Scientists Manipulated a Material for Robots That Grows Like Human Skin

Imitating Life

A collaborative effort between Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) and Carnegie Mellon University has established a method of growing hydrogel in a way that more closely resembles the shape and structure of plant or animal tissue. Robots and the medical field will be among the benefactors.

When these tissues are grown naturally, different areas grow at different rates, which can result in very complex shapes. The researchers imitated this in their approach, manipulating the concentration of oxygen in order to create the desired designs. A higher concentration would suppress cross-linking between chemicals, which inhibited growth.

This process can be augmented via the use of mechanical constraints like soft wire or glass substrate that can form chemical bonds with the gel. This can guide the substance’s self-assembly, making it possible to build all kinds of different structures.

Current techniques build a 3D structure by adding or removing layers of material. For this to be a success, the porous hydrogel needs to mimic the process of enlargement and proliferation in living tissues via continuous polymerization.

Gel Development

Hydrogel is commonly used for tissue engineering, and in the field of soft robotics. There are hopes that this process could make the substance even more effective for those purposes.

Our organs possess various specializations that allow them to do their jobs well — for instance, the small intestine is covered in microscopic folds called villi that increase its capacity to absorb nutrients, by increasing its surface area. Forming structures using this new process will allow us to better replicate that kind of complex architecture.

“Greater control of the growth and self-assembly of hydrogels into complex structures offers a range of possibilities in medical and robotics fields,” commented inbound NTU Singapore president Subra Suresh in a press release. “One field that stands to benefit is tissue engineering, where the goal is to replace damaged biological tissues, such as in knee repairs or in creating artificial livers.”

It’s thought that advances in soft robotics could have a profound impact on both the next wave of robots, and our capacity to create synthetic organs and advanced prosthetics. We can already produce artificial muscles and working 3D printed hearts, but a better capacity to imitate biological tissues will help propel these efforts even further.

Growth- and structure-controlled hydrogels could prove to be very useful as we develop robots and machines that need to move around. If we can emulate the way that our soft musculature interfaces with our rigid skeletons, we can give these creations a much wider range of motion.

The study could also lead to further research into the nature of cell growth itself. Continuous growth can be observed in the majority of life on earth, so this new process gives scientists a way to observe how it plays out in a controlled instance.

The post Scientists Manipulated a Material for Robots That Grows Like Human Skin appeared first on Futurism.


Governments in 30 countries manipulated media online to silence critics, sow unrest or influence elections

The latest report on internet freedom by Freedom House finds online discourse in the United States is suffering.

It isn’t just Russia that’s spreading disinformation on Facebook, Google and Twitter in a bid to stir political unrest and silence critics around the globe.

A new report from Freedom House released Tuesday found that governments in 30 countries — not just the Kremlin, but also the regimes in Turkey, Venezuela and the Philippines — are now “mass producing their own content to distort the digital landscape in their favor.”

In Sudan, for example, the government maintains a virtual cyber army that has infiltrated Facebook, WhatsApp and other services in order to spread its leaders’ messages. In Venezuela, government forces “regularly used manipulated footage to disseminate lies about opposition protesters or the media, creating confusion” ahead of its last election.

The watchdog found that these efforts to manipulate information online — by governments or other forces — may have affected 18 countries’ elections, “damaging citizens’ ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate.” That included the U.S., where Russian-sponsored trolls fueled conflict around controversial debates like immigration, gun control and gay rights.

“The use of paid commentators and political bots to spread government propaganda was pioneered by China and Russia but has now gone global,” said Freedom House president Michael Abramowitz in a statement. “The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating.”

The conclusions came as part of Freedom House’s annual evaluation of global internet freedom, which found — once again — that government restrictions on their citizens’ internet use generally is on the rise.

Their report focused its efforts on 65 countries, studying their approach to online discussion and regulation between June 2016 and May 2017, and Freedom House awarded each government an internet-freedom score.

The lowest rating still belongs to China. Freedom House once again lamented the country’s historic, unrivaled limits on online speech, its penchant for hacking opponents and media organizations alike, and its willingness to imprison critics of Beijing’s leaders. Elsewhere, governments pursued their own new restrictions on online activity. For example, nine countries over the past year sought to block live video streaming for the first time, often to “halt real-time coverage of antigovernment demonstrations.”

In the U.S., Freedom House also sounded a note of alarm: It concluded that internet freedom in the U.S. had declined since the previous year, due in no small part to Russia’s election meddling.

Before and after Election Day, Kremlin-tied trolls had purchased ads and created profiles on Facebook, Google and Twitter, seeking to create chaos, rile up protesters and shift media coverage away from then-candidate Donald Trump. Those efforts are now the subject of scrutiny on Capitol Hill — and soul-searching in Silicon Valley — as lawmakers look to prevent Russia or another foreign power from meddling in U.S. politics ahead of the next election in 2018.

“While the online environment in the United States remained vibrant and diverse, the prevalence of disinformation and hyperpartisan content had a significant impact,” Freedom House found.

The watchdog also attributed its new skepticism about U.S. internet freedom to heightened harassment of American journalists online, not to mention efforts by the Trump administration, including a controversial — and quickly abandoned — attempt to unmask some of its prominent critics on Twitter.

Freedom House said internet freedom in the U.S. could be threatened even further as a result of the government’s ongoing attempt to undo its existing net neutrality rules. The regulations require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally.

At the same time, Freedom House also offered a subtle warning to regulators — in the U.S. and elsewhere — who are considering new laws in an attempt to thwart misinformation or other online ills.

By the watchdog’s estimate, 14 countries seeking to stop malicious bots and other nefarious activities on the web introduced rules over the past year that “actually restricted internet freedom,” perhaps unwittingly. That includes Germany, which instituted a new law in June 2017 that requires the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter to take down content flagged as offensive in a way that “lacks judicial oversight.”

“When trying to combat online manipulation from abroad, it is important for countries not to overreach,” said Sanja Kelly, who oversees the production of the Freedom of the Net report, in a statement.

“The solution to manipulation and disinformation lies not in censoring websites but in teaching citizens how to detect fake news and commentary,” Kelly continued. “Democracies should ensure that the source of political advertising online is at least as transparent online as it is offline.”

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Google appeals record €2.4 billion antitrust fine over manipulated search results

Google today appealed the record €2.4 billion ($ 2.7 billion USD) antitrust fine levied against it by the European Union back in June over allegations the company promoted its own price comparison services over competitors’. The fine is the largest antitrust penalty in the history of the European Commission, the executive body and antitrust watchdog of the EU. Google was asked at the time to alter its practices by September 28th, following the EU’s findings after a seven-year investigation into the company’s allegedly anticompetitive search behavior.

Google’s response with just a few weeks to spare is an expected one, and the Luxembourg-based general court —…

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