Where can scientists’ most ambitious ideas become reality? Answer: at Starlab, a futuristic science institute in Belgium which is developing intelligent clothing, interactive table-tops and artificial brains…
The surroundings are rural. The building is a beautiful former hospital. It seems the most unlikely place for innovative research, but once you’re inside you will find all that brilliant scientists need to carry out the science of the future.
Down in the cellar, for example, they’re working on a global map of genetic diseases. Starlab is asking volunteers all around the world to send them samples of spit! Each volunteer has to visit the internet site, fill in the medical questionnaire and post his or her saliva samples. If all goes well, Starlab will collect one million different types of spit over the next 10 years, each providing a new genetic profile. And a genetic profile can give clues as to which medicines may be most suitable to cure a particular variant of a disease.
Office of the Future
Meanwhile on the first floor, people are coming up with ideas for a new generation of workspaces. Imagine walls and windows through which you canaccess your electronic mail – or interactive table-tops allowing a group of people to work together on one project. Big open spaces will allow people to be in constant contact with each other and to be a source of inspiration…although of course there’ll also be a couple of silence zones for those working toward a deadline.
Ideas such as these may become reality in 5 to 10 years, but that all depends on the willingness of employees to try this new way of working.
Another project at Starlab is the so-called `intelligent clothing´. These specially designed garments will be able to check your state of health, for instance, and to help you when you’re feeling down.They may also be able to warn you about chemical dangers in the environment.
Merging Science and Art
In bringing scientists and artists together, multidisciplinarity is taken to its extreme. This has resulted, for instance, in the “T-Garden Project” where people can “shape their own performance”. To begin with, participants put on clothes which incorporate speed and movement sensors – and these sensors, in turn, are connected to a computer system. The idea then is that the performers go into a room, which is specifically designed so that any movements and interactions made by the actors will result in sound and visual effects, thus creating a unique atmosphere.
And in the future, the scientists working on the various Starlab projects may no longer be necessary – as they may be replaced by robots. That is, if Starlab’s Brain-Building project bears fruit. The project has so far managed to develop an artificial brain with almost 100 million electronic brain cells! Once it´s ready, the researchers will have to tell the brain cells what specific functions they have, before it can be used to control the actions of a robot.
For more information: www.radionetherlands.nl