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It’s A Cricket. No, It’s A Robot!

It’s A Cricket. No, It’s A Robot!

At the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, there is a robot who can jump like a cricket. It was designed by a PhD student named Rhodri Armour, who is using it as a part of his thesis project.

The robot, who has been dubbed Jollbot, has two distinct forms of movement. It can both jump over obstacles and roll over smoother terrain. Why this is unique, well, the creator of the robot explained: “Others in the past have made robots that jump and robots that roll; but we’ve made the first robot that can do both.”

This grasshopper like movement is only one type of jumping that are found in nature. Each one has its own benefits and drawbacks but this form of jumping is a good choice for robots because of its storage capacity. “In nature there are two main types of jumping: hopping, like a kangaroo, which uses its fine control and direct muscle action to propel it along; and ‘pause and leap’, such as in a grasshopper, which stores muscle energy in spring-like elements and rapidly releases it to make the jump.”

Now that we know how it jumps, how does it roll?

The ‘Jollbot’ is shaped like a spherical cage which can roll in any direction, giving it the movement of wheels without the problem of overturning or getting stuck in potholes. This also means that the robot is also flexible and small, weighing less than a kilogram, meaning it’s not damaged when landing after jumping and is therefore less expensive than conventional robots.

How is the jump powered, without weighty batteries?

“Before jumping, the robot squashes its spherical shape. When it is ready, it releases the stored energy all at once to jump to heights of up to half a metre.”

But that is not to say that Armour has not given thought to alternate sources of power for the robot. “Future prototypes could include a stretchy skin covered in solar cells on the outside of the robot, so it could power itself, and robotic control sensors to enable it to sense its environment.”

The robot could in the future be used to map places like caves, or even to explore distant worlds.

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A New Way To Get Your Therapy

A New Way To Get Your Therapy

If you feel like you need to just vent, but you cannot make it all the way across town for a session to see your therapist then there is a new option coming for you.

A palm pilot Sure, you could just use the phone, but why not use your Palm Pilot?

In a new study, a University of Missouri researcher used Palm Pilots as electronic diaries to record and analyze mood variability in patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and found that the devices helped bridge an important communication gap between therapists and patients.

So what good is the digital diary? Well, let’s ask an expert.

“In the clinical setting, patients are not good at assessing their mood retrospectively,” said Tim Trull, professor of psychology in the MU College of Arts and Science. “Previously, we asked BPD patients to recall and describe when a mood change occurred. This description could vary greatly depending on the patient’s current state of mind and how comfortable the patient felt with the therapist.  Electronic diaries help solve this problem by requiring that the patient reflect on and rate the degree to which a specific mood is present at that moment. At the same time, the device does not require that the individual makes a decision about when a mood change has occurred.”

As a matter of fact you can learn a great deal about the mood and how it changes by using these tools with a therapist. Clinical studies have already been done.

In the study, patients carried electronic diaries for one month and were prompted randomly to rate their mood on a scale of 1 to 5 up to six times each day. One group of patients had BPD and the other group of patients had depressive disorders. Researchers found that patients with BPD did not have significantly different overall levels of positive or negative moods. However, the patients with BPD displayed significant variability in their positive and negative moods throughout the month, demonstrated more instability, and reported more extreme changes across successive occasions.

In fact soon, your Palm could become a little mini therapist.

We may not have known the extent of the mood variability in the BPD patients without the assistance of the Palm Pilots, and the potential use of the device in psychological therapy is very exciting,” Trull said. “Eventually, programmed Palm Pilots may act as proxy therapists and provide patients with advice on coping skills and other therapeutic interventions, as problems occur in patients’ natural environment.”

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Your Cell Phone Lets You Know If You’re Losing Weight and Going Green

Your Cell Phone Lets You Know If You’re Losing Weight and Going Green

So your phone already… keeps you connected to your boss 24/7… lets your friends bother you in the middle of a date by texting… alarm when you were right in the middle of that great dream…

And soon it will have a whole new way to micromanage your life for you thanks to researchers at the University of Washington. Now, your cell phone will be able to point it out when you gain a few extra pounds.

Oh, and they will also let you know when you are not being green enough.

Well, maybe I am exaggerating a bit, they are just two applications for your cell phone that are designed to help you manage your life.

Researchers at the University of Washington and Intel have created two new cell phone applications, dubbed UbiFit and UbiGreen, to automatically track workouts and green transportation. The programs display motivational pictures on the phone’s background screen that change the more the user works out or uses eco-friendly means of transportation.

UbiFit and UbiGreen are part of a larger project at the UW to use mobile computing in everyday activities and long-term goals such as fitness, said project leader James Landay, UW computer science and engineering associate professor. “You can’t get fit in a short period of time in one place,” he said. “It happens long-term, in many different places and ways.”

How does it work, you want to know?

screenshot of the applicationThe device includes an accelerometer to sense the user’s movement. The programs could run on phones with built-in accelerometers, such as the iPhone and the new Android G1, with no need for external equipment, Landay said. UbiGreen also relies on changing cell phone tower signals to determine whether a person is taking a trip. The sensing device determines what the user is doing based on how it gets jiggled around, Landay said — the localized motion at your waist will be different if you’re walking, jogging, or sitting in a car. The sensing device sends signals three times per second via Bluetooth to the cell phone, where the application averages these rapid signals and translates them into, for example, a 20-minute jog or a drive to work.

How do you know when you have reached your goals? Well each program has a unique way to display your progress.

UbiFit displays an empty lawn at the beginning of the week, and flowers grow as the user works out during the week. Different kinds of workouts yield different colored flowers. Users set weekly workout goals and are rewarded with a butterfly when the goal is met.

UbiGreen displays a tree on the cell phone’s background that grows leaves, flowers, then fruit as the user makes green choices. Icons light up when a choice saves money, incorporates exercise, or allows the user to multi-task. A green bar and number also display how many pounds of carbon dioxide each trip saves compared to a car ride.

“The last 30 years of personal computing has been in support of people sitting at their desks,” Landay said, “but the next wave will be these little computers that are with us all the time and have an understanding of our context in the physical world.”

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Woman To Replace Eyeball With a Webcam

Woman To Replace Eyeball With a Webcam

Tanya VlachSan Francisco artist Tanya Vlach lost her eye in 2005 in a car accident and had to wear an acrylic prosthetic eye. Now she wants to do something that has attracted the attention of engineers — to build a mini video camera into her prosthetic eye.

“There have been all sorts of cyborgs in science fiction for a long time, and I’m sort of a sci-fi geek,” said 35 year old Vlach. “With the advancement of technology, I thought, ‘Why not?'”

She issued a challenge on her blog — for tech experts to construct an “eye cam” for her prosthesis that can dilate with light changes, and zoom, focus and turn on/off with a simple blink.

Dr. William Danz, Vlach’s doctor, states: “I’d always given thought to using cameras to restore sight to the blind. This is a little different, more like James Bond stuff.”

Tanya Vlach claims that she has “a lot of ideas floating around” including sync’ing the video feeds wirelessly to a smart phone or even record her entire life and shoot a reality TV show from her perspective.

“It is possible to build a wireless camera with the dimensions of the eyeball,” said Want, a senior principal engineer at Intel Corp. “You can find spy cams or nanny cams designed to fit into inconspicuous places in the home…. In a world where eye cams are common, they might serve as a kind of computerized backup to people’s memories.”

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Mess With Your Home Movies

Mess With Your Home Movies

cameraLets say you have a home movie that is dear to you, one in your favorite house, the one that always felt like home, no matter what. In that video, (maybe it’s your kids’ first steps, your college graduation, whatever) there is an offending spot. It could be a picture of an ex you had a nasty breakup with or your in-laws or just a really bad choice of decor. Hey, we all make the mistake of thinking that a print of “The Scream” will look good in our living rooms, and the sad clown painted on velvet that you replaced it with is much better anyway, right? What if there was a way that you could get rid of that unsighly photo or decorating faux pas? A way to change the past and make everything pretty again.

No, I’m not talking about hypnosis of time travel. Just a little bit of technology.

Thanks to a group of collaborating researchers at Stanford University you may be able to do just that in the near future. The group, originally working on artificial intelligence, came up with a piece of software that allows the user to do exactly that. The software can put an image on almost any planar surface in a video, whether wall, floor or ceiling. That being said, you are not just limited to still photos, you can also use a video.

So other than goofing off what are the potential applications for this technology.  The researchers have suggested that anyone with a video camera might earn some spending money by agreeing to have unobtrusive corporate logos placed inside their videos before they are posted online. The person who shot the video, and the company handling the business arrangements, would be paid per view, in a fashion analogous to Google AdSense, which pays websites to run small ads.

The question then becomes do you want ads in your home movies? I can’t say that everyone will, but I am sure that there are a few people who will take the offer when it comes around.

You can see a demo at

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Instant Beauty Coming to A Photo of You

Instant Beauty Coming to A Photo of You

The results of the image software, before on top, after on bottomHave you ever wondered what you would look like if you could be as beautiful as a super model? It is only human nature, at least for those of use who were born without the perfect genetics, to try and figure it out.

Well researchers at the Tel Aviv University may just give you the chance to find out, without the amazingly high bills and associated risks of getting plastic surgery. They have built a computer designed to enhance the human face, a kind of instant beautifier for your photos.  How does it do this, why with that most sexy of fields, math.

Beauty, contrary to what most people think, is not simply in the eye of the beholder,” says lead researcher Prof. Daniel Cohen-Or of the Blavatnik School of Computer Sciences at Tel Aviv University. With the aid of computers, attractiveness can be objectified and boiled down to a function of mathematical distances or ratios, he says. This function is the basis for his beauty machine.

Of course, these type of things always come with a debate.

Beauty is, after all, a quality that has captivated artists since time immemorial, and its definition has eluded even the world’s greatest philosophers. Prof. Cohen-Or sees things more scientifically.

“Beauty can be quantified by mathematical measurements and ratios. It can be defined as average distances between features, which a majority of people agree are the most beautiful,” says Prof. Cohen-Or. “I don’t claim to know much about beauty. For us, every picture in this research project is just a collection of numbers.”

I bet that you are wondering how they made up that algorythm after all turning personal preference into hard data is no easy task. Well, I will tell you how it was done:

In a study, recently published in the journal Siggraph, for  computer graphics, Prof. Cohen-Or and his graduate student Tommer Leyvand  together with two colleagues  surveyed 68 Israeli and German men and women, aged 25 to 40, asking them to rank the beauty of 93 different men’s and women’s faces on a scale of 1 to 7. These scores were then entered into a database and correlated to 250 different measurements and facial features, such as ratios of the nose, chin and distance from ears to eyes.  From this, the scientists created an algorithm that applies desirable elements of attractiveness to a fresh image.

While this technology is not on the market yet you could end up seeing it in a lot of different places like:

– The offices of plastic suregons who want to develop more natural guides for working on their patients.

– In the offices of magazines, where cover models are often used.

– In your next digital camera. Imagine looking like a model in all of your family photos.

I know what you are thinking, “Is this really a breakthrough? I bet I could do the same thing at home with photoshop.”

While you can enhance your images with photoshop there is a difference between the two methods. Unlike heavily processed Photoshop images that can make magazine cover models and celebrities unrecognizable, Tel Aviv University’s “beautification engine” is much more subtle. Observers say that the final image it produces retains an unmistakable similarity to the original picture, unless, as it turns out, you happen to be a celebrity.

“We’ve run the faces of people like Brigitte Bardot and Woody Allen through the machine and most people are very unhappy with the results,” Prof. Cohen-Or admits. “But in unfamiliar faces, most would agree the output is better.” Of course, if you are a celebrity, you could just pay for a team of professionals to air brush you, then you won’t need the software.

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Lightbulbs May Replace Wi-Fi Connections

Lightbulbs May Replace Wi-Fi Connections

Wi-Fi LEDEngineers at Boston University are developing the next generation of wireless communications technology — LED lights. Information will be transmitted through visible light rather than radio waves. This “Smart Lighting” will use low power light emitting diodes, or LEDs, to deliver faster, more secure data communications wirelessly.

Essentialy, these LED lights would become the equivalent of a Wi-Fi access point.

BU Engineering Professor Thomas Little commented: “Imagine if your computer, iPhone, TV, radio and thermostat could all communicate with you when you walked in a room just by flipping the wall light switch and without the usual cluster of wires. This could be done with an LED-based communications network that also provides light – all over existing power lines with low power consumption, high reliability and no electromagnetic interference. Ultimately, the system is expected to be applicable from existing illumination devices, like swapping light bulbs for LEDs.”

With properly placed LED lighting, a wireless device in sight of the data-filled light would have access to the internet and network. Initial speeds of 1 to 10 megabit per second is expected. Furthermore, because light is unable to travel through solid walls, the data is less prone to “eavesdropping.” Less energy is also consumed by this method as opposed to traditional radio wave technology.

The core of this novel idea relies on the flickering of lights so rapid that it is unnoticable to the human eye. The flickering of light in different patterns would mean different signals, enabling data to be transmitted without noticeable change in room lighting.

Professor Little hopes to bring the technology outdoors to automobiles, in which brake lights of vehicles in front of a driver can be detected and warns the rear vehicle’s driver instanteously or even actively assisting in the braking.

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