HAPPY BIRTHDAY, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson!

 

william-kennedy-dickson1.png

What the what?!  That’s William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, the guy who invented the Kinetoscope, among other completely awesome stuff!  Today is Billy Boy’s birthday!  Happy Birthday, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson!

Dickson was one of Edison’s “muckers,” the guys who did all of Edison’s work for him.  What a d-bag he was, that Edison!

Check out the Happy Birthday, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson Official Birthday Post!

 

Holy Terminator Eyes! An LED Contact Lens That Gives Your Eyes A Display Overlay!

LED-contact-lens-fantasy

Can you imagine contact lenses that give you a see-through display that connects via Bluetooth into your iPhone?  Maybe something that allows you to get news stories as they pop up, see email notifications in your vision, or perhaps maybe even something actually useful?  The people at the University of Washington have developed a test case of this exact scenario — albeit in the eye of a rabbit.  But if Bugs Bunny can see like the Terminator, with images and text, then where’s the limit?  I submit it’s the SKY!

From the University of Washington’s press release, cross-posted from the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering:

We present the design, construction and in vivo rabbit testing of a wirelessly powered contact lens display. The display consists of an antenna, a 500 × 500 µm2 silicon power harvesting and radio integrated circuit, metal interconnects, insulation layers and a 750 × 750 µm2 transparent sapphire chip containing a custom-designed micro-light emitting diode with peak emission at 475 nm, all integrated onto a contact lens. The display can be powered wirelessly from ~1 m in free space and ~2 cm in vivo on a rabbit. The display was tested on live, anesthetized rabbits with no observed adverse effect. In order to extend display capabilities, design and fabrication of micro-Fresnel lenses on a contact lens are presented to move toward a multipixel display that can be worn in the form of a contact lens. Contact lenses with integrated micro-Fresnel lenses were also tested on live rabbits and showed no adverse effect.

Terminator-Lens-in-rabbit-eye

Let’s hit some key points here:

  • Part of the purpose of this most recent test was to test the safety of this device on a live subject.
  • Scientists tested a real, live, working video contact lens display on a real, live, BREATHING AND POOPING RABBIT (that’s what in vivo means, basically not diced up into dead tissue)
  • The device had wireless power, and everything needed is integrated into the tiny contact lens
  • No bad effects were observed on the rabbit, which was anesthetized
  • The contact lens had one pixel, but the next phase is a micro-Fresnel multi-pixel display lens, which were also tested on the bunnies, with no apparent bad effects.

led-contact-lens-detail

This is, by all accounts, AMAZING!  Can you imagine the implications of having a see-through display in your vision?!  From my lighting designer mind, I see things like photometric data or spectrophotometric data just updating as you look at something?  I hate to be the one to state this, but you KNOW the Defense Department is going to get their hands on this if they haven’t already — and we’ll see the next round of soldiers equipped with instant range finding and targeting displays right there in their vision as if it was nothing at all.  Seal Team 6, for example, was rumored to be wearing night vision contact lenses on the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan on Osama Bin Laden.  A rumor of course, but is it really that inconceivable that something along those lines is possible?  I think not!

night-vision-contact-lenses

 

We’re still quite a bit away from the kinds of retina display technology we see in the movies — for example, in Mission Impossible 4 when Josh Holloway was in the train station looking at people’s faces as they passed by — but that technology is definitely going to be hitting our wallets in the next decade.  Call it intuition, call it a gut feeling, I don’t know.  But the interface is already there, Edward Snowden has made us very aware of that — and if it’s not already there by now, I have to believe that it isn’t way too far behind development.

retina-display-scanning

We already have license plate scanning cameras that police drive around with as they do their patrols.  We have data systems that can mine faces and scan instantly as people pass by the sensors.  What’s to say that soon we can’t have a device you go purchase at the local high end electronics retailer that allows you to shop for something anywhere, and while you’re looking at things in the store, you’re getting a display of the current price on Amazon versus what you’re seeing at Target?  Amazing thought, huh!

From an excellent article written in the IEEE Spectrum back in 2009, when the thought of monitoring someone’s blood glucose was an excellent reason for developing a technology like the one being tested today:

ieee-spectrum-bionic-eye

These lenses don’t need to be very complex to be useful. Even a lens with a single pixel could aid people with impaired hearing or be incorporated as an indicator into computer games. With more colors and resolution, the repertoire could be expanded to include displaying text, translating speech into captions in real time, or offering visual cues from a navigation system. With basic image processing and Internet access, a contact-lens display could unlock whole new worlds of visual information, unfettered by the constraints of a physical display.

Besides visual enhancement, noninvasive monitoring of the wearer’s biomarkers and health indicators could be a huge future market. We’ve built several simple sensors that can detect the concentration of a molecule, such as glucose. Sensors built onto lenses would let diabetic wearers keep tabs on blood-sugar levels without needing to prick a finger. The glucose detectors we’re evaluating now are a mere glimmer of what will be possible in the next 5 to 10 years. Contact lenses are worn daily by more than a hundred million people, and they are one of the only disposable, mass-market products that remain in contact, through fluids, with the interior of the body for an extended period of time. When you get a blood test, your doctor is probably measuring many of the same biomarkers that are found in the live cells on the surface of your eye—and in concentrations that correlate closely with the levels in your bloodstream. An appropriately configured contact lens could monitor cholesterol, sodium, and potassium levels, to name a few potential targets. Coupled with a wireless data transmitter, the lens could relay information to medics or nurses instantly, without needles or laboratory chemistry, and with a much lower chance of mix-ups.

Three fundamental challenges stand in the way of building a multipurpose contact lens. First, the processes for making many of the lens’s parts and subsystems are incompatible with one another and with the fragile polymer of the lens. To get around this problem, my colleagues and I make all our devices from scratch. To fabricate the components for silicon circuits and LEDs, we use high temperatures and corrosive chemicals, which means we can’t manufacture them directly onto a lens. That leads to the second challenge, which is that all the key components of the lens need to be miniaturized and integrated onto about 1.5 square centimeters of a flexible, transparent polymer. We haven’t fully solved that problem yet, but we have so far developed our own specialized assembly process, which enables us to integrate several different kinds of components onto a lens. Last but not least, the whole contraption needs to be completely safe for the eye. Take an LED, for example. Most red LEDs are made of aluminum gallium arsenide, which is toxic. So before an LED can go into the eye, it must be enveloped in a biocompatible substance.

terminator_vision_02More from the press release at the University of Washington:

At the moment, the contact lens device contains only a single pixel of information, but the researchers say it is a proof of the concept that the device could be worn by a person. Eventually it could display short emails and other messages directly before a wearers eyes.

“This is the first time we have been able to wirelessly power and control the display in a live eye,” said Babak Parviz, an author and UW associate professor of electrical engineering. Among his coauthors are Brian Otis, associate professor of electrical engineering, and Andrew Lingley, a graduate student.

“Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside,” Parviz explained during a 2008  interview.

The researchers findings were published Nov. 22 in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.

Perhaps the best-known science fiction character to use such a display is the Terminator, and for almost seven years Parviz and others have worked on trying to make the display a reality.

Building the lenses required researchers to make circuits from metal only a few nanometers thick, about one-thousandth of a human hair. They built light-emitting diodes (LED) one-third of a millimeter in diameter. And to help focus the images, the researchers made arrays of tiny lenses that were put into the contacts.

The contact lens has an antenna to take power from an external source, as well as an integrated circuit to store this energy and transfer it to a transparent sapphire chip containing a single blue LED.

Otis called this successful wireless transmission to a lens “an extremely exciting project … that presents huge opportunities for health-care platforms.” The team is working on a way to monitor a diabetic patients glucose level using lenses.

Check this out, it’s three minutes worth of awesomesauce — some of this project from back in 2011:

GAH!  What an awesome project!

Contact_Lens_Designs

Crazy Friday Science: New “Dua’s Layer” Discovered in Human Eyes, Ophthalmology Changed Forever

From May 28, 2013 onward, the study of the human eye will forever be changed.  A doctor named Harminder S. Dua, Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Nottingham has discovered a new layer of cells that lies just above Descemet’s Layer of the cornea and the corneal stroma.  Like so:

duas-layer

“Now hold on there cowboy, what’s the cornea?!”

The cornea is the covering for the iris, pupil, and the anterior chamber  – basically the spot in front of the eye’s lens.  It’s one of the body’s most nerve-filled tissues, and it’s filled with fluid for light transmission.  Check this out, it’s an excellent visual description of the cornea, anterior and vitreous chambers — for reference, Dua’s Layer is right between the rear edge of the cornea (closest to the iris) and the middle of the cornea:

Three_Main_Layers_of_the_Eye

 

What Dr. Dua has discovered is a layer within the cornea that seems to have something to do with failures in the cornea where misshaping takes place.  These kinds of diseases are thought to be caused by water becoming waterlogged within the cornea itself, perhaps caused by a tear in this new Dua’s Layer.  They give the person afflicted a cone-shaped cornea that can be corrected with glasses, contacts, or in extreme cases, corneal surgery.  I’ve never seen anything quite like this before, so I’m guessing you haven’t either:

Keratoconus_eye

keratoconus-eye

from http://thesclerallenscenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/IMG_8964.jpg

Dua’s Layer is the new tissue discovery that is thought to cause things like this crazy degenerative keratoconus, which looks very annoying and painful to me.  Keratoconus causes pretty awful headaches and eye strain for people afflicted, which nobody wants.  But, this discovery is being heralded as a potential game changer for corneal diseases and degenerative conditions.  From Sci News:

“This is a major discovery that will mean that ophthalmology textbooks will literally need to be re-written. Having identified this new and distinct layer deep in the tissue of the cornea, we can now exploit its presence to make operations much safer and simpler for patients,” said Dr Harminder Dua, Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Nottingham and lead author of a paper published in the journal Ophthalmology.

“From a clinical perspective, there are many diseases that affect the back of the cornea which clinicians across the world are already beginning to relate to the presence, absence or tear in this layer.”

The human cornea is the clear protective lens on the front of the eye through which light enters the eye. Scientists previously believed the cornea to be comprised of five layers, from front to back, the corneal epithelium, Bowman’s layer, the corneal stroma, Descemet’s membrane and the corneal endothelium.

…and from Science Daily:

The scientists proved the existence of the layer by simulating human corneal transplants and grafts on eyes donated for research purposes to eye banks located in Bristol and Manchester.

During this surgery, tiny bubbles of air were injected into the cornea to gently separate the different layers. The scientists then subjected the separated layers to electron microscopy, allowing them to study them at many thousand times their actual size.

Understanding the properties and location of the new Dua’s layer could help surgeons to better identify where in the cornea these bubbles are occurring and take appropriate measures during the operation. If they are able to inject a bubble next to the Dua’s layer, its strength means that it is less prone to tearing, meaning a better outcome for the patient.

The discovery will have an impact on advancing understanding of a number of diseases of the cornea, including acute hydrops, Descematocele and pre-Descemet’s dystrophies.

The scientists now believe that corneal hydrops, a bulging of the cornea caused by fluid build up that occurs in patients with keratoconus (conical deformity of the cornea), is caused by a tear in the Dua layer, through which water from inside the eye rushes in and causes waterlogging.

This is the first time I am ever researching Keratoconus — I have a good friend who has Retinitis Pigmentosa, another degenerative disease of the eye (in that case the retina), but the conical cornea is quite an odd phenomena.  Have you ever had or know anyone who has had this disease?  I found some information at WebMD on Keratoconus on diagnosis and treatment:

Keratoconus changes vision in two ways:

  • As the cornea changes from a ball shape to a cone shape, the smooth surface becomes slightly wavy. This is called irregular astigmatism.
  • As the front of the cornea expands, vision becomes more nearsighted. That is, only nearby objects can be seen clearly. Anything too far away will look like a blur.

An eye doctor may notice symptoms during an eye exam. You may also mention symptoms that could be caused by keratoconus. These include:

  • Sudden change of vision in just one eye
  • Double vision when looking with just one eye
  • Objects both near and far looking distorted
  • Bright lights looking like they have halos around them
  • Lights streaking
  • Seeing triple ghost images

To be sure you have keratoconus, your doctor needs to measure the curvature of the. cornea. There are several different ways this can be done.

One instrument, called a keratometer, shines a pattern of light onto the cornea. The shape of the reflection tells the doctor how the eye is curved. There are also computerized instruments that make three-dimensional “maps” of the cornea.

How Is Keratoconus Treated?
Treatment usually starts with new eyeglasses. If eyeglasses don’t provide adequate vision, then contact lenses may be recommended.  With mild cases, new eyeglasses can usually make vision clear again. Eventually, though, it will probably be necessary to use contact lenses or seek other treatments to strengthen the cornea and improve vision.

A last resort is a cornea transplant.  This involves removing the center of the cornea and replacing it with a donor cornea that is stitched into place.

Congratulations to Dr. Harminder Dua and his team at the University of Nottingham for this amazing discovery!
Keep up the excellent game-changing work, good sir!

dr-harminder-dua

Check out the abstract at the journal Ophthalmology.

keratoconus-normal

from http://www.centralohioeyecare.com/user-files/PageImage206991.jpg

Thanks to Wikipedia on Keratoconus, Dua’s Layer, Traffic Shaper!

What If We Used Trees to Light Our Streets Instead of Electric Lamps?

glowing_plant

That’s the question that a core team of people on a Kickstarter campaign meant to create illuminating plant life want to know, and they want to know NOW!

So what exactly is going on here? From the Kickstarter campaign website on the Glowing Plants:

We are using Synthetic Biology techniques and Genome Compiler’s software to insert bioluminescence genes into Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant and member of the mustard family, to make a plant that visibly glows in the dark (it is inedible).

Funds raised will be used to print the DNA sequences we have designed using Genome Compiler and to transform the plants by inserting these sequences into the plant and then growing the resultant plant in the lab.

Printing DNA costs a minimum of 25 cents per base pair and our sequences are about 10,000 base pairs long. We plan to print a number of sequences so that we can test the results of trying different promoters – this will allow us to optimize the result. We will be printing our DNA with Cambrian Genomics who have developed a revolutionary laser printing system that massively reduces the cost of DNA synthesis.

Transforming the plant will initially be done using the Agrobacterium method.  Our printed DNA will be inserted into a special type of bacteria which can insert its DNA into the plant.  Flowers of the plant are then dipped into a solution containing the transformed bacteria. The bacteria injects our DNA into the cell nucleus of the flowers which pass it onto their seeds which we can grow until they glow!  You can see this process in action in our video.

Once we have proven the designs work we will then insert the same gene sequence into the plant using a gene gun.  This is more complicated, as there’s a risk the gene sequence gets scrambled, but the result will be unregulated by the USDA and thus suitable for release.

Funds raised will also be used to support our work to develop an open policy framework for DIY Bio work involving recombinant DNA.  This framework will provide guidelines to help others  who are inspired by this project navigate the regulatory and social challenges inherent in community based synthetic biology.  The framework will include recommendations for what kinds of projects are safe for DIY Bio enthusiasts and recommendations for the processes which should be put in place (such as getting experts to review the plans).

So far, as of writing this post, the campaign has raised over 700% of their goal.  The campaign stops tomorrow, June 7, 2013, but they’ve already raised almost $500,000 dollars!  The initial startup campaign?  Only $65,000.

Some commentary I found interesting – from the Glowing Plant website (at www.glowingplant.com) – what do you think of a GMO plant type like this?  They plainly state that the plant is not edible and not made for food:

Aren’t GMOs evil?  Luckily, that’s one question we don’t typically tend to get – although some people have definitely told us as much.

Like it or not, biology is the science of the 21st century, the way the steam engine dominated the first half of the 20th century. And just as there was a backlash against steam technology – it was going to put everybody out of work, and cows were going to drop dead in fright at the sight of a 20 mph steam train – there is a lot of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms. To the point that creations like the vitamin fortified “Golden Rice” are now banned from countries where they could be saving thousands of lives. I’m sure that the first humans to discover fire were feared and reviled by their neighbors. And I’m sure those fire makers were concerned that their invention might “fall in the wrong hands”.

As with all technology, genetic engineering is not inherently good or bad – it all depends how you apply it. Science fiction stories are full of the hypothetical abuses of genetic engineering. Then again, they are also full of Midichlorians, and nobody takes those serious. More down-to-earth: yes, genetic engineering has been used to create quasi-monopolies on seeds and herbicides. But it is also being used to produce insulin and hundreds of other lifesaving drugs, develop cures for inherited diseases through gene therapy, and to make sure the next billion members of humanity will have enough to eat.

Monoculture and loss of crop diversity may be a really bad idea, ecologically speaking. And depriving farmers of the right to save and replant seed could arguably be called evil. But those are the products of a screwed up agroindustrial system, not the inevitable consequence of GMOs. As for the health concerns with GMOs – well, we’re not creating a food crop here, but as a scientist I would rate eating a tomato with fish genes about as dangerous as eating a fish-and-tomato dinner – and far less risky than eating a new tropical fruit I’ve never seen before.

When it comes to synthetic biology and DIYbio, I feel we’re standing alongside those early fire makers, discussing whether only the village elders should be allowed to handle fire, or whether we should teach everyone how to deal with it safely. Luckily, we know how that decision turned out…

The team:

glowing_plants_team

What do you think of this Kickstarter?  Is it a good thing?  Is it a bad thing?  How do you feel about GMOs that aren’t food based?  Leave a reply below!

We Can’t Stop Asteroids from Smashing Humanity into Powder

asteroid-killed-the-dinosaurs

With a headline like that, one would think this would be bigger news than anything Kim Kardashian might produce, even trumping what color baby bib little cranky monkey Justin Bieber might be wearing today.  But, you’d be wrong.

Here’s the fact of the matter:  all over Earth right now – scientific organizations, special lobbying groups, NASA, the European Space Agency, et al – are telling lawmakers and news outlets that we need to get a collective effort going to solve the problem of hey, what happens if a global killer asteroid smashes into Earth?  Can we protect ourselves?  After all, apparently it only takes one medium-sized asteroid, something around a kilometer in width.  You saw Armageddon, right?  Billy Bob Thornton’s character makes it perfectly clear what would happen if that big rock in the movie slammed into the ocean – and this is just the movies:

asteroids-coming-again copy

“Even if the asteroid itself hits the water, it’s still hitting land. It’ll flash boil millions of gallons of sea water and slam into the ocean bedrock. Now if it’s a Pacific Ocean impact, which we think it will be, it’ll create a tidal wave 3 miles high, travel at a thousand miles an hour, covering California, and washing up in Denver. Japan’s gone, Australia’s wiped out. Half the world’s population will be incinerated by the heat blast, and the rest will freeze to death from nuclear winter.”

Now, that’s just lines from a movie.  But even for a movie that’s pretty hardcore!  Can you imagine it?  I’ve had some bad days, but that sounds horrible.  Thank goodness it’s only the movies.  Are we actually supposed to entrust Billy Bob Thornton with our astrophysical safety, he was also the “french fried pertaters” guy in Slingblade?!  Of COURSE we are!

asteroids-coming copy

Back in the real world that I live in, I ask myself exactly what might happen if a thousand thousand tons of rock slams into the bedrock of Earth.  In that other movie about asteroids with Morgan Freeman (It’s called Deep Impact, and I hear that many a porno has been modeled after the title), astronauts were able to not exactly save Earth, but they were able to pulverize the asteroid enough so that only a smaller chunk of it smashed into Earth.  Still, that smaller chunk made the seas rise a few hundred feet, created a big tidal wave that made the Atlantic wash up into Tennessee and killing a few hundred million Americans.  But that was still just a movie!  Right?!

Asteroid 433 Eros, a planetary killer discovered in 1898, has a dimension of 34.4 kilometers by 11.2km by 16.84 km.  It's the size of a large midwestern city.

Asteroid 433 Eros, a planetary killer discovered in 1898, has a dimension of 34.4 kilometers by 11.2km by 16.84 km. It’s the size of a large midwestern city.  433 Eros is a potential Earth impactor.

What Do Earth’s Scientists Think?

Scientists are all over the freaking place about this very real issue right now.  Some people are deeply concerned, others think that there’s such a little chance that it would ever happen:

“Right now, based on our survey, we see no national imperative for this nation to be upset or excited about impending doom.”  – James L. Green, Director of NASA‘s Planetary Science Division, on Discovery

Perhaps the most daunting answer to come from the House Science Committee hearing with John Holdren was this:  “An asteroid of that size, a kilometer or bigger, could plausibly end civilization… from the information we have, we don’t know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States.  But if it’s coming in three weeks, pray.”   – White House Science Advisor John Holdren

University of California Santa Barbara physicist Philip M. Lubin thinks we should start small on smaller asteroids first – ones we know are coming:  ““We need to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with threats. Duck and cover is not an option. We can actually do something about it, and it’s credible to do something. So let’s begin along this path. Let’s start small and work our way up. There is no need to break the bank to start.”

Scientists don’t disagree that something needs to be done.  What they do differ on is how it needs to be done.  Some scientists feel that some sort of projectile, either nuclear or otherwise, should be thrown at the asteroid somehow.  Some think that attaching some kind of “solar sail” or assisted rocket takeoff device on a grand scale would be the best bet.  One scientist even suggests painting the asteroid in order to change the amount of light it reflects.  Others, seriously yet still funny enough, make jokes in Senate hearings about “calling Bruce Willis,” while actual scientists theorize about possibly making a huge laser and reflector work as our asteroid goalkeeper.  Lest we not forget that Bruce Willis was not only an asteroid killer in the movies, but also Died hard a whole bunch of times.  Like, a TON of times.  How many times can you actually die hard?  Maybe he can just tell the asteroid to go f*ck itself while shooting at it.  Since John Holdren pretty much summed our Earth-asteroid defense systems with “if it [an asteroid] comes in the next three weeks, pray,” then maybe some fictional help might not hurt!

asteriods-coming-armageddon

A few of these ideas that scientists are kicking around still in theory format:

Yarkovsky Paint
asteroidpaintingmission

The long and the short of this idea is to change the amount of light that the asteroid emits in IR photos, eventually causing a miniscule “rocket thrust” in one direction.  The article at Wired explains this fantastically:

The Yarkovsky effect works by changing the amount of light an asteroid gives off. As an asteroid rotates, the surface that has been heated by the sun moves away to face space and radiates infrared photons. Though massless, these photons carry away small bits of momentum from the asteroid, essentially generating a tiny rocket thrust in one direction. The effect is very slight but over time can noticeably change an asteroid’s orbit. By making an asteroid lighter or darker, and therefore changing the amount of radiation it absorbs, we could turn up or down this miniscule rocket thrust. It’s a long haul-technique, requiring years, decades, or even centuries of advanced notice to alter an asteroid’s trajectory.

Will it work?  I have no idea.  I don’t think we have “decades or even centuries” to wait it out, though!

DE-STAR, or Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation

de-star

DE-STAR is basically a re-directing and re-purposing of the Sun’s energy into little laser blasts that might be able to either re-direct or completely vaporize an approaching asteroid over the course of a year.  From a post at Popular Science:

Described as a “directed energy orbital defense system,” DE-STAR is designed to harness some of the power of the sun and convert it into a massive phased array of laser beams that can destroy, or evaporate, asteroids posing a potential threat to Earth. It is equally capable of changing an asteroid’s orbit –– deflecting it away from Earth, or into the Sun –– and may also prove to be a valuable tool for assessing an asteroid’s composition, enabling lucrative, rare-element mining. And it’s entirely based on current essential technology.

The DE-STAR team also claims that their system might also be able to push a spacecraft at the speed of light into the unknown.  More on that in another post.

Surfing An Asteroid On Solar Sails

IKAROS-solar-sail

Solar Sails are something that have taken on validity in this race to figure out how to mitigate the asteroid threat.  This would basically consist of a huge solar sail deployed in space, making good use of the ever-present solar pressure that is exerted on objects in space.  From How Stuff Works:

The reflective nature of the sails is key. As photons (light particles) bounce off the reflective material, they gently push the sail along by transferring momentum to the sail. Because there are so many photons from sunlight, and because they are constantly hitting the sail, there is a constant pressure (force per unit area) exerted on the sail that produces a constant acceleration of the spacecraft. Although the force on a solar-sail spacecraft is less than a conventional chemical rocket, such as the space shuttle, the solar-sail spacecraft constantly accelerates over time and achieves a greater velocity.

Interesting.  The principle of solar pressure also kind of tickles me in that special place.  But again, another post for another time.

Potential Impact of Potential Impacts

Watch this – the recent asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, which exploded around 40 miles above the town with the force of 300 Hiroshimas, was 55 feet across, and injured over 1500 people.  This was in a sparsely populated area, so imagine the impact of an asteroid exploding over San Francisco or New York City:

Also, if you have some time (or want to skip through to where John Holdren tells the Senate Committee that if an asteroid comes to NYC in the next three weeks that we can only pray), check out John Holdren’s Senate Hearing en toto.  It’s actually pretty interesting right off the bat — it might also be interesting to hear the almost comical questions and answers from our elected legislators to these scientists presenting scary information to Congress, not to mention the entire House Science Committee turning every answer of these scientists into how much it would cost and all of the interrupting that these scientists had to endure:

Thanks to:
Mother Jones
Daily Mail
Red Orbit
Space Politics
The Register
NBC’s Cosmic Log
Wikipedia on Asteroid Impact Avoidance

Meet ADAM: A Laser System that Protects Our Troops from Bad Guy Missiles

ADAMPoster1_PRINT_2.16

I can’t get over how crazy the development of military laser technology has been lately.  There’s been a real push to create a competitor for projectile weapons.  For example, earlier this week I talked about the new German Phalanx-style laser weapon that kills drones and little metal balls from the sky.  At one time before it was abandoned, the US Air Force was working on something called the YAL-1, which was a 747 mounted with a chemical laser that was designed to kill nuclear ICBMs from a long, long distance.  I thought it was actually pretty cool, but I can understand why it was scrapped; my assumption is that they’re holding out for a more multi-burst solid state laser instead of a single-shot, highly dangerous chemical laser.

ADAM_Area_Defense_Anti-Munitions_laser_weapon_system_Lockheed_Martin_American_defense_industry_military_technology_002

I have to say that at one point in my life I was pretty frustrated that more money goes into military laser tech than goes into scientific research and development, or even medical laser development.  However, what I realized was that as this technology becomes more readily available via all of this defense money solving big problems up front, less than death uses and systems will “come out in the wash,” as an old colleague usually says.  Just like anything else that we steal from military technology (cable bundling, for example), at some point laser technology from military development will make its way to the civilian and private sector development.

One such system is something that Lockheed Martin calls ADAMArea Defense Anti-Munitions.  This system is designed to be towed into a hostile area where the US has set up a Forward Operating Base, or FOB, in enemy territory.  While our guys sleep and stand guard and all of those things, ADAM is watching over the area, blanketing it with radar that’s watching out for munitions coming into the area from enemy forces — mortar shells, shoulder-fired missiles, etcetera — and destroys the incoming round with a laser.  Check this out, this is a prototype test of a rocket being fired at the ADAM:

Ok, that is insane.  So right now, a system exists that can detect incoming enemy rockets and shells to a base.  Can you imagine what would happen if you were to deploy a handful of these systems across a battlefield?  That sounds like it would be a pretty awesome sight.  From a press release at Lockheed Martin’s website, they’ve also tested the ADAM against drones (UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and small caliber shells:

Since August, the ADAM system has successfully engaged an unmanned aerial system target in flight at a range of approximately 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) and has destroyed four small-caliber rocket targets in simulated flight at a range of approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).

“Lockheed Martin has invested in the development of the ADAM system because of the enormous potential effectiveness of high-energy lasers,” said Doug Graham, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of advanced programs for Strategic and Missile Defense Systems. “We are committed to supporting the transition of directed energy’s revolutionary capability to the war fighter.”

Designed for short-range defense of high-value areas including forward operating bases, the ADAM system’s 10-kilowatt fiber laser is engineered to destroy targets up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away. The system precisely tracks targets in cluttered optical environments and has a tracking range of more than 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). The system has been designed to be flexible enough to operate against rockets as a standalone system and to engage unmanned aerial systems with an external radar cue. The ADAM system’s modular architecture combines commercial hardware components with the company’s proprietary software in an integrated and easy-to-operate system.

Here’s a video of the test they’re talking about, where ADAM shoots down a drone:

I for one am pretty excited to see what happens next.  This could lead to some amazing advancements in light.

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Thanks Business Insider, Army Recognition!

Germany Developing Laser Armed Drones for Farming and Weed Killing

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As unfunny as a subject this is, this is a really ironic story, too.  Right now, the scientists and researchers at the Leibniz University and a laser center in Hanover are currently working on an alternative to herbicides (and I assume pesticides?) that comes in a very strange form as they see it:  a drone equipped with a CO2 laser system.  I mean, this is no YAL-1 or anything, but still — using light to kill weeds!

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This is an awesome idea, right?  A laser equipped drone, complete with some sort of artificial intelligence (AI) that allows it to distinguish good plants from bad species.  There is a lot of interest in this in Germany as well; in an article at DW:

Another possibility is drones, or small robotic planes that would fly over the fields. These could also fight weeds near protected waters, where herbicides are not allowed to be used. According to Marx, the German railway service has expressed interest in the project as well.

“30 percent of the railway tracks are in water protection areas where you can’t use herbicides anyway.”

Crazy.  So the Germans are working on a flying weed death machine that incorporates a limited-fire carbon dioxide laser and has intelligence on board that will allow it to distinguish between different types of pests or pest plant species and eliminate them using the on-board laser.  Trials for this machine are currently at least five years out, according to the article at DW.

Along with a host of other ethics and scare-tactic behaviors that will rival the anti-Obama ads on Facebook, there is a main issue here that people will whine over — and I mean such loud whining that it has the potential to change the physical properties of things, like a microwave oven:

If we let drones fly around, aren’t they going to float around and kill our children?!?!

Look — I know it, you know it, George W. Bush and Obama know it, and Fox News knows it:  Drones programmed for weed killing are not going to drive around with abandon slaughtering families and killing schoolchildren.  BUT:  like anything else, there will be accidents that are the cause of human error, and the religious Right will call the accidents “an act of God.”  However, does this happen every time a combine kills a cousin?  No.  But somehow the Devil will get inside of the machines, or perhaps even the machines developed their own intelligence and chose to slaughter innocent men, women, children, and other sentient beings.  It’s maddening what happens when people start slinging scare speak.

Let’s look on the This is AWESOME side of “robot weed wackers,” because frankly these types of technological advances are going to take place.  You will also notice that drones and lasers are going to be added to replace humans in a variety of different working environments; perhaps maybe the most expensive and dangerous gigs will see robots doing more of that work themselves, or assisted/controlled by a human handler.  I’m pretty sure that we’ll also see them first in very small, very specialized applications, and not out there replacing the teams of men and women who labor to do these jobs currently.  This is the one thing that we as humans will always fight no matter what —  we are afraid of anything that takes away a job from a human.  I think what we forget is that robotics and automation don’t take jobs away, they remove the need for a human being to do something menial and exhausting so that the human can go do something more important, like think of more things for which robotics can provide a solution!

Let’s look at just a few advantages of an imagined Laser Drone Weed Eliminator – a specific and unique application also performed by humans:

  • $$$ Savings on LABOR! 
    Sorry folks, it’s a fact of life.  Labor is expensive, increasingly and constantly, and is often the biggest expense that companies have to incur.  If a company that manufactures fixtures, for example, could double their profit by going completely automated in their manufacturing division, believe me that they would do it.  There will more than likely be the need for human tenders and maintenance workers for the robots, so we can presume that there will always be human tasks.
  • $$$ Savings on TIME
    Perhaps JUST as important as money, time is often money, and an automated drone-based device could do the same job every time, regardless of the kind of day the robot is having.  You could also work a robot a solid 24 hour day and never have to bill overtime.
  • Human Safety Factor
    There will be situations where a robot weed wacker will be the better worker for the task.  Case-in-point, clearing out old Juniper trees or weeding thick rose beds.  On a more extreme (and probably more realistic) scenario, think about something like weeding delicate flower beds or hydroponic setups where human interaction is the worst thing for the species.  These are all valid examples that exist in the industries today; both articles I found on this mention having the drone start in a small greenhouse environment or small farm.
  • Transition Time Between Workers
    As with any job, when one worker leaves a job and another takes his or her place, there is a considerable amount of time that will need to be spent bringing the new worker “to speed,” per se.  With a robot worker, presumably we could replace one for another, transfer some logic, and off we go for another 20 hour shift at that worker’s maximum efficiency potential.

We must remember as well that as our population grows and the urgency for agriculture to keep up with demand, pesticides and herbicides will need to decrease in usage altogether.  This is yet another complicated problem that will take years of research and development to really make happen.  But, we’re taking the right steps.  Baby steps.  I’m sure that the politicians will stick their fat fingers into the Laser Weed Wacker pie as well, which will be even mire fun to write about!

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The laser’s operation, from an article at Gizmag:

The LZH [meaning Laser Zentrum Hannover, or the University's laser center] method is to stunt or kill the weeds in place using a laser. This isn’t a completely new approach. Scientists have been experimenting with weed-killing lasers for years, but early attempts revolved around using lasers to cut weed stems or to boil the weeds in their own juices. This wasn’t always effective and the laser needed a lot of power to get the job done. There was also the constant problem of how to tell the weeds from the crops so the right ones were zapped.

LZH took a different approach. The team, headed by Thomas Rath of the Institute of Biological Production Systems, used a low-powered CO2 laser to strategically heat the water in the weeds’ cells. Instead of slicing through the weeds or burning them, the LZH laser would only heat the weed cells enough to damage them and thus inhibit their growth. This is trickier than it sounds, because if too little power is used, it can turn the laser into a high-tech sunlamp that actually promotes weed growth. As Christian Marx, Research Fellow in the Department of Biosystems and Horticultural Engineering explains, “it has been shown that lasers operating with too little energy are more favorable to weed growth, causing the exact opposite of what we want.”

According to LZH, the team succeeded in locating the weeds’ growth centers and inhibiting them as well as adapting the method to different plants and plant heights. But the real hurdle was in finding a way to make the weed-killing laser practical by making sure it killed only the weeds and not the crops.

There you have it, folks.  A weed killer drone that kills plants with lasers.  A grand idea — let’s see where this one goes in the future!  I’m excited to see the progress!

Quadrotor Light Show

What happens when you take a four rotor helicopter and some photons?

 

With the help of mirrors… ONE TOTALLY RADICOOL LIGHT SHOW:

So what did you just see? The production by University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Lab) uses 16 quadrotors both as lighting devices, but also the mirrors they’re equipped with to manipulate light.

If anyone has more information about how the quadrotors, mirrors, and fixtures are controlled and their interactions programmed, I would love to know! Please post a comment, or you can always reach me via my bio in the footer, the contact form, or daphne (at) jimonlight (dot) com!

Congratulations to the team: Jonathan Santana & Xander Smith (event concept), Juliette Larthe (producer), Marshmallow Laser Feast (Memo Akten, Robin McNicholas, Barney Steel, Raffael Ziegler, Rob Pybus, Devin Matthews, James Medcraft), KMel Robotics (quadrotor design and development), Oneohtrix Point Never (sound design), Sam & Arthur (set design) Holly Restieaux (production supervisor), and Farrow Design (typography and design).

Thanks to Peter Kirkup for directing me to the topic on Blue Room!

LIDAR Helps Scientists Add Mass to Dinosaurs

…and all of it without having to use the strawberry milkshake protein powder that I got from Walmart.  That stuff was horrible!!!

One of my favorite laser publications, Optics.org, posted this awesome article — dinosaur skeletons, LIDAR, and imagining the mass of dinosaurs when they were alive.  The article is pretty cool, check it out here.

From the article:

A team at the University of Manchester has developed a new method for doing so that shows promise, by applying a lidar scanning technique to one of the largest mounted dinosaur skeletons in the world. The findings are published in Biology Letters.

Starting from the principle that the best estimates of dinosaur mass come from a volumetric approach, whereby a model of the animal is created and its mass then calculated via its density, the team scanned a complete skeleton using a lidar scanner supplied by Z+F, specialists in laser scanning and data capture.

I had to know more about this LIDAR business — LIDAR means Light Detection and Ranging.  From the wikipedia:

In general there are two kinds of lidar detection schema: “incoherent” or direct energy detection (which is principally an amplitude measurement) and Coherent detection (which is best for doppler, or phase sensitive measurements). Coherent systems generally use Optical heterodyne detection which being more sensitive than direct detection allows them to operate a much lower power but at the expense of more complex transceiver requirements.

In both coherent and incoherent LIDAR, there are two types of pulse models: micropulse lidar systems and high energy systems. Micropulse systems have developed as a result of the ever increasing amount of computer power available combined with advances in laser technology. They use considerably less energy in the laser, typically on the order of one microjoule, and are often “eye-safe,” meaning they can be used without safety precautions. High-power systems are common in atmospheric research, where they are widely used for measuring many atmospheric parameters: the height, layering and densities of clouds, cloud particle properties (extinction coefficient, backscatter coefficient, depolarization), temperature, pressure, wind, humidity, trace gas concentration (ozone, methane, nitrous oxide, etc.).[1]

There are several major components to a LIDAR system:

  1. Laser — 600–1000 nm lasers are most common for non-scientific applications. They are inexpensive, but since they can be focused and easily absorbed by the eye, the maximum power is limited by the need to make them eye-safe. Eye-safety is often a requirement for most applications. A common alternative, 1550 nm lasers, are eye-safe at much higher power levels since this wavelength is not focused by the eye, but the detector technology is less advanced and so these wavelengths are generally used at longer ranges and lower accuracies. They are also used for military applications as 1550 nm is not visible in night vision goggles, unlike the shorter 1000 nm infrared laser. Airborne topographic mapping lidars generally use 1064 nm diode pumped YAG lasers, while bathymetric systems generally use 532 nm frequency doubled diode pumped YAG lasers because 532 nm penetrates water with much less attenuation than does 1064 nm. Laser settings include the laser repetition rate (which controls the data collection speed). Pulse length is generally an attribute of the laser cavity length, the number of passes required through the gain material (YAG, YLF, etc.), and Q-switch speed. Better target resolution is achieved with shorter pulses, provided the LIDAR receiver detectors and electronics have sufficient bandwidth.[1]
  2. Scanner and optics — How fast images can be developed is also affected by the speed at which they are scanned. There are several options to scan the azimuth and elevation, including dual oscillating plane mirrors, a combination with a polygon mirror, a dual axis scanner (see Laser scanning). Optic choices affect the angular resolution and range that can be detected. A hole mirror or a beam splitter are options to collect a return signal.
  3. Photodetector and receiver electronics — Two main photodetector technologies are used in lidars: solid state photodetectors, such as silicon avalanche photodiodes, or photomultipliers. The sensitivity of the receiver is another parameter that has to be balanced in a LIDAR design.
  4. Position and navigation systems — LIDAR sensors that are mounted on mobile platforms such as airplanes or satellites require instrumentation to determine the absolute position and orientation of the sensor. Such devices generally include a Global Positioning System receiver and an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU).

This scanning technology is actually pretty widely used all over the place — along with terrestrial map data from suppliers, the GPS companies’ travel vans are mostly fitted with LIDAR scanners.  These scanners are actually pretty cool – the company listed in the article, Z+F UK, has some particularly interesting looking devices!  Also, Radiohead apparently used lots of LIDAR capture to film their House of Cards video.  Here’s a bit of them doing some scanning work:

Crazy.  Also, if you’re one of those nerds like me who likes to comb through the images and content on places like NOAA and see the output from satellites at the various observation stations, check out the LIDAR stuff at the USGS (US Geological Survey) website.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

For those of you like yours truly, who will be spending this holiday of sickeningly sweet romance working hard to fill the world with more light, I got you a little something…

These are Galassia Flowers, the first product designed by an Australian company, Bionconst, known for its plant research and development. Bioconst hopes to further its technologies and create a range of plants that emit light.

Galassia Flowers are treated with a special luminous formula, visible with the aid of some UV. The glow lasts many months, much longer than the lifespan of the flowers. Check out the gallery below and see not just more of their flowers, but how they add UV sources in to bouquets, corsages and boutonnieres:

Images from galassiaflowers.com.au