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Messages - Jay Sadie

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1
More than half a century after Sputnik, space travel remains shockingly wasteful. Every rocket we launch at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars can only be used once and completes its mission by falling to Earth in pieces. This disposable design has scarcely advanced since the 1960s.

British engineer Alan Bond has been developing a new concept for over 30 years, and is now on the verge of achieving it. His Skylon "spaceplane" design is intended to withstand multiple uses and requires minimal repairs and turnaround time, so it can function as a rapid response unit for space missions, and go far beyond the existing horizons.

"The intention is to replace existing rockets," Bond says. "The technology we are working on would enable more frequent and reliable missions by large factors."

Central to the design is a HOTOL (Horizontal Take Off and Landing) system similar to a regular plane -- albeit from a much longer runway -- so that the craft returns intact. Beyond this, Bond's team at Reaction Engines Ltd. has invented multiple new technologies, most crucially an ingenious concept engine, the SABRE (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine).

While existing rockets carry several heavy fuel tanks that are worked through and jettisoned over the course of the journey, SABRE powers the craft from a single chamber carrying liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. It minimizes the load by taking in oxygen from the atmosphere during the ascent, which is cooled and and combined with hydrogen to make fuel. Once the craft reaches an altitude of 28 kilometers the engine converts to using the stored liquid oxygen.

"We have passed the major obstacles, and what we have now are normal engineering problems," says Bond. "It's about designing and testing, but there's no question that with the physics efficiencies the engine depends on -- we're there."

The European Space Agency (ESA) agrees, having approved the mechanisms of the engine in a series of tests. "The idea has been around since the 1950s but this is the first time anyone has managed to achieve a working system," said ESA head of propulsion Mark Ford.

Progress has been steady, with day-to-day work on readying SABRE for test flights that Bond says could take place as early as 2018.

The ESA has also praised the economic model, claiming the Skylon could meet its launch cost target of €70 million ($94 million), in addition to the efficiency savings of being able to repeatedly reuse the same craft.

Bond sees Skylon's primary initial use being in cargo -- "essentially a truck to haul kit cheaply into space on a very regular basis." This would dramatically reduce the logistical headaches involved in routine tasks such as repairs to the International Space Station, or transporting satellites.

But once the concept is proven as easier and more efficient, it can be applied to far more ambitious targets. Bond sees human colonization of other planets as inevitable and necessary, and feels his system can be applied to deep space exploration and the study of exoplanets, as well as enabling rapid construction on them that would precede habitation.

Experts believe a paradigm shift is necessary to revitalize the field of space exploration.

"There would need to be an increased rate of flights to lower the cost of an initially more expensive launch system," says David Baker of the British Interplanetary Society. "But if there were 100 a year the cost would fall through the floor ... It's the very thing that's needed not only to service the existing industry but also to open broader applications."

The market exists to support such a rate of flights, says Baker, detailing a huge backlog of potential clients from universities to enthusiasts ready with experimental missions and payloads should cost and logistics become more manageable. Even intercontinental flights could make use of hypersonic-enabled engines.

Baker also points to Elon Musk's reusable "Falcon spacecraft" to show the growing feasibility and popularity of multi-use designs. The concept must reach popular acceptance, but could be "absorbed into the commercial world in the next decade or two," he says.

The Skylon could be in operation far sooner than that, with tentative plans to reach the International Space Station by 2022. Beyond this, the horizon goals of exploring the universe from mining resources to finding life to the colonization of planets will follow.


Source: CNN

2
The Quantum Cosmology Inverse Theory

Another title for this paper could be "The Theory of Everything". This theory postulates an inverse way to look at what is large and what is small. When we talk about quantum mechanics we automatically presume that things are smaller at this level. What this theory proposes is that as we drill down into the quantum level we are actually moving towards the infinitely large.

I have posted many other ideas and theories on LoopyIdeas.com in the past. As mentioned before I continuously update and refine my theories. This is my latest theory about the Universe and my ongoing attempt to make sense of it all. Your feedback and comments are always welcome and encouraged.

Click here to read more...

Jay

3
Science & Technology / The Quantum Cosmology Inverse Theory
« on: February 22, 2015, 01:47:18 PM »
The Quantum Cosmology Inverse Theory

Juan (Jay) Sadie

Abstract

This theory postulates an inverse way to look at what is large and what is small. When we talk about quantum mechanics we automatically presume that things are smaller at this level. What this theory proposes is that as we drill down into the quantum level we are actually moving towards the infinitely large. As we get down to the atomic and sub-atomic levels things begin to get very strange. Particles pop in and out of existence. They seem to be in more than one place at the same time. They seem to interact by means of entanglement, more famously known as “spooky interaction at a distance”, so named by Albert Einstein. My theory explains why things are so strange “down there”. As we zoom into the sub-atomic levels and beyond we begin to approach the Inverse, a realm where space and time does not exist, and more importantly where the laws of nature or physics do not apply. This Inverse connects everything as we know it; atoms, molecules, matter, stars, galaxies, etc. The Inverse has no physical properties, no energy, nothing we can measure. It is however the originating point of all Universes. It has no beginning or end. It has always been and always will be. Time is of no consequence.

I.   Introduction

The Big Bang Theory is widely accepted today by most scientists and scholars as the start of our Universe approximately 13.8 billion years ago. It is also widely accepted that the Big Bang originated from a Singularity or singular point in space, which is a difficult concept to grasp. We now also know that the Universe is expanding at an accelerated rate, attributed to the forces of Dark Energy driving the Universe apart. Not long ago it was thought that the expansion of the Universe was slowing down and due to gravitational forces would eventually collapse into itself, once again becoming a Singularity. There is also a lot of talk and speculation in modern times regarding the existence of multiple Universes, also known as the Multiverse. Another very interesting and mysterious phenomenon in our Universe is the existence of Black Holes. Much speculation and many theories have been put forward regarding Black Holes and what lies beyond them. My Quantum Cosmology Inverse Theory attempts to provide a plausible explanation of how our Universe was formed, why there may be other Universes, where all these Universes originate from, and what lies on the other side of Black Holes. It also addresses the possibility of other realms beyond the physical and the existence of an all-encompassing intelligence and/or information store. Due to the far-reaching speculations of this theory it can also be called the elusive “Theory of Everything”.

II.   Think Different

Ironically, one of the biggest challenges scientists face is everything they have learned thus far. Knowledge is power, but can also act as an impediment if used to try and explain that which has not yet been discovered. Math and mathematical equations are powerful tools when trying to make sense of the Universe as we know it. The problem is that these concepts do not seem to hold true as we approach the quantum level. Mathematical logic starts falling apart. There is a reason for this. A distinct separation exists between the physical Universe as we know it and the infinite timeless Inverse. The Inverse is not around everything. It is “inside” everything. Thus the name Inverse, and not Outverse or Outerverse. Giving such a seemingly bizarre concept a name is purely for reference purposes. How do you even begin to describe or name something that cannot be seen, touched, felt or measured? To us it may seem as nothingness, but it is everything. Many scientists theorize that the Universe was created from nothing, or perhaps a small “ripple” in the fabric of space, or some refer to membranes.

We are so used to looking at things in an orderly and logical way. If there are multiple Universes and these Universes stem from the Inverse then surely these would “surround” the Inverse. Furthermore, if they are not scattered around the Inverse then surely they have to be inside the Inverse. This is where one has to think different. The Inverse is everywhere, and yet for us living in this Universe it must seem to be somewhere else. Something can only be somewhere when it has a reference point. However, you cannot point to the Inverse. It is everywhere in all Universes, or to be more precise, connected to everything in all Universes. Just for argument’s sake, let’s say you could “travel” to the Inverse you would be able to pop out anywhere in this or another Universe at any given point in time. This would make time travel possible, and also make possible traveling billions of light years in an instant.

III.   Diagram

A popular saying is that “A picture paints a thousand words”. The diagram below is an attempt to schematically present the Inverse referred to in this paper. In the diagram it is drawn in the middle, surrounded by two other layers, the Metaverse and the Multiverse. Collectively these three “layers” make up the Omniverse, which can also be referred to as Everything.

Using names to describe these concepts are extremely difficult, as is trying to represent them in a diagram. From the diagram it may seem as though they are clearly marked by borders, and that there are three “layers”. Unfortunately it is impossible to “draw” concepts that are outside the scope of our 3-dimensional Universe. The schematic is purely an attempt to try and visually represent these concepts. It is important to note that these three “layers” are really entangled or intermingled. There are no clear-cut boundary conditions through which one can “step” to exit one layer and enter another layer. When studying the diagram please keep these limitations in mind.


IV.   Black Holes

The idea of a Black Hole was first discussed by John Michell as early as 1783 in a letter he wrote to Henry Cavendish of the Royal Society. In 1976 Pierre-Simon Laplace promoted the same idea, which he called “dark stars”. The first use of the term "Black Hole" was by journalist Ann Ewing in her article "'Black Holes' in Space", dated 18 January 1964. John Wheeler used the term "Black Hole" at a lecture in 1967, leading some to credit him with coining the phrase. After Wheeler's use of the term, it was quickly adopted in general use. There are many theories about exactly what Black Holes are. Two terms that are synonymous with the modern understanding of Black Holes are the Event Horizon and the Singularity. The Event Horizon is a boundary in spacetime through which matter and light can only pass towards the mass of the black hole. Nothing, not even light, can escape from inside the Event Horizon. In the next section I will discuss the most mysterious concept that is at the heart of understanding the cross-over from our, or any other Universe, into the Inverse.

V.   The Singularity

How is it possible for the entire Universe to collapse into one single point, called the Singularity? It must be one of the most difficult concepts to grasp. Also how could the entire Universe have come into existence from a Singularity? This brings me to the one explanation that will make this concept understandable. Once you understand the Inverse it all starts to make sense. The Singularity is the cross-over point between our, and other, physical Universes into the Inverse. On the other side of the Singularity is the infinite Inverse. Refer to the diagram above to try and visualize the cross-over into the Inverse. Again, please bear in mind that it is not as clear-cut as it is represented in the diagram. There is a slow transition towards the Inverse. As you approach the Inverse the laws of physics start breaking down. Things start getting “strange” down there, or out there, or in there. It is hard to describe the “there”, because at that point it is not a place in the true sense of the word. It is a transition layer, for the lack of a better word, where the strangest concept to understand comes into play. There really is no single Singularity, but an infinite number of Singularities. Despite this sounding like an oxymoron, it only seems by visual observation that all the light and matter are sucked into the Singularity. In fact, each particle and wave collapses inwards into itself, until it enters the Inverse, at which point it is no longer part of spacetime as we know it. At this point it is one with the Inverse. Thus, what we perceive as the Singularity is not that at all. It is an optical illusion, again for the lack of a better term.

VI.   The Big Bang Theory

Popular belief today is that our Universe came into existence approximately 13.8 billion years ago from a singular point (Singularity) and expanded rapidly at an unimaginable rate, far greater than the speed of light. Because of this seemingly big explosion scientists refer to it as the Big Bang.

I propose that the Universe did come into existence almost instantly by originating from an almost infinite number of singular points. The matter that came into existence in that short period of time makes up all the matter that exists in our Universe today. In the beginning this matter, or rather quantum particles, were in disarray and disorganized, resembling a soup of sub-atomic particles and energy. Tremendous forces were at work during the birth of our Universe, including Gravity and Dark Energy. Gravity, or more specifically the Strong Force, was responsible for sub-atomic particles like quarks, leptons, neutrinos, bosons, perhaps gravitons, and many others that are discovered each year, to “clump” together to form atoms (electrons, protons and neutrons) and light particles called photons. Some sub-atomic particles may have formed Dark Matter, which we think exists, but have no proof of yet. Dark Energy became the force that caused the continuous expansion of our Universe. It was there at the very beginning, and to this day is driving the Universe apart. The reason the expansion is accelerating is because the gravitational pull of celestial bodies are getting weaker as they move further and further apart. Because there is a lot more Dark Energy in the Universe than gravitational forces it stands to reason that the expansion will continue to accelerate.

The Universe did not spring forth from a single point in space, but rather from an astronomical number of single points in a vast area or region of spacetime. However large this region was, it was still a measurable area that instantly started expanding from the very second the Universe was born. From our vantage point today, and from what we can observe 13.8 billion years later, it seems that it all started from one single point, where I propose that it really started from one spherical region in space from an almost infinite number of points. How big that initial area was is open for speculation. Suffice to say that it was large enough to contain or fit all the matter, energy and light that exists in our Universe today, and that existed at the very beginning of our Universe’s time. It stands to reason that the Universe must have been extremely dense at the very beginning, with very little or no unoccupied space at that time.

An interesting idea to entertain is that Dark Energy and Dark Matter may be “seeping” in from the Inverse as our Universe is expanding, to fill in the gaps so to speak. We know that there is really no such thing as “empty” space. Every inch of our Universe is occupied by “something”. What that something is, is a mystery. Perhaps it is Dark Matter, or Dark Energy, or something that remains undiscovered. Whatever it is, it is highly likely that these particles, matter or energy originate from the Inverse.

VII.   Multiple Universes

There has been much speculation about the existence of multiple Universes, or at least one other parallel Universe that co-exists with our Universe. A popular theory is that these Universes all occupy the same space and that they are separated by a “membrane”. The belief that these alternate Universes do exist is not as far-fetched as it may seem. The Quantum Cosmology Inverse Theory strongly suggests that not only are other Universes possible, but that these alternate Universes are infinite in number. As to the nature of each Universe, this is an open unanswered question that is open to speculation. This is where one’s imagination can truly be stretched to its limits. These Universes may all obey the same laws of nature and physics, or they may all be entirely different, or they may share some of the laws with slight deviations. It may be nature’s way of testing different scenarios or permutations to learn from them and to then create new “improved” Universes from the lessons learnt. There may be Universes that are so odd that we can’t even imagine how different or “weird” they are. As to whether there are copies or duplicates of each one of us in other Universes can also only be speculated about. Perhaps the existence of other versions of ourselves might help explain why we experience déjà vu. Perhaps when we dream we temporarily cross over to other Universes to see through the eyes of our other selves, despite the fact that some dreams are very odd or strange. But remember that other Universes may be very odd or strange, which would explain such dreams.

Each Universe is a spacetime manifestation that originates from the Inverse. What causes a Universe to manifest is a mystery. There may be many reasons and explanations. Perhaps it is a ripple, glitch, spike or a mere accident. But then again, it could be a carefully orchestrated event by the collective knowledge or intelligence of the Inverse. All we know for sure is that for whatever reason at the very least our Universe came into existence at some point in time, approximately 13.8 billion years ago.

VIII.   The Metaverse

Metaphysical means without material form or substance. In the context of this paper Metaverse represents the mysterious possible “place” or “state” where the soul exists while not in a physical body. It is a highly speculative subject and religious in its very nature. It is not the goal of this paper to discuss religion and whether the soul, ghosts, angels, purgatory, heaven or hell exists. For the sake of allowing for such a possibility it is necessary to at least address this issue. Let’s for argument’s sake postulate that such a “place” or “state” exists, and then try to fit it into the model of the Omniverse. On the diagram above it represents a “layer” between the Inverse and the Multiverse. It may seem as though it separates these two concepts, but it is neither here nor there. To draw the Metaverse is impossible. It does not have a shape or borders. The Metaverse in the diagram is an abstract representation. The concept of time may very well not apply to the Metaverse. Dimensions as we know them might also not apply here. Because of the aforementioned two attributes the Metaverse seems to have a lot more in common with the Inverse than the Multiverse. One can then argue that perhaps it is part of the Inverse.

IX.   Quantum Mechanics

The key to understanding the Quantum Cosmology Inverse Theory is to delve into the strange world of Quantum Mechanics. This is arguably the most complex and controversial theory ever developed by scientists. To this day there are many interpretations and disagreements regarding this subject matter, such as the quantum field theory, string theory, speculative quantum gravity theory, and many others. The purpose of this paper is not to try and determine which one of the many quantum theories has the most merit, but rather to point out the strange behavior of atomic and sub-atomic particles at the quantum level. Scientists generally agree that things do not seem to make sense down there. Experiments have shown that until a measurement is made, many particles can act as though they are in more than one place at once. You can never be certain of both the location and the speed of a particle at the same time. Schrodinger's cat is a famous thought experiment illustrating the seemingly paradoxical nature of quantum theory and how observation makes such a difference, almost forcing the universe to choose a particular path. At small enough scale something called quantum foam exists, where spacetime is a seething mass. Sometimes particles can pop into existence, borrowing energy from the universe, and then they disappear again almost straight away. Quantum Tunnelling seems to allow a particle to burrow through a barrier that it should not be able to get out of, due to the relative energies involved. These listed are just a few of the strange behaviors exhibited by particles at the quantum level.

As scientists “discover” new sub-atomic particles, consisting of smaller particles, one cannot help but wonder at which point we will discover the smallest possible particle, the one building block of all particles. Is there even such a particle? If we someday discover this tiniest of particles, how do we know for sure that it does not consist of even smaller particles? How do you observe anything at this level? We are talking levels smaller than light or waves itself. In order to observe at this level we need something like light or a wave to bounce back so we can interpret the existence of such a particle, which inherently poses a dilemma.

I am proposing, however, that there is no such thing as the smallest building block of particles. There is a cross-over between the Inverse and our, and other Universes. Think of it as the Inverse “bleeding” into our Universe. The lowest building blocks of particles are very “spooky”. They seem to pop in and out of existence. What is even stranger is that they are “shared” by many sub-atomic particles. One of these “spooky” particles may be shared by millions, billions, trillions, or countless sub-atomic particles, which could explain entanglement.

There is a zone between our physical Universe and the Inverse where things are extremely “fuzzy”. Things are neither here nor there. The one moment it is there, and then it is not there. It is at this level where time and space itself starts breaking down. In the Inverse there is no concept of time nor space. In our Universe time and space does exist. There has to be a faded transition between the two realms. Rather than being a hard border line, it is rather a strange fuzzy transitional layer where time and space starts breaking down, or starts coming into existence, depending on perspective. Having said that, we, in our current form, will never be able to enter the Inverse. The only way to do so would be for each sub-atomic particle in our bodies to implode inwards towards the Inverse until nothing of our physical bodies remain. Once “inside” the Inverse you won’t be able to re-materialize because space and time does not exist there. You will also become one with the Inverse, losing the concept of self-awareness or existing as a single being.

At some point, deep down, all the particles in our Universe are connected to the Inverse. This could truly be called the Singularity, the one place where the entire Universe comes together. Having said that, it is not really a single point, because at this level it is tied to the infinite Inverse, and space and time has already collapsed.

The Inverse has created a perfect barricade between itself and the infinite number of Universes. The only way back into the Inverse is a complete collapse of a Universe. From the Inverse springs a Universe, until it is finally re-united with its off-spring billions of years later, becoming one again. And as far as the Inverse is concerned no time has passed at all.

X.   Conclusion

To conclude this paper I wish to address those age old questions: Why are we here? Why does the Universe exist? What is the meaning of it all? Although I cannot prove it by any means I strongly suspect that our Universe, and each one of our lives, are truly intermingled with Everything for a specific vital purpose. It is hard to grasp, but in order for the Omniverse to exist it has to be created somehow, despite the fact that it has always existed and always will exist. It is like an infinite loop that forms an endless circle, consisting of every tiny particle, entity and Universe. A circle has no beginning or end. It loops around. There is no future or past. The future has already happened, and the past still has to happen, and vice versa. And yet, everything is happening at once! An infinite number of Universes are existing right now, and have already “collapsed” back into the Inverse. Time is only linear in spacetime. The concept of yesterday, today and tomorrow does not exist, except in a physical Universe. We just happen to be aware of it right now, in our brief, but necessary moment in time.


© 2015 Juan (Jay) Sadie. All Rights Reserved.

4
High-Tech / A robotic muscle 1,000 times more powerful than a human's
« on: December 23, 2013, 12:43:43 PM »
If a so-called "rise of the machines" ever comes to fruition, our chances of survival may have just taken a big hit. A team of scientists from the US Department of Energy ’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has demonstrated a new type of robotic muscle with 1,000 times more power than that of a human's, and the ability to catapult an item 50 times its own weight.

The artificial muscle was constructed using the material vanadium dioxide, known for its ability to rapidly change size and shape. The team, working with a silicone substrate, formed a V-shaped ribbon comprising chromium and vanadium dioxide, which formed a coil when released from the substrate. The coil when heated turned into a micro-catapult with the ability to hurl objects, or a proximity sensor, in which its remote sensing of an object causes a rapid change or micro-explosion in the muscle’s resistance and shape, pushing the object away.

"We’ve created a micro-bimorph dual coil that functions as a powerful torsional muscle, driven thermally or electro-thermally by the phase transition of vanadium dioxide," said the project’s leader Junqiao Wu in a press statement. "Using a simple design and inorganic materials, we achieve superior performance in power density and speed over the motors and actuators now used in integrated micro-systems."


Vanadium dioxide boasts several useful qualities for creating miniaturized artificial muscles and motors. An insulator at low temperatures, it abruptly becomes a conductor at 67° Celsius (152.6° F), a quality which drives its reputation as a potential solution to more energy efficient electronic devices. In addition, the vanadium dioxide crystals undergo a change in their physical form when warmed, contracting along one dimension while expanding along the other two.

During this experiment, the vanadium dioxide muscles displayed a rotational speed of 200,000 rpm, an amplitude of 500 to 2,000 degrees per millimeters in length and an energy power density of up to approximately 39 kilowatts per kilogram, figures that Wu says are unprecedented.

"These metrics are all orders of magnitudes higher than existing torsional motors based on electrostatics, magnetics, carbon nanotubes or piezoelectrics," he said. "With its combination of power and multi-functionality, our micro-muscle shows great potential for applications that require a high level of functionality integration in a small space."

You can see both the "hurling" and the "micro-explosion" abilities of the muscle in the video below.

The team's research is published in the online version of Advanced Materials

Source: Berkeley Lab


5
High-Tech / Honda bounces around idea of smartphone case with airbags
« on: December 13, 2013, 12:33:30 AM »
There are any number of cases promising to protect a smartphone from drops, bumps and scrapes, but an idea floated by Honda in a video promoting its new line of small cars adds airbags to the list of potential smartphone protection options.

Honda isn't really making a smartphone case, of course; the video at the end of this article is a fictional story about an inventor who is inspired by the new Honda Motors N line of small cars to solve the problem of fragile smartphones using airbags. While the video is part of a clever advertising campaign, the smartphone airbag case – although impractical in its current form – is real.

The guts of the Smartphone Case N are exposed in the photo above. There are a series of six small airbags placed around the edges of the smartphone, which are deployed when the case perceives it is being dropped. In the rear of the case is a computer-controlled accelerometer that keeps track of the level of peril to which the smartphone is subjected at any given moment.

Judging by the video, the computer is looking for something like an extended period of free-fall, as when the case is dropped, the airbags deploy after about 3 ft (90 cm) of falling. (Note to self: Do not take this case along when skydiving.)

Once the computer triggers the mechanism, the inflation valve is opened electrically, releasing gas from a CO2 cartridge into the airbags, which are then fully inflated within 0.2 seconds. When it hits the ground, it bounces around gently for a moment, then rests unharmed on the airbags. The airbags remain inflated at this point, however, it is unclear if they can be deflated and repacked, or if each smartphone rescue would require replacement airbags.


Like everything else, the Smartphone Case N concept has pros and cons. On the pro side, it does appear to perform its basic function effectively, in that the smartphone in the video survives. Arguing against the case is the enormous size, the probable high cost of the case, the probable high cost of resetting the airbags after use, the lack of protection if a phone is dropped screen down onto a pointy object, and the danger of tripping while having the case (or a smaller version thereof) in your pocket. This may be a concept that isn't quite ready for prime time.

But will it get there someday? Amazon's Jeff Bezos thinks highly enough of the basic idea that he patented it for Amazon, with Greg Hart as co-inventor. The Amazon patent, filed in February 2010, covers just about any method you might think of for protecting a fragile thing from drops, including reorienting the thing while it falls, so that it lands on a less-fragile part, and using air jets to seriously slow the rate of fall.

If size and cost can be controlled, together with the danger level for accidental activation, some such method for protecting smartphones and tablets may well appear on the market. Someday.

Source: Honda


6
Other / Smart Bra concept modifies emotional eating behavior
« on: December 10, 2013, 11:31:15 AM »
Microsoft is throwing its hat (or rather, bra) into the ring, combining with engineers from the University of Rochester and the University of Southampton to develop a mobile platform which can infer your current emotional state and provide just-in-time feedback on when eating is a bad idea. Where do they hide the apparatus? In a bra.

Like Sony's concept SmartWig, the research isn't likely to deliver a killer app in the brave new world of wearable electronics, but the preliminary research report, however vague at present, does seem to have some value.

The research focuses on ways to give "Don't Eat!" feedback to a dieter based on their present emotional state. Based on extremely small studies involving only a handful of subjects, they decided that the self-reported emotional states associated with a moderate to strong urge to eat were pretty well subsumed by anxiety, boredom, and depression, in good agreement with previous studies.

Most participants reported that, although the logging of emotions and food intake made them more aware of the relationship between these events, it did not help them control the behavioral linkage. A substudy looked at attempting to ward off eating by using the self-reporting of emotional states to trigger a deep breathing exercise. While this did seem to help cope with the emotions, it had little effect on the eating.

Finally comes the bit relevant to wearable electronics. The research team designed and fabricated a sensor and analysis unit that would keep track of EKG and skin conductivity, and convert readings into an inferred emotion. (They ignored, by the way, existing hobbyist-level equipment thoroughly suited for their application in favor of in-house custom designed apparatus.) That inferred emotion is then fed back to the subject as just-in-time support to help deal with emotional overeating.

The electronics used for this purpose are completely standard in the field (although they chose a custom board), being based on a microprocessor with the auxiliary circuits needed to sample eight bio-signals. The EKG and skin conductivity sensor pads were made from 2.5 mm thick laser cut neoprene sandwiched with batting and laser cut conductive silver ripstop fabric. Again, there is no discussion of why this difficult path was taken instead of using conventional medical adhesive conductive pads.

The sensor placement fits the EKG pads snugly against each side of the ribs, and the skin conductivity sensor touches the underside of the breast from within the bra cup. Signals from a three-axis accelerometer and a two-axis gyroscope mounted in the bra were also recorded, for no reason mentioned in the paper.

Four women participated in a user study to see if emotional state could accurately be inferred from the sensor data. The same self-reporting method as used for the earlier logging of emotional state was used here to provide emotional data to compare with the EKG and skin conductivity measurements. A very odd statistical analysis (especially considering the extremely small sample size) claims to "classify arousal at 75.00 percent and valence at 72.62 percent accuracy" (72.62 percent accuracy from a sample of four?), but doesn't define what this means, beyond claiming the results are statistically better than random. (Arousal is apparently whether or not the subject is "pumped" and valence appears to relate to positive or negative emotions.) There is no description of how this information is normalized between subjects.

Source: University of Rochester

7
Other / Implanted capsule suppresses appetite
« on: November 27, 2013, 06:31:32 AM »
Most who have tried it would agree that dieting is a generally unpleasant, and an oftentimes ineffective way to lose weight in the long-term. The biggest hurdle for many is the constant hunger that comes from a change in their regular diet. Biotechnologists at ETH-Zurich have created a genetic helper that could one day put an end to the hunger pains.

Unlike invasive tummy-tying approaches, such as laparoscopic adjustable gastric bands or stomach stapling, the new genetic slimming aid developed at ETH-Zurich can be implanted in a capsule. The capsule contains human cells that have been implanted with a complex regulatory circuit that was created by combining different human genes that produce proteins and reaction steps.

When released, the synthetic genetic circuit constantly monitors the levels of fat circulating in the blood and, when excessively high fat levels are detected, it produces a hormone that makes the body feel satiated, thus suppressing appetite. The researchers say the circuit can measure several types of fat, including several saturated and unsaturated animal and vegetable fats that are ingested at once.

The research group, headed by ETH-Zurich professor Martin Fussenegger, tested the genetic regulatory circuit on obese mice that had been fed a diet of fatty food. Capsules containing the circuit were implanted in the mice, which then stopped eating excessively and started to lose bodyweight. After their blood-fat levels returned to normal, the circuit stopped producing the satiety-signaling substance.

“The mice lost weight although we kept giving them as much high-calorie food as they could eat,” says Fussenegger, who added that mice fed a diet of normal animal feed with a five-percent fat content didn't reduce their food intake or lose weight.

Although the research team days it will take years to transfer this approach into humans, Fussenegger thinks the implantation of such a gene network could one day provide an alternative to surgical techniques such as liposuction or gastric bands for obese people.

The team's research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: ETH-Zurich

8
Artificial intelligence is a subject that has been brought to the forefront in many science fiction movies over the past few decades. There are a number of posts on Loopy Ideas regarding robotics and intelligent machines. Despite many developments in this field, true artificial intelligence has evaded modern science, mainly because of the complex process of "thinking".

In a development that may enable a wholly new approach to artificial intelligence, researchers at Harvard University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have invented a type of transistor that can learn in ways similar to a neural synapse. Called a synaptic transistor, the new device self-optimizes its properties for the functions it has carried out in the past.

One of the more remarkable features of the human brain is it gets better at whatever it does. While your first day on an assembly line may be full of fumbling and confusion, in a week or two you will find yourself seemingly on autopilot, performing the set of required tasks without much mental effort. After a few months, you will respond automatically when a part comes through damaged or improperly oriented. Plasticity is the name for the brain's ability to change its own structure through thought and activity.


Most of this plasticity results from changes in the 100 trillion or so synapses, or interconnections, between brain cells. One of the ways through which sets of behaviors are reinforced, or learned, is called spike-timing dependent plasticity, or STDP.

Often summed up by the aphorism "Cells that fire together, wire together", when neuron A repeatedly sends a signal across a synapse that causes neuron B to fire, the synapse will strengthen, in effect making that decision easier to make in the future.


The synaptic transistor developed at Harvard mimics this behavior. So how does a synaptic transistor work? As shown above, the synaptic transistor has a structure quite similar to that of a field effect transistor, where a bit of ionic liquid takes the place of the gate insulating layer between the gate electrode and the conducting channel, and that channel is composed of samarium nickelate (SmNiO3, or SNO) rather than the field effect transistor's doped silicon.

A synaptic transistor has an immediate response, and also a much slower response related to learning. The immediate response is basically the same as that of a field effect transistor – the amount of current that passes between the source and drain contacts varies with the amount of voltage applied to the gate electrode. The learning response is that the conductivity of the SNO layer varies in response to the STDP history of the synaptic transistor, essentially by shuttling oxygen ions between the SNO and the ionic liquid.

The electrical analog of strengthening a synapse is to increase the conductivity of the SNO, which essentially increases the gain of the synaptic transistor. Similarly, weakening a synapse is analogous to decreasing the electrical conductivity of the SNO, thereby lowering the gain.

Note that the input and output of the synaptic transistor will be continuous analog values, rather than more restrictive digital on-off signals. This gives the artificial synapses the flexibility to learn "more or less" how to perform a task, and then to learn how to improve its earlier performance.

While the physical structure of Harvard's synaptic transistor has the potential to learn from history, in itself it contains no way to bias the transistor so as to properly control the SNO's memory effect. This function is carried out by an external supervisory circuit that converts the time delay between input and output into a voltage applied to the ionic liquid that either drives ions into the SNO or removes them. In response, the synaptic transistors become self-optimizing within a circuit being subjected to learning experiences.

The gain of the device adjusts over time to more efficiently provide the average performance asked of them during training. The result is that when a large network of synaptic transistors is assembled, it can learn particular responses to "sensory inputs", with those responses being learned through experience rather than directly programmed into the network.

"The transistor we've demonstrated is really an analog to the synapse in our brains," says co-lead author Jian Shi, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS. "Each time a neuron initiates an action and another neuron reacts, the synapse between them increases the strength of its connection. And the faster the neurons spike each time, the stronger the synaptic connection. Essentially, it memorizes the action between the neurons."

The synaptic transistor could mark the beginning of a new kind of artificial intelligence: one embedded not in smart algorithms but in the very architecture of a computer. In principle, a system integrating millions of tiny synaptic transistors and neuron terminals could take parallel computing into a new era of ultra-efficient high performance.

"This kind of proof-of-concept demonstration carries that work into the 'applied' world," says research team leader Professor Shriram Ramanathan, "where you can really translate these exotic electronic properties into compelling, state-of-the-art devices." Hopefully those SOTA devices can someday be assembled into SOTA learning machines.

A paper detailing the team's findings was published last month in Nature Communications

Source: Harvard University

9
Articles / Chocolate lovers rejoice: More chocolate means less body fat
« on: November 09, 2013, 01:00:49 AM »
In what may be the best news for chocoholics since scientists at the University of Cambridge found that higher chocolate consumption was associated with a significant reduction in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke, researchers at the University of Granada are reporting that it's also associated with lower levels of total fat deposits – in the bodies of adolescents at least.

The researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences at the University of Granada conducted a study comprising 1,458 European adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years old and found that not only did higher chocolate consumption not lead to an increase in fat deposits in the participants, but it was actually associated with lower levels of total fat – fat deposits all over the body and central-abdominal fat – regardless of physical activity and diet.

The study estimated total fat deposits through body mass index, waist circumference and body fat percentage, which was measured by skinfolds and bioelectrical impedance analysis. Lower levels of total and central fat deposits were witnessed in participants with higher chocolate intake, regardless of age, sex, sexual maturation, total energy intake, physical activity and intake of saturated fats, fruits, vegetables, tea and coffee.

The researchers suggest the results could be partly due to catechins, a type of flavonoid that chocolate is especially rich in that boasts multiple health benefits and influences cortisol production and insulin sensitivity in the body. “They have important antioxidant, antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive effects and can help prevent ischemic heart disease," explains Magdalena Cuenca-García who was the principle author of the study.

“The most recent epidemiologic research focuses on studying the relation between specific foods – both for their calorie content and for their components – and the risk factors for developing chronic illnesses, including overweight and obesity,” the researchers say in their study.

But before you go out and gorge yourself on chocolate bars, the researchers warn that, as with most things, chocolate should be consumed in moderation.

“In moderate quantities, chocolate can be good for you, as our study has shown. But, undoubtedly, excessive consumption is prejudicial. As they say: you can have too much of a good thing."

The team's study is published in the journal Nutrition.

Source: University of Granada

10
Toyota's already bold pursuit of new vistas in the realm of personal transportation took another quantum leap forward today, when the Japanese giant released details of the FV2, a concept car more closely related to the Kirobo humanoid communication robot than any vehicle currently on public roads.

In trying to explain the FV2 succinctly, it's probably best to start with how it isn't different from a contemporary car. It has four wheels. That's about it, and what's more, it rearranges those four wheels in a diamond shape and it tilts in corners, a bit like a motorcycle with giant training wheels on each side.

The FV2 can be driven from a seated position with the canopy closed, or from a standing position with the canopy open, with the transparent canopy becoming a full-height windshield with an extensive augmented reality display.

In both cases, the vehicle is steered, accelerated and braked by body movement.

It's not the first Toyota to use an external high-resolution display on its exterior, with the FUN Vii doing the show rounds for the last two years after being shown at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2011. Toyota's experiments with expressing the driver's emotions on a vehicle's exterior date back more than a decade to the Personal Mobility Concept of 2003 and the POD concept of 2001, and the company patented this feature in 2002.

One of the many themes of the FV2 is the expression of Toyota’s “Fun to Drive” philosophy, and the computer-human interface we first experienced with the Segway and its natural weight-shift steering has been incorporated into the FV2 to create a greater physical bonding between car and driver.

As cars and robots converge, advanced technologies will also be used to enhance the driving experience by connecting emotionally with the driver, and the FV2 is the first vehicle to incorporate some of the lessons learned in the Toyota Heart Project, a new communication research study featuring the well-known Kirobo and Mirata humanoid communication robots.

Robots are being developed for many uses, and Japanese robotics research is well advanced in the area of companion robots using artificial intelligence plus voice analysis, image recognition of facial expressions, body movement and hand gestures to respond in such a way as to create an emotional connection between humans and robots.

Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications are also incorporated in the FV2, though the fine detail is not yet known.

Just how much this vehicle is a promotional exercise and how much it is real will be known when the Tokyo Motor Show opens in November 2013.

One of the companies heavily involved in the FV2's public unveiling is Japanese advertising, public relations and communications giant Dentsu. The fiendishly clever communications company is melding all aspects of public communications for Toyota, and is responsible for a smartphone application that was released on November 5, 2013 via the the AppStore and Google Play application platforms.

New thinking

One expert said the Toyota's latest design was intended to address a problem worrying the industry at large.

"Lots of carmakers are very frightened by the fact many young people can't afford a car and insurance, and the whole concept of a traditional motor vehicle doesn't really appeal to them," said Paul Newton from the consultants IHS Automotive.

"I think in practical terms the FV2 won't see the light of day - if you are standing up and leaning to move it, my first thought would be, what if you hit something? The likelihood of it being licensed in today's safety-conscious environment is zero."

11
Household & Consumables / Bulletproof Business Suit
« on: November 07, 2013, 12:23:19 AM »
In a scene only dreamt of by most people, the employees of Garrison Bespoke, an upscale Toronto tailor, lined up and waited their turn to stab their boss, Michael Nguyen, with a hunting knife. Mr. Nguyen emerged from the experience unscathed, thanks to a remarkable bullet-proof business suit that has just been revealed to the public.

Although bulletproof clothing has been available to the public for many years, the typical offering took the form of rather heavy casual clothing or outerwear. New advances in bullet-resistant fabric, however, have made it possible to provide solid protection in the guise of fashionable business wear.

Garrison's bulletproof (bullet-resistant is a more accurate description) suit contains several sheets of carbon nanotube fabric in its lining, manufactured by the same (anonymous) company that makes personal armor for the US Army Special Forces.

These sheets are thinner and more flexible than Kevlar, while only having half the weight, and are so resistant to damage they have to be cut using a bandsaw. The resistance of the suit to stabbing is due to the tendency of the carbon nanotubes to tighten their weave in response to a point force, effectively blunting the tip of the knife, and preventing it from penetrating the fabric.

In relatively informal tests, Garrison's bullet-resistant suit proved capable of stopping 9 mm and .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) handgun rounds, in addition to the stabbing attacks by the Garrison employees. Stopping a 9 mm round is considered to be Level IIa protection by the US National Institute of Justice standards, however, Garrison has not responded to our inquiry about formal certification of its suit.

The world of carbon nanotubes, especially when applied to personal armor, is a rather murky one from which it is difficult to gather many details. One major player in this field is Nanocomp, a company that manufactures carbon nanotube sheets and yarn for a variety of purposes.

In a 2010 Forbes article, the Nanocomp's VP of Business Development John Dorr remarked that, "The particular (bullet) stop you mention was accomplished with ... the thickness of several business cards. It was able to stop a 9 mm round in that example." This level of performance seems consistent with Garrison's bullet-resistant suit, although there is no hint as to whether it is Nanocomp's carbon nanotube sheets being used in Garrison's suits.

Starting at 20,000 CAD (US$19,160), these suits probably won't be flying off the shelf, but for those who are rich, powerful, and find themselves involved in risky business, this offering from Garrison Bespoke may be just what the bodyguard ordered.

Source: Garrison Bespoke

12
Transportation / Hyperloop emerges from stealth mode
« on: November 04, 2013, 12:30:17 AM »
This is a follow-up on our previous post: Elon Musk's Hyperloop Transit System - Loopy or not?

Elon Musk can relax now. Having previously announced his intention to at least build a demonstrator of his Hyperloop transporter for high-speed, high-capacity inter-city transport, he now appears relieved to leave that task to HTT (Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc). HTT is an engineering startup company operating under the wing of California-based JumpStartFund. It has developed basic organization and operational plans, as well as having established key partnerships to help navigate a path to a working Hyperloop.

Musk's Hyperloop has gained a vast amount of media attention over the past year or so. His proposal was for a dedicated low-pressure tube train to connect the Los Angeles and San Francisco city centers while reaching top speeds of about 800 mph (1,300 km/h). With a yearly passenger capacity of 15 million passengers, and half-hour transport between the most distant terminals, the Hyperloop made quite a splash as an alternative to open, above-ground high-speed trains.

HTT, a company organized by co-founders Dr. Marco Villa (former director of mission operations for SpaceX) and Dr. Patricia Galloway (past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers), is operating with very thin financial foundations. It is depending on crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to supply the initial needs of the company, which include obtaining needed goods and services by making strategic partnerships with a range of companies. HTT is selecting most of its workforce from a pool of scientists and engineers who are willing to commit time in exchange for equity in the company.

Of particular importance are HTT's deals with ANSYS for computer simulation resources, its partnership with material science development company GloCal Network Corp, and the UCLA Architecture and Urban Design department, whose role is to consider the social interface for the Hyperloop project.

At this point, establishing the technical, environmental, financial, social, and political foundations for the Hyperloop has been split into a long list of (relatively) small tasks, that will examine and design all aspects of a Hyperloop design. Provided this development work continues to flow well, then, according to interim CEO Dirk Ahlborn (founder and CEO of JumpStartFund,) as quoted in PC Mag, "... the next milestone will be presenting a white paper ... by the beginning of 2015, we want to have a scale model."

Looking for sites for a Hyperloop scale model (likely 1/10 full size) on which to perform engineering tests will commence next spring (Northern Hemisphere).

The Hyperloop is a remarkable concept, but there's likely a large pile of bugs and problems hiding under all the glitter. It will take a lot of work to turn this into a real project that someone will be willing to pay for, but if a single step starts a journey, then this journey is underway.

Source: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

13
High-Tech / Cyborg insects to map hazardous environments
« on: October 17, 2013, 01:14:02 AM »
Living remote-control cockroaches are now a thing. They actually exist. Besides wowing people and sparking ethics debates, however, the cyborg insects may ultimately have some very worthwhile applications. A team led by North Carolina State University's Dr. Edgar Lobaton has brought one of those applications a step closer to reality, by developing software that would allow "swarms" of the cockroaches to map hazardous environments such as collapsed buildings.

The cockroach-guiding technology, which was also developed at NC State, involves fitting Madagascar hissing cockroaches with "backpacks" containing an inexpensive, lightweight, commercially-available chip, along with a wireless receiver and transmitter, and a microcontroller.

That microcontroller is wired into the cockroach’s antennae and sensory organs known as the cerci. When commands are sent wirelessly by a remote human operator, the controller electrically stimulates one or more of the antennae and/or cerci, dictating the directional movements of the insects.

In the building exploration scenario, a swarm of sensor-wearing remote-control cockroaches or other insects – known collectively as "biobots" – would be released into a damaged structure. Their human operators would give them some time to disperse in a random pattern, and would then send a signal causing the biobots to proceed to the nearest wall and follow along its base.

Although the locations of individual insects wouldn't be known (GPS doesn't work indoors), the insects' sensors would send a radio signal to the operators whenever two or more of the biobots got close to one another. After several swarms had been released and performed the "wall following" behavior, an algorithm in the software would take all of the accumulated radio signal data and use it to create a rough map of the building's interior.

First responders would then have some idea of where to go and what to avoid upon entering the structure themselves.

The technology has already been tested using computer simulations, and testing with robots is now under way (perhaps not unlike the existing MAST system). A trial involving actual biobots is planned to take place soon.

Down the road, it is hoped that insects equipped with other types of sensors could also be used to map the location of radioactive or chemical threats.

Source: North Carolina State University

14
High-Tech / Portable brain-reading device
« on: October 11, 2013, 03:55:18 AM »
Innovation is all about putting on the proverbial thinking cap. Now engineers are vying to produce an actual thinking cap – at least one that can measure the most rudimentary signals of thought. The US Department of Defense is pushing for the development of cheap, wearable systems that can detect the brain waves of people and display the data on smartphones or tablets.

This past spring, the DOD awarded four companies design grants through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which is designed to spur the development of technologies not already available in the commercial market. A Phase I grant in the amount of $100,000 has been awarded, with those entities competing for a possible Phase II grant that could total $750,000 or more.

The Pentagon has called for the development of a small, low-cost device (perhaps as cheap as $30) to measure electroencephalography, the voltage fluctuations that occur as neurons fire within the brain. The device would work in conjunction with an app to deliver real-time information on neural activity to a tablet or smartphone.

While EEG readings are most often used to provide data on those with head injuries or who suffer seizures, the DOD notes that more recently EEG has been explored commercially in "neuro-marketing" and to provide neuro-feedback via brain-computer interfaces, allowing people to move objects or play computer games with their mind.

While an array of technologies can give indications of brain activity, EEG offers several advantages – mainly portability and cost. But the technology has several hurdles, including the knotty problem of trying to get an accurate reading of tiny impulses in the brain even as bone, scalp and hair muddle the reception.

In the near term, the DOD sees cheap EEG devices being included in field first-aid kits to provide near-instantaneous analysis of an injured soldier's brain activity.

"For instance, if somebody was exposed to a blast and an individual goes out who is the medic, ... within his kit he has this EEG system folded up," says Brent Winslow, lead scientist at Design Interactive in Oviedo, Florida, which is working on the SBIR grant. "The individual just wears this unit for two to five minutes and you are able to assess quantitatively the presence of an injury."

While there are limits to what level of "thinking" such a cap can detect, an accurate, affordable and portable EEG system could open up other applications.

"The thing about EEG is that we are detecting what we consider a coarse signal," says Michael Elconin, CEO of San Diego-based Cognionics, another SBIR entrant. "The question is how much information you can extract from that signal. For the foreseeable future – and in my opinion, probably forever – we will not be able to use EEG to figure out what people are thinking.

"One of the things we can sense with EEG ... [is] what I’ll call 'states of consciousness,'" Elconin continues. "Say you are a sentry looking out across a field [and] to make sure no one is there. You are looking and looking, and all of a sudden you see someone running: your brain will generate a very specific brain wave pattern because it recognizes something it is looking for."

Massachusetts-based SI2 Technologies has previously worked on technology embedded in soldier helmets to better spot traumatic brain injury. The company hopes to use digital printing technology to produce comfortable caps embedded with sensors to capture EEG data.

Also working on the problem is Hanover, New Hampshire-based Creare.

It is not the first time the U.S. military has brainstormed ways to tap the inner recess of the mind. In 2008, the DOD awarded $4 million to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of California Irvine and the University of Maryland to investigate ways people can communicate using brain waves.

At the time, Army Research Office manager Elmar Schmeisser acknowledged in a statement to the American Forces Press Service that "the mathematics behind this is fierce" and any breakthrough could be two decades distant. But in 2011 University of Maryland researchers indicated they were making major headway in the effort.

The imagination is the limit when it comes to any thought of a brain-wave reader app in every smartphone – but the DOD sees immediate potential as an educational tool in biology classes, biology classes, with students recording their brain activity and downloading data to a tablet.

And the DOD is thinking bigger things on the commercial front – with ready access to brain-recording devices and apps, neuroscientists might be able to crowdsource solutions to neuroscience problems, collectively.

Wrap your mind around that.

15
High-Tech / Robotic Bartender
« on: October 11, 2013, 01:20:44 AM »
Meet James. He’s a barman with a cheery disposition, is quick with your order, and doesn't tolerate queue jumping. He’s also a one-armed robot with a tablet for a head. But the really curious thing about James is that he can read your body language to find out whether or not you want to order a drink.

The Joint Action in Multimodal Embodied Systems (James) robot is an EU-funded project that started in 2011. As part of the project, Professor Dr. Jan de Ruiter of the Psycholinguistics Research Group at Germany's Bielefeld University along with partners Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas in Crete, Fortiss in Munich, and the University of Edinburgh set out to solve the problem of how to employ robots as bartenders in a manner that humans would readily accept.

There have been any number of robot bartenders built in recent years. Many have some cool moves, but ordering drinks from one often involves a bit of a learning curve as the patron figures out how to place an order using a touchscreen or smartphone. Unfortunately, pub goers tend to be a bit single minded about getting their hands on a pint and don’t like complications.

The problem of robot bartenders is simple: Robots don't like the real world. They like things to be tidy, orderly, and predictable – preferably with optical codes printed on everything. However, a pub is about as real as the world gets. It's crowded, noisy, dimly lit, with music and conversation everywhere.

It's relatively easy to make a robot that can mix drinks. It's another matter how to tell the robot what you want to drink. And it's another order of magnitude for the robot to figure out whether or not you want a drink in the first place, and another again to get it to do so in a pub.

Patrons don't like dealing with touch screens or other interfaces. What they want is a robot that really can replace a bartender, so as the drink ordering process doesn't change as they swap over. The trouble is, bar staff are very good at cutting through all the confusion and finding out who wants to order a drink and who doesn't. What is more remarkable is that they do so using cues that neither they or the patrons are consciously aware of.

Bielefeld University’s contribution to the James project was to study how people order drinks and program that knowledge into the robot. "Currently, we are working on the robot’s ability to recognize when a customer is bidding for its attention," says De Ruiter. "Thus, we have studied the process of ordering a drink in real life."

For James to be successful, he has to be able to serve people who have never met him and know nothing about how he works. That puts all the pressure on James to get things right. "In order to respond appropriately to its customers the robot must be able to recognize human social behavior," says de Ruiter.

It turns out that it's more important for the robot to understand body language than just what's spoken to it. This was discovered when the team took video camera to pubs and clubs in Bielefeld and Herford in Germany, and Edinburgh in Scotland, and recorded people ordering drinks at the bar. Later, the videos and snapshots from them were shown to experiment participants, who had to sort them as to which showed someone ordering a drink and someone who wasn't.

The results were rather surprising. When questioned, people said that when they wanted to order a drink they looked at their wallet, held up bank notes, or waved. It turned out that most people actually did none of these things or very rarely. For example, only 1 in 25 waved. Instead, 90 percent stood quietly perpendicular to the bar and looked at the bartender. If they didn’t want to order a drink, they adopted a different stance, such as turning slightly away from the bar or chatting with the person next to them.

"Effectively, the customers identify themselves as ordering and non-ordering people through their behavior," says psychologist Dr. Sebastian Loth. When asked in a BBC interview how people learned this ordering behavior, de Ruiter said that it was entirely natural and "like learning to breathe."

The team established that James can determine a patron’s posture, movements and actions almost in real time. The next step was to reprogram James to take into account the new data. He had to be programmed to not offend patrons by either mistakenly asking them if they wanted a drink or ignoring someone who wanted to order. The later, the team says, is worse. This meant giving James a clear definitions of when someone is ordering or not and to be able to use these definitions based on the social context.

The results of the study were published in Frontiers of Psychology.

The video below shows James going through his paces.

Source: James Project via BBC


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