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bionic-hand.jpgScientists are currently working on a new kind of bionic hand, which will allow amputees to actually feel what they're touching, according to The Independent.

The pioneering technology will be implanted into an unnamed man later this year and could prove to be the next step in the advancement of artificial limbs, which will obviously have a huge impact on the lives of amputees and their overall sensory perception of the world around them.

The hand will work by being connected up to the patient's central nervous system via electrodes, which will then (well, hopefully then) mean he'll be able to control the way the hand moves, as well as being able to feel tough signals from sensors in the prosthetic limb.

It may seem like the plot from a sci-fi movie, but once in place, the man should be able to control everything the hand does using solely his thoughts, creating a fast, two-way flow of information between his nervous system and the new, bionic hand.

Dr Micera, the man heading up the research, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston:

"This is real progress, real hope for amputees. It will be the first prosthetic that will provide real-time sensory feedback for grasping.

"It is clear that the more sensory feeling an amputee has, the more likely you will get full acceptance of that limb.

"We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next year."

An earlier prototype of the same hand was attached to Pierpaolo Petruzziello back in 2009 and he could clench the fingers and hold objects, as well as feel needles that had been pricked into the skin. However, the newest version will be fitted up with even more sensors than before.


A US girl decided to become the star of her class and an internet sensation overnight by sending a Hello Kitty doll up into the stratosphere on the back of a rocket she built. Wow she's making us feel really lame about our lives right now.

The 12 year old from California watched an ad on TV about a balloon being sent up into space and decided she could totally do the same, but with a little Hello Kitty that her dad brought back to her from Japan.

Check out the video above for awesome shots and videos that the GoPro cameras attached to the rocket managed to capture.

[Via io9]

doctor-kinect.jpgThe last place you'd expect to see a Kinect is on an operating table, but the device could be the ideal way for doctors to consult medical images during complicated procedures.

Last week a surgeon at the Guy's and St Thomas' hospital in London started using a new system that relies on an Xbox Kinect camera. The surgeon was able to wave his arms, or make other simple gestures, in order to quickly and easily browse through medical images, instead of asking his colleagues to find them for him.

According to New Scientist, surgeons generally need to stop what they're doing and look through detailed images anywhere from once an hour to every few minutes during a procedure. Many depend on assistants and nurses to hold up images or use a computer to find the information they need, but we can imagine this is a lengthy and rather frustrating process.

Tom Carrell, a consultant vascular surgeon working at Guy's and St Thomas', who helped lead the operation, said:

"Up until now, I'd been calling out across the room to one of our technical assistants, asking them to manipulate the image, rotate one way, rotate the other, pan up, pan down, zoom in, zoom out [...] I had very intuitive control".

Carrell was able to use the Kinect to look at a 3D model, which was then projected as a 2D live image-feed onto the patient. This way the doctor can see what's happening inside the patient and look at the 3D model simultaneously.

In order to make the whole process as quick and easy as possible, Carrell and his colleagues have been working with the Microsoft team to develop gestures that they can perform in small spaces during an operation. So, medical professionals can now use simple gestures with one hand at the same time as a voice command to access the information they need.

[Via New Scientist]

Related: The Kinect is being used to detect signs of autism in children

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Researchers at Brown University in the US have created a robotic arm designed to help disabled people carry out basic tasks. Now we know what you're thinking, that's been done before. A lot. But this new device is unique in that it can be controlled by your mind.

For some time now robotics engineers have been developing solutions for elderly people and the disabled, so they can live relatively normal lives without the need for constant care. Although there have been some pretty ground-breaking devices pioneered over the years, the BrainGate2 from Brown University has to be the most impressive, despite the fact it sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie.

The BrainGate system consists of a robotic arm, which is controlled solely by a microchip that's implanted inside the user's brain. Digital Trends published more details directly from Brown:

"The BrainGate2 pilot clinical trial employs the investigational BrainGate system initially developed at Brown University, in which a baby aspirin-sized device with a grid of 96 tiny electrodes is implanted in the motor cortex -- a part of the brain that is involved in voluntary movement. The electrodes are close enough to individual neurons to record the neural activity associated with intended movement. An external computer translates the pattern of impulses across a population of neurons into commands to operate assistive devices, such as the DLR and DEKA robot arms used in the study now reported in Nature."

The BrainGate system is still in the very early stages of development and there are a number of different issues that would need to be addressed before it would ever be rolled out on a wider scale. For instance, the arm itself is a little clumsy and it can't be controlled wirelessly yet, so the user still needs to be hooked up to the robot at all times for it to work. However, Dr. Leigh Hockberg, lead author of the BrainGate2 study, said:

"We have much more work to do, but the encouraging progress of this research is demonstrated not only in the reach-and-grasp data, but even more so in S3's [the participant's] smile when she served herself coffee of her own volition for the first time in almost 15 years."

You'll also be happy to know that despite the fact the team need to tamper with delicate brain tissue and stick a microchip to it, the participants have had no adverse side effects to date.

[Via Digital Trends]

Related: Creepy, faceless robot baby will make you feel better on long distance calls

female-borg.jpgResearchers are currently devising a way to gauge out a bit of our arms to replace all of that unnecessary muscle and flesh with our favourite gadgets. You know, to make life that little bit easier.

A few months ago we saw that Nokia had patented a crazy vibrating tattoo that would live on our forearms. But, if you thought that sounded creepy now it seems research is underway to take things even further into the realm of a Terminator movie or a Jeffrey Dahmer murder scene, as scientists devise new ways to jam electronics under our skin.

The inventive researchers at software company Autodesk have been messing around with dead bodies and found that gadgets do indeed still work under human tissue, according to New Scientist, "a button, an LED and a touch sensor all functioned appropriately when embedded under the skin of a cadaver's arm," just in case you were wondering.

Now although it's annoying when you leave your phone at home or have to runmage around in your bag to find it when it rings, are we ever really going to want it to be part of our bodies THAT much? We really hope not. Plus there are issues about whether the gadget will need to be removed often, if they'll infect surrounding tissue oh, and the small fact you'll be slowly turning yourself into a cyborg.

However, are we just really freaked out because it all sounds a little too sci-fi right now? Will our perceptions change soon as we start realising life would be much more fun as a Borg and less as a regular human with all of that rubbish flesh and those stupid feelings? The truth is this kind of research has been underway for years, it's just that it all seems a little more real and terrifying now companies are starting to become interested in integrating these kinds of methods into their products, just like the first steps Nokia has been taking with its vibrating tattoos. Sherry Turkle, a sociologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said:

"The perception [of this technology] 10 years ago would differ from today and from what we would get in 10 years' time [...] People literally cannot be without this device [...] They don't feel the same when they are not connected. We live with our phones as if they are part of our body."

As much as we love all things tech here at Shiny Shiny we can't help but think that if you need your phone attached to you in order to function and feel lost when you're not connected, then you should maybe start re-assessing your life and not just gouging out bits of your body to get your iPhone even closer to you and stay in the loop. But hey, maybe we're just a little behind the times.

[Via New Scientist]

geordi-la-forge.jpgA kind of advanced technology used to help robots navigate their way around without bumping into everything could soon be used to help blind people see again. Well, kind of.

Scientists at the Institute of Intelligent Systems and Robotics at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris are currently developing a special pair of glasses that are able to use a range of sensors to produce 3D maps of a wearer's surroundings.

The glasses, that the team revealed to the world at a conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, use two main cameras to create 3D maps of different environments. A number of accelerometers and gyroscopes are then able to keep track of a person's location and speed in that environment and all of the information is processed and displayed onto an electronic Braille device in the form of a tactile map.

Edwige Pissaloux, who's heading up the team in Paris, said:

"Navigation for me means not only being able to move around by avoiding nearby obstacles, but also to understand how the space is socially organised - for example, where you are in relation to the pharmacy, library or intersection."

According to New Scientist, the glasses are able to generate more than 10 maps per second, so a blind person could easily travel at a normal walking pace with the aid of the tactile device without encountering any problems. Although the glasses won't really allow blind people to 'see', they will give them much more freedom in the long run.

[Via New Scientist]

66-baby.jpgWe're used to seeing white goods and TVs as prizes in lotteries. But a new British Lottery seems to have gone too far by offering a baby. Okay, not an actual live one, but all you need to make one, minus a womb. (You have to provide that bit yourself.)

It's a lottery specifically focused on IVF treatment, offering thousands of pounds' worth of fertility treatment as prize for the winning ticket holder.

Tickets will be a pricey £20 available first online, then in newsagents.

According to Reuters, Britain's Gambling Commission has granted a license to fertility charity, To Hatch, to run the game from July 30.

"Every month, winners can scoop £25,000 worth of tailor-made treatments at one of the UK's top five fertility clinics for the price of a 20 pound ticket."

We're not alone in saying this doesn't sound right. How are you going to tell your child you won it in a lottery? I mean, maybe there is some broader point here about the broader availability of IVF treatment but..

What next? Win a kidney? Breast augmentation? Don't tell me those things already exist. I worry enough about humanity as it is.

[via Reuters]

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We believe it's customary to issue "trigger" warnings for contents such as the following. At least it's pretty gross - what you will see in the video are COWS that secrete HUMAN milk and the whole think will probably make you feel a little bit SICK. We're sort of hoping for a follow-up post in a few days telling us that the whole thing's a hoax.

Anyways - the Frankenstein cows have been grown from embryos (cow ones, that is) that have been injected with the human gene responsible for producing breast milk. Now they're lined up in some farm in China, and pending approval from the government, the resulting liquid may be found on sale in supermarkets in three years.

Apparently, the milk is anti-bacterial and helps boost the immune system. Early testers say the drink is "stronger and sweeter" than regular milk.

*shudder*

[via The Hairpin]

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You'll need a motion-sensor camera such as the Kinect, the add-on to the Microsoft Xbox 360 game, and possibly a degree from a top American science university - but Princess Leia would be proud.

The Kinect is a range-finding camera that detects your movements, as is necessary to use your body as a controller for the game. But with a little trickery it can be turned into a hologram projector: that's what MIT teacher Michael Bove's students in his Object-Based Media Group discovered.

Speaking to Popular Science, Bove gets very technical in how this is done (interested parties can click through), but in essence, the professor is optimistic that holographic technology is coming within reach of ordinary people. The problem so far is that it's too expensive for widespread consumption, but the MIT students are experimenting with relatively cheap kit. Bove thinks we could be making holographic phone calls within a few years. R2D2 not included.



Kiss Transmission Device by amaliak

The machine is designed to transmit the feeling of a kiss, apparently. In reality it's a rotating straw, presented by a painfully geeky kid in a deeply disturbing little video clip.

But never mind that - Japanese boffins are on the case, and if they are successful, long distance couples could find themselves snogging in no time. Alternatively, the device could be used by popular celebrities, programmed with their particular tongue action and sold to the fans. No, we didn't come up with that, it's from the video. There may be more suggestions there but we couldn't bear to finish watching it.

The research is taking place at the Kajimoto Laboratory at the University of Electro-Communications, and the researchers admit it's not yet finished. The ultimate goal is to see whether the machine will let two people use the linked machine at the same time, and have the whole thing translate into something remotely close to the real deal.

Explained researcher Nobuhiro Takahashi:

"If you take one device in your mouth and turn it with your tongue, the other device turns in the same way. If you turn it back the other way, then your partner's turns back the same way, so your partner's device turns whichever way your own device turns."
Now the researchers are working on perfecting the device:

"The elements of a kiss include the sense of taste, the manner of breathing, and the moistness of the tongue. If we can recreate all of those I think it will be a really powerful device."

Critics have pointed out that even if perfected the machine only offers a narrow slice of the kissing experience. So maybe it can be used to train technique, but sexiness is not included.

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There may well be such a thing as too close a match, judging by the above photograph. The displays in Madame Tussaud's aren't fantastic either, but there is just something a bit eerie about robots that are identical twins to their role models.

This particular robotic doppelganger is called a Geminoid, presented by the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Japan last month. The skin moves over the underlying structure, the lips move as it talks and the doll blinks its latex eyelids.

This robot doll perfectly illustrates the "uncanny valley" hypothesis: while at first we are attracted to the idea of robots becoming more humanlike, what happens when they become very human-like is that our response switches to revulsion.

Good news for C3PO then, as it doesn't sound like he'll be replaced on the popularity scale by some hotshot human lookalike any time soon. It seems we are better off keeping our robots more machine-like than human, or it all just gets a little bit uncomfortable. It's not known why we feel this way - theories include us being too strict on the comparison to the real deal when the likeness gets close. Alternatively, it could have something to do with our instinct to shy away from things that look dead, to protect ourselves from disease.

Back to the drawing board, then.

[via The Daily Telegraph]


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In spite of my personal status as a shameless Trekkie, I appreciate not everyone is as into the geeky stuff as I am. But even those misguided folks out there who fail to worship at the altar of Roddenberry will still appreciate the excitement of the technologically augmented future. Even Stephen Hawking once said it: "The physics that underlies Star Trek is surely worth investigating."

Progress is taking place all the time, such as yesterday's announcement that computer scientists are working on gadgets that can feel regret. Apparently, an understanding of this basic human emotion would make computers better at predicting the future, the Google-funded scientists think. To measure the distance between the desired and actual outcome, the computer could become better at minimising this gap, which is in essence a way to measure regret.

While the boffins are pondering away at the robot brain, we take a look at how things are progressing with a few technologies which may well just make the world a bit more like life on the starship Enterprise.

1. Replicators
"Tea, Earl Grey, hot." You tell'em, Captain Picard. On the Enterprise you simply tell the replicator what you want and it makes it for you. Wonderfully simple, isn't it - no more cooking - and the replicators even make other things too, like clothes and books. Captain Janeway of the starship Voyager somehow managed to keep burning her replicator food though, so clearly it's not foolproof. The same is certainly true for the first efforts from a team at Cornell University in the US, which have been working with 3D food printers. Foods are made into pastes, which are carefully squired through nozzles to create little food "sculptures". Not quite what the Captain ordered, but it's a start.

2. Robot skin
Artificial skin that can feel touch - that's a stretch even for the Star Trek universe's favourite android, Data. He got it in the end, courtesy of the Borg Queen, but it's possible researchers at Stanford University could beat her to it. Ultra-sensitive electronic skin is currently under development, and this highly sensitive skin should even be able to detect disease markers.

3. Universal translators
The aliens don't all speak English on Star Trek, that would be silly. What's happening, you see, is that the communicators all have incorporated an universal translator, which helps our heroes understand what's being said. Here on earth, there are already several mobile phone apps that will translate text for you, but Google has recently launched an app which does this orally. If you speak into your phone, the app will translate into 15 languages if spoken, or 50 if written. An excellent beginning.

4. Holodecks
On the Holodeck, our heroes can step into a completely different world, programmed to their specifications. This means the opportunity to visit the past or a holiday destination, and then there was that time Tuvok, Voyager's Vulcan resident, underwent the "pon-farr" in the depths of space and had to seek a little, eh, relief. 3D technology is coming along rapidly here on earth, with the visual effects becoming increasingly better. The touch-and-feel part of virtual reality is yet to manifest, but give those 3D film buffs some time and it may well still happen. As the first 3D porn film opened in China last weekend, maybe some clever producer will take a leaf out of Tuvok's book?

5. Communication
We've come very far on this one already, in fact there isn't much of what they have in Star Trek that we don't have available to us now. We have widespread use of mobile phones and the ability to make video calls sorted. The only thing missing here is to make the communicators cuter and more intuitive - get rid of the buttons and get it all done by voice, for instance. Judging from all those ads for Google Voice around town right now, that shouldn't take too long.

6. Computer interface
Increasingly better touchscreens are coming along like speeding bullets, and with speech control now high on the agenda, it seems like computer interfacing is fast approaching Star Trek levels. But we can still get better; for example Tobii Technology has developed a tracking technology that means the computer will be able to follow the movements of your eyes. This means scrolling pages once your eyes reach the bottom of the document, and looking at points at the screen constitutes clicking. Lenovo has already created laptops with this technology.

7. Tractor beams
The Enterprise can drag objects in space - now it's looking like we can soon do this in real life too. Granted, it only works with very small particles so far. Basically it works because the light falling on an opaque object is reflected back in the direction it came from. These bouncing photons will then push the object, moving it away from the light source. This is the opposite of what happens in Star Trek, where the tractor beam pulls, not pushes. Researchers at Fudan University in China are working on pulling beams, however, thought to be possible because the light waves in question also contain electric and magnetic fields. This means the particles can be excited to emit light, reversing the direction.

8. Phaser guns and photon torpedos
"Set your phasers to stun," said Captain Picard - those phasers could evaporate someone too, but did the Capital ever authorise that setting? Oh no. The technology itself may well be possible, but the problem is the energy requirements, and the resulting massive size. A US company has patented a design using laser light, and could potentially be on its way to create a working phaser. The patented laser generates a path of ionised air between the weapon and the target, acting as a conductor for electricity which can stun the victim.

9. Faster-than-light speed and time travel
"Warp" speed is a key obstacle for any Star Trek-resembling reality. Time dilation is a problem for real-life scientists, whereas the Enterprise whizzes along at light-speed without any problems occurring. Time travel is also possible in the Star Trek universe, although highly frowned upon and violation of the Temporal Prime Directive got Capital Janeway into trouble more than once. Thinking they know better, researchers at Vanderbilt University have started tinkering at the problem, believing they may be able to use the Large Hadron Collider to send a type of matter called the Higgs singlet into the past. There are some problems, however: it is not yet certain the Higgs singlet actually exists.

10. Beaming technology
"Beam me up, Scotty." This one may be the neatest - the ability to move things in the blink of an eye. Bye commuter trains, hello daytrips to Kiwi. Also here we are making progress; yesterday researchers from Japan and Australia announced they had successfully teleported waves of light. In the first instance, this could revolutionise information transfers, but we are hopeful. Oh and while they are at it, someone should look into making a Sonic Shower, which cleans without water. Now that's time-saving for you.

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In the Star Trek universe it was the Borg Queen who introduced Data to skin that meant he could feel touch - in reality this is now being developed right here on earth.

The sci-fi dream is taking place at Stanford University, where Professor Zhenan Bao is hard at work creating something she calls "super skin": ultra-sensitive electronic skin that can detect the lightest touch. Strictly speaking this isn't the same as what the Borg Queen offered up (trust a Trekkie to keep tabs on the details) but it's still early days and we're confident this will be sorted.

The solar-powered technology will also one day be able to detect small traces of chemicals - meaning there is the potential for this new, exciting technology to be used by law enforcement, human or otherwise.

On a brighter note, the same technology could also be used in medicine, as the "super skin" can also pick up markers of disease: "For any particular disease, there are usually one or more specific proteins associated with it - called biomarkers - that are akin to a 'smoking gun,' and detecting those protein biomarkers will allow us to diagnose the disease," Bao said to the Stanford University News.

(Image credit)

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While data storage has never been a problem for the computer mind, its ability to follow tricky nuances of language and reasoning has held back any plans for world dominance. This problem might be soon conquered, however, as an IBM computer demonstrated its skills by winning a top game of Jeopardy.

An IBM computer called Watson managed to beat two former Jeopardy masters last night, and even amassed $77,147 over the course of two games. In addition to having to understand the nuances of the Jeopardy questions, Watson had to make suitable bets depending on its certainty, plus physically press the button.

Watson's brain has the power of 2,800 large-capacity desktop computers, roughly the size of 10 refrigerators. The computer's advanced skills are now being put to use in medicine, publishing, and finance, according to IBM.

Watson showed skill in answering vaguely-worded questions such as "It's a poor workman who blames these" - "What are tools?" answered Watson. But the clever computer still has a few issues to sort out. In the Final Jeopardy round, Watson was asked which US city's largest airport is named after a second world war hero. "What Is Toronto?", said Watson, failing on the fact that Toronto is indeed in Canada. No reasons to be worried about any Matrix-type scenarios developing any time soon, then.

It was meant to help astronauts control space ships, but it has a surprise alternative use - Game Design.

The iKinema software was developed by the space research station at Surrey University and has been snapped up by big game makes 20th Century Fox and is now being used to help characters in games react more believably to objects around them. Things like gravity or other objects.

See the Youtube video above for cute examples of how it works. Check out the octopus!

They say "it has proved a brilliant way of animating the whole body of any creature in real time" it makes people more realistic, and lets bodies obey laws of gravity and balance.

Martyn Buxton-Hoare, Director of IKinema, explains the benefits of the technology: "By using IKinema, games developers can produce realistic, lifelike, fluid movement in games with minimal effort. IKinema can be plugged seamlessly into the animation pipeline to greatly increase the believability of characters and make them fully interactive with the scene."

We love it.
See more about IKinema

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Qualcomm are better known for making chips for top smartphones than for cows' intestines. That could be about to change.

The Internet of Everything aka the Internet of Things is where chips are embedded in everything from toasters to cars to CD players. With everything wired up to a chip, all these separate devices can communicate with each other and be monitored and controlled from the internet. Toasters aside, there are some quirker uses for it as well and at the Qualcomm conference earlier this month, I found out that one area where their pioneering chip technology is currently being used is in the stomachs of pregnant Japanese cows.

"Yeah - we've got very odd applications all over the world." said Mark Carter a Director in Program Management at Qualcomm R&D.

Qualcomm is making the Radio Frequency Identity (RFID) chips that will be the basis of the internet of things. Their new family of everywhere chips - out by January 2011 - will be available for manufacturers to simply plug into their devices whatever they may be - kettles, or uh cows...

We pressed him to tell us about the Japanese cows.

"So pregnant cows are I guess very valuable, so the path of the cow and the amount of exercise and the food and things that they eat are very important to the health of the calf. So Japanese farmers want to do cow tracking.."

The deal with the RFID chips is that a manufacturer can rig them up to different sensors - testing anything from temperature, pressure, acidity or motion and then the chip can wire the data collected by the sensors back to a computer over the internet.

So with the cows the chip is put in a non-digestible ceramic cylinder with sensors built in and the cow swallows it. The famer could be measuring movement to see how much exercise the cow was getting, or acidity to measure digestive activity - all useful information in learning about the health of the cow and the calf.

Mark mentioned one other fascinating use for it (also in Japan, yes) which involved teaching Japanese adults how to look after babies. In this wacky-sounding project they were given a life-sized doll of a baby with sensors attached.... the doll provides feedback as to how well the adult is taking care of it.

"there's another application which uses an anatomically-correct doll of a baby. They have these sensors in the baby and a doll that looks like a baby so they are using our module to send back cellular information over the wifi/Bluetooth to collect that data for mothers and fathers that are learning how to take care of an infant".

Err, we're not quite sure how that one works, but sound interesting.

Mark wouldn't tell us the names of the projects because the technology won't be official until a few months' time, but promised that then details of interesting uses for it will be released soon.

Forget the ice-cream maker, top of our new kitchen gadget wishlist is a 3D food printer. Oh yes, we said 3D Food Printer.

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Capable of printing out your dinner, scientists in MIT invented the gadget back in January, and IKEA have just fingered the Food Printer as one product they think will make a big difference to Kitchens of The Future. Not just something for the wacky scientists then.

The Food Printer or Cornucopia Digital Fabricator does a lot more than print pictures of your little brother in food dye onto icing sugar, oh no, it makes the whole thing from scratch, in 3d. Using food molecules as building blocks it constitues a whole meal for you out of ingredients that you have chosen. You can control the flavour and nutritional content exactly.

Essentially, the Cornucopia concept is a 3D printer that precisely mixes foods and flavors from a number of canisters in order to produce something that's edible (and supposedly close to what you ordered). Able to deliver "elaborate combinations of food," the machine also has a rapid heating and cooling chamber that purportedly allows for "the creation of flavors and textures that would be completely unimaginable through other cooking techniques."

Okay, so this won't be available until circa 2040. I'm prepared to wait. .

IKEA have released a document outlining the future of kitchen design taking into account global trends like scarcity, digitalisation, neo villaging and other scary stuff. Suffice to say I'm just looking forward to the day when I can print out dinner.


IKEA also predict elements of gaming entering cooking and other wacky kitchen stuff available here.
See more on the Cornucopia MIT project here

981sunflare.jpgA little thought for the day - what if a sun flare blew the circuits on the satellites orbiting the earth and destroyed the world's GPS system?

Just a little disaster scenario for you to mull over. The issue has come to light because - yes - there has been a sun-flare and yes it is possible that a flare of sufficient strength could destroy the satellites.

Sun flares happen from time to time and usually don't cause too many problems, but we have been steadily packing more satellites into orbit in the past decade and as a world have become much more reliant on GPS to let us navigate and know where we are.

What if the Google Maps app just stopped working and if the satnav frankly didn't have a clue where you were? Pretty scary but according to the Public Astronomer it's not a likely threat this time. But the risk does remain.

Well if a sun-flare did blow the system, we needn't worry about GPS making us dumber, a problem raised by author Christopher Somerville. We'd all just have to get the Ordinance Survey out and try and remember how co-ordinates worked..

Related: The danger of using mobile maps abroad: why GPS is free but downloading maps isn't

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I've just been on the radio (briefly) chatting about whether GPS and sat navs are eroding our sense of geography. Whether we're so busy peering at our screens that we don't see the lambs gambolling in the field nearby or whether we never bother to learn where places are because we know we can just tap in a postcode and whether that's good or bad.

Needless to say, I was on the side of the GPS. That thing is a life-saver, and while it would be nice in theory if I knew where Bognor Regis is, I am not going to spend time rote learning how far away it is or what routes I need to take to get there. If indeed I did want to get there in the first place.

The argument is part of that whole broader debate about whether the internet is making us a bit stupider because we know we can rely on Google to feed us facts rather than sitting down and learning them. Some fair points there - but I always think that being freed from having to learn lots of facts is a good thing and lets us do more exciting and useful things with our time.

Humans have always made tools to help them do stuff faster and better. Back to the satnavs - do we really want to spend time wandering around lost in the Cotswolds or South London, when you could save a lot of time by just knowing where you're going. Plus quicker car journeys mean less fuel is burned, which is cheaper and greener.

And if you want to spend time getting lost in countryside and looking at lambs then you can always switch the electronic devices off.

---
PS:
There has been an argument kicking around which says that because sat navs always channel us down the most efficient routes so they are effectively restricting where we go. Called restrictive cartography, we mentioned it in story: Are electronic maps trapping you in virtual prisons? it's a bit of a crazzeee conspiracy theory in my humble opinion, but hey.

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Control computers with your brain? Yup. A consumer version of those electrode headsets that doctors use to measure brain waves in patients, the Epoc from Emotiv can read your mind. And then help you lift things up and down in computer games

The technology seems to be at quite an elementary level, with the signal detected serving only to let you do quite simple tasks like move objects on screens, sort through pictures or rotate a cube.

But Emotiv are predicting some great uses for the technology when it becomes more advanced. Their CEO Tan Le gave a speech at the TED conference - worth checking out if you're interested.

With the help of software developers, they hope to make a range of apps for the headset which will let you do a lot more with it. For example, if it were linked to a mobile phone you could call someone by thinking about calling them instead of picking up your handset and pressing buttons. These are the uses they've flagged up:

Artistic and creative expression - Use your thoughts, feeling, and emotion to dynamically create color, music, and art.

Life changing applications for disabled patients, such as controlling an electric wheelchair, mind-keyboard, or playing a hands-free game.

Games & Virtual Worlds - Experience the fantasy of controlling and influencing the virtual environment with your mind. Play games developed specifically for the EPOC, or use the EmoKey to connect to current PC games and experience them in a completely new way.

Market Research & Advertising - get true insight about how people respond and feel about material presented to them. Get real-time feedback on user enjoyment and engagement.

However, it's all rather fledging so far. Problems seem to include having hair - it gets in the way of the electrodes which are supposed to make direct contact with your skin, and the fact that it is hard to train the device to respond to your particular thoughts.

See a forum where those issues are raised here.

It packs with a device called EmoKey - this links your thoughts or emotions to strokes on the keyboard. For example, if you smile during an instant chat conversation, then smile recognition software will insert a smiley :) into the text you are typing.

Geek and sci-fi writer Greg Dawe got all excited about the possibilities for this, something we covered in a blog post here.

I mean we're pretty excited too, we're just not going to spend $299 on it yet...

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