Archive for October, 2007

Aubrey de Grey — The Invincible Man

October 31, 2007

Aubrey de Grey, photographed at San Francisco's airport, created the Methuselah Foundation to support scientific research into extending the life span, oh, 900 years.

Aubrey de Grey may be wrong but, evidence suggests, he’s not nuts. This is a no small assertion. De Grey argues that some people alive today will live in a robust and youthful fashion for 1,000 years.

In 2005, an authoritative publication offered $20,000 to any molecular biologist who could demonstrate that de Grey’s plan for treating aging as a disease — and curing it — was “so wrong that it was unworthy of learned debate.”

Now mere mortals — who may wish to be significantly less mortal — can judge whether de Grey’s proposals are “science or fantasy,” as the magazine put it. De Grey’s much-awaited “Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime” has just been published.

The judges were formidable for that MIT Technology Review challenge prize. They included Rodney Brooks, then director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer of Microsoft; and J. Craig Venter, who shares credit for first sequencing the human genome.

In the end, they decided no scientist had succeeded in blowing de Grey out of the water. “At issue is the conflict between the scientific process and the ambiguous status of ideas that have not yet been subjected to that process,” Myhrvold wrote for the judges.

Well yes, that. Plus the question that has tantalized humans forever. What if the only certainty is taxes?

Interesting stuff.  Read the whole article at Washington Post

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i-SOBOT debuts without TV spots

October 30, 2007

omnibot2007-i-sobot-camversion.jpg

With no plans to spend a penny on TV commercials, Santa Ana’s Tomy Corp. is betting its new i-SOBOT will capture the hearts and wallets of Americans and become one of the hottest toys this holiday.

The $300 robot, being unveiled today, has gained a following thanks to a strategic Internet campaign. Tomy’s marketing gurus targeted blogs and Web sites.

Popular gadget sites, such as Engadget and Gizmodo, have been keeping tabs on its progress all year. I-SOBOT even has a MySpace page with 161 friends.

Source:  Orange County Register

X Prize Cup rocket competition flames out

October 29, 2007

Armadillo Aerospace's mod lunar lander prototype went up in flames on Sunday during its final launch attempt at the X Prize Cup backed by NASA

Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace was the lone star of the X Prize Cup for a second year in a row.

By design, the X Prize Cup is a rocket festival celebrating forward-looking technologies that the organizers hope will one day turn average people into astronauts by making space travel affordable.

But in practice, the event revolves around an as-yet-unsuccessful NASA competition to develop and fly a reusable lunar lander, with total prizes worth $2 million.

Armadillo, founded by Doom creator John Carmack, was the only participant of nine total teams that was ready to fly a vehicle here this weekend. Even it failed to complete more than two flights, leaving the challenge unmet for another year. (Armadillo was the sole team in 2006 as well.)

“The money’s on the table until someone wins,” NASA spokesman Ken Davidian said during the event.

Source:  CNET News

Man wants to build electric car infrastructure

October 29, 2007

Shai Agassi, a Silicon Valley technologist who was in competition to become chief executive of SAP, one of the world’s largest software companies, has re-emerged with a grand plan to reinvent the world’s automobile industry around battery-powered all-electric cars.

Others are developing green cars, like the Tesla and Chevrolet Volt. However, Mr. Agassi is not planning to make cars, but instead wants to deploy an infrastructure of battery-charging stations in the United States, Europe and the developing world.

The new system will sell electric fuel on a subscription basis and will subsidize vehicle costs through leases and credits.

“We’re basically saying this is just like the cellular phone model,” he said. “If you think of Tesla as the iPhone, we’re AT&T.”

On Monday, he plans to announce in New York City that he has raised $200 million from private venture partners, including the Israel Corporation, a large Israeli transportation and technology holding company, Vantage Point Venture Partners, as well as a group of private investors including Edgar Bronfman Sr., the liquor magnate, and James D. Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank. Israel Corporation’s $100 million investment was announced earlier this year.

Source:  New York Times

Warming Revives Flora and Fauna in Greenland

October 28, 2007

A strange thing is happening at the edge of Poul Bjerge’s forest, a place so minute and unexpected that it brings to mind the teeny plot of land Woody Allen’s father carries around in the film “Love and Death.”

Its four oldest trees — in fact, the four oldest pine trees in Greenland, named Rosenvinge’s trees after the Dutch botanist who planted them in a mad experiment in 1893 — are waking up. After lapsing into stately, sleepy old age, they are exhibiting new sprinklings of green at their tops, as if someone had glued on fresh needles.

And it is not just old trees that are growing. A Greenlandic supermarket is stocking locally grown cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage this year for the first time. Eight sheep farmers are growing potatoes commercially.

Five more are experimenting with vegetables. And Kenneth Hoeg, the region’s chief agriculture adviser, says he does not see why southern Greenland cannot eventually be full of vegetable farms and viable forests.

Source:  New York Times

Bigelow Aerospace to offer $760 million for spaceship

October 26, 2007

Bigelow Aerospace intends to spur development of a commercial space vehicle to take people into Earth orbit by offering to sign a contract worth $760 million with any company that can meet their criteria, company president Robert Bigelow says.

Speaking with New Scientist at the company’s headquarters in Las Vegas, Nevada, Bigelow said the offer is meant to head off a crisis over the lack of transportation options available to get people to the large inflatable space stations it plans to launch by early 2010.

Bigelow has already successfully launched and deployed two test inflatable spacecraft. It hopes to rent out space on future stations to astronauts of some of the world’s space agencies, as well as to companies that wish to carry out research or other activities in space.

Source:  New Scientist via CosmicLog

Robot cars at the starting line of futuristic race

October 26, 2007

Beginning today, 35 vehicles will hit the streets of a former Air Force base north of San Diego for a very unusual race.

None of them will have a driver. Not even a remote control.

In a cross between TV’s “Pimp My Ride” and the 1980s hit “Knight Rider,” the goal of the 60-mile DARPA Urban Challenge is not only to finish first, but to develop “thinking” vehicles that can guide themselves through urban settings.

Competitors with names like Sting Racing, Mojavaton, Gator Nation and CajunBot rolled into the former George Air Force Base in Victorville this week from across the nation, including Austin, Atlanta, Gainesville, Fla., and Grand Junction, Colo.

It may sound like a strange science fair, but it’s serious stuff.

Source:  Cox News Service

Army freezes contract with iRobot rival

October 26, 2007

The Army has frozen a $280 million contract with a Chicago-area robot maker that is being sued by iRobot Corp. 

Robotic FX Inc. of Alsip, Ill., last month won the contract to supply up to 3,000 robots for use by bomb-disposal soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, iRobot was suing Robotic FX in federal courts in Massachusetts and Alabama, alleging theft of trade secrets and patent infringement.

Robotic FX was founded by former iRobot employee Jameel Ahed. iRobot officials claim that Ahed carried off company secrets when he resigned in 2002, and used this information to design the Negotiator, the robot that beat out iRobot’s PackBot machine for the military contract.

Source:  Boston Globe

After news of the contract freeze yesterday, iRobot’s stock jumped more than 15 percent.  Monitor today’s action here.

Human race will ‘split into two different species’

October 26, 2007

The human race will one day split into two separate species, an attractive, intelligent ruling elite and an underclass of dim-witted, ugly goblin-like creatures, according to a top scientist.

100,000 years into the future, sexual selection will mean that two distinct breeds of human will have developed.

The alarming prediction comes from evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry from the London School of Economics, who says that the human race will have reached its physical peak by the year 3000.

These humans will be between 6ft and 7ft tall and they will live up to 120 years. Men will have symmetrical facial features, deeper voices and bigger penises.

Women will all have glossy hair, smooth hairless skin, large eyes and pert breasts, according to Curry in a report for men’s satellite TV channel Bravo.

Racial differences will be a thing of the past as interbreeding produces a single coffee-coloured skin tone.

Full article:  Daily Mail

‘Astronaut Farmer’ from Arizona working on spaceship

October 25, 2007

By day, Morris Jarvis works as an instrumentation and control engineer for Intel Corp.’s newest factory, Fab 32.

By night and on the weekends, he is Arizona’s version of the “Astronaut Farmer,” building a vehicle he hopes to launch into space some day.

Jarvis and his 10 partners have built a prototype of a craft that would take everyday people on suborbital flights around Earth for a fee. He named the craft “Hermes,” a Greek god of land travel.

Jarvis is about three years into the latest prototype, a gleaming white craft that resembles a boxy version of the space shuttle and seats four passengers. He works on it in his shop at his east Mesa home.

The problem is that Jarvis needs money to get a workable model off the ground.

He estimates he needs about $100,000 to do glide testing. He then would need $1.5 million to launch the craft with a helium balloon, the cheaper of two methods he is considering.

Launching the craft with a rocket would take about $5.4 million, he estimates.

Source:  Arizona Republic