Category: Science

Robot has humans in stiches

Stitches_tnScientists have created a robot that stitches up living animals without a real doctor telling it what to do.

The big idea is to move toward autonomous surgical robots, removing the surgeon’s hands from certain tasks that a machine might perform all by itself.

In small tests using pigs, the robot performed at least as well, and in some cases a bit better, as some competing surgeons in stitching together intestinal tissue.

Dr. Peter C.W. Kim of Children’s National Health System in Washington told the Science Translational Medicine journal that the big idea was not to replace surgeons.

“If you have an intelligent tool that works with a surgeon, can it improve the outcome? That’s what we have done.”

Robot-assisted surgery has been controversial, as some studies have shown it can bring higher costs without better outcomes.

The Robot is designed to do one specific task, stitch up tissue. Dubbed the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) it is a bit like a programmable sewing machine.

Kim’s team at Children’s Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation took a standard robotic arm and equipped it with suturing equipment plus smart imaging technologies to let it track moving tissue in 3-D and with an equivalent of night vision. They added sensors to help guide each stitch and tell how tightly to pull.

The surgeon places fluorescent markers on the tissue that needs stitching, and the robot takes aim as doctors keep watch.

STAR could reconnect tubular pieces of intestinal tissue from pigs. Any soft-tissue surgeries are tricky for machinery because those tissues move out of place so easily. And the stitches in these connections must be placed precisely to avoid leaks or blockages.

Using pieces of pig bowel outside of the animals’ bodies as well as in five living but sedated pigs, the researchers tested the STAR robot against open surgery, minimally invasive surgery and robot-assisted surgery.

None of the pigs ended up as someone’s dinner and the machine did a pretty good job. In a couple of cases STAR had to reposition fewer stitches than the surgeons performing minimally invasive or robot-assisted suturing. But in the living animals, the robot took much longer and made a few suturing mistakes while the surgeon sewing by hand made none.

Kim, whose team has filed patents on the system, said the robot can be sped up. He hopes to begin human studies in two or three years.

Self-driving cars spark sex fears

rockCanadian Government officials have finally revealed that one of the reason that they don’t like the concept of self-driving cars is that people will have sex in them.

Of course people have sex in cars now, sometimes when they are moving, but US Federal bureaucrats are worried that semi-autonomous cars that don’t require much input from the driver will result in their input going elsewhere.

Barrie Kirk of the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence has said that the smarter cars get the more bonking will take place.

“I am predicting that, once computers are doing the driving, there will be a lot more sex in cars.”

“That’s one of several things people will do which will inhibit their ability to respond quickly when the computer says to the human, ‘Take over.”‘

Federal officials, who have been tasked with building a regulatory framework to govern driverless cars, highlighted their concerns in briefing notes compiled for the Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

The report said that the issue of the attentive driver is … problematic.

“Drivers tend to overestimate the performance of automation and will naturally turn their focus away from the road when they turn on their auto-pilot,” said the report.


Inject Google into your eyeball

13534691._SX540_Search engine Google appears to believe there are people out there who are willing to having things injected into their eyeballs.

Google has filed a patent for a vision-correcting electronic device, This sounds pretty good until you discover it has be injected directly into your eye.

Google said that the device is designed to help the focusing of light onto the retina, resulting in the correction of poor vision. It will contain its own storage, radio and lens and will apparently be powered wirelessly from an energy harvesting antenna. Good vision is better than a poke in the eye with a short stick after all.

Knowing Google it will probably force you to see advertising, or some other atrocity, but its biggest problem is that it will have to be injected. This is probably one of the worst nightmares anyone can have.  It is all fun and games until someone has their eye out.

Although Google has filed the patent, that’s no guarantee that we’ll see the idea come to life anytime soon, or even at all.


Siemens’s spider make plastic products not webs

portable.3dx1000Siemens thinks that it will not just be engineers, designers, and workmen on a project, but an army of small robot spiders, 3D printing and weaving together plastic.

In a lab in Princeton, New Jersey, the company’s researchers are testing spider-like robots that extrude not silk but plastic, thanks to portable 3-D printers. The robots can work together autonomously to create simple objects.

The robots use onboard cameras as well as a laser scanner to interpret their immediate environment. Each robot autonomously works out which part of an area it can cover, while other robots use the same technique to cover adjacent areas.

The project leader Hasan Sinan Bank said that by dividing each area into vertical boxes, the robots can work collaboratively to cover even complex geometries in such a way that no box is missed.

“No one else has attempted to do this using mobile manufacturing,” he said.

The work in shifts,  after two hours of work, a tired spider will transmit its data to a replacement, and then walk back and recharge itself.

The technology is all new but could be earmarked for large projects like shipbuilding or construction work.

The robots are partially automated, but will eventually become more fully autonomous, learning how to interact with their environment.

Of course it is not a real spider, it only has six legs, but it might grow a pair and the project develops.


Nvidia teaches a car called Dave to drive itself

Confessions_of_a_Driving_Instructor_FilmPosterAn Nvidia engineering team has built a self-driving car with one camera, one Drive-PX embedded computer and only 72 hours of training data.

Nvidia published an academic preprint of the results of the DAVE2 project entitled End to End Learning for Self-Driving Cars.

DAVE2 is named after a 10-year-old Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project known as DARPA Autonomous Vehicle (DAVE). Coincidently it is also the name of the astronaut in 2001,  a Space Oddessy. The phrase “I can’t do that Dave” is now the blue screen of death”  of robotic history.

The Nvidia team trained a convolutional neural network (CNN) to map raw pixels from a single front-facing camera directly to steering commands. Nvidia’s breakthrough is the autonomous vehicle automatically taught itself by watching how a human drove, the internal representations of the processing steps of seeing the road ahead and steering the autonomous vehicle without explicitly training it to detect features such as roads and lanes.

Although in operation the system uses one camera and one Drive-PX embedded computer, the training system used three cameras and two computers to acquire three-dimensional video images and steering angels from the vehicle driven by a human that were used to train the system to see and drive.

Brainwaves are the new fingerprints

mind readingA team of boffins has worked out a way of telling who you are by reading your mind.

Researchers at Binghamton University in US  say their ‘brain prints’ are 100 percent accurate and might have a new life in ultra secure systems.

They looked at the brain activity of 50 people wearing an electroencephalogram (EEG) headset who were asked to looked at a series of 500 images designed specifically to elicit unique responses from person to person – for example a slice of pizza, a boat, or the word “conundrum”.

They found that participants’ brains reacted differently to each image, enough that a computer system was able to identify each volunteer’s ‘brainprint’ with 100 percent accuracy.

Assistant Professor Sarah Laszlo said that when you take hundreds of these images, where every person is going to feel differently about each individual one, then you can be really accurate in identifying which person it was who looked at them just by their brain activity.

According to Laszlo, brain biometrics are appealing because they are cancellable and cannot be stolen by malicious means the way a finger or retina can.

“In the unlikely event that attackers were actually able to steal a brainprint from an authorised user, the authorised user could then ‘reset’ their brainprint,” Laszlo said.

Zhanpeng Jin, assistant professor at Binghamton University, does not see this as the kind of system that would be mass-produced for low security applications, but it could have important security applications.

“We tend to see the applications of this system as being more along the lines of high-security physical locations, like the Pentagon or Air Force Labs, where there aren’t that many users that are authorised to enter, and those users don’t need to constantly be authorising the way that a consumer might need to authorise into their phone or computer,” Jin said.

DARPA funds a chip which can’t add-up

trigsetboxJoseph Bates, cofounder and CEO of Singular Computing, is onto a winner with a computer chip which is hardwired to be incapable of performing mathematical calculations correctly.

DARPA has funded the creation of Singular’s chip because the fact it gets it wrong is jolly useful when comes to making sense of video or other messy real-world data.

A chip that can’t guarantee perfection can still get good results on many problems but needs fewer circuits and burns less energy, Bates says.

It solves problems when data has built-in noise from the real world, or where some approximation is needed, are the best fits. He has already seen good results from  high-resolution radar imaging, extracting 3-D information from stereo photos, and deep learning.

It is also easier on the electricity. Singular’s approach was  capable of processing frames almost 100 times faster than a conventional processor restricted to doing correct math—while using less than two per cent as much power.

The chip works alongisde a single conventional processor.

DARPA funded Singular’s chip as part of a program called Upside, which is aimed at inventing new, more efficient ways to process video footage. Military drones can collect vast quantities of video, but it can’t always be downloaded during flight, and the computer power needed to process it in the air would be too bulky.

Deb Roy, a professor at the MIT Media Lab and Twitter’s chief media scientist, says that recent trends in computing suggest approximate computing may be useful if you are processing any kind of data that is noisy by nature.


US christens first robot warship

The US military christened an experimental self-driving warship designed to hunt for enemy submarines to counter Chinese and Russian moves in the Pacific.

The 132-foot-long unarmed prototype, christened the Sea Hunter, is like a self-driving car, only it does not have to do a parallel park.  It is designed to cruise on the ocean’s surface for two or three months at a time – without a crew or anyone controlling it remotely.

It makes it a highly efficient submarine stalker which is cheaper to run than manned vessels.

Deputy US  Defense Secretary Robert Work said in an interview he hoped such ships might find a place in the western Pacific in as few as five years.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had a totally robotic, trans-oceanic-capable ship.”

The Pentagon planners are building a cunning plan to incorporate unmanned drones – with increasing autonomy – into the conventional military in the air, on land and at sea.

China’s expanding submarine fleet is causing some concern that its carrier battle groups in the Western pacific are a bit vulnerable.

Like the Google car, once the ship is found to work and not hit any pedestrians, it could head to the U.S. Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet to continue testing.

His goal is to have ships like the Sea Hunter operating on a range of missions, possibly even including counter-mine warfare operations, all with limited human supervision.

The ship’s projected $20 million price tag and its $15,000 to $20,000 daily operating cost make it relatively inexpensive for the US military.

Computer makes new “Rembrandt”

1145Computer boffins have programmed a machine to paint in the style of Rembrandt van Rijn.

Rembrandt snuffed it 400 years ago and has surprisingly not picked up a paintbrush since. However the computer knocked up a new masterpiece which is enough to convince experts it was painted by the same bloke — although the paint was rather fresh.

By scanning and analysing Rembrandt’s works, a computer was able to create a new painting in near-perfect mimicry of Rembrandt’s style. It has been named, appropriately, ‘The Next Rembrandt’.

Dutch financial institution ING asked the J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam advertising agency about creating a project that would show innovation in Dutch art. The creative director for J. Water Thompson, Bart Korsten, suggested getting a computer to paint like Rembrandt?”

ING, Microsoft, Delft University of Technology, the Mauritshuis in the Hague, and Museum Het Rembrandthuis assembled a team of art historians,  software developers, scientists, engineers, and data analysts. The team built a software system that was capable of understanding and generating new features based on Rembrandt’s unique style.

They began by taking 3D scans of the 346 paintings by the artist and analyzing them to determine common elements shared amongst the pieces. Based on what the team saw, they felt that in order to best capture Rembrandt’s style the software should create a painting similar to his works.

The computer was told to paint a portrait of a Caucasian male with facial hair, 30-40 years old, wearing dark clothing with a hat and collar, and that he be facing to the right.

The painting consists of over 148 million pixels, based on more than 160,000 fragments of the artist’s’ works. It was 3D printed so that the texture of Rembrandt’s brush strokes could also be captured. The final result is a painting that looks exactly like an original Rembrandt.


US not planning automatic killer robots

Robby the Robot - Wikimedia CommonsThe US has decided that automatic killer robots are not the droids it is looking for – yet.

A top Pentagon official was showing off all sorts of sci-fi type gear including missile-dodging satellites, self-flying F-16 fighters and robot naval fleets.

But Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said that the Pentagon is not planning to build devices that can kill without human input – unless its enemies start building them.

“We might be going up against a competitor that is more willing to delegate authority to machines than we are, and as that competition unfolds we will have to make decisions on how we best can compete,” he said.

Work, who helps lead Pentagon efforts to ensure the US military keeps its technological edge, described several initiatives, including one dubbed “Loyal Wingman” that would see the Air Force convert an F-16 warplane into a semi-autonomous and unmanned fighter that flies alongside a manned F-35 jet.

“It is going to happen,” Work said of this and other unmanned systems.

“I would expect to see unmanned wingmen in the air first, I would expect to see unmanned systems undersea all over the place, I would expect to see unmanned systems on the surface of the sea,” Work told an audience at a discussion in the capital hosted by The Washington Post.

Work said it would take longer for the military to create autonomous trucks given the challenges of navigating off-road.

“When the roads become more dangerous we will go off road, and that type of navigation is extremely difficult,” Work said.

The US military wants to build driverless convoys to protect against roadside bombs, a low-tech weapon that has killed hundreds of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.