Archive for August, 2007

Spider-Man suit may allow people to scurry up buildings

August 28, 2007

A suit that began life on the pages of a Marvel comic might soon make its debut in the real world, according to scientists who have worked out how to make a sticky Spider-Man type outfit.

The researchers say it is possible to make clothing that mimics the natural stickiness employed by spiders and geckos, which would allow a person to scurry up the side of a building or hang upside down from the ceiling.

The key, they said, is a type of microscopic Velcro capable of adhering to even smooth surfaces such as concrete or glass, but which can be easily detached, allowing the wearer to move around.

They believe microscopic hollow fibres called carbon nanotubes might be used to make the suit. “There are many interesting applications for our theory, from space exploration and defence to designing gloves and shoes for window cleaners of big skyscrapers,” said Prof Pugno, whose research appears in Condensed Matter, the Institute of Physics journal.

Source:  Guardian


Collaborators in a Quest for Human Perfection

August 28, 2007

The New York Times reviews an interesting new book called “The Immortalists, Charles Lindhbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever.”  I didn’t realize Lindhbergh had a passion for this sort of thing. 

Here’s a particularly chilling excerpt in the review:

(Their) scientific success only fueled Lindbergh and Carrel’s philosophic zeal: if immortality was indeed on the horizon, it certainly should not be for everyone. In his 1935 best seller “Man, the Unknown,” Carrel urgently argued for the creation of biologic classes, with the weak and sick at one end, and the strong and fit (long might they live, propagate and receive new organs as needed) at the other. The sorting was to be accomplished by a council of scientific experts much like himself.

Overall, sounds like a well-written book:

Mr. Friedman’s book is difficult to put down — seldom is the interface between science, history and morality so clearly highlighted as by the careers of these two men. His story is so good that it is easy to forgive him a few failings. He is guilty of some overly portentous prose of the “could he have known?” variety.

But for a demonstration of the bizarrely particulate nature of human intelligence, which allows scientific brilliance and moral idiocy to thrive side by side, forget Jekyll, Hyde and Frankenstein: this is the book to read.

Source:  New York Times


Cerf predicts the end of TV as we know it

August 28, 2007

Vint Cerf

Vint Cerf – one of the handful of researchers who helped build the internet in the 1970s – said that the television industry would change rapidly as it approached its “iPod moment”.  The 64-year-old told an audience of media moguls that TV was rapidly approaching the same kind of crunch moment that the music industry faced with the arrival of the MP3 player.

“85% of all video we watch is pre-recorded, so you can set your system to download it all the time,” he said. “You’re still going to need live television for certain things – like news, sporting events and emergencies – but increasingly it is going to be almost like the iPod, where you download content to look at later.”

Dr Cerf also revealed that he has been working on future developments for the Internet, taking it beyond the confines of planet Earth. He has been helping develop systems for using the net to communicate and control space vehicles, including interplanetary landers sent to explore the surface of Mars.

Source:  Guardian

Futuristic innovations that flopped

August 26, 2007

Futuristic Inventions That Flopped

The History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” program delves into some futuristic designs that never caught on.  Flopped may be too strong of a word. 

I personally think the Dymaxion House is a great idea that unfortunately never seemed to take off.  Come to think of it, the Aerocar never seemed to take off as well.

The following are cool video clips:

The House of the Future

The Dymaxion House

The Aerocar

Flying robot to aid China Antarctic expedition

August 26, 2007

A robot that can fly “like a mini-helicopter” and a second that can glide across ice will aid Chinese scientists during an Antarctic expedition slated for October, Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday.

The airborne robot can fly for an hour at speeds of 50 to 100 kilometers (30 to 60 miles) an hour and will be equipped with a camera and an infrared radiometer for observing ice on the sea. The second robot can slide across ice crevasses and snowy slopes, the report said.

“The use of robots can reduce the risks and costs in scientific research,” Xinhua quoted Qin Weijia, of the Polar Research Institute of China, as saying. “No matter how bad the weather is, they can still work normally.”

Source: Reuters

Mega-bus to debut in L.A. next week

August 25, 2007

Los Angeles commuters next week will be greeted with a bus so long, it’s technically illegal.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is set to unveil a 65-foot-long bus — longer than four Toyota Priuses parked end to end — to debut on its Orange Line busway.
It is five feet longer than the longest bus allowed by California law, so the MTA had to seek an exemption from Caltrans to operate the prototype.

“When you get inside, the middle aisle looks like a bowling alley,” said MTA spokesman Dave Sotero.

But those extra five feet give the bus three extra rows of seats and the ability to hold up to 100 passengers, while the current 60-foot models on the Orange Line can hold up to 84.

The bus comes in two sections with a flexible, accordion-style center that allows the bus to bend around turns.

It is part of a new trend in recent years of transit agencies around the world ordering longer buses for their commuters.

Although the L.A. bus is certainly long and futuristic, it’s not the world’s longest bus. 

That distinction goes to the bus on the right, an 83-footer that can hold up to 300 passengers.  It is currently being used in China.

Source:  Los Angeles Times

Inventor Takes Travel A Step Into The Future

August 2, 2007

What looks more like a flying saucer, is said to be the ultimate earth vehicle. Even the company manufacturing it knows it looks familiar.

“It looks like something Hanna-Barbara created several years ago,” said Bruce Calkins, General Manager, Moller.

The name, Volanter, means agile and nimble.

“Just move it in direction you want to go. This can go over any terrain. It doesn’t care what’s under it. It basically lifts you up like 8 tiny helicopters,” said Calkins.

The mass produced model will have a major difference from what the company’s initial design drew out. The vehicle won’t go higher than 10 feet off the ground.

Source:  CBS 13 Sacramento (good video story included)

Seeking Long Life’s Secrets

August 2, 2007

Within the mouths of the very old, some scientists hope to find the genetic secrets of living a long and healthy life.

In an effort called the Methuselah Project, Connecticut biotech entrepreneur Dr. Jonathan Rothberg plans to extract DNA from the saliva of 100 people over the age of 95 in the hopes of identifying the versions of their genes that confer such remarkable longevity.

“The great thing is that we know the genes have to be there, that these people have a better version of genes,” Rothberg said. “I’ll bet right now that there are some number of proteins that allow people to play tennis when they are 98, and also play chess.

“After all, the goal is not to live to 100, but live to 100 with intellect and general well-being.”

Source:  Hartford Courant

Asia’s brown clouds ‘warm planet’

August 2, 2007

Brown atmospheric cloud (Image: Nasa)Clouds of pollution over the Indian Ocean appear to cause as much warming as greenhouse gases released by human activity, a study has suggested.

US researchers used unmanned aircraft to measure the effects of the “brown clouds” on the surrounding area.

Writing in Nature, they said the tiny particles increased the solar heating of the lower atmosphere by about 50%.

The warming could be enough to explain the retreat of glaciers in the Himalayas, the scientists proposed.

The clouds contain a mixture of light absorbing aerosols and light scattering aerosols, which cause the atmosphere to warm and the surface of the Earth to cool.

Source:  BBC News