Bridging a Spinal Injury with Electronics Offers Hope to Paralysis

Science is a vital element to the exploration and development of a range of subjects and techniques, one such field is of course the medical profession, huge leaps and bounds have been made over the last decade or so. Now, Scientists at “Case Western Reserve University in Ohio have unveiled a technique that has enabled them to incorporate electronics with the aim of helping a paralysed man’s spinal injury, permitting him to use an implant in his brain to move his arm and hand”.

Robert Kirsch, who is a biomedical engineer at Case Western explained that this is the first timesignals collected in the brain have been conveyed directly to electrodes placed inside someone’s arm to restore movement”. The end goal is eventually to be in a position whereby a wireless system is introduced with the aim of transmitting brain signals through the air to electronics sewn into the limbs of paralysed people, thereby restoring the ability to carry out simple daily tasks.

It’s fascinating yet somewhat complicated but I will persist, the study results so far have indicated that the volunteers movements are still rough and as yet not as coordinated as an able-bodied person’s would be. But it’s remarkable to think that a person who is paralysed is able to control their own body and to stimulate muscles in a specific way to make them move.

Volunteers who have undertaken brain implant studies have previously attempted rudimentary tasks which have included moving a computer cursor.  This research had moved up a notch after a different Ohio man with partial arm paralysis received a brain implant and was able to mentally “open and close his hand”. This latest case is different as the current volunteer has a spinal injury that prevents him from moving or opening his arms at all.

So, in the words of Kryten, aka Robert Llewellyn, how did they do it? Now, this is the uber (not that one) complicated bit. It all started 9 months ago after surgeons implanted two bunches of silicon electrodes, called Utah arrays, into the volunteer’s motor cortex. (The Motor Cortex is the part of the brain where movements are planned) “Wires from each array then emerged from the skull through metal ports before connecting to computers that interpret the signals”.

To complete the bridge, doctors then inserted more than 16 fine wires into the volunteer’s right arm and hand. “Electrical impulses sent to those electrodes caused different muscles to contract, creating movement in the shoulder, elbow, and wrist, an approach known as functional electrical stimulation, or FES.

According to Robert Kirsch, the volunteer is able to accurately control a computer simulation of his wired-up arm using his brain signals, the challenging part is moving his real arm under brain control since it has been paralysed for so long and therefore the muscles have considerably weakened.

It’s certainly fascinating and opens up a vast array of possibilities for providing hope to paralysed individuals, the dream for scientists is to be able to offer a paralysed person the chance to undertake normal activities, I.e. walking around a room etc. Of course, this vision is as yet in the distant future, but every development provides a new possibility which in turn moves the technology and also understanding forward. We could be looking into a future whereby it is indeed possible to provide a workaround to Paralysis.

Cheap Electric Vehicles May Arrive on the Market Sooner than Expected

A recent analysis states that electric cars may soon be competing or even surpass gas cars on cost. This means that electric cars won’t be just a luxurious accessory for the few.

Manufacturers tend to keep the cost of lithium-ion batteries found in electric cars a strict secret, but a recent peer-reviewed study of more than 80 estimates reported between 2007 and 2014 suggests that the costs of battery packs are lower than assumed by energy-policy analysts.

The study suggests that batteries found in EV manufacturer cars such as Tesla and Nissan cost around $300 per KW/h in 2014. This estimate is much lower than the most optimistic projections published this year and even below the average projections published for 2020. The study also tells that the batteries could even reach $230 per KW/h by 2018.

People are also said to be more interested in EVs if the battery costs between $125 and $300 per KW/h. Having the battery cost be a quarter or even half of an EVs price tag, cheaper batteries would make the vehicle itself more cheaper. Alternatively, car manufacturers can maintain the current EV price tag, but offer a battery with much longer ranges instead.

The range factor on an EV is also a crucial thing for buyers, because it would be cheaper to fill an EV with electricity than a car running on gas. It is said that charging an EV with a 300 mile range would cost less than $10. Also, the study states that if batteries fall as low as $150 per KW/h, this may lead to “a potential paradigm shift in vehicle technology”.

The analyst report that the cost of battery packs is falling around 8% each year, which they say is likely to continue at this rate in the following years as well. However, Luis Munuera, an energy analyst for the International Energy Agency, and Pierpaolo Cazzola, a transport policy analyst for the same agency, tend to be sceptical about the peer-reviewed in question, but they do seem to agree about “events moving quicker than expected in lithium-ion battery technology”.

Thank you MIT Technology Review for providing us with this information

Costa Rica Has Been Fully Powered by Renewable Energy for 75 Days Straight

Costa Rica has achieved a major milestone in clean energy, having the country be fully powered by renewable energy for 75 straight days.

“The year 2015 has been one of electricity totally friendly to the environment for Costa Rica,” the state-owned power supplier Costa Rica Electricity Institute (ICE) said.

The milestone has been achieved with the help of heavy rainfall at four of its hydroelectric power facilities during the first quarter of 2015. What this means is that no fossil fuel was used during the months of January, February and March so far, having the country being powered by hydro power primarily, in conjunction with a mixture of geothermal, wind, biomass and solar energy.

To be noted is that the country is fairly small, having an area of 51,100 square km and a population of around 4.8 million. Another thing to take into account is that the country focuses more on tourism and agriculture, rather than heavy industry such as mining or manufacturing.

Still, Costa Rica has done an excellent job in developing its electricity sector, having the World Economic Forum ranking it as the second in Latin American countries behind only Uruguay with regards to electricity and telecommunications infrastructure.

Back in mid-2014, the Costa Rica government approved a $958 million geothermal energy project, having the first plants expected to generate about 55 MW and cost approximately $333 million to build, while two other are expected to output 50 MW.

Thank you Science Alert for providing us with this information