Friday Gadget: Robonaut 2

Robonaut 2 (R2), a robot developed by General Motors and NASA, is scheduled to hitch a ride to the Space Station via the shuttle Discovery this September. 

The robot not only looks like a human but also is designed to work like one.  With human-like hands and arms, R2 is able to use the same tools station crew members use.

For the mission in September, engineers plan to monitor him closely to see how he operates in weightlessness.  Plans eventually call for R2 to perform tasks that would normally require astronauts to take spacewalks.  The hope is that at some point in the future robots will be able to perform spacewalks and other tasks too difficult or dangerous for humans.  For now, R2 is still a prototype and does not have adequate protection needed to exist outside the space station in the extreme temperatures of space.

For more, check out the page on Robonaut at http://robonaut.jsc.nasa.gov/

MIT Technology Review: 10 Emerging Technologies of 2010

MIT Tech Review May-Jun_2010_cover The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review (http://www.technologyreview.com/) has released its annual report on 10 Emerging Technologies of 2010.   I always look forward to this annual article for it consistently reports on the interesting work going on in labs and academic institutions.  The articles also provide a human element, telling us about the person behind the work, the problems they are trying to solve, and how they have worked hard to innovate in the field they are researching.

The list of 10 emerging technologies MIT presents in this article have the potential to create fundamental shifts in areas from energy to healthcare, computing to communications.  Any one of them have the potential to significantly impact our lives. 

Some of the listed technologies could reach the market within the year, others may take years, but all are expected to have a huge impact in the years ahead.  Regardless of when they do hit the market, all of them are interesting to read and think about. 

Here the list along with my summary and some links for more information.

  1. Real-Time Search:   Real-time search tools will help us filter out all the social and advertising noise and deliver to us the information we need when we need it.  The article provides us insights into the work of Amit Singhal of Google, who is trying to develop up-to-the-second search results from social networks that offer the same relevance and quality we’ve come to expect from traditional Web searches.  Check out Singhal’s page at http://singhal.info/
  2. Mobile 3-D:   Get ready for Mobile 3-D apps.  The same buzz we are hearing today about how cool 3D movies and TVs are will make its way to smart phones.  Researcher Julien Flack of Dynamic Digital Depth is working hard on developing technology that can convert existing 2-D content to 3-D on the fly.
  3. Engineered Stem Cells:   There’s more and more research going on these days into stem cells and scientists are figuring out ways of engineering stem cells. James Thomson of Cellular Dynamics and the University of Wisconsin is developing an innovative way to engineer stem cells in a test tube.  His breakthroughs have the potential to revolutionize the way we study/treat diseases and develop beneficial drugs.
  4. Solar Fuel:   Scientists are working hard at developing alternative and renewable fuels.  Biofuels is one alternative source of energy that may eventually compete with fossil fuels  MIT provides us with insights into the biofuel research of Noubar Afeyan of Joule Biotechnologies.  Afeyan and his team at Joule have successfully created genetically engineered micro-organisms that can turn sunlight into ethanol or diesel.
  5. Light-Trapping PhotovoltaicsKylie Catchpole of the Australian National University is experimenting with ways to improve the overall potential of solar power as an alternative energy source.   Catchpole has figured out how to use nanoparticles in a way to boost the efficiency of solar cells — an advance that could help make solar power more competitive with fossil fuels.
  6. Social TV:     It’s only a matter of time before we are able to combine, in real-time, our love for social networking with our love for our favorite TV shows.  MIT’s Marie-José Montpetit is working on research related to embedding social networking activities into our TV watching experience.    
  7. Green Concrete:   Nikolaos Vlasopoulos of Novacem has figured out a way to store carbon dioxide in cement during the manufacturing process.  This could be a big boost to the effort to reduce carbon emissions because is estimated that the production of cement could be responsible for as much as 5% of the global carbon emissions.  Read up on the technology here http://novacem.com/technology/novacem-technology/ 
  8. Implantable Electronics:   Future generations will benefit from nano-size drugs and electronic devices that can be implanted in our bodies and then dissolve after their job/task has been completed.  Fiorenzo Omenetto from Tuft University has been researching implantable electronic devices that can be used to deliver drugs, stimulate nerves, monitor biomarkers, and more.
  9. Dual-Action Antibodies:   Reducing the number of drugs patients take can have beneficial impact on quality of life.   Genentech’s Germaine Fuh is working on research related to using dual-action antibodies in drugs that can give patients two drugs for the price of one.
  10. Cloud Programming:   It’s safe to say that Joseph Hellerstein’s mind has been in the clouds lately.  Hellerstein, of the University of California, Berkeley, has been working to create Cloud programming languages that help developers build better cloud applications.    This work could lead to a new wave of Internet-enabled applications, including social media analysis, enterprise computing, or sensor networks monitoring for earthquake warning signs.

Much more information is available online.  I suggest you start at the article and then follow links related to the topics that you are interested in.  http://www.technologyreview.com/specialreports/TR10.

Friday Gadget: Rotundus Robot

The GroundBot has been around a few years, but I thought I’d feature it this Friday. Groundbot is a spherical shaped robot that can roll up to 6 mph through indoor and outdoor spaces with relative ease.  In fact, outside it can roll through mud, sand, snow and even water.   Inside the ‘ball’ two gyroscopically steadied wide-angle cameras along with a bunch of sensors provides people monitoring the cameras with a real-time, 360-degree view of wherever the GroundBot happens to be.  Remote operators can use the cameras to zoom in on anything they may see.  Sensors also can detect gas leaks, radioactivity and biohazards.

To get rolling, the robot simply shifts its weight. Its center of mass is suspended from a pendulum inside the sphere, so motors just push the pendulum to the front, to the back, or to the side.   Lithium-ion batteries provide up to 16 hours of spy time.  GroundBot can be remote controlled by hand or programmed to navigate by GPS. 

GroundBot can effectively increase security and cuts costs at places such as airports, factories, warehouses, etc.   Check out this video from Popular Science and you’ll the Groundbot actually rolling through water.

For more on the GroundBot, see the website:  http://www.rotundus.se/video.html  and there are more videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/RotundusRobotics