Phys.Org Self-Assembling Transformer Furniture Robots Put Ikea to Shame Motherboard As far as shape-shifting robots go, morphing from a table to a bench is about the least exciting transformation there is.
Get ready for a stimulating software catalog. You may want to write NASA CAT. next to Thursday, April 10, on your calendar. That is the day that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is to make available to the public, at no cost, more than 1,000 codes with its release of a new online software catalog. The catalog, a master list organized into 15 categories, is intended for industry, academia, other government agencies, and general public. The catalog covers technology topics ranging from project management systems, design tools, data handling, image processing, solutions for life support functions, aeronautics, structural analysis, and robotic and autonomous systems. NASA said the codes represent NASA's best solutions to an array of complex mission requirements.
"Software is an increasingly important element of the agency's intellectual asset portfolio," said Jim Adams, deputy chief technologist with NASA. "It makes up about one-third of its reported inventions each year." With this month's release of the software catalog, he said, the software becomes widely available to the public. Each NASA code was evaluated, however, for access restrictions and designated for a specific type of release, ranging from codes open to all U.S. citizens to codes restricted to use by other federal agencies.
The catalog nonetheless fits into NASA's ongoing efforts to transfer more NASA technologies to American industry and U.S. consumers As Wired's Robert McMillan wrote on Friday, "This NASA software catalog will list more than 1,000 projects, and it will show you how to actually obtain the code you want. The idea to help hackers and entrepreneurs push these ideas in new directions—and help them dream up new ideas."
Adams said, "By making NASA resources more accessible and usable by the public, we are encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship. Our technology transfer program is an important part of bringing the benefit of space exploration back to Earth for the benefit of all people."
Daniel Lockney, technology transfer program executive with NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist, underscored this down-to-earth mission side of NASA in 2012 in an article in Innovation in 2012. "NASA really is the gold standard for technology transfer," he then said. "The money spent on research and development doesn't just go up into space; it comes down to earth in the form of some very practical and tangible results." Lockney said they know the investment in technology creates jobs, boosts the economy and provides benefits in addition to the mission focus. "Our technologies have done everything from make hospitals more efficient to making transportation safer and greener. The technology reaches into all aspects about our lives."
An extremely tiny lensless camera, developed by Rambus, has been slowly making waves over the past year. Researchers for the company, David Stork and Patrick Gill won a Best Paper award at last year's Sencomm 2013 for describing what the company has created. They spoke again at last month's Mobile World Congress, describing their new type of camera—one that might someday soon be used to give virtually any digital device, some degree of vision.
The camera is both simple and complex, it's really just a very tiny chip (CMOS imager) embedded in a piece of glass. Instead of a lens, a pattern is etched into the glass above the chip—the imager reads the light that is received, processes it using an algorithm developed by Rambus and converts it into a recognizable image. What's amazing is that the etched pattern on the glass and the chip are both roughly the size of a period at the end of a sentence.
Particular etched patterns allow for light to be intentionally refracted in different ways as it passes through the glass—images made from them would appear unrecognizable to the human eye, but the algorithm makes use of refraction properties to reconstruct the light received into a recognizable image.
The whole point of the camera is to show that cameras can be made smaller than has been envisioned by engineers of late. Trying to grind ever smaller lenses has reached its limits, thus something new had be developed. The camera by Rambus is one such possibility. Its images are not sharp—in fact at a resolution of just 128x128, its images are downright blurry—but at this point, that doesn't matter, because images taken by the camera are recognizable, and that's all digital devices of the near future likely need. Perhaps just as remarkable is that the tiny camera can be used to capture real-time video too, which makes it a likely candidate for future motion sensing devices.
Making a camera so tiny opens the door for its use in a whole host of new applications, allowing them to become aware of their physical surroundings, all at a very low cost—perhaps just pennies per chip—that means they could be embedded in clothes, toys, mirrors, security systems, etc., bounded only by the imagination of device makers. On the other hand, such tiny cameras could also open a Pandora's box if they are used to invade privacy or for control purposes.
In the last 15 years, the collective motion of large numbers of self-propelled objects has become an increasingly active area of research. The examples of such collective motion abound: flocks of birds, schools of fish, swarms of insects, herds of animals etc. Swarming of living creatures is believed to be critical for the population survival under harsh conditions. The ability of motile microorganisms to communicate and coordinate their motion leads to the remarkably complex self-organized structures found in bacterial biofilms. Active intracellular transport of biological molecules within the cytoskeleton has a profound effect on the cell cycle, signaling and motility. In recent years, significant progress has also been achieved in the design of synthetic self-propelled particles. Their collective motion has many advantages for performing specific robotic tasks, such as collective cargo delivery or harvesting the mechanical energy of chaotic motion.
In this focus issue we have tried to assemble papers from leading experts which we hope will provide a current snapshot of this young and rapidly expanding field of research. They cover both theoretical and experimental investigations of the dynamics of active matter on different spatial and temporal scales.
Focus on Swarming in Biological and Related Systems Lev Tsimring, Hugues Chate, Igor Aronson
Why the Rise of the Robot Workforce Is a Good Thing Wall Street Journal (blog) Several of the panels at the sprawling tech conference focused on our future robot overlords, with many of the discussions taking a rosy view that the workforce will...
Ever wonder how Society of Mind came about? Of course you do.One of the key ideas of Society of Mind  is that at some range of abstraction levels, the brain's software is a bunch of asynchronous agents. Agents are simple--but a properly organized
In a world of delicate, experimental nano-drones, the Black Hornet is the first operational system deployed. A hand-launched observation drone, it can resist gusting winds, fly for 25 minutes, and travel nearly a mile from its operator. The autopilot can follow GPS coordinates to conduct a preplanned patrol or simply hover and stare. All in a drone that weighs less than 0.6 ounces.
At the AAAI 2013 Fall Symposia (FSS-13)12, I realized that I was not prepared to explain certain topics quickly to those who are specialists in various AI domains and/or don't delve into philosophy of mind issues.
As self-driving cars move from fantasy to reality, what kind of effect will they have on cities?
A research and urban prototyping project called Shuffle City investigates, and in the process, becomes a manifesto for a new kind of modern city--one that depends less on traditional public transportation like buses or light rail and more on creating a fleet of continuously moving automated vehicles to serve urban mobility needs.
Shuffle City looks at the new possibilities that could arise from cities transitioning to cars without drivers. If cars were put into some constant flow as a public good, and if people didn’t all have their own vehicles, there would be no need for the concrete wastelands and lifeless towers that serve as a parking infrastructure in the urban landscapes of car-centric cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles (Under the current ownership model, the average car spends 21 hours per day parked.)
The share of city space ruled by parking lots will shrink, making way for more green space, environmental buffers, workspace, housing, retail, and denser planning for more walkable cities...
How do we know whether our own actions were voluntary or involuntary? Intentional theories of sense of agency suggest that we consciously perceive the intentions that accompany our actions, but reconstructive theories suggest that we perceive our actions only through the body movements and other effects that they produce. Intentions would then be mere confabulations, and not bona fide experiences. Previous work on voluntary action has focused on immediate experiences of authorship, and few studies have considered memory for voluntary actions. We devised an experiment in which both voluntary action and involuntary movement always occurred at the same time, but could either involve the same hand (congruent condition), or different hands (incongruent condition). When signals from the voluntary and involuntary movements involved different hands, they could therefore potentially interfere in memory. We found that recall of a voluntary action was unaffected by an incongruent involuntary movement. In contrast, recall of an involuntary movement was strongly influenced by an incongruent voluntary action. Our results demonstrate an “intentional capture” of body movement by voluntary actions, in support of intentional theories of agency, but contrary to reconstructive theories. When asked to recall both actions and movements, people's responses are shaped by memory of what they intended to do, rather than by how their body moved.
Ten years ago, the discovery of Mimivirus, a virus infecting Acanthamoeba, initiated a reappraisal of the upper limits of the viral world, both in terms of particle size (>0.7 micrometers) and genome complexity (>1000 genes), dimensions typical of parasitic bacteria. The diversity of these giant viruses (the Megaviridae) was assessed by sampling a variety of aquatic environments and their associated sediments worldwide. We report the isolation of two giant viruses, one off the coast of central Chile, the other from a freshwater pond near Melbourne (Australia), without morphological or genomic resemblance to any previously defined virus families. Their micrometer-sized ovoid particles contain DNA genomes of at least 2.5 and 1.9 megabases, respectively. These viruses are the first members of the proposed “Pandoravirus” genus, a term reflecting their lack of similarity with previously described microorganisms and the surprises expected from their future study.
Pandoraviruses: Amoeba Viruses with Genomes Up to 2.5 Mb Reaching That of Parasitic Eukaryotes Nadège Philippe et al.
After receiving an implant that electrically stimulates the spinal cord, four paraplegic men can now voluntarily move their previously paralyzed legs. It's a breakthrough that's poised to revolutionize the treatment of paralysis.
MARLBORO — Gene Laureano rolls his wheelchair next to an upholstered office chair holding a device that looks like a combination back and leg brace, and with one thrust of his arms transfers his body out of the wheelchair and into the contraption.
When alternatives are overlooked because cohesion is favored over individuality, the results can be tragic and lasting.
The top decision-making team responsible for the Challenger launch was very familiar with each other. They had worked with each for many years prior to the mission.
Group cohesiveness in decision-making can be deceiving. Decisions are often made quickly and with high levels of consensus, but this doesn’t always correlate to the BEST choices. When alternatives are overlooked, because cohesion is favored over individuality, poor decisions can arise.
How can you avoid this? Remember a quick decision doesn’t always mean a great decision. Carefully examine alternatives by bringing together diverse groups of people with varied backgrounds. It is important that the solution is the priority rather than pleasing, or being an appeasing group member.
Precursors of Groupthink 1. Cohesive Group 2. Insulation from Experts 3. Leader Preferences
This post also highlights 8 symptoms of groupthink including:
Inherent MoralityStereotyped Views of OthersSelf CensorshipMindguarding
Via Deb Nystrom, REVELN
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the trade group that represents producers and users of drones and other robotic equipment, predicts that 80% of the commercial market for drones will eventually be for agricultural uses. Once the Federal Aviation Administration establishes guidelines for commercial use, the drone industry said it expects more than 100,000 jobs to be created and nearly half a billion in tax revenue to be generated collectively by 2025, much of it from agriculture. Iowa, the country's largest corn and second-biggest soybean grower, could see 1,200 more jobs and an economic impact topping $950 million in the next decade.
. . . .
Brent Johnson, a corn and soybean farmer in Calhoun County in central Iowa, purchased a drone in 2013 for $30,000 that is already paying dividends on his 900-acre farm. He's used the aircraft, which covers about 80 acres an hour, to study how yields on his property are affected by changes in topography. And last growing season he identified some areas where his corn stands were not strong enough, information he's going to consider in future plantings when he decides whether to replant or avoid the acreage all together. This year he's going to scout early for any problems and use the data he collects to help determine when to sell his crops.
"I'm always looking for an advantage, looking for how I can do things better," said Johnson, who also owns a precision agriculture company.
The famed protein chain reaction that made mad cow disease a terror may be involved in helping to ensure that our recollections don't fade.
Prions are proteins with two unusual properties: First, they can switch between two possible shapes, one that is stable on its own and an alternate conformation that can form chains. Second, the chain-forming version has to be able to trigger others to change shape and join the chain. Say that in the normal version the protein is folded so that one portion of the protein structure—call it "tab A"—fits into its own "slot B." In the alternate form, though, tab A is available to fit into its neighbor's slot B. That means the neighbor can do the same thing to the next protein to come along, forming a chain or clump that can grow indefinitely.
For a brain cell, keeping a memory around is a lot of work. A variety of proteins need to be continually manufactured at the synapse, the small gap that interfaces one cell to another. But whereas a cell may have a multitude of synapses, the protein synthesis that grows and maintains the connection only occurs at specific ones that have been activated. Work in the sea slug Aplysia (a favorite of neuroscientists because of its large cells) showed that a protein called CPEB, for cytoplasmic polyadenylation element binding, is necessary to keep a synapse activated. CPEB acts as a prion.
Once the prion's chain reaction gets started it's self-perpetuating, and thus the synapse can be maintained after the initial trigger is gone—perhaps for a lifetime. But that still doesn't explain how the first prion is triggered or why it only happens in certain synapses and not others.
An answer comes from Si's work on fruit flies, published February 11 in PLoS Biology. Sex—and, in particular, male courtship behavior—is an ideal realm in which to test memory: If a female is unreceptive, the male will remember this and stop trying to court her. Earlier, Si’s team showed that if the fly's version of CPEB, called Orb2, is mutated so that it cannot act as a prion, the insect briefly remembers that the female is unreceptive but that memory fades over the course of a few days.
Now, Si's team has figured out how the cell turns on the machinery responsible for the persistence of memory—and how the memory can be stabilized at just the right time and in the right place.
Before the memory is formed a fly's neuron is full of a version of the prion called Orb2B. Although this version can switch shapes to form prions' characteristic clumps, it can't get started without the related protein Orb2A. In this week's paper Si and colleagues untangled the multipartnered dance that controls Orb2A's role. First, a protein called TOB binds to Orb2A, allowing it to persist intact in the cell. (Normally, it would be broken down within a few hours.) Once stabilized it needs to have a phosphate tag attached, and this is done by another protein called Lim kinase.
Crucially, Lim kinase is only activated when the cell receives an electrical impulse—and only targeted at that synapse, not any other synaptic connections the cell might also be making. That means that the prion chain reaction is turned on in the specific time and place it's needed. This, researchers say, means the cell has a mechanism to stabilize some synapses but not others—potentially explaining why some of our memories fade, whereas others last a lifetime.
Although work so far on these proteins has been in yeast, sea slugs, flies and mice, the human CPEB may operate in the same way to preserve memories. The next steps, both researchers agree, are to develop better techniques to see where in the brain prions are activated, and to dig into more questions about how the prion process is regulated. One burning question: When we forget, does that mean that the prion's chain reaction has been halted?
Sometime in the near future, you might take a bike ride with a couple of drones–one flying in front, one in back–to protect you from nearby cars. As you ride around tight corners, the “Cyclodrone” will shine a beacon of light to warn drivers that you’re there, hosting a tiny camera to record any accidents.
The design is one of several concepts from a team at frog design that wanted to rework the current evil image of the drone. “Drones are taking a beating in the press, being characterized as spies and assassins,” says Cormac Eubanks, who developed the Cyclodrone. “At frog, we are more fascinated by the design potential at the leading edge of technology. We believe now is the time to explore how drones could be a force for good.”
One way to increase the intelligence of a robot is to train it with a series of missions, analogous to the missions (aka levels) in a video game.In a developmental robot, the training would not be simply learning--its brain structure would actually...
Scientists say they have been able to successfully print new eye cells that could be used to treat sight loss. The proof-of-principle work in the journal Biofabrication was carried out using animal cells.
The Cambridge University team says it paves the way for grow-your-own therapies for people with damage to the light-sensitive layer of tissue at back of the eye - the retina. More tests are needed before human trials can begin.
Co-authors of the study Prof Keith Martin and Dr Barbara Lorber, from the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair at the University of Cambridge, said: "The loss of nerve cells in the retina is a feature of many blinding eye diseases. The retina is an exquisitely organised structure where the precise arrangement of cells in relation to one another is critical for effective visual function.
"Our study has shown, for the first time, that cells derived from the mature central nervous system, the eye, can be printed using a piezoelectric inkjet printer. Although our results are preliminary and much more work is still required, the aim is to develop this technology for use in retinal repair in the future."
They now plan to attempt to print other types of retinal cells, including the light-sensitive photoreceptors - rods and cones.
Scientists have already been able to reverse blindness in mice using stem cell transplants. And there is promising work into electronic retina implants implants in patients.
Clara Eaglen, of the RNIB, said: "This is a step in the right direction as the retina is often affected in many of the common eye conditions, causing loss of central vision which stops people watching TV and seeing the faces of loved ones."
Few genes have made the headlines as much as FOXP2. The first gene associated with language disorders, it was later implicated in the evolution of human speech. Girls make more of the FOXP2 protein, which may help explain their precociousness in learning to talk. Now, neuroscientists have figured out how one of its molecular partners helps Foxp2 exert its effects.
The findings may eventually lead to new therapies for inherited speech disorders, says Richard Huganir, the neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the work. Foxp2 controls the activity of a gene called Srpx2, he notes, which helps some of the brain's nerve cells beef up their connections to other nerve cells. By establishing what SRPX2 does, researchers can look for defective copies of it in people suffering from problems talking or learning to talk.
Until 2001, scientists were not sure how genes influenced language. Then Simon Fisher, a neurogeneticist now at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and his colleagues fingered FOXP2 as the culprit in a family with several members who had trouble with pronunciation, putting words together, and understanding speech. These people cannot move their tongue and lips precisely enough to talk clearly, so even family members often can’t figure out what they are saying. It “opened a molecular window on the neural basis of speech and language,” Fisher says.
A few years later, other researchers showed that the FOXP2 gene in humans differed from the chimp version by only two bases, the "letters" that make up DNA. That small difference may have affected Foxp2 performance such that animal calls could eventually transform into the human gift of gab. In 2009, a team put the human version of the gene in mice and observed that the rodents produced more frequent and complex alarm calls, suggesting these mutations may have been involved in the evolution of more complex speech. But how Foxp2 works has largely remained a mystery.
Huganir didn't start out trying to solve this mystery. He was testing 400 proteins to see if they helped or hindered the development of specialized junctions between nerve cells, called synapses, which allow nerve cells to communicate with one another. A single neuron can have up to 10,000 synapses, or connections to other neurons, Huganir says. Of the 10 proteins he identified, one that strongly promoted synapse formation was Srpx2, a gene other researchers had linked to epilepsy and language problems.
Huganir and his colleagues examined Srpx2 activity in isolated nerve cells, determining that it stimulated the formation of "excitatory" connections, ones where a "turn on" message was conveyed to the receiving nerve cell. Srpx2 also enhanced the number of excitatory connections in the part of the brain in developing mice that is the equivalent of the human language center, the researchers report online today in Science. Because Foxp2 regulates the activity of several genes, including Srpx2, Huganir and his team took a closer look at howFoxp2 affected this gene. When Foxp2 is around, Srpx2 makes fewer excitatory synapses, they report. It may be that the right balance of excitatory synapses and other connections may be necessary for complex vocalizations, Huganir suggests.
As a final test, the researchers looked to see how changing the activity of the Srpx2 gene affected alarm calls of baby mice. Mice pups separated from their moms call for help with squeals too high-pitched for humans to hear. When the researchers artificially inhibited Srpx2's activity, the mice squealed less. But the pups squealed normally again when gene activity was restored, Huganir and his colleagues report.
The work "shows that Foxp2 affects synapse formation through Srpx2," says Svante Pääbo, a paleogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who has studied Foxp2 in primates and in mice. "It is the first target gene of Foxp2 that has a clear function with respect to neuronal function."
MIT researchers have developed a lightweight structure whose tiny blocks can be snapped together much like the bricks of a child’s construction toy. The new material, the researchers say, could revolutionize the assembly of airplanes, spacecraft, and even larger structures, such as dikes and levees.
Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, likens the structure — which is made from tiny, identical, interlocking parts — to chainmail. The parts, based on a novel geometry that Cheung developed with Gershenfeld, form a structure that is 10 times stiffer for a given weight than existing ultralight materials. But this new structure can also be disassembled and reassembled easily — such as to repair damage, or to recycle the parts into a different configuration.
The individual parts can be mass-produced; Gershenfeld and Cheung are developing a robotic system to assemble them into wings, airplane fuselages, bridges or rockets — among many other possibilities.
The new design combines three fields of research, Gershenfeld says: fiber composites, cellular materials (those made with porous cells) and additive manufacturing (such as 3-D printing, where structures are built by depositing rather than removing material).
With conventional composites — now used in everything from golf clubs and tennis rackets to the components of Boeing’s new 787 airplane — each piece is manufactured as a continuous unit. Therefore, manufacturing large structures, such as airplane wings, requires large factories where fibers and resins can be wound and parts heat-cured as a whole, minimizing the number of separate pieces that must be joined in final assembly. That requirement meant, for example, Boeing’s suppliers have had to build enormous facilities to make parts for the 787.
Pound for pound, the new technique allows much less material to carry a given load. This could not only reduce the weight of vehicles, for example — which could significantly lower fuel use and operating costs — but also reduce the costs of construction and assembly, while allowing greater design flexibility. The system is useful for “anything you need to move, or put in the air or in space,” says Cheung, who will begin work this fall as an engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
The concept, Gershenfeld says, arose in response to the question, “Can you 3-D print an airplane?” While he and Cheung realized that 3-D printing was an impractical approach at such a large scale, they wondered if it might be possible instead to use the discrete “digital” materials that they were studying.
“This satisfies the spirit of the question,” Gershenfeld says, “but it’s assembled rather than printed.” The team is now developing an assembler robot that can crawl, insectlike, over the surface of a growing structure, adding pieces one by one to the existing structure.
Back in the fall of 2005 I took a class at the MIT Media Lab called Commonsense Reasoning for Interaction Applications taught by Henry Lieberman and TA'd by Hugo Liu.For the first programming assignment I made a project called AffectWorld, which allows...