Archive for July, 2007

The Real Transformers

July 28, 2007

Researchers are building robots that learn in humanlike ways and show humanlike traits. Will this result in robot consciousness — and a better understanding of ourselves?

I was introduced to my first sociable robot on a sunny afternoon in June.

The robot, developed by graduate students at the Massachesetts Institute of Technology, was named Mertz.

It had camera sensors behind its eyes, which were programmed to detect faces; when it found mine, the robot was supposed to gaze at me directly to initiate a kind of conversation.

But Mertz was on the fritz that day, and one of its designers, a dark-haired young woman named Lijin Aryananda, was trying to figure out what was wrong with it. Mertz was getting fidgety, Aryananda was getting frustrated and I was starting to feel as if I were peeking behind the curtain of the Wizard of Oz.

Source:  New York Times magazine — July 29

Flying cars are here at last

July 27, 2007

Moller M200X Flying car

For anybody who grew up on Tomorrow’s World or The Jetsons, the future has been a huge disappointment.

Yes, we might have home computers and mobile telephones and robot dogs. But we don’t have the flying cars that we were promised.

Until now, that is. Perhaps.

Source:  United Kingdom’s Metro

3 killed, 3 injured in explosion at rocket test site in Mojave

July 27, 2007

Three workers were killed and three others were badly hurt Thursday afternoon in an explosion on the edge of Kern County’s Mojave airport during the test of a propellant system for a pioneering private spaceship.

The blast occurred at a private test site run by Scaled Composites, a company founded by high-profile aviation entrepreneur Burt Rutan.

In June 2004, the firm became the first business to launch a reusable manned rocket into space, a craft known as SpaceShip One.

Thursday’s explosion — whose sound was likened to a 500-pound bomb by a mechanic working several hundred yards away — is believed to have been caused by an undetermined operating flaw that ignited a tank of nitrous oxide.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Single gene deletion in mice boosts lifespan

July 27, 2007

Researchers have created a mutant mouse that lives longer despite eating more and weighing less — all thanks to the loss of a single protein.

Without this protein, the body is less susceptible to the heart-pounding effects of the hormone adrenaline, and may become more resistant to some forms of stress.

Scientists are already developing drugs to inhibit this protein, called type 5 adenylyl cyclase (AC5). “Clearly we would be very interested in such a compound,” says cardiologist Stephen Vatner, who is part of the team that discovered this effect.

Currently, the main focus of ageing research is on using calorie restriction as a way of activating a metabolic ‘fountain of youth’. The new discovery, that knocking out a single cardiac gene could lengthen lifespan, was an unexpected byproduct of heart research.

Vatner, together with Junichi Sadoshima and other colleagues at the New Jersey Medical School at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, had initially set out to determine whether getting rid of AC5 leads to a healthier heart.

Source:  Nature

New X-Plane Flies at Calif. Air Base

July 27, 2007

An X-48B Blended Wing Body jet successfully flew for the first time in a program that could lead to more fuel-efficient, quieter and higher- capacity aircraft, NASA said Thursday.

The remotely controlled, 500-pound, three-engine jet with a 21-foot wingspan took off July 20, climbed to an altitude of 7,500 feet and landed about a half-hour later, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center said.

It was controlled by a pilot at a ground station. NASA and Boeing said data from the flight is already being compared with data from wind tunnel tests.

The aircraft and a duplicate were designed by Boeing Co.’s Phantom Works in cooperation with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Built by Cranfield Aerospace Ltd. in Bedford, England, they are 8.5 percent-scale versions of a future full-size design.

The X-48B resembles a flying wing, but the wing blends into a wide, flat and tailless fuselage, NASA and Boeing said.

Source:  Associated Press

World’s first robotic ankle is developed

July 24, 2007

robotic ankle

An Army veteran who lost part of his leg in Iraq walked with more spring in his step as he unveiled the world’s first robotic ankle – an important advance for lower-limb amputees that was developed by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Garth Stewart, 24, who lost his left leg below the knee in an explosion in Iraq, walked in the device, which propels users forward using tendon-like springs and an electric motor.

The prototype device reduces fatigue, improves balance and provides amputees with a more fluid gait. It could become commercially available as early as the summer of 2008.

The ankle-foot was developed at the MIT Media Lab by Professor Hugh Herr and his team of researchers.

Source:  Daily Mail

One small step for fashion, one giant leap for spacesuits

July 24, 2007

New Space Suit 

It’s sleek. It’s chic. It’s very, very, very tight. All the better to show an astronaut’s gravity-defying figure back on earth.

Introducing the BioSuit: a prototype spacesuit recently completed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When the white high-tech design is finalized in a few years, it will be the first new look for astronauts in more than four decades, replacing the lumpy, awkward 300-pound outfit with something worthy of a super hero.

Source:  Boston Globe

An era of unprecedented longevity

July 24, 2007

A funny thing happened on the road to perfection. Suddenly, enjoying your exercise routine is more important than going for the burn. Meditation is edging out the shrink’s couch. And trying to turn back the clock is passé as a quiet revolution emphasizes that well-being is the key to quality of life and peace of mind. 

“I like to call it ‘pro-aging’ or ‘successful aging,'” says Miriam Nelson, an associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.

“There are still those who panic about getting older and get depressed with each passing year. Then there is another, growing group of people who are thinking about what they can do to be as vigorous as possible to reduce their incidence of age-related disease by eating well, exercising, managing stress and being happy and connected.”

Source:  Los Angeles Times

Hope for new Parkinson’s therapy

July 14, 2007

BrainScientists have discovered a protein which may help to slow, or even reverse symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s destroys nerve cells that produce the brain chemical dopamine, causing movement and balance problems.

Finnish researchers found the new molecule can prevent degeneration of these cells – and help damaged cells start to recover.

Their paper, featured in Nature, showed symptoms eased in rats given injections of the protein.

Source:  BBC News

Discovery will aid in mammoth’s gene map

July 14, 2007

The discovery of a baby mammoth preserved in the Russian permafrost gives researchers their best chance yet to build a genetic map of a species extinct since the Ice Age.

“It’s a lovely little baby mammoth indeed, found in perfect condition,” said Alexei Tikhonov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Science’s Zoological Institute, which has been taking care of the mammoth’s corpse since it was uncovered in May.

“This specimen may provide unique material allowing us to ultimately decipher the genetic makeup of the mammoth,” he said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday.

The mammoth, a female who died at the age of 6 months, was dubbed Lyuba, after the wife of reindeer breeder and hunter Yuri Khudi, who found her in Russia’s Arctic Yamalo-Nenets region.

Tikhonov dismissed suggestions that the mammoth could be cloned.

Cloning can only be done if whole cells are intact, but the freezing conditions will have caused the cells to burst, he said.

Source:  Los Angeles Times