May 06, 2013

Lassoing solar wind with an electric tether

posted by Laura Domela

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A group of students hailing from Estonia are about to do something remarkable. Well, two things really. They are about to launch what will be their nation's first satellite into orbit. (A fantastic milestone in and of itself.) But what the satellite is theoretically capable of doing is just as important.

The small, cube-like satellite — fittingly named ESTCube-1 — aims to sail upon the currents of solar wind in an innovative new way: by electrifying metal tethers. The tethers will electromagnetically interact with solar wind, so instead of just being pushed along by photons which happen to collide with the spacecraft's sail, (as is the case with traditional models), the new design will actually charge itself up and grab hold of them.
via DVICE

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Image credit: University of Tartu/ESTCUBE team

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May 06, 2013

Strange Symphony: A trumpet that blasts solos made of glass

posted by Larra Morris

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A glassblower's weapon of choice has been a simple blowpipe over 2,000 years now. It's a tried and true device. But that doesn't mean there's no room to jazz it up a little, and that's exactly what "Strange Symphony" does.

A collaboration between designer Philpp Weber and glassblower Christophe Genard, Strange Symphony takes the time-tested blowpipe and bolts it on to a modern trumpet's guts, allowing its user to "improvise" each piece of glass. Each key on the trumpet directs air out a different hole on the device's business end, and produces some unusual results.
via Gizmodo

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May 06, 2013

Seahorse tails may hold key to flexible robotic tentacles (video)

posted by Larra Morris

 

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Though the seahorse isn't the only armored creature on Earth, it is perhaps the most flexible. Its monkey-like prehensile tail allows it to hook onto corals and seaweed. But the researchers wondered whether the armor provides protection from crushing, which is the favored mode of attack used by its natural predators, which include crabs and turtles. By compressing sections of seahorse tails, the researchers found that these could be compressed down to just over half the original width without permanent damage occurring. The tail needed to be compressed by over 60 percent before the spinal column was permanently damaged, with connective tissues and tail muscles absorbing most of the compression...

The researchers are using 3D printing to replicate the structure of the plates, which would be attached to polymers to simulate muscles. The intent is to build a robotic arm that synthesizes hard and soft materials (unlike many other robotics projects, which the researchers say tend to favor either one or the other). Be creating an arm similar to the tail of a seahorse, researchers think the arm would be able to grasp objects of varying size, rather like a robotic tentacle. How might such an arm be used? Medical devices, exploring the oceans and bomb disposal are all potential uses, the researchers say.
via Gizmag

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Image: Joanna McKittrick research group/Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego

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May 06, 2013

SOINN artificial brain can now use the internet to learn new things (video)

posted by Larra Morris

A group at Tokyo Institute of Technology, led by Dr. Osamu Hasegawa, has succeeded in making further advances with SOINN, their machine learning algorithm, which can now use the internet to learn how to perform new tasks. The system, which is under development as an artificial brain for autonomous mental development robots, is currently being used to learn about objects in photos using image searches on the internet. It can also take aspects of other known objects and combine them to make guesses about objects it doesn't yet recognize.
via Robots Dreams

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May 06, 2013

Quadruped walks of four legs, rolls on four treads (video)

posted by Larra Morris

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This robot doesn’t know if it’s a walker or a tank. It’s the brain-child of [Marc Hamende] who works as a mechanical engineer by day and mad roboticist at night...

The mechanism for each foot is fascinating. He milled the white pieces which stack together to encapsulate the motor that runs the treads. These assemblies pivot to bring the metal rod serving as a walking foot in contact with the ground. But they also make it possible to adjust the treads to deal with rough terrain. A Propeller chip drives the device, with an Xbee module to communicate with the controller.
via Hack a Day

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May 06, 2013

Color-changing gloves alert lab workers to invisible toxins

posted by Larra Morris

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The trickiest part of avoiding exposure to toxic substances is that they're often invisible, odorless, and undetectable to our five senses. And as an alternative to expensive detectors and other electronic sensors, researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies EMFT in Regensburg have created a simple pair of gloves that turn color in the presence of toxic airborne materials.

The gloves are covered in a specially synthesized indicator dye that reacts to toxic substances by changing color. And the dye's chemical makeup can be tweaked to detect various toxins, like carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulfide.
via Gizmodo

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May 03, 2013

Perform Pachelbel on a pint-sized playable pop-up paper piano (video)

posted by Larra Morris

Taking those electronic music playing greeting cards to a whole new level, Antonella Nonnis created a playable paper piano that she eventually hopes to turn into one of the awesomest pop-up books you've ever seen.

The paper keys are all lined with a strip of copper foil that's wired to a series of megaohm resistors and an Arduino. Using the same capacitive approach as your smartphone's display, the electronics can sense when and which key is being pressed to produce the appropriate synthesized tone. So instead of only playing Happy Birthday, one day a card could be used to play an entire concerto.
via Gizmodo

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May 03, 2013

Shapeshifters: phones of the future could morph on demand (video)

posted by Larra Morris

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Scientists in Europe have developed prototype devices that could drastically change the way we interact with our smartphones and tablets. The six working prototypes, known as "Morphees," are thin, electronic displays capable of automatically changing shape to perform certain functions. Researchers say that if brought to market, the devices could usher in a new era in mobile computing, breaking down the physical barriers that have traditionally defined smartphones, tablets, and gaming consoles.
via The Verge

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May 03, 2013

What roboticists can learn from art, and what artists can learn from robots (video)

posted by Larra Morris

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Velonaki's Diamandini was part of a five-year project that ends this year. The goal was not just building interesting robotic machines, but also gathering data on how visitors interacted with the installations. Velonaki and her team recorded data of how more than 28,000 people interacted with their robotic statue. Their work gives us a glimpse into how robots can make an emotional connection to engage humans...

 

Velonaki’s Fish-Bird project from 2006 involved two robots named Fish and Bird. Visitors were told that the two robots couldn't be together due to "technical difficulties." The robots were shaped as empty wheelchairs, which Velonaki designed to evoke a feeling of absence of a person. The robots left love letters to each other via a miniature thermal printer, with poetic lines and personal confessions such as "my heart is broken" or "I'm so lonely," to produce empathy in the visitors. Each robot portrayed its personality through different cursive scripts printed on the papers and "outgoing" or "reserved" movements. For example, they faced visitors as they entered, and rolled alongside them, acknowledging their presence. Visitors that spent more time with the robots received more intimate messages from them.
via IEEE Spectrum

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Images and videos: Mari Velonaki

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May 03, 2013

NASA wants public to send haikus to Mars

posted by Larra Morris

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Haikus to Mars may sound like the title of a 1950s sci-fi B movie, but that’s what NASA is asking for. The space agency is inviting the public to submit haikus to be recorded on a DVD that will be carried by the unmanned Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft, which is scheduled to launch in November.

The submission call is part of the Going to Mars Campaign run by the mission’s principal investigator, the University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP). People are asked to go online at the Going to Mars website and submit a personal message in the form of a haiku.
via Gizmag

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Image: NASA

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