Brazilian-born Miguel Nicolelis is a professor of neurobiology at Duke University and a pioneer in the field of brain-machine-interfaces, in which brain waves from a human or animal control a robot-limb prosthethis. For more on Nicolelis and his work, watch "The Next List" this Sunday at 2:30 pm ET on CNN.
By Miguel Nicolelis
For the past 30 years, I have dedicated my career as a neurobiologist to unveil the physiological principles that underlie how our brain circuits, formed by billions of interconnected cells, known as neurons, create the entirety of our human nature and history out of sheer electrical brainstorms.
To pursue this quest, my colleagues and I at the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering have developed a variety of new methods and technologies to probe the brain in search of any hint, any glimpse that could place us on the right trail to answer the greatest mysteries of all times: how the entire wealth of the human mind emerges from a mesh of organic tissue.
In 1999, John Chapin, my former postdoctoral advisor, and I published a scientific paper that introduced to the neuroscience community what by then seemed to be just another promising new experimental tool in brain research. Without much ceremony, we named this new experimental paradigm brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) and, in a flurry of papers that followed the original report, we described the technical details of our unorthodox combination of neurophysiological methods, real-time computing and robotics to create a direct and bidirectional interface between living animal brains and a variety of mechanical and electronic machines.
In the late 1990s, our initial effort in building such devices was entirely motivated by the desire to establish a powerful experimental tool to carry on work related to the investigation of the neurophysiological principles that allow behavior, the true business of the brain, to emerge flawlessly and effortlessly, time and time again, from the widespread dynamic interactions of large populations of neurons that comprise any brain circuit.
By the time our original papers were published in scientific journals, very few people, outside a small number of experts working in the emergent field of BMIs, could envision the enormous clinical potential that this newly acquired ability to interface brains and machines could unleash and how it could influence the future of rehabilitation medicine.
What a difference 15 years make! After a mere decade and a half of intense research and stunning experimental demonstrations, brain-machine interfaces have become the core of a large variety of potential future new therapies for neurological disorders, such as untreatable epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and devastating levels of body paralysis. Moreover, in the not so remote future, BMIs of a different variety may allow us to perform a lot of our daily routine tasks, such as interacting with our smartphones, just by thinking!
Welcome to the era of brain-actuating technology; the age in which the brain’s voluntary desire to move will be liberated from the physical limits of the human body that host it.
In the CNN show you are about to watch, you will be introduced to the Walk Again Project (WAP), the first worldwide, non-profit international brain research consortium aimed at building a new generation of robotic limb prostheses, which can be directly controlled by the subject’s own brain activity through a brain-machine interface. In the future, we hope that neuroprostheses such as the ones the WAP intends to build could be used to restore full-body mobility in tens of millions of severely paralyzed patients worldwide.
To showcase to the entire world that this moment could be fast approaching, the WAP has proposed to have the first public demonstration of such a potentially revolutionary medical rehabilitation technology during the opening football match of the FIFA 2014 Soccer World Cup on June 12, 2014, in São Paulo, Brazil.
According to this proposal, at 5:00 pm that afternoon, a Brazilian young adult, who is paralyzed below the waist down will emerge in the pitch wearing a robotic vest, known as an exoskeleton, whose movements are controlled by some sort of brain-derived signals. Then, using all his voluntary will, this true herald of a new era shall walk autonomously all the way to center field, and once there, kick a ball to deliver the official start of the World Cup.
In essence, what we propose is that, in the land that invented the “beautiful game," the opening kickoff of the greatest sports event in the world becomes a scientific “Gol” to all of humanity.
Editor’s Note: Ed Lu is an explorer who loves mapping the unknown – whether it’s the oceans at Liquid Robotics, our neighborhoods, leading Google Advanced Projects Teams, or unveiling the secrets of the inner solar system and saving the world with the B612 Foundation, where he serves as CEO. A NASA Astronaut, he’s flown three missions, logging 206 days in space to construct and live aboard the International Space Station. Watch Ed Lu’s full plan to save the world, this Sunday 2:30 P.M. E.T. on “The Next List”
By Ed Lu, Special to CNN
Today's meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk is a reminder that the Earth orbits the Sun in a shooting gallery of asteroids, and that these asteroids sometimes hit the Earth. Later today, a separate and larger asteroid, 2012 DA14, will narrowly miss the Earth passing beneath the orbits of our communications satellites. We have the technology to deflect asteroids, but we cannot do anything about the objects we don't know exist.
Discovered just one year ago by an amateur citizen observer, 2012 DA14 will fly only 17 thousand miles above Earth - the distance the Earth travels in just 15 minutes, and not much longer than many people travel on common air flights. So this truly is a close shave. In fact, 2012 DA14 will pass underneath our communications satellites as it flies by Earth.
This particular object is not large for an asteroid; it is about 160 feet across or roughly the size of an office building. It is not going to hit us on February 15, but it should serve as a wake-up call for planetary defense. Consider that just 105 years ago, an asteroid slightly smaller than this struck Earth in Siberia near Tunguska and completely flattened a forested area of 1000 square miles, an expanse larger than New York City or Washington D.C.
2012 DA14 is what is known as a near-Earth asteroid because its orbit crosses Earth’s orbit and it may therefore someday run into Earth. Millions of these asteroids exist, we just can’t see them from Earth. Of the million asteroids as large as or larger than 2012 DA14, we have only tracked less than 10,000. That we knew ahead of time that 2012 DA14 would buzz by Earth is really only a matter of luck. Ninety nine percent of the time we are oblivious to such impending flybys, simply because we currently don’t have the means to map and track the other 99 percent.
We established the non-profit B612 Foundation to protect humanity from asteroid impacts and, at the same time, open space to future exploration. Our Sentinel Mission is an infrared space telescope that we will launch and place in orbit around the Sun. From its vantage point looking back at Earth’s orbit, Sentinel will discover, map and track the trajectories of asteroids whose orbits approach Earth and threaten humanity. We will be the first privately funded, launched and operated interplanetary mission, and the most ambitious private space mission in history.
The Sentinel Map will give us decades of advance notice of an impending impact so that deflection becomes relatively easy. There are several promising technologies including kinetic impactors, gravity tractors and nuclear standoff explosions. The urgency in completing the map arises because there could be an impact in the next few decades. With only a few years' notice, the task of deflecting an asteroid becomes extremely difficult, to the point where it could become almost impossible (depending on the size of the asteroid) using current technology. Every year delayed in completing Sentinel increases our chances of having no available options. Why take this risk?
The chances in 90 years (roughly your lifetime) of Earth being hit by another asteroid like at Tunguska is about one in three. Shouldn’t we know in advance of the next asteroid impact, and actually prevent it?
By David Lang, Special to CNN
With the presidential election coming up, it’s hard to go anywhere without hearing an opinion on the candidates' plan for the economy, specifically manufacturing jobs.
Despite all the bad economic news the past few years, I couldn’t be more excited about the potential for manufacturing in this country.
My optimism isn’t based on macroeconomic reports or expert opinions. In fact, it’s entirely personal. Our OpenROV, an open-source underwater robot, recently raised over $110,000 on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform for creative projects. This experience has jump-started our micro-manufacturing company as we move into a small facility in Berkeley, California.
For me, this project has become a surprising new career. After unexpectedly losing my job last year, I was forced to rethink my entire life direction. I came to the stark realization that all I was qualified to do was sit in front of a computer screen. Instead of scrambling back into the rat race and trying to find another job behind a desk, I decided to focus on a more fundamental skill set: actually making things.
In the months after being laid off, I immersed myself in the growing Maker Movement by spending two months taking every class I could at TechShop, a members-only workshop in San Francisco. I took woodworking, laser cutting, welding, computer-aided design and manufacturing, and everything in between.
Rather unexpectedly, the side project I had begun with my friend Eric Stackpole began to gain momentum, and now the project is a full-time job.
The better news is that my "Zero to Maker" story is becoming more common than people realize. New tools and machines - 3-D printers, laser cutters, open-source micro-controllers - along with online communities and maker spaces are democratizing the means of production.
Now, anyone with an idea can quickly prototype an idea. And websites like Kickstarter make it easy for those ideas to develop a community of supporters (these ideas are beautifully articulated in Chris Anderson’s new book, "Makers").
Our OpenROV project, for example, has professional and amateur ocean engineers contributing from all over the world.
It doesn’t take an engineering background or industrial design degree to join the new maker economy. Everything I’ve learned, from how to use the machines to setting up a micro-manufacturing operation, has been on-the-spot and just-in-time. There’s a community of makers ready to get you up to speed. It’s an affordable and accessible way to re-skill yourself. We’re all learning together.
When I started, I worried I was at a permanent disadvantage because I had never used a soldering iron. Now, I'm worrying about how we're going to fill all the orders for our robots. It's a much better problem to have.
By John D. Sutter, CNN
(CNN) - Watching the Olympics, which kick off in earnest Friday with the opening ceremony in London, is more fun when you know the stories behind the Games.
No doubt, sports broadcasters will hammer on plenty of rags-to-riches, against-the-odds backstories about the Olympic athletes. (You can also find plenty of them on CNN's London 2012 page). And that's all good. But knowing the technological underpinnings of the Games is perhaps just as intriguing.
Here's a quick look at 10 of the most interesting tech stories to watch at the London Olympics:
By John D. Sutter, CNN
(CNN) - At a time when computer programs are threatening to become competent journalists, capable of spitting out clear-headed reports on financial earnings reports and the like, this could get a little personal. But I thought I would draw your attention to a provocative statement posted on Wednesday by Kevin Kelly, the Wired magazine co-founder and author of "What Technology Wants."
Here's what Kelly has to say about robots stealing our jobs:
The fact that a task is routine enough to be measured suggests that it is routine enough to go to the robots. In my opinion, many of the jobs that are being fought over by unions today are jobs that will be outlawed within several generations as inhumane.
If a job is so routine that it could be done by robots - usually robots that can't really think but are really good at doing mechanical tasks over and over - will it be seen as "inhumane" by future generations? And - gasp! - are today's punch-out-the-facts journalism jobs going to be seen by our future selves as harmfully routine and monotonous? This takes the idea of a "paragraph factory" to a whole new level.
This is obviously not an endorsement, just a conversation starter.
Feel free to debate in the comments section below.
Update: Some of your comments were aggregated by CNN's news blog, This Just In. Check it out. As always, thanks for participating in the conversation.
By John D. Sutter, CNN
(CNN) - A Japanese roboticist recently showed off a giant, person-shaped pillow that also doubles as a cell phone and vibrates based on the frequency of the voice of the person you're talking to. If you're inclined to give this the benefit of the doubt, think of it as a step forward in "haptic" technology, which aims to bring the largely missing sense of touch into the realm of digital communications.
Or, if you're a skeptic: Just call it creepy.
The "Hugvie" robot reportedly is the work of Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, who, among other things, is known for making a robotic version of himself. He also created a Telenoid robot that stands in for humans and, as IEEE Spectrum described it, looks like "a supersized fetus." FULL POST
By Doug Gross, CNN
It could be something out of "Harry Potter," or a scene from "Terminator 2" if you want to take it to a creepier place.
Take a box full of sand and tell it what you need - say a hammer, a ladder or a replacement for a busted car part. Bury a tiny model of what you need in the sand, give it a few seconds and - voila! - the grains of sand have assembled themselves into a full-size version of the model.
MIT robotics researchers say such a magical sandbox could be no more than a decade away. FULL POST
By Matthew Knight, CNN
(CNN) - It might look like science fiction but the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) hopes to turn this humanoid robot into a seafaring fact in an effort to improve firefighting capabilities on board military vessels.
Currently at the development stage, the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (or SAFFiR for short) is intended to combat fires in the cramped conditions of a ship, saving lives and costly equipment.
Armed with cameras and a gas sensor, the battery-powered SAFFiR will be "capable of activating fire suppressors" and throwing "propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT) grenades," says the NRL.