How Brain Cells Are Like Little Universes

In Beyond Science, Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challenge our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities. Share your thoughts with us on these sometimes controversial topics in the comments section below.


The structures of the universe and the human brain are strikingly similar.

In the Eastern spiritual discipline of Daoism, the human body has long been viewed as a small universe, as a microcosm. As billion-dollar investments are made in the United States and Europe to research brain functioning, the correlations between the brain and the universe continue to emerge.

The two pictures below illustrate the similarities. The top picture shows the neural network of a brain cell; the bottom picture shows the distribution of dark matter in the universe as simulated by Millennium Simulation.

Simulation of the repeatable neural pattern of brain cells.

Galaxy (luminous matter) large-scale distribution, obtained in Millenium simulation.

The pictures show a structural similarity in terms of connections and distribution of matter in the brain and in the universe. The photo on the left is a microscopic view, the one on the right is a macroscopic view.

The brain is like a microcosm.

A study conducted by Dmitri Krioukov of the University of California and a team of researchers published in Nature last year shows striking similarities between neural networks in the brain and network connections between galaxies.

Krioukov’s team created a computer simulation that broke the known universe down into tiny, subatomic units of space-time, explained Live Science. The simulation added more space-time units as the history of the universe progressed. The developing interactions between matter in galaxies was similar to the interactions that comprise neural networks in the human brain.

Physicist Kevin Bassler of the University of Houston, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science that the study suggests a fundamental law governing these networks.

In May 2011, Seyed Hadi Anjamrooz of the Kerman University of Medical Sciences and other Iranian medical scientists published an article in the International Journal of the Physical Sciences on the similarities between cells and the universe.

They explain that a black hole resembles the cell nucleus. A black hole’s event horizon—a sort of point of no return where the gravitational pull will suck objects into the black hole—also resembles the nuclear membrane.

The event horizon is double-layered, as is the nuclear membrane. Much like the event horizon, which prevents anything that enters from leaving, the nuclear membrane separates cell fluids, preventing mixing, and regulates the exchange of matter between the inside and outside of the nucleus. Black holes and living cells also both emit pockets of electromagnetic radiation, among other similarities.

The researchers wrote: “Nearly all that exists in the macrouniverse is mirrored in a biological cell as a microuniverse. Simply put, the universe can be pictured as a cell.”

NASA just made all the scientific research it funds available for free

NASA just announced that any published research funded by the space agency will now be available at no cost, launching a new public web portal that anybody can access.

The free online archive comes in response to a new NASA policy, which requires that any NASA-funded research articles in peer-reviewed journals be publicly accessible within one year of publication.

“At NASA, we are celebrating this opportunity to extend access to our extensive portfolio of scientific and technical publications,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman. “Through open access and innovation we invite the global community to join us in exploring Earth, air, and space.”

The database is called PubSpace, and the public can access NASA-funded research articles in it by searching for whatever they’re interested in, or by just browsing all the NASA-funded papers.

“Making our research data easier to access will greatly magnify the impact of our research,” said NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan. “As scientists and engineers, we work by building upon a foundation laid by others.”
Right now, there are some 861 research articles in the database, and you can expect that number to keep rising as NASA-funded researchers get on board with the new policy.

As you’d expect, there’s an enormous spread of research already on offer, ranging from exercise rountines to maintain health during long-duration space missions, to the prospects for life on Titan, and the risk of miscarriage for flight attendants exposed to cosmic radiation.

All of this is now free for researchers or anybody with an interest in science to check out and download – a welcome change from when much of the content was locked behind a paywall.

But not all NASA-funded research can be found in the archive. As the space agency indicates, patents and material governed by personal privacy, proprietary, or security laws are exempt from having to be included in PubSpace.

NASA’s move comes in response to a 2013 request from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which directed major science-funding agencies to come up with ways of increasing access to the results of publicly funded research.

It also follows a growing general trend towards more openness in science research and academia more broadly. With frustration stemming over the commercial control wielded by the companies who own most academic publishing, some researchers are bypassing established journals altogether byuploading their work directly to the internet.

Others are illegally sharing scientific papers online in a dramatic bid to spread knowledge. At the same time, there are calls in Europe to make all published science funded by the public free.

The same logic is what’s behind NASA’s new portal – but even the space agency itself could benefit from the initiative, which will help it keep track of all the research it’s funding more easily.

“This’ll be the first time that NASA’s had all of their publications in one place, so we estimate what our publication rate is for the agency, but this will actually be able to tell us what it is,” NASA Deputy Chief Scientist Gale Allen told Samantha Ehlinger at FedScoop. “And we’ll be able to show even further what we’re doing with taxpayer dollars.”


Birds Sing to Their Eggs, and This Song Might Help Their Babies Survive Climate Change

Embryonic learning—things birds pick up from their parents while still in the egg—may play a bigger role than imagined.

Birds feeling the heat from warming weather may be able give their offspring an early weather advisory right through the eggshell—which could in turn help baby birds prepare for the forecast.

A new study shows that the songs zebra finches sing to their eggs late in development may give the young a head start in dealing with warm weather once they hatch.

Researchers have long known that birds like chickens or quails, which hatch fully capable of fending for themselves, can hear through their eggs—allowing them to imprint things like who their mother is. But or around 50 years, nobody believed anything happened inside the egg with birds that hatch dependent on their parents.

A new study published today in Science upends that wisdom, showing that certain zebra finch calls can change their young’s growth and behavior in adulthood.
“This acoustic signal is potentially being used to program the development of offspring,” says Kate Buchanan, an associate professor of animal ecology at Deakin University in Australia and the senior author of the new paper. “Hearing the call affects your rate of growth relative to the temperature that you experience.

“Animals have very subtle ways of inferring how the environment is likely to change, and (being able) to develop and adapt accordingly,” she added. “We’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we recognize so far… It is quite paradigm-shifting.”

While researchers are just starting to understand this behavior, the implications may provide a rare instance of good news in terms of the ways animals can subtly adapt to a changing climate, she says.

Zebra finches live in the harsh, dry scrub environment of the Australian Outback. The females do most of the incubation, and the birds often mate for life, Buchanan says. The males are brightly colored, and the zebra finches are notorious songsters, a trait that makes them popular with pet owners and researchers, who have studied the pear-sized birds’ speech patterns ad nauseam.

But despite so much attention, post-doctoral researcher at Deakin and lead author Mylene Mariette managed to find a new sound that nobody else had noticed before—probably due to the fact that it only pops up during the last few days of egg incubation when the conditions are right. Mariette had heard of incubation calling from previous research and believed what she was hearing might be related. Under Buchanan’s supervision, she set about creating an experiment to test her theory.

Since researchers still aren’t sure whether the male or female does the incubation call, they recorded the sounds of 61 male and 61 female zebra finches nesting in outdoor bird cages under natural temperatures. Strangely, the birds only seemed to make this special noise when the temperature climbed above 78 F.

Researchers then took finch eggs into an incubation chamber at a constant temperature (they replaced the ones in the nest with false eggs) and played back different sounds to two different groups of eggs during the last three to five days of incubation. Once the birds hatched, they placed them back in the outdoor finch nests, and found that their growth and development differed based on whether or not they had heard the sounds while still in the egg.

When the temperature in the nest after hatching was higher, nestlings exposed to the incubation calls while in the egg tended to be smaller on average than hatchlings exposed to normal socialization sounds. Warmer temperatures have been correlated with smaller birds in many other species; being smaller may give them an advantage, because body size impacts thermoregulation and can reduce damage to the bird’s molecules.

That isn’t all. Buchanan says that the birds who heard the incubation call continued to show effects even into adulthood, choosing nests that were hotter on average than the zebra finches that didn’t hear the special call. “Hearing that call before you even hatch affects your development, affects your growth rate, probably affects your vocalization and it affects your behavior and choice 100 or 200 days later when you go to nest yourself,” she says.

Mark Hauber, a professor of animal behavior at the City University of New York, says that the paper is shocking, with major implications on how we understand early embryonic development and auditory learning in birds. “It’s so novel. It’s going to open up a brand new field of research,” he says.

Hauber contributed to some of the only other research on incubation calling, in which the authors found that fairy wrens train their chicks to make certain sounds when born so the parents can distinguish them from cuckoos, a parasitic bird that lays eggs in other birds’ nests before skipping out on the childcare struggle. Cuckoos don’t have the brain mechanism to learn to identify a song, so fairy wrens use incubation calling as a strategy to avoid raising the parasitic cuckoos.

“What was important about some of the more recent work is it showed that much of this learning already takes place inside the egg,” Hauber says.

Buchanan says that there are wide implications for the new research that go beyond zebra finches in terms of what kinds of information parents can pass onto their offspring in the embryonic stage. “It makes me wonder what signal babies are picking up before they are born, whether they are hearing their parents arguing or loud noises,” she says.

In terms of zebra finches, she notes that the birds breed opportunistically with regards to their unpredictable environment, laying eggs when conditions are right and possibly using this incubation call as a way to acclimatize to the shifting weather. She says that while the recent study shows how zebra finches may be able to cope with the changing climate, the birds wouldn’t be able to cope with more extreme and sustained temperature increases.

Hauber says that more investigation is needed to understand how they might be able to adapt to climate change, but he finds the research that Buchanan and Mariette made is intriguing. “What it tells us is that a species that we’ve used as a model is still full of surprises,” he says.


41 million Americans could be putting themselves at risk for permanent eye damage – and it’s largely preventable

When people ask me why I don’t wear contacts, I typically come up with some excuse to avoid admitting the truth: that sticking a plastic device directly on the fragile mucous membrane surrounding my cornea terrifies me.

But it does, and it’s the reason I’ve always felt A-OK just wearing glasses.

contact lens, eye

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes me feel a little justified in my fear of contacts, despite the fact that they’re largely safe and effective – at least when worn correctly.

The report builds on previous findings from 2014, when the CDC found that more than 99% of the contact lens wearers they surveyed reported at least one behavior that put them at risk for an eye infection. Forty-one millions Americans don’t share my fear, opting to use contacts on the regular.

According to the new study, which looked at 1,075 reported infections related to wearing contacts, many of these infections can lead to long-lasting damage. On the bright side, they’re typically preventable.

Here were their main findings:

About 1 in 5 reports included someone who’d had a scarred cornea, needed a corneal transplant, or had reduced vision.

Roughly 20% of the reported infections included someone who’d had severe problems with their cornea, the eye’s clear front dome. The corneaplays a key role in clear vision and has a remarkable capacity to recover from most minor nicks. But an infection – like the ones described in the CDC’s report – can damage the cornea’s deeper layers, making it tough to completely heal.

In some cases, corneal damage can also cause scarring, which can distort your vision. When the scarring is severe, you may need a corneal transplant, which involves swapping part of your cornea with tissue from a donor.

More than 1 in 4 reports mentioned contact lens habits that are known to increase the chance of getting an infection.

While these problems sound severe, most of them are potentially preventable. For example, the report found that many users reported sleeping in their contact lenses when not prescribed and wearing lenses for longer than the prescribed period.

“Contact lens wearers can reduce their risk for contact lens-related infections by improving their hygiene behaviors, such as not sleeping in contact lenses unless prescribed and replacing their contact lenses as prescribed,” the report states.

So next time you get up to put on your contacts, remember – you’re putting in a medical device, and you should handle it with care.

Here are some simple tips for good contact lens hygiene:

1. Wash your hands before handling your lenses.

2. Completely replace yesterday’s contact solution.

3. Wear your contacts for only as long as they’re prescribed.

4. Rinse your lens case with contact solution and wipe it out with a clean towel after every use.

The Six Stages of the Healing Process

The Six Stages of the Healing Process

“Part of the healing process is sharing with other people who care.” ~ Jerry Cantrell

In times of difficulties, when our vulnerabilities and anxieties start to surface, there is a tendency for us to become fixed – unable to move forward into a better existence. This is understandable for life, even with its richness and joy can still hold us back in suffering. But this restriction, this negative constraint can be overcome. We can create a clearing that recognizes and acknowledges our inner potential for change. We can breakthrough to a new, more invigorating life, if we follow a healing path.

If you feel trapped, hindered, unable to move forward into a better life, you can cast off all that holds you back by affirming your intentions to choose a new path. You can let go of all that restricts you and step into a new and more fulfilling life.

1. Awakening

Our healing journey into a new existence begins with awareness. The pain that surfaces in our lives needs to be recognized and given full attention before we can even begin to think about transforming it. But this is not so simple and obvious as it first appears. We may very well find ourselves ignoring, denying or even repressing our hurt. Full recognition and acknowledgement of ‘ what is, ‘ our current plight of suffering, can help release us, perhaps for the first time, from the tyranny of evasion and led us into the mindfulness of its reality.

2. Listening

When we first experience pain, of any description, we must try to avoid the knee-jerk reactions that push it away, out of view and unattended. If we do this, we run the risk of letting it grow. The pain is in our life for a reason so we must be patient and try to listen to what it is saying. Take note of its presence and try to understand why it has visited us and what it is trying to articulate. Opening up in this way is an important part of the healing process that cannot be rushed, or pushed too quickly in order to secure premature responses. Time and patience are needed if we are to do full justice to what can be, in reality, ambiguous and conflicting expressions.

3. Responding

Once we have a clearer picture of what is troubling us, the difficulties that we are undergoing, we can start to formulate ways of responding to them. At this stage we may very well decide to seek wise counsel in order to talk things over. From this dialogue a way forward could emerge, an appropriate route to follow that could help us move away from our suffering. We may decide to reflect more deeply on the issue ourselves so as to bring clarity and insight into the process. We may also decide to engage with meditationand prayer as spiritual practices that will allow fresh vision to emerge. But whatever methodology we choose to pursue, one imperative remains in place – the need for action.

4. Resistance

Our initial response for dealing with our hurt, whether of a physical, emotional or spiritual nature, will certainly meet with some degree of resistance at some stage. This is very much a part of the healing journey so it should not play too heavily on our minds. Our quest after all, is one of progress not perfection. Becoming too anxious over ‘ results ‘ can impede our growth, our reclamation of health, and contribute to a diminishment of our efforts. A full spiritual maturity welcomes and accepts any gift that we may be given, or not given, through our healing work.

5. Breakthrough

If we fully give of ourselves, in faith that we will be healed, then we can do no more – we have arrived at the threshold of breakthrough. There is no going back now, all we can do is wait patiently in mystery and acceptance to see what unfolds. This can be a challenging time, where our anxiety and fear, doubt and confusion can surface to create much trouble. But we must remain firm and strong in our belief of metanoia – transformation.

6. Synthesis

Once we enter into new ways of being in the world – which are the fruits of the healing process – we must avoid the trap of complacency that allows us to slip back. Our new presence needs to be nourished and nurtured constantly, until it becomes so much a part of us. Our familiar companions of despair and anxiety, hurt and pain will gradually, in time, diminish and fall way from our journey allowing us to go forward into a better, brighter future of which we are all deserving.

 Conclusion: Our new, healed life

We must be committed to working with the healing process, moulding its very powers to respond to our needs but also allowing it to shape us in an interactive process of creative development. Because healing involves us in a positive, integrative quest that embraces our growth and nourishment, we really have little choice but to ‘ let go ‘ and trust in its transformative process.

As in life generally, the more we give the more we will receive and the healing journey is no different. From this knowledge we can draw so much strength and inspiration for our quest, knowing that whatever heart-felt commitment we show to our recovery it will be met with a corresponding response.

“Each moment we enter our pain with a merciful awareness is a moment of healing. Each moment we touch suffering with love we are healed.” ~ Stephen Levine

Overweight, obesity increase risk for early death

In nearly all regions of the world, both overweight and obesity are associated with higher all-cause mortality in otherwise healthy, nonsmoking adults, with greater risk observed in men vs. women, according to new findings from a collaborative study.

“On average, overweight people lose about 1 year of life expectancy, and moderately obese people lose about 3 years of life expectancy,” Emanuele DiAngelantonio, MD, PhD, lecturer in the cardiovascular epidemiology unit at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, said in a press release. “We also found that men who were obese were at much higher risk for premature death than obese women. This is consistent with previous observations that obese men have greater insulin resistance, liver fat levels and diabetes risk than women.”

Di Angelantonio, a member of the Global BMI Mortality Collaboration that wrote the study, and colleagues analyzed data from 3,951,455 nonsmoking adultswithout specific chronic diseases at baseline who survived 5 years (189 studies). Within the cohort, 385,879 died.

Researchers found that mortality was lowest in the BMI range of 20 kg/m² to less than 25 kg/m² (HR = 1) and gradually increased in overweight and obese ranges above that. The HR in the BMI range of 25 kg/m² to 27.5 kg/m² was 1.07 (95% CI, 1.07-1.08), increasing to 1.2 in the BMI range of 27.5 kg/m² to 30 kg/m² (95% CI, 1.18-1.22), 1.45 in the BMI range of 30 kg/m² to 35 kg/m² (95% CI, 1.41-1.48), 1.94 for the BMI range of 35 kg/m² to 40 kg/m² (95% CI, 1.87-2.01) and 2.76 for the BMI range of 40 kg/m² to 60 kg/m² (95% CI, 2.6-2.92).

For BMI more than 25 kg/m², mortality increased approximately log-linearly with BMI, according to researchers, with an HR of 1.39 per 5 kg/m² units higher BMI (95% CI, 1.34-1.43) in Europe, 1.29 (95% CI, 1.26-1.32) in North America, 1.39 (95% CI, 1.34-1.44) in East Asia and 1.31 (95% CI, 1.27-1.35) in Australia and New Zealand.

The HR decreased with age from 1.52 for age 35 to 49 years at baseline to 1.21 for age 70 to 89 years at baseline (P < .0001 for trend). The HR was also higher for men (HR = 1.51, 95% CI, 1.46-1.56) vs. women (HR = 1.3, 95% CI, 1.26-1.33).

For each major cause of death, researchers found that BMI was nonlinearly associated with morality in each major region studied; more than 25 kg/m², BMI was related to coronary heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease mortality.

Researchers also estimated the population-attributable fraction for mortality due to overweight and obesity. Assuming the associations between high BMI and mortality are largely causal, if those with overweight or obesity had WHO-defined normal levels of BMI, the proportion of premature deaths that would be avoided would be about one in seven in Europe and one in five in North America, the researchers said.

“Obesity is second only to smoking as a cause of premature death in Europe and North America,” Richard Peto, FRS,professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, said in a press release.

The researchers also noted that BMI does not assess fat distribution in different parts of the body, muscle mass or obesity-related metabolic factors, such as blood glucose or cholesterol. – by Regina Schaffer

HbA1c increasing among adults with obesity

Adults with obesity have experienced a steady increase in mean HbA1c during the past 3 decades, which indicates a rising risk for type 2 diabetes, despite an overall reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, according to an analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data.

“The adverse impact of obesity on blood sugar status appears to develop over a longer period of time, and the population is still experiencing progressive worsening of glycemic status,” Fangjian Guo, MD, PhD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas in Galveston, said in a press release. “If blood sugar goes high too often, it can overwork the body’s ability to keep blood sugar in healthy ranges, increasing the risk for developing diabetes complications.”

Fangjian Guo

Fangjian Guo

Guo and W. Timothy Garvey, MD, professor of medicine and chair of the department of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, analyzed data from 18,626 adults with obesity (BMI at least 30 kg/m²) participating in NHANES III and NHANES 1999-2014. Researchers measured BP, blood glucose and lipid profiles, and used data to determine secular trends in the prevalence of cardiovascular disease risk factors and CV health status in the United States during the past 3 decades.

Within the cohort, mean systolic BP decreased from 126.1 mm Hg in 1988-1992 to 124.4 mm Hg in 2011-2014 (P < .001 for trend); diastolic BP also decreased, from a mean of 76.6 mm Hg to 72.5 mm Hg from 1988 to 2014. The reductions were observed across age and racial and ethnic groups and in both sexes.

Timothy Garvey

W. Timothy Garvey

Mean total cholesterol also decreased among all subgroups from a mean of 214.5 mg/dL in 1988-1992 to 193.7 mg/dL in 2011-2014, for a mean decrease of 20.8 mg/dL (P < .001); mean HDL increased from 45.4 mg/dL to 47.4 mg/dL between 1988 and 2014 (P < .001).

Mean HbA1c increased from 5.7% in 1988-1992 to 5.9% in 2011-2014 (P < .001 for trend). Researchers observed increases across all age, sex and racial groups except among black adults. The researchers noted that an increase in the prevalence of self-reported diabetes contributed to declining glycemic health; diabetes prevalence increased from 11.3% to 19% from 1988 to 2014 across all subgroups except among young adults.

The number of adults with obesity who had all three CVD risk factors increased by 37% across all subgroups during the study period, from 16.4% to 22.4%.

“The increase occurred in parallel with a decline in the prevalence of healthy blood glucose, which is the predominant explanation accounting for the rise in the prevalence of presence of all three risk factors,” the researchers wrote.

The prevalence of adults free from all three risk factors remained stable at about 15% during the study period, with adults aged 20 to 39 years most likely to fall into this category. Very few adults with obesity met the criteria for ideal CV health; prevalence remained stable at about 2% during the study period, according to researchers.

“Diabetes places patients at very high risk for heart attack and coronary death,” Garvey said in the release. “Obese adults at high risk for diabetes and heart disease may require more intense approaches to control blood sugar and achieve weight loss, such as healthy meal plans and physical activity.” – by Regina Schaffer

Underweight predicts hospital complications

Compared with patients with increasing BMI, underweight patients, regardless of glycemic status, experienced higher rates of hospital complications, including pneumonia, acute myocardial infarction, respiratory failure, acute kidney injury, bacteremia and death.

Guillermo E. Umpierrez, MD, professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, metabolism at Emory University School of Medicine, and chief of diabetes and endocrinology at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, and colleagues evaluated data from 29,623 patients admitted to Emory University Hospital and Emory Midtown Hospital from 2012 to 2013 to investigate the effect of weight on complications and mortality in hospitalized patients withhyperglycemia and diabetes.

Participants were divided into groups based on BMI: underweight (4.2%; BMI < 18.5 kg/m2), normal weight (29.6%; BMI, 18.5-24.9 kg/m2), overweight (30.2%; BMI, 25-29.9 kg/m2), obesity grade 1 (19.1%; BMI, 30-34.9 kg/m2), obesity grade 2 (9.2%; BMI, 35-39.9 kg/m2) and obesity grade 3 (7.7%; BMI > 40 kg/m2). Twenty-seven percent of participants had diabetes; 25% of participants without diabetes were hyperglycemic, and 75% were normoglycemic during the hospital stay.

Higher rates of hospital complications were found among participants with hyperglycemia with or without diabetes compared with normoglycemic participants without diabetes. In underweight participants in all glycemic groups, a J-shaped curve was observed with higher rates of hospital complications and mortality in an unadjusted analysis. There was an independent link between underweight and composite complications among all participants after adjustment for patient demographics and clinical characteristics. Participants without diabetes but with hyperglycemia had significantly increased complications when they were underweight compared with normal weight (adjusted OR = 1.66; 95% CI, 1.15-2.38).

“We found that underweight represents an independent predictor for hospital complications; however, there was no evidence of an obesity paradox in hospitalized patients with hyperglycemia and diabetes,” the researchers wrote. “We also found no association between increasing BMI and morality regardless of glycemic status.” – by Amber Cox

Slurpee by drone? 7-Eleven delivers junk food via autonomous flying robot

The demonstration is about much more than flying Slurpees. 7-Eleven partnered with Flirtey to complete the first FAA-approved autonomous drone delivery from a store to a customer’s home.


The US lags behind other countries when it comes to adopting commercial drones, but even as regulators remain cautious, robotic delivery services are simply inevitable. Now, a new milestone has been achieved that takes advantage of two American specialties: junk food and laziness. 7-Eleven partnered with Flirtey and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) to accomplish the first fully autonomous drone delivery from a store to a customer’s home.

 A drone flew approximately one mile to deliver a coffee, donuts, candy, a chicken sandwich, and — wait for it — a Slurpee to a customer’s home via an autonomous flying robot. “Flirtey drones can of course travel much longer ranges, but this delivery was focused on completing the first fully autonomous drone delivery from a store to a customer’s home,” Flirtey’s CEO Matt Sweeny tells ZDNet.

A drone flew approximately one mile to deliver a coffee, donuts, candy, a chicken sandwich, and — wait for it — a Slurpee to a customer’s home via an autonomous flying robot. “Flirtey drones can of course travel much longer ranges, but this delivery was focused on completing the first fully autonomous drone delivery from a store to a customer’s home,” Flirtey’s CEO Matt Sweeny tells ZDNet.

This event is the latest in a string of historic drone deliveries (i.e., savvy marketing moves) by Flirtey. The start-up has also recently conducted the first ship-to-shore drone delivery and demonstrated the first FAA-approved autonomous drone delivery to an urban area in the US.

Compared to Flirtey’s last demonstration — which included bottled water, emergency food, and a first aid kit — convenience store snacks seem a bit frivolous. But it’s easy to imagine just about any drone delivery service quickly becoming popular with busy American customers. The Reno resident who received the delivery said:

My wife and I both work and have three small children ages 7, 6 and 1. The convenience of having access to instant, 24/7 drone delivery is priceless. It’s amazing that a flying robot just delivered us food and drinks in a matter of minutes.

Ultimately, the demonstration was about much more than flying Slurpees. “This delivery required special flight planning, risk analysis, and detailed flight procedures ensuring residential safety and privacy were equally integrated,” said Chris Walach, director of operations for (NIAS), in a statement. The UAV used precision GPS to autonomously navigate to the customer’s home, where it hovered over the backyard and lowered each package.

Sweeney tells us:

This was the first step in a partnership between Flirtey and 7-Eleven to provide drone delivery to nearby customers, and expand drone delivery nationwide going forward. 7-Eleven is largest chain in the convenience retailing industry with more than 10,700 stores in North America (compared to Amazon, which has fewer than 100 distribution centers nationwide), which enables Flirtey to expand drone delivery to homes all across the country.

Still, let’s not get too excited. Although it was technically an autonomous delivery, the drone only flew one mile, and in accordance with FAA regulations, it remained within the operator’s line of sight. Just like Amazon and other eager companies, 7-Eleven and Flirtey will have to wait for looser regulations before drone delivery services become practical.

How many robots does it take to run your data center?

Organizations are finding new ways to automate their IT infrastructure.


Data centers have gone though a number of transformations over the years, including a shift away from large mainframe computers, the adoption of server and storage virtualization, the deployment of “green IT” initiatives to reduce power consumption, and the emergence of“software-defined” technology that’s underway.

Yet another evolving development in IT infrastructures is the potentially growing role of robotics in data center automation.

“The amazing thing about robotics is how it will actually help shape and shift the next-generation data center,” said Bill Kleyman, vice president of strategy and innovation at IT consulting and services provider MTM Technologies, and regular contributor to the Data Center Knowledge blog.

“For example, given that there is a structured and fully functional operational flow setup, almost every aspect of data center management can be controlled and calculated,” Kleyman said.

Currently, if a server component breaks, an administrator might swap out that piece of hardware in a matter of minutes. With a robot, every little detail and function is calculated and predictable. “There is no guessing; everything can be forecast and controlled,” Kleyman said.

Already, companies such as IBM and EMC are using iRobot Create, a customizable version of Roomba, to build robots that patrol data centers and keep track of environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, airflow and asset management.

The biggest business driver to deploying robotics in the data center is the need for greater levels of efficiency. Companies are always looking for ways to make their IT infrastructures more agile and less costly, and robotics is seen as a way to add more automation to achieve those goals.

In addition, these technologies can actually help reduce the overall data center footprint and help reduce infrastructure complexity.

“Organizations are working hard to increase densities without having to acquire more gear,” Kleyman said. “A great way to accomplish this is via a [controlled] data center delivery architecture–robotics.

There is potential for long-term return on investment (ROI) with data center robotics. Although the design and implementation can be costly upfront, the long-range benefits can make it worthwhile. Administrators will be able to align software and hardware automation platforms directly with the robotics infrastructure.”

With less downtime, more workloads, and easier management, cost savings can be realized within a well-designed data center infrastructure,” Kleyman said.

The use of robotics in the data center does come with a number of risks, however. “There are almost as many challenges as there are benefits to this type of architecture,” Kleyman noted. For one thing, it’s a fairly revolutionary concept, so there’s a learning curve and risk of the unknown involved.

For another, organizations would have to do some serious data center modification to allow the full-scale capacity of robotics to take effect. Modern rack and server equipment isn’t entirely set up to be controlled by machines.

“We would have to rework wiring and networking to ensure these robots could do their roles effectively,” Kleyman said. There will be an upfront cost and investment. “This is why it would be absolutely critical to deploy robotics in the right kinds of use-cases where the ROI makes sense,” he said.

But the hurdles haven’t stopped big data center builders and providers from exploring robotics, Kleyman said. IBM, Google, Facebook and several others are approaching robotics makers to see where these new technologies can actually fit in, he said.

Expect conversations about robotics in the data center to heat up as more organizations look for ways to increase greater efficiency.

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