Multi-hazard warning system tested

Flash flood
The system was used to forecast flash floods in California

An early warning system for earthquakes, tsunamis and floods is being trialled in the US.

Scientists are using GPS technology and other sensors to detect the impending threat of natural disasters.

The network is installed in Southern California and has already helped scientists to alert emergency services to the risk of flash floods.

Yehuda Bock from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography said: “This can help to mitigate threats to public safety.”

And added: “It means real-time information can be made available.”

Ground motion

The minutes and even seconds before a natural disaster strikes are crucial.

Early warning systems can help emergency services to prepare and respond more effectively and can provide vital information for the public.

“Start Quote

We can measure displacements that occur during an earthquake”

Dr Yehuda Bock Scripps Institute of Oceanography

In California, researchers have been testing a prototype network for a range of hazards.

The system builds on existing networks of GPS stations, which use satellite technology to make very precise measurements of any ground movement.

On these, they have installed seismic sensors and other instruments that can track changes in weather conditions.

Dr Bock said: “By combining the data from the GPS with the data from these other sensors, we can measure displacements that occur during an earthquake or another event.”

He added that the system could detect the tremors that appear seconds before a large earthquake strikes, and accurately assess its magnitude and whether it is likely to generate a tsunami.

The GPS sensors and the meteorological instruments also help the team to monitor the water vapour in the air.

Dr Angelyn Moore, from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “It might be surprising that we are using GPS to monitor weather hazards, but GPS is a weather instrument.

“Fundamentally, a GPS station is measuring the time it takes a signal to travel from the GPS satellites to the receiving stations on the ground, and that travel time is modified by the amount of moisture in the air.

“Whenever we measure the position of a GPS station, we are also measuring the amount of water vapour above it.”

Through this, the team is able to track in real time how air moisture is changing and whether heavy rain is likely.

GPS Station
GPS stations like this one are fitted with small seismic and meteorological sensors

In the summer, the researchers used the system to forecast rainfall in San Diego.

Traditionally, some of this data comes from weather balloons.

“But there are only two sites at the southern border of California and these are about 150 miles apart. And the weather balloon launches are also infrequent: in San Diego it’s only every 12 hours,” said Dr Moore.

“In between those many hours between the weather balloon launches, we were able to use the GPS to monitor how the water vapour was changing.”

With this real-time information, the team was able to issue flash flood alerts.

Dr Moore added: “This was verified – there were quite a few reports of flooding.”

The sensing technology is being combined with communication advances to make sure the information is widely distributed, fast.

Dr Mark Jackson, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s National Weather Service, said: “When a forecaster presses that button to issue that warning, it then goes to the police or fire person that’s responsible for taking action to protect life and property almost instantaneously.

“We also have the public who now on their smartphones can receive warnings directly that say there is a warning in effect for your area.”

The team said the technology was inexpensive, and systems like it could be rolled out around the world.

The findings were presented at the recent American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

Iran develops sea rescue drone

Iranian engineers have tested a drone designed to rescue people at risk of drowning.

The Pars robot has eight propellers and can carry up to three life rings which it can drop within arms-length of potential victims.

The project’s engineers said they were able to reach targets more quickly than a lifeguard in tests carried out near the shore of the Caspian Sea.

But they said more time and funds would be needed to carry out real rescues.

The early-stage experiments were carried out in August, but the details were only recently reported outside Iran by the news site.

In them the robot raced against a human lifeguard to reach a person pretending to struggle 75m (247ft) out to sea.

At its fastest, the drone was able to release a life ring to the target within 22 seconds of launch, beating the lifeguard who took about 90 seconds to reach him.

“We carried out 13 tests over a four-day period – some were done at day and a few at night using LED lights,” Amin Rigi, co-founder of Tehran-based RTS Lab told the BBC.

Pars robot
Mr Rigi says he hopes his team’s invention will one day be used to save lives

“We had a little bit of difficulty throwing the life tubes at first, but over the following days the operator got better and became very precise.

“We think that [one day] the drone could be used for rescues at coastlines, for offshore missions from floating marine platforms, and also to carry out rescues when floods occur.”

Mr Rigi said the current prototype can move at 36km/h (22mph), stay airborne for up to 10 minutes, and use GPS location technology to return to base.

For now it requires a human to direct it via a remote control throughout the rest of its flight. However, Mr Rigi said his team aimed to automate more of the process.

“We plan to add image processing for the part of the rescue mission after the drowning person has come into the sight of the robot,” he said.

“From that point it should have the ability to do the rest of mission by itself.”

He added that there are also plans to give the robot the ability to land on water in emergency situations, and for it to use an infrared sensor system to spot people in the dark.

Storm warning

News of the research was welcomed by other roboticists.

“I’m delighted to see aerobot technology being applied to such humanitarian applications,” said Dave Barnes, professor of space and planetary robotics at Aberystwyth University.

“[Delivering] greater autonomy will be a challenge. However, I can envisage such devices using thermal cameras so that they can operate at night and under other similar poor visibility conditions that are a real challenge for human rescuers to deal with when trying to locate drowning victims.”

Yvan Petillot, professor of robotics and a member of Heriot-Watt University‘s Oceans Systems Laboratory, added that the machines might ultimately work best if paired with other artificial intelligence-controlled floating vehicles rather than trying to deliver the life rings themselves.

Graphic of Pars robots on offshore base
RTS envisages coastguards and others having Pars robots ready to deploy from offshore bases

“The current idea might work to monitor beaches in the summer, at least if they can increase the flight-time,” he said.

Pars robot

“But the key problem is that in stormy conditions the controllability of the vehicle is going to be a real issue.

“To me the interesting thing about this technology is the idea of mounting a camera on a flying vehicle, which allows you to explore a bigger area than from a surface craft.

“What you might want is to create a fleet including both kinds of vehicle, with them collaborating together.”

Mr Rigi acknowledged that making the Pars robot stable in harsh weather conditions posed a challenge.

But he added that his team was working to address the problem, and planned to test a more advanced version of the machine in either April or May.

Smart Glasses Could Help Blind People Navigate

A pair of “smart glasses” might help blind people navigate an unfamiliar environment by recognizing objects or translating signs into speech, scientists say.

The majority of registered blind people have some residual ability to perceive light and motion. But assistive technologies for the visually impaired have been limited.

Printed Photos The Blind Can ‘See’

The FDA gave approval to the Argus II, a bionic eye that could potentially cure blindness in 15,000 people.

Now, researchers from Oxford University in England are developing a set of sophisticated glasses that use cameras and software to detect objects and display them on the lenses of glasses. The team recently won an award from the Royal Society to continue this work. [Bionic Humans: Top 10 Technologies]

“This is the beginning of a golden age for computer vision,” study researcher Stephen Hicks said in a statement. “The Royal Society’s Brian Mercer Innovation award will allow us to incorporate this research into our glasses to help sight-impaired people deal with everyday situations much more easily.”

Here’s how the smart glasses work: Two small cameras mounted on the corners of the glasses capture two different pictures, just as human eyes do. The spectacles display information from the cameras on transparent LED displays on the lenses, so the wearer can see an enhanced image as well as use their remaining sight. Comparing the distance between the cameras reveals how far the object is from the wearer.

A set of headphones takes text and translates it into speech to provide directions or read signs aloud.

Stem Cell Treatment Cures Blindness

The glasses are also equipped with a compass, a GPS and a gyroscope, a tool that measures the orientation of the glasses.

In the United Kingdom, where the research is taking place, more than 2 million people have impaired vision, and more than 300,000 are registered as blind, due to diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

Moving forward, the researchers hope to develop software to provide a range of different functions that testers of the glasses say would be useful.

For example, the glasses could use levels of brightness to show depth. They could detect if a person is present based on his or her movement. In addition, the glasses might be able to read the locations or numbers of buses and provide GPS directions via the headphones.

Glasgow Prognostic Score as a useful prognostic factor after hepatectomy for hepatocellular carcinoma.



Several previous studies have revealed that the Glasgow Prognostic Score (GPS) is a clinically useful scoring system to predict the prognosis of patients with various kinds of advanced cancers. However, there have been few reports on the relationship between the GPS and prognosis after hepatectomy for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Therefore, we performed an analysis of the relationship between the GPS and prognosis after hepatectomy for HCC.


Between January 2005 and December 2009, 352 HCC patients underwent hepatectomy at Kumamoto University Hospital. Nineteen clinicopathologic factors were analyzed, using univariate and multivariate analyses.


Univariate analysis showed that significant risk factors for poor survival included serum albumin level (<3.5 g/dL), tumor size (>35 mm), presence of ascites, portal vein invasion, operation time (>400 min), blood loss (>360 mL), requirement for blood transfusion, and GPS. Multivariate analysis revealed that tumor size [hazard ratio (HR) 3.355; p = 0.003], operation time (HR 2.634; p = 0.006), portal vein invasion (HR 2.419; p = 0.009), and GPS (HR 3.796; p < 0.001) were independent factors for poor prognosis.


The GPS was demonstrated to be a statistically significant prognostic factor after hepatectomy for HCC.

Source: International Journal of Clinical Oncology

Cheetah tracking study reveals incredible acceleration.

The fastest animal on land rarely uses its top speed to capture prey, according to a new analysis.

A study of cheetahs has shown that instead, the animal uses incredible acceleration and rapid changes in speed when hunting.


The animals get this acceleration by exerting nearly five times more power than that of famed sprinter Usain Bolt during his record-breaking 100m run.

The results are published in the journal Nature.

The findings amazed the scientist who led the research, Prof Alan Wilson of the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, UK.

“They are remarkable athletes – not just in terms of their speed, but also with their ability to accelerate and manoeuvre in capturing the prey,” he told BBC News.

The top speed for a cheetah is often quoted is 65mph (105km/h) – a result measured in 1965 and published in the Journal of Zoologythree decades later by a scientist in Kenya. He was timing the run of a semi-domesticated cheetah running in a straight line on a firm dirt track.

But a well-fed zoo cheetah is not accustomed to running very fast – it does not need to. As a result, few measurements of zoo cheetahs found speeds greater than that of a greyhound, about 40mph (64km/h).

So for years, researchers wondered whether cheetahs might run much faster than 65mph in the wild in order to capture prey.

Rapid acceleration

Prof Wilson and his team at the college’s Structure and Motion Laboratory decided to find out by following five animals in the wild for a year using tracking collars fitted with movement detectors and GPS systems.

They found that the cheetahs did indeed run very fast at times – close to 60mph – but only occasionally. On most hunts they attained about 30 to 35 mph but they were accelerating and changing direction much more rapidly than has been seen in any other land animal.

For sprinters and predators, speed is not the only variable for success – acceleration counts

They found that cheetahs could increase their speed by nearly 7mph (10km/h) in a single stride.

“They’ve arranged to have a low gear so they can accelerate very rapidly up to their top speed,” said Prof Wilson.

Short bursts of speed can be quantified in power per kilogramme of the animal’s weight. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt exerted 25 W/kg during his record-breaking run in 2009.

A horse used in a polo match exerts slightly more power per kg, around 30 W/kg, and a greyhound’s is double that at 60 W/kg. But a cheetah can reach 120 W/kg.

The researchers also found that cheetahs also have a very strong grip, so much so that they rip up the ground as they run. They found it was the use of the animals’ claws that enabled them to turn very sharply and to accelerate and decelerate very quickly.

The measurements have only been made possible because of the collars that have been developed by Prof Wilson specifically for the experiment.

“It is very hard for GPS to work on an animal that is ducking and diving, so the collar is an innovation in its own right,” he said.

“We’ve been working on GPS for 12 years and the collars are the result of those labours. They are not your typical GPS tracking system that you get in the car or phone.

“The GPS is far more accurate we are getting positions and speeds five times a second. We combine those with readings from other instruments and we finish up with something that is very much more accurate both in terms of speed and position and very much more robust,” Prof Wilson explained.

The team are currently using the collars to track lions and African wild dogs to obtain comparative measurements.


�h0t���  � ily:”Arial”,”sans-serif”;color:#333333′>”We are in a different era; quite frankly the bees haven’t got the resistance and reserves that they once did because of various illnesses and viruses,” said Mr Davies, who himself lost around a quarter of his 25 colonies.


The weather also posed problems for newly emerged queen bees – “virgin queens”. The growth of colonies depends on these bees being able to mate properly so they can lay fertilised eggs. But the poor weather hampered these activities as well.

If the weather is changeable, a queen may not execute her mating flight properly, Tim Lovett from the British Beekeepers Association told BBC News.

“If she doesn’t get properly mated she can only lay drones, and if she is doing that, that’s the death knell for the hive.”

A colony that has only drones and no workers will not survive.

Another weather-related factor that has worked against the bees is what is called isolation starvation. Because of the cold, the bees cluster very closely together to maintain hive temperature and consume the stores of honey closest to them.

If the weather is so cold that they can’t actually move, the bees will starve – although there may be plenty of food sources nearby.

Beekeepers say that is very bad news for honey supplies in the coming months. Late last year, the British Beekeepers’ Association reported that the honey crop was down by over 70% compared to 2011. They do not have great hopes for a recovery this year.

“It’s disastrous for honey production,” said Mr Lovett. “There is a cumulative effect because you have got to replace those hives. That is something the beekeeper now has to do.

“This loss of bees was in effect far more dramatic than foot-and-mouth was on the national beef herd. It means a great deal of work ahead for beekeepers to get back to where they were.”

Source: BBC