FANTASTIC VOYAGE is closer to reality — with scallop microbots

In the 1960s science fiction film Fantastic Voyage, audiences thrilled to the idea of shrinking a submarine and the people inside it to microscopic dimensions and injecting it into a person’s bloodstream. At the time it was just fantasy and as fantastic an idea as its title suggested. Today, however, micro-miniature travelers in your body have come one step closer to reality. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute have been experimenting with real micro-sized robots that literally swim through your bodily fluids and could be used to deliver drugs or other medical relief in a highly-targeted way…

The microrobots being designed by the team literally are swimmers; they are scallop-like devices designed to paddle through non-Newtonian fluids like blood and plasma (even water behaves in this way at a microscopic level). This means that, unlike swimming in water at a macro-level, these microbots need to move through fluid that has a changing viscosity depending on how much force is exerted upon it.

To do this, the microbots need a method of propulsion that can fit in their tiny bodies as well as take advantage of the non-Newtonian fluid in which they are moving. Importantly, the team is using a reciprocal method of movement to propel their microscallops; but generally this doesn’t work in such fluids, which is why organisms that move around in a biological system use non-reciprocating devices like flagella or cilia to get about.

However these robotic microswimmers actually take advantage of this property and use a scallop swimming motion to move around. The researchers call this process “modulation of the fluid viscosity upon varying the shear rate.” In simple terms, the micro scallops open and close their “shells” to compress the fluid and force it out behind them, which then propels them along.

The fact that the microrobot scallop has no motor to drag around contributes to its exceptionally small size – around 800 microns. This makes it miniscule enough to make its way through your bloodstream, around your lymphatic system, or across the slippery goo on the surface of your eyeballs…

The first and most obvious use would be delivery of medication. The authors are otherwise laid back about suggestions for the future. They’re confident today’s medical researchers are technically hip enough that there will be more potential uses for these microbots than any one team might ever invent.

Autoblog’s Technology of the Year is the BMW i8

No one’s pretending this is a car for everyone – even if you can afford one. But, it’s proof of concept that a production vehicle can have dynamic levels of performance in combination with better than average fuel consumption.

i8 small
Click to enlarge

The winner of Autoblog’s 2014 Technology of the Year award was given this year for not just one technology, but for how a suite of technologies worked together to make one impressive vehicle.

The BMW i8 was named the winner Wednesday night at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles, just outside the Los Angeles Auto Show. Autoblog’s editorial staff agreed that the i8, which drew crowds of attention during our testing days, represents a future of driving that we can’t wait to see happen…

Ultimately, we picked the car that excited us the most. The BMW i8 has a throaty exhaust note when accelerating. It’s got carbon fiber, and a plug-in hybrid system that uses a small 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine and an electric motor. It has through-the-road all-wheel drive, and in Europe it’ll come with laser beams for headlights.

All that, and it’s a massive eye catcher. People stop and stare when they see this car, for good reason. It’s simply gorgeous. For a more in-depth look at the Car and Driver test, click here.

An engine governor holds top speed down to 155mph. 0-60 times are under 4 seconds. Yet, through the C&D testing cycle and track testing they averaged 24mpg. With an electric-only range of 22 miles, this critter can match the mileage of a Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid IMHO.

Of course, the Ford ain’t $136K.

A year in the life of Earth’s CO2

Concentrations of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continue to increase. On Monday, NASA released a striking video that visualizes the invisible gas as it travels around the planet over one year.

The simulation shows plumes of carbon dioxide “swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources,” according to NASA. The video also shows differences in carbon dioxide levels in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, as well as the change in concentrations of carbon dioxide that come with changes in season due to the growth cycle of plants and trees.

Created with an ultra-high-resolution computer model, the visualization is called “Nature Run,” simulating May 2005 to June 2007.

The Nature Run ingests real data on atmospheric conditions and the emission of greenhouse gases and both natural and man-made particulates,” NASA wrote. “The model is then is left to run on its own and simulate the natural behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Computational analysis is fundamental to growing and understanding modern science. I admit it. I love it.

What a fascinating tool.

Thanks, Mike

Examining public perceptions of privacy and security in the post-Snowden era

Summary of Findings

Privacy evokes a constellation of concepts for Americans—some of them tied to traditional notions of civil liberties and some of them driven by concerns about the surveillance of digital communications and the coming era of “big data.” While Americans’ associations with the topic of privacy are varied, the majority of adults in a new survey by the Pew Research Center feel that their privacy is being challenged along such core dimensions as the security of their personal information and their ability to retain confidentiality.

When Americans are asked what comes to mind when they hear the word “privacy,” there are patterns to their answers. As the above word cloud illustrates, they give important weight to the idea that privacy applies to personal material—their space, their “stuff,” their solitude, and, importantly, their “rights.” Beyond the frequency of individual words, when responses are grouped into themes, the largest block of answers ties to concepts of security, safety, and protection. For many others, notions of secrecy and keeping things “hidden” are top of mind when thinking about privacy.

More than a year after contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents about widespread government surveillance by the NSA, the cascade of news stories about the revelations continue to register widely among the public. Some 43% of adults have heard “a lot” about “the government collecting information about telephone calls, emails, and other online communications as part of efforts to monitor terrorist activity,” and another 44% have heard “a little.” Just 5% of adults in our panel said they have heard “nothing at all” about these programs.

Perhaps most striking is Americans’ lack of confidence that they have control over their personal information. That pervasive concern applies to everyday communications channels and to the collectors of their information—both in the government and in corporations.

RTFA for details and conclusions.

The folks at Pew recently asked me why I use their studies, surveys and analysis. Prime – from my perspective – is integrity. They consider the standards inherent in our Constitution inviolable. A group of ideals advanced not only for their time; but, for today. And they would wish, I believe, to carry the standards forward into the future we must all fight for.

I admit to being blasé about the questions we confront in this study. I haven’t had the privacy Pew strives to address as a standard since the very first days I stood up against oppression and racism in this the land of my birth.

On the way to my first sit-in in the civil rights movement, crammed into a VW Kombi owned by the college student driving our very mixed bag of black and white, town and gown, to Virginia – hoping to survive sharing a Coke at some drugstore soda fountain – we were spotted and tailed by the Virginia State Police the instant we crossed their border. Which meant local coppers, FBI, had recorded our departure from New Haven and passed the word along.

Before the 1950’s were out I had my first confrontation with FBI agents who waited outside the factory where I worked. I was the chairman of the union’s COPE committee. The Committee On Political Education – which mostly concentrated on issues and platform questions in local and national elections.

Nothing much to say about it. A standard intimidation tactic back then. It never matters what they say they want to talk to you about. They usually try to sound like they’re really concerned about helping you. Which is a crock. The point they’re making is that they know who you are and what you say.

I told them to stick it where the sun don’t shine and walked away. That all happened before I made it to 1963. Ain’t much changed since as far as privacy in my life is concerned. Laws change. Politicians change a very little. Establishment, government lies about protecting the people haven’t changed a jot.