editor's notebook SAN FRANCISCO--I had the good fortune this past weekend of attending Compostmodern, a two-day conference here devoted to exploring different ways in which designers can help create a sustainable future. And I'd like to mention a few of the tech- and Internet-related highlights--some of which are new, some of which you, like me, may have missed the first time around. There's a variety of supercool stuff here, so read on.
With child-like eyes staring out from an expressionless face, the Telenoid R1 does look a little creepy. But if Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Japan's Osaka University has his way, a miniature Telenoid that lets you "feel" the presence of the party on the other line could soon replace the cell phones of today. It turns out the future could be just around the corner as the roboticist said a prototype of the mobile "Elfoid" would be ready in a few months.
Speaking today at the sneak preview of the Singapore-based Asia on the Edge festival--an annual showcase of ideas and cultures from Asia--Ishiguro is most regarded for his development of lifelike androids. He has even created a mechanical doppelganger of himself called Geminoid in his bid to understand humans. Ishiguro controls his motorized twin remotely with a motion-tracking Webcam that captures voice, facial expressions, and head movements over a high-speed network.
The most difficult task, he said, is to have a human-like conversation. Ishiguro's surrogate doesn't have the sophisticated capabilities of avatars depicted in the movies, but it produces enough of an estimate to dupe people into regarding the bot as a human.
While his previous creations replicate in detail the features of a real person, the Telenoid simply looks like an overgrown fetus with a bald head and abbreviated limbs. With the minimal design of the Telenoid, this forces people to use their imaginations to make the interaction more personal.
At the same time, Ishiguro is looking at what he calls the maximum design of a human with richer facial expressions and teleoperated by a professional.
Much of Ishiguro's work has provoked deep questions about man, machine, and humanity. With the Elfoid, users can feel the presence of the person on the other line and, when in the hands, becomes "part of your body."
Chemists at Bar-Ilan University in Israel say they have developed and successfully tested "killer paper" coated with silver nanoparticles--each roughly 1/50,000 the width of a human hair--that can fight bacteria such as E. coli and S. aureus.
Described in the American Chemical Society journal Langmuir, researcher Aharon Gedanken tells me that while colloidal silver is already widely used as an antimicrobial agent, what's new about his team's research is the process by which silver nanoparticles are deposited onto paper to develop antimicrobial properties.
The team was able to control both the thickness of the … Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Less than six weeks before launch, astronaut Timothy Kopra, injured in a bicycle accident Saturday, was removed from the crew of the shuttle Discovery today and replaced by astronaut Stephen Bowen, a veteran spacewalker who flew aboard the shuttle Atlantis last May. Despite the last-minute crew change, NASA officials say Bowen should be able to complete a hurried round of refresher training in time for blastoff around February 24.
"As anybody would be this close to flight, [Kopra]'s disappointed," chief astronaut Peggy Whitson told reporters. "His crew made very tight bonds and … Read more
A Canadian satellite maker plans to launch a network of 78 small, relatively low-flying satellites designed to help relieve network congestion that's significantly dampening smartphone enthusiasm.
MSCI, which stands for Microsat Systems Canada Inc., is trying to be a bit of a maverick with its project, called CommStellation. The company said today that its approach of using small, inexpensive satellites in low orbit--about 620 miles above the Earth--means better coverage of the world's population, quicker launch, and better network capacity.
The company likes to spotlight its competition with the O3b, the Google-backed satellite project to improve Net access … Read more
Researchers in Germany are reporting two thumbs up for their first clinical trial testing a remote-controlled capsule endoscope in the stomachs of healthy volunteers.
To screen for gastric cancer, physicians often use conventional endoscopy (replete with tubing) to analyze changes in the lining of stomachs, but the uncomfortable procedure, which carries the risk of punctured organs and infection, can result in some patients opting not to have the exam done.
Ingestible capsule endoscopies, with pill-sized video capsules, can record and transmit images in real time without a single incision point. The main issue is that the capsule isn't always … Read more
Rebounding from its latest scheduling setback, Boeing now says that it expects to deliver its first 787 Dreamliner in the third quarter.
In December, the company resumed flight testing of its marquee commercial aircraft, which had been halted in early November because of an onboard fire sparked by a faulty electrical power panel.
Boeing said today that the rescheduled delivery date factors in the time that it needs to produce, install, and test updated software and new power distribution panels in both flight test and production versions of the Dreamliner.
Of the six 787 aircraft being used for flight tests, … Read more
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have announced that, using inexpensive components from ordinary liquid crystal display (LCD) projectors, they're able to control both the brains and the muscles of tiny organisms such as worms.
Until now, the field of optogenetics (combining optical and genetic techniques) had been limited to larger animals, with manipulation achieved only by placing optical fibers into animals' brains or illuminating an animal's entire body.
The experiments out of Georgia Tech, however, demonstrate that it's also possible to control brain circuitry using the red, green, and blue lights from a projector. By … Read more
A Japanese scientist says he has a "reasonable chance" of successfully cloning the long-extinct woolly mammoth within just a few years, according to a report.
Professor Akira Iritani of Kyoto University told the U.K.'s Telegraph that a technique pioneered in 2008, which allowed for the cloning of a mouse using cells from another mouse that had been frozen for 16 years, could be used to resurrect the famous long-tusked mammal from remains found in Siberia's permafrost.
"The success rate in the cloning of cattle was poor until recently, but now stands at about 30 … Read more
Given that we are unlikely to get past 2012, perhaps it's churlish to even think of what 2025 might look like.
However, the indelible optimists at NASA have revealed images of commercial aircraft designs that might well take to the air, should 2025 actually materialize.
It seems that in the darker parts of 2010, NASA gave Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Brumman money to ponder what improvements might be made to our current aerial cattle carriers.
The initial designs, published on NASA's own site, will make some drool and a few, perhaps, shiver.
For at least two of … Read more