Tag Archives: technology

The End to Expiration Dates

We have all had the experience of rummaging through the fridge, only to realize that the package of food has passed the expiration date. Or we may even neglect to discover this fact until after eating the food and our taste buds do the job our eyes did not!

There are countless perishable foods part of our daily consumption.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

This may all come to an end, as a colour-coded programmed tag is among the newest technology to detect how fresh perishable products are.  This tag is called a Time-Temperature Indicator (TTI), and a new version has recently been developed by researchers in China.  It is the size of a corn kernel and once placed on a jug of milk or a can of tomatoes, can change colour to indicate whether the product is fresh or already past the optimal edible duration.

Different colours correspond to different magnitudes of bacterial growth.
Source: American Chemical Society

This tag is gel-like and undergoes sharply contrasting colour changes to represent product quality due to temperature change as well as from microbial growth.  Over time, colour changes from red for “fresh”, when there are very few microbes, to green for “spoiled”, after temperature-dependent microbial growth has occurred.

This Time-Temperature Indicator is constructed with nanocrystals, which allow perishable products to be tracked and the deteriorative processes taking place to be mimicked in time with colour change.  The accuracy of its indicator colour to microbe activity has been tested in the study with E.coli growth, with successful results. The “programmable” part of the tag is the adjustment of its chemical properties to be tailored to the energy range that the food processes happens in.

The green colour of the tag shows that the contents of the bottle are spoiled.
Source: American Chemical Society

This video from the American Chemical Society (ACS) shows how the tag is used:

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The Time-Temperature Indicator is not a new invention, but low cost (less than one cent!) and increased sensitivity of nanocrystal technology in this version may lead to its availability to the general public in the near future.

By identifying when products are nearing or past the safe consumption period, TTIs can benefit society by reducing the amount of food waste if marketed for widespread use.  Food waste is a major issue in developed countries and the top reasons for throwing away food are all associated with food spoilage.  Sometimes shelf-life of perishable food is not accurate if there is improper handling, so this marker can minimize such risks to public health. On the flip-side, food may still be edible past the expiration date marked on the container, and the tag would be able to tell that.

Despite its small size, simple technological advances like this Time-Temperature Indicator can prove to have a large impact on our daily life, or at least help us eat our food in time.

Madeleine Tsoi


Artificial Organs?

Imagine if you or someone you know desperately needed an organ transplant and had to wait months to years for a chance to receive one. This is currently happening to people all over the world and according to the Globe and Mail the average wait transplant wait time in British Columbia is 2,145 days, which is far greater than the national average of 1,258 days. Such a long wait could be disastrous for patients and could even prove fatal if they don’t get a transplant in time. But what if there was a solution to this problem? This brings in the concept of human created artificial organs. As the name suggests artificial organs are created in synthetically using newly discovered scientific methods.

From Wikipedia Commons

The first case of a synthetic organ transplant happened in July 2011, when Swedish surgeons implanted the first synthetic trachea in a 36 year old cancer patient. The trachea was created to be nearly identical to the patient’s original organ by using a 3D laser scan and then using that they were able to craft a nearly identical organ. They also immersed the synthetic wind pipe in a stem cell solution which was created from the patient’s bone marrow.  A major benefit from this new method is that antirejection drugs are no longer required since the immune system would recognize the organ and would not attack it.

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Also other body parts could be replaced, for example the jaw bone for an 83 year old woman was replaced in 2012. The artificial jaw bone was created using a 3D printer based on a scan of her original bone that was damaged due to a bone infection. This scan was then used in a 3D printer and the new jaw was created out of titanium.

Although we are currently unable to replace vital organs such as kidneys, we may be able to do it in the future as science is always advancing and new discoveries are made everyday.

By: Justin

A Grip on Reality: The Future of Prosthetics

The human body has five basic senses: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. Now take a minute and imagine your life without one of them. It’s easy to realize that we as humans rely on our senses for almost everything we do. Yet there are many people in the world, such as amputees, that do not have one or multiple senses.

Dennis Aabo Sørensen, a man from Denmark, became an amputee almost nine years ago when he lost his left hand in an accident. Although he was using a prosthetic hand, he had permanently lost the ability to feel anything from his hand. That is until recently when he became the first human to try the new bionic hand that allows you to feel what you touch with a prosthetic.

Image from Google Images

The scientists at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies of Pisa (SSSA) designed the bionic hand prototype that will allow people like Dennis to feel objects in real-time using sensory feedback technology. The bionic hand works by measuring the force it takes for the tendons in the artificial hand to grasp an object. Once the measurement of force is identified, the tendons send electrical impulses through wires to the electrodes that have been surgically connected to the nerves of the actual arm. Although it seems like the impulse is not instantly sent to the brain, it actually happens in a matter of seconds to give the feeling of real-time. In the following video Silvestro Micera provides a more in-depth preview of the bionic hand and Dennis Aabo Sørensen describes his initial thoughts on this new technology.

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Although this technology is still years away from being commercially available, it is still a great achievement in the medical world. I believe the next steps in this project would be to figure out how to make this technology available in portable prosthetics and how much it would cost for the general public. Having said that, this technology holds great promises for people like Dennis who have been unable to experience their life fully due to their lost sense. Many individuals can now look forward to a brighter future in the world of prosthetics.

Vishav Gill


Animal Vibrissae Inspire Electronic “Whiskers” for Robots

If you have been following the news lately, you might have heard about a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by scientists from a Laboratory at Berkley University who have been developing electronic whiskers for use in robots.

In this video is a brief overview of the technology from the news:

Video source: newsy videos  daily motion

As fascinating as this technology is, you are probably wondering logistically about the inspiration — animal whiskers, or as they are scientifically know, vibrissae. So the question is, how do vibrissae actually work and why are they so important?

Image Source: anniejay on Flickr

If you have a pet cat or dog, you have probably noticed vibrissae protruding from either side of their snout. One might easily dismiss these as decoration, based on the fact the human facial hair is essentially cosmetic. However in the case of many animals, vibrissae are an integral part of how they view and interpret the stimuli of there surroundings.

These highly specialized hairs, also found on carnivores, rats, beavers, seals and bears, are very stiff and are rooted deep under their skin. At its base,  there are touch receptor cells, as there are at the base of all ordinary hairs. Only here, they are in much higher concentration. Then since a vibrissa is long and very flexible, it is able to amplify a small touch at its end so as to be felt with high sensitivity.

Image Source: wikimedia commons

 It has been suggested by neuropsycologists that the size of a brain region devoted to a particular sense can be correlated to its relative importance in interpreting sensory data. In the case of dogs, 40% of the area of their brain linked to touch is associated with the face and a large proportion of this is then specifically for vibrissae. Interestingly, for each separate vibrassa, it can be shown that it connects to a separate place in the brain of a dog. Therefore vibrissa are an absolutely essential facet of their sensory perception.

Vibrissae are controlled by muscles that move them forward in a “whisking” motion as the animal approaches an object. As they touch a surface they impart information about the texture as well as its location, which can help in the recognition of an object or surface. Their sensitivity is even so great, that they are able to detect changes in air currents. As an animal nears a solid object, his motion pushes air towards the object, of which some is reflected back and picked up by the vibrissae. Thus they are able to determine the location of an object without actually touching it.

Now that you know how vibrissae work, and their importance to animals, you can appreciate how valuable an electronic version would be. If robots could be equipped to interpret sensory information in this way, they could be used to execute tasks which previously would have been impossible.

Julia Brown

The Google Car

When people think about the future of transportation, they usually only consider advances in fuel economy or alternative fuels, but what about cars that can drive themselves?

Source: Wikipedia Commons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jurvetson_Google_driverless_car_trimmed.jpg)

Autonomous cars is not a relatively new idea as the concept of a driverless car had originally came from the 1920s when Houdina Radio Control Co proved that they could remotely control a vehicle through the streets of New York. Although the car had to be manually controlled, it proved that cars may be able to drive themselves one day when the technology is there.

Nowadays most modern cars contain the usual GPS, parking sensors, cruise control and some could even parallel park for you, but car manufacturers and Google are taking that one step further and creating cars that can drive themselves without any assistance. The Google car was originally created from a Toyota Prius that had undergone numerous modifications to make it driverless. Currently it is not very cost effective as all changes total up to $150,000 including a $70,000 laser radar system also known as Lidar. This system provides the vehicle with nearly all the data it needs, it creates a three dimensional map of the vehicle’s surroundings. Also, maps of the world are combined with the laser system to create an even better depiction of the car’s environment.

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So far the autonomous vehicles have driven over half a million kilometers nearly accident free. There has been only two documented accidents with the driverless car and they are both at human fault. The first accident was caused when it was driven by a person and the second was when it got rear ended. Other than that these cars could be the future of human transport, the only problem is when production models are made and if an accident happens who would be liable; would it be the car passenger or the car manufacturer?

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In the above video you can see Nissan’s driverless car in action. This is an example of the potential benefits of a driverless car because they can park themselves rather than the owner having to waste time to find a parking lot.

With all new technology there are always pros and cons in the case of autonomous vehicles. By the year 2020 major car manufacturers such as Mercedes Benz, Nissan, and BMW plan to sell their own version of the self-driving car.

Posted by: Justin Sidhu