Category Archives: Georgia Institute of Technology

This disclosure could hurt your work relationships

Disclosing a weakness might not be a good way to build rapport with coworkers, research suggests.

Sharing personal information with friends and family is a standard way to build rapport and healthy relationships. But between coworkers, that’s not always true.

In the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, researchers report that for higher status individuals, disclosing a weakness negatively affected their relationship and task effectiveness with their lowers status partners.

“We may think that sharing personal information is always a good thing, but what we found is that when higher status individuals, which could in real situations include star employees, share personal information that highlights a potential shortcoming, it can affect the way they are perceived by coworkers,” says Dana Harari, a doctoral student at Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business.

“This is important because it could undermine their ability to be an effective manager.”

The team focused on task-oriented relationships such as those found in a workplace.

Higher status individuals may want to disclose information about their weaknesses to coworkers in the hopes of developing a closer relationship.

The researchers devised three laboratory experiments during which a total of 762 participants completed virtual tasks with either a higher status or peer status partner. During the task, the “coworker,” who was actually a confederate in the study, disclosed personal information that could be perceived either as a weakness, a positive, or neutral.

The researchers found that although the type of disclosure did not affect peer status disclosers, higher status individuals who disclosed a weakness experienced a “status penalty.” As a result, higher status disclosers were liked less, and participants resisted their influence more during the task.

“A lot of the current conversations that we hear about leadership is that we want leaders to be authentic and to bring their true selves to work, but our findings suggest that if doing so reveals vulnerability initially such as sharing their flaws, it could have a negative impact on how well they’ll be able to influence the people that they work with,” Harari says.

Why bad bosses shouldn’t try to be funny

The findings are particularly notable because in organizations, higher status individuals may be motivated to disclose information about their weaknesses to coworkers in the hopes of developing a closer relationship and working better together as a result, the researchers write. Or, in some cases, the disclosing individual may hope to relieve the stress of trying to conceal weaknesses.

But that “status loss” could lead to unintended outcomes, such as the discloser having less influence and experiencing more conflict within their team, the researchers write.

“It is especially interesting that although self-disclosing weakness signaled vulnerability for everyone, only higher status disclosers suffered from this ‘status penalty,’” Harari says. “Thus, although higher status disclosers may feel closer to their coworkers after disclosing information themselves, they may not realize that the receiver may not feel closer to them.”

Source: Georgia Tech

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To tally seniors in poverty, go beyond income

More older Americans live in deprivation than official US statistics suggest, according to research in a new book.

In her research, Shatakshee Dhongde, associate professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, found that 12.27 percent of senior citizens were deprived in two or more crucial areas, including multiple disabilities, low income, a lack of education, and severe housing burden.

“The main idea is that you change the lens and look at overlapping deprivations.”

Dhongde says the research illustrates a shortcoming in the official measure of poverty in the United States, which focuses solely on income.

The federal government reported that 9.5 percent of older Americans were living in poverty in 2013. That’s below the 12.3 percent rate found in Dhondge’s new multidimensional poverty index.

According to Dhongde’s research, nearly 4 in 10 older US residents reported being deprived in at least one of the four categories.

Further, many of those living with multiple deprivations were not income poor. For instance, 3.6 percent of seniors experienced both multiple disabilities and severe housing burden, but would not appear in official poverty statistics because their income was above the poverty line threshold.

Race plays a role, as well. Dhongde found that white senior citizens are less likely to be deprived, while Asian, African-American, and Hispanic seniors are more likely to be deprived. In fact, Dhongde found that 30 percent of Hispanic seniors report being deprived in two or more dimensions.

Changing the lens

The study draws on the 2013 US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which includes detailed data on economic, housing, educational, and healthcare circumstances of people living in the United States.

Thinking of deprivation in a multidimensional manner, the focus on Dhongde’s work, is a way of looking beyond income while measuring poverty.

“The main idea is that you change the lens and look at overlapping deprivations,” she says. “So I’m not separately looking at what percent of the elderly population was deprived in X and what percent was deprived in Y and so on. Instead, I choose one individual and then analyze how many deprivations he or she is facing simultaneously.”

By examining multiple areas that can affect a person’s quality of life, Dhongde says the multidimensional poverty index can provide better insight into the population’s broader economic condition and can also give policymakers tools to gauge where best to focus limited resources.

The research follows up on a 2017 paper that Dhongde coauthored with Robert Havemen of the Institute of Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In that paper, the researchers showed that during the “Great Recession” which gripped the United States economy from 2008 to 2013, nearly 15 percent of working-age US residents were deprived in at least two of the measures.

Most of those in that study who were multi-dimensionally deprived were low-income earners whose incomes exceeded the poverty line.

That paper was the first in the United States to take a comprehensive look at multidimensional poverty at a national level, but similar techniques are taking hold internationally.

Big data makes poverty maps more accurate

The United Nations has used a similar approach in measuring poverty since 2010. The European Union has also adopted a multidimensional approach. The United States government, however, still assesses poverty largely using income data alone.

Improving lives

Dhongde says that her latest research suggests avenues for policymakers to approach quality-of-life issues and health care costs among the nation’s growing elderly population.

For instance, the research shows that people with little education are more likely to have health issues—suggesting that policy makers address literacy as a way to help people make better health choices—and hold down the spiraling cost of health care.

Dhongde is now working to extend the research model to other fields that could benefit from such analysis.

She is currently working with Laurie Garrow, professor of transportation systems engineering in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who is interested in developing a transportation deprivation index to help guide transit decisions—particularly in rural areas.

“As transportation engineers, we have regulatory requirements to ensure we are designing public transportation systems in ways that are fair and equitable for all individuals,” Garrow says.

“By better understanding how transit dependency characteristics, such as income, employment, disabilities, etc., are related and how these characteristics are spatially distributed, we can design public transit services to better meet individuals’ needs.”

Wages aren’t the only factor for British working poor

Dhongde says such a tool might use data sets to produce a comprehensive evaluation of transportation factors such as access to private cars, availability of mass transit, and even how often public transportation is available, and how far people have to travel to get groceries or go to school.

The new research appears in the book, Measuring Multidimensional Poverty and Deprivation: Incidence and Determinants in Developed Countries (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017).

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

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Predator’s pee warns mud crabs of attack

Researchers have identified two chemicals in the urine of predatory blue crabs that warn mud crabs of an impending attack.

Beyond decoding crab-eat-crab alarm triggers, pinpointing the compounds for the first time opens new doors to understanding how chemicals invisibly regulate marine wildlife.

“You might call trigonelline and homarine fear-inducing cues.”

The findings, which appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences could someday contribute to better management of crab and oyster fisheries, and help specify which pollutants upset them.

In coastal marshes, these urinary alarm chemicals, trigonelline and homarine, help to regulate the ecological balance of who eats how many of whom—and not just crabs.

Blue crabs, which are tough, strong, and about hand-sized, eat mud crabs, which are about the size of a silver dollar and thin-shelled. Mud crabs eat a lot of oysters, but when blue crabs are going after mud crabs, the mud crabs hide and freeze, so far fewer oysters get eaten than usual.

Humans are part of the food chain, too, eating oysters as well as blue crabs that boil up a bright orange. The blue refers to the color of markings on their appendages before they’re cooked. So blue crab urinary chemicals influence seafood availability for people, too.

Duck and cover

The fact that blue crab urine scares mud crabs was already known. Mud crabs duck and cover when exposed to samples taken in the field and in the lab, even when the blue crabs aren’t visible. Digestive products, or metabolites, in blue crab urine trigger the mud crabs’ reaction, which also makes them stop foraging for food themselves.

“Mud crabs react most strongly when blue crabs have already eaten other mud crabs,” says Julia Kubanek, professor of biological sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology and co-lead author of the research.

“A change in the chemical balance in blue crab urine tells mud crabs that blue crabs just ate their cousins,” she says.

Figuring out the two specific chemicals, trigonelline and homarine, that set off the alarm system, out of myriad candidate molecules, is new and has been a challenging research achievement.

“My guess is that there are many hundreds of chemicals in the animal’s urine,” says Kubanek.

Trigonelline has been studied, albeit loosely, in some diseases, and is known as one of the ingredients in coffee beans that, upon roasting, breaks down into other compounds that give coffee its aroma. Homarine is very similar to trigonelline, and, while less studied, is also common.

“These chemicals are found in many places,” Kubanek says. But picking them out of all the chemicals in blue crab urine for the first time was like finding two needles in a haystack.

‘Walking noses’

In the past, researchers trying to narrow down such chemicals have often started out by separating them out in arduous laboratory procedures then testing them one at a time to see if any of them worked. There was a good chance of turning up nothing.

For the current study, researchers went after the whole haystack of chemicals at one time using mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

“We screened the entire chemical composition of each sample at once,” Kubanek says. “We analyzed lots and lots of samples to fish out chemical candidates.”

The researchers discovered spikes in about a dozen metabolites after blue crabs ate mud crabs. They tested out those pee chemicals that spiked on the mud crabs and discovered that trigonelline and homarine distinctly made them crouch.

“Trigonelline scares the mud crabs a little bit more,” Kubanek says.

More specifically, high concentrations of either of the two did the trick, says co-lead author Marc Weissburg, professor of biological sciences. “It’s clear that there was a dose-dependent response. Mud crabs have evolved to home in on that elevated dose.”

“Most crustaceans are walking noses,” Weissburg says. “They detect chemicals with sensors on their claws, antennae, and even the walking legs. The compounds we isolated are pretty simple, which suggests they might be easily detectable in a variety of places on a crab. This redundancy is good because it increases the likelihood that the mud crabs get the message and not get eaten.”

Affecting the entire ecosystem

Evolution preserved the mud crabs with the duck-and-cover reaction to the two chemicals, which also influenced the ecological balance, in part by pushing blue crabs to look for more of their food elsewhere. But it influenced other animal populations as well.

For prey escaping predators, location matters

“These chemicals are staggeringly important,” Weissburg says “The scent from a blue crab potentially affects a large number of mud crabs, all of which stop eating oysters, and that helps preserve the oyster populations.”

All that also affects food sources for marine birds and mammals: Just by the effects of two chemicals, and there are so many more chemical signals around. “It’s hard for us to appreciate the richness of this chemical landscape,” Weissburg says.

As scientists learn more, influencing these systems could become useful to ecologists and the fishing industry, Weissburg says.

“We might even be able to use these chemicals to control oyster consumption by predators to help preserve these habitats, which are critical, or to help oyster farmers.”

Pollutants in pesticides and herbicides are known to interfere with estuaries’ ecologies. “It will be a lot easier to test how strong this is by knowing specific ecological chemicals,” Weissburg says.

Evading predators is more complex than ‘run away!’

By the way, trigonelline and homarine are not pheromones.

“Pheromones are signaling molecules that have a function within the same species, like to attract mates,” Kubanek says. “And blue crabs and mud crabs are not the same species. In this case, the mud crabs have evolved to chemically eavesdrop on the blue crabs’ pee. You might call trigonelline and homarine fear-inducing cues.”

The National Science Foundation funded the work.

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

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Lay off the antibiotics for these small infections?

Got a sore throat? The doctor may write a quick prescription for penicillin or amoxicillin, and with the stroke of a pen, help diminish public health and your own future health by helping bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics.

It’s time to develop alternatives to antibiotics for small infections, researchers say, and to do so quickly.

It has been widely reported that bacteria will evolve to render antibiotics mostly ineffective by mid-century—and current strategies to make up for the projected shortfalls haven’t worked.

Bacteria that survive these many small battles against antibiotics grow in strength and numbers to become formidable armies…

One possible problem is that drug development strategies have focused on replacing antibiotics in extreme infections, such as sepsis, where every minute without an effective drug increases the risk of death.

But the evolutionary process that brings forth antibiotic resistance doesn’t happen nearly as often in those big infections as it does in the multitude of small ones like sinusitis, tonsillitis, bronchitis, and bladder infections, researchers say.

“Antibiotic prescriptions against those smaller ailments account for about 90 percent of antibiotic use, and so are likely to be the major driver of resistance evolution,” says Sam Brown, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences.

Bacteria that survive these many small battles against antibiotics grow in strength and numbers to become formidable armies in big infections, like those that strike after surgery.

“It might make more sense to give antibiotics less often and preserve their effectiveness for when they’re really needed. And develop alternate treatments for the small infections.”

Brown, who specializes in the evolution of microbes and in bacterial virulence, and first author Kristofer Wollein Waldetoft, a medical doctor and postdoctoral research assistant in Brown’s lab, published an essay detailing their suggestion for refocusing the development of bacteria-fighting drugs in PLOS Biology.

The evolution of antibiotic resistance can be downright two-faced, Brown says.

“If you or your kid go to the doctor with an upper respiratory infection, you often get amoxicillin, which is a relatively broad-spectrum antibiotic. So, it kills not only strep but also a lot of other bacteria, including in places like the digestive tract, and that has quite broad impacts.”

“Take the easier tasks, like sore throats, off of antibiotics and reserve antibiotics for these really serious conditions.”

E. coli is widespread in the human gut, and some strains secrete enzymes that thwart antibiotics, while other strains don’t. A broad-spectrum antibiotic can kill off more of the vulnerable, less dangerous bacteria, leaving the more dangerous and robust bacteria to propagate.

“You take an antibiotic to go after that thing in your throat, and you end up with gut bacteria that are super-resistant,” Brown says. “Then later, if you have to have surgery, you have a problem. Or you give that resistant E. cysi to an elderly relative.”

Much too often, superbugs have made their way into hospitals in someone’s intestines, where they had evolved high resistance through years of occasional treatment with antibiotics for small infections. Then those bacteria have infected patients with weak immune systems.

Furious infections have ensued, essentially invulnerable to antibiotics, followed by sepsis and death.

Drug developers facing dwindling antibiotic effectiveness against evolved bacteria have looked for multiple alternate treatments. The focus has often been to find some new class of drug that works as well as or better than antibiotics, but so far, nothing has, Brown says.

Wollein Waldetoft came across a research paper in the medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseases that examined study after study on such alternate treatments against big, deadly infections.

“It was a kind of scorecard, and it was almost uniformly negative,” Brown says. “These alternate therapies, such as phage or anti-virulence drugs or, bacteriocins—you name it—just didn’t rise to the same bar of efficacy that existing antibiotics did.

“It was a type of doom and gloom paper that said once the antibiotics are gone, we’re in trouble. Drug companies still are investing in alternate drug research, because it has gotten very, very hard to develop new effective antibiotics. We don’t have a lot of other options.”

But the focus on new treatments for extreme infections has bothered the researchers because the main arena where the vast portion of resistance evolution occurs is in small infections. “We felt like there was a disconnect going on here,” Brown says.

The researchers propose a different approach: “Take the easier tasks, like sore throats, off of antibiotics and reserve antibiotics for these really serious conditions.”

Bacteria mix can boost or bust antibiotic resistance

Developing non-antibiotic therapies for strep throat, bladder infections, and bronchitis could prove easier, thus encouraging pharmaceutical investment and research.

For example, one particular kind of strep bacteria, group A streptococci, is responsible for the vast majority of bacterial upper respiratory infections. People often carry it without it breaking out.

Strep bacteria secrete compounds that promote inflammation and bacterial spread. If an anti-virulence drug could fight the secretions, the drug could knock back the strep into being present but not sickening.

Brown warns that strep infection can lead to rheumatic heart disease, a deadly condition that is very rare in the industrialized world, but it still takes a toll in other parts of the world. “A less powerful drug can be good enough if you don’t have serious strep throat issues in your medical history.”

Antibiotics can goad ‘superbugs’ into ganging up on us

Sometimes, all it takes is some push-back against virulent bacteria until the body’s immune system can take care of it. Developing a spray-on treatment with bacteriophages, viruses that attack bacteria, might possibly do the trick.

If doctors had enough alternatives to antibiotics for the multitude of small infections they treat, they could help preserve antibiotic effectiveness longer for the far less common but much more deadly infections, for which they’re most needed.

The Simons Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Physiographic Society of Lund funded the work. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors.

Source: Georgia Tech

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Star Wars-inspired robotic hand lets pianist play again

Just as Luke Skywalker does with his robotic hand in the Star Wars film series, a new ultrasonic sensor allows amputees to control each of their prosthetic fingers individually, researchers report.

The device provides fine motor hand gestures that aren’t possible with current commercially available devices.

Jason Barnes, a musician who lost part of his right arm five years ago, was the first amputee to use it, allowing him to play the piano for the first time since his accident. He can even play the Star Wars theme song.

“Our prosthetic arm is powered by ultrasound signals,” says Gil Weinberg, a professor from the Georgia Tech College of Design who leads the project. “By using this new technology, the arm can detect which fingers an amputee wants to move, even if they don’t have fingers.”

The 28-year-old Barnes was electrocuted during a work accident in 2012, forcing doctors to amputate his right arm just below the elbow. Barnes no longer has his hand and most of his forearm but does have the muscles in his residual limb that control his fingers.

“This new arm allows me to do whatever grip I want, on the fly… I never thought we’d be able to do this.”

Barnes’ everyday prosthesis is similar to the majority of devices on the market. It’s controlled by electromyogram (EMG) sensors attached to his muscles. He switches the arm into various modes by pressing buttons on the arm. Each mode has two programmed moves, which he controls by either flexing or contracting his forearm muscles. For example, flexing allows his index finger and thumb to clamp together; contracting closes his fist.

“EMG sensors aren’t very accurate,” says Weinberg, director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology. “They can detect a muscle movement, but the signal is too noisy to infer which finger the person wants to move. We tried to improve the pattern detection from EMG for Jason but couldn’t get finger-by-finger control.”

But then the team looked around the lab and saw an ultrasound machine. They partnered with three other Georgia Tech professors—Minoru Shinohara, Chris Fink, and Levent Degertekin—and attached an ultrasound probe to the arm. The same kind of probe doctors use to see babies in the womb could watch how Barnes’ muscles moved.

“That’s when we had a eureka moment,” says Weinberg.

When Barnes tries to move his amputated ring finger, the muscle movements differ from those seen when he tries to move any other digit. Weinberg and the team fed each unique movement into an algorithm that can quickly determine which finger Barnes wants to move.

The ultrasound signals and machine learning can detect continuous and simultaneous movements of each finger, as well as how much force he intends to use.

“It’s completely mind-blowing,” says Barnes. “This new arm allows me to do whatever grip I want, on the fly, without changing modes or pressing a button. I never thought we’d be able to do this.”

This is the second device Weinberg’s lab has built for Barnes. His first love is the drums, so the team fitted him with a prosthetic arm with two drumsticks in 2014. He controlled one of the sticks. The other moved on its own by listening to the music in the room and improvising.

Prosthetic turns drummer into 3-armed ‘cyborg’

The device gave him the chance to drum again. The robotic stick could play faster than any drummer in the world. Worldwide attention has sent Barnes and Weinberg’s robots around the globe for concerts across four continents. They’ve also played at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and Moogfest.

That success pushed Weinberg to take the next step and create something that gives Barnes the dexterity he’s lacked since 2012.

“If this type of arm can work on music, something as subtle and expressive as playing the piano, this technology can also be used for many other types of fine motor activities such as bathing, grooming, and feeding,” says Weinberg.

“I also envision able-bodied persons being able to remotely control robotic arms and hands by simply moving their fingers.”

Source: Georgia Tech

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Daydreaming is a sign you’re intelligent and creative

Daydreaming may indicate intelligence and creativity, according to new research.

“People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering,” says Eric Schumacher, an associate psychology professor from Georgia Tech and coauthor of a new study.

“Our findings remind me of the absent-minded professor…”

Schumacher and his students and colleagues, including lead coauthor Christine Godwin, measured the brain patterns of more than 100 people while they lay in an MRI machine. The researchers instructed participants to focus on a stationary fixation point for five minutes. The team used the data to identify which parts of the brain worked in unison.

“The correlated brain regions gave us insight about which areas of the brain work together during an awake, resting state,” says Godwin, a Georgia Tech psychology PhD candidate.

“Interestingly, research has suggested that these same brain patterns measured during these states are related to different cognitive abilities.”

Once they figured out how the brain works together at rest, the team compared the data with tests the participants that measured their intellectual and creative ability. Participants also filled out a questionnaire about how much their mind wandered in daily life.

Those who reported more frequent daydreaming scored higher on intellectual and creative ability and had more efficient brain systems measured in the MRI machine.

“People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. You try to pay attention and you can’t,” says Schumacher. “Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn’t always true. Some people have more efficient brains.”

Airline pilots admit their minds wander

Schumacher says higher efficiency means more capacity to think, and the brain may mind wander when performing easy tasks.

How can you tell if your brain is efficient? One clue is that you can zone in and out of conversations or tasks when appropriate, then naturally tune back in without missing important points or steps.

“Our findings remind me of the absent-minded professor—someone who’s brilliant, but off in his or her own world, sometimes oblivious to their own surroundings,” says Schumacher. “Or school children who are too intellectually advanced for their classes. While it may take five minutes for their friends to learn something new, they figure it out in a minute, then check out and start daydreaming.”

The researchers think their findings open the door for follow-up research to further understand when mind wandering is harmful, and when it may actually be helpful.

“There are important individual differences to consider as well, such as a person’s motivation or intent to stay focused on a particular task,” says Godwin.

Your brain should be a bit anxious and a bit ADHD

The researchers report their work in the journal Neuropsychologia.

The research is based on work supported by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Source: Georgia Tech

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crumpled-supercapacitor_740

Flexible supercapacitor is made of paper

A new flexible, paper-based supercapacitor could power wearable electronics.

The device uses metallic nanoparticles to coat cellulose fibers in the paper, creating supercapacitor electrodes with high energy and power densities—and the best performance so far in a textile-based supercapacitor.

By implanting conductive and charge storage materials in the paper, the researchers’ layer-by-layer technique creates large surface areas that function as current collectors and nanoparticle reservoirs for the electrodes. Testing shows that devices fabricated with the technique can be folded thousands of times without affecting conductivity.

crumpled supercapacitor
The flexible metallized paper retains its conducting properties even when crumpled and folded. (Credit: Ko et al. via Nature Communications)

“This type of flexible energy storage device could provide unique opportunities for connectivity among wearable and internet of things devices,” says Seung Woo Lee, an assistant professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We could support an evolution of the most advanced portable electronics. We also have an opportunity to combine this supercapacitor with energy-harvesting devices that could power biomedical sensors, consumer and military electronics, and similar applications.”

Energy storage devices are generally judged on three properties: their energy density, power density, and cycling stability. Supercapacitors often have high power density, but low energy density—the amount of energy that can be stored—compared to batteries, which often have the opposite attributes.

In developing their new technique, Lee and collaborators set out to boost energy density of the supercapacitors while maintaining their high power output.

metallized paper
This image shows the difference between paper prior to metallization (left) and the paper coated with conductive nanoparticles. (Credit: Ko et al. via Nature Communications)

They began by dipping paper samples into a beaker of solution containing an amine surfactant material designed to bind the gold nanoparticles to the paper. Next, they dipped the paper into a solution containing gold nanoparticles. Because the fibers are porous, the surfactants and nanoparticles enter the fibers and become strongly attached, creating a conformal coating on each fiber.

By repeating the dipping steps, the researchers created a conductive paper on which they added alternating layers of metal oxide energy storage materials such as manganese oxide. The ligand-mediated layer-by-layer approach helped minimize the contact resistance between neighboring metal and/or metal oxide nanoparticles. Using the simple process done at room temperatures, researchers could build the layers up to provide the desired electrical properties.

“It’s basically a very simple process,” Lee says. “The layer-by-layer process, which we did in alternating beakers, provides a good conformal coating on the cellulose fibers. We can fold the resulting metallized paper and otherwise flex it without damage to the conductivity.”

Turning pine into graphene lets it carry electricity

Though the research involved small samples of paper, the solution-based technique could likely be scaled up using larger tanks or even a spray-on technique.

“There should be no limitation on the size of the samples that we could produce,” Lee says. “We just need to establish the optimal layer thickness that provides good conductivity while minimizing the use of the nanoparticles to optimize the tradeoff between cost and performance.”

The researchers demonstrated that their self-assembly technique improves several aspects of the paper supercapacitor, including its areal performance, an important factor for measuring flexible energy-storage electrodes. The maximum power and energy density of the metallic paper-based supercapacitors are estimated to be 15.1 mW/cm2 and 267.3 uW/cm2, respectively, substantially outperforming conventional paper or textile supercapacitors.

The next steps will include testing the technique on flexible fabrics and developing flexible batteries that could work with the supercapacitors. The researchers used gold nanoparticles because they are easy to work with, but plan to test less expensive metals such as silver and copper to reduce the cost.

During his PhD work, Lee developed the layer-by-layer self-assembly process for energy storage using different materials. With his collaborators, he saw a new opportunity to apply that to flexible and wearable devices with nanoparticles.

“We have nanoscale control over the coating applied to the paper,” he explains. “If we increase the number of layers, the performance continues to increase. And it’s all based on ordinary paper.”

Method could find ingredients for better batteries

The researchers report their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Additional researchers contributing to the work are from Korea University, the Photoelectronic Hybrids Research Center at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, and Georgia Tech.

National Research Foundation (NRF) grants funded by the Korean government supported the research.

Source: Georgia Tech

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For emergency communication without power, use the ‘fog’

For natural disasters that knock out power—and therefore the internet—researchers have devised a new way of gathering and sharing information that doesn’t rely on electricity.

Using computing power built into mobile phones, routers, and other hardware, emergency managers and first responders will be able to share and act on information gathered from people affected by hurricanes, tornados, floods, and other disasters.

“Increasingly, data gathered from passive and active sensors that people carry with them, such as their mobile phones, is being used to inform situational awareness in a variety of settings,” says Kishore Ramachandran, a computer science professor at Georgia Tech.

“In this way, humans are providing beneficial social sensing services. However, current social sensing services depend on internet connectivity since the services are deployed on central cloud platforms.”

In a paper presented earlier this year at the 2nd International Workshop on Social Sensing, researchers detailed how it may be possible to access centralized services using a decentralized network that leverages the growing amount of computing power at the “edge” of the internet.

The ability will give first responders a huge advantage.

In a flooded area, for example, search and rescue personnel using a geo-distributed network would be able to continuously ping enabled phones, sensors, and other devices in an area to determine exact locations. The data is used to create density maps of people in that search region. The maps would then be used to prioritize and guide emergency response teams.

‘Fog’ or ‘edge’ computing

The proposal takes advantages of edge computing. Also known as fog computing, edge computing places more processing capabilities in sensing devices—like surveillance cameras, embedded pavement sensors, and others, as well as in consumer devices like cell phones, readers, and tablets—in order to improve network latency between sensors, apps, and users.

Rather than just being able to communicate through the internet with central cloud platforms, the researchers demonstrated that by harnessing edge computing resources, sensing devices can be enabled to identify and communicate with other sensors in an area.

‘Deep learning’ goes faster with organized data

“We believe fog computing can become a potent enabler of decentralized, local social sensing services that can operate when internet connectivity is constrained,” Ramachandran says.

“This capability will provide first responders and others with the level of situational awareness they need to make effective decisions in emergency situations.”

3 components

The team has proposed a generic software architecture for social sensing applications that is capable of exploiting the fog-enabled devices. The design has three components—a central management function that resides in the cloud, a data processing element placed in the fog infrastructure, and a sensing component on the user’s device.

It’s not enough to simply run a centralized social sensing service on a number of parallel fog nodes, the researchers say.

“Rather, the social sensing service has to become a distributed service capable of discovering available fog nodes and building a network that aggregates and shares information between social sensors that are connected to different fog nodes,” says computer science PhD student Harshit Gupta.

Beyond emergency response during natural disasters, the proposed fog architecture can also benefit communities with limited or no internet access. These include applications for public transportation management, job recruitment, and housing.

High-frequency chip makes fastest internet speeds look slow

Another possible application of the new approach is monitoring sensing devices in remote areas.

To monitor far-flung devices in areas with no internet access, a bus could be outfitted with fog-enabled sensing capabilities. As it travels in remote areas it would collect data from sensing devices. Once in range of internet connectivity, the “data mule” bus would upload the information to the centralized cloud-based platforms.

“In places that did not benefit from the first wave of cloud-based social sensing services, our hope is that these communities can leapfrog having to rely solely on the internet and directly use fog-based services,” Ramachandran says.

Source: Georgia Tech

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Try out your code on a swarm of real robots

Researchers from around the globe can write their own computer programs, upload them, then get the results as machines at Georgia Tech carry out the commands. The researchers will even send video evidence of the experiment.

This Robotarium opens this month. It’s a 725-square-foot facility that houses nearly 100 rolling and flying swarm robots.

The concept is easy, Magnus Egerstedt says: Robots for everyone.

“Building and maintaining a world-class, multi-robot lab is too expensive for a large number of current and budding roboticists. It creates a steep barrier for entry into our field,” says Egerstedt, a professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“Too many robot labs are hidden away behind closed doors.”

“We need to provide more access in order to continue creating the next generation of robots and robot-assisted technologies. The Robotarium will allow that at an unprecedented scale.”

In the facility, motion capture cameras cling from the ceiling and peer down at the lab’s centerpiece: a white, bowl-shaped arena that looks like a 12′ x 14′ hockey rink. That’s where up to 80 palm-sized, rolling robots scoot around the surface.

They automatically activate when given a program from someone in the room or a remote coder in a different state or country. Once it finishes the experiment, the swarm autonomously returns to wireless charging slots on the edge of the rink and waits to be activated for its next mission.

The lab is currently set up for the 3D-printed rolling machines. In a few weeks, autonomous quadcopters the size of small dinner plates will whiz through the air for remote flying experiments (a retractable net will keep them from slamming into walls or people if things unexpectedly get out of control). A large window allows curious onlookers to watch the organized chaos.

“The Robotarium is a terrarium for robots,” Egerstedt says. “We wanted to create a space where anyone, at any time of the day or night, can walk past the lab and see robots in action. Too many robot labs are hidden away behind closed doors.”

That’s exactly how Egerstedt’s team worked for the last year and a half. They experimented using a tabletop version of the Robotarium. The mini surface allowed them to iron out kinks and identify potential problems with open-access robotics. For instance, what if someone purposely uploaded code that would cause the bots to collide and demolish each other?

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“That’s why we created algorithms that wrap a virtual barrier around each machine to prevent collisions,” says Siddharth Mayya, a PhD student in the lab. “We also had to worry about hackers.”

“I want to do for robotics what MOOCs have done for education—now anyone who knows how to code can work with robots.”

Part of the work included developing processes to protect the system from cyber threats.

Not everything always went smoothly. When PhD student Li Wang hit a button that sent his swarm of quadcopters shooting toward the ceiling, “It rained robots that day,” he recalls.

Another time, a rolling swarm descended on the same charging station at the same time. The robots literally fought for a spot until they reached the metal rail, which shorted them out and sprayed sparks across the room.

That’s why the Robotarium’s charging stations are now wireless.

To date, more than 100 research groups have logged on and used the mini-version.

Most are roboticists without access to swarm technology. Others are biologists. One team chose to use robots, instead of computer simulations, to better understand how ants interact with each other when choosing a new queen.

Telescoping design would make awesome robots

Egerstedt thinks the new facility will foster more collaboration within the robotics community, allowing scientists and engineers to share their findings more widely and build on successes. The open access setting will counter the lack of resources that sometime stands in the way of research.

“I want to do for robotics what MOOCs (massive open online courses) have done for education—now anyone who knows how to code can work with robots,” he says.

He already has a new recruit. This past April, a group of fifth graders stopped in for a tour. Egerstedt saw one of the 10-year-olds stuffing one of the robots into his pocket while turning to leave.

“I asked him why he took it,” Egerstedt remembers. “He said he wanted to make it better.”

How?

“By adding a flamethrower.”

The National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research funded the lab.

Source: Georgia Tech

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3D-Printer-System-Model_740

3 ways to know if a 3D printer got hacked

Researchers have developed three new methods to detect cyberattacks on 3D printers.

“They will be attractive targets because 3D-printed objects and parts are used in critical infrastructures around the world, and cyberattacks may cause failures in health care, transportation, robotics, aviation, and space,” says Saman Aliari Zonouz, an associate professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

3D printer cyberattack process chart
Engineers have devised three ways to combat cyberattacks on 3D printers: monitoring printer motion and sounds and using tiny gold nanoparticles. (Credit: Christian Bayens/Georgia Tech/Rutgers)

Zonouz coauthored the study describing the methods for protecting 3D printers from hackers, which was published at the 26th USENIX Security Symposium in Vancouver, Canada.

“Imagine outsourcing the manufacturing of an object to a 3D printing facility and you have no access to their printers and no way of verifying whether small defects, invisible to the naked eye, have been inserted into your object,” says Mehdi Javanmard, study coauthor and assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at the university.

“The results could be devastating and you would have no way of tracing where the problem came from,” he says.

“You’ll see more types of attacks as well as proposed defenses in the 3D printing industry within about five years…”

3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, plays an increasingly important role in industrial manufacturing. But health- and safety-related products such as medical prostheses and aerospace and auto parts are being printed with no standard way to verify them for accuracy, the study says. Even houses and buildings are being manufactured by 3D printers, notes Javanmard.

Proving hacks are possible

Instead of spending up to $100,000 or more to buy a 3D printer, many companies and organizations send software-designed products to outside facilities for printing, Zonouz says. But the firmware in printers may be hacked.

For their study, the researchers bought several 3D printers and showed that it’s possible to hack into a computer’s firmware and print defective objects. The defects were undetectable on the outside but the objects had holes or fractures inside them.

Other researchers have shown in a YouTube video how hacking can lead to a defective propeller in a drone, causing it to crash, Zonouz notes.

While anti-hacking software is essential, it’s never 100 percent safe against cyberattacks. So the researchers looked at the physical aspects of 3D printers.

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3 ways to keep 3D printing secure

The three methods researchers have developed to detect hacking attacks on 3D printers include:

  • Acoustic measurement of the 3D printer in operation. When compared to a reference recording of a correct print, this acoustic monitoring—done with an inexpensive microphone and filtering software—can detect changes in the printer’s sound that may indicate installation of malicious software.
  • Physical tracking of printer components. To create the desired object, the printer’s extruder and other components should follow a consistent mechanical path that can be observed with inexpensive sensors. Variations from the expected path could indicate an attack.
  • Detection of nanorods in finished components. Using Raman Spectroscopy and computed tomography (CT), the researchers were able to detect the location of gold nanorods that had been mixed with the filament material used in the 3D printer. Variations from the expected location of those particles could indicate a quality problem with the component. The variations could result from malicious activity, or from efforts to conserve printer materials.

In 3D printing, the software controls the printer, which fulfills the virtual design of an object. The physical part includes an extruder or “arm” through which filament (plastic, metal wire, or other material) is pushed to form an object.

The researchers observed the motion of the extruder, using sensors, and monitored sounds made by the printer via microphones.

“Just looking at the noise and the extruder’s motion, we can figure out if the print process is following the design or a malicious defect is being introduced,” Zonouz says.

The third method they developed involves examining an object to see if it was printed correctly. Tiny gold nanoparticles, acting as contrast agents, are injected into the filament and sent with the 3D print design to the printing facility. Once the object is printed and shipped back, high-tech scanning reveals whether the nanoparticles—a few microns in diameter—have shifted in the object or have holes or other defects.

“This idea is kind of similar to the way contrast agents or dyes are used for more accurate imaging of tumors as we see in MRIs or CT scans,” Javanmard says.

The next steps in their research include investigating other possible ways to attack 3D printers, proposing defenses, and transferring methods to industry, Zonouz says.

Among the challenges ahead will be obtaining good acoustic data in the noisy environments in which 3D printers typically operate. In the research, operation of other 3D printers near the one being observed cut the accuracy significantly, but Raheem Beyah, a professor and associate chair in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, believes that challenge can be addressed with additional signal processing.

“These 3D printed components will be going into people, aircraft, and critical infrastructure systems,” says Beyah. “Malicious software installed in the printer or control computer could compromise the production process. We need to make sure that these components are produced to specification and not affected by malicious actors or unscrupulous producers.”

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“You’ll see more types of attacks as well as proposed defenses in the 3D printing industry within about five years,” Zonouz says.

Additional coauthors of this study are from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Rutgers University.

Source: Rutgers University, Georgia Tech

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