Archive for June, 2013


Google would dream something as impossible and radical as cloaking the world in balloons 60,000 feet above sea level so that the entire world can get on the Internet. It’s something straight out of meetings about the future, something rooted in conversations between smart people who only ask each other “But why not?”, something even Google itself admits is crazy by calling it Project Loon.

What is Project Loon exactly? Only a plan to get hundreds and thousands of high-pressure balloons to circle the Earth and given internet to billions of people on Earth. It’s part of Google’s famed Google X Lab which is bringing the world Google Glass and self-driving cars. Wired reports:

It is an audacious proposal, and today in Christchurch, Google is holding a press conference with New Zealand’s Prime Minister to formally unveil it. Google will also stage Project Loon’s biggest trial yet: 50 testers in Christchurch within the 12-mile range of the balloons will see if they can get connected from the sky.

k-bigpic

Ref: Gizmodo

Researchers in the Honduran rainforest have recently used lasers to find a lost city of gold, and now archaeologists in Cambodia have found a forgotten city that’s even older.

Welcome to Mahendraparvata, unknown for a Millenium. Image, an area

The corner of Cambodian jungle where Mahendraparvata has been lurking is dotted with the odd above-ground temple ruin, but the extent to which the city sprawled beneath the shrubs and dirt was unknown until researchers brought airborne laser scanning tech—known as Lidar—to bear. And suddenly, it was as if the city’s ruins just leapt into being.

Damian Evans, University of Sydney’s archaeological research centre in Cambodia, described the moment to The Age this way:

With this instrument – bang – all of a sudden we saw an immediate picture of an entire city that no one knew existed, which is just remarkable.

But Mahendraparvata is more than just any lost city, it’s the oldest in Cambodia,  And now that researchers are aware of both Mahendraparvata’s magnitude and its hidden features, they can really dig in. Figuratively and literally.

With laser technology becoming so useful, it does make me wonder, when will this technology help me find my keys?

Ref: Gizmodo

Baxter won’t get bored!

It’s a term you may hear more and more in the coming years, with the robotics industry expected to be worth 6.5 Billion for domestic units and over 46 Billion in the commercial sector by 2017, our little bot buddies are here to stay.

But will domestic robots pop up overnight?

A more likely scenario as we move towards total domination by our robot overlords is co-working robots that begin to pick up a few of our obsolete tasks.. Enter Baxter.

Baxter

According to RethingRobotics.com, Baxter is an entirely new type robot that is redefining the way robots can be used in manufacturing environments. It performs a variety of repetitive production tasks – all while safely and intelligently working next to people. How? Baxter exhibits behavior-based ‘common sense,’ capable of sensing and adapting to its task and its environment. It requires no complex programming or costly integration. And with its uniquely low price point, Baxter provides a compelling alternative to low-cost offshoring for manufacturers of all sizes.

Is this innocent looking bot the beginning of the new revolution?

I think not..

In the world of the blind the one eyed man is king.

Scientists at Monash University have developed world first technology that will allow people with vision impairment to see again.!

comedy-central-blind-dog-small-97044

Through world-first wireless technology and a computer processor that sits inside the brain, the blind will be able to make out shapes through a series of mapping dots after they put on a pair of sunglasses.

Around 300,000 Australians have substantial vision impairment and around 20,000 are totally blind, according to the Australian Network on Disability.

It is estimated 85 per cent of that 20,000 will have some vision through this prototype-stage technology, compared to only 10 per cent now.

Much like Google Glass, which allows users to take photos from a pair of glasses, the device takes information from a glasses-mounted camera and sends it, via a wireless transmitter, into the brain.

This vision takes the form of basic shapes made of light, much like looking at a line of stars. Bluesky Design Group director Professor Mark Armstrong, who was also involved in designing the Nexus 5 Cochlear Implant for the deaf, said they are hoping to do the first trial on a human by mid next year.

“All indications are the that the technology is working smoothly towards the first implant next year, he said.

“It will enable someone who is completely blind to see edges of tables and footpath in a coarse, dot-type matrix, enough to give them mobility and connect them to their loved ones.

“It is part of a long list of new technologies that will invade the body.

The recent electronic child born of iRobot and Cisco looks pretty promising, especially for those of us that just can’t drag ourselves out of bed in the mornings.

We’ve all had those moments where we wake up and roll over, realize that it’s only Tuesday and we have to face yet another painful day in the high powered world of fast food. But now, thanks to iRobot we can teleconference in in style.!

xlarge

Ref: Gizmodo Australia

According to a write up by Gizmodo;

The Ava 500 merges iRobots’ Ava robotics platform with Cisco video conferencing hardware, including a high-resolution camera and a generous 21.5-inch HD display. And thanks to the robot’s ability to autonomously navigate its way through a space, controlling the Ava 500 is as easy as playing an iPad game.

Remote users either select where they want the robot to go via an interactive map on the iPad’s display, or tell it to head to a specific room, or even a specific employee’s name. The Ava 500 does the rest, allowing the telepresent employee to ride along in a ‘public’ mode where they’re able to chat with people enroute, or a ‘private’ mode where the camera and display are turned off until they arrive at their destination. When the meeting or conversation is over, the robot is then released and automatically returns to its charging station.

So it’s finally happening, one arm at a time..

Jan Scheuermann hasn’t been able to use her limbs since 1996 when she was struck with spinocerebellar degeneration, but thanks to new technology she’s now able to lift a chocolate bar. The brain-computer interface (BCI) allows seven points of rotation and mobility and brings hope to many suffering from various forms of paralysis.

According to the University of Pittsburg;

“This technology, which interprets brain signals to guide a robot arm, has enormous potential that we are continuing to explore. Our study has shown us that it is technically feasible to restore ability; the participants have told us that BCI gives them hope for the future.”

Scheuermann’s brain was implanted with two quarter-inch square electrode grids. They have 96 tiny contact points for brain areas that control right arm and hand movement.

Arm_1023_610x398

Ref: University of Pittsburg

Although it does beg the question, how long until similar technology is utilized for Military purposes. We could be seeing robot soldiers in the field controlled by infantry men miles away..

For those of you younger than myself you may not know what the USS Enterprise is. (shock!)

Essentially in our future there’s a bunch of Space Cowboys who travel the Galaxy, offend alien species and explore nooks and crannies in the hope of spreading the Federations words of peace and tranquility… while destroying aliens.

Although Star Trek was a fantastic show it’s all been fantasy up until now, a website called Buildtheenterprise.org has proposed a hundred year road map for space exploration and believes that we can build a fully functioning Enterprise with technology we currently have on hand.

h464D4840

When you consider that the ISS will probably cost over 100 Billion dollars to maintain alone during it’s lifetime it really does make sense to start looking beyond one shot trips to Mars and the Moon and build something much more sustainable and relevant. The enterprise would be used as an exploratory star ship, a space port and international meeting place.

blue-USS-Enterprise-v2

Image credit – Deviat Art

In ranked order of importance, the Gen1 Enterprise’s top eight functions are:

  1. Inspire people around the world about the adventure of humans going into space in a big way.
  2. Serve as a space station & spaceport with 1g artificial gravity to support large-scale space tourism and to encourage substantial private sector investments in space infrastructure.
  3. Take the first humans to Mars.
  4. Enable the construction of a large, permanent base on Mars.
  5. Visit an asteroid, do experimental mining of it, and do tests to divert its movement.
  6. Construct a large, permanent base on the moon.
  7. Serve as a roving space station to support diverse scientific experiments and space projects.
  8. Go on other interplanetary missions, like to Venus and to Jupiter’s moons.

Personally I find this very exciting and if I earned the GDP of a small nation I would be funding this myself right now.!

for more information visit http://www.buildtheenterprise.org/

Mars One is a non-profit organization that’s aiming to send you to Mars within ten years.

colonising-Mars

The entire process will be broadcast on television, just like an extra terrestrial version of Big Brother. Mars One says that all of the technology needed to build a habitat and touch people down on Big Red already exists, and at a small initial cost of $6 Billion we would be silly not to.! However..

There might be slight hiccups. “There’s no liquid water, the atmospheric pressure is “practically a vacuum”, radiation levels are higher and temperatures vary wildly” However scientists at ASRC Aerospace Corporation at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center are currently working on a force field to help shield would be contentants.. *ahem* Astronauts from deadly radiation.

The living quarters would be built via 3d printing and deployed by robots to ensure the new inhabitants have some time to relax and grab a great tan.

If you are interested in applying to the Mars one program to be packed up and sent off to the Red Planet you can apply on the Mars One website http://applicants.mars-one.com/.

However be warned, it’s a one way ticket to Mars..

Now here’s something that will excite all you smokers out there, according to the University of Wollongong 3D printed organs such as replacement lungs are not all that far away. This is a boon for people on waiting lists for replacement livers, hearts or eyes. It does beg the question however of just how long until we begin to modify healthy people.?

Researchers from UOW’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) and St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, announced in Melbourne today (Friday 3 May) that they are just three years away from printing custom-made body parts, including muscle and nerve cells and cartilage. And in just over a decade, they believe will be possible to print human organs.

“Within a few years, we believe it will be possible to manufacture living tissues like skin, cartilage, arteries and heart valves using cells and biomaterials. Using a patient’s own cells to create this tissue avoids issues of immune rejection. By 2025, it is feasible that we will be able to fabricate complete functional organs, tailored for an individual patient.”

bioprinter1

So this begins to open up a whole can of worms when we consider a world wide population explosion. As an individual I love the idea of being able to go in for day surgery to simply “fix” all the issues that have resulted from my poor lifestyle choices, however it begs the questions of should we be able to live longer.? If nature has designed us to live into our early hundreds then what’s the impact on humanity once we start extending our lifespans beyond two or three hundred years. ?

universal-soldier-tvrebootl

For those of you that have been following the news recently there’s an ongoing debate regarding the use of fully autonomous killer robots. On 30 May 2013 in Geneva nations for the first time have debated what to do about fully autonomous weapons at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

According to Moore’s Law “over the history of computing hardware the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.” This often results in technology advancing at a faster rate than human morals or social norms can adapt to.

And we aren’t talking about Robbie the Robot, Will Robinson’s faithful sidekick (although he’d certainly be helpful around the house.)

basicrobotlarge1.jpg

So we thought considering the current debate it’s worthwhile taking a look at some of these killer robots.

Drones:

Anybody who watches, reads or leaves the house and chats with our non robotic counterparts will have heard about the ongoing usage of automated drones in the “War on Terror”. Recently there’s been a lot of discussion about the possible use of these automated behemoths being used on civilian populations.

MQ-9 Reaper

MQ-9_Reaper_CBP

The Mq-9 Reaper (formerly called the Predator B) is capable of remote controlled or autonomous flight. The Reaper has a 950-shaft-horsepower (712 kW) turboprop engine.

Although they may look like like toys they are anything but. The Reaper can hunt for targets and observe terrain using a number of sensors, including a thermal camera. One estimate has the on-board camera able to read a license plate from two miles (3 km) away. An operator’s command takes 1.2 seconds to reach the drone via a satellite link. The MQ-9 is fitted with six stores pylons. The inner stores pylons can carry a maximum of 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms) each and allow carriage of external fuel tanks. The mid-wing stores pylons can carry a maximum of 600 pounds (270 kilograms) each, while the outer stores pylons can carry a maximum of 200 pounds (90 kilograms) each. An MQ-9 with two 1,000 pound (450 kilogram) external fuel tanks and a thousand pounds of munitions has an endurance of 42 hours.The Reaper has an endurance of 14 hours when fully loaded with munitions. The MQ-9 carries a variety of weapons including the Paveway II laser-guided bomb, the AGM Helfire II air-to-ground missiles, and the AIM-9 Sidewinder.

Interesting fact, the Reapers predecessor can be traced all the way back to WW1 with the invention of the Radioplane built by Reginald Denny, by WW2 the US Army was using over fifteen thousands radio drones against enemy combatants.

MarilynMonroe_-_YankArmyWeekly

MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The MAARS robot is developed by Foster-Miller and intended as a fully autonomous platform to assist American soldiers in combat. It’s this type of hardware that’s causing all the debate in Geneva due to it’s autonomous nature. The unit features new software controls, which allow the robot’s driver to select fire and no-fire zones.  The idea is keep the robots from accidentally shooting a flesh-and-blood American.  A mechanical range fan also keeps MAARS’ gun pointed away from friendly positions.

The robot is also equipped with a GPS transmitter, so it can be seen on — and tap into — the American battlefield mapping program just like tanks and Humvees.  These “Blue Force Trackers” have been credited with dramatically reducing friendly-fire incidents during the Iraq war.  MAARS comes with an extra fail-safe, which won’t allow it to fire directly at its own control unit. (phew!)

PackBot – Tactical Robot

PackBot_510

The Packbot is built by IRobot and first used by Us ground troops in 2002. IRobot has an interesting history all of its own (and a very cool name to boot) as they develop both Military and consumer items, anybody heard of the Roomba.?

The PackBot is characterized by distinctive “flippers” which offer continuous 360 degrees rotation and negotiation of rough terrain and obstacles such as stairs, rocks, logs, rubble and debris. The platform can climb grades up to 60% and survive submersion in water up to two meter deep. It is built to survive drop from two meter height, on a concrete surface, or being thrown through a window or tumbling downstairs. The 18 kg robot can be carried in a backpack, and deployed in a few minutes. Part of the success of the platform comes from it’s adaptability with several variations offered, the Packbots utilized for exploration, carrying gear and supplies as well as bomb disposal.. now if only they’d make a model that can clean up my dishes.

Regardless of how you feel about the often sinister use of these technologies you have to admit that the constant leaps forward in design and deployment are impressive, and I’m very excited to see what’s around the corner.

A special thanks to Wikipedia, Cnet and IRobot for their use of imagery.