Tag Archive | "Research"

It’s A Cricket. No, It’s A Robot!

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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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Measuring Carbon Dioxide With Lasers

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Measuring Carbon Dioxide With Lasers


The Plane with the systemA-SCOPE (Advanced Space Carbon and climate Observation of Planet Earth) has just ended its first study. This tool is one of six that are being investigated by the ESA (European Space Agency) in order to measure the current levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The mission concept, along with the other five, will be presented to the science community at a User Consultation Meeting in January 2009. Up to three missions will subsequently be selected for the next step of the implementation cycle (feasibility study), leading to the selection of ESA’s seventh Earth Explorer mission – envisaged to launch in the 2016 timeframe.

How does it work?

The Laser system The A-SCOPE mission would employ an innovative method of measuring total atmospheric column carbon dioxide from space to improve our understanding of the carbon cycle. The proposed measuring technique involves two short laser pulses being emitted at two adjacent wavelengths. This results in carbon dioxide being absorbed at one of the wavelengths but not by the other, which serves as a reference. The comparison of the reflected signals from both wavelengths yields the total column concentration of carbon dioxide. This novel approach implies that the return signal depends on the reflectance properties of the area of ground illuminated by the laser. However, current knowledge about how much ground reflectance varies is insufficient to accurately assess margins of error.

Two major exercises were carried out; one over northern Europe and another over southern Europe. In total more than 5000 km were flown and about 500,000 readings were acquired. Laser reflectivity measurements were taken over a wide range of terrains, including forest, agricultural land, olive groves, mountains, dry land, lakes as well over the open sea. Unexpectedly, the flights over the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas retrieved particularly strong signals. This is very encouraging since it demonstrates that the required precision of the measurements could even be met above the ocean, which was thought to be the most problematic of areas.

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Go Fusion with C-Mod

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Go Fusion with C-Mod


The fusion control room Our current nuclear (called fission) power has a little sibling, who just might be able to power the world safely one day when he grows up. This reaction, known as fusion, is the same type of energy we get from the sun’s. The idea of fusion as a viable power source is a popular one because a fusion plant operation produces no emissions, fuel sources are potentially abundant, and it produces relatively little (and short-lived) radioactive waste. But it still faces a lot of hurdles before it can come to market. Fusion could be the universal, green power source that the world needs.

The Alcator C-Mod reactor, which was originally created back in 1993, has the highest magnetic field and the highest plasma pressure of any fusion reactor in the world. In addition it is the largest fusion reactor operated by any university.

One of the most vexing issues facing those trying to construct a fusion plant is making sure that it can produce more power than it consumes, something never achieved even in lab experiments. The main issue is how one would propel the hot plasma (an electrically charged gas) around inside the donut-shaped reactor chamber. This is necessary to keep it from losing its heat of millions of degrees to the cooler vessel walls. Now, the MIT scientists think they may have found a way.

Thanks to two brillant researchers we may not only have that solution, but also have the ability to make the process more stable. Those researchers are physicist Yijun Lin and principal research scientist John Rice. They have led experiments that demonstrate a very efficient method for using radio-frequency waves to push the plasma around inside the vessel, not only keeping it from losing heat to the walls but also preventing internal turbulence that can reduce the efficiency of fusion reactions.

Lin says that “some of these results are surprising to theorists,” and as yet there is no satisfying theoretical foundation for why it works as it does. But the experimental results so far show that the method works, which could be crucial to the success of ITER and future power-generating fusion reactors. Lack of a controllable mechanism for propelling the plasma around the reactor “is potentially a showstopper,” Rice says, and the ITER team is “very concerned about this.”

One of these is a method developed by Dennis Whyte and Robert Granetz for preventing a kind of runaway effect that could cause severe damage to reactor components. When a fusion reactor is in operation, any disruption of the magnetic field that confines the super-hot plasma could cause a very powerful beam of “runaway electrons,” with enough energy to melt through solid steel. This would not be dangerous to personnel because everything is well-shielded, but it could cause hardware damage that would be expensive and time-consuming to repair.

So, its not perfect yet, but its a step in the right direction.

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That Robot Pulled Me Out Of My Collapsed House

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That Robot Pulled Me Out Of My Collapsed House


OK, so no one has gotten to say it yet, but they might get to in the near future. A new breed of robot rescuers is being tested in order to take some of the strain and risk off of the shoulders of human first responders, and get to trapped people in places where humans would never be able to go, or find potentially dangerous chemicals.

Theses prototype bots were recently put to the test.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) held a rescue robot exercise in Texas last week in which about three dozen robots were tested by developers and first responders in order to develop a standard suite of performance tests to help evaluate candidate mechanical rescuers. This exercise was sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate to develop performance standards for robots for use in urban search and rescue missions.

Robot in a simulated forest This also represents a new level of equality in robotics research, where data can be compares in an apples to apples and not an apples to oranges situation. “It is challenging to develop the test standards as the robots are still evolving,” explained Elena Messina, acting chief of the Intelligent Systems Division, “because standards are usually set for products already in use. But it is critical for developers to be able to compare results, which is not possible without reproducible test environments. So, we have reproducible rough terrain that everyone can build in their labs, whereas you can’t reproduce a rubble pile. This way, developers in Japan can run tests, and people in Chicago can understand what the robot achieved.”

Exercises included testing battery capacity by having robots perform figure eights on an undulating terrain and mobility tests in which robots ran through increasingly challenging exercises beginning with climbing steps and escalating to climbing ramps and then making it up steps with unequal gaps. A new mapping challenge introduced at this event tests how accurate a robot-generated map can be—the robot must traverse a simulated “wooded area” that has uneven terrain and PVC pipes for trees, and create a map using its sensors.

If you happen to be wondering what that looks like you can see the video at the Disaster City TEEX Web site: www.teexblog.blogspot.com/. I strongly recomend checking it out.

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Powered by Light

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Powered by Light


Can light move things?

Current solar cells are too weak to have the sun power our cars, unless you plan on putting panels on a whole semi truck that is.

What about without the specialized cells — can things be moved then?

Yale thinks that you can.

Researchers who hale from the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science have shown that the force of light indeed can be harnessed to drive machines. For now there is just one catch: it only works when the process is scaled to nano-proportions.

The devices all run on semiconductors that harness the weak force of light and translate it into energy for motion.

The Semiconductor

So, how far are we from having the dream of many a science fiction writer come true? Well, it could be a while.

“While the force of light is far too weak for us to feel in everyday life, we have found that it can be harnessed and used at the nanoscale,” said team leader Hong Tang, assistant professor at Yale. “Our work demonstrates the advantage of using nano-objects as “targets” for the force of light — using devices that are a billion-billion times smaller than a space sail, and that match the size of today’s typical transistors.”

So, what could this technology be used to do once it grows up a bit?

Well the current target categories include devices that are designed for information processing and sensing devices, as well as telecommunications that run at ultra-high speed and consume little power.

I bet you are wondering how this is different than current solar technologies. Well, lets go back to the expert for that answer.

“When researchers talk about optical forces, they are generally referring to the radiation pressure light applies in the direction of the flow of light,” said Tang. “The new force we have investigated actually kicks out to the side of that light flow.” The researchers showed that when the concentrated light was guided through a nanoscale mechanical device, significant light force could be generated — enough, in fact, to operate nanoscale machinery on a silicon chip.

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Predict Human Behaviors with Your Computer

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Predict Human Behaviors with Your Computer


So do you want to:

– Find out how if your girlfriend really will flirt with your best friend when you back is turned?

– Outwit your enemies as they plot against you in the dead of the night?

– Find out just what will happen to your boss if you were to lock him in his office at 5pm with a wedge under the door?

– Just find out how many people it really does take to make your nervous co-worker feel claustrophobic.

Well, you can’t do those things right now but you might also be able to do that in the future thanks to new and improved computer behavior modeling techniques.

Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology department has created a computer model that can predict how people will complete a controlled task and how the knowledge needed to complete that task develops over time.

Frank Ritter, associate professor of IST and psychology, and his research associates, used the Soar programming language, which is designed to represent human knowledge, on a 20-trial circuit troubleshooting task most recently done by 10 students at the University of Nottingham, UK.

Each participant was to identify faults in a circuit system after memorizing the organization of its components and switches. This process was repeated 20 times for each person, with the series of tests chosen randomly each time. Their choices and reaction times were recorded and compared with the computer model’s results.

Much like the students, the computer model, called Diag, learned as it went through each test and developed the knowledge for completing the task quickly and efficiently.

“The model does not merely accurately predict problem-solving time for the human participants; it also replicates the strategy that human participants use, and it learns at the same rate at which the participants learn,” Ritter said.

In most cases, the model came within two to four seconds of predicting how long it would take each participant to solve the problem and it fit eight out of the 10 participants’ problem-solving times very well.

“The project shows we can predict human learning on a fine-grained level,” Ritter said. “Everyone thinks that’s possible, but here’s an actual model doing it. The model provides a detailed representation of how a transfer works, and that transfer process is really what education is about.”

So, you may have to get your potential victim to spend some time with the machine, but once that happens you can predict with comfort and ease.

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Global Virtual Library, Science Information Soon to be Shared Worldwide

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Global Virtual Library, Science Information Soon to be Shared Worldwide


An ICSU group photo.Scientists from one hundred and thirty countries want to redo existing world data centres and services in order to create a World Data System. The group of scientists is know as the General Assembly of the International Council for Science (ICSU).

The reasons cited for this change include:

  • More scientific data and information is now available than at any other time in history and the volume
    is increasing daily.
  • long-term stewardship availability of this data is largely uncertain and a large amount of valuable scientific data remains in-accessible to many members of the scientific  community.
  • To provide  full and open access to scientific data and products for the global community.

What do people in the position to make decisions about the sharing of scientific data have to say about this?

Ray Harris, chair of the expert Committee that produced the report said, ‘Data is the lifeblood of
science and there are many exciting developments, which mean that access to scientific data both for
science and for policy making should be much easier.  However, in many areas there is little order and
the origin and reliability of what one finds on the web can be almost impossible to determine’.
‘A more strategic and systematic international approach, together with significant financial investment
at the national level, is urgently required if we are to realise the full benefit of science for society,’
Harris continued.

Dave Carlson, the Director of the programme office for the International Polar Year (IPY)—a major,
ICSU-sponsored, interdisciplinary research programme that is using and generating enormous
amounts of data—added: ‘There are more than 200 IPY research projects, funded to the tune of 1.5
billion Euros, and its major legacy should be the data that will inform polar research for years to come.
But we still don’t know how most of this data will be handled’.

ICSU will be implementing the recommendations for a World Data System over the next three years. The report cand more information on the General Assembly are available at: www.icsu.org/3_mediacentre/GA_29.html

Who knows what kind of advances this sharing of research might yield.

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