Here's a roundup of the week's top drone news: the military, commercial, non-profit, and recreational applications of unmanned aircraft.
Made by Cyphy Works, this tiny hexarotor solves one big problem for small drones -- short battery life -- by replacing it with an entirely different problem: tethering. The drone carries 250 feet of filament behind it, connected to a cell phone. The pilot uses the phone to steer the drone, and the drone draws on the cell phones battery power. The limitations of the tether are big; it does make the drone much harder to hack.
Watch it fly through an office below:
Earlier this month, Yamaha tested a remote controlled helicopter drone at vineyards in California. Vintners have already used drones to better understand their crops, but so long as drones are remote controlled, the labor savings of robotic crop monitoring will remain out of reach. Still, the fact that Yamaha is excited to show off a drone before it has autonomy is a good sign for the future of drone-assisted farming, if not so great for the present.
Threats To The Crown
Earlier this week, the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom published a report on "The Security Impact Of Drones." The report discusses a variety of threats drones might pose to the U.K. back home. The report also weighs in on the ethics of using drones for war with a fairly reasoned response. From the summary:There is no convincing ethical objection to acquiring RPA, while the ethical acceptability of their armed use is dependent on context and control. Indeed, it may be positively ethically desirable to use them rather than other kinds of firepower which are less capable of avoiding civilian casualties and which expose UK military personnel to avoidable risk. Northern Pig-tailed Macaque Similar to the kinds of macaques researchers used drones to monitor in Malaysia. JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons
Monitoring Monkeys, Fighting Malaria
This week researchers published a study about using drones to track malaria in Malaysia. Humans and monkeys wore GPS trackers, and the drones flew over the island to map changes in environment and development. The goal: tracking a monkey-specific strain of malaria that has started to cross over to humans.
Soccer And Skycameras
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for drones at soccer matches. Last week, during a match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade, a drone carried an antagonistic Albanian flag. The drone was so disruptive that the game was abandoned halfway through. Earlier this week, in Manchester, police arrested a man for flying a drone over a soccer match. The drone was a quadcopter, and the 41-year-old man piloting it was over in a nearby parking lot.
Did I miss any drone news? Email me at email@example.com.
In the future, some forms of brain surgery may not require surgeons to drill through your skull.
Researchers from Vanderbilt University have announced a robot, still under development, that can target precise spots in the brain through the cheek--a route that could avoid critical regions of the skull and nervous system. For patients with severe forms of epilepsy that do not respond to other treatments, the robot could offer a far less invasive form of surgery than traditional approaches, which sometimes involve drilling through the skull to destroy epilepsy hotspots in the brain. But that procedure is a last resort because of its risk to patients. This robot could follow a precise, twisting path through the brain that would minimize damage.
"[The needle] feels springy, " says David Comber, a graduate student who worked on the design.
The springyness enables the robot to force the heated nickel and titanium alloy needle through a tube and cast it in the shape of its eventual route through the brain. After the needle emerges from the end of the tube, bit by bit, it returns to its original shape. "It's like an inch worm where you're incrementally advancing the needle," Comber says.
Eventually, doctors will conduct the surgery inside an MRI machine, which can track the needle's minute progress through the soft tissue. But making sure that progress doesn't slice up the surrounding brain is a challenge.
"Whatever path the tip takes, the next segments have to follow that," says ComberAny deviation could be devastating. Their machine's reported accuracy is 1.18 millimeters -- only 0.04 millimeters wider than the needle itself.
Eric Barth, who designed the pneumatic systems that force the needle through the tube, and Bob Webster, who studies memory alloys, came up with the project when discussing ways their research could intersect. Comber and neurosurgeon Joseph Neiman got involved farther down the line to help address the particular challenges of building a robot capable of neurosurgery. They expect to see the device used in surgery within a decade.
When Feliz Baumgartner's dove 24 miles from Earth's upper atmosphere, he, along with his Red Bull sponsors, made sure millions of people would follow along. Today, Google vice president Alan Eustace dove from almost a mile higher—135,000+ feet above Roswell, New Mexico—with a fraction of the fanfare.
On his way up, Eustace dangled from a balloon that lifted him at about 1,000 feet per minute, according to a release from the Paragon space exploration company. Unlike Baumgartner, who rode a pod to his jump site, Eustace was fixed directly to his balloon. He wore a space suit designed by Paragon to protect him from the inhospitable upper atmosphere.
After more than two hours of climbing, Eustace spent a half hour dangling and "experiencing" his astonishing altitude, according to Paragon. Once he dropped, early this morning, he breached the speed of sound in 90 seconds. His parachute deployed at 18,000 feet.
In the jungles on the island of Borneo, flying robots are following monkeys. These drones aren’t part of a sinister pre-emptive strike against the Planet of the Apes. Instead, they’re trying to find the source of new malaria outbreaks among the monkeys. It’s the best the future has to offer: humans using robots to save monkeys from disease.
“Mapping infectious disease landscapes: unmanned aerial vehicles and epidemiology,” a study published Wednesday in Trends in Parasitology, details the project. Researchers flew 158 drones flights between December 2013 and May 2014 to map the habitats of two species of macaques. Just like humans, monkeys can also get malaria, and tracking these outbreaks within certain populations can be beneficial for both macaque health and human health. Normally, humans and monkeys don't get the same kinds of malaria, but sometimes a variant can cross from monkey to human or vice versa.
The drones used were lightweight Sensefly eBees, which can fly for up to 50 minutes at a time and take 16 megapixel images of the landscape below. The drone flights provided accurate information about the area, and did so even as it changed. From the study:One of the main benefits of using UAVs is the ability to obtain data in real time and to repeatedly map areas of interest as frequently as required. In one of our sites in Sabah, development began on clearing secondary forest to establish a rubber plantation. As the clearing occurred within a limited geographical area, the progress of the clearing and the resulting land changes could be mapped quickly and updated routinely. This ability to map changes as they occur is critical for understanding how land-use change affects the distribution of human populations and disease vectors.
Changes in the landscape, like cutting forests to make way for a plantation, can create new conditions that better foster malaria-carrying mosquitos, posing a risk to both the macaques and humans living in the area. In the past decade, a variant of malaria native to certain macaque species in southeast Asia has infected humans, which is a new development and might have to do with both changes in the environment and human-macaque interaction. On top of these drone-provided maps, researchers added movement data from humans carrying GPS trackers and macaques collared with trackers. This movement data, combined with the new drone-made maps, is a boon to public health.
Tracking malaria among macaques is just a case study. In the future, drones could respond to epidemics as they happen, providing information that people can’t or won’t provide. In the war on disease, humans (and monkeys) might just have found some robot allies.
The paper ticket you see pictured above is actually a little biology machine. It's a gene circuit stored on a slip of paper. To turn the gene circuit on, you simply wet the paper with a dropper and all of its microscopic components will come to life. Depending on what circuit scientists freeze-dry onto the paper, these slips could be used to detect disease-causing microbes or medically important molecules, such as glucose. They could even produce molecules scientists want.
As a demonstration, the development team made two types of sensors on paper tickets. One sensor had circles that changed colors when they were wetted with a solution that contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The other had circles that changed into one of two colors when it was wetted with samples of the Sudan versus the Zaire strains of Ebola virus. The sensors still aren't able to detect low amounts of bacteria and viruses, so they won't be used to detect outbreaks anytime soon. But their makers are hoping they're a first step toward cheap, easy-to-use field sensors. The paper slips might also show up sooner in labs, for other scientists looking to perform quick experiments, and for scenarios in which the stakes aren't life-or-death.
A gene circuit works a bit like an electronic one, only all its components are biological. Gene circuits include dozens of genes, plus the proteins needed to read those genes. Together, the genes and proteins perform a task. There are natural gene circuits, such as the genes and proteins that work together to perform photosynthesis in plants. On these paper tickets, however, scientists are able to design any circuits they like, not just naturally-occurring ones. They might mix together genes from different species, for example, to get the paper to react how they want. The team that developed the paper slips, including biologists and engineers from Boston and Chevy Chase, Maryland, came up with a circuit that triggers color changes after detecting specific genetic material—such as genes from certain bacteria, or those Ebola viruses.
The tickets' makers freeze-dry their circuit components onto the paper slips, which users can store for up to a year at room temperature. They published an article describing their work yesterday in the journal Cell.
New York City has its first case of Ebola, and it's not surprising in the least. Months ago, experts predicted that, with the outbreak raging in West Africa, the disease would inevitably find its way into the major cities of the world. But the good news is, we have the infrastructure and resources to stop an outbreak in its tracks.
"We want to state at the outset there is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed," said NYC mayor Bill DeBlasio in a press conference.
Craig Spencer, a physician with Doctors Without Borders, arrived in New York City on October 17 after treating Ebola patients in Guinea. On October 23, he began developing a fever, nausea, and other Ebola-like symptoms. He immediately informed Doctors Without Borders of his condition, and he was rushed to the hospital and placed in isolation. Laboratory tests confirmed he has Ebola.
It appears that Spencer did everything required of him to prevent exposing anyone else to the disease, and only his fiancée and two of his friends are believed to have been exposed. They've been placed under quarantine.
The rode the A, L, and 1 trains, and went out bowling before he developed symptoms. Ebola is not contagious until the infected person starts exhibiting symptoms, yet the Twittersphere rained down criticism on Spencer, saying he should have put himself under quarantine for 21 days -- the maximum time it would take for Ebola symptoms to set in.
Dr Craig Spencer, when he emerges well we hope thx to NYC health care workers who are at risk, should be prosecuted for defying quarantine.— Miao (@TPGee) October 24, 2014
N.Y. Ebola doctor is an international emergency specialist WHO BROKE VOLUNTARY QUARANTINE http://t.co/vWO3mjL1YN— JT (@cbinflux) October 24, 2014
The thing is, as Forbes science writer David Kroll points out, Spencer didn't break quarantine, because he wasn't under quarantine. Doctors Without Borders doesn't require staff coming back from Ebola-stricken areas to be quarantined, and neither do the city, state, or federal governments. Kroll notes that Spencer followed all of DWB's protocols, which are the same as the CDC's, including:
1. Check temperature two times per day
2. Finish regular course of malaria prophylaxis (malaria symptoms can mimic Ebola symptoms)
3. Be aware of relevant symptoms, such as fever
4. Stay within four hours of a hospital with isolation facilities
5. Immediately contact the MSF-USA office if any relevant symptoms develop
The lack of quarantine for medical staff returning from Ebola-ravaged countries may be in flux. On October 22, five days after Spencer returned from Guinea, the CDC announced that everyone arriving from Ebola-stricken countries will go through “enhanced screening”-- including having their temperatures taken, and answering questions about possible exposure to the virus. CDC director Tom Friedan said that:
“If they have high risk and they're not sick, then they would need to be quarantined and that would be for their individual circumstances and they would not be permitted to travel by commercial conveyance; by airplane or train or bus.... That includes CDC employees, that includes journalists, that includes all individuals who have been there within 21 days.”
So Spencer just missed having to adhere to these new rules. If he had returned to the U.S. after October 22, maybe things would have been different -- or maybe not. A few things need to be clarified:
First, the CDC news briefing did not address how incoming medical staff would be handled.
Second, "quarantine," by CDC standards, means restricting a person's movements but not completely isolating them. So even if Spencer had been officially quarantined, he still may have been allowed to go bowling.
And third, Friedan defines a "high risk contact," vaguely, as "someone who had an exposure to Ebola while they were there. Such as a needle stick, or blood or body fluids without wearing appropriate personal protective equipment."
Does treating Ebola patients while wearing protective gear count as “high risk”? Considering many health care workers, including two nurses who treated Texas Ebola patient Thomas Duncan, have contracted Ebola while removing their protective garments, “high risk” is probably not an unreasonable categorization.
We'll followup as we get more information from the CDC.
Update, 5:15pm: Reuters is reporting that Congress is now considering a mandatory quarantine for all Ebola healthcare workers returning from West Africa. According to Bloomberg, "doctors are pushing back, warning that the added burden could deter many from volunteering to fight the outbreak at its source."
In the realm of cancerous diseases, tumors affecting the brain can be particularly difficult to cure. Many are fast moving and take hold of key sections of the body’s most fundamental organ, rendering surgical removal extremely difficult or impossible.
Now, researchers at Harvard Stem Cell Institute have come up with a new method for battling these deadly brain tumors — by taking them apart from the inside out. In a new study, the scientists have engineered stem cells to secrete cancer-killing cytotoxins that degrade the tumor from within its core.
Cytotoxins are poisonous to all living cells, but for the past couple of decades, doctors have figured out ways to alter them so that they only target specific tumor cells. Essentially the cytotoxins will only enter cancer cells with specific surface molecules. Then, once inside the cancer cell, the cytotoxin shuts down protein production, causing the cell to die.
Against certain kinds of blood cancers, cytotoxins are pretty successful. But when it comes to defeating solid tumors, especially those in the brain, these poisons don’t always measure up. “Many of these drugs have a short half-life, there’s inadequate distribution throughout the tumor, plus delivery to the brain is difficult because of the existing blood brain barrier,” Dr. Khalid Shah, neuroscientists and lead researcher on the study, tells Popular Science. This means that simply injecting cytotoxins into the body won’t cut it for killing brain tumors, and efforts to inject cytotoxins directly into brain tumors have failed in the past.
So Shah came up with a better form of delivery for the cytotoxins: packaging them within stem cells. His research team engineered stem cells to act like little toxin factories, constantly secreting cytotoxins over time. This solves the issue surrounding cytotoxins' short lifespans, as the stem cells are continuously secreting therapeutic toxins. By placing these stem cells directly within a tumor, they eat away at the cancer cells from within.Once inside the cancer cell, the cytotoxin shuts down protein production, causing the cell to die.
But in order for their drug delivery system to work, Shah needed to make sure the cytotoxins didn’t destroy their stem cell hosts first. He and his team made the cells with a mutation that stops the toxins from acting within the cell. Additionally, an extra piece of genetic code allows the toxin-resistant stem cells to make and secrete the poisons.
And then to top it all off, the cytotoxins were programmed to target cells with either epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR) or interleukin-13 receptor alpha 2 (IL13RA2); EGFR is a common receptor found in most tumors, and IL13RA2 is found in many brain tumors.
To test their stem cells’ cancer-killing abilities, the researchers used them to treat brain tumors in mice. “Around 70 to 75 percent of patients who have a grade-4 brain tumor, they get operated on,” says Shah. “Their tumor is partially removed, so we have mimicked the same thing in mice.” Once part of the tumor was taken out, the researchers placed the stem cells in a biodegradable gel inside the resulting cavity. They then tracked the stem cells as they released their toxins, stopping protein synthesis in the cancer cells. Overall the toxins killed the cancer cells and prolonged the overall survival of the mice.
Shah and his team have already developed a similar method for killing cancers, by loading up stem cells with cancer-killing herpes viruses. Now they are seeking FDA approval for their technique. In the future, Shah says the cytotoxins could be altered to target different types of cancer receptors, in order to make treatments more personalized. “It varies from tumor to tumor. These receptors might work better for brain tumors, but not so good for others,” says Shah. “It’s all target based.”
The researchers published their work in the journal Stem Cells.
The World Health Organization said it will have Ebola vaccines ready to give to hundreds of thousands of West Africans by the middle of next year, Reuters reports. Right now, there's no approved vaccine for Ebola. Researchers worked on vaccines before, but trials stalled because the disease is rare and because it mostly afflicts poor countries, so companies haven't been motivated to complete trials.
WHO is now considering two vaccines that have started testing in humans, plus five additional vaccines that aren't yet ready for human trials. Typically, clinical trials of experimental vaccines and drugs take years to conduct, but drug companies and other groups are trying to figure out how to get these vaccines through faster.
A vaccine alone won't end the epidemic in West Africa, but WHO thinks it could "turn the tide," Reuters reports. Marie-Paule Kieny, the assistant director general for health systems and innovation at WHO, has volunteered for vaccine trials herself, Science reports.
Vaccines must meet an especially high bar before approval because healthy people get them. They're not like experimental treatments, which would go to people already at some risk for dying of Ebola. While both vaccines and treatments generally go through the same approval process, when regulators and ethicists make judgments about, "Do I want to approve this?" they're often much stricter about side effects when it comes to vaccines. An Ebola treatment might get approved even if it gives people severe side effects. An Ebola vaccine might not. Still, drug companies, WHO, and other organizations are figuring out ways to speed approval while keeping risks low, compared to the potential benefit of having a way to protect healthcare workers and the friends and family of people who fall ill with Ebola.A vaccine alone won't end the epidemic in West Africa, but WHO thinks it could "turn the tide."
Science's reporting offers insight into some strategies companies may use. GlaxoSmithKline, a Belgium-based pharmaceutical company that's working on what's now the world's most advanced Ebola vaccine, has proposed using speedier quality-control tests. The company also plans to run two trials of its vaccines at once. The two trials will take place in different countries—Liberia and Sierra Leone—and will have different structures—the Liberia trial is more classically designed, with some study volunteers taking a placebo, while the Sierra Leone trial has a "stepped-up wedge" design that involves giving everybody the experimental shot, just at different times. It's a case of hedging their bets. "One of the trials may fail for logistics reasons," the head of GlaxoSmithKline's Ebola vaccine effort, Ripley Ballou, told Science. "We only have one shot to get this right.
Meanwhile, simply making enough vaccines is a challenge. The Ebola vaccine must be packaged in a biosafety level 2 facility, but GlaxoSmithKline is asking regulatory agencies whether they can relax some rules, Science reports. If not, the company says it will have trouble producing enough of the other vaccines it sells, such as measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines.
The first doses of the vaccine will go to people at high risk for contracting Ebola, including healthcare workers, contact tracers, and workers who bury the dead. A wider vaccination campaign may happen after that.
As the winter months approach, darkness is falling earlier and earlier. Do not bike gentle into that good night! By spending a few hours tinkering with LEDs, you can outfit your dull wheels with hypnotically glowing rings.
Some kits on the market use customizable circuit boards to form animations as the wheel spins. Wiring your wheel to display a lighted circle is easier and cheaper, making it an ideal first foray into DIY electronics. Try varying the color, number, and placement of the LEDs to create intricate patterns. Or swap individual lights for a color-changing LED strip and an Arduino.
Even if you choose the simplest version of the project, it will still be visible in nighttime traffic. The video above shows a test-drive of this illuminated wheel—which bike-commuting Popular Science editors built in a candy-fueled electronics session.
You can choose how many LEDs your wheels need. The number should be six or less, and ideally a factor of the number of spokes on your wheel.Materials
- 3 to 6 LEDs
- Measuring tape
- 3 to 6 resistors
- Insulated wire
- Heat-shrink tubing
- Electrical tape
- 9-volt battery
- 9-volt battery connector
- Zip ties
- Black duct tape
- Measuring tape
- ire stripper
- Soldering Iron
WARNING: When working with electronics, take care not to burn or electrocute yourself. When biking with electronics, follow the road rules and wear a helmet!Instructions
Before selecting your resistors, check the LED packaging for its forward voltage and current. Subtract the voltage from nine, and then divide this number by the current in amps. For example, the pictured LEDs have a forward voltage of 3.1 volts and a current of 20 milliamps, or 0.02 amps, so this is the equation: (9 – 3.1)/0.02 = 295. Choose the nearest standard resistor value larger than this number—in this case, 330 ohms. You will need one resistor per LED, unless you choose to connect the LEDs in series.
If you have an even number of LEDs, and their forward voltage is three or less, you can use two lights per resistor—just wire two LEDs in series. (With a forward voltage of two or less, you can wire three lights in series.) In this case, adjust your resistor calculation: Instead of subtracting one light’s voltage from nine, subtract the voltages of both (or all three) before dividing by the current. With two LEDs in series, the prior example becomes (9 – 3.1 – 3.1)/0.02 = 140, so you could use one 150-ohm resistor for every two LEDs.
Mark evenly spaced spokes a few inches from the rim of the wheel. Placing the LEDs the same distance from the rim will create a glowing circle when the wheel spins.
Measure the distance between an LED’s position and the hub of the wheel. Cut two wires per LED to this length and strip both ends.
Twist one end of a wire around each LED’s longer leg (positive end) and twist one end of a resistor around its shorter leg (negative end). Connect the loose end of the resistor to a second piece of wire.
If you are wiring two LEDs in series, attach the negative leg of the first LED to the positive leg of the second with a length of wire, which must be long enough to stretch down to the hub of the wheel and then back up to the second LED. As before, attach the appropriate resistor and length of wire to the negative end of the second LED.
Solder the assembly together, mark its positive end, and cover the exposed joints with electrical tape and/or heat-shrink tubing. You can use the lighter to tighten the tubing—just make sure not to burn the components underneath.
Twist the positive ends of each LED assembly together and solder them to the positive wire of the 9-volt battery connector. Do the same for the negative ends and the negative wire. Cover the exposed wires with tubing and/or tape.
Firmly attach the 9-volt battery to the hub with duct tape and a zip tie. Leave room for the 9-volt battery connector to snap on.
Use duct tape and zip ties to securely attach LEDs and wires to the spokes. Snap the battery connector to the battery and give your wheel a spin!
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Popular Science, under the title “Light Up Your Bike”.
With the rise of open-source software and hardware, 3-D printing, and crowdfunding, it’s easier than ever to be a maker. Over the past year, some inventors have created potentially world-changing projects.
Popular Science wants to celebrate these amazing builders, tinkerers, and DIY enthusiasts. That’s why we’re featuring them in our annual Invention Awards issue. And to find the best of the best, we need you to submit your amazing creations.
We want to know about game-changing innovations developed by independent inventors (not big corporate R&D labs). We’re looking for people who are designing revolutionary tools, crowdfunding fantastically useful gadgets, or building life-saving products and technologies. Their creations solve real-world problems in interesting and original ways.
Enter the ninth annual Popular Science Invention Awards by filling out our entry form at popsci.com/inventionawardsform. And if you have friends who might want to enter, please share this post (popsci.com/inventionawards2015).
From these entries, our editors will select 10 finalists to be featured in Popular Science, the world's largest science and technology magazine, and on our website—an audience of many millions, plus those of TV, radio, and web shows that often highlight our finalists.
Before submitting, please carefully read our rules below, and note that our entry form will close after 11:59pm ET on December 1, 2014.
- There is no fee to submit, and there are no prizes.
- Inventions must be the work of independent inventors or small teams.
- Inventions must be new, not just minor tweaks to existing objects or processes.
- There must be a working prototype, or some demonstration that an invention works.
- Inventions on their way to becoming commercial products are welcome, but they can't already be for sale (or have shipped preorders or rewards, as in the case of crowdfunding) before April 2015.
- 8th Annual Invention Awards (2014)
- 7th Annual Invention Awards (2013)
- 6th Annual Invention Awards (2012)
- 5th Annual Invention Awards (2011)
Guidelines and tips:
- An invention should be poised to create a market or disrupt an existing one—not be a solution in search of a problem.
- Pictures of or relating to your invention are worth a thousand words (and videos even more!).
- We love inventions that are physical objects and are highly visual, not abstract processes or concepts (e.g. computer code). This helps us show off the winners in print and online.
- Popular Science will not publish an entry without notifying the inventor first. As part of our rigorous vetting and fact-checking process, we will also contact outside experts to verify the technology and significance of the invention prior to publication.
- Intellectual property (IP) protection is the responsibility of the entrant.
The sooner you submit, the better your chances. The entry form closes after 11:59pm ET on December 1, 2014, but we start compiling the candidates... now!