Science made some headway in 2012 bringing concepts and ideas hitherto reserved for the realm of make-believe into reality. The following are 9 pretty damn cool you may have read in Harry Potter or seen on Star Trek that are no longer fiction!
1. The invisibility cloak is HERE
First off, in the just-plain-cool category – British Columbia company HyperStealth Biotechnology showed a functioning prototype of its new fabric to the U.S. and Canadian military. The material, called Quantum Stealth, bends light waves around the wearer without the use of batteries, mirrors, or cameras. It not only blocks the subject from being seen by visual means but also keeps them hidden from thermal scans and infrared.
Source: The Huffington Post Canada
2. Self-Driving Cars Are Legal in Nevada, Florida, and California
In the “it’s about time!” category: self-driving vehicles. That’s a no-brainer.
Following in the footsteps of Shakey, the robot (the first step forward in autonomous machines from 1966-1972), and the DARPA Grand Challenge of 2007, Google started testing its driverless cars at the start of 2012, and by May, Nevada released them to the wilds of the urban jungle. The license was issued to a Toyota Prius modified with Google’s experimental driverless technology. Florida and California soon followed suit. These cars have logged over 300,000 autonomous hours so far, with only two accidents on their record. Mind you, the accidents happened when they were being piloted by humans. Ahem.
3. Quadriplegic Uses Her Mind to Control Her Robotic Arm
In the “OK, post-humanism, here we come” category: brain implants that allow Jan to control her robotic arm!
That’s right, she uses her mind! No, she isn’t telekinetic. The real wizards here are the members of the team at the University of Pittsburgh’s neurobiology department. They worked with 52-year-old Jan Scheuermann over the course of 13 weeks to create a robotic arm controlled only by the power of her mind.
The team implanted her with two 96-channel intracortical microelectrodes. Placed in the motor cortex, which controls all limb movement, the integration process was faster than anyone expected. On the second day, Jan could use her new arm with a 3-D workspace. By the end of the 13 weeks, she was capable of performing complex tasks with seven-dimensional movement, just like a biological arm. To date, there have been no negative side effects. THAT is what I call wetware!
But there is more in the category of human enhancements – or at least, repairs…
4. Custom Jaw Transplant Created With 3-D Printer
What is a 3D printer you ask? I certainly did.
To perform a print, the machine reads a 3D design and lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, or sheet material to build the model from a series of cross sections. These layers, which correspond to the virtual cross sections from the CAD model, are joined together or automatically fused to create the final shape. There are zillions of applications for such a machine.
According to Wikipedia, 3D printing technology has been studied by biotechnology firms and academia for possible use in tissue engineering applications in which organs and body parts are built using inkjet techniques. In this process, layers of living cells are deposited onto a gel medium or sugar matrix and slowly built up to form three dimensional structures including vascular systems. 3D printing can produce a personalized hip replacement in one pass, with the ball permanently inside the socket.
The University of Glasgow, UK, showed that it is possible to use 3D printing techniques to create chemical compounds, including new ones. Cornell Creative Machines Lab has confirmed that it is possible to produce customized food with 3D Hydrocolloid Printing. Replicator anyone?
A custom working jawbone was created for an 83-year-old patient using titanium powder and bioceramic coating. The first of its kind, the successful surgery opens the door for individualized bone replacement and, perhaps one day, the ability to print out new muscles and organs.
5. Eye Implants Give Sight to the Blind
Two blind men in the U.K. were fitted with eye implants during an eight-hour surgery with promising results. After years of blindness, both had regained “useful” vision within weeks, picking up the outlines of objects and dreaming in color. Doctors expect continued improvement as their brains rewire themselves for sight.
The implant, developed by Retina Implant AG, is fitted underneath the retina at the back of the eye and relies on the eye’s natural focusing power to transmit light to it. It then carries out the normal function of the damaged cells, using 1,500 electrodes to convert light into electrical impulses which are passed up the optic nerve into the brain.
Previous eye implants have relied on external cameras, rather than the eye itself, to take in light before transmitting it into electrical signals.
Dr Tim Jackson, a consultant retinal surgeon at King’s College Hospital and one of the trial leaders, explained: “You can think of the retina as the film in the back of a camera.
“That has died away but the remaining connections are still intact and we can use these to transmit a signal to the brain. The chip replicates the action of the cells that have died away.”
6. Stem Cells Could Extend Human Life?
When fast-aging, elderly mice with a usual lifespan of 21 days were injected with stem cells from younger mice at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburgh, the results were staggering. Given the injection approximately four days before they were expected to die, not only did the elderly mice live — they lived threefold their normal lifespan, sticking around for 71 days. In human terms, that would be the equivalent of an 80-year-old living to be 200.
But before we get excited at the prospect of our 90′s being the new 20′s, study co-author Johnny Huard, a stem-cell expert at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburgh warns that before any human anti-aging trials can begin, scientists need to repeat the experiment in normally aging mice to show whether these mice also live longer.
If that turns out successful, Huard could imagine a scenario in which some of a person’s stem cells are harvested at about age 20 and then injected back into his or her body at around age 50 or 55. But, he warns, “The goal of doing this research is not to [be like a] movie star with a ton of money [who wants to] look great for the rest of their lives,” he said. “The goal is, if you delay aging, maybe you can delay Alzheimer’s or cardiovascular problems.”
In other words, he said, such stem cell treatments would help people “age well.”
Ok, that’s cool, but… bah humbug. Let’s see what space has to offer!
Source: National Geographic
7. First Unmanned Commercial Space Flight Docks with the ISS
SpaceX docked its unmanned cargo craft, the Dragon, with the International Space Station. It marked the first time in history a private company had sent a craft to the station. The robotic arm (a Canadian design/build by the way) of the ISS grabbed the capsule in the first of what may be many resupply trips.
The capsule is packed with nearly a thousand pounds (450 kilograms) of essential supplies and gear, as well some arguably nonessential chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream and, for a school science experiment, some Silly Putty.
High-flying SpaceX, founded by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, won a nearly U.S. $1.6 billion contract with NASA in 2008 to supply the space station via a dozen flights in the years ahead.
Unlike any government-owned capsules supplying the ISS, the SpaceX Dragon is designed to return intact to Earth, and so can be used as a two-way ferry.
Source: National Geographic
8. First Planet with FOUR Suns Discovered
Two volunteer astronomers have confirmed the existence of a Neptune-like planet that has four stars-for-suns, making it the first quadruple star system ever discovered. PH1 as it’s called is approximately the size of Neptune. Scientists are still trying to work out how the planet has avoided being pulled apart by the gravitational force of that many stars. Ah, the ‘verse works in mysterious ways…
9. Microsoft Patented the “Holodeck”
Come again? Yup. Well, patenting does not mean creating. But it suggests Microsoft wants to take gaming beyond a single screen and turn it into an immersive experience — beaming images all over the room, accounting for things like furniture, and bending the graphics around them to create a seamless environment. Boooyaaah!
I also foresee a new category of addiction on the horizon.