MIT Dream Lab creating devices to let us hack our own dreams

17 Apr 2020

Woman using the Dormio device. Image: Fluid Interfaces group/MIT Media Lab

This week in future tech, a team from MIT is developing devices that could allow us to tap into and control our own dreams.

Humans have longed for the ability to not only understand the dreams they experience, but also control them. Now, a team of researchers at MIT’s Dream Lab is working to develop devices that could allow us to create our own dream worlds.

Speaking with OneZero, the researchers revealed a number of these devices, including the glove-like Dormio. This wearable is designed to tap into the semi-lucid state between wakefulness and sleep, known as hypnagogia.

Using sensors wrapped around the user’s wrist and fingers, Dormio tracks muscle tone, heart rate and skin conductance to identify when the user is asleep. Once they enter hypnagogia, an audio cue plays repeating the word ‘tiger’. In testing among 50 people, a tiger appeared in many of their dreams.

Speaking of the team’s work, PhD student Adam Horowitz said: “This is less like, ‘I’m going to map something so I control it,’ and more like, ‘I’m going to give you a looking glass, and you do with that what you will.’

“I have very little interest in creating tools that take people further from themselves. That’s definitely not the hope.”

Machine learning helps dream up rocket designs in rapid time

A group of researchers at The University of Texas at Austin has found a way for machine learning to create designs for new space rockets faster than traditional methods.

Writing in AIAA Journal, the team, led by Karen Willcox, said it used ‘scientific machine learning’ to provide rocket engine designers with a fast way to assess rocket engine performance in a variety of operating conditions. Currently, a single analysis of a SpaceX Merlin rocket engine could take months of predictions, even using a supercomputer.

Once trained on 200 hours of data generated from a scenario of a single injector of a rocket engine combustor, the scientific machine learning system was able to run the same simulation in a matter of seconds.

“Rocket engineers tend to explore different designs on a computer before building and testing,” Willcox said. “Physical build and test is not only time-consuming and expensive, it can also be dangerous.”

Researchers find unusual biomechanical properties in skin

Scientists from the University of California Santa Barbara have been studying the skin’s ability to touch, also known as haptics. While studied for more than a century, many aspects of how it works remain a mystery.

Writing in Science Advances, the team revealed how the intrinsic elasticity of the skin aids tactile sensing. Remarkably, the researchers showed that far from being a simple sensing material, the skin can also aid the processing of tactile information.

“Elasticity plays this very basic function in the skin of engaging thousands of sensory receptors for touch in the skin, even when contact occurs at a small skin area,” said researcher Yon Visell. “This allows us to use far more sensory resources than would otherwise be available to interpret what it is that we’re touching.”

These findings, according to the researchers, not only contribute to our understanding of the brain, but may also suggest new approaches for the engineering of future prosthetic limbs for amputees that might be endowed with skin-like elastic materials.

R&D spend for AI healthcare to surge by 2025

The pace at which AI will enter healthcare institutions will rapidly increase as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to ABI Research. It estimated that R&D spend in AI for healthcare will increase from $463m in 2019 to $2bn by 2025.

The tech market advisory firm pointed to the fact that several companies – including Alibaba, Yitu, Graphen and Google DeepMind – are already developing AI tools to help detect the virus. Aside from viral detection, AI could also be used in the area of bioinformatics to analyse the RNA of Covid-19 to develop the right antiviral drugs.

“Now, no single drug can combat the virus effectively,” said Lian Jye Su, a principal analyst at ABI Research. “In order to get ahead of the ever-evolving virus and to save as many lives as possible, new drug discovery, development, and testing processes need to be set up, as the conventional method is no longer suitable.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic