All posts by LL

DARPA redesign

homecoverThe US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) opened a new office in April uniting its biology, and related engineering and computer science research. The Biological Technologies Office (BTO), directed by neurologist and retired Army colonel Geoffrey Ling, inherited 23 existing research programs and on April 24 launched its first new one, involving prosthetics. Other areas of research include diagnostics for infectious diseases, synthetic biology, biological clocks, systems biology and a program to establish the lineage of genetic modifications to living organisms. The office’s 2015 budget is around $250 million. The research programs and grant procedures will not change in their structure, wrote an agency spokesperson, though they will align with the office focus areas. Bringing the biology strands together under one of DARPA’s seven offices should give the agency’s leadership, “a better sense of how to make investments,” says David Rejeski, director of the science and technology program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, and a member of a DARPA external board of advisers. That, in turn, should enable the BTO to recruit competitive researchers working in its focus areas and help them win funding. “When you have an office dedicated to an area, [its director] is an advocate,” in the scramble for the agency’s $2.9 billion annual budget says Sharon Weinberger, a journalist and author of a forthcoming book on DARPA. Kit Parker, a bioengineer at Harvard University and previous DARPA grant winner says, “The neuro-social sciences and the mind-body axis are two areas where I suspect BTO will go.” BTO is soliciting its first round of applications on a rolling basis through April 30, 2015.

First published in Nature Biotechnology: [html] [pdf]

Note: This text corrected from the print version; a duplicate phrase was deleted here.

Autonomous Emergency Braking

The remarkable thing about letting a car do the braking for you is not that the car stops. It’s how late the car hits the brakes. It’s almost as if a teenager were testing his or her reflexes. Those of us raised on automatic transmissions and cruise control may expect cars to take flighty human drivers out of the loop rather quickly. But if my ride in a test vehicle at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show is any indicator, carmakers are taking their time taking over. Even the most imperturbable driving instructor might get jumpy using today’s autonomous emergency braking (AEB), also called advanced emergency braking systems.

Continue reading

Self-Parking

The first time I tried parallel parking in a manual-shift car, I got halfway into a spot, nose first, on a sloping cobblestone street in a Pyrenean village before I realized I did not know how to put the car in reverse. I emerged in shame to ask a local for help. My impromptu valet found the ring I had to lift on the shift to put it in reverse gear. He also noted that it would be easier to back into the spot.

Lesson learned. But it is now moot: Last year, a car appeared on the market with a button on the dashboard that could be my next valet. Parking assistance has been street legal since 2003, when Toyota rolled out a Prius model in Japan with the ability to take over steering into a parallel-parking spot. Drivers had to select the parking spot on a dashboard video screen and then operate the gears, accelerator, and brake while the car did the steering.

Continue reading