Tag Archives: brain

Scientists Are Designing An Aircraft You Can Control By Thought. Would You Fly It? (Video)

Professor Florian Holzapfel and aerospace engineer Tim Fricke are leading a team of researchers at Technische Universität München (TUM), with the goal of creating an aircraft that can be controlled by thought alone.

To do this, the team created a highly specialized helmet covered in electroencephalography electrodes, which are able to record the electrical impulses that come from our brain. These signals are then translated into flight commands using a complex computer algorithm created by scientists at the Berlin Institute of Technology.

A team from the University of Minnesota recently used similar technology to create thought-controlled drones. Check out the video below to see them being tested out.

The idea seems outlandish, but the concept has already been proven to be realistic. The new technology was tested on seven volunteers with varying levels of flight experience (one had no flight experience at all).

Though they were tested on flight simulators, which lack some of the real-life conditions of flight, even the subjects with little to no experience were able to fly well enough to partially fulfill some of the requirements of the actual pilot’s license test. Some of the subjects were even able to land their simulator aircraft in conditions of low visibility.

Fricke’s goal is to make flight more accessible while also creating a safer, more relaxed flying experience:

“A long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people… With brain control, flying, in itself, could become easier. This would reduce the work load of pilots and thereby increase safety. In addition, pilots would have more freedom of movement to manage other manual tasks in the cockpit.”

An aerial shot of the Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Fricke and his team still have a number of issues to figure out though. In real flight, for example, pilots feel wind resistance while steering, and if the wind load is significant, pilots have to actually use physical force to maintain smooth navigation. The researchers have not yet figured out how to solve this problem.

Also, no word yet on what happens if you start obsessively worrying about crashing while operating the thought-guided aircraft. Hopefully they’ll look into that as well.

Read the full press release from TUM here.

BONUS:  The Technische Universität München (TUM), or Technical University of München, has one of the coolest interiors ever, including slides that you can take to get from upper floors back down to the ground floor.

A Team of MIT Students Is Developing A Wristband That Could Totally Replace Air Conditioning

Sam Shames is an MIT student who had spent a lot of time dealing with a fairly common problem: he tends to run hot while his mom tends to run cold. Sam realized that there had to be a better way to accommodate them both.

Sam Shames doing a presentation on solar fuels last year

He set about doing research on how our bodies regulate temperature. In one particular paper, he found some key information: the study talked about how locally heating or cooling small areas on our body can have major effects on how cold or hot we feel overall.

The research suggested that any change in temperature faster than 0.1º Celsius per second would produce the perceptual sensation of feeling cooler or warmer. Using this information, Sam and a team of fellow MIT students designed Wristify.

The key is keeping the wearer from getting acclimated to the colder or warmer temperature. Here’s Sam discussing this concept:

“The human body and human skin is not like a thermometer. If I put something cold directly on your body at a constant temperature, the body acclimates and no longer perceives it as cold.”

A volunteer tests out the device

To avoid this problem, Wristify has a 15 second cycle: 5 seconds on, then 10 seconds off.

By sending these regular shocks of cold or hot temperature into the wrist (they are able to change the temperature by up to 0.4º C per second), the device tricks our mind into thinking we are either cooler or warmer than we actually are.

The device is still very much a prototype, made of $50 worth of various electronics and wires strapped to an old fake Rolex band. The team is extremely excited to take the next step of development, making the device more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.

They are also confident that their idea has the potential to revolutionize how we heat and cool ourselves. As Sam puts it,

“Why heat or cool a building when you could heat or cool a person?”

87% of Americans used air conditioning in 2007. While developing countries like Brazil (11%) and India (2%) used significantly less air conditioning than the U.S. in 2007, it is predicted that by 2025, large emerging countries like these will account for more than a billion new consumers.

Click to enlarge. (FSU=Former Soviet Union, ie. Russia)

Despite having less than 4.5% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for nearly 20% of total energy consumption. 16.5% of our total energy use here in the States comes from air conditioning.

So with the amount of demand for air conditioning expected to explode over the next decade, Wristify may be our way of limiting how much energy we consume.

Not to mention you can share a room with both your always-cold and always-hot friends and family without igniting a civil war over the thermostat.

Read more from Wired here.

Visualizing Size and Scale in the Brain (Infographic Video)

The average human brain weighs only about 3 pounds, but contains upwards of 80 billion brain cells, or neurons.

Nearly every detail about who we are and how we behave is locked in the connections between these neurons. Check out this awesome infographic video from Nicolás Borie Williams which helps you visualize things on the same tiny scale that our brains operate on.

A New Study from Stanford University Found That Walking Can Increase Creativity By Up to 60%

Have you ever been dealing with a particularly difficult situation and decided to take a walk to clear your head? Well, a new study from Stanford suggests that there is real scientific evidence that walking improves your creative thinking.

The recently published study was co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in the field of educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor of education at Stanford.

To test out the theory, the researchers compared levels of creative thinking under a number of different conditions: seated inside, seated outside and pushed in a wheelchair (to simulate the visual experience of walking), walking on a treadmill in a blank room and walking outside.

Stanford Professor and co-author of this study Daniel Schwartz

They measured creativity by assigning the participants a number of different tasks which required creative thinking. For example, participants were given several sets of three different objects and asked to think of uses for the objects other than their typical purpose. The fewer participants thought of a particular response, the more points it was given for creativity. They also eliminated responses that weren’t appropriate applications for the objects (saying that you could use a truck tire as a pinkie ring, for example).

The results: walking consistently created much higher levels of creativity than sitting. For the participants tested inside, walking on a treadmill increased creativity by 60% as compared to sitting.

In another test, participants were asked to come up with complex analogies from basic phrases. 100% of the participants walking outside were able to come up with at least one complex and completely original analogy, compared to just 50% of the participants seated inside.

The researchers did note, however, that walking didn’t seem to have any positive effects on the type of focused thinking we use when responding to problems with just one correct answer.

Read more from Stanford University here.

If You Don’t Believe In the Transformative Power of Music, Watch This Video

Meet Henry. In his younger days he was a vibrant, fun-loving man who was always full of energy. As Henry grew older and his health began to deteriorate, however, he became more and more depressed and withdrawn. It got to the point where Henry was almost completely unresponsive.

Enter Dan Cohen. Dan is a social worker who came up with the genius idea of giving iPods to seniors, customized with music from their era. This video (an excerpt from the documentary Alive Inside), shows Henry’s reaction to his favorite music. Enjoy!

What impressed me the most was how the effects of the music remained after the headphones were removed. I think we should be seriously looking into including music as part of mental health treatments.

Our brains are wired to find patterns, but as we get older, this skill becomes less and less necessary, contributing to mental deterioration.

Is it possible that the patterned structure of music played just as much of a role in Henry’s transformation as the joy he got listening to music from his era? I think the chances are pretty good, but either way, there is no denying that music has a powerful effect on our minds.

To find out more about the documentary Alive Inside, visit their homepage here.

Neurosurgeons Just Performed the First Successful Implant of a 3-D Printed Skull

A young woman in the Netherlands had spent all her 22 years suffering from a bone disorder that increased the thickness of her skull.

At the time of the procedure, it was 5cm thick (normal skulls are around 1.5cm). The extra bone was putting pressure on her brain, causing vision problems and chronic headaches.

So a team of brain surgeons from University Medical Centre in Utrecht in the Netherlands decided to attempt a bold procedure: removing the top half of her skull and replacing it with one they had created using a 3-D printer.

The operation took 23 long hours, and was lead by Dr. Bon Verweij, who said,

“It was only a matter of time before critical brain functions were compromised and she would die.”

The printed skull before implantation

That was 3 months ago, but the hospital has just recently released details of the procedure. Since the operation, the patient has fully regained her eyesight, and is symptom-free and back to work.

The university claims that this operation is the first of its kind.

Read the full story from Wired here.

All images courtesy of UMC Utrecht.

If This Doesn’t Convince You of How Powerful Our Brains Are, I Don’t Know What Will

Last August, a team of scientists and researchers from Japan and Germany set out to create a simulation of human brain activity.

Aware of the brain’s complexity, the research team set a seemingly conservative goal: simulate 1% of 1 second of brain activity using Japan’s K computer, a supercomputer composed of 82,000 processors (each with 16GB of memory).

The K computer was the world’s fastest computer up until 2011 and now sits at #4 on the list. So how long did it take the K computer to complete the simulation?

The K-Computer (Photo: Daichi Kohmoto)
The K-Computer (Photo: Daichi Kohmoto)

40 minutes.

The brain is composed of about 86 billion neurons. The connections between various neurons control everything, from our behaviors and instincts to our skills and memories.

That means that there are hundreds of trillions of different neuron-to-neuron pathways (known as synapses) that could potentially be transmitting electrical brain signals to one another at any given moment.

Digital image of neurons and synapses
Computer-generated image of neurons and synapses

In fact, in that 1% of 1 second of brain activity (which took the supercomputer 40 minutes of real time to simulate), the supercomputer recorded 10.4 trillion synapses, each with 24 bytes of memory. Let’s do some quick math for perspective:

10.4 trillion synapses x 24 bytes of memory each = 249.6 trillion bytes, a little over 238 million megabytes.

By comparison, the average full-length HD movie takes up about 500-700 megabytes of space.

Never underestimate the power of the human mind!

Read the full story from Vice here.

How One Monkey’s Brain Controls Another Monkey’s Body Via Computer Chip

A team of researchers led by Harvard neurosurgeon Dr. Ziv Williams have brought the movie Avatar to real life. The team was able to connect two monkeys via computer chip: the thoughts of one monkey controlled the movements of the other.

Here’s how they did it. The frontal cortex of the brain is arguably is most important structure, controlling sensory and motor functions as well as playing a major role in consciousness.

The cerebral cortex sends neural signals through the spinal chord to direct body movements. The team was able to create a computer bypass, connecting a computer chip implanted in the cortex of one monkey to the spinal chord of the other.

Cerebral Cortex
Cerebral Cortex

The bypass would extract information about how the first monkey was planning to move and then send the corresponding signals to the spinal chord of the other.

“For example, if the monkey is intending on moving upwards, we would select specific electrode contacts in the spinal cord to stimulate a movement that reaches that exact same target location. In some cases actually the first monkey just needed to think about what they wanted to do and then the other monkey would make the movement,”

said Dr. Williams.

Williams and his team hopes that their research will lead to breakthroughs in treatment for people suffering from nerve and spinal chord paralysis. The full study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read the full story from ABC News Australia here.

Feature image courtesy of singularityhub.com. 

Did You Know…Doctors Can Detect Tumors, Blood Clots and Brain Damage By Pouring Water In Your Ears?

The process is known as caloric stimulation. Here’s how it works.

The ear canals of healthy people react to hot and cold water in very predictable ways. Pouring cold water in a healthy person’s ear should cause their eyes to move rapidly side-to-side away from the cold water before slowly moving back towards it.

Conversely, pouring warm water into a healthy person’s ear should cause their eyes to move towards the warm water before moving slowly away.

Diagram of the ear (via kidshealth.org)
Diagram of the ear (via kidshealth.org)

The reason that it works is that the inner ear contains a structure known as the acoustic nerve (formally the vestibulocochlear nerve), which allows us to hear and is integral for balance.

Abnormal results can be caused by a number of disorders, including tumors, blood clots, brain damage, poisoning and rubella, among others.

Read more about the procedure from the National Institute of Health’s MedlinePlus website here.

Feature image courtesy of Loyola University of New Orleans.