For decades, amputees have been able to open and close prosthetic hands by twitching muscles and activating a superficial electromyogram (sEMG), but they had no way of feeling what the prosthetic was encountering and little control over the strength of their grasping grip. IEEE shares this report.
An amputee who allowed European researchers to plug electrodes into a bundle of his wrist nerves was able to control the strength of a prosthetic hand’s grip and to distinguish the shapes and stiffness of three kinds of objects. The 30-day trial marks a success for one of several new experimental ways of giving amputees a better sense of touch and control over their prosthetics. A different group has conveyed sensations of temperature and vibrations by moving arm nerves into intact muscles of the chest, which act as biological amplifiers of the nerves’ tiny signals. Another team tapped into nerves in the lower spine of cats to control their limbs. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is also seeking to improve sensation and control of its advanced prosthetics.
In the latest trial, appearing in Science Translational Medicine today, biomedical engineer Silvestro Micera of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and a large team surgically attached electrodes from a robotic hand to a 36-year-old volunteer’s median and ulnar nerves. Those nerves carry sensations that correspond with the volunteer’s index finger and thumb, and with his pinky finger and the edge of his hand, respectively. The volunteer controlled the prosthetic with small muscle movements detected by sEMG, a method that dates to the 1970s and measures electrical signals through the skin—unlike the electrodes attached to his nerves, sEMG is not invasive.
Biomedical engineering doctoral student Max Ortiz of Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden, who works on prosthetics attached to human bones, says that Micera’s method offers promise for fine-tuning prosthetics control. The next step, say both Tyler and Ortiz, is to determine whether the more invasive electrode attachment can endure longer in a larger number of patients.
The sleek road connecting the Indian cities of Mumbai and Pune is a model of modernity. While it’s much safer than the aging, dilapidated highway it replaced, it is still a very dangerous road to travel - the scene of 2,000 crashes over its 12-year history, resulting in 500 fatalities and thousands of injuries. Atlantic Cities shares this story.
ndeed, although India has been modernizing its roads, it has not been creating safer environments for those who use them. India accounts for about 10 percent of the road fatalities in the world at this point, and the incidence of death increased by more than 44 percent between 2001 and 2011. In 2011, nearly 137,000 people died on Indian roads, and the rate still keeps going up, despite the ongoing construction of more modern roadways.
A Mumbai-based behavioral science and design firm called Final Mile is studying the problem and trying to come up with effective design solutions to address some of the reasons behind India’s traffic death crisis. Ram Prasad, one of the company’s cofounders, says roads like the Mumbai-Pune Expressway have been designed with only cars in mind, and fail to take the human factor fully into account. They are so straight and wide and clear that they encourage excessive speed, inattention, and carelessness. In other words, they lull drivers into perilous complacency precisely because they seem so safe and predictable.
Risk perception was the key in that case. Final Mile painted alternate ties of the railroad tracks yellow, enabling people to better gauge the speed of approaching trains. In another tactic, they installed signs showing shocking images of a man’s face as a train bore down on him. The message was understandable in a second, no matter which of India’s 25 languages you speak, and the number of deaths in Wadala Station dropped dramatically.
If you’re sick and tired of the constant snowstorms this winter (and especially the shoveling that comes after), it might be time to invest in a remote-controlled solution. Atlantic Cities shares this report.
The 393-pound robot comes with a 52-inch wide blade, perfect for sidewalks and driveways. SuperDroid Robots actually demoed the product on Youtube back in November. But the North Carolina-based company was finally able to fully demonstrate its capabilities last week, when a decent layer of snow fell on the state.
The “hydrogen economy” just got a nice push from the Obama administration, which is now partnering with the private sector to facilitate a fresh wave of fuel cells that can be used to power the transportation sector. IEEE shares this report.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced at year end that it would spread a US $7.2 million investment across four states: Georgia, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, all to support projects that fuel vehicles and support power systems. The administration says that it is part of its “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.
At present, fuel cells are being adopted for materials handling equipment such as forklifts as well as in powering telecommunications infrastructure. As for the transportation sector, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota are all creating small numbers of fuel cell-powered cars that they say will be available by 2015 in Southern California. For its part, Toyota has said that it expects to produce “tens of thousands per year in the 2020s.” Cost for fuel cell vehicles have dropped by 50 percent since 2006 and 30 percent since 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Meanwhile, fuel cell durability has more doubled since 2005.
The advantages of hydrogen are that it is abundant, renewable and non-polluting. Water vapor is the only byproduct of a fuel cell and hydrogen-fueled vehicles have more twice the range of today’s electric vehicles. But it is difficult to store hydrogen, and it is about 30 percent more expensive to carry the hydrogen via pipelines than to carry natural gas.
The know-how exists but the cost of creating a new hydrogen-powered auto sector is prohibitive. By partnering with the private sector, the Obama administration thinks that it can create some success stories and speed up the process.
The Russian icebreaker Baltika takes an unusual approach to the task of busting open frozen sea-lanes. Wired shares this story.
The Baltika isn’t adrift—it’s breaking ice. Debuting in the Gulf of Finland in early 2014, the Russian-owned ship will be the first to travel sideways through the frozen stuff. Although smaller than a normal icebreaker, its oblique angle of attack lets it carve a larger path—wide enough for commercial ships to follow. “You would conventionally need two icebreakers to make the same channel,” project manager Mika Willberg says. The vessel can even help with oil spills: The unique hull guides oily water into a hatch, where a skimmer tank separates the oil from the water. TheBaltika can crack through ice about 2 feet thick, which makes it suitable for conditions in the Baltic Sea. The ship’s patent holder, Aker Arctic, has a larger ship in the works to cut trade routes through heavier Arctic ice.
Roll and Crush Instead of smashing ice head-on, the angled hull lets the ship roll over the ice and use its weight to do the cracking.
Propulsion Three 360-degree thrusters let the ship navigate sideways to attack the ice at a 30-degree angle. Wide SwathThe Baltika cuts a 160-foot path through ice, allowing tankers to follow in its wake.
Ballast Inside, water and fuel are pumped between tanks so the ship doesn’t roll over.
U.S. Army convoys will soon be able to roll into even the roughest of unfriendly foreign urban areas and combat zones without the worry of loss of life, thanks to new technology that will make large vehicles fully autonomous. Wired tell us more.
In demonstrations earlier this month at Fort Hood, Texas, the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and Lockheed Martin demonstrated the ability of the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System (AMAS), which gives full autonomy to convoys to operate in urban environments. In tests, driverless tactical vehicles were able to navigate hazards and obstacles including pedestrians, oncoming traffic, road intersections, traffic circles and stalled and passing vehicles.
Under an initial $11 million contract in 2012, Lockheed Martin developed the multiplatform kit which integrates low-cost sensors and control systems with Army and Marine tactical vehicles to enable autonomous operation in convoys. According to Lockheed, AMAS also gives drivers an automated option to alert, stop and adjust, or take full control under user supervision.
The Pentagon has long sought options for protecting U.S. military convoys from suicide bombers, IEDs and other attacks since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Most recently, the Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on a U.S.-led military convoy in Kabul near Camp Eggers earlier this month, when a roadside bomb exploded but without casualties.
consulting firm gravitytank have answered the call of society. They’ve conceived of a clothing line called Straphanger, with rider apparel engineered to reduce the spread of germs on public transportation. The gear is part of a broader campaign to raise awareness of transit-related disease transmission called — double-meaning alert — Project Transfer. Atlantic Cities shares this story.
A runway show for Straphanger would begin with the antimicrobial elbow patch that gives riders a safe place to sneeze. Then comes the face mask with the antimicrobial liner that filters the air going in and out. Then there’s the breathable jacket with a high collar lined with antimicrobial fleece (see a pattern here). And don’t forget the pole gloves that slip down over your hands from inside your sleeves.
Rounding out the line are the wrist-pocket no-touch transit pass holder and the slender low-touch backpack made to handle tight crowds. The design features are subtle so as not to offend the fashion police, let alone the fellow travelers you’re secretly afraid will get you sick.
Project Transfer proposes some environmental transit designs to go with its sartorial ones. Seng and Haidary envision a touch-free leaner to replace poles in many metro cars, and a disinfectant ring that can cleanse any remaining poles with a quick slide up and down. They also see a place in transit stations for hand-sanitizing stations — complete with touch-free sensors for rider convenience, and a long-lasting reservoir supply for agency convenience.
Right now everything is in the conceptual phase, and the gravitytank team admits the system designs are mostly a thought experiment. But they’d love to partner with a clothing manufacturer to develop the Straphanger line. They point to Chrome Industries, which offers cycling accessories, and nau, a sustainable urban apparel company, as evidence of a market for clothing brands with a city niche.
Upon first glance, the rankings don’t seem too surprising. New York City comes in first, as it always should. Boston is the second top-ranked Northeastern city. Washington D.C. is the top Southern city, and San Francisco is the top Western city.
Somehow, San Francisco comes in second place after New York City. If that’s actually the case, the U.S. transportation system is in big trouble. Because while San Francisco is served by many different transit types (subway, light rail, buses), it still can take hours to cross the seven mile by seven mile city using public transportation.
At least the top five cities all have somewhat respectable transportation systems, even if they aren’t always efficient (the Transit Scores only take into account frequency, type of route, and distance–but not reliability). The bottom five on the top 10 list of best cities for transportation all get a score of 65 out of 100 or lower; in other words, even the Transit Score algorithm doesn’t rank them too highly. And somehow, Los Angeles, land of cars, slides in at the No. 9 spot. The Bike Scores for the top cities aren’t too high either, but they at least never dip below 62 out of 100 in the top 10.
Unfortunately, Walk Score only ranks public transportation in the U.S., so there’s no way to compare the top 10 scores to other countries.
The innovative emergency housing system offers a suprisingly simple alternative to house the house the over 32 million people who are displaced from natural disasters every year. Fast Company shares this story.
Based on the design on a simple styrofoam coffee cup, each 80 square foot EXO unit consists of two pieces: a base which serves as the floor, and an upper shell making the walls and roof, that simply latch together wherever they are deployed. The upper shells are made from “Tegris, an incredibly durable composite, an aircraft-grade aluminum super structure,” according to Reaction Housing System’s site.
The design of the EXO also keeps in mind the human factors natural disaster aftermath, through its mass deployment configurations. The EXOs can be configured in a circle, semi-circle, or even connected in a straight line to make larger structures, creating zones or small cities, keeping families and neighbors together during the interim between disaster and permanent housing.
IN AN AMBITIOUS MOVE, THE CAPITAL OF ESTONIA GAVE ITS 430,000 RESIDENTS ACCESS TO PUBLIC TRANSIT. SO WHY DIDN’T THE FREE RIDES RESULT IN NEW PASSENGERS? Fast Company shares this story.
A year ago, the city of Tallinn, Estonia, situated a short hop across the Baltic Sea from Finland, made public transportation free to its residents. The capital city of roughly 430,000 people embarked on the largest experiment so far in the fare-free public transportation movement, which proponents claim increases ridership, gets cars off the road, and decreases congestion all while making the city more accessible to low-income residents.
As a study from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden found, Tallinn’s fare-free transit, which applies to buses, trams and trolleys, didn’t bring new riders in droves as city officials expected. The researchers, who presented at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C. this January, found that dropping fares only accounted for a 1.2% increase in demand for the service.
Eliminating fares should, in theory, make public transportation a more attractive prospect, encouraging people to shift from driving to riding transit. In turn, a greater demand for transit caused by all those people parking their cars and hopping on a bus or train should allow the city to prioritize public transit, improving service and shortening wait times.
That’s not exactly what happened in Tallinn. Turns out, it can be difficult convincing people to dump their convenient car ride for a cold wait at a bus stop. The highest increase in passenger demand (10%) came from the district of Lasnamäe, a dense, populous neighborhood with higher unemployment rates than the rest of the city, but the overall data suggests that instead of people switching from cars to public transit, the fare-less system mostly encouraged people to walk less. This might be attributed to the fact that the city already had a fairly high rate of transit use, (40%, versus 26% car use).
What are we going to do about the horn for driverless cars? Atlantic Cities looks at this story.
When the automobile began to challenge the horse-drawn carriage for command of the street, auto-opponents demanded that cars be outfitted with noisemakers for much the same reason that lepers were once required to shout “unclean” as they approached villages: Cars were prone to upsetting horses and endangering pedestrians. (The anti-car crowd had a point: 1921 saw 24 car-related fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the U.S.; 2001 had only 1.51 car-related fatalities per 100 million VMT*.) Thirty years ago, Eugene Garfield cataloged the historical warnings required of automobile operators in his brilliant essay, “The Tyranny of the Horn“:
Today car horns are still a leading source of noise pollution in urban centers. India’s honking problem is so severe that the response to it—from both activists and government officials—mirrors the response to an actual epidemic. Officials in Peru, meanwhile, began treating honking like a serious crime in 2009, threatening to confiscate the cars of people who honk when they shouldn’t. Last year, Shanghai decided to expand the area covered by its 2007 car horn law. Originally aimed at reducing noise pollution downtown, officials wanted to curb honking “by airports, subway stations, and the intersections of major roads.
As for things people are actually trying: Drivers in India honk so much that vehicle manufacturers have developed more robust horns, and horn replacement is considered routine vehicle maintenance. The fact that honking is so integral to navigating the country’s congested streets makes it fertile testing ground for the manufacturers of a device called Bleep, which turns on an annoying dashboard light every time the driver hits the horn. The driver then has to lean over and turn the light off. The device’s manufacturers claim that Bleep reduced honking by 61 percent.
Organic Transit, a small company in Durham, N.C., completed construction of the 51 enclosed, electrically assisted tricycles that it sold earlier in the year through a successful Kickstarter campaign. IEEE tells us more.
The company and its new product—the Elf—is certainly something different. Normally, when you say “cycling,” what comes to mind is the classic safety bicycle, which was developed in the late 1800s. While lots of people continue to use this sort of bicycle for getting around town, for many folks, cycling is just not a practical means of transportation, even if they’re not going far. It may be raining, for example. Or they might need to carry more groceries home than they can comfortably tote on a bike. Or maybe the problem is that once they’ve got the bicycle all loaded up, they won’t be able to tackle that big hill on the way back from the supermarket. Or perhaps they just don’t want to risk getting hurt if they wipe out.
Bicycle makers have recognized these problems for a long while, but few companies have attempted to address them. Organic Transit is the latest to take on this long-standing challenge. Its three-wheeled Elf adopts what’s known as the “tadpole configuration,” with two wheels in front and one in the rear. In this respect, it’s similar to many of thevelomobiles that have come before it. But unlike most of those earlier models, it wasn’t designed low and sleek to slip through the air. Rather, the Elf’s designers had safety and comfort at low speeds in mind, which is why the rider sits high and why the plastic body of this vehicle is not particularly aerodynamic.
While the Elf is certainly cute and will provide an attractive way to get around for some people, I came away from my visit with Organic Transit a bit skeptical. To me, the Elf, small as it is by car standards, seemed way too big and heavy. (It’s almost 70 kilograms—150 pounds.) So you can’t, say, carry it up a flight of stairs as you can with most any bike. And forget about taking it someplace in or on your car.