Nov 212014

Mobile phones to get handy upgrade

Computer Scientists at the University of Washington are developing a radar-like system that will allow users to control their wireless devices with hand gestures. The system uses the reflection of radio waves to track hand movements and translate them into commands. Ben Gruber reports.

Transcript: In this lab at the University of Washington a smartphone is learning a new trick. Researchers Chen Zao and Matthew Reynolds are testing out a new type of sensor that enables a user to control a mobile phone without ever having to touch it. In the not too distant future, they say a simple hang gesture will be sufficient to switch songs or decline a call while a phone is tucked away in a pocket or bag. The new sensor is called Sideswipe and it uses a smartphone’s radio signals much like a plane uses radar. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MATTHEW REYNOLDS, COMPUTER SCIENTISTS, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, SAYING: “If you think about a radar on an aircraft or a boat or something like that, in that case you have a transmitter that is sending energy out into the environment and it is being reflected by objects nearby.” …the object in this case, is a users hand, which acts as a mirror reflecting the cell phone signal back towards it’s source. Reynolds says that reflected signal can be used as a real time map for the sensor. He says that as the signal flow changes, patterns emerge… (SOUNDBITE) (English) MATTHEW REYNOLDS, COMPUTER SCIENTISTS, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, SAYING: “And what we do is use a machine learning algorithm to match patterns of the changes due to gestures with previously recorded patterns and when we see a match we say ‘oh’ a particular gesture has been performed.” In a small study, the team showed that their sensor worked with 87 percent accuracy using multiple hand gestures. Reynolds says they are now fine-tuning the technology and hope to team up with smartphone makers to bring gesture recognition out of the lab and into the market.

Shape-shifting architecture that responds to heat

Architectural research students in Barcelona showcase a prototype of a shape-shifting building which expands and contracts as heat is applied. Amy Pollock reports.

Transcript: Buildings are supposed to be rigid and stationary. But in the future, those made with a Shape Memory Polymer could change shape and expand with changes in temperature. Researchers at Barcelona’s Institute of Advanced Architecture have laid the foundations with an origami prototype building that bends and twists at high temperatures. Team member Ece Tankal says they were looking for a material with the ability to bend AND remember its initial shape. (SOUNDBITE) (English) IAAC STUDENT ECE TANKAL, SAYING: “While we were trying to find the exact material that could change phase from a rubbery state to a solid state, which could act as a structural element in the building, we came up with this new material.” The project known as ‘Translated Geometries’ uses triangular tiles to make up the origami structure. Researcher Ramin Shambayati says the team can create movement at each correcting point – or node – of the structure. (SOUNDBITE) (English) IAAC STUDENT, RAMIN SHAMBAYATI, SAYING: “By heating each specific node we can soften the material and then by pulling or pushing it will determine what the final output is. Upon cooling again it holds the new shape. So right now this is cool and hard and it is not going to move but when we re-soften it it can easily be transformed.” The polymer is heated directly using electric wires. Once the temperatures passes 62 degrees Celsius it becomes elastic, allowing the building to bend and twist. Drones attached to the structure by wires fly around it and stretch it into the desired position. They then hold the structure in the new shape for two minutes while it cools down. Team leader Areti Markopoulou says buildings of the future will have to change with our needs. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ACADEMIC DIRECTOR OF IAAC, ARETI MARKOPOULOU, SAYING: “We can take our houses with us like animals do in nature and we can transform it according to what we need: if it is a bigger family then we need to expand our house or whether we need more transparency and translucency because of the light and outside temperature. So our house would be able to adapt to that. And we could even put it in our pocket and then unfold it and create a three-dimensional structure.” She says while we’re unlikely to see entire buildings like the ‘Translated Geometries’ prototype in the near future, the principle could be applied to pavilions, interiors or the facades of buildings.

Tick saliva could help combat cancer, say Brazilian researchers

Brazilian doctors hope a compound found in a common blood-sucking tick can be used to break down cancerous tumours in humans after successful results in laboratory animals. Tara Cleary has more.

Transcript: It’s not a pleasant sight; ticks having their saliva extracted. But according to researchers at the Butantan Institute in Brazil, the arachnid’s spit could be extremely valuable in fighting cancer. Project coordinator, Ana Marisa Chudzinski-Tavassi, says her team originally explored the anti blood-clotting properties of tick saliva. But they soon found that one particular molecule, Ambyomin-X, also kills malignant cells. Tests on mice and rabbits not only reduced cancerous tumours, but did so without damaging healthy cells. SOUNDBITE: DOCTOR ANA MARISA CHUDZINSKI-TAVASSI, COORDINATOR OF THE PROJECT TO MAKE CANCER MEDICATION THROUGH TICK SALIVA EXTRACT, SAYING (Portuguese): “Usually with chemotherapy, though it has a bigger effect on tumour cells than on normal cells, normal cells are also always harmed. And what we’ve seen here, even with 42 days of treatment in animals, is that we aren’t reaching normal cells. So the idea is that side effects will be far fewer.” The tick saliva compound has successfully treated animals with cancers of the skin, pancreas, kidneys and metastases in the lungs. And Chudzinski-Tavassi says she hopes Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency will soon approve human clinical trials. She says these could prove an important breakthrough in the fight against cancer and put Brazil on the biotechnology map.

World’s first solar-powered bike path opens

The Dutch finance minister opens the world’s first public bicycle path that generates electricity. Inventors of SolaRoad say their technology is a major step towards a sustainable mobility system that could help power traffic lights and electric cars within five years. Jim Drury reports.

Transcript: SolaRoad isn’t your average bicycle path…… It’s the first in the world to be fitted with embedded solar panels. Dutch finance minister Henk Kamp got in the saddle to launch the 70 metre stretch of a busy Amsterdam commuter path. (SOUNDBITE) (English), DUTCH FINANCE MINISTER, HENK KAMP, SAYING: “This is not economically feasible but we will make it economically feasible and we are working on it very hard.” Co-inventor Sten de Wit says SolaRoad consists of rows of miniscule crystalline silicon solar cells, encased within concrete and covered with a translucent layer of tempered glass. SOUNDBITE (English), SOLAROAD CO-INVENTOR AND DEVELOPER, STEN DE WIT, SAYING: “The top layer is the main innovation of this road, because it has to combine a number of functions: it has to be transparent, because the sunlight has to go through the top layer to the solar cells that are underneath, but it also has to be sufficiently skid-resistant, sufficiently rough.” Because the path can’t be adjusted to the sun’s position, it produces 30 percent less energy than solar roof panels. But de Wit says it’s suitable for up to a fifth of Dutch roads, and could eventually be used to power traffic lights and electric cars. SOUNDBITE (English), SOLAROAD CO-INVENTOR AND DEVELOPER, STEN DE WIT, SAYING: “If in the future we could put that electricity from the road into electric cars that drive over the road, then we could make a huge step towards sustainable mobility system.” De Wit’s colleagues at the TNO research institute say they’ll have a commercially viable product within five years…once this initial trial gets into gear.

3D fun improves child therapy in Poland

Scientists in Poland are helping children with autism and Down’s Syndrome better focus on therapeutic exercises by taking them out of their real world environment and into a specially-designed 3D cave in which their imagination can flourish. Jim Drury reports.

Transcript: Autistic children can quickly lose interest in conventional therapy techniques. But in the 3D cave at Poland’s Silesian University Of Technology that’s not the case. Scientists led by Piotr Wodarski created this virtual world, similar to combat simulators used to train soldiers. SOUNDBITE (Polish) SILESIAN UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY SCIENTIST, PIOTR WODARSKI, SAYING: “A child entering our application activates certain motion sequences which allow the optical system to measure where the individual segments of the body are, and on this basis calculate the appropriate modules of the application so that they match the location of the objects with the reach of a palm or the position of the head of the person in our system.” Therapeutic activities, like moving colourful blocks around, are programmed into the system. Professor Marek Gzik says it’s helping both children with autism and Down’s Syndrome focus better on their therapy. Autistic patients, in particular, can find human interaction difficult. SOUNDBITE (Polish) SILESIAN UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY SCIENTIST, PROFESSOR MAREK GZIK, SAYING: “Getting through to these children can be difficult. But thanks to this technology they open up and we can diagnose their problems properly, in detail, objectively, measuring the mobility in their joints for instance, and then see which methods of rehabilitation are most efficient.” Engineers are tweaking the system to meet children’s varying levels of physical and mental development. They hope that children could soon use the program at home with virtual reality headsets.

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