The brains of the famous

The student connected the final section of tissue to the electrical sensor.  She pulled her hands from the protective gloves and walked back to the terminal on the far side of the room.  She clicked the button that started the test.  The lights dimmed and a single spark flew across the tissue.  On screen, characters started to appear H … E … L … L … O … ?  Her heart skipped a beat – she now had the chance to talk to one of the most eminent minds of the last century.

The Wellcome Collection is hosting an exhibition in London that will look at the subject of brains.   It includes artwork, images, video and samples of brains including Albert Einstein, Charles Babbage and William Burke.  The exhibition runs from 29 March to 17 June 2012.  See the press release here: http://www.wellcomecollection.org/press/press-releases/brains-the-mind-as-matter.aspx Exhibition preview here: http://www.wellcomecollection.org/whats-on/exhibitions/brains.aspx

James.

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Riding the fury of Dione

He flicked closed the filter on his helmet, unbound the tether that was holding him to the spacecraft and pushed off.  It took several hours before the moon below started to grow in size.  He spent the time checking his equipment, listening to an eclectic mix of music on his helmet media system.  As the surface of the moon rushed towards him he started to feel the thrill – maybe he had miscalculated – he no longer had enough fuel left to halt his drop to the surface. Then he felt the turbulance and looked down.  He saw a white-out.  The ice volcano below had started to erupt.  With a whoop he unclipped the board on his back, attached it securely to his boots and prepared to ride the Dione eruption back into orbit.

Dr Bonnie Buratti, of NASA JPL, has announced that the surface of Dione, an ice moon of Saturn, has features that suggest it is still undergoing geological activity.  Banding and areas with a low level of impact crater disturbance point towards geological activity similar to sister moon Enceladus.  See a news article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17440136  Visit the NASA Cassini mission here: www.nasa.gov/cassini

James.

The arena of the robots

The machine tested its legs, they were still working.  It stood and surveyed the immediate environment.  To its left was a high rugged cliff – the rocks were loose and there was no safe vector to the top.  To its right the waves lapped across a broad lake – its best chance of escape.  As it approached the shore a buzzing sounded from the canyon behind it.  It turned, but too late.  A volley of missiles tracked through the air.  Before it could deploy any countermeasures they hit home.

The US Navy has opened a laboratory to help test robots, autonomous systems and human / system interaction in a wide range of conditions.   The challenging environments include aerial, sea, desert, tropical and others.  All zones allow an unprecedented level of monitoring that the Navy will use to gain insights into performance and interaction.  See the press release here: http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/news-releases/2012/naval-research-laboratory-opens-laboratory-for-autonomous-systems-research

James.

A long, long time ago in a country far, far away

He walked from the cave, a rasping sound emanating from his throat as he struggled to breathe.  He stood at the cave entrance and looked across the landscape before him.  Deer scattered through the valleys of rolling red hills.  Below, people were starting to gather in the settlement that had been built next to the river.  He reached out his hand and felt an energy pass through it, an energy that he would use to gain power over these people.

Darren Curnoe, from the University of New South Wales, and a team of scientists have identifed and associated a set of remains from southern China that suggest a new species in the history of human evolution.  The rounded skulls and widening cheeks give a visual impression very similar to that of Darth Vader from the hit sci-fi movie franchise Star Wars.  It makes you wonder whether we were their destiny…

See a news article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17370170 and the submitted paper here: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0031918 (Buy Star Wars merchandise here: http://www.starwars.com/)

James.

* Images are the property of their respective copyright holders.

Let the waves guide my path

He lay on the wooden deck of the small craft gazing up at the relentless sun.  The hunger gnawed at his stomach.  Carefully he sat upright and took a reading from the power cells.  Hopefully it would be enough.  He flicked the switch that sent the power into the ocean below.  A few seconds passed before he saw the first fish float to the surface.  Greedily he leaned out to pull it on board.  After collecting several fish he wiped clean the surface of the solar cell array, careful not to cause any damage.  He wondered how many more days it would be before the machinery on the underside of the craft would deliver him to land.

Liquid Robotics has announce that three of their fleet of four Wave Glider ocean-going robot ships have completed thier journey from San Francisco to Hawaii.  The 3,200 mile trip sets a new record for the distance travelled by unmanned wave-powered craft.  The craft will be cleaned and the scientific equipment checked before they continue their trip across the Pacific.

Read the press release from a link on this page: http://liquidr.com/press/press-releases/ Follow the machines here: http://nighthacks.com/roller/jag/

James.

A game of intelligence

The woman walked to the access port and pressed her hand against the panel.  It flickered into life and displayed a large red X.  She pressed her hand on the panel again, with the same result.  Hearing a noise behind her she turned to watch the room’s entrance, but none of the creatures pursuing her had made it throught the maze yet.  She pulled on the door, trying to force it open – but it stayed firmly shut.  With a rising sense of desperation she pressed her hand on the panel once more.  This time a question mark appeared and a voice crackled from the panel.  “I’ll let you through if you win my game.”  It said.  Beneath her hand she saw a grid form and colourful icons appeared facing each other in ranks.

Michael Cook at Imperial College, London has developed an AI system ‘Angelina’ that can build complete computer games from scratch (minus the graphics and sound).  It separates the components within the game and designs each in isolation, bringing them together to deliver a finished product.  While not up to the standards of today’s immersive 3D games, the results are reminiscent of early PC games from the 80s.  Read an article here: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328554.900-ai-designs-its-own-video-game.html Try one of the games here: http://www.gamesbyangelina.org/

James.

The dance of the satellites

The surveillance craft turned as it continued its silent orbit of the Moon.  Its sensors focussed on the surface, ready to track any movement below.  Following in its orbit, invisible to the sensors of the first spacecraft, a second angular shape slowly gained ground.  As it approached it readied a concentrated burst of electromagnetic energy.

NASA has announced that the twin GRAIL Moon satellites have started their science mission.  They will track the distance between the two craft as they pass over sections of the Moon that may be more or less dense.  This will give scientists data to model the internal structure of the Moon, and hence refine theories as to its origin and evolution.  Read the press release here:  http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/mar/HQ_12-070_GRAIL_Science_Begins.html

James.

The running robot

Slow at first and then with increasing speed the robot sprints across the harsh terrain.  Its razor-like feet digging into the rugged surface propelling it forward.  It knows how long it has to reach the waypoint and the consequences if it fails to get there in time.  It assigns even more processing power to its pattern recognition algorithms, keen to identify any obstacles before they hinder its progress.

Everybody’s favourite funding source DARPA has release a video of a ‘cheetah’ robot that has just set the record for the fastest legged robot.  It can run at an impressive 18mph, which would allow it to complete the 100m in under 13 seconds.  I will keep a look out for it when the olympics kick off in London later this year.  See a video and press release here: http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/03/05.aspx

James.

The world drifting through darkness

A circle of darkness obscures the starfield beyond.  It moves slowly and silently through the cold reaches of deep space.  As it approaches, a hint of light can be seen glittering from its surface, then suddenly it coalesces into the shape of a planet.  Alone, far from the system that gave birth to it, the planet wanders between the stars.  The surface has cooled long ago, but beneath that surface the heat from the center of the world provides a dwindling source of energy.

Researchers predict that nomad planets, which do not orbit any star, are far more common than previously thought.  They can be ejected from their original systems for a variety of reasons, including the most spectacular celestial event, a super nova.  If models are correct, then these planets far-outnumber the stars in the sky.  Read an article here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/02/120224-rogue-nomad-planets-stars-black-holes-space-science/

James.

The computer on the wall

Sporting a device reminiscent of the shoulder weapon from Predator, a man slowly appoaches a white-washed wall. Suddenly, at the touch of a finger, images and words spread out around his hand, giving him direct access to the previously unseen digital universe.  His gestures and manipulations change that world.  Then, satisifed, he closes his view of the digital world and walks away.

The technology is a demonstration system from Microsoft Research that can use any available surface to act as the interface for user interaction.  See a video and links here: http://research.microsoft.com/apps/video/?id=160684

As the technology shrinks and new ways of using the technology advance, expect to see the requirements for a surface dissappear, with the depth sensor working directly on images augmented to the users reality.  Sci-fi tech seeping into the real.

James.