The Left Handed Mallet: Tech Round-Up March 2016

Welcome to our regular technology round up, “The Left Handed Mallet.” Whilst the title is a tongue in cheek reference to a very old joke, the subjects of this tech round-up are all seriously innovative engineering solutions. In this instalment, PIF looks at bionic fingertips, superfast data transfer and a wristband that detects seizures.

Every now and then PIF likes to spotlight three eye-catching technological advancements that could well be game-changers in their field, and they don’t get much more impressive than the following engineering gems.

Bionic fingertip aids amputee

Scientists at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA) in Pisa, Italy have created an artificial fingertip that has successfully provided sensory feedback to an amputee, The Engineer has reported. The breakthrough technology, which was unveiled in the journal eLife, involved surgically connecting the nerves in the arm of amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen to the bionic fingertip, which subsequently gave him back the ability to differentiate between smooth and rough edges.

Bionic fingertip(Credit:

A machine controlled the movement of the fingertip over pieces of patterned plastic. Electric signals, which imitate the language of the nervous system, in turn enabled Sørensen to achieve a 96 per cent success rate in distinguishing between rough and smooth surfaces. “The stimulation felt almost like what I would feel with my hand,” said Sørensen. “I still feel my missing hand; it is always clenched in a fist. I felt the texture sensations at the tip of the index finger of my phantom hand,” he added.

Data transfer just got faster

The days of waiting for websites to load, or the agonising wait for large files to download, could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a recently set new record for data transmission. As reported on, Engineers at University College of London (UCL) broke the current data transfer record with a blistering rate of 1.125 Tb/s, using a new optical transmission system combining information theory and digital signal processing techniques. To put that into context, that’s nearly 50,000 times faster than the UK’s current “super-fast” broadband speeds which top out at a measly average of 24 Mb/s.

Data transfer
“Using high-bandwidth super-receivers enables us to receive an entire super-channel in one go,” said Robert Maher, from UCL’s department of electronic and electrical engineering. “Super-channels are becoming increasingly important for core optical communications systems, which transfer bulk data flows between large cities, countries or even continents,” he added.

Wristband detects seizures

Medical sensing technology experts, Empatica, co-founded by MIT professor and wearables pioneer Rosalind Picard, has developed a medical-quality consumer wristband, called Embrace, that monitors stress signals to detect potentially deadly seizures. People with epilepsy suffer from recurrent, unprovoked seizures that can cause injury and even death from “sudden unexpected death in epilepsy” (SUDEP). According to the World Health Organization, roughly 50 million people worldwide suffer from epilepsy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about one in every 1,000 people with epilepsy die annually from SUDEP.

The combined electrodermal activity (EDA), also known as skin conductance, and motion data collected from the wrist, are known to improve the accuracy of seizure detection. Researchers worldwide have trialled a scientific version of the wristband, called the E4, which also measures other signals, to study epilepsy and other neurological and psychiatric conditions.

…and finally

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest and most powerful particle collider. Not only that, it is the largest, most complex experimental facility ever built. And it is the largest single machine in the world. Built by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), between 1998 and 2008, the LHC involved a collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and engineers from over 100 countries. It lies in a tunnel 27 kilometres (17 miles) in circumference, as deep as 175 metres (574 feet), beneath the France–Switzerland border near Geneva, Switzerland. Now, the BBC is giving us an inside view, quite literally, of the LHC with this interactive 360-degree video. Very cool!

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