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Futuristic bionic arm uses tiny robots to return natural reflexes to amputees – CNET

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The research group at Cleveland Clinic’s Laboratory for Bionic Integration looks at the inside of the touch robot system. Each small black box provides individual finger sensation to the user through a neural-machine interface.


Cleveland Clinic

Dreaming of a future where Luke Skywalker’s replacement hand is more than a sci-fi fantasy, scientists have designed a “bionic arm” that enlists help from tiny robots to re-create the vital sensations forfeited when one loses an upper limb. The bots do that by safely vibrating muscles at the amputation site. 

By 2028, the global prosthetics and orthotics market is expected to reach over $8 billion, according to a 2021 report from Grand View Research, but artificial limbs have hit a mechanical roadblock. They can’t really account for many intuitive sensations that help us in our everyday lives, such as the way it feels to open and close our hands.

A study subject tests the team’s bionic arm.


Cleveland Clinic

“We’re still using technology that kind of reached its zenith around World War II,” explained Paul Marasco, an associate professor in the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and lead author of a study on the new bionic arm published Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics.

Enter the bionic arm, a hybrid of metal and realistic skin tones. 

Though there are several other teams working on bionic arms, such as the groups behind popular cyberpunk video game Deus Ex and Metal Gear Solid, Marasco touts a few advantages of his version. 

The sci-fi-looking device translates information directly to and from the brain via powerful robots about half the size of a standard matchbox. While turning thoughts into action, the arm can simultaneously contact the brain to deliver sensations corresponding to that intended action. 

Not only does the artificial limb appear to be the first bionic arm to simultaneously test several metrics of its benefits over typical prosthetics, those metrics indicate that it replicates the mechanics of natural arms precisely enough to restore unconscious reflexes in amputees who use it.

We rely on such reflexes every day. For instance, when we pick up a cup of coffee, our hand finds the mug on the table, grips the handle with the right level of firmness and lets go at the perfect time to prevent spills. We can achieve this task thoughtlessly even on the groggiest of mornings because nerves in our arm muscles automatically respond to our choices — in this case, “I must drink that coffee.”


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Traditional prosthetic limbs can’t re-create such seamless movement because they run in manual drive — amputees have to keep their eyes on them at all times and worry about things a nondisabled person usually chalks up to intuition.

After testing the device on two study subjects and using unprecedented analytic tools, the team was excited to discover that the subjects reverted back to reflexive behaviors from before their amputation, including intuitive grip and natural eye movements — they could focus their sight away from the limb. 

The metallic arm requires three components: realignment of nerve endings, mini-robots that work as a sort of control center and the bionic arm itself. 

First, a surgical procedure takes an amputee’s unused nerve endings within the healthy part of the arm — those that used to be dedicated to removed parts, such as fingertips — and “plugs” them into the site of amputation.

“Your brain is like, ‘My fingers are connected to a muscle,’ [it just doesn’t] know that it’s a muscle on your shoulder versus a muscle down in your forearm,” Marasco explained.

The bionic arm is placed onto the amputation site and little robots are fit into the socket. Those robots press on relevant areas of the site, stimulating the nerve endings that are now attached, when the patient engages the arm. 

“You can buzz their muscles and generate these really kind of interesting things — these perceptual illusions of complex hand movement,” Marasco said.

The researchers modified off-the-shelf prosthetic limbs rather than starting from scratch, hoping to fast-track the devices to rehabilitation clinics and make them more cost-effective than traditional prosthetics. People who use those less advanced artificial limbs often overuse the side of their body without an amputation, leading to back or shoulder problems that ultimately require costly medical care.

“These advanced systems are more expensive to fit to start with, but if you use them, they don’t injure you, because you don’t have to account for them,” Marasco said. “This is going to be something that’s going to cost less money in the future.”

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900-year-old Chinese supernova mystery points to strange nebula – Space.com

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In the year 1181 AD, a new bright point of light as luminous as the planet Saturn appeared to Chinese and Japanese skygazers for a little more than six months before disappearing. Hundreds of years later, researchers believe they have finally found the source of this mysterious appearance.

The event, like the famous Crab Nebula-forming stellar explosion of 1054, is one of just a handful of bright nearby flashes noted in historical records, but unlike the Crab Nebula, the 1181 spectacle was tricky to pin down.

The historical record leaves a few clues that have been useful to modern astronomers. First, the timing: this “guest star” shined for 185 days, from Aug. 6, 1181, to Feb. 6, 1182. The record also indicates its place in the sky, which was a spot located between two Chinese constellations, Chuanshe and Huagai, near the modern Cassiopeia.

Related: Distant ‘Requiem’ supernova will be visible again in 2037, astronomers predict 

These cosmic puzzle pieces led a research team to the ancient flash’s likely culprit: a supernova whose remnants now form a fast-expanding nebula called Pa30. The nebula’s clouds move so quickly that, in the new research, scientists from Hong Kong, the U.K., Spain, Hungary and France found that Pa30’s dust and gas could travel the distance from Earth to the moon in a whopping five minutes. By using that speed and calculating backward, the researchers determined that the nebula would fit a supernova that exploded around 1181.

The team found that Pa30 formed from a rare and relatively faint type of supernova, called a ‘Type Iax supernova.’ “Only around 10% of supernovae are of this type and they are not well understood. The fact that SN1181 was faint but faded very slowly fits this type,” Albert Zijlstra, an astrophysicist at the University of Manchester in the U.K., said in a statement about the new research. 

False-color images of Parker’s star and the nebula Pa30, which scientists now believe are connected with reports of a supernova seen in 1181. (Image credit: The University of Hong Kong)

Scientists also found that Parker’s star, one of the hottest stars in the Milky Way, is also a likely counterpart to the supernova. The nebula and the star are thought to be the result of a massive collision and subsequent merger of two dim stellar corpses known as white dwarfs

“This is the only Type Iax supernova where detailed studies of the remnant star and nebula are possible,” Ziljlstra added. “It is nice to be able to solve both a historical and an astronomical mystery.”

The study was published on Wednesday (Sept. 15) in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters. 

Follow Doris Elin Urrutia on Twitter @salazar_elin. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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SpaceX's tourist crew 'healthy, happy and resting' – Phys.org

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Graphic on the four all-civilian passengers on SpaceX’s mission to orbit around the Earth, lauched September 15 from Florida.

SpaceX’s all-civilian Inspiration4 crew are “healthy, happy and resting comfortably,” the company said Thursday in its first update since the pioneering mission blasted off from Cape Canaveral the night before.

The four American space tourists “traveled 5.5 times around Earth, completed their first round of scientific research, and enjoyed a couple of meals” before going to bed, Elon Musk’s company said.

Musk tweeted that he had personally spoken with the crew and “all is well.”

After waking up, they will get their first look out of the Dragon ship’s cupola—a large observation dome that has been fitted onto the vessel for the first time, in place of a docking mechanism.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman, physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, geoscientist Sian Proctor and aerospace data engineer Chris Sembroski are orbiting the globe at an altitude that at times reaches 590 kilometers (367 miles).

That is deeper in space than the International Space Station, which orbits at 420 kilometers (260 miles), and the furthest any astronauts have ventured from our planet since a 2009 maintenance mission for the Hubble telescope.

The mission aims to raise $200 million for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and study the biological effects of deep space on the astronauts’ bodies.

Its main goal, however, is to prove that space is accessible to as the United States and like SpaceX seek to further commercialize the cosmos.

The space adventure bookends a summer marked by the battle of the billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos to reach the final frontier.

But these flights only offered a few minutes of weightlessness—rather than the three full days of orbit the Inspiration4 crew will experience, before splashing down off the coast of Florida on Saturday.


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In first, SpaceX to send all-civilian crew into Earth orbit


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A 900-year-old cosmic mystery has been solved by astronomers – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The mystery behind the origins of a supernova first spotted by 12th-century Chinese and Japanese astronomers has been solved, according to an international team of 21st-century astronomers.

New research, published Wednesday in The Astrophysical Journal, has linked astronomical reports from more than 800 years ago with a faint, fast-expanding nebula surrounding Parker’s Star, one of the hottest stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

The nebula, dubbed Pa30, fits the profile, location and age of the supernova, which was originally documented in 1181 AD.

“The historical reports place the guest star between two Chinese constellations, Chuanshe and Huagai,” Albert Zijlstra, astrophysics professor at the University of Manchester, said in a news release. “Parker’s Star fits the position well. That means both the age and location fit with the events of 1181.”

The first astronomers to lay eyes on the supernova, referred to as SN 1181, described it being as bright as the planet Saturn and remaining visible for six months, the authors of the study said.

Previous research has suggested Parker’s Star and the Pa30 nebula may be the result of the merging of two white dwarf stars. Such events are thought to lead to a rare and faint type of supernova called a “Type Iax” supernova.

“Only around 10 per cent of supernovae are of this type and they are not well understood. The fact that SN 1181 was faint but faded very slowly fits this type,” Zijlstra said. “It is the only such event where we can study both the remnant nebula and the merged star, and also have a description of the explosion itself.”

The key to unlocking the mystery of this historical supernova was the discovery that the Pa30 nebula is expanding at a velocity of more than 1,100 kilometres per second. From this, researchers were able to calculate the nebula’s age to be around 1,000 years old, which coincides with the events of 1181 AD.

“Combining all this information such as the age, location, event brightness and historically recorded 185-day duration, indicates that Parker’s Star and Pa30 are the counterparts of SN 1181,” Zijlstra said. “This is the only Type Iax supernova where detailed studies of the remnant star and nebula are possible.”

There have been five supernovae in the Milky Way in past millennium, and up until now, SN 1181 was the only one whose origins remained unknown.

“It is nice to be able to solve both a historical and an astronomical mystery,” Zijlstra said.

The team of astronomers who made the discovery hail from Hong Kong, the U.K., Spain, Hungary and France.

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