News Article | May 15, 2017
If you're going to place a robot among fish to learn about water quality, what better form for it to take than a fish itself? This line of thinking has inspired a succession of robotic fishes from scientists wanting to keep disturbances to a minimum, the latest example being a bio-inspired autonomous vehicle designed specifically to track pH levels in aquaculture settings to help keep inhabitants fit and healthy. Keeping tabs on pH levels in fish farms, where around fifty percent of the world's seafood is raised according to Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (UPM), is important, because it offers an indication of the water's acidity and can influence other water quality factors. More acidic waters can cause stress and disease in fish, with one recent study even showing that it can throw their survival instincts out of whack and cause them to swim towards predators. Looking to provide a new tool for real-time and on-site monitoring of pH levels in these environments, robotics researchers from UPM teamed up with scientists from the University of Florence to build a fish-like underwater vehicle. The vehicle is designed to mimic a fish, and even adapt its motion in response to the water quality as a way of revealing areas with abnormal conditions. Measuring 30 cm long (12 in) not including the tail, the robot uses shape memory alloy actuators to bend a "backbone" made from 1 mm thick polycarbonate, all wrapped in a latex skin with ribs added for structural stability. When it comes to driving the robot through the water, this system takes its cues from a purpose-made sensor. Made from polyaniline film (an electrically conductive polymer) on a graphite electrode surface, this sensor monitors pH levels in the vicinity and turns those chemical messages into an electronic signal that then dictates the swimming patterns of the robot. The team carried out preliminary experiments where the pH sensor was used to control the fish's tail movement, and says that the results serve as a proof-of-concept for the bio-inspired robot as a tool for managing fish farms. "Thanks to this system that provides early information on environmental change, we can control the parameters of water quality and improve management decisions of fish farms, and consequently, the wellness of these animals," says UPM's Claudio Rossi. The team's research was published in the journal Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical.
News Article | May 4, 2017
A stunning new forecast projects that the internal combustion engine, along with the entire oil industry, are going to vanish from the face of the earth in little more than a decade. And it's all because of the robot revolution. By 2030, rapid technological improvements and dramatic cost efficiencies in self-driving electric vehicles (EV) will sweep away the energy and economics of oil-powered cars; and with it, global oil demand will plummet. This is the verdict of a new report, Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030: The Disruption of Transportation and the Collapse of the ICE Vehicle and Oil Industries, published in May from independent research group, RethinkX. Co-authored by venture investor James Arbib, founder of the philanthropic environmental foundation Tellus Mater, and serial entrepreneur Tony Seba, a lecturer in technology disruption and clean energy at Stanford University, the report takes aim at mainstream forecasts which project more modest adoption rates for electric cars. The impact of automation, it says, on both the automobile and oil industries will not just be profoundly disruptive: it will be fatal. Vast oil reserves will become stranded, and trillions of dollars in oil industry investments will become worthless, as a revolution in technology takes over. As a result, most people will gratefully ditch their own cars, participating instead in a breakthrough economy of electric vehicle fleets—shared cars that can be used when needed—which can be accessed far more cheaply and at someone's convenience. Carbon Tracker, a think-tank in London, projects that electric vehicles will account for some 35 percent of the road transport market by 2035. This is faster than most projections. BP's 2017 World Energy Outlook puts the figure at only 6 percent. But Arbib and Seba say those incremental forecasts are based on outdated methodologies that failed to anticipate the speed and scale of recent technological disruptions. Think mobile phones, microwave ovens or digital cameras. Mass adoption of such disruptive technologies followed an "S-curve"—they increased slowly at first, then accelerated, before rapidly approaching an exponential growth rate. "Uber, a company founded in 2008, now has more bookings in 2016 than the whole taxi industry in the entire United States. Now that's what you call disruption," report co-author Tony Seba told me. "And it happened in just 12 years. Disruptions do happen, and they're happening more and more quickly." Electric cars are already following the S-curve, he said. Seba's approach integrates analysis of how the technology is experiencing massive reduction in costs, while generating increasing returns, all the while pushing through new technological innovations at a rapid pace—trends which fundamentally transform whole markets. The model's results are astonishing. If US regulations catch up by 2021, Arbib and Seba predict that within just 10 years from then: "95% of all passenger miles will be served by transport-as-a-service (Taas) providers who will own and operate fleets of autonomous electric vehicles providing passengers with higher levels of service, faster rides and vastly increased safety at a cost up to 10 times cheaper than today's individually owned (IO) vehicles." This means we will share cars at the click of a button, at massively reduced costs, on safer smartly managed roads, and with potentially much less impact on the environment. Dr. Nathan Hagans, a former Vice President at Lehman Brothers who now teaches ecology at the University of Minnesota, told me that this scenario depended on fully self-driving cars being available within a clear regulatory framework, an event he said is "highly doubtful" based on actual announcements by car manufacturers. But the report points out that things are changing fast: California has already proposed rules to allow fully autonomous vehicles as early as this year, for instance. The authors said using these cars will simply get so cheap and convenient that it will no longer make economic sense to own and drive your own car. But if you're rural or suburban folks, you might hang on to your old ride until there's a critical mass. Hagens questions whether the report's scenario accounts for one common private transport modes—commutes. Lots of people "move from outside into the city, leave the car and return in the evening. There is no vehicle sharing model that supports this." Citing US government data, Arbib told me that this is not a problem for the model: "Only a small proportion of commutes are between rural and urban areas. And commutes generally are only 15% of daily trips." But are Americans really going to give up their own cars so easily? "We are attracted to the emotional efficiency of walking out our door, getting in our own car and going somewhere we choose, and choosing to stop somewhere in between," said Hagens. "The new model will be to wait, even if only for 5 minutes, for a self-driving car—the 'control', 'novelty', 'unexpected reward' aspects of driving will go away." Arbib and Seba have a simple reply to this. A century ago, they argue, the internal combustion engine led cars to disrupt horse transportation within little more than a decade. At the time, nobody thought it was possible because "we loved our horses." And we all know what happened then. "Countries that fail to lead or make a transition to TaaS will become the 21st century equivalents of horse-based countries trying to compete with economies whose transportation systems are based on cars, trucks, tractors and airplanes", concludes the RethinkX report. The biggest driver of the disruption, said Arbib, is the cost. "The cost will be so radically lower that it could still incentivise rural users who are on average poorer; and it will be relatively easy to plan and book long trips in advance." Not only would the new vehicles be cheaper, but the old, oil-fueled ones will be too expensive to maintain. "Once we hit around 55 to 70 percent adoption, it becomes more difficult to operate old vehicles. That sort of mass adoption creates a tipping point which could make even our 95% prediction conservative." Even if rural areas hang back, the urban impact will be so huge that the market for new cars will shrink: in short, incumbent transport businesses will collapse unless they find a way to reinvent themselves either as hardware manufacturers or transport providers themselves. As individual car ownership drops, the number of cars on the road will fall by as much as 80 percent. And as most cars are not used most of the time, just 26 million TaaS vehicles would be sufficient to meet all US demand in 2030. If Arbib and Seba are right, the oil industry is about to face an unprecedented existential crisis. Global oil demand, they predict, will drop from 100 million barrels per day in 2020, to around 70 million barrels per day in 2030. The price of oil will drop to around $25 per barrel, and could collapse even earlier, by around 2021. Not only will high-cost oil fields be completely stranded, but big pipeline projects like Keystone XL and Dakota Access would be dead in the water. Oil exporting heavy-hitters like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria and Russia will (and have started to) face growing political instability as their primary source of revenue evaporates. These countries could become embroiled in "growing debt, cuts in social welfare expenditures and increasing poverty and inequality." While this would pose short-term geopolitical risks to the US, the stakes would be less high due to the decreased demand for oil from these regions. Read More: We Need to Accept That Oil Is a Dying Industry But there could be other challenges. Hagens warned that there would be a large upscaling of industry to sustain the shift to self-driving electric vehicle. Supply bottlenecks for key raw materials and minerals like lithium and cobalt were possible. Arbib wasn't deterred. He conceded that vehicle lifetime under the new model would be much shorter, but said: "There wouldn't be huge production volumes partly because there will be overall a lot less vehicles; more miles, yes, but radically less vehicles." Which means less material resources. According to Professor Ugo Bardi of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Florence, Hagens' concerns about resources are valid: the report's suggestions are viable, but not easy. "They seem to neglect the need of upgrading the grid and the whole energy infrastructure in order to provide more renewable electric power," said Bardi, whose own research has found that investments in new renewables are still too low and slow to stop climate change. Without those investments, "we won't have enough energy to power all the needs we have – including transportation." And at worst, the need to sustain TaaS might create a short-term push for more coal plants, "which would spell disaster in many ways." Seba argued that even without substantial investment, the existing US electricity infrastructure would be able to handle the extra load, with most charging done at night: "Also, the companies driving this are already building their own infrastructure for charging, and they are even starting to build their own solar and wind plants." While it's hard to imagine such a large, dramatic shift in the next decade, Bardi told me that the fundamentals of the RethinkX forecast are plausible: "They [the RethinkX authors] really nailed it...Whether all that can happen as fast as they say is another matter. But it might." And there seems little doubt that the US is on the brink of a major transport disruption. Only time will tell how fast and sustainably it scales. In the meantime, you might want to lovingly take your car for a spin just in case the robots take it away.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: CSA | Phase: SC1-HCO-02-2016 | Award Amount: 2.08M | Year: 2017
Molecular in vitro diagnostics and biomedical research have allowed great progress in personalised medicine but further progress is limited by insufficient guidelines for pre-analytical workflow steps (sample collection, preservation, storage, transport, processing etc.) as well as by insufficient quality assurance of diagnostic practice. This allows using compromised patients samples with post collection changes in cellular and extra-cellular biomolecules profiles thus often making diagnostic test results unreliable or even impossible. To tackle this, SPIDA4P aims to generate and implement a comprehensive portfolio of 22 pan-European pre-analytical CEN/Technical Specifications and ISO/International Standards, addressing the important pre-analytical workflows applied to personalized medicine. These will also applicable to biomarker discovery, development and validation as well as to biobanks. Corresponding External Quality Assurance (EQA) Schemes will be developed and implemented as well, aiming to survey the resulting quality of samples and diagnostic practice. SPIDIA4P will ensure stakeholder organisations involvements as well as training, education, and counselling as additional major foci of the project. The consortium will closely coordinate with large European public research consortia to obtain access to research and validation studies data serving as evidence for the new standards developments and achieved improvements of diagnosis, patient stratification and prognosis of disease outcome. At this crucial moment in the development of personalised medicine, SPIDIA4P proposes a coordination and support action that reunites 19 highly experienced partners in international standardisation for in vitro diagnostics, coming from private industry including SMEs, public institutions and from one official European Standards Organisation. This strong consortium is balanced and empowered to maximise the impacts of in vitro diagnostics on personalised medicine.
Lo Nostro P.,University of Florence
Chemical Reviews | Year: 2012
Hofmeister's work provided significant information about the importance of ion specificity in biology. Specific ion effects occurred in simple aqueous solutions of electrolytes involving properties such as viscosity, density, refractive index, heat capacity, activity coefficient, freezing point depression and boiling point elevation, and osmotic pressure. Hofmeister's work on the relative effectiveness of different salts on the precipitation of proteins and some other colloids was initiated in the 1870s. He demonstrated that salts and trace amounts of specific ions determined the structure and function of the hierarchically lower structures that supported life. They participated in the osmotic regulation of cells and in the main living processes and any biological system suffered a significant stress when specific salt concentrations were varied or one was replaced with another.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: IA | Phase: SCC-01-2015 | Award Amount: 29.25M | Year: 2016
The objective of REPLICATE is to demonstrate Smart City technologies in energy, transport and ICT in districts in San Sebastia, Florence and Bristol addressing urban complexity and generate replication plans in other districts and in follower cities of Essen, Nilufer and Lausanne. Main challenges for cities are to increase the overall energy efficiency, to exploit better local resources in terms of energy supply and demand side measures. For successful implementation of Smart City technologies two main elements are considered: - Cities are the customer: considering local specificities in integrated urban plans and the need to develop monitoring systems to extract conclusions for replication. - Solutions must be replicable, interoperable and scalable. REPLICATE considers also the complexity of cities, the tangible benefits for citizens, the financial mechanisms and the new business models. The 3 pillars implemented in the pilots with the engagement of citizens, private actors and authorities are: - Low energy districts: cost-effective retrofitting, new constructive techniques with optimal energy behaviour and high enthalpy RES in residential buildings. Include also efficient measures in public and residential buildings: ICT tools, PV, shading or natural ventilation; district heating is demonstrated hybridising local biomass, recovered heat and natural gas. - Integrated Infrastructure: deployment of ICT architecture, from internet of things to applications, to integrate the solutions in different areas. Smart Grids on electricity distribution network to address the new challenges, connecting all users: consumers, producers, aggregators and municipality. Intelligent lighting will allow automated regulation of the amount of light and integration of IP services via PLC. - Urban mobility: sustainable and smart urban bus service, electric urban bike transport, 3-wheeler delivery and transport services, deployment of EV charging infrastructures and ICT tools.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: RIA | Phase: LCE-33-2016 | Award Amount: 2.86M | Year: 2017
Despite process heat is recognized as the application with highest potential among solar heating and cooling applications, Solar Heat for Industrial Processes (SHIP) still presents a modest share of about 0.3% of total installed solar thermal capacity. As of todays technology development stage economic competitiveness restricted to low temperature applications; technology implementation requiring interference with existing heat production systems, heat distribution networks or even heat consuming processes - Solar thermal potential is mainly identified for new industrial capacity in outside Americas and Europe. In this context, INSHIP aims at the definition of a ECRIA engaging major European research institutes with recognized activities on SHIP, into an integrated structure that could successfully achieve the coordination objectives of: more effective and intense cooperation between EU research institutions; alignment of different SHIP related national research and funding programs, avoiding overlaps and duplications and identifying gaps; acceleration of knowledge transfer to the European industry, to be the reference organization to promote and coordinate the international cooperation in SHIP research from and to Europe, while developing coordinated R&D TRLs 2-5 activities with the ambition of progressing SHIP beyond the state-of-the-art through: an easier integration of low and medium temperature technologies suiting the operation, durability and reliability requirements of industrial end users; expanding the range of SHIP applications to the EI sector through the development of suitable process embedded solar concentrating technologies, overcoming the present barrier of applications only in the low and medium temperature ranges; increasing the synergies within industrial parks, through centralized heat distribution networks and exploiting the potential synergies of these networks with district heating and with the electricity grid.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: RIA | Phase: INFRADEV-04-2016 | Award Amount: 9.95M | Year: 2017
The EOSCpilot project will support the first phase in the development of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) as described in the EC Communication on European Cloud Initiatives . It will establish the governance framework for the EOSC and contribute to the development of European open science policy and best practice; It will develop a number of pilots that integrate services and infrastructures to demonstrate interoperability in a number of scientific domains; and It will engage with a broad range of stakeholders, crossing borders and communities, to build the trust and skills required for adoption of an open approach to scientific research . These actions will build on and leverage already available resources and capabilities from research infrastructure and e-infrastructure organisations to maximise their use across the research community. The EOSCpilot project will address some of the key reasons why European research is not yet fully tapping into the potential of data. In particular, it will: reduce fragmentation between data infrastructures by working across scientific and economic domains, countries and governance models, and improve interoperability between data infrastructures by demonstrating how data and resources can be shared even when they are large and complex and in varied formats, In this way, the EOSC pilot project will improve the ability to reuse data resources and provide an important step towards building a dependable open-data research environment where data from publicly funded research is always open and there are clear incentives and rewards for the sharing of data and resources.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: CSA | Phase: INFRASUPP-01-2016 | Award Amount: 2.00M | Year: 2017
RISCAPE will provide systematic, focused, high quality, comprehensive, consistent and peer-reviewed international landscape analysis report on the position and complementarities of the major European research infrastructures in the international research infrastructure landscape. To achieve this, RISCAPE will establish a close links with a stakeholder panel representing the main user groups of the report, including representatives from ESFRI, the OECD and Member state funding agencies to ensure usability and the focus of the Report. It will also benefit from close co-operation with other projects and initiatives in the European research infrastructures development to ensure consistency with the existing landscape work. Particularly, RISCAPE builds on the European Research Infrastructures (RIs) in the ESFRI landscape report (2016) and on the landscape analysis done or currently underway in the H2020 cluster projects. RISCAPE leverages the experts on the European RIs with extensive knowledge on the disciplines involved and RI development in Europe and the project benefits from the contacts and tools developed in the cluster- and international RI collaboration projects to maximize the discipline-specific usability of the results. A key factor in the RISCAPE analysis is that the complementarities will be analyzed in a way which is natural and suitable for the discipline and RI in question. The resulting Report and the used methods will be independently peer reviewed to maximize the usability and objectivity of the information provided for the EU strategic RI development and policy. The project answers directly to the European Commission strategy on EU international cooperation in research and innovation, particularly on the need to obtain objective information in order to help implement the (EC) strategic approach.
Sessoli R.,University of Florence
Angewandte Chemie - International Edition | Year: 2012
Fridge magnets: Molecular magnetism appears to be able to provide an alternative route for low-temperature refrigeration by providing molecules with large spin and weak magnetic anisotropy that display a large magnetocaloric effect. © 2012 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.
Pantoni L.,University of Florence
The Lancet Neurology | Year: 2010
The term cerebral small vessel disease refers to a group of pathological processes with various aetiologies that affect the small arteries, arterioles, venules, and capillaries of the brain. Age-related and hypertension-related small vessel diseases and cerebral amyloid angiopathy are the most common forms. The consequences of small vessel disease on the brain parenchyma are mainly lesions located in the subcortical structures such as lacunar infarcts, white matter lesions, large haemorrhages, and microbleeds. Because lacunar infarcts and white matter lesions are easily detected by neuroimaging, whereas small vessels are not, the term small vessel disease is frequently used to describe the parenchyma lesions rather than the underlying small vessel alterations. This classification, however, restricts the definition of small vessel disease to ischaemic lesions and might be misleading. Small vessel disease has an important role in cerebrovascular disease and is a leading cause of cognitive decline and functional loss in the elderly. Small vessel disease should be a main target for preventive and treatment strategies, but all types of presentation and complications should be taken into account. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.