Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Disney Develops Robot That Plays Catch and Juggles!

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

When the Hall of Presidents attraction opened in Disneyland decades ago, the animatronics featured in it floored guests with their life-like movements. Disney became known for its animatronics in other attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and others. It was good ol’ Abe Lincoln, though that got a lot of attention…especially when he stood up.

But that was then.

Recently a video has surfaced on YouTube from a Disney R&D lab in Pittsburgh that hints at what they’ve been working on since then. Imagineers are now literally playing ball with a robot prototype that can track object movement and respond in real-time!

Being that this is just taking its baby-steps at this point, it both frightening and amazing to think about what Disney might have in the works for this type of interactivity with a robot and park guests.

From the video’s description:

Robots in entertainment environments typically do not allow for physical interaction and contact with people. However, catching and throwing back objects is one form of physical engagement that still maintains a safe distance between the robot and participants. Using an animatronic humanoid robot, we developed a test bed for a throwing and catching game scenario. We use an external camera system (ASUS Xtion PRO LIVE) to locate balls and a Kalman ?lter to predict ball destination and timing. The robot’s hand and joint-space are calibrated to the vision coordinate system using a least-squares technique, such that the hand can be positioned to the predicted location. Successful catches are thrown back two and a half meters forward to the participant, and missed catches are detected to trigger suitable animations that indicate failure. Human to robot partner juggling (three ball cascade pattern, one hand for each partner) is also achieved by speeding up the catching/throwing cycle. We tested the throwing/catching system on six participants (one child and ?ve adults, including one elderly), and the juggling system on three skilled jugglers.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t get bored of playing catch with the guests in the parks and decide one day to unbolt itself, head to Cinderella’s Castle and proclaim the Disney parks as the headquarters of our new robotic overlords!
[DisneyResearchHub]

NYU Scientists Create Microscopic Tractor Beam!

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Star Wars uses tractor beams as frequently as newly graduated college kids use U-Haul trailers.

Imagine if, just like in the movies, you could hook up those U-Hauls with a tractor beam instead of trying to get one of those ball-and-cup trailer hook-ups?

That day might not be as far away as it once was according to research at the Department of Physics and Centre for Soft Matter Research at New York University. Although it’s on a significantly smaller scale than trying to yank the Millenium Falcon into your garage using a flashlight, scientists have recently used a beam of light to pull a particle in a line. While researchers of the ideas surrounding what’s being called ‘soft matter’ have used laser ‘tweezers’ to pull along particles, using light alone to move something verged on magical.

By varying the relative phase of the two beams, this technique traps the particle in a moving hologram they call an ‘optical conveyor’ which allows ‘bi-directional transport in three dimensions’.
New Scientist explains how projecting the beams in this way creates a pattern of alternating bright and dark regions. By fine tuning the beam photons in the bright regions which flow past the chosen particle can be made to scatter backwards, hitting the particle and knocking it on towards the next bright region.

Watch the guy in the video explain it in an endearingly enthusiastic nerdy manner…and then explain what he’s talking about to us.

[Daily Mail UK]

DARPA Robot Navigates Obstacles – Strolls Into Your Nightmares!

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Remember that weird and completely creepy mule-like, self-stablizing robot that’s been swimming around the internet for a while now called the BigDog from Boston Dynamics?

Well BigDog just got out-weirded and out-creeped by DARPA’s newest step toward removing the word ‘human’ from ‘humanity’.

Designed as a part of DARPA’s Robotics Challenge, the robot ‘thing’ in the video above, known as the Pet-Proto, will be let loose in a series of environments designed to replicate the conditions of a natural disaster. Several other teams are working on similar robots to compete in the challenge. They will all be competing to gain access to a more advanced version of the Pet-Proto called the Atlas which will be used in the 2013-2014 live disaster-response event.

We don’t know what’s worse…being trapped in a natural disaster or being saved from natural disaster from something that looks like this.

[DARPAtv]

South Korea’s Deadly New Border Weapon!

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Because there’s not enough tension already in North and South Korea, a company has now developed what’s being hailed as a ‘super gun’ to help keep an eyeball on the demilitarized zone between the Hatfield/McCoy-style rivalry amongst the two countries.

The Super aEgis II is one of the most intimidating weapons ever to back up someone’s ‘No Trespassing’ policies. Featuring a thermal camera, a laser range-finder and can nail and destroy a human-sized target from almost 2 miles away. Because it’s designed as a modular system, the aEgis II’s ‘gun pod’ can be replaced and fitted with various other life-destroying joys like surface-to-air missiles or similar goodies yet to be revealed by its manufacturer.

What’s disturbing about the Super aEgis II isn’t that it can destroy a target before the target’s even aware it’s being destroyed…it’s that once Skynet takes over or some 12 year-old hacker decides to add them to their toybox? We’re all in a lot of trouble.

[Reuters]

Sperm-Extracting Machine Comes to Chinese Hospitals!

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Because some people just can’t get the job done while locked in a room by themselves with some fun magazines or just some mental photography, some genius in China has developed something to help those people out…

The lonely Chinese scientist who created this was probably suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and couldn’t even hold a tablet that was playing his favorite movies any longer without discomfort.

(Insert your sad-face pervy scientist emoticon here)

Now this once-sad scienstist has solved ALL of his problems! This thing even has adjustable controls and a built-in dvd player so you can watch your favorite ‘films’.

Like the krill in Finding Nemo, there’s nowhere for your little swimming future-yous to go but in the perpetually slurping maw of a robot that looks like the original Pong arcade game’s second-cousin from the hills.

Clicking play on that video above will either bring laughter, what some like to call ‘cringy-I-smelled-poop’ face or a look of awe and wonder and possibilities to your precious little faces.

The director of the urology department at Zhengzhou Central Hospital said the machine was being used by infertility patients who are finding it difficult to retrieve sperm the old fashioned way.
A website which is selling the machine for $2,800 promoting it stating ‘it can give patients very comfortable feeling.’

Is this the end of prostitution? As newer versions of this machine hit the market, will the older ones find their way into dark alleys and those fun-smelling booths in the back of porn shops or will they start showing up in brothels to replace human workers as the recession keeps taking a chunk from EVERYONE’S budget?

Only time and enough oddly satisfied customers will tell.

[DailyMail UK]

Glasses Allow You to See Your Veins!

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Tech-heavy eyewear has always been something that seems like too good-to-be-true science fiction. Various accessories promising amazing visuals for your peepers have included everything from those vintage ads in comic books for X-Ray Specs to the recently buzzing Google Glasses to quantum HUD display mechanics contained in a single drop of saline dripped onto a contact lens.

Currently in their testing phase, 2AI Labs is developing a pair of glasses that allows you to see what early testers are having a hard time believing until they actually put these things on…and see their veins glowing.

The O2Amp glasses are the creation of neurobiologist Mark Changizi who came up with the idea while studying the development of color vision in primates at CalTech.

So how does this work exactly? Bionics? Special computer-controlled lenses? By bellowing latin phrases and waving a wooden stick?

Nope. Our eyes, using certain filters, are able to do this all on their own. Turns out we just have to amplify the process.

Changizi explains “that color vision evolved to sense oxygenation modulations in the hemoglobin under the skin. Once one understands the connection between our color vision and blood physiology, it’s possible to build filters that further amplify our perception of the blood and the signals it provides. ”

There are currently three different filters for the glasses:

– A vein-finder, or oxygenation-isolator, that amplifies perception of oxygenation modulations under the skin (and eliminates perception of variations in the concentration of hemoglobin),
– A trauma-detector, or hemoglobin-concentration-isolator, that amplifies perception of hemoglobin concentrations under the skin (and eliminates perception of variations in oxygenation), and
– A general clinical enhancer, or oxygenation-amplifier, that combines the best features of the first two; it eliminates neither signal (i.e., it retains perception of both variation in Hemoglobin oxygenation and concentration), and only amplifies perception of oxygenation.

Unlike Google’s somewhat infamous video of promises regarding its magical glasses, these amazing goggles are already out in the world, mainly in the medical field, and being tested by real people working in a real evironment.

The results and feedback from those that’ve worn them? Most are ready to order.

[Changizi Blog]

Japanese Scientists Grow Crude Liver in a Dish!

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Something straight out of a science fiction story is becoming a reality in Yokohama, Japan right now: regenerative organs.

There have been tons of attempts, theories and even a small handful of groundbreaking work concerning regenerating new organs, veins, tissue and even blood using stem cell research. It often sounds almost fantastical at times considering the small amount of work that’s actually been produced from the field.

Japanese researchers revealed at the International Society for Stem Cell Research last week that they’ve reproduced a liver-like tissue in a dish.

Their findings have yet to be published but there is a lot of buzz taking place on the internet this morning about this news release.

Our imaginations and the media will probably go crazy talking about the possibilities of this breakthrough. The reality is that this is about as crude an example of a regenerated as one could possibly get. It’s still got a long way to.

Using various cell types and what reads like a hipper, less late-night grave-diggy version of Frankenstein, researchers have basically taken human skin cells back to an ‘embryonic state’, reprogrammed them, let them begin to grow, added various other cells to the process and created a very primitive ‘liver bud’, a very early stage of liver development.

As primitive as this ‘liver’ is right now, the tissue does contain blood vessels that worked when the tissue was transplanted under the skin of a mouse.

There’s no doubt where this amazing technology is headed and that its goal of recreating human organs is going to happen given time.

And, George Daly, the director of the stem-cell transplantation program at the Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts in charge of last week’s session, said:

“It blew my mind.”

[Nature]

Man Uses Eyes To Tweet Request to Die

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

“Hello world. I am tony nicklinson, I have locked-in syndrome and this is my first ever tweet.”

With the exception of a mention of something called ‘locked-in syndrome’ this isn’t a ground-breaking or particularly interesting tweet, right?

But after doing a search to find out what ‘locked-in syndrome’ is? It gets very interesting.

The Twitter post came from Tony Nicklinson (@TonyNicklinson), a 57 year-old man who suffered a major stroke seven years ago that left his body completely paralyzed with one small exception…his eyes.

Using special hardware and software that follow his eye movements, Nicklinson is able to use only his eyes to construct his posts to Twitter.

Nicklinson’s main purpose in learning to do this is somewhat heartbreaking and precedent setting…he wants to die.

Before his stroke, Nicklinson was a doer. He now believes his life is “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable”. He began using Twitter to appeal to the high court that a doctor should be allowed to lawfully end his life.

In less than three days, Nicklinson’s Twitter account has gained over 12,000 followers who are watching this heart-wrenching yet inspiring story unfold.

While many people are still haters of the insanely sky-rocketing advancement of technology right now? Watch the video to see how advanced tech is doing something awesomely weird that simply couldn’t be done before… giving a human being in this condition a voice.
[The Guardian]

Google’s Project Glass Augmented Reality is Missing Something: Augmented Reality

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

GOOGLE PROJECT GLASS LOOKS AS PROMISING AS MICROSOFT’S VISION OF THE TABLET PC IN 2001…

Google has only released one video and little else on their project for bringing augmented reality to the masses, so it’s hard to cast aspersions on what’s the most vapory of vaporware. That said, I’ll pick apart the video; in that even with the use of After Effects and the potential to show us anything, their vision of the future seems rather timid.

Like the silly Nintendo Power Glove in Minority Report (far less impressive than Microsoft’s Kinect and ideas in the labs when the movie was made), we get a vision of the future that feels dated before it happens.

The future is not run on Nintendo Power Gloves...

Google’s glasses appear to just be a screen in front of your face with eye tracking. And I don’t mean that in the ‘iPhone is just a screen you touch’, way. It feels like Microsoft’s attempt at tablets in the early 2000’s. They figured your finger would just be a pointing device for Windows. Substitute ‘eye’ for ‘finger’ here and you get a shortsighted vision of the potential for this technology.

Google’s Glass doesn’t do anything different than what we do now. The screen is just in a different place. Think of how the iPad changed the way we interact with software or how Microsoft’s Kinect changed gaming. Augmented Reality could be bigger than all of this.

Touch interfaces took off when you realized that the medium had changed. Google’s Glass doesn’t feel that way. I don’t think they get their medium. My first case in point is the map feature:

How does Google envision using augmented reality to show us a map? They just float a regular map in front of you. Why not lay the map over on your field of view and actually show you a path to follow?

Second, let’s look at the trip to the book store. Obviously, Google doesn’t want to scare off brick and mortar partners with flashing deals to buy the book elsewhere. But why not use their already solid image recognition technology to hover reviews of the book or show us augmented publisher information. The same for the concert poster. Make the thing move. Show us what a connected world looks like.

Third, the apps were disappointing. When the girlfriend calls, why not make it look like she’s on the top of the building with him? Don’t just overlay reality, blend it. Why not create artificial elements in real space?

Fourth, show us virtual objects. What’s a virtual ebook look like to read or a magazine? I’d love to see what Google thinks the future of virtual items will be like with augmented reality. I have to image it’s more than a transparent screen.

That said, I’m excited that Google is taking the initiative on this. I’ll leave them with the words of Tom Hardy’s Eames in Inception, “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”

For good time’s sake:

Vintage iBook Ad Demonstrates Telekinetic Powers

Friday, December 30th, 2011

This iBook commercial from the very early Return of Jobs era for Apple demonstrates something very rare for Mac products. Not the telekinetic ability to move physical objects with a mouse or empty your garbage with a click of your OS9 drop down menu.

No, this is an example of one of the last Apple ads where a feature that isn’t actually available is demonstrated. Apple’s recent ads have all religiously opted against metaphoric messages. Instead they’ve highlighted stylized versions of actual usage. Even when Santa is using Siri, everything he does is something a new customer could do right out of the box. Although, we aren’t sure if iCal can handle 3.7 billion contacts on one day.

Thanks to Mark Sissons for sending this along.

Flying Cars, Death Rays & Killer Robots: Fact Checking The Future Promised By The 1950s

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

In the post World War II era the future seemed like a wonderful place full of atomic-powered wonders. A Future World unspoiled by pollution, radiation or flower children.  Lets examine the promises and realities of that vision of the Past’s Future.

1) Flying Cars

It seems that every vision of the future had  one of these ,a trend that even trancended the fifties all the way to modern sci-fi Films.  An there was reason to hope.  Even Ford got into the flying car designing bussiness.  

The Promise:

The Reality:

Although we still have no flying cars in every garage, many pioneers and design firms are hard at work trying to make
this particular conceit of Science Fiction a reality. One of the most advanced endeavour comes from Moller International and it is called the Volantor.  It is about to undergo extensive flight testing.  Who knows in a few years, were we are going, we wont need “Roads.”

2) Death Rays

No futuristic vista would be complete without early vision of the Death Ray. Diorama, movies or science fiction literature the terrifying device was ubiquitous.  Wielded by the good guy, or more likely, the evil alien invader.   The future was going to be dominated burly men in tights toting these around.

The Promise:

The Reality:

Today lasers are in every conceivable human device. There are lasers in Blu Ray players and CD players. They are used to heal skin and even in communications.  Chances are that you are watching this though an internet connection that relies on lasers as the main driver for fiber optics.  And although you can take an industrial cutting laser and aim it at a person, it is far better to use it to precision cut glass or steel.

3) Killer Robots

The 40s and 50s image of The Future would not be complete without the helpful robot about to turn evil. The future would be a place where machines in the shape of men would run amok throught the coming centuries.  From the epic RUR by Capek : “The product of the human brain has escaped the control of  human hands.”

The Promise:

The Reality:

Robotics are one of modern societies greatest assets.  Again, like the death ray (AKA laser) we have found ways to shape and use robots in all kinds of capacities from the lowly inkjet printer to the giant A380  passenger plane. They are all around us. Computer controlled mechanical devices perform all kinds of tasks mostly for the benefit of mankind.  The build our cars and do our laundry and yes they even aid in the exploration of Space.  Although one could argue that smartbombs and cruise missiles are indeed killer Robots,  most perform quietly and wait for the right moment to strike.  We’re on to you Roomba!

4) Space Travel

Perhaps the Personification of the future in the Atomic Age,  space travel was everywhere. It was a promise that almost delivered.  Take a look at my hero, Walt Disney, telling us what the future held back in 1952.

The Promise:

The Reality:

Although we now face an uncertain future in Space travel the past 50 years have been amazing and in many ways up to the standards of earlier generation’s expectations. Here is a reminder:

And there we have it. It seems that the world of tomorrow is indeed here. The problem is that it happened gradually. There are, of course, all manner of wonders that were never thought of by the visionaries of the Atomic Age. I only hope that we manage to escape the fears and we accomplish the aspirations of those who believed in The World of Tomorrow.  Oh well,  let me take my vacuum tube elevator to my garage on the roof. I have a Pan Am flight to catch to The Moon. Mustn’t Keep the Clavius Monolith waiting.

Get Ready For The Water-Powered Jetpack

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Q: What qualifications do I need to fly?

A: You must be a good swimmer, and should not feel uncomfortable having your face in the water from time to time. You should not have a fear of heights. You should be in good health and physical condition. You should have no history of any heart conditions and flying is not advised for women who are pregnant. You must also have good vision and be able to understand the instructor.

Anybody got a spare $136,000?

[Jetlev Flyer via CNN]

The Science Behind Software That IDs Dudes Who Flash Dongs On Chatroulette

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
demo_SafeVchat-v0.2.1.avi.jpg

You know, if we have a machine that can destroy legendary trivia heads at Jeopardy it’s high time we had a piece of software that could spot some creep trying to pull out their 4 Wood on sites like Chatroulette. But how?

A new research paper out of Cornell explains the symphony of algorithms behind identifying some random Johnson while adjusting for varying light, skin tone and image composition. For example, in a video demonstrating the program a picture of a couple lying together topless on a screen without exposing any naughty bits did not trigger as low of a rating a weirdo lifting their shirt to grip their tallywhacker for the cam. It also recognized low light and static images.

Pretty amazing stuff and a clever solution to a har… err… difficult problem.

[SafeVchat: Detecting Obscene Content and Misbehaving Users in Online Video Chat Services]

via [Improbable Research]

Japan Creates World’s First All-Virtual Pop Star

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Meet Hatsune Miku, the world’s first all-virtual pop sensation. Even here voice is a digital creation. What started as a digital voice generator from Yahama known as a vocaloid has gained such popularity that the company has created a 3D Hologram version that has performed to packed stadiums. But the real question is when did we get 3D holograms?!

Chatbot Fools Human Judge

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Please introduce yourself to Skynet Suzette, the latest winner of the Loebner Prize. The Loebner Prize is a version of the Turing Test where a judge talks to both a computer and a human at the same time for a set interval and then chooses which one they think is human. Suzette was able to fool the judge into thinking it was human after a complete 25 minutes of conversation. No word yet on the human who failed to convince a judge they weren’t a machine.

New Scientist: Are you surprised that you fooled a human judge?
Suzette: No, I am not surprised.

Artificially intelligent AND cocky? I’m sure everything will turn out fine.

[New Scientest]

Insurance of the Weird

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Worried about abduction? Worried about Spot getting sick? Like to race on your Segway? Don’t want an to be on the hook for your ransom payment? Check out this handy infographic to find out exactly what you can expect to pay for your weirdest insurance needs:

Weird Insurance

(Source: www.thirdshift.nu)