BUM BOT: Environmental engineer, bar owner and ex-Marine Rufus Terrill, who built an electronic vigilante dubbed "Bum Bot" to discourage vagrants from squatting near his Atlanta tavern, O'Terrill's. Image: Courtesy of the AP
Is a cure for Alzheimer's just years away?
German researchers report in Science that they developed a drug that may combat Alzheimer's disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects some five million Americans. The new therapy targets beta-secretase, an enzyme on neurons around which plaques (buildups of a protein called beta-amyloid) cluster in the brain. (Such plaques are a hallmark of the disorder and their discovery in a postmortem brain is the only way to confirm that a person had the illness.) Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and the pharmaceutical company JADO Technologies, both in Dresden, Germany, say their drug, which targets beta-secretase erased 50 percent of plaques in test fruit flies and mice within four hours of its administration. The team plans to do more animal testing and, if successful, conduct human trials within two years. (The Telegraph)
Ennui makes brains more likely to err
Bored? Beware: a new study shows that the brains of people engaged in dull, monotonous tasks go into "rest mode," increasing the risk that they'll make mistakes. A team of researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway reports in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can predict whether a person will err up to 30 seconds before they slip up based on a shift in brain activity patterns. The researchers gave 13 volunteers a simple visual recognition task to complete while scanning their brains. Their findings: activity dropped in the prefrontal cortex--which is implicated in planning as well as in the organization of functions performed by other brain regions--but it jumped in a cluster of brain regions implicated in daydreaming known as the "default mode network." The Norwegian team hopes to develop a hat-like device that can sense this shift in brain activity and warn users to keep their minds on the tasks at hand. (BBC)
Bar hopping? Beware: Robot bouncer on patrol
Who needs beefy bikers to bounce the riffraff from your watering hole when an armed robot bristling with a water cannon is ready to do clean house? You don't, says environmental engineer, bar owner and ex-Marine Rufus Terrill, who built an electronic vigilante dubbed "Bum Bot" to protect his Atlanta tavern, O'Terrill's. The Associated Press reports that the waist-high robot, on the job since September, is built atop a three-wheel scooter and features a home-alarm loudspeaker attached to a walkie-talkie that allows Terrill to order vagrants to clear out of his bar from a safe distance. Bum Bot, remote-controlled and powered by four car batteries, has a spotlight, an infrared video camera (on which to capture would-be guests), an old home meat-smoker for a head, red taillights from a 1997 Chevrolet (that light up to let you know the robot is active) and a water cannon at the ready in the spinning turret on top. Local police have received no formal complaints about Terrill's use of the robot (although homeless advocates reportedly claim the contraption is being used to intimidate indigents in the vicinity). It can't be worse than Terrill's previous security tactic, which was to patrol the grounds with an assault rifle. Footage of the Bum Bot in action can be found on, where else, YouTube.