Robotic salvation

He shivered.  The cold was starting to creep through him.  He pushed at the concrete beam again, but it did not give.  Thirst welled up inside him as he recalled the water cooler that had been just across the office before the building collapsed four days earlier.  He tried to put it from his mind.  Suddenly a low-powered drilling noise sounded above him.  Dust started to fall on to his face, causing him to cough and raise his free arm against the downfall.  When the dust stopped he moved his arm away.  In front of him a white plastic shape was pulling itself through the opening.  Once through it reconfigured itself into the shape of a humanoid.  It popped open a compartment on its chest and retrieved a water bottle.  Holding it in front of him the machine said, “Drink this.”

DARPA has announced a competition with a $2 million prize for robotics and software enthusiasts to build a machine that can be used to help out in disaster situations.  The winning robot will need to perform a series of tasks including using tools and vehicles. See the press release here: http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/04/10.aspx Go to the challenge page here: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=ee8e770bcfe1fe217472342c67d6bd5a&tab=core&_cview=0

James.

The beast under salmon skies

The creature rose to its hind feet, looked upwards at the salmon-coloured skies and roared.  The rocks nearby started to shake and dust drifted from the widening cracks.  It was unchallenged as the dominant creature of the dominant species on the planet and it would assert this as often as possible.  It saw a metallic streak puncture the atmosphere and plunge towards the surface.  Calculating its impact point the creature returned to all-fours and galloped to meet the craft.  It hadn’t tasted metal before and was keen to see if there was anything edible inside.

Scientists working on the HARPS project at the ESO have announced that there are far more Earth-sized planets in the universe than previously thought.  Many within the habitable zone that could give rise to life.  They estimate that there about 100 potentially habitable planets orbiting red dwarfs within 30 light-years of Earth.  See the press release here: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1214/

James.

Reality fading into view

A pulse of light flashed in her peripheral vision drawing her attention away from the ghost image of the book she was reading.  As she turned her head to follow the pulse the text floating before her faded from sight.  Behind it was revealed the real-world departure board.  She examined the line her reality tracker had picked out – her plane was boarding.  It was time to leave.  She nodded her tracker to idle, picked up her case and headed for the gate.

Google has announced a prototype wearable computer system, Project Glass.  It provides an interactive augmented reality that is delivered by lightweight glasses. See the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c6W4CCU9M4

James.

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.

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.