Pandemic Flu Could Clog U.S. Rail Lines

A simulation by systems engineers shows rail network is sensitive to pandemic flu, but port system is more robust

3 min read

30 April 2009—A moderate level of absenteeism due to a pandemic flu outbreak could cause widespread problems in the U.S. rail freight network, according to research presented last year at the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. However, even a severe outbreak is unlikely to jam up the nation’s ports.

Systems engineers at Cornell University and Sandia National Laboratories analyzed the impact of influenza at three levels of severity. In the midlevel scenario, in which absenteeism peaks at 13.6 percent during an outbreak, the effective capacity of the United States’ 18 major rail yards is cut by 10 percent. That might not seem like much, but there is so little spare capacity in the rail system that such a pandemic would lead to widespread problems lasting six to eight weeks.

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This Implant Turns Brain Waves Into Words

A brain-computer interface deciphers commands intended for the vocal tract

10 min read
A man using an interface, looking at a screen with words on it.

A paralyzed man who hasn’t spoken in 15 years uses a brain-computer interface that decodes his intended speech, one word at a time.

University of California, San Francisco

A computer screen shows the question “Would you like some water?” Underneath, three dots blink, followed by words that appear, one at a time: “No I am not thirsty.”

It was brain activity that made those words materialize—the brain of a man who has not spoken for more than 15 years, ever since a stroke damaged the connection between his brain and the rest of his body, leaving him mostly paralyzed. He has used many other technologies to communicate; most recently, he used a pointer attached to his baseball cap to tap out words on a touchscreen, a method that was effective but slow. He volunteered for my research group’s clinical trial at the University of California, San Francisco in hopes of pioneering a faster method. So far, he has used the brain-to-text system only during research sessions, but he wants to help develop the technology into something that people like himself could use in their everyday lives.

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