Archive for the 'Science' Category
It’s not like DARPA hasn’t been trying to miniaturize unmanned aerial vehicles already, but its Nano Air Vehicle program is yet another attempt to find tiny, ultra-lightweight devices that could theoretically “perform indoor and outdoor military missions.” More specifically, it’s looking for something less than 7.5-centimeters and under 10-grams, and the overriding goal is to “explore novel, bio-inspired, conventional and unconventional configurations to provide the warfighter with unprecedented capability for urban mission operations.” Reportedly, AeroVironment already has an idea in mind for such a drone (pictured), but as these type things always go, we’ve no idea how soon we’ll see critters like these take to the skies with a thumb-sized American flag plastered on the side.
You know that impossible-to-miss NASDAQ sign on Broadway at 43rd Street in New York City? Yeah, the one that’s 11,000-square feet in size. The Walgreen Company has set out to make that look like child’s play, as it aims to erect a 250,000-pound sign at a three-level emporium in Times Square. Said display will reportedly be used to “raise [the drugstore's] visibility in New York,” while doubling as a “focal point for it nationally.” This beast will be covered in 12 million LEDs — 17,000 square feet of them, to be exact — and you can only imagine the hardware that will be required behind the scenes to keep this thing up and running. If you just can’t wait until next fall to peep this in person, head southward to the read link and dig in.
Ask yourself this: Are you a statistic or a specific example? That’s the question being raised in the aftermath of a study in which researchers secretly tracked the locations of 100,000 people to determine their movement patterns. Such studies are considered invasions of privacy — and illegal — in the United States, but this one was done in an undisclosed industrialized nation. The subjects were chosen at random out of a pool of 6 million from a mystery wireless provider and tracked based on cell tower triangulation and other “tracking devices.” Study co-author Cesar Hidalgo at Northeastern University promises that researchers didn’t know the individuals’ phone numbers or identities, and offers that the results are a major advance for science. The study found that people are homebodies — most stay within 20 miles of their home and are rather habitual. Scientists say the findings — to be published in Nature on Thursday — can help improve public transit systems and even fight contagious diseases.
We can’t say we’re terribly saddened that this riveting caper has finally ended — after all, the poor crew needs a reliable place to unload, right? Shortly after the space shuttle Discovery delivered a new pump for the jury-rigged commode, Oleg Kononenko — who we hear is now widely regarded as a galactic hero — spent around two hours installing the hardware and running a trio of tests. After everything was tightened up and functioning as advertised, the crew presumably relieved themselves just before carrying on with the installation of the recently acquired Kibo lab. Crisis averted.
It looks like relative upstart Seegrid is doing its part to help robots snag a few more jobs normally reserved from us humans, with it now showing off its autonomous Industrial Mobile Robot system (or IMR), which promises to let self-navigating material handling vehicles work in environments that were previously not economically or technically feasible for them to serve. At the heart of the system is a beefed up “tugger” ordinarily used for pushing shopping carts around, which has been outfitted with four pairs of cheap CMOS cameras that are connected via plain old USB to the computer under the hood. That allows the bot to look around and build a 3D map of just about any area, which it can then follow to a tee over and over again. Head on past the break to check it out in action.
[Via Engineering TV]
We’ve already seen a number of attempts to more seamlessly integrate solar cells into everyday environments, but none have quite gone as far as this latest prototype from the folks at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Mitsubishi, and Tokki Corp. As you can see above, they’ve come up with a solution that shouldn’t look too out of place nestled in with some actual foliage, with a special protective film encapsulating each of the solar models to ensure they stand up to the outdoors. The institute (no stranger to unique concepts) apparently isn’t stopping there, however, saying that it also has plans to expand its use of organic thin-film solar cells into other areas where design is important, including walls, windows, clothing, and livingware, to name but a few.
While JAYS’ q-JAYS claimed to be the “smallest earphones on the market” just days ago, we doubt Klipsch would be willing to agree. Turns out, the firm’s IMAGE earbuds are also proclaiming that they are the “world’s smallest and lightest in-ear earphones,” and while we haven’t seen the ruler busted out just yet, we fear it may be needed to settle this obvious conflict. Regardless, these ‘buds utilize patent-pending Contour Ear Gels, KG926 balanced micro-armatures, aluminum bodies that are finished in anodized copper, and come with 50-inch long vinyl cables. Ready for a November release, the IMAGE earphones will ring up at $349 and will arrive with a carrying case and pouch, a 1/4-inch / airline adapter, five sets of ear gels, and a cleaning tool to boot. Click on for a literal hands-on shot.
Live Wires creates some noise in the music market by selling custom headphones for hundreds less than its competitors
Live Wires is a new and unique company, which makes custom-molded in ear headphones for the consumer market. Launched in 2007, the goal was simple — create an affordable professional-grade version of this technology, typically reserved for rock stars, and bring it to end users.
At the time of the company’s product launch in February 2007, custom molded earbuds cost around $800 to $900, putting them out of the reach of most consumers. Live Wire headphones retail for a mere $249.
The design of Live Wires features dual balanced armature drivers, one tweeter and one woofer. This driver pair combines to help give the earphones much higher-end sound quality and better efficiency than single driver moving coil designs, typical in the earbud market. The drivers have a range of 20 Hz to 16 KHz, offer 126 dB/mW sensitivity at 1 KHz, and have a mere 22 ohms of impedance. They also provide 25-28 dB of noise isolation as, well making them well suited for noisy environments like airports or during motorcycle or bus rides.
By comparison, Shure sells what is considered a relatively good in-ear headphone model, which are not custom molded but retail for around $119. The Shure se110 features a higher impedance of 27 ohms (lower is better) and a lower sensitivity of 113 dB/mW. The isolation for these phones is only 90 percent of ambient noise, only around a 19.5 dB noise isolation (25-28 dB is around a 99.9985% noise reduction).
Another interesting feature of the headphones is that the wires are full rotatable, allowing any style of wear. This allows for up and over the ear wear, or a more casual “Y” style of wear, with the cords dangling downwards. The cables also feature a custom adapter, which guarantees in-phase signal.
Live Wires co-developer John Diles tells DailyTech, “The creative process for the product was a result of my close relationship with Earl Neal, Toby Keith’s monitor engineer. Our lengthy conversations abotu ear monitoring and what features we’d like to offer led us to the introduction of Live Wires.”
Diles claims his target audience is everyone “from Jon Herington of Steely Dan — who enthusiastically endorses us — to a 16 year audiophile who wants to extract every minute tone flowing from his portable rig. We feel there is too large a discrepancy between what professional artists demand in their ears and what consumers of music have to tolerate in their ears.”
Diles points out that while the headphones are much lower priced than competitive entries, the parts used are from “the most prestigious manufacturers in the industry,” such as Knowles, which makes the balanced armatures.
Despite the fact that it is targeted to consumers, Diles says 40 percent of the headphones’ sales are to music professionals. Steely Dan’s guitarist, Jon Herington is an avid supporter. All of Jimmie Kimmel’s band wear the product. Mr. Diles points to this acceptance as a sign of the company’s success, stating, “Our dual-driver design is very pleasing sonicaly as well, as is evidenced by our rapid acceptance into the touring world.”
Deaf Dancing With The Stars contestant Marlee Matlin uses the Live Wires earphones when she performans. Matlin, like many legally deaf people, has some hearing in her inner ear. The high level of isolation lets her hear the music to some extent, critical to her performance.
Carbon nanotubes look to step in and pick up where copper trails off.
The scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, located in Troy, New York, have been busy playing with carbon nanotubes (CNT) for the past few years. Their research has brought us the possibility of paper batteries, remote-controlled disease killing bombs, and the blackest material in the world.
Saroj Nayak, associate professor at Rensselaer’s Department of Physics, Applied Physics and Astronomy, recently led a team on a research project to compare the conductive properties of copper nanowires with that of carbon nanotube bundles. The conclusion probably won’t be much of a shock: CNT bundles came out on top.
Rather than comparing the empirical data between the two subjects, Nayak’s team used the world’s fastest university based supercomputer, Rensselaer’s Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, to study their quantum mechanical properties. While empirical measurements are fine for research at a normal scale, the interaction of molecules, atoms, and some of their building blocks are more accurately measured below the macro scale using quantum mechanical observations.
The team’s ultimate goal was to learn which material would be better for microchip interconnects. Copper interconnects are quickly coming to a choke point as chip cores continue their downward spiral. The current 45nm technology is not predicted to be the final blow, thanks to things like high-k metal interconnect gates. Some research suggests cores built on 15nm technology are more than feasible.
However, replacing the copper that is currently used for interconnects with a more efficient material would be a boon to chip makers and designers, possibly allowing them to even further shrink the process.
Though CNT bundles look to be a promising new material for microchips, there are still some ramifications to be dealt with before mass production could start. An economical way to grow the bundles, as well as a method to ensure the tubes themselves are 100% metallic will have to be found. A more thorough understanding of the electrical properties of CNTs as interconnects will be needed as well.
Nayak’s groups’ research will be featured in the March issue of Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter.
Researchers simulate childhood thought process, further blurring the line between artificial intelligence and biological intelligence
While some skeptics, such as Apple-cofounder Steve Wozniak, dismiss artificial intelligence insisting that robots will never be able to reach a human level of thinking process and behavior, the reality is that artificial intelligence is fast approaching human level thought process. Battlefield robots are making life and death decisions, and an international panel recently met to discuss whether robots could be tried for war crimes.
In vehicles, DailyTech witnessed firsthand the GM-sponsored DARPA robotic driver navigate a complicated course with efficiency matching or surpassing that of a human. Meanwhile, SRI National works to create DARPA funded robotic assistants which learn and organize thoughts in a human-like fashion.
As robots become more and more human-like, we face the duality of the result. On the one hand, in creating something that is human-like we learn more about what makes us human; on the other hand, by creating a replica of man, the line between human and machine becomes more blurry. As we enter the future, reality in the virtual world and real world is merging into one. Scientists already demonstrated the first “mixed reality” systems — systems in which a virtual and a real world device were indistinguishable.
Continuing along the path of convergence between biology and the digital world, researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) are developing complex artificial intelligence to control characters in the popular online game Second Life. These characters will be able to have beliefs, distinguish human and AI characters’ beliefs, and manipulate the behaviors of human and AI characters based on these beliefs.
The team unveiled their first creation, a 4-year old child avatar dubbed “Eddie”, at an AI conference. The avatar not only follows the aforementioned intelligence goals, developing beliefs, but also behaves psychologically like a human child. Researcher Selmer Bringsjord explains the creation process, stating, “Current avatars in massively multiplayer online worlds — such as Second Life — are directly tethered to a user’s keystrokes and only give the illusion of mentality. Truly convincing autonomous synthetic characters must possess memories; believe things, want things, remember things.”
You won’t be seeing a character like Eddie walking around on the street for a little while explains Bringsjord — Eddie’s complex behavior requires the processing power of a supercomputer. The processing power is leverage to combine traditional logic-based artificial intelligence with computational cognitive modeling techniques.
Understanding, predicting, and being capable of manipulating the behavior of humans is one benchmark of intelligence, and the principles behind how this works in the human mind is known appropriately as the “theory of mind”. The RPI team’s research marks one of the largest efforts to date to engineer based on the principles of the theory of mind. The researchers, implementing the part logic and part math theory, impart on the AI-controlled avatars an understanding of such “human” concepts as betrayal, revenge, and evil.
Similarly, they employ human-like stages of cognitive development. For example, Eddie behaves correctly in a false-belief test. In a typical false belief test a person observers an object, in this case a virtual teddy bear. When the person leaves the room, another person moves the object to a different location. Upon the return of the first person to the room, the adult observer expects them to look in the old location of the object, knowing that they don’t have knowledge of the move. However, a child four years old or younger will think that they will look in the new location, not understanding that they couldn’t see the move. In an example of a case where it’s right to be wrong, Eddie correctly believed in the “false” location, the proper “human” behavior for a child.
Eddie can also be digitally switched to have adult-like reasoning and make the correct decision. The reasoning is accomplished by an automated theorem prover. An interface takes conversational English in Second Life and turns it into formal logic, which is processed by the prover. A video clip of Eddie in action can be viewed here.
The RPI research is sponsored by IBM. The RPI team’s final goal is to place humans in a Star Trek-like holodeck filled with projected virtual characters with human-like behavior. The researchers say that they could accomplish such a simulation in theory by leveraging the processing power of RPI’s Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI) and the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC).
With over 100 teraflops of computing power, the CCNI is the most powerful university supercomputer in the world. It is composed of massively parallel Blue Gene supercomputers, POWER-based Linux clusters, and AMD Opteron processor-based clusters. And soon, it may be thinking, just like humans, if the RPI team continues in its success.