Category: Science

NASA wants self-controlling robots

humans-channel4-amc-sci-fi-tv-seriesNASA’s autonomous robotics group have created a 3D robot user interface which could be the first step towards robots with independent minds.

The group is currently developing new technology to improve how humans explore the solar system, and how robots can help.

Terry Fong, senior scientist for autonomous systems at the NASA Ames Research Centre, said that the cunning plan was for humans to interact with autonomous systems and create trusted systems.

When NASA began working with remotely operated robots several years ago, Fong said the scientists needed a piece of software that would allow them to look at terrain and sensor data coming from autonomous robots. That led to the creation of the VERVE interface which allows scientists to see and grasp the three-dimensional world of remotely operated robots.

Verve has been tested with NASA’s K10 planetary rovers (a prototype mobile robot that can travel bumpy terrain), with its K-Rex planetary rovers (robot to determine soil moisture), with SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) on the International Space Station (ISS), and the new Astrobee – a robot that can fly around the ISS.

In 2013, NASA carried out a series of tests with astronauts on the ISS, during which astronauts who were flying 200 miles above Earth remotely operated the K10 planetary rover in California.

Maria Bualat, deputy lead of intelligent robotics group at the NASA Ames Research Centre said that because of the time delay, astronauts can’t just “joystick a robot” and need the bot to complete tasks on its own.

“On the other hand, you still want the human in the loop, because the human brings a lot of experience and very powerful cognitive ability that can deal with issues that the autonomy’s not quite ready to handle.”

Human capabilities and robotic capabilities comprise a powerful combination.

One of the goals at NASA is to transfer its technology to the commercial sector, such as supporting autonomous vehicles in partnership with Nissan.

Google kills off solar powered drone

s50wing3600x2025orig-1A Google division which was running a solar-powered drone programme is being mothballed as the outfit cuts back on its “moonshots”.

X, Alphabet’s moonshot division, has shut down a project with the unfortunate name Titan. Coincidently another project with the same name was run by Apple to build self-driving cars and it was shut down too. It seems that the Titans don’t approve.

Google bought Titan Aerospace in 2014. The outfit had been developing solar-powered drones that could fly for several days at a time and take images of earth or beam down internet.

Titan was folded into X and then into Project Wing which works on delivery drones. An X representative said Google would focus on Project Loon, which makes high-altitude balloons, for delivering internet from the sky.

Loon is a more promising way to connect rural and remote parts of the world. Many people from the Titan team are now using their expertise as part of other high flying projects at X, including Loon and Project Wing, Google said.

Beware the peace sign man

cd279694-7078-4a03-949d-4c6871c8d112_thumbFlashing peace signs in Internet snaps might be giving spooks access to your personal data, smartphone and smart houses.

A new study from Japan’s National Institute of Informatics (NII) says fingerprint recognition technology is so common place on smartphones, tablets and laptop computers that spooks and hackers want to get their paws on your pawprints.

Mobile devises with high-quality cameras and social media sites where photographs can be easily posted is raising the risk of personal information being leaked, reports said.

The NII researchers copied fingerprints based on photos taken by a digital camera three metres away from the subject.

NII researcher Isao Echizen told the Sankei Shimbun newspaper that just by making a peace sign in front of a camera, fingerprints can become widely available.

If you give someone else bunny ears, or even waive you could also have your fingerprint stolen.

“Fingerprint data can be recreated if fingerprints are in focus with strong lighting in a picture,” Echizen also told Yomiuri TV.

He added that advanced technology was not necessary and anyone could easily copy fingerprints.

NII has developed a transparent film containing titanium oxide that can be attached to fingers to hide their prints. The film prevents identity theft but does not interfere with fingerprints being effective in identity verification.

It just means that whenever you think you are going to be photographed you put on the film. Of course, a spook with a cool long lens can probably snap you when you least expect it when your hands are naked, but we suspect that will be the least of the technology’s problems.

Linked in and eBay millionaires invest to save us from AI

cybermen__quot_delete_quot__campaign_by_degaspiv-d33hjoaTwo millionaires have each committed $10 million to save the world from the troubles of AI.

Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s non-profit are spending a fortune funding academic research and development aimed at keeping artificial intelligence systems ethical.

The fund received an additional $5 million from the Knight Foundation and two other $1 million donations from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Jim Pallotta, founder of the Raptor Group. The $27 million reserve is being anchored by MIT’s Media Lab and Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

While the project acknowledges that AI has its uses they are worried that things can go wrong. The most critical challenge is making sure that machines are not trained to perpetuate and amplify the same human biases that plague society.

The money will pay for research to investigate how socially responsible artificially intelligent systems can be designed to, say, keep computer programs that are used to make decisions in fields like education, transportation and criminal justice accountable and fair.

The group wants to talk with the public about and foster understanding of the complexities of artificial intelligence. The two universities will form a governing body along with Hoffman and the Omidyar Network to distribute the funds.

Mathematics suggests western society will collapse in a decade

J_G_Trautmann_Das_brennende_TrojaA boffin who uses maths to predict changes in society says his numbers show that western society will collapse in the 2020’s.

Peter Turchin, a professor at the University of Connecticut’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology, said the next decade would be marked by political turmoil and social unrest. He uses cliodynamics, which believes historical events such as the growth and collapse of empires or religions follow clearly definable patterns.

The numbers show that the US is on the verge of a collapse and will take Europe and the West with it.

While this might sound like a fortune telling, cliodynamics is solid science.  He said that who ever rules the US cannot make much difference because we are doomed whoever is in power.

Turchin said that societies are like rollercoasters and impersonal social forces bring us to the top; then comes the inevitable plunge.

The problem is caused by because we have made too many rich people who  become  more distant from poorer folks.

“Elite overproduction generally leads to more intra-elite competition that gradually undermines the spirit of co-operation, which is followed by ideological polarisation and fragmentation of the political class,” he wrote.

“This happens because the more contenders there are, the more of them end up on the losing side. A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions.”

The academic also suggested “the stagnation and decline of living standards and declining fiscal health of the state, resulting from falling state revenues and rising expenses” would bring about a potentially terminal slump.

It is possible to observe trends and stopping them before they cause problems for society. Although that does require a huge change in western and particularly American civilisation

Don’t look at that email when you wake up

tdy-120702-smartphone-work.photoblog600Checking your email on your smartphone after you wake up is a bad way to start the day, according to a woman who studies happiness for a living.

Michelle Gielan, former national CBS News anchor turned psychology researcher and best-selling author said that reading just one negative email could lead you to report having a bad day hours later.

“Even if you have one good and one bad email, the bad always seem more powerful,” Gielan says in a recent episode of “The Productivityist Podcast.” Reading negative news has the same effect,.

Gielan suggests that before you check your email or the news, put yourself in the right frame of mind by taking two minutes to draft a positive email to someone in your social support network.

Thank a friend or family member for their support, or praise a colleague on their recent work, she suggests.  After you send your upbeat email, move on to your regular routine of checking your work email or the news.

That two-minute message primes your brain to see everything in a more positive light.

“It will change how you process your day and how you process your email at 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” she says.

Odd that she fails to mention our method.  If you start the day with bacon.  We can’t prove this of course, we need to conduct a scientific study. We never turn on our email in the morning. The Goddess does but she just goes through her shopping adverts and they don’t depress her at all. After all there are bags and pants to be liberated from evil online shopping companies and it starts the day with a sense of mission.

Chinese get EM drive to work

1413849918201_wps_10_Star_Trek_Tractor_BeamA radical breakthrough which could shake up long distance space flight has been confirmed by Chinese boffins.

The Electromagnetic Drive (EM) drive is a method of propulsion which is so clever scientists have not figured out why it works as it appears to break the law of conservation of momentum.

The “reactionless” Electromagnetic Drive, or EmDrive for short, is an engine propelled solely by electromagnetic radiation confined in a microwave cavity. It generates mechanical action without exchanging matter which is technically impossible.

Since 2010, both the United States and China have been pouring serious resources into it and the results seem promising. Now China claims it has made a key breakthrough.

Dr. Chen Yue, Director of Commercial Satellite Technology for the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) announced that China had successfully tested EmDrives technology in its laboratories and its proof-of-concept is currently undergoing zero-g testing in orbit.

This test is taking place on the Tiangong 2 space station. If China can install EmDrives on its satellites for orbital manoeuvring and altitude control, they would become cheaper and longer lasting.

Li Feng, lead CAST designer for commercial satellites, states that the current EmDrive has only a thrust of single digit millinewtons, for orbital adjustment; a medium sized satellite needs 0.1-1 Newtons. A functional EmDrive would open new possibilities for long range Chinese interplanetary probes beyond the Asteroid belt, as well freeing up the mass taken up by fuel in manned spacecraft for other supplies and equipment to build lunar and Martian bases.


Boffins fear book-burning Trump brown-shirts

1933-may-10-berlin-book-burningUS boffins are frantically trying to work out ways to protect data on climate change from climate-denying Trump supporters who are expected to try and destroy it.

The Trump administration believes that Climate change is a fraud and has vowed to wipe government websites of years of research. The logic is that if you burn the books, people will not know that there is a problem.

Environmentalists and researchers encountered a friendly White House over the last eight years that encouraged inquiry into global warming and signed historic agreements meant to lower global carbon emissions.

However now they are worried that publicly available climate change data and research found on government websites would be wiped clean or made otherwise inaccessible to the public.

Academics like the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Toronto, are attempting to download and save as much data as possible. The University of Toronto is set to host a “guerilla archiving event” in collaboration with the Internet Archive’s End of Term 2016 project.

This aims to archive the federal online pages and data that are in danger of disappearing during the Trump administration, including climate change, water, air and toxics programs.

Other universities are planning “hackathons,” putting out a call to hackers to scrape federal website databases for climate change intel.

The hacks are perfectly legal because the information is currently available to the public – they might not be after Trump takes office.

Obama’s Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said that policies that have been put in place to make sure that science continues to be foundational are not going to be easy to remove.

Talking to the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco she said that there is no reason to think that a successor administration is going to want to because the data is so important to the decisions we make every single day.”

But boffins remember that they had a hell of a time getting climate data under the last Republican administration. George W. Bush made climate data inaccessible because he did not believe in global warning because God said in the bible that there would never be another flood and put a rainbow in the sky to prove it.
Other boffins are worried that budget cuts to government science organizations like NASA would make important climate prediction projects impossible.

NASA experiments with X-ray networking

x-rayNASA is researching new technology to transmit data at high rates over vast distances in outer space, as well as enable communications with hypersonic vehicles during re-entry.

At the moment such radio communications are impossible, but NASA boffins think that using X-rays could be just the ticket.

The science is based on the concept that other forms of light can carry data as well. Fibre-optics uses visible and near-infrared light. So NASA started to think about X-rays.

Keith Gendreau, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, thought of developing X-ray emitters that these spacecraft could use as navigational beacons to make sure they stayed in position relative to one another. The system would keep them aligned down to a precision of just 1 micron.

Gendreau then reasoned that by modulating or varying the strength or frequency of these X-ray transmissions on and off many times per second, these navigational beacons could also serve as a communication system. Such X-ray communication (XCOM), might, in theory, permit gigabit-per-second data rates throughout the solar system, he said

X-rays have shorter wavelengths than the visible or infrared light typically used in laser communication. This means that, XCOM can transmit more data for the same amount of power that laser communication requires, Gendreau said.

X-rays have shorter wavelengths, they can be transmitted in tighter beams than visible or infrared light, so less energy is wasted in trying to communicate over vast distances, he added.

A new toy called the Modulated X-ray Source, or MXS, which generates rapid-fire X-ray pulses. MXS is slated to get installed on an experimental pallet that will be deployed outside the International Space Station in 2018.

MXS will transmit data via X-rays about 165 feet to the Neutron-star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), which is designed to study neutron stars and their rapidly spinning relatives, pulsars, and will launch to the International Space Station in early 2017

Boffins create bionic willy

sixmillion-splshIf “Six million dollar man” Steve Austin ever had erectile dysfunction he would have been out on a limb like the rest of mankind, however boffins think they could rebuild him with the world’s first bionic willy.

Experts at the University of Wisconsin in America created a remote-controlled device which lengthens to eight inches when heated to 42C.

Surgically inserted in the base of the penis through an incision, the one inch metal coil can be turned on by a remote held over the groin, generating a metal field which triggers a current. While this sounds a rather good way to avoid thinking about sex ever again, apparently the coil then warms the implant, making it expand and fully erect.

So far it has been tested on animals and could be available to men within a few years.

The device is made using nitinol, which rather than being a pill to make you sleep, is  a metal alloy of nickel and titanium which can change shape in different temperatures.

Asif Muneer from the British Association of Urological Surgeons, told The Sun the device had potential to benefit thousands of men suffering with erectile dysfunction.

‘There are fewer components than with existing inflatable implants and that reduces the chances of infection,’ he said.

Bionic penises are apparently not that new, although right now they cost an arm and a leg. Mohammad Abad, 44, from Edinburgh was fitted with the £70,000 replacement in 2012 after losing his penis and testicle when he was run over by a car at age six.

In that case the penis, which was constructed using skin from his forearm rolled up like a ‘sausage roll’ but now he gets erections at the touch of a button.