Pleo the Dinosaur Arrives…Finally!

December 4, 2007

UGOBE Pleo robot dinosaur

PC World covers the hatching today:

We got to play with Pleo today at PC World, and despite the delay, he remains kind of amazing. There have been other toy robot dinosaurs, but Pleo is nothing like them–or like any other robotic toy, period. Aside from the decidedly mechanical noises he makes as he does his thing, he’s the least robotic robotic toy I’ve ever seen.

UGOBE calls him a “life form,” and he is indeed remarkably lifelike for a robot. Rather than being cast in a hard plastic shell, he’s got scaly skin, not to mention eyes with eyelids. He ambles around, with a surprisingly loose-limbed gait. He likes to play tug-of-war with things you put in his mouth. He appears to notice activities around him, but when he gets tuckered out, he sleeps and snores. He likes to be petted and hates being picked up by his tail. Most of all, he appears to think–and UGOBE says that he learns from his experiences and gets smarter over time.

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In the Future, Smart People Will Let Cars Take Control

December 4, 2007

As the baby boomers cruise into their golden years, I have good news for them — and for everyone else in danger of being run over by these aging drivers. The boomers will not be driving like Mr. Magoo. An electronic chauffeur will conduct them on expressways, drop them at the mall entrance and then go park their cars.

If you doubt this prediction, I don’t blame you. The self-driving car ranks right up there with the personal hovercraft as the futurist vision that never comes true.

Source:  New York Times

Faster Computers Accelerate Pace of Discovery

December 3, 2007

Sometime next year, developers will boot up the next generation of supercomputers, machines whose vast increases in processing power will accelerate the transformation of the scientific method, experts say.

The first “petascale” supercomputer will be capable of 1,000 trillion calculations per second. That’s about twice as powerful as today’s dominant model, a basketball-court-size beast known as BlueGene/L at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California that performs a peak of 596 trillion calculations per second.

The computing muscle of the new petascale machines will be akin to that of more than 100,000 desktop computers combined, experts say. A computation that would take a lifetime for a home PC and that can be completed in about five hours on today’s supercomputers will be doable in as little as two hours.

Source:  Washington Post

Expanding tropics ‘a threat to millions’

December 3, 2007

The tropical belt that girdles the Earth is expanding north and south, which could have dire consequences for large regions of the world where the climate is likely to become more arid or more stormy, scientists have warned in a seminal study published today.

Climate change is having a dramatic impact on the tropics by pushing their boundaries towards the poles at an unprecedented rate not foreseen by computer models, which had predicted this sort of poleward movement only by the end of the century.

The report comes as representatives from 191 countries around the world assemble on the island of Bali in Indonesia, to negotiate a new international treaty to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

Source:  Independent

Gene could hold secret to youth

November 30, 2007

A single gene could hold the secret to eternal youth, scientists have shown, after rejuvenating the skin of two-year-old mice by blocking its activity.

Not only did the animals appear more youthful, but at a biological level they resembled new-borns. The same gene, NF-kappa-B, is thought to play a role in numerous other aspects of ageing.

It acts as a regulator, causing a wide range of other genes to be more or less active in older people.

Dr Howard Chang, from the Stanford School of Medicine in California, who led the research, said: “We found a pretty striking reversal to that of the young skin.

However, he cautioned against raising false hopes of a “fountain of youth” that can turn back time. At present no one knows how long the rejuvenating process lasts. Also, scientists do not know long-term effects that might result from tinkering with NF-kappa-B, a so-called transcription factor which helps control gene activity.

Source:  The Press Association

Rosie makes the rounds at Michigan hospital

November 30, 2007

The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press has a cool article on a robot currently being used at a local hospital. 

The robot, created by Aethon, looks like a filing cabinet on wheels, is wireless, has a schematic of the hospital programmed in her brain and makes rounds every two hours, pausing to recharge her batteries in between.

The company calls her Tug, as in tugboat, but, get ready now, the hospital staff named her Rosie after the humanoid housekeeper in The Jetsons animated TV series.   

There are a little more than 100 of the robots working in hospitals across the United States. 

Full article:  Grand Rapids Press (video is included at link)

Robots dazzle at Japanese exhibit

November 29, 2007

A robot math whiz breezes through a Rubik’s Cube, using metal hands to twist and turn the colorful toy. A panda robot uses sensors to detect when people are laughing, and joins in. A dentistry student peers into the mouth of a new patient — a humanoid practice robot with a complete set of pearly white teeth.

Japan showed off its cutting-edge robots Wednesday at the country’s largest robotics convention, a dazzling display of the technologies that make it a world leader in both service and industrial robotics.

The dental training robot, dubbed Simroid for “simulator humanoid,” has realistic skin, eyes, and a mouth fitted with replica teeth that students practice drilling on. A sensor fitted where the nerve endings would be raises the alert when they drill too close — triggering a yelp from the robot.

Source:  Associated Press

Novel Compounds May Battle Diseases of Aging

November 29, 2007

Experimental compounds aimed at treating diseases such as type 2 diabetes show promise, scientists say.

These “novel chemical entities” activate SIRT1, a gene controlling the aging process, the researchers report in the Nov. 29 issue of Nature.

In obese mice, these compounds improved insulin sensitivity, lowered plasma glucose levels, and increased the function of mitochondria (the powerhouse of cells).

In rats, the compounds improved whole body glucose homeostasis and insulin sensitivity in fat tissue, skeletal muscle, and the liver.  The experimental compounds were developed and tested by Sirtris Pharmaceuticals Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.

Source:  Washington Post

NASA outlines manned Mars vision

November 29, 2007

Artist's impression of astronaut on Mars. Image: NasaNASA has released details of its strategy for sending a human crew to Mars within the next few decades.

The US space agency envisages despatching a “minimal” crew on a 30-month round trip to the Red Planet in a 400,000kg (880,000lb) spacecraft.

Details of the concept were outlined at a meeting in Houston, Texas.

In January 2004, President George W Bush launched a programme for returning humans to the Moon by 2020 and – at an undetermined date – to Mars.

The “Mars ship” would be assembled in low-Earth orbit using three to four Ares V rockets – the new heavy-lift launch vehicle that Nasa has been developing.

Source:  BBC News

Company developing ‘Segway of the sky’

November 28, 2007

BitarAir Buoyant is developing a one-person flying platform called the VertiPod. Classified as an ultralight aircraft, the propeller-powered VertiPod’s simple controls could spark a transportation revolution.

“It’s kind of the first step toward the flying car,” said Air Buoyant President and CEO Pete Bitar. “We call it the Segway of the sky. It has a rudder that steers it laterally, but you just lean in the direction you want to go.”

The Vertipod looks a bit like a one-passenger helicopter turned upside-down. Its propeller is on the bottom and the pilot stands on a platform built around it with back support and controls at waist-level.

It is powered by a 440-cubic-centimeter engine that runs on gasoline or ethanol and can be activated with a pull-start, like a lawnmower. The VertiPod is intended to travel five to 15 feet above ground at a top speed of 40 mph. Bitar said it will be sold for $10,000 in a kit that can be assembled in a weekend.

Source:  Wired’s Danger Room