Researchers were even able store and read a 767-kilobit full-color short movie file in the fabric.
MIT researchers have created the first fiber with digital capabilities, able to sense, store, analyze, and infer activity after being sewn into a shirt.
Yoel Fink, who is a professor in the departments of materials science and engineering and electrical engineering and computer science, a Research Laboratory of Electronics principal investigator, and the senior author on the study, says digital fibers expand the possibilities for fabrics to uncover the context of hidden patterns in the human body that could be used for physical performance monitoring, medical inference, and early disease detection.
Or, you might someday store your wedding music in the gown you wore on the big day — more on that later.
Fink and his colleagues describe the features of the digital fiber today in Nature Communications. Until now, electronic fibers have been analog — carrying a continuous electrical signal — rather than digital, where discrete bits of information can be encoded and processed in 0s and 1s.
"This work presents the first realization of a fabric with the ability to store and process data digitally, adding a new information content dimension to textiles and allowing fabrics to be programmed literally," Fink says.
MIT PhD student Gabriel Loke and MIT postdoc Tural Khudiyev are the lead authors on the paper. Other co-authors MIT postdoc Wei Yan; MIT undergraduates Brian Wang, Stephanie Fu, Ioannis Chatziveroglou, Syamantak Payra, Yorai Shaoul, Johnny Fung, and Itamar Chinn; John Joannopoulos, the Francis Wright Davis Chair Professor of Physics and director of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT; Harrisburg University of Science and Technology master's student Pin-Wen Chou; and Rhode Island School of Design Associate Professor Anna Gitelson-Kahn. The fabric work was facilitated by Professor Anais Missakian, who holds the Pevaroff-Cohn Family Endowed Chair in Textiles at RISD.
Memory and more
The new fiber was created by placing hundreds of square silicon microscale digital chips into a preform that was then used to create a polymer fiber. By precisely controlling the polymer flow, the researchers were able to create a fiber with continuous electrical connection between the chips over a length of tens of meters.
The fiber itself is thin and flexible and can be passed through a needle, sewn into fabrics, and washed at least 10 times without breaking down. According to Loke, "When you put it into a shirt, you can't feel it at all. You wouldn't know it was there."
Making a digital fiber "opens up different areas of opportunities and actually solves some of the problems of functional fibers," he says.
For instance, it offers a way to control individual elements within a fiber, from one point at the fiber's end. "You can think of our fiber as a corridor, and the elements are like rooms, and they each have their own unique digital room numbers," Loke explains. The research team devised a digital addressing method that allows them to "switch on" the functionality of one element without turning on all the elements.
A digital fiber can also store a lot of information in memory. The researchers were able to write, store, and read information on the fiber, including a 767-kilobit full-color short movie file and a 0.48 megabyte music file. The files can be stored for two months without power.
When they were dreaming up "crazy ideas" for the fiber, Loke says, they thought about applications like a wedding gown that would store digital wedding music within the weave of its fabric, or even writing the story of the fiber's creation into its components.
Fink notes that the research at MIT was in close collaboration with the textile department at RISD led by Missakian. Gitelson-Kahn incorporated the digital fibers into a knitted garment sleeve, thus paving the way to creating the first digital garment.
Image: Anna Gitelson-Kahn. Photo by Roni Cnaani.
On-body artificial intelligence
The fiber also takes a few steps forward into artificial intelligence by including, within the fiber memory, a neural network of 1,650 connections. After sewing it around the armpit of a shirt, the researchers used the fiber to collect 270 minutes of surface body temperature data from a person wearing the shirt, and analyze how these data corresponded to different physical activities. Trained on these data, the fiber was able to determine with 96 percent accuracy what activity the person wearing it was engaged in.
Adding an AI component to the fiber further increases its possibilities, the researchers say. Fabrics with digital components can collect a lot of information across the body over time, and these "lush data" are perfect for machine learning algorithms, Loke says.
"This type of fabric could give quantity and quality open-source data for extracting out new body patterns that we did not know about before," he says.
With this analytic power, the fibers someday could sense and alert people in real-time to health changes like a respiratory decline or an irregular heartbeat, or deliver muscle activation or heart rate data to athletes during training.
The fiber is controlled by a small external device, so the next step will be to design a new chip as a microcontroller that can be connected within the fiber itself.
"When we can do that, we can call it a fiber computer," Loke says.
This research was supported by the U.S. Army Institute of Soldier Nanotechnologies, National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army Research Office, the MIT Sea Grant, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
Is the physical universe independent from us, or is it created by our minds, as suggested by scientist Robert Lanza?
- A new study claims networks of observers are responsible for determining physical reality.
- The scientists propose that observers generate the structures of time and space.
- The paper could help yield insights into the God Equation, which attempts to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity.
Is there physical reality that is independent of us? Does objective reality exist at all? Or is the structure of everything, including time and space, created by the perceptions of those observing it? Such is the groundbreaking assertion of a new paper published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.
The paper's authors include Robert Lanza, a stem cell and regenerative medicine expert, famous for the theory of biocentrism, which argues that consciousness is the driving force for the existence of the universe. He believes that the physical world that we perceive is not something that's separate from us but rather created by our minds as we observe it. According to his biocentric view, space and time are a byproduct of the "whirl of information" in our head that is weaved together by our mind into a coherent experience.
His new paper, co-authored by Dmitriy Podolskiy and Andrei Barvinsky, theorists in quantum gravity and quantum cosmology, shows how observers influence the structure of our reality.
According to Lanza and his colleagues, observers can dramatically affect "the behavior of observable quantities" both at microscopic and massive spatiotemporal scales. In fact, a "profound shift in our ordinary everyday worldview" is necessary, wrote Lanza in an interview with Big Think. The world is not something that is formed outside of us, simply existing on its own. "Observers ultimately define the structure of physical reality itself," he stated.
How can observers create reality?
How does this work? Lanza contends that a network of observers is necessary and is "inherent to the structure of reality." As he explains, observers — you, me, and anyone else — live in a quantum gravitational universe and come up with "a globally agreed-upon cognitive model" of reality by exchanging information about the properties of spacetime. "For, once you measure something," Lanza writes, "the wave of probability to measure the same value of the already probed physical quantity becomes 'localized' or simply 'collapses.'" That's how reality comes to be consistently real to us all. Once you keep measuring a quantity over and over, knowing the result of the first measurement, you will see the outcome to be the same.
"Similarly, if you learn from somebody about the outcomes of their measurements of a physical quantity, your measurements and those of other observers influence each other ‒ freezing the reality according to that consensus," added Lanza, explaining further that "a consensus of different opinions regarding the structure of reality defines its very form, shaping the underlying quantum foam," explained Lanza.
In quantum terms, an observer influences reality through decoherence, which provides the framework for collapsing waves of probability, "largely localized in the vicinity of the cognitive model which the observer builds in their mind throughout their lifespan," he added.
Lanza says, "The observer is the first cause, the vital force that collapses not only the present, but the cascade of spatiotemporal events we call the past. Stephen Hawking was right when he said: 'The past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities.'"
Could the universe be a simulation?
Could an artificially intelligent entity without consciousness be dreaming up our world? Lanza believes biology plays an important role, as he explains in his book The Grand Biocentric Design: How Life Creates Reality, which he co-authored with the physicist Matej Pavsic.
While a bot could conceivably be an observer, Lanza thinks a conscious living entity with the capacity for memory is necessary to establish the arrow of time. "'A brainless' observer does not experience time and/or decoherence with any degree of freedom," writes Lanza. This leads to the cause and effect relationships we can notice around us. Lanza thinks that "we can only say for sure that a conscious observer does indeed collapse a quantum wave function."
The God Equation
As Robert Lanza also wrote to Big Think, another key aspect of their work is that it resolves "the exasperating incompatibility between quantum mechanics and general relativity," which was a sticking point even for Albert Einstein. (See the video below of Michio Kaku explaining the incompatibility and his proposal, string theory, to unite the two theories.)
Physics' greatest mystery: Michio Kaku explains the God Equation | Big Think www.youtube.com
The seeming incongruity of these two explanations of our physical world — with quantum mechanics looking at the molecular and subatomic levels and general relativity at the interactions between massive cosmic structures like galaxies and black holes — disappears once the properties of observers are taken into account.
While this all may sound speculative, Lanza says their ideas are being tested using Monte Carlo simulations on powerful MIT computer clusters and will soon be tested experimentally.
Astronomers possibly solve the mystery of how the enormous Oort cloud, with over 100 billion comet-like objects, was formed.
- The Oort cloud is a gigantic "cloud" at the edge of the solar system, about 3,000 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
- Astronomers used computer simulations to reconstruct the first 100 million years of the Oort cloud's existence.
- The Oort cloud may consist of the "leftovers" from the solar system's formation
Astronomers have calculated the first 100 million years of the history of the gigantic Oort cloud – a theoretical entity that contains 100 billion or so comet-like objects and forms a giant spherical shell around the sun and the rest of the solar system. NASA describes it as "a big, thick-walled bubble made of icy pieces of space debris the sizes of mountains and sometimes larger."
The Oort cloud was named after Dutch astronomer Jan Hendrik Oort, who discovered it in the 1950s. He was looking to understand why some comets in the solar system have elongated orbits. Scientists now believe the Oort Cloud is the source of most such comets.
The cloud is believed to be extremely far from the sun, many times more distant than the outer reaches of the Kuiper belt, the area of the solar system past the orbit of Neptune that contains comets, asteroids, and small icy space bodies as well as the dwarf planet Pluto.
According to NASA, the inner edge of the Oort cloud is likely between 2,000 and 5,000 AU (astronomical units or Earth-Sun distances) from the sun. The outer edge is probably 10,000 to 100,000 AU from the sun. By comparison, the Kuiper belt is about 30 to 50 AU away from the sun.
Oort cloud: the leftovers of the solar system
In a preprint article (accepted for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics), a team of astronomers from Leiden University in the Netherlands describe how they used sophisticated computer simulations to determine how the Oort cloud formed.
They took a new approach by starting from separate events that might have happened in the early days of the universe and connecting them together. This allowed them to map out the full history of the origins of the gargantuan cloud.
As explained in their press release, the scientists used the ending calculations from one event as the starting calculation for the next event.
Protoplanetary disk.Credit: Pat Rawlings / NASA
Their simulations confirmed that the Oort cloud is what remained of the protoplanetary disk of gas and debris from which it is believed our solar system formed about 4.6 billion years ago.
The cloud has comet-like objects made of debris from two places in the universe. Some of them are from nearby parts of the solar system, such as asteroids expelled by giant planets like Jupiter. Another group of objects in the Oort cloud comes from a thousand or so stars that were around when our sun was born, eventually drifting apart from each other.
"With our new calculations, we show that the Oort cloud arose from a kind of cosmic conspiracy," said astronomer and simulation expert Simon Portegies Zwart from Leiden University, adding, "in which nearby stars, planets, and the Milky Way all play their part. Each of the individual processes alone would not be able to explain the Oort cloud. You really need the interplay and the right choreography of all the processes together."
He added that the Oort cloud was ultimately produced by "the interplay and the right choreography of all the processes together."
As it is so far away, humanity hasn't yet built a telescope powerful enough to see the small, faint objects of the Oort cloud directly. By some estimates, it would take telescopes that are 100 billion times better than what we currently have to see into the cloud. Even the new James Webb Telescope that's launching later in 2021 is unlikely to be able to see that far, confirmed Nobel laureate (and James Webb Telescope scientist) Dr. John Mather.
It would also take humanity a long time to reach the Oort cloud. As NASA estimated, even if you consider that the Voyager 1 probe can cover about a million miles every day, it would take it about 300 years to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud. And to get all the way through, it would likely require another 30,000 years.
Scientists successfully trained people to use robotic extra thumbs, suggesting body augmentation could revolutionize future humans.
- Researchers trained people to use a robotic extra thumb in daily situations.
- Brain scan data suggest the brain's quick adaptability to new limbs.
- The scientists think body augmentation could transform human abilities.
Would you be willing to attach artificial limbs to enhance your body? A research team that asked people to use robotic extra thumbs found that their brains quickly adapted to body augmentation. Humans of the future are likely to utilize body parts with improvements, the scientists propose.
The robotic appendage, dubbed Third Thumb, was developed by designer Dani Clode and Professor Tamar Makin's neuroscience team at University College London. The researchers were looking to utilize prosthetics not only to restore lost functions but to extend the human body's abilities. Professor Tamar Makin's group specifically focused on how the brain handled such an adaptation by observing 20 participants who used the thumb over the course of five days.
Hand writing with third thumbCredit: University College London
How does it work?
The subjects were trained in the device's operations using a combination of tasks like picking up various objects or holding wine glasses. They were also asked to take the thumbs home to apply the extra fingers in everyday situations. Overall, the participants wore the robotic limbs for two to six hours each day. The control group had ten people who were outfitted with static thumbs.
Professor Makin remarked that while body augmentation is a "growing field" that looks to expand people's physical abilities, it has not been clear how human brains would adapt to the new limbs. "By studying people using Dani's cleverly-designed Third Thumb, we sought to answer key questions around whether the human brain can support an extra body part, and how the technology might impact our brain," she elaborated.
Hand with third thumb holding various ballsCredit: University College London
Making the Third Thumb was accomplished via 3D-printing. The thumb can be customized and worn opposite a person's existing thumb, next to the pinky finger. The attachment is controlled by pressure sensors on the feet of the wearer, placed under the big toes. The toe sensors are connected to the robotic thumb through a wireless connection, allowing the user to control how the thumb moves with even the smallest pressure changes.
Participants quickly adapted
To operate the device, sensors were implanted in the shoes of the participantCredit: University College London.
The results of the research, published in Science Robotics, indicate that augmenting your body is a real possibility, especially with further advancements in technology. "Together, our findings demonstrate that motor augmentation can be readily achieved, with potential for flexible use, reduced cognitive reliance, and increased sense of embodiment," write the scientists.
The participants were able to learn how to operate the thumbs very quickly, while the training helped them gain full mastery and dexterity. The thumb users got so good at it, that they could even use the extra limbs while distracted or blindfolded.
Hand with third thumb holding wine glassesCredit: University College London
Designer Dani Clode said, "Our study shows that people can quickly learn to control an augmentation device and use it for their benefit, without overthinking. We saw that while using the Third Thumb, people changed their natural hand movements, and they also reported that the robotic thumb felt like part of their own body."
The study's first author, Paulina Kieliba, foresees some immediate applications. For instance, the extra thumbs could help a surgeon operate without an assistant. Or a factory worker could manage more on their own, with less help. The extra limbs could also help those with prosthetics to maximize the potential of their bodies, for example by accomplishing everything they need with just one hand.
A thought experiment from 1867 leads scientists to design a groundbreaking information engine.
- Their engine is the fastest ever such contraption, using information as "fuel."
- The application of the technology may lie in nanotechnology and nano-biology.
- Inspired by an 1867 thought experiment, researchers design an information engine.
Can information become a source of energy? Scientists from Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Canada devised an ultrafast engine that claims to operate on information, potentially opening up a groundbreaking new frontier in humanity's search for new kinds of fuel. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), describes how the researchers turned the movements of tiny particles into stored energy.
How would an information engine even work? The idea for such a contraption, which at first sounds like it would break the laws of physics, was first proposed by the Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell back in 1867. Colorfully named "Maxwell's demon," such a machine would theoretically achieve something akin to perpetual motion. Maxwell's thought experiment was meant to show that it may be possible to violate the second law of thermodynamics, which basically states that the amount of entropy, or disorder, always increases.
Maxwell imagined a hypothetical creature, a demon, who would control the opening and closing of a tiny door between two gas chambers. The demon's goal would be to send fast-moving gas particles into one compartment and the slow ones to another. By doing this, one compartment would be hotter (containing faster molecules) and one cooler. The demon would essentially create a system with greater order and stored energy than what it started with. Without expending any energy, it would seemingly accomplish a decrease in entropy.
A 1929 paper on Maxwell's demon by the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard actually showed that the thought experiment would not violate the second law of thermodynamics. The demon, proved Szilard, has to exert some amount of energy to figure out if the molecules were hot or cold.
Over 150 years later, researchers built a system that operates according to the ideas in Maxwell's thought experiment, turning information into "work."
SFU physics professor and senior author John Bechhoefer, who was involved in the experiments, explained in a press statement that their group "wanted to find out how fast an information engine can go and how much energy it can extract, so we made one."
SFU physics professor David Sivak, who led the theorists on the project, said their team made a significant advance in the design of the information engine, having "pushed its capabilities over ten times farther than other similar implementations, thus making it the current best-in-class."
Designing an information engineTheir design is akin to a microscopic particle that is submerged in water, while being attached to a spring that is, in turn, connected to a stage that can be moved up. The researchers, playing the role of Maxwell's demon, observe the particle going up or down due to thermal motion, then move the stage up if the particle randomly bounced upward. If it bounces down, they wait. As elaborated by PhD student Tushar Saha, "This ends up lifting the entire system using only information about the particle's position."
Caption: Schematic of the information engine. (A) Ratcheted spring-mass system under gravity. (B) Experimental realization using horizontal optical tweezers in a vertical gravitational field. Feedback operations on the right side in A and B are indicated by the small red "swoosh" arrows.Credit: TK Saha et al., PNAS, 2021.
Of course, a particle is too small to attach to a spring, so the actual set-up utilized an instrument known as an optical trap, which "uses a laser to create a force on the particle that mimics that of the spring and stage." As they repeated the process, without pulling the particle directly, the particle was raised to a "great height," storing up a large amount of gravitational energy, according to the researchers.
PhD student Tushar Saha working on the information ratchet, an experimental apparatus that lifts a heavy microscopic particle using information.Credit: Simon Fraser University
The amount of power this system generates is "comparable to molecular machinery in living cells," with "speeds comparable to fast-swimming bacteria," said postdoctoral fellow Jannik Ehrich.
While applications of this still-developing technology are yet to be fully explored, the researchers see potential uses in nanotechnology and nanobiology. Improving computing speed may also be a potential avenue to pursue, according to the researchers