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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’

  • 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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  • YouTube Preview Image

    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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  • hard drive close-up

    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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  • silkworm cocoons

    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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  • jae rim

    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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  • YouTube Preview Image

    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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  • Leprosy 7

    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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  • algae bioreactor farm

    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_1_530

    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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  • YouTube Preview Image

    Lucy McRay – Swallowable Parfum

    Know garlic? Now imagine you could make something that functions alike, but smells a lot better. Body architect Lucy McRae teams up with Harvard Biologist Sheref Mansy to create a digestible scented capsule that works through your own perspiration.

    Once absorbed, fragrance molecules are excreted through the skin’s surface. A unique odor is emanated, depending on each individual’s acclimatization to temperatures, to stress, exercise, or sexual arousal. Watch Lucy’s presentation at the Next Nature Power Show.

    www.swallowableparfum.com

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  • Hermit crab in his new house

    Hermit Crabs Can Live Like Kings Again

    As global houses shortages are on the rise, hermit crabs are impacted too. Hermit crabs do not make their own homes, but must scavenge for shells. The shell supply is decreasing and therefore they often end up using glass bottles or empty shotgun shells. This housing is not up to modern standards, let alone health and safety regulations. Project Shellter wants to save these beatniks and provide them with quality housing so they can live like kings again.

    A collaborating between Makerbot and TeamTeamUsa is using 3D printers to produce new biodegradable shells. They are tested in the ‘crabitat’ to see whether or not the crabs adapt to their new housing. All shell designs are crowd sourced, so if you have some 3D modeling skills and a good idea, you can contribute by uploading your own design.

    Via Crisp Green and Project Shellter

  • robot school teacher

    Rule #6: Meet People’s Expectations

    For past entries and an introduction to the 11 Golden Rules of Anthropomorphism and Design, click here. 

    People expect many things from each other: Expect them to say hi in the morning; expect them to buy a ticket for the bus; expect them to watch out when driving a car; expect them to do their jobs well. People also expect certain behaviors from anthropomorphic products. When a product works differently than promised, this can cause confusion or anger. When a person gives commands to a product and the product ignores him, he becomes frustrated, because the product feels like a person who rudely turns his back. You wouldn’t accept that behavior from a person, so why would you accept it from a product?

    The robot Saya has been developed to teach elementary-grade school children. She can speak different languages and make facial expressions, and hopefully confirm to what the kids expect of an instructor.

    Image via The Daily Mail.

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  • Synthetic Cricket Hair

    Crickets Inspire New Sensitive Sensor

    Inspired by crickets, researchers of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology of the University of Twente in the Netherlands have build a biomimetic sensor that can measure changes in airflow and pressure. It resembles the same sensory system of ‘filiform hairs’ that crickets use to perceive their predators.

    The tiny artificial hairs, made of polymer SU8, are broader at the base and thinner near the top. The base of each hair rests on a flexible surface that, when moved, changes its electrical capacity, thus providing a means to meassure movement. By alternating the voltage, the hairs can be made more or less stiff, changing the sensitivity to movement. If the hairs are limper, they can measure smaller movements in airflow and pressure, up to ten times as much compared to a stiff hair.

    Via University of Twente.

  • cyborg2

    Bugged Bugs

    Some of you might remember the Next Nature article by Rolf Coppens called Withus Oragainstus. Since then there have been occasional newsreports on cyborg insects. For instance this article from 2009 describing partly succesful attampts to wirelesly control the flight of beetles by connecting electrodes, a small battery and antenna’s to their nervous system.

    Now professor Khalil Najafi, the chair of electrical and computer engineering, and doctoral student Erkan Aktakka at the University of Michigan have incorporated thin-film solar cells, piezoelectric and thermoelectric energy harvesters to extend the batterylife that could be used to supply sensors and even a small camera with the needed juice. Imagine a swarm of these as first responders at hazardous sites like Fukushima, gathering information on radiation and other dangerous substances.

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  • YouTube Preview Image

    Earth 2.0 with Rachel Armstrong

    Forthcoming Next Nature Power Show speaker, Rachel Armstrong describes some of the differences between so-called Earth 1.0 and Earth 2.0 technologies. The video is especially recommended for connoisseurs of fortissimo synthesizer music. If this is not you, you can also read Rachel’s Self-Repairing Architecture essay.

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  • E.Coli

    E.Coli produced Spider Silk

    In a previous post we have reported on spider silk, it’s applications and the way it is produced. Adding the gene responsible for the production of the spider silk protein to other animals has given us silkworms and spidergoats that produce spider silk. We can now ad a harmless version of E.Coli to the spider silk production list.

    Via Physorg. Image via University of California.

  • Skin

    Tattoo 2.0

    As a child you probably had one of those temporary tattoos that come packed with over-sweetened chewing gum. It was a nice decoration, and a way to stand out. Recently researchers have brought temporary tattoos to the next level with small, flexible electronic circuits.

    These electronic patches consist of tiny semiconductor circuits, and are able to stretch with the skin. Scientists from the University of Illinois have created demonstration versions of these “tattoos” using a diverse array of electronic components mounted on a thin, rubbery substrate. Possible applications include sensors, LEDs, transistors, radio frequency capacitors, wireless antennas, and conductive coils and solar cells for power.The patches are mounted on a thin sheet of water-soluble plastic and then laminated to the skin with water, just like a temporary tattoo. The circuits can also be applied directly to a temporary tattoo, hiding the appearance of the electronics.

    This is an important advancement in wearable electronics. Such patches could allow us to measure brainwaves and other mental activity in an everyday setting.  Currently this is only possible in a lab with a complicated helmet and a lot of wires. Imagine what else might be possible. In the near future we may be able to exchange contact information through a handshake, or finally find that mysterious six sense.

    Via Physorg

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Beetle Egg

    Our peculiar image of the week presents us the lustrous uncannyness of a Beetle car in its embryonic stage. Rest assure: this is fiction, however, metaphorically the sculpture by artist Olav Mooij represents a profound truth we are only gradually getting attuned to: how mankind is co-evolving with its technology and thereby enabling non-genetic evolution.

    The beetle egg is currently on display at the Natuur Apps expo at the Gouverneurstuin in Assen (NL), where it will remain until September 1th. The expo is closed with a Next Nature lecture, so if you happen to be in the neighborhood..

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