Archive for September, 2012

J. Aaron Farr/flickr.com

J. Aaron Farr/flickr.com

Your papers, please …

September 26th, 2012 by Gene
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Immigration officers at border crossings between the United States and Mexico are looking forward to getting some high-tech help soon. Avatars at the border. Today, on Engineering Works!

The avatars are virtual Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in video kiosks. They speak English and Spanish, and they are the first stop in screening for the U.S. government’s Trusted Traveler program.

The Trusted Traveler program screens low-risk frequent travelers ahead of time so they can bypass long lines at border crossings and airport security stations.

The avatars are linked to advanced voice analysis computer programs that use things like speaking volume, pitch, how fast a person speaks, and tone of voice to detect possible deception. Flagged travelers get a face-to-face interview with a live ICE agent.

The avatar has different voices, depending on whether it speaks English or Spanish. The face stays the same, whichever language it speaks. The researchers who developed the analysis software found that the system worked much better when people being screened spoke to a human figure instead of just speaking into a microphone alone.

The system is still being tested, and immigration officials aren’t sure when the agency will start using it for real and in more locations than now.

We don’t cross any borders on our way home, so we won’t be talking to an avatar any time soon. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Computer software that analyzes human voices is right on the edge of science fiction, and not everybody’s happy about the idea. Does it invade our privacy? Let us know what you think.

For more:

http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-08/customs-and-border-protections-new-avatar-agent-analyzes-your-words-knows-if-youre-lying

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=avatar-officer-installed-mexico-border

USF Nanomedicine Research Center

USF Nanomedicine Research Center

Seizing the moment

September 19th, 2012 by Gene
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Engineer are helping to treat one of the scariest medical conditions. Stopping epileptic seizures. Today, on Engineering Works!

Epilepsy is what’s called a seizure disorder. Epileptic seizures range from blank staring for a few seconds to a few minutes to convulsions or unconsciousness. It’s pretty scary, both for the people having a seizure and those who love them. It affects almost three million people, more than Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Together.

We know the seizures are connected to abnormal electrical activity in the brain, but beyond that we don’t know much.

Engineers are working with doctors and brain researchers to develop tiny devices that could be implanted in the brain near the place where the abnormal electrical activity that’s related to seizures. The idea is that the devices could detect electrical signals involved in seizures in the first fractions of a second they appear. And automatically deliver mild pulses of electricity.

These mild jolts often make seizures less severe or block them altogether. The idea is a spinoff from heart research which developed implanted devices called – defibrillators – that detect dangerously abnormal heart rhythms – fibrillations – and shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. Engineers and doctors are looking into other ways implantable devices could be used to prevent epileptic seizures. Everything from one that cools the brain to another that automatically delivers anti-seizure drugs.

Our brain electricity is running down for today, and we’re done. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Implanting therapeutic devices in the brain is pretty mind-boggling, but it’s a long way from the only work on implantable devices. We already have implantable pumps to deliver insulin automatically for diabetics. What else is out there?

For more:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=implant-epilepsy-seizure

http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/

Jessica Polanco/Flickr.com

Jessica Polanco/Flickr.com

Let there be sight

September 12th, 2012 by Gene
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A tiny microchip implanted in the eyes of people with age-related macular degeneration may soon be giving them back their sight. Let there be sight. Today, on Engineering Works!

One of the scariest physical disorders older people face is AMD, or age-related macular degeneration. AMD is growing blindness in the center of your vision. It’s caused by the breakdown of the retina, the part of your eye that gathers light and transforms it into what you see. More than 25-million older people around the world have AMD. There’s no treatment for it.

Now, engineers are testing a device that promises to give usable sight to people with AMD. It’s a microchip about an eighth of an inch square that’s inserted into the eyeball and glued over the retina. The chip carries ultra-small light detectors, circuits and electrodes that act like your natural retina and connect to the natural wiring of your eye.

AMD destroys the retina’s ability to collect light, but the rest of your eye still works. The microchip provides the signals.

There’s one problem. The microchip needs electricity to work. The engineers have come up with a tiny, low-power laser mounted on eyeglasses that feeds the tiny amounts of electricity needed into your eye.

The device is being tested in patients in several countries, but no one is predicting when you’ll be able to get one.

Our eyes still work just fine and we’re using them to get home. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Some of the most exciting engineering these days involves devices to give the human body back what it’s lost because of age, disease or accident. What do you think are the niftiest devices? Let us know.

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/bio-retina-restore-vision-blind/23387/

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/two-innovative-views-on-restoring-sight-2010-03-12?pagenumber=1

http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/maculardegen/armd_facts.asp

http://nano-retina.com/

www.design-4-sustainability.com

www.design-4-sustainability.com

The engineered wastebasket

September 5th, 2012 by Gene
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Sometimes something comes along that’s really cool, even if it’s not very important. This time, it’s the engineered wastebasket. Today, on Engineering Works!

We’re not going to try to tell you this is important, but it is fun. And we sure could use it sometimes. Here’s the situation: you’re working at your desk, and things aren’t going well. By the end of the day, you’re ankle-deep in crumpled wads of paper. Even in this digital age, it happens.

An engineer in Japan got tired of cleaning wads of paper off the floor, so he designed and built a wastebasket that makes sure everything ends up inside instead of on the floor. It looks like an ordinary round wastebasket, but underneath are four wheels mounted on swivels, small electric motors and a control unit from a radio-controlled vehicle.

What makes it work is a combination sensor and wireless control unit mounted on the wall over the desk. The sensor sees whatever you throw toward the wastebasket, calculates where it’s going, and signals the wastebasket to go there. The control unit tells the little electric motors what to do and the wastebasket catches whatever you just threw.

We don’t have one of these things yet. But if it ever goes on the market, we’ll be first in line.

We’re cleaned up all the trash we’re going to for today, and we’re going home. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: lots of very cool things aren’t very important, but they are nifty to think about, so we’re not going to apologize for this one. Got any neat stuff you’d like to share with us? Send it on.

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/smart-trashbox/23439/

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqDTE6dHpJw