Forget Drones: Google Explores Robot Delivery

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Legged robots from Boston Dynamics can navigate a home, and even deliver a parcel, using advances in manipulation and vision.

Will Knight writes: The nimble-legged robots under development at a secretive Google subsidiary are getting ever more capable and clever.

At a conference in Barcelona this week, Marc Raibert, the CEO of Boston Dynamics, which specializes in dynamically balancing legged machines, demonstrated some of the progress his researchers have been making.

CAPTION: CAMBRIDGE, MASS.--9/11/2004--BostonDynamics president Marc Raibert with the robot "Big Dog". CREDIT: JODI HILTON FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

“Many people are talking about drone delivery. So why not just plain legged robots?”

— Marc Raibert, the CEO of Boston Dynamics

Raibert demonstrated Spot Mini, the company’s latest four-legged robot, which is about the size of a large dog. Boston Dynamics has previously shown videos of Spot Mini operating in a mocked-up home—climbing stairs, opening doors, and even emptying a dishwasher using its gripper. The robot features a neck-like appendage and gripper that enables it to do simple, but potentially useful, manipulation tasks.

The robot is partially automated. A Boston Dynamics engineer steered a Spot Mini onto the stage during Raibert’s talk at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference. But the robot figured out for itself how to perceive and navigate the steps up to the stage, and then, once given the command, located and picked up a can from a table.

Legged robots could potentially be better than wheeled bots at navigating messy human environments, although the research robots under development at Boston Dynamics remain prohibitively expensive for now, some costing more than $1 million.

Boston Dynamics has built a reputation for developing robots capable of walking and running, even across treacherous ground using dynamic balance; that is, by constantly moving to maintain stability. The company has honed the technique over many decades to produce several stunning machines  (see “The Robots Running This Way”). It makes a much larger quadruped, called Big Dog, which has been tested as a military pack mule, as well as a humanoid, Atlas, which took part in a robot rescue contest organized recently by the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (see “Why Robots and Humans Struggled with DARPA’s Challenge”).

As Boston Dynamics explores potential applications, it’s clear that manipulating objects while balancing this way will be a key focus. “Mobile manipulation is our next grand challenge,” Raibert said during his talk. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] REWIND: American Hero John Glenn on ‘Weirdest’ Training for Historic Flight

The multiple-axis space test inertia facility, fondly called “the gimbal rig,” simulated tumble-type maneuvers that might be encountered in space flight. From February 15 through March 4, 1960, the gimbal rig provided valuable training for all seven Project Mercury astronauts. John Glenn explains how it worked and what the experience was like. Credits: NASA

On February 20, 1962, NASA astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in his Mercury capsule Friendship 7.  In 4 hours and 56 minutes, John Glenn circled the globe three times, reaching speeds of more than 17,000 miles per hour. The successful mission concluded with a splashdown and recovery in the Atlantic Ocean, 800 miles southeast of Bermuda.

In this video, Glenn discusses the Multiple Axis Space Test Inertia Facility, informally known as the “gimbal rig,” used to train the “Original Seven” Mercury astronauts for America’s first human spaceflights.

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The rig, which simulated an out of control spacecraft and required the astronauts to bring it back under control, was located at what was then NASA’s Lewis Research Center near Cleveland, Ohio. That center now bears Glenn’s name. Read the rest of this entry »


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Source: Not Pulp Covers


The Next NASA Leader Should be a Star 

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quin-hillyerQuin Hillyer writes: As Donald Trump builds his Cabinet, too little public attention has focused on the quasi-Cabinet-level position of Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

It’s an agency needing significant attention – and in Trump-supporting Alabama, home to Huntsville‘s Marshall Space Flight Center, we should be pushing for NASA to be revamped, re-energized, and perhaps re-imagined.

[Read the full story here, at AL.com]

NASA traditionally has been one federal agency that gets good “bang for the buck,” in terms of benefits to human life. Because of experiments that can be conducted only in the weightlessness of space, NASA has contributed mightily to human medicine in ways too numerous to count (heart-transplant-related devices, artificial limbs, and pain reduction during cancer treatments among them). NASA also has contributed in many ways to highway safety, mapping, weather tracking (especially valuable for those of us who deal with hurricanes), oil-spill cleanup, and better computer software, not to mention the plethora of ordinary (non-life-saving) consumer products made possible or made better by NASA discoveries.

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Meanwhile, NASA can boast a string of successes in its highest-profile role, that of exploration of both near- and deep-space. Sometimes we take for granted the astonishing feats of technology that NASA has produced – but recent robotic and orbiting analyses of Mars, and our amazing studies of distant semi-planet Pluto after a nine-year space flight, have added immeasurably to our knowledge of the solar system and its capacity for life. The orbiting Hubble Telescope, meanwhile, has opened new vistas into far-off galaxies we never knew existed.

[Read the full story here, at AL.com]

Knowledgeable observers, it is true, will say that no need exists for only government to do everything space-related. They are correct:

Commercial/private space projects show signal successes and great potential for more. Nonetheless, the sheer scale and cost of rocketry makes space the one frontier in which the national government can rationally engage in public/private partnerships of the sort usually more suited to state and local governments. Read the rest of this entry »


Cosmic Dust Grains Found on City Rooftops for the First Time

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Sifting through muck trapped in roof gutters in Paris, Oslo and Berlin yielded 500 tiny particles from the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

Cosmic dust raining down from space has been discovered on rooftops in three major cities.

“We’ve known since the 1940s that cosmic dust falls continuously through our atmosphere, but until now we’ve thought that it could not be detected among the millions of terrestrial dust particles, except in the most dust-free environments such as the Antarctic or deep oceans.”

The tiny particles date back to the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

Scientists usually collect cosmic dust in the frozen wastes of Antarctica. Now, for the first time, the space debris has been found hidden in city dirt.

“The obvious advantage to this new approach is that it is much easier to source cosmic dust particles if they are in our backyards.”

—  Matthew Genge, Imperial College London

Researchers sifted through 300 kilograms of muck trapped in roof gutters in Paris, Oslo and Berlin. Using magnets to pull out the particles, which contain magnetic minerals, they identified a total of 500 cosmic dust grains. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Sorry, Elon Musk! Driverless Cars Will Take Longer Than You Think

Family In Self-Driving Car

 


New journal Science Robotics is Established to Chronicle the Rise of the Robots

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Devin Coldewey reports: Robots have been a major focus in the technology world for decades and decades, but they and basic science, and for that matter everyday life, have largely been non-overlapping magisteria. That’s changed over the last few years, as robotics and every other field have come to inform and improve each other, and robots have begun to infiltrate and affect our lives in countless ways. So the only surprise in the news that the prestigious journal group Science has established a discrete Robotics imprint is that they didn’t do it earlier.

Editor Guang-Zhong Yang and president of the National Academy of Sciences Marcia McNutt introduce the journal:

In a mere 50 years, robots have gone from being a topic of science fiction to becoming an integral part of modern society. They now are ubiquitous on factory floors, build complex deep-sea installations, explore icy worlds beyond the reach of humans, and assist in precision surgeries… Read the rest of this entry »


Rocket Men: Why Tech’s Biggest Billionaires Want their Place in Space

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Forget gilded mansions and super yachts. Among the tech elite, space exploration is now the ultimate status symbol.

On board was a $200m, 12,000lb communications satellite – part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project to deliver broadband access to sub-Saharan Africa.

Zuckerberg wrote, with a note of bitterness, on his Facebook page that he was “deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite”. SpaceX founder Elon Musk told CNN it was the “most difficult and complex failure” the 14-year-old company had ever experienced.

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It was also the second dramatic explosion in nine months for SpaceX, following a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” of a booster rocket as it attempted to land after a successful mission to the International Space Station.

Later that day, Nasa’s official Twitter account responded: “Today’s @SpaceX incident – while not a Nasa launch – reminds us that spaceflight is challenging.”

Yet despite those challenges, a small band of billionaire technocrats have spent the past few years investing hundreds of millions of dollars into space ventures. Forget gilded mansions and super yachts; among the tech elite, space exploration is the ultimate status symbol.

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Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, is arguably the most visible billionaire in the new space race. The apparent inspiration for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark character in Iron Man, Musk has become a god-like figure for engineers, making his fortune at PayPal and then as CEO of luxury electric car firm Tesla and clean energy company Solar City. Yet it is his galactic ambitions, insiders say, that really motivate him. “His passion is settling Mars,” says one.

[Read the full story here, at The Guardian]

SpaceX has completed 32 successful launches since 2006, delivered cargo to the International Space Station and secured more than $10bn in contracts with Nasa and other clients. Musk has much grander ambitions, though, saying he plans to create a “plan B” for humanity in case Earth ultimately fails. He once famously joked that he hoped to die on Mars – just not on impact. Read the rest of this entry »


Rise of the Robot Music Industry

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AI is transforming music streaming, talent spotting, promotion and even composition.

Robotic is not an adjective that many musicians would want applied to their songs but the industry has been fast to embrace data analytics and artificial intelligence to help tailor its services to the increasingly fickle listener.

Algorithms are seeping into the music business to help with talent spotting, promotion and even composition in an industry that has been historically resistant to change and was one of the first to feel the effects of “disruption” through piracy and music sharing.

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Streaming services have already ushered in an era of “hyper personalisation” for music lovers. Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist, launched in July 2015, had racked up 40m listeners around the world and 5bn track streams by May this year, according to a report from the BPI prepared by Music Ally. These playlists monitor what a person is listening to, and cross-references that data with other users with similar tastes to recommend new songs and artists.

Apple Music has opted to use human curators such as Zane Lowe, the radio DJ, for its playlists, but Spotify has doubled down on its robotic recommenders with new services such as Release Radar and the Daily Mix to tempt its subscribers down different paths.

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Yet discovery is only the equivalent of a debut album for streaming services, and can be a blunt tool. Users of Spotify Discover complain that it is hit and miss — often suggesting the same artists and songs repeatedly, and failing to adapt to the often random whims of the listener.

The industry is now hoping that the use of artificial intelligence will bring better analytics, and even predictive technology.

A listener’s location, mood and even the weather conditions are now being built into some recommendation engines. Google Play is, for example, working on such adaptive functions.

“A bot will be able to recognise guilty pleasures . . . see that I’ve been to the pub and serve me a Little Mix record when I’m on the way home,” says Luke Ferrar, head of digital at Polydor, pointing to the use of algorithms to understand how people listen to music. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Can Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Save The World From Zika? 

Should we fear the GM mosquitoes? A look at several mosquito-modification projects and the political and cultural pushback they’re facing.

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UPDATE: The trial release in the Florida Keys was approved by public referendum, but the Keys Mosquito District now has to seek FDA approval.

 


China Flight-Tests 10 DF-21 Missiles

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Show of force comes amid transition to Trump

Chinese state media reported Thursday that the simultaneous flight tests of 10 DF-21 intermediate-range ballistic missiles were carried out in China.

The missiles “can destroy U.S. Asia-Pacific bases at any time,” the dispatch from the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The flight tests were disclosed by China Central Television on Nov. 28 and coincide with President-elect Donald Trump’s high-profile announcements of new senior government officials.

Disclosure of the missile salvo launch comes as Trump announced on Thursday that he will nominate retired Marine Corps. Gen. James Mattis as his defense secretary. Mattis is one of the Corps’ most celebrated warfighting generals. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] The Atlas Robot is Getting Better at Chasing You Down


Russia: Progress MS-04 Space Ship Malfunctions, Breaks up Over Siberia 

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The Progress MS-04 cargo craft broke up at an altitude of 118 miles over the remote Russian Tuva region in Siberia that borders Mongolia.

An unmanned Russian cargo spaceship heading to the International Space Station broke up in the atmosphere over Siberia on Thursday due to an unspecified malfunction, the Russian space agency said.

The Progress MS-04 cargo craft broke up at an altitude of 190 kilometers (118 miles) over the remote Russian Tuva region in Siberia that borders Mongolia, Roscosmos said in a statement. It said most of space ship’s debris burnt up as it entered the atmosphere but some debris fell to Earth over what it called an uninhabited area.

The Progress cargo ship had lifted off as scheduled at 8:51 p.m. (1451 GMT) from Russia’s space launch complex in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to deliver 2.5 metric tons of fuel, water, food and other supplies. It entered an orbit nine minutes later and was set to dock with the space station on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »


New MDMA Trials Moving Forward To Test Ecstasy As Treatment For PTSD

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New research may have found a more efficient way of treating patients who suffer from PTSD: by using MDMA, which is ecstasy in its purest form. The assisted drug treatment could be approved by the FDA.

“The medicine allows them to look at things from a different place and reclassify them. Honestly, we don’t have to do much. Each person has an innate ability to heal. We just create the right conditions.” 

— Ann Mithoefer, psychiatric nurse

MDMA, the pure form of ecstasy, will be employed in treating . The drug is also tested for its properties when it comes to treating terminally ill patients.

[Read the full story here, at Tech Times]

The tests conducted for possible  have had positive outcomes and researchers consider the approval of MDMA as a prescription drug sometime in the near future.

However, more tests should be carried out before this. The Food and Drug Administration already approved a Phase III trial as part of the procedure.

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MDMA – Possible Medical Solution To PTSD

The first two studies treated patients for 12 weeks, in the form of psychotherapy sessions and MDMA sessions. The MDMA sessions lasted eight hours each, during which the . After being given the drug, the patients would sit in a relaxing environment, surrounded by chill music, flowers and candles in order to suggest a calm state of mind to balance the euphoric effects of the drug. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Elon Musk: Internet on Mars & Artificial Intelligence

Source: Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016) Narrated by Werner Herzog

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What is this sorcery?


Sci-Fi Cover art by Kelly Freas illustration: ‘Pipe Dream’, by Fritz Leiber

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Source: Sci-fi Covers


[VIDEO] Replay: Incredible Lunar Views From The Japanese Selene Orbiter – Earthrise 

Take a journey across the surface of the moon. See the earth rise and set from the lunar surface.

This video was recorded by the SELENE Lunar Orbiter – images are copyright JAXA / NHK
SELENE , better known in Japan by its nickname Kaguya, was the second Japanese lunar orbiter spacecraft following the Hiten probe]

Produced by the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) and the National Space Development Agency (NASDA), the spacecraft was launched on September 14, 2007. After successfully orbiting the Moon for a year and eight months, the main orbiter was instructed to impact on the lunar surface near the crater Gill on June 10, 2009.[2] Read the rest of this entry »