Fully brain controlled prosthesis, thermal ageing & eye movement inspired cameras | Last Week in Science ( 7 Jul 2024)

Credit: MIT News

A prosthesis that is fully controlled by the brain

Walking requires sophisticated control of leg muscles by the brain and information about the position of the legs. To make the movement of a limb possible, there are pairs of muscles that act in opposition. When one stretches, the other contracts, and vice versa. In the case of a below-the-knee amputation, the connection between these paired muscles is severed. The currently available prosthetics, even those using the latest technology, rely on information coming from robotic sensors and are not under the full control of the brain. As a result, the individual's gait is slower and does not look completely natural.

MIT scientists have developed a surgical procedure to give the brain full control of the prosthetic leg. They reconnected the muscles of the specific pair so that the brain can now signal the muscles to stretch and contract alternately. Next, this signal coming from the brain was integrated into the movement of the prosthetic leg, allowing for a more natural gait for the user. They found that individuals with this prosthetic leg could move faster, similar to individuals with intact legs, and climb stairs more naturally as compared to the individuals who had a regular robotic sensors controlled prosthetic leg.

Reference: A prosthesis driven by the nervous system helps people with amputation walk naturally

Image showing thermal face imaging 
Credit: Cell Metabolism Article 

Thermal ageing

What can a face tell? Your age, mood, and health. Scientists at Peking University have developed an AI-based method to predict the biological age of an individual by studying the 3D structure of the face. They have now developed a technique to measure the thermal age of an individual using a thermal camera and a trained AI algorithm.

They measured the temperature of different regions/parts of the face of 2800 Chinese individuals between 21 and 88 years old. They found some regions of the face, like the nose, eyes, and cheeks, had different temperatures with age and health condition. They further found that the temperature of the nose decreases with age, while the temperature around the eyes increases with age. Thus, Chinese individuals who have a warm nose and cooler temperature around the eyes are younger with respect to their thermal age. It was interesting to see that thermal aging could predict diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and fatty liver. Individuals with high blood pressure had high temperatures around the eyes and cheeks. They think that the increased temperature is because of inflammation.

The scientists next studied whether it is possible to reverse thermal aging. They asked 23 individuals to skip a rope 800 times daily for two weeks. This two weeks of exercise decreased their thermal age by 5 years. They hope to bring this facial temperature measurement into medical practice for easy and early detection of diseases like diabetes, fatty liver, and high blood pressure.

Reference: Doctors could soon use facial temperature for early diagnosis of metabolic diseases

Credit: UMD News

How 'eye movements' improved cameras?

Ever tried to take a photo from a moving vehicle or of a moving vehicle? The photo usually turns out to be blurred, unlike our eyes, which produce clear and sharp images of moving objects. What makes this possible? Our eyes make small and quick movements on their own, without us being aware of it, that ensure the sharpness of the images that our eyes capture and send to the brain.

Scientists at the University of Maryland have used the same principle of these small and quick movements of the eyes to develop cameras. They have developed a camera that has a rotating prism to mimic these eye movements. The lens of the camera sends the light to the prism, and from there it goes to the computer. The computer then processes this image to create a stable image of a moving object, just like our brain derives information about a moving object by processing stable and sharp images of it.

This camera will improve machines, like robots and self-driving cars, which need to track and interact with moving objects. They would also revolutionise virtual reality experiences and your mobile phone cameras. You might then be able to click a sharp photo of a moving object easily that is not blurred.

Reference: UMD Researchers Develop New and Improved Camera Inspired by the Human Eye