Category Archives: News

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Madrid Begins Electric Bike Sharing

For something that took years to arrive, Madrid’s public bicycles sure get off to a fast start. Pedal once and the 36-volt, 10-ampere, electric motors will give you a sudden boost. Going up one of Madrid’s many hills, it is a welcome aid. Downhill, the burst jars. But riders can disable the boost by not pedaling, and moderate it with electric controls on the handlebars. With a little practice, the bikes begin to feel like underpowered motor scooters. “Our major goal is to move journeys that are now done by car to the bicycles,” says Elisa Barahona, Madrid’s director of sustainability and environment.

During the program’s first week, however, almost nobody could sign up through the touchscreen UNIX computers at the bike docking stations. While first approved years ago in an effort to combat air pollution, economic concerns and then logistical problems delayed the launch by years, building up attention and demand. After the program finally launched, online attacks to the payment system blocked registration. In the first two weeks, the company’s information technology engineers racked up a 20 gigabyte log from Internet attacks, says Miguel Vital, director of Bonopark, the contractor operating the system on behalf of the city of Madrid. Other attacks were less sophisticated: Bonopark left some of the docking station computers’ screen resolutions at the wrong size, allowing at least one naughty user to access a web browser and leave pornography visible in the place of the user registration screen (The Local).

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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.

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Health Benefits of Bike Sharing Depend on Age, Gender

In the middle of the evening rush hour last November 29 more than 1,000 London cyclists staged a “die-in” to protest the traffic deaths of fellow riders and to demand more investment in bike-friendly roads. London’s streets may have grown friendlier to cyclists since the 2010 introduction of its Barclays Cycle Hire bike-sharing system but according to those at the protest, London is still too dangerous. The hundreds of cities that have launched bicycle-sharing systems in the last decade offer similar reasons for doing it: Bicycling reduces car traffic and pollution in city centers and is healthy exercise. But although all road-users benefit from less-crowded streets, a recent study suggests that the health benefits of bike-sharing programs depend on who is doing the riding.London’s bike-sharing program had registered 191,702 users at last count. Public health researcher James Woodcock at the University of Cambridge in England and his colleagues imagined, and calculated, how those riders lives might have been different had they not used the bikes. They examined data from 2.1 million hours of use between April 2011 and March 2012 and compared the health impact of those 2.1 million hours with the alternatives: more walking, public transit use or driving. To their surprise, the team reports in the February 13 BMJ (British Medical Journal), the switch to cycling may not have been helpful for young women. The health benefits also seem to differ by age, with older riders of both genders gaining more benefits than younger ones.

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