weather permitting of course.

Any such implementation in the U.S. will have to wait a little longer, as current FAA regulations do not permit drones to be flown out of a pilot’s line of sight. Amazon seems to anticipate that those rules will soon change, however, and has filed a bevy of patents over the past couple of years aimed at upgrading their drone technology to make it fast, safe and efficient.

These patents may never see the light of day, of course, as it’s common for corporations to snap up the rights to forward-looking technologies before they come to fruition. Nevertheless, if you want an idea of what the future of delivery could look like, Amazon’s presence at the patent office is a pretty good place to start.

Drone Mothership


(Credit: USPTO)

As Zoe Leavitt, an analyst for CB Insights pointed out recently on Twitter, Amazon has filed a patent for what amounts to a giant floating warehouse filled with drones and goods. Floating at 45,000 feet, the mothership would dispatch dive-bombing drones, taking advantage of the extreme altitude to widen the drones’ range and shorten delivery times.

Additional airships would be used to shuttle drones and items up to the craft. Due to weight limitations, orders of this nature would likely be restricted to some of the lighter and most popular items.

Modular Drones


A prototype drone from Amazon.

If Amazon wants its drones to compete with the postal service and their iconic descriptor, it’s going to need machines that will work in snow and rain, heat and gloom of night.

To that end, the company has filed a patent for modular drones that can be assembled and optimized for the type of delivery they will be conducting. Before a package leaves the warehouse, a computer will monitor weather conditions, route topography and the payload and assemble a list of optimal drone components along with the order.

Then, an autonomous assembly line robot would pick the ideal mix of thrusters, airfoils, batteries, and sensors necessary to build a drone that’s perfect for a specific delivery, regardless of the weather or the location.

Drone Perches


(Credit: USPTO)

Though they may be machines, even drones need a place to rest sometimes.

A series of dedicated landing spots along a drone’s route could help it to make longer trips, or provide shelter should it encounter unexpected difficulties. Amazon envisions installing these perches on electric poles, church steeples and other tall structures across a city, where beleaguered drones could recharge or exchange packages.

A centralized computing system would even plan routes using a series of these stations to leapfrog across greater distances. In addition, the poles could double as towers for internet service, Amazon says, reducing the need for additional infrastructure in some areas.

Personal Mini-drones


(Credit: USPTO)


Just as with our smartphones, Amazon wants to make drones an indispensable personal assistant. The company filed a patent describing a system for small drones that could perch on a shoulder or fit in a purse, soaring when needed above a crowded parking lot to find a car or to pick a lost child out of a crowd. The lightweight design would be paired with an off-board processing system meant to minimize the size of the drone while retaining the abilities of larger machines.

As Amazon points out, the technology would also be useful for police at traffic stops and firefighters searching dangerous buildings, among other emergency applications.

Drone Defenses


(Credit: USPTO)

If, and when, drones fill the sky, there will inevitably be those who attempt to waylay or damage them.

To deal with potential threats, Amazon filed a patent in 2014 outlining a variety of ways that drones could be programmed to evade danger and ensure their survival. If a drone should be hacked or its signal jammed, they describe a system that detects any foul play and overrides the drones’ controls to land it safely on the ground.

Amazon plans to use a “mesh network” of multiple drones in communication with one another to provide redundancy and monitor each other’s status. If a drone gets compromised, it could be told via the network to remain in place or land.

The patent application also foresees the possibility of physical attacks on drones, such as with bows and arrows (or spears). Although the exact defense system sounds a bit vague, Amazon says that its drones could be programmed to recognize potential threats and then take evasive maneuvers to avoid the potential hail of arrows. The system would also broadcast the drone’s location and call in the cavalry.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

South Korean Mech Takes Its First, Earth-Shaking Steps

By Carl Engelking | December 28, 2016 12:11 pm

Yang Jin-Ho demonstrates the Method-2 robot. (Credit: Getty)

In the popular video game MechWarrior, towering robots called BattleMechs dominate 31st-century battlefields.

Back here in the 21st century, Yang Jin-Ho, CEO of South Korean robotics firm Hankook Mirae Technology, took the first baby steps inside his 13-foot-tall, 1.5-ton, manned bipedal robot called Method-2. According to reports, the thing shakes the ground with every step.

The 31st century doesn’t seem so far away. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

Trillions of Insects Pass Over the U.K. Each Year

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 22, 2016 3:43 pm

(Credit: Pablo Borca/Shutterstock)

Look up into the clear blue sky in the spring or fall and you may not see them, but oh boy, are they there.

Trillions of them, in fact, riding the high air currents to breeding grounds and back again. Insects ranging from microscopic to splatter-worthy fill the skies around the world each year as they migrate seasonally. A recent study from researchers in the United Kingdom found that in southern England alone, more than three trillion insects passed by each season. That’s more than 400 times the global population of humans, and the researchers say that larger migrations likely take place all around the globe. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: agriculture, animals

How Ancient Cultures Commemorated the Darkest Day

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 21, 2016 3:03 pm

(Credit: Shutterstock)

On Dec. 21, the northern hemisphere celebrates the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, or the longest night.

While it’s the darkest time of the year, the day also marks a turning point. From here on out, the the sun shines a little longer each day, and we begin the slow march toward spring. Fittingly, the winter solstice is celebrated by cultures the world over as a day of hope and resilience, and has figured prominently in religious rituals. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology

Casper, Octopod and Internet Darling, Is Already Threatened

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 20, 2016 3:09 pm

Casper the octopod. (Credit: Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Hohonu Moana 2016)

Less than a year after being discovered, Casper the octopod could be in mortal danger.

Researchers say the ghostly, eight-armed sea creature is likely threatened by deep-sea mining operations that excavate metallic protrusions it relies on to reproduce. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts

New Insights Into Antimatter, 20 Years In the Making

By Alison Klesman | December 20, 2016 2:58 pm

Anti-hydrogen particles react with the walls of the experimental chamber, producing the flashes of light seen here. (Credit: CERN)

Antimatter is more than a science fiction concept that allows engineers to power the Enterprise. It’s an actual — albeit small — constituent of our universe. While antimatter is rare, it can exist under the right conditions. Information about the way antimatter behaves provides a powerful tool for testing the Standard Model of particle physics we currently use to understand the forces that govern the way particles behave.

For Every Particle, An Anti-

Antimatter was first predicted by British physicist Paul Dirac in 1928. He proposed that every particle of matter should have a corresponding antiparticle. These antiparticles are identical to their particle counterparts in every way except for charge. For example, the antimatter counterpart to the negatively-charged electron is the positively-charged antielectron, also called the positron.

When matter and antimatter meet, they annihilate each other and leave only energy behind. The Big Bang should have created matter and antimatter in equal amounts, but today, our universe is dominated by matter, with very little antimatter present. Understanding why this asymmetry exists would be a significant step towards understanding the origin and evolution of our universe.

However, naturally-occurring antimatter is often immediately destroyed when it encounters the universe’s abundant matter. Today, particle physicists can routinely create antimatter for study at the CERN Antiproton Decelerator facility, which has led to several new breakthroughs in the characterization of antimatter.

Identical Lines

In a recently-published Nature article, CERN’s ALPHA collaboration has announced the very first measurement of a spectral line in an antihydrogen atom. This result, which was over 20 years in the making, was achieved using a laser to observe the 1S-2S transition in antihydrogen. To within experimental limits, the ALPHA collaboration’s results show that this transition is identical in both hydrogen and antihydrogen atoms — a condition required by the Standard Model. If these transitions were different, it would essentially break our current understanding of physics.

The 1S-2S transition is one of many that contribute to hydrogen’s spectrum. A spectrum is created when electrons that have been excited by radiation “fall” from a higher energy level inside an atom to a lower one. This process releases energy at precise wavelengths. Each element produces a unique spectrum, like a fingerprint. Astronomers often use spectra to determine an object’s composition based on the light it produces.

Making Antimatter

To observe the 1S-2S transition in antihydrogen, the ALPHA collaboration first had to create antiatoms and keep them stable — no easy task. ALPHA’s recipe for antihydrogen consisted of mixing plasmas containing antiprotons and positrons together to produce antihydrogen atoms. The resulting antiatoms were then magnetically trapped to hold them for experimentation.

From an original batch of 90,000 antiprotons, researchers could create 25,000 antihydrogen atoms; of these, the ALPHA collaboration managed to trap and study an average of 14 antiatoms per trial. By illuminating the antihydrogen atoms with a laser tuned to provide exactly the energy needed to achieve the proposed transition, researchers were then able to observe the resulting emission to look for deviations from the spectrum of normal hydrogen.

The ALPHA collaboration’s result, along with the results from other antimatter experiments performed by the ASACUSA and BASE collaborations, shows just how far antimatter research has come at CERN. The ALPHA collaboration plans to further refine the precision of their results in the future for even more robust testing of the Standard Model. Such high-precision antimatter testing may also be able to shed light on the matter-antimatter asymmetry we observe in our universe.

[This article originally appeared on Astronomy.com.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Roads Have Sliced the World Into 600,000 Pieces

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 19, 2016 3:28 pm

(Credit: Valentin Valkov/Shutterstock)

Ever since our ancestors cut rough paths through the wilderness, humanity has been laying down trails. From footpaths to highways, a global network of roads binds communities and facilitates the exchange of goods and ideas. But there is a flip side to this creeping tangle of pathways: The roads that bring us closer also serve divide ecosystems into smaller parcels, turning vast expanses into a jigsaw of human mobility. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Drone Video Captures Killer Whales Snacking on Shark

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 16, 2016 4:14 pm


To killer whales, sharks aren’t all that fearsome. They’re more of a snack.

A drone pilot recently captured this video of four killer whales — two adults and two juveniles — chowing down on a still-living shark off the coast of California. They appear to be offshore killer whales, a sub-species that usually spends time far from land, making any glimpses of their behavior a rare treat. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, ocean

Gryffindor! New Spider Species Named After the ‘Sorting Hat’

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 15, 2016 11:54 am

Eriovixia gryffindori measures just a quarter inch in length.

When it came time to name a new species of spider found in India, there wasn’t much deliberation.

The nocturnal arachnid, found in India’s Western Ghat mountain range, looks so much like the Sorting Hat it’s tempting to wonder where J.K. Rowling got her inspiration from. Indian researchers discovered the spider, which they named Eriovixia gryffindori, in 2015, and named it after Godric Gryffindor, the one-time owner of the hat in the Harry Potter books. No word yet on whether it was discovered sitting atop someone’s head. Read More



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