Technology

Robot learns to recognize objects on its own

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 8, 2013   View Article

When all the humans went home for the day, a personal-assistant robot under development in a university lab recently built digital images of a pineapple and a bag of bagels that were inadvertently left on a table – and figured out how it could lift them.

The researchers didn’t even know the objects were in the room.

Instead of being frightened at their robot’s independent streak, the researchers point to the feat as a highlight in their quest to build machines that can fetch items and microwave meals for people who have limited mobility or are, ahem, too busy with other chores.

Three-fingered iRobot hand points to strong, nimble future machines

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 2, 2013   View Article

A robotic hand strong enough to lift a 50-pound weight yet so nimble it can pluck up keys from a table demonstrates real capabilities of a coming generation of robots that will be at work everywhere, from the battlefield to the construction site.

In a segment of a video compilation that was just released publicly, the three-fingered hand picks up a drill, and uses it to bore a hole through a narrow piece of lumber.

World’s smallest stop-motion film made with individual atoms

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 1, 2013   View Article

Scientists at IBM have just unveiled the world’s smallest stop-motion film — certified by Guinness — one made by moving individual atoms. What you’re seeing is 100 million times bigger than the original elements.

For Star Trek fans, the team also unveiled several franchise-inspired images made with atoms, including the USS Enterprise, the famous logo and the “live long and prosper” sign.

Why? To prove that they can and in the process show off the fun side of science, according to Andreas Heinrich, a principal investigator at IBM Research in California who led the effort.

Student program wins $100K prize for health innovations for developing world

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 1, 2013   View Article

Getting the correct dose of liquid medicine into a syringe is a challenge — just ask any parent treating a toddler’s fever at 3 am. Enter the DoseRight Syringe Clip, a seemingly simple L-shaped plastic gizmo that fits into the barrel of a standard oral syringe to ensure accurate dosages. It was designed by students, and will likely save lives.

The gadget is the brainchild of Rice University’s Beyond Traditional Borders, an engineering design initiative established and run by bioengineering professors Rebecca Richards Kortum and Maria Oden with the goal of developing and improving access to health innovations for the world’s poorest communities. On Wednesday, they were honored with the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation.

Methane gobbling material found, scientists say

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 17, 2013   View Article

Scientists have discovered a new material that can capture and concentrate methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

While carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas, can be captured using a variety of techniques, methane capture has proved elusive primarily because it interacts weakly with other materials, according Amitesh Maiti, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

He and colleagues discovered that various forms of zeolites, which are commonly used in water purification and other industrial processes, appear well-suited for the task. That’s because the material’s crystalline structure can be fine-tuned for various gas separation or storage applications, he explained.

Technique turns ash into hydrogen gas

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 11, 2013   View Article

Piles of ash leftover from incinerated trash may be a viable source of hydrogen gas that can be used to generate electricity and power cars, suggests a process pioneered in a research lab.

The trick? Just add water, which reacts with residual metallic aluminum in the ash, explained Aamir Ilyas, a water resource engineer at Lund University in Sweden, who developed the technique.

Robotic ants provide path to real ant brains

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 28, 2013   View Article

Robots built to mimic ants suggest that real ants waste little, if any, mental energy deciding which way to go when they reach an uneven fork in the road, according to a new study. Instead, the ants just take the easiest route as dictated by geometry.

“The shape of their network relieves some of the cognitive load for the ants; they don’t need to think about it,” Simon Garnier, a biologist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, told NBC News. “The shape of their networks has constrained their movement in a way that is more efficient for them.”

The findings have implications for understanding ant biology as well as how humans design transportation networks for the flow of people, information and goods.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach