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What is Next Nature?

With our attempts to cultivate nature, humankind causes the rising of a next nature, which is wild and unpredictable as ever. Wild systems, genetic surprises, autonomous machinery and splendidly beautiful black flowers. Nature changes along with us.

Posts Tagged ‘Bionics’

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    Better Walking with Robotic Legs

    The Berkeley Robotics & Human Engineering Laboratory is researching a way to improve the performance of human bodies. They are doing innovative research in the field of exoskeletons that improve human legs. Current projects include two amazing types of leg augmentations: The Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) and the Austin Project.

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    Will a Cockroach Save Your Life?

    Often cockroaches aren’t people’s best friends, but maybe in a few years you will be relieved when you see a cockroach. Researchers of the North Carolina State University succeeded in developing a new technique that will be able to move a cockroach in any direction. By doing this, they may be creating an opportunity to change the cockroach’s poor image into that of a life saver.

    The technique has three main principles. First, to control the cockroach, they give it a backpack containing a microchip, with a wireless receiver and transmitter. This microchip communicates with a micro-controller, which is also stuffed into the backpack. The controller is wired by electrodes that are implanted into the antenna at the front of its body and the cerci at its abdomen.

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    Mice Reporting For Duty

    The weapon industry is one of the most innovative industries in the world for years. However recently, the industry has taken a quite remarkable shift towards genetic manipulation of animals. Researchers at the Hunter College of the City University of New York have successfully “developed” genetic manipulated mice, with extra smell receptors as announced on the annual meeting of the society for neuro science by Charlotte D’Hulst.

    The manipulated mice have 500 times more nose cells than regular mice and these extra receptors will make them highly sensitive to the smell of explosives.  Scientists hope to use these mice in the future to discover land mines and other explosives, they expect them to be operational in about five years.

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    Latro Algae Lamp

    As advances in nanotechnology bring us increasingly energy efficient products, plant life such as algae could become attractive sources for tapping energy. The Latro lamp by designer Mike Thompson is a speculative product responding to this potential future market. It utilizes living algae as its power source.

    The idea was inspired by a scientific breakthrough by scientists from Yansei and Stanford University that allows a small electrical current to be drawn from algae during photosynthesis. Placing the lamp outside in the daylight, the algae use sunlight to synthesize foods from CO2 and water.

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    Who will Question Bio-Engineering?

    Bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe presents a parade of recent bio-engineering experiments, from glowing monkeys, to genetically boosted salmon, to cyborg insects. He asks: isn’t it time to set some ground rules? Sure. Bring it on Paul!

    Now regular readers of this website already know most of the lustrous & monstrous examples, yet throughout the talk you feel a certain suspense: you-are-now-listing-to-a-real-bioethicist-who-any-minute-now-is-going-to-lay-out-some-crystal-clear-ground-rules-for-bio-engineering. Unfortunately Paul constrains himself to a call for rules, but doesn’t deliver them himself. Who will?

    Thanks anyway Ewelina Szymanska.

  • autonomous garbage collecting robot

    Free Range Robot Filters Out the Ocean’s Plastic

    Whale sharks are great at filtering; plastic needs to be filtered. For now, however, whale sharks only have an appetite for plankton. Industrial designer Elie Ahovi has jumped into the void with her Marine Drone, an autonomous robot that can dredge up the plastic junk that currently clogs our oceans. Roaming the ocean for two-week periods, Ahovi’s drone can collect plastic in its attached net while scaring off any marine life with an irritating high-pitched tone. When its batteries run low, the robot returns to a home base where humans can collect the plastic and ship it off to a recycling plant.

    Via Popular Science.

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    End of Life Care Machine

    Designer, artist and engineer Dan Chen has developed the ‘End of Life Care Machine‘, a machine designed to guide and comfort dying patients with a carefully scripted message. Chen, just graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, built the machine as one of a series of functional robots capable of reenacting human social behaviors.

    The patient enters the specially designed room and lays on the bed. The doctor asks for permission to put the patient’s arm underneath the caressing mechanism.

    “The device is activated, and an LED screen reads “Detecting end of life.” At this point, the doctor exits the room, leaving the patient alone by him or herself. Within moments the LED reads “End of life detected”, the robotic arm begins its caressing action, moving back and forth, stimulating the sense of comfort during the dying process.”

    The machine then plays the scripted message:

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  • shenu cyborg bladder retain water

    Thirsty? With a Cyborg Bladder, You’ll Never Need to Drink

    Some desert animals, like the kangaroo rat, get through their lives without needing to drink even a drop of water. Now, a Japanese design company aims to make humans just as efficient. Faced with a fictional, future scenario of global apocalypse, Takram was tasked with the challenge of creating a water bottle for the end-times. The designers quickly realized that the best approach was not a bottle at all, but a set of artificial organs that retain and recycle the water already present in the body. Their Hydrolemic System is the cyborg’s answer to surviving global warming, nuclear explosions and Death Valley.

    Humans are leaky. We sweat, pee, and breathe out all our hard-earned water. The Hydrolemic System uses several devices to minimize this loss. Two nasal inserts harvest exhaled moisture. A generator implanted in the jugular, in combination with a neck collar, transforms body heat into electricity and reduces the need for sweating. Even better are the urine concentrator and the rectal fecal dehydrator, both intended to make every bathroom trip a dry-as-dust affair. The system works in concert with “rubedo candies”, small pills that contain a day’s nutrients and 32 mL of water – less than a thimble-full.

    Via Fast Co.Exist

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    Get into Buckminster Fuller

    You have a choice dear reader: spend 4 seconds scanning this blogpost, or spend the full 58:10 minutes (*) watching the retro-futuristic interview with polymath & nextnature thinker avant la lettre Buckminister Fuller.

    (*) We are well aware these are times of short-attention span, yet sometimes you have to immerse yourself. We actually recommend watching the video twice to obtain an optimal understanding and appreciation of the material.

  • Synapse Structure

    Replacing Synapses with a Single Switch

    Neural synapses in the human brain are extraordinarily complex structures. Responsible for relaying information between neurons, chemical synapses govern the release of over 100 different kinds of neurotransmitters, while electrical synapses deliver information via electricity for rapid-fire reflexes.

    Now, researchers in Japan have invented a simplified synapse in the form of a ”solid-state electrochemical nanodevice” that functions as a switch. The gap between these two synthetic synapses is bridged by a tiny copper wire, which changes in conductivity over time. Though at first it may seem a bit esoteric, this new device actually mimics what goes on in the construction of sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. The scientists behind this synapse are hopeful that it will lead to more life-like artificial minds, as well as treatments for the human brain.

    It’s interesting that this nanodevice may in some ways have improved upon a biological synapse. Evolution tends to lead to local maxima – it reaches the best design given existing structures, but it can’t invent entirely new solutions out of nothing. The “blind spot” is a classic example: Because the optic nerve connects through the retina, there is a blank region in our field of vision where the nerve cells have crowded out the sensory cells. The brain has evolved very clever ways to deal with this deficit, but evolution hasn’t actually been able to completely solve the problem.* Maybe science may soon find more “intelligent designs” that cut some of the evolutionary clutter. As always, we welcome our hyper-efficient cyborg overlords.

    *Except in squid and octopi.

    Via Io9. Image via Systemic Kids.

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    Robutt

    Tokyo University of Electro-Communications, revealed SHIRI (尻 = “buttocks”), a “Buttocks Humanoid That Represents Emotions With Visual and Tactual Transformation of the Muscles.” It was made by Nobuhiro Takahashi’s team, known for his robotic kissing machine.

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    Bacteria Inspire New Magnetic Hard Drive

    Certain types of bacteria can navigate using magnetic nanoparticles as tiny compasses. Researchers at the University of Leeds have extracted the protein that controls this process and applied it to computing. Typical hard drives use use “granular computing”, while this new method relies on bit-pattern media, where each miniscule magnetic square on a surface can store one bit.

    The team is close to recreating the data density of modern hard drives, and hope eventually to be able to store one terabyte of date per square inch – more advanced than any existing hard drive. According to Sarah Stanilan, who lead the research, “We’re using and abusing nature because it’s had billions of years to do all of its experiments through evolution, so there is almost no point in us starting from scratch.”

    Photo via Downhilldom. Story via New Scientist.

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    Regrowing Bones with Silk

    Time to add another superpower to insect silk, which already includes bulletproof skin and implantable microelectronicsRecent research indicates that silk may be an ideal candidate for creating strong, flexible scaffolding for re-growing bones. Scientists used a chemical process to break silk strands down into nano-scale fibers that were used to reinforce a silk protein scaffold. By mimicking the natural roughness and stiffness of bone, this biodegradable structure helps to encourage vigorous bone growth. While certain biomaterials are at the center of research into bone regeneration, few of these existing materials can match silk’s toughness, especially in load-bearing grafts.

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    The Ecological Human

    The nature of humanity in the twenty-first century is, according to sociologist Steve Fuller, a ‘bipolar disorder’ beset with dualisms of identification such as divine/animal, mind/body, nature/artifice and individual/social. He notes that they have challenged our collective sense of identity as ‘human’, particularly though the operationalization of the mind/body question in new material configurations of metallic or silicon bodies [1].

    In short, we are ‘becoming’ machines. Inventor Ray Kurtzweil and performance artist Marcel Li Antunez Roca both explore this notion in their projections about the future of the human body. Yet ‘emergentist’ philosophers and scientists have challenged the mechanistic model of matter since the late 18th and early 19th century. They propose another way of understanding the organization of matter [2], without resorting to the customary mechanist  [3] – vitalist [4] dichotomy [5]. Observations from the biological and chemical sciences demonstrate that substances frequently do not behave in a manner that can be explained as the simply ‘sum’ of their components. For example, the addition of an acid and an alkali creates salt and water, while the fusion of an ovum and spermatozoon produces a conceptus. These are transformational rather than additional processes, which resist simple, mechanical interpretations.

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    Bioinspired Robojelly can swim Forever

    Scientists have developed a biomimetic robot that will be able to swim forever, since its artificial muscles are powered by water. And since Robojelly lives underwater, it will never run out of energy.

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    Is the Human Body Redundant?

    The increasing ‘liveliness’ of machines and accessibility to the virtual world has raised questions about whether it is possible to uncouple the mind from the body in through a host of different strategies. The basic idea is that if we are able to escape the ties of our own flesh then we can upgrade them and even replace them with immortal ones. Performance artist Stelarc has made some of the most extreme and enduring work on this subject. The artist characteristically depersonalises his anatomy and claims that it is not only an object that can be subjected to re-designing but is also ‘obsolete’. During his performances, Stelarc mentally ‘vacates’ his own body to prove its obsolescence, and claims that his body is no more than a site for redesigning and re-engineering the human form.

    In my view, Stelarc’s work paradoxically highlights the profound importance that embodiment holds for being human. When Stelarc dissociates his mind from his body he demonstrates its sheer plasticity and robustness. The artist then recolonizes the body with robots, communications technologies and soft prostheses as proof of this inbuilt physical redundancy. Yet the machines he hosts are given context by the presence of a body – for in its absence, they are just a collection of machines devoid of meaning. Moreover, redundancy is a characteristic of complex systems, which are a form of organization that does not obey the Cartesian, dualistic laws that govern machines. The artist’s rejection of these qualities simply highlights that the human body is not a machine.

    There is nothing liberating about having an anesthetized body, nor one that is functionally redundant. While Stelarc’s suspensions and performances demonstrate that we can temporarily ‘forget’ our bodies in order to explore a transcendent state of being, there are those who live in a permanent state of disconnection.

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    Little Green Cows

    The world is alight with algae fever.

    In this age of deep ecological design aspirations, the range of speculative design projects based on algae technology is growing. Algae are imagined to provide a whole range of solutions, from energy-producing architectural towers, to lights, burgers, skin care productsanimal feed, drug factories and bioplastics. It finally appears that the world is turning green. Literally.

    Algae, simple photosynthetic plants that live in water, are among some of the oldest living organisms on earth. Most species can only be seen with a microscope, but others can form dense mats of vegetation or large underwater forests. During the Archean period, between 3.9 and 3.5 billion years ago, blue-green algae* set the preconditions for modern life by changing the earth’s atmosphere, which was choked with poisonous gases, and turning it into an oxygen-rich environment. Their modern-day descendants can use a range of pigments to harvest specific wavelengths of light to form solid plant matter, or ‘biomass’, by using sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce fuel, water and oxygen.

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    Corpus 2.1

    Could you imagine yourself having QR-code freckles, or a chlorophyl skin? Dutch artist Marcia Nolte visualises these kind of speculative scenarios in a very non-spectacular yet beautiful way. This Corpus 2.1 series is a follow-up to her earlier Corpus 2.0 series, of which we also featured a stunning image in our book.

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