NASA is refining plans for two spacewalks by astronauts to replace a large ammonia pump module that shut down Saturday, knocking out one of the International Space Station's two cooling loops.
Astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson hope to carry out the first spacewalk Friday, starting at 6:55 a.m. EDT, and a second excursion August 9 to finish the job, one of the so-called "big 14" on a list of critical components that require spacewalk repair if problems crop up.
NASA managers initially targeted Thursday for the first spacewalk and Sunday for the second … Read more
In doing so, researchers discovered that the pressure-tolerant bacterium sampled from the deepest place on the planet--the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench, 35,814 feet below sea level--contains the molecular structure cephalandole A, which was originally isolated from a Taiwanese orchid.
Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro has unveiled his latest creation, and it's a far cry from the ultra-lifelike robot clones he has produced in the past. Meet Telenoid R1, designed to be a "minimalistic human." Or a nightmare baby. Take your pick.
Telenoid is a child-sized telepresence robot through which users can interact with others from a distance. Created in collaboration with Osaka University and Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), Telenoid is a tool for investigating "the essential elements for representing and transferring humanlike presence," according to Ishiguro and his team.
As seen in the video below, Telenoid users can interact with people at a distance through a laptop. The control system tracks the user's face and head motion and captures his or her voice. The motions and voice are relayed to Telenoid, which expresses them while interacting.
The most striking feature of the robot is its design, which packs a high creep factor. It's meant to appear neither male nor female, young nor old. It has an abbreviated torso and arms, but can wiggle around to a limited extent while on its stand.
Compared with Ishiguro's Geminoid F and Geminoid telepresence robots, Telenoid has far fewer actuators--only nine DC actuators instead of dozens of pneumatic actuators--meaning it will cost much less to manufacture.
Osaka software firm Eager plans to start distributing Telenoid later this year. A research version will be priced around $35,000 and a commercial version about $8,000, according to IEEE Spectrum. … Read more
YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y.--When you think about diverse issues like river management during drought, urban traffic prediction, cocoa crop maximization, and how to win at Jeopardy, IBM might not be the first company that comes to mind.
But as unlikely as it might seem, Big Blue has its hands in all four of those areas and many, many more, all part of its IBM Research division, a sprawling organization that seeks to keep the company at the bleeding edge of the world's most pressing technology problems and to help it and its partners develop products aimed at solving … Read more
Trouble with one of the International Space Station's external coolant loops (PDF), used to dissipate the heat generated by the lab's electronics systems, triggered an extensive powerdown late Saturday. NASA managers met Sunday and gave preliminary approval to a difficult two-spacewalk repair job, starting as early as Thursday, to restore the critical system to normal operation.
It is not yet clear what went wrong, but the ammonia pump module that is part of coolant loop A, mounted on the right side of the station's main power truss, failed around 8 p.m. EDT Saturday. A problem somewhere … Read more
Want an eye-popping view of the heavens but don't own a high-powered telescope or live near an observatory? Try building your own reflecting telescope. San Francisco-based designer Douglas Smith did just that after taking a course, and ended up creating a 10-foot monster with great optics and portability.
Smith took a class at the Randall Museum led by amateur astronomer John Dobson, long known for popularizing low-cost reflectors made of plywood and plastic. So-called Dobsonian telescopes are Newtonian reflecting telescopes consisting of a primary light-gathering mirror at the bottom and a secondary mirror near the top that reflects light into the viewfinder.
The unique feature of Smith's f/7.1 telescope is that the secondary mirror and viewfinder--a group called the Upper Tube Assembly--normally rests on long aluminum truss tubes. But when the instrument is being transported, Smith detaches the UTA so it nests inside the lower part of the scope, the plywood mirror box. Weighing about 160 pounds, the entire package rolls on wheels and can fit into a compact pickup truck.
It took Smith about four years working off and on and roughly $2,000 to build the telescope, which he dubbed FirstLight (similar commercial telescopes might cost around $2,000 and up). He used AutoCAD software to design it and Excel to confirm the critical balance point calculations, while friends helped with automated cutting of the plywood with a ShopBot machine.
The priciest components were the focuser, the truss tubes and connectors, and the plywood. Smith saved money by making his own 16.5-inch mirror, originally a flat, 1-inch-thick porthole glass.
"Grinding and polishing your own glass saves a lot of money, but the process is also time-consuming and one has to have a lot of patience," Smith said. "I spent a lot of time correcting mistakes in the learning process. I'm glad I did it, but it was challenging." … Read more
NASA's aging Spirit Mars rover, stuck in loose soil and forced to endure the harsh Martian winter with reduced solar power, has not phoned home since March 22. Officials warned Friday that "a miracle" may be needed to restore the rover to limited operation.
No longer mobile, Spirit was unable to orient itself to maximize solar-power levels before the onset of its fourth winter on Mars. Engineers expected the rover to put itself into electronic hibernation, suspending communications and conserving power to warm and recharge its batteries and to run an internal clock.
A new sniff-sensing controller out of Israel may enable the severely paralyzed to navigate wheelchairs, surf the Net, and communicate in writing via controlled inhalations and exhalations.
The system, being developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, employs a sensor that fits in a nostril's opening and measures changes in air pressure. A pressure transducer translates this information into electrical signals, which are transmitted to a computer, and its specialized software, via USB connection. Patients on respirators use a passive version of the device that diverts airflow to their nostrils.
Researchers tested the system on 96 healthy volunteers and 10 quadriplegics, with promising results. Some users, the team says, were able to navigate an electric wheelchair around a complex path or play a computer game with nearly the speed and accuracy of a mouse or joystick (watch the video below to see a demonstration of the wheelchair in action).
While the system can be made to work with a variety of sniffs (long or short, strong or shallow), researchers employed a simple sniff code for their tests: A "double sniff in" implied "forward;" a "double sniff out" implied backward; a successive "sniff out then in" implied left; and a successive "sniff in then out" implied right.
Using incremental signals (a "left" command turned the chair left, another "left" command turned it farther left) volunteers navigated wheelchairs indoors and outdoors, with the most complicated maneuvers, executed both by healthy and quadriplegic volunteers, being sharp turns.
The scientists were particularly encouraged by tests conducted on three patients with Locked-In-Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder in which cognitive function remains unimpaired, but all voluntary muscles are paralyzed, except for those that control eye movement. The condition was famously portrayed in the 2007 film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," which told the true story of a journalist with Locked-In who dictated his memoir through eye blinks alone.
Sniffing is a precise motor skill controlled in part by the soft palate, the flexible divider that moves to direct air in or out through the mouth or nose. Because the soft palate is controlled by nerves that connect to it directly through the braincase, the Weizmann team built on its theory that control over soft palate movement might stay intact even in the most acute cases of paralysis.
Using the sniffing system to control a computer cursor, the Locked-In testers were--after considerable practice--able to communicate with family members, said Noam Sobel, a Weizmann Institute professor of neurobiology who developed the system with electronics engineers Anton Plotkin and Aharon Weissbrod, and research student Lee Sela. "Some wrote poignant messages to their loved ones, sharing with them, for the first time in a very long time, their thoughts and feelings," he said. … Read more
The U.S. Army is developing snakelike robots for battlefield action that could include search and rescue missions, opening doors, and handling improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in a bid to keep troops out of harm's way.
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory's prototype Robotic Tentacle Manipulator is an array of three snake robots on a circular base. The snake bots form a hand of sorts.
While it doesn't look like much now, the Army says the device is scalable and could be deployed in various sizes and configurations, giving it maximum flexibility. It could be installed on … Read more
Intel has unveiled the prototype of a high-speed fiber-optic data system based on silicon chips with integrated lasers and detectors. The system runs at 50Gbps, with Intel claiming future scalability to 1Tbps and beyond.
Unlike current systems, Intel's prototype does not depend on discrete components to generate and detect light; instead, these are part of the same silicon substrate that contains other components, and can be made at the same time on the same dies during chip fabrication.
"It's about bringing silicon manufacturing to optical communications, bringing Moore's Law to high-bandwidth communications for every computing platform, … Read more