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Messages - Jay Sadie

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31
Household & Consumables / Invisible Air Umbrella
« on: July 21, 2013, 04:02:42 AM »
One might say the standard umbrella is already perfectly designed — compact, resistant to all but very strong winds, and it generally keeps your top half dry. The kind of storm in which an umbrella wouldn’t do the job is the kind of storm where nothing other than staying inside would help. A new umbrella design by Je Sung Park and Woo Jung Kwon aims to not only change the umbrella’s core design, but to make it adjustable given the power of a storm.

Called the Air Umbrella, the concept removes the plastic top from the umbrella and replaces it with a wind shield. The design of the Air Umbrella calls for air to be sucked through the bottom, then shot out of the top in a pattern that mimics the standard canopy. Power and canopy size controls reside toward the bottom of the shaft, providing users with the ability to strengthen the force of the air and widen the canopy in order to adjust for heavier rains. Not only would these features protect against storms when a standard umbrella normally may not, but the air curtain has a better chance to survive strong winds than a flimsy nylon covering. Removing the canopy also dispenses with minutes shaking all of the water off before you bring it inside.

It’s worth noting that if the umbrella is designed to shoot rain away from your head through an air pump, it would almost certainly shoot that rain onto surrounding innocent bystanders.

The Air Umbrella is also designed with a simple adjustable handle, so the user can rest their arm at whatever height they desire when holding the umbrella, an option left out of standard umbrellas.

Though still a concept and assuming the wind curtain is actually strong enough, the design has one pretty significant flaw — battery life. If a storm is particularly strong, the highest power output and widest curtain could conceivably drain the battery quickly, while a longer trek through the rain would significantly drain the battery as well. What happens when you trek through the rain, use a significant portion of the battery, then it’s still raining on the way home? It’ll be annoying to have to carry extra batteries or a charger.

Whatever the case with the power supply may be, the umbrella is still only a concept, so whatever kinks could arise are probably already being addressed. The design does seem like a great alternative to an umbrella where the plastic canopy turns inside out at the first gust of wind,

The feasibility remains to be seen – one could imagine it would be difficult if even possible to produce the kind of force required, and that batteries might drain too fast for it to be broadly useful. Still, technology has a way of catching up to good design. Another point of skepticism: its creators pitch it as a green alternative to plastic bags or one-use ponchos, but what about regular umbrellas? Perhaps, depending upon the durability of the latter versus the power usage of the Air Umbrella alternative.

I did a search on the Internet, and as of today (21 July 2013) it still is not on the market. If I do happen to stumble on it in the future I will post an update here, or if anyone out there knows anything more about the Air Umbrella please feel free to post an update here. (Note: you have to be a registered member on LoopyIdeas to post)

One more thing: Perhaps the designers should have rather called it “Airbrella” or “Unbrella”.

32

With an idea sure to raise hopes, eyebrows and hackles in roughly equal proportions, architectural outfit Morphocode has cooked up the idea of building loft apartments into offshore wind turbines.

Offshore turbines can be surprisingly large, with Siemens' 75-m B75 blades creating a sweep of 154-m diameter which is plenty big enough to swallow an Airbus A380. Morphocode predicts that offshore turbines will become larger still in the next few years, and points to the European Commission's 2008 Communication on offshore wind energy which said that the contribution made by offshore wind in Europe "can and must" increase "in the order of 30-40 times by 2020 and 100 times by 2030" in installed capacity compared to 2008 figures.

Morphocode's reasoning is not that such turbines will make ideal pads for those looking to away from it all (and then some), but that they will require the permanent presence of maintenance crews to watch over them (if not actually repair them), monitoring their performance to ensure that they're working optimally. Hence its wind turbine loft, an aerodynamically-shaped living space doubling as the rotor hub of the turbine.

Not that Morphocode has entirely divorced the romance of the sea from its concept. "Wind turbine loft is a secluded retreat in the vastness of the sea where time is marked by the rotation of the blades while the horizon line remains the only static element in this ever-changing landscape," it writes.

It's a charming idea, but, one suspects, an extremely improbable one.

Source: Morphocode, via Dvice

33
Science & Technology / Smart Diapers
« on: July 17, 2013, 01:50:10 AM »
Diapers usually rank very low on the list of items in need of a high-tech upgrade, despite products like the TweetPee recently hitting the market. But unlike a Twitter-enabled diaper, which provides information that anyone with a nose could figure out on their own, a new diaper from Pixie Scientific could actually warn parents of health issues before they become serious. The Smart Diaper uses several reactive agents and an app to monitor irregularities in an infant's urine over time and alerts parents if they need to visit a doctor.

Aside from a square panel on the front, the Smart Diaper looks and fits just like a regular disposable diaper. On the inside, that panel contains several non-toxic test strips situated underneath the absorbent core, so they never actually touch the child's skin. Once the diaper is wet, the strips react to leukocytes, nitrates, and a variety of other substances that could each indicate different health problems.

Parents can then use an accompanying app to scan the QR code on the outside of the diaper, which is surrounded by the colored results of each test. The app will note down each strip's reading for that day, monitor any changes over time, and apply several algorithms to identify any notable trends. If it detects a potential issue, it will send an alert to the parents to make a trip to their pediatrician, who can run their own tests and consult the app's log if needed.

It may sound a little overprotective, but a diaper that performs a basic urine analysis could act as an early warning system for potential problems before more dangerous symptoms begin to show. According to the developers, the Smart Diaper might help parents learn about a urinary tract infection, dehydration, or a kidney condition, so they can then seek proper treatment as soon as possible.

However, Pixie Scientific emphasizes that the diaper is not intended to give a full diagnosis, which is better left to a trained professional. The company plans to distribute the diapers primarily to hospitals, pediatricians' offices, and parents whose children need extra monitoring the most.

Pixie Scientific is currently running an indiegogo campaign with a target of US$25,000 to finalize the Smart Diapers and bring them into mass production. The funds raised will go towards testing the diapers further in a hospital setting, registering with the FDA, and beginning large-scale manufacturing. Contributors can pre-order various packages, with the diapers costing about $5 each and the first batch shipping in October.

Once the diapers reach the public, the designers hope to use the data gathered from the app to further improve their algorithms and they've already taken steps to ensure any information they collect is kept private. If they receive enough funding to reach their stretch goals, they also plan to study any possible trends amongst communities and develop the diaper further to detect Type 1 Diabetes.

Check out the video below to hear how husband and wife inventors, Yaroslav Faybishenko and Jennie Rubinshteyn, devised the Smart Diaper.

Sources: Pixie Scientific, indiegogo


34
2013-2014 may very well prove one of the best time periods in history for for recent cutting-edge concept vehicles to make the leap from concept to production. From electric and hybrid hypercars to reinvented daily drivers, these concept cars will soon be all over our highways and country roads.

2011 BMW i3

The BMW i3 Concept Coupe debuts at the 2012 LA Auto Show
The BMW i3 Concept Coupe debuts at the 2012 LA Auto Show

Before the month of July 2013 is out, BMW will debut the production version of its very first electric car. Referred to for years as the MegaCity Vehicle, before making its conceptual debut as the i3 at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, the city EV will launch as the first member of the new BMW i sub-brand. The German automaker announced last week that it will reveal the production model live on YouTube on July 29, 2013.

In its current state, the i3 packs enough battery power to keep the 170-hp motor spinning the rear wheels for 80 to 100 miles (129 to 161 km). It has DC fast charging capabilities, allowing drivers to juice up to 80 percent battery capacity within about 30 minutes. Though it's lost some of the panoramic glass design of the original 2011 concept, the updated i3 Concept Coupe unveiled in LA last year still has oversized windows that provide a close connection with the world outside. The production i3 will be equipped with model-specific ConnectedDrive technologies, including dynamic driving-range mapping.

2010 Porsche 918 Spyder

The original Porsche 918 Spyder debuts at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show
The original Porsche 918 Spyder debuts at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show

Porsche jump-started the green supercar movement when it showed the original 918 Spyder at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show. The car looked like it might be a one-off concept at the time, but reaction from prospective buyers proved strong enough to convince Porsche to build it.

Porsche has shown several versions of the 918 over the three years since it debuted, and happily for buyers that plonked down the requisite US$845,000, the most recent version has upped the ante from 718 hp to 887 hp. Its performance specs have also improved, from 3.2 seconds 0-62 mph (100 km/h) and a 198-mph (318 km/h) top speed on the original to 2.8 seconds and 211 mph (339 km/h). Porsche announced the latest specs in May, and it appears to be sticking to its plan of starting production in September with US deliveries planned for before the end of the year.

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell

The SLS AMG E-Cell at the 2011 Detroit auto show
The SLS AMG E-Cell at the 2011 Detroit auto show

As advanced and impressive as it is, the 918 Spyder won't be without competition when it hits the market. Originally introduced as the 526-hp SLS AMG E-CELL prototype a few months after the 918 debut in 2010, the 751-hp Mercedes SLS AMG Coupe Electric Drive is scheduled for launch this (northern) summer. As an all-electric car, the SLS AMG E-Drive's driving character is sure to be much different from the 918 Spyder's, but it's a technological flagship like the 918.

The €416,500 (US$550,000) car can hit 62 mph in 3.9 seconds on its way to an electronically limited 155-mph (249 km/h) top speed. The driver accesses all that performance while tucked inside the ever-intriguing gullwinged body.

One major disadvantage the E-Drive has compared to the 918 is that Mercedes has no plans of offering it in the United States. But we guess that's a disadvantage for those in the US, not the E-Drive itself.

2013 Spyker B6 Venator

The B6 Venator debuts at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show
The B6 Venator debuts at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show

Want to order an all-out exotic but hold onto the electric motors? The Spyker B6 Venator should leave you satisfied. Introduced at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, the B6 Venator is designed to bring Spyker back into the spotlight as a crafter of "meticulously built automobiles."

We're loath to call a 375-bhp sports car a supercar, but if its yet-to-be-detailed performance falls short of super, the B6 will still be accurately described as a sports car dressed up in exotic supercar apparel. It looks and feels the part, from its wavy curves and aviation-influenced styling, to its classically appointed bull-hide leather interior. So even if it doesn't smoke-cloud to 62 mph in a flat three seconds, it's bound to make an indelible impression on driver and bystander alike.

While we're more inclined to believe a major automaker's time frame over that of a small, up-and-down firm like Spyker, we'll believe its early-2014 production plans until it says differently, or the time passes. It plans to get the car out to Asia, Europe and the Middle East first, with sales in the US beginning later in 2014 in the $125,000 and $150,000 range.

2012 Infiniti LE

The Infiniti LE concept at the 2012 New York Auto Show
The Infiniti LE concept at the 2012 New York Auto Show

Previewed as a concept at the 2012 New York Auto Show, the Infiniti LE is a more upscale version of the Nissan Leaf. Like the Leaf, it will have some competition from a GM series hybrid, the Cadillac ELR (discussed below). In the current electric and hybrid market, however, they won't be competing quite as closely as the Leaf and Volt were in 2010/2011.

Infiniti didn't provide all the details when showing the LE concept, but it did say that the powertrain boasted a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and 240 lb-ft (325 Nm) of torque. Nissan executive vice president Andy Palmer recently told Autocar that the manufacturer is still planning to equip the LE with the wireless charging capabilities that were part of the concept. It plans for the LE to "become reality" in 2014.

2013 Toyota Corolla Furia Concept

The Toyota Corolla Furia Concept at NAIAS 2013
The Toyota Corolla Furia Concept at NAIAS 2013

The Corolla doesn't play in the big leagues with some of these other concepts, but the Corolla Furia Concept did manage to hold its own against the Chevy Corvettes and Acura NSXs of the 2013 North American International Auto Show. Toyota gave the Corolla a decidedly aggressive and angry disposition, transforming it from a commonplace commuter tucked anonymously into the strip mall parking lot to a car that makes you step back and ask aloud, "What is that?!"

The 2014 Corolla that Toyota introduced last month keeps more of the Furia's edge than it loses, including the loud paint, which is now purple rather than orange. It's still the same lovably simple but effective worker bee, and doesn't have any exciting new performance or tech, but it definitely flaunts a new look that should broaden its appeal with buyers.

2009 Cadillac Converj

The Cadillac Converj concept at NAIAS 2009 Photo: General Motors
The Cadillac Converj concept at NAIAS 2009 Photo: General Motors

It took quite a while, but the Cadillac Converj concept that GM showed at NAIAS 2009 became reality at this year's Detroit show in the form of the ELR. In that four-year interim, the EPA tested the Chevy Volt; the Volt launched on the market; and GM tweaked the plug-in hybrid hardware that underpins both the Volt and ELR.

When compared to the Converj, the ELR gets the slightly larger 16.5 kWh lithium-ion battery introduced on the 2013 Volt. On the other hand, as the Volt did when it went from concept to production, the ELR loses a few miles of all-electric range, down to an estimated 35 (56 km), from 40 (64 km) on the Converj. We like crazy concept interiors as much as anyone, but the ELR's Opus semi-aniline leather, carbon fiber and CUE interior is a definite step up from the white sci-fi interior of the Converj.

Cadillac said in Detroit that it will begin ELR production by the end of the year, with sales to follow in early 2014.

2012 Tesla Model X

The Tesla Model X at NAIAS 2013
The Tesla Model X at NAIAS 2013

Tesla has always done things a little differently than the traditional auto companies. In the case of the Model X, it introduced the crossover at its headquarters last February, between big shows like NAIAS and Geneva. The car will come in both front- and all-wheel drive versions, and since it's a crossover, we're most interested in the latter, which puts an electric motor on each axle for 50 percent more torque and a 0-60 mph (96 km/h) of under five seconds.

The Model X doesn't look quite as sporty as the Roadster or Model S, but it does look more like a sporty hot hatchback than the average CUV. The rear "Falcon Wing" doors are a unique feature that only add to its visual appeal. They're designed for more than just looks, too, letting the kids free in the tightest of Christmas-time parking spaces and providing step-in access to the second and third rows.

The Model X is available for pre-order now with 60- and 85-kWh battery packs, and Tesla plans to begin deliveries next year. It says that prices will be in line with comparably equipped Model S cars.

2009 BMW Vision EfficientDynamics/2011 BMW i8

The BMW i8 Concept Spyder at the 2012 LA Auto Show
The BMW i8 Concept Spyder at the 2012 LA Auto Show

The 2014 i8 is expected to hit the market early next year, and we'd be surprised if the production i8 doesn't follow the 2011 i8 Concept and 2009 Vision EfficientDynamics (VED) concept in debuting at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. While the i3 will appeal to drivers looking for a zero emissions city commuter, the second member of the i family will provide a mix of sports car performance and hybrid fuel economy.

The i8 Concept has a 220-hp three-cylinder engine over the rear axle, combined with a modified version of the i3's e-drive system up front. That combination doesn't quite push the i8 to 918 Spyder-levels of performance, but it does offer an intriguing combination of performance and efficiency. BMW says that the 2+2 can accelerate to 62 mph in under five seconds while boasting fuel economy figure of 104 mpg (2.7 L/100 km), including 20 miles (32 km) of all-electric driving. Another interesting feature are the i8 Concept's laser headlights, which are set to be a first for a production vehicle.

In addition to the original VED and the 2011 i8, BMW showed the i8 in convertible form last year.

2012 Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupe

2012 Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupe
2012 Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupe

An evolution of the Concept Style Coupe revealed at Beijing's Auto China 2012, the all-new CLA-Class is an entry-level Mercedes aimed at younger buyers. The car isn't quite as visually interesting as the original Concept Style, but Mercedes still insists that the mid-size four-door's look is avante-garde.

When the $30,000 CLA-Class hits the market in September 2013, it will come powered by a 208-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. A 4MATIC all-wheel-drive version will hit the market next year. The CLA will include some of the latest Mercedes technologies, such as mbrace2 connectivity and Apple Siri integration.

35
High-Tech / Giant Exoskeletons
« on: July 09, 2013, 06:53:48 AM »
In recent years Japan has erected life-sized statues of giant robots like Tetsujin-28 go (Gigantor) and a Gundam mobile suit, but statues can't defend the island nation from kaiju attack. Perhaps that is why Sagawa Electronics is bridging the gap between fantasy and reality with a working robotic exoskeleton it calls the Power Jacket MK3 that mimics your every move. And it says it will produce up to five of them for about US$123,000 apiece.

The Power Jacket MK3 is kept light thanks to a combination of aluminum and carbon fiber in its frame. It weighs just 25 kg (55 lb) despite being 2.25 m (7 ft 4 in) tall. The suit uses a master-slave system where your arms and legs are strapped to motorized joints that, when moved, drive the motion of the suit's corresponding limbs.

The suit contains a total of 14 servo motors (8 of which were designed by the team). Currently its arms are capable of lifting about 15 kg (33 lb), but for safety reasons they are limiting it to just 2 kg (4.4 lb).

The suit's construction is robust enough to handle a quick jog, and the hands are delicate enough to pick up an egg without cracking it. The company plans to showcase the suit publicly at Wonder Festival 2013 later this month, and has created a comic to help flesh out its story. Like the Kuratas mecha and 4-m tall biped robot, it's a novelty project that's more fun than it is practical, but we're ok with that.

Watch the ghastly "Scarface Santaro" present the suit in this humorous demonstration video (which thankfully has English subtitles):



That's not the only giant exoskeleton in town

Another giant suit project by Team Skeletonics preceded the Power Jacket MK3 by a couple of years. It was developed between 2010 and 2011, and could be easily confused with the Power Jacket MK3. However, we're told the two projects are unrelated, and besides, the Skeletonics (Skeleton + Mechanics) suit is human-powered only.

The Skeletonics suit uses a series of interconnected linkages to move the arms. You simply strap yourself in, and the suit mimics your movements (only the gripper hands are motorized). It stands 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) tall and weighs 25 kg (55 lb). As cool as it is, there's an even bigger and better version on its way.

Team Skeletonics is currently working on a motorized suit called the Exonnecs that it says will stand 3.5 meters (11 ft 5 in) tall and weigh 200 kg (440 lb). Not only that, but it will transform from an upright walking mode to a ground-based vehicle mode capable of traveling up to 80 km/h (50 mph)!

Sadly we'll have to wait a bit longer before we can see the Exonnecs in action, but you can watch a demonstration of the Skeletonics suit in this video:



Real exoskeletons are on the march

The above two examples are fun, but they have more in common with animatronic movie props than real exoskeletons. Several companies are currently developing suits that can significantly augment human strength, like Cyberdyne's HAL and Lockheed Martin's HULC.

Source: Sagawa Electronics, Team Skeletonics via Excite (Japanese)

36
High-Tech / Creepy Robot Tarantula Spider
« on: July 05, 2013, 02:59:16 AM »
Legged robot kits aren't anything new, but unlike its competition, the T8 octopod comes with a disturbingly realistic 3D-printed exoskeleton that is sure to make an unforgettable first impression. Robugtix (a robotics company based in Hong Kong) is living up to its name with the lifelike robot tarantula, and it can be yours later this year for an introductory price of US$1,350.

The T8 is powered by 26 Hitec HS-35HD servo motors (three in each leg, and additional servos to wiggle its abdomen). This a fairly small servo type with low torque, so its performance is somewhat limited, but it keeps the cost down. The company says the first batch will ship September 30th, 2013.

The company is also offering a hexapod robot called the iitsii, but that one is smaller and doesn't have the realistic shell. It's made out of PCB and comes with 20 servos (which are even smaller and cheaper than those in the T8), and is therefore priced at a more affordable $250. This kit will be available August 31st, 2013.

Both robots come preloaded with the company's Bigfoot Inverse Kinematics Engine to control the legs, body position, and walking gait. This means you won't have to program the robot to move as realistically as a spider or ant, which would be pretty difficult and time-consuming to do yourself. The nice thing about inverse kinematics is the robot can tilt and shift its body menacingly while the legs remain still.

You'll also need to buy the Robugtix Controller (an extra $85) and a single 4 x AA 4.8V NiMH rechargeable battery pack, which unfortunately aren't included with the kit. The controller uses a wireless Xbee module to relay commands to the robot, which is essential if you're going to have it creep around corners to prank friends and family. And if you're interested, you'll probably want to pre-order now as both robots will go up in price after the early bird special.

Be sure to check out the robot in action in the video below, and keep an eye on Robugtix's website in the coming weeks for videos of the robots walking and photos of the T8's internal structure.

Source: Robugtix via 3ders


37
Business & Commerce / PayPal Galactic - A Bold New Initiative
« on: July 03, 2013, 03:34:17 AM »
PayPal has teamed with the SETI Institute and the Space Tourism Society to start preparations for the coming upheavals of Solar System commerce. Having whetted their teeth on global commerce, PayPal is looking forward to the challenge of figuring out how to let John or Jill check their balance when they are living on Mars or visiting the Orbital Technologies commercial space station. It's answer is PayPal Galactic.

This effort is not as premature as it may seem. The true challenge of an interplanetary economy is not exchange rates, but time lag. Younger readers will not remember when we worked on cash and checks, and wiring funds was something you would do once or twice a decade. Even these required a decent telecommunications system to work cleanly.

To reach out to space with today's expectations on how commerce should run is a difficult problem. At present we have the luxury of a communications system that can reach nearly any part of our globe in seconds. Among other things, this means that financial records and accounts, payments and debits, can be tracked more or less real-time, regardless of what form of commerce is being performed.

Is there really a problem here? The worst possible communications lag (light-speed) within the solar system out to Saturn is about an hour and a half, when Jupiter and Saturn are at conjunction. While it is true that lag would not be a problem, the cost per bit of sending signals dedicated to commerce is likely to be large. It is when the cost of carrying out commerce is large that local and black markets take hold. Sometimes these serve a real purpose, but more often they feed market inequities.

It is pretty clear that the information that the internet keeps about itself is going to have to be distributed, at least to each planet/asteroid, so that a laptop on Mars doesn't have to trigger a request to Earth to determine someone's IP number (or equivalent) located near Earth's L2 Lagrange point. There's also the requirement for shuffling a great deal of infrastructural data between various locations in the Solar System, particularly if Earth's public internet is to be part of the interplanetary internet.

We have a benchmark from the Galileo orbiter that was launched in 1989 and reached Jupiter in 1995. Although it did not successfully open, Galileo's high-gain 4.8 m (16 ft) antenna was intended to enable a 134 kbs data link from Jupiter to Earth with around 20 watts of RF power.

Using today's compression and variable data-rate technologies, this is probably about 1 to 2 Mbs, still not a dramatic rate for an entire planet. (By the way, this requires an Earth antenna costing somewhere between US$500 million to $1 billion and tens of millions to operate each year.) Fortunately, in the early days most of this infrastructural data will be sent from Earth to the remainder of the network, as Earth stations can use a lot of power to achieve a huge data rate.

Whatever form PayPal Galactic takes, the unavoidable time gaps between a transaction on one planet and the updating of the data files on another will offer opportunities for gaming (ok, defrauding) the system. This sort of dishonesty can be ameliorated by access protocols, so it will be interesting to see if PayPal Galactic comes up with methods as simple and transparent as they use here on Earth.

In addressing issues surrounding the implementation of a universal space payment system, the initiative will draw on leaders in the space industry to tackle questions about the commercialization of space. As well as envisioning what form a standard currency for a cashless interplanetary society would look like (credits seem to be the favored unit among science fiction writers), the program will seek to answer questions about how banks will need to adapt and what regulations will be required.

“We may not answer these questions today or even this year, but one thing is clear, we won't be using cash in space," says PayPal President David Marcus. "PayPal has already pushed payments into the Internet, onto phones and across terrestrial borders. We look forward to pushing payments from our world to the next, and beyond."

Source: PayPal Galactic


38
Space & Futuristic / Robot Ape to help colonize the Moon
« on: June 26, 2013, 02:57:24 AM »
If you thought the monkey-like robot AMEE seen in the Val Kilmer sci-fi flick Red Planet was a tad far-fetched, think again. The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) and the University of Bremen are working on an ape-like robot called the iStruct Demonstrator that it classifies as a "Space Robot." Lately the mechanical monkey has been practicing how to walk and balance in the center's mock lunar landscape, which you can see in the videos further down.

Exploring the hazardous lunar landscape calls for a variety of forms, and researchers at the DFKI are exploring their options (including a combination of legged and wheeled robots). An ape-like body has certain benefits over a wheeled robot; its four-legged stance is stable when scrambling over obstacles or hilly terrain, and it can easily right itself if it falls over. Then when it needs to do something with its hand(s), it could feasibly balance on its hind legs to free them for manual work. The CHIMP robot currently being developed for the DARPA Robotics Challenge has adopted a similar strategy.

With renewed international interest in lunar missions, there is a remote possibility that iStruct (or one of its descendants) could be frolicking on the Moon at some point in the future. Colonizing the Moon with robots begins by developing one that can move and react intelligently to whatever situation it finds itself in.

To that end, the goal of the project is to build "biologically-inspired intelligent structural components" and a robot system to test them on, to test and improve the robot's ability to react to its surroundings. The robot contains an articulated spinal column connecting the torso and pelvis, giving it more flexibility, and sensor-laden foot and ankle structures which react to the ground.

Other features include:
  • 43 individual force-sensing resistor (FSR) sensors
  • six additional FSR sensors on exposed parts used for collision detection
  • a 6-axis Force/Torque-sensor
  • a distance sensor in heel to anticipate heel strike
  • a digital 3-axis accelerometer to perceive the orientation of the foot
  • two temperature sensors to compensate for temperature changes in the electronics
  • digital magnetic angular encoders to monitor every moving axes of the foot and ankle structure

Most humanoid robots already contain many of the same sensors, but the iStruct's articulated spine (which can function as a 6-axes force-torque sensor) is something of a rarity outside of musculoskeletal robots and helps when moving on all fours. The sensors in the foot and ankle allow it to maintain its balance on sloped terrain.

Back between 2008 and 2009, Dipl.-Inf. Daniel Kühn worked on a similar robot called the Little Ape, which was already capable of simple quadrupedal walking. After that project wrapped, he began work on the iStruct, which features some significant upgrades. It's larger, weighing 18 kg (40 lb) and measuring 66 x 43 x 75 cm (26 x 17 x 29 in), and contains 26 degrees of freedom powered by a variety of electric motors. The project is due to be completed this August.

You can see how it uses its intelligent foot and ankle structures to walk and maintain its balance in the videos below. It's a small step for a robot ape, but a potentially giant leap for robot ape kind.

Source: DFKI Robotics




39
High-Tech / Homecare robot for the elderly
« on: June 25, 2013, 02:28:02 AM »
In many parts of the world, people are living longer. As health and physical performance deteriorates, help is needed, but employing a full-time nurse can be costly. New developments in communications technology is providing alternatives, such as GiraffPlus. This is a pan-European, EU-funded project that uses technology to monitor the elderly in their own homes. The system has already been tested in a demo apartment in Örebro, Sweden. Now GiraffPlus is being taken further afield to be tested in real homes in Sweden, Italy and Spain.

The hub of the system and the interface between user and care giver is the remote-controlled Giraff mobile robot. Already being used in other remote healthcare projects, this "Skype on wheels" features a display and loudspeaker that allows healthcare professionals to make virtual house call.

The GiraffPlus system uses sensors to collect data from patients. It can monitor blood pressure, body temperature, movements and even detect abnormal behavior patterns, such as when a patient is still for long periods or has taken a fall. The information is then analyzed and quickly passed on to a nurse in case of emergency. The network can be configured to meet the specific needs of the user or users, at the time of their choice, and the data collected can also help health providers create a timeline of the patient’s health status.

"The system is designed to be able to, for instance, chart an individual’s sleeping pattern," says project coordinator Professor Silvia Coradeschi. "By measuring the level of activity in the apartment during the night, the system helps both the patient and the caregiver to form a picture of the situation and adequate measures can be introduced."

Besides offering safety to elderly people by connecting them 24/7 to caregivers, one of the goals of the GiraffPlus project is to reduce healthcare costs, since the constant monitoring means certain health issues can be addressed at earlier stages. The cost of the system itself is also an issue which the researchers hope to address by using off the shelf components.

The real-life tests will help the researchers take the project further and assess the actual usefulness and user-friendliness of the system. They hope that the planned testing in a total of 15 different homes will be concluded by 2014.

The project is coordinated by Örebro University.

Source: Örebro University

40
Playing fetch with your dog is surely one of life's high points. After a short while though, it can all get a bit tiring and just a tad boring. Your bouncing bundle of fun, on the other hand, would happily keep the game going for hours. Happily, technology is here to help. The iFetch from the Hamill family shoots out a ball for your dog to fetch, and when Fido drops it in the opening at the top, it's fired back out again.

This interesting fetch assistant works by dropping a miniature tennis ball in the bowl up top, which causes the device to power on and launch it. Once the ball is fired out of the opening to the front, iFetch turns off so it doesn't waste any power. When the ball is dropped in the top again, by pooch or person, the process repeats. It can run on batteries or through a wall plug, so it can used at home or while out and about.

Of course, not all dogs are going to use the device on their own. It may require some training before the little tyke understands that when a ball is dropped in the device, it gets shot out of the front. The video below shows a dog named Mr. Jenkins using the iFetch, and doing a hilarious little dance while he waits for the ball.



While Mr. Jenkins requires a little human assistance for his game, the Hamill family uses a different dog by the name of Beaker to really show the iFetch at its best. In the following video, the miniature dachshund is able to play with the device with very little human interaction. Beaker was actually 11 years old when he first started using the iFetch, proving that you really can teach an old dog new tricks.



iFetch has an adjustable range for shooting its mini tennis balls. Users can choose between 10, 20, and 30 feet (3, 6 and 9 m), so it can be used inside or out. Because it uses miniature balls, the Hamills recommend using the device for small- to medium-sized dogs.

The Hamills have turned to Kickstarter to get iFetch into the hands of dog-loving consumers. It has already passed it's US$20,000 goal with over three weeks left in the funding period. Both early bird specials have now gone, so backers will now need to stump up at least $75 to reserve a device. Shipping is estimated to start in November 2013.

Sources: iFetch, Kickstarter

41
Household & Consumables / Avoid temptation to snack with Kitchen Safe
« on: June 19, 2013, 08:00:00 AM »
We all have our weaknesses, whether it's sweets, cigarettes, or just our own cell phones. The trick is to not indulge too much, but sometimes sheer willpower just isn't enough. That's why a team of inventors built the Kitchen Safe, a plastic container with a tamper-proof lock rigged to a timer.

It's a simple concept, but one that many people could use. The Kitchen Safe measures 6 x 6 x 6.5 in. (15.2 x 15.2 x 16.5 cm), which is large enough to fit a variety of items. The time-lock can be set for any amount of time between one minute and 10 days, so you can specify exactly when something will be released.

Once an item is locked inside, there is no way of opening the Kitchen Safe until the timer reaches zero. Even if the batteries are drained or taken out, the lock will stay sealed and the countdown will resume once they're replaced. Other than cracking the container open with a hammer, there's almost no chance of cheating.

The Kitchen Safe works fine in a refrigerator as well, but not a freezer, so you'll have to find another way to keep people out of the ice cream and Popsicles. The timer also requires two AA batteries, which should last about six months with regular use.

It's a safe bet that most of the people reading this can already think of at least one thing they'd lock away. The Kitchen Safe could help people avoid unhealthy food, lock up a child's toy for a fixed amount of time, or keep someone from spending too much money. There's even an opaque model in case you want to hide a gift for someone else inside.

The developers recently began a Kickstarter to bring the Kitchen Safe into mass production and hopefully into retail shops as well. Right now, anyone who backs the project for US$29 or more will receive one when they ship in September 2013.

You can also watch the video below to hear the inventors describe how they developed the Kitchen Safe concept into a full product.

Source: Kitchen Safe, Kickstarter


42
Transportation / Flying bicycle gets off the ground
« on: June 16, 2013, 04:02:04 AM »
That iconic flying bike scene from the film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial has been relegated to the annals of pop culture science fiction for far too long now. Fortunately, three Czech companies with the support of France's Dassault Systemes have just conducted the first test flight of their own two-wheeled, airborne vehicle, dubbed the "F-Bike."

At a recent press conference in Prague, the remarkably noisy custom-built mountain bike took a remote-controlled flight around a large warehouse with a dummy in the driver's seat. A grand total of six horizontal rotors, drawing 47 kilowatts of power from on-board batteries, can be seen propelling the bike through the air in the video at the bottom of the page.

The demonstration does beg the question "Why a bike?". Once those big, knobby tires are lifted off the ground, aren't they rendered more or less moot?

According to the project website, the central concept was to create a flying vehicle that could easily be ridden to a more suitable takeoff site and then be capable of a 3 - 5 minute flight. In order to offset the extra weight added by all the rotors, they could be used to help propel the bike along the ground, besides allowing it to fly.

Weighing in at a meaty 85 kg (187 lb), the current design's maximum takeoff weight is only 170 kg (375 lb), meaning the full cargo of the bike must be no more than 85 kg to get off the ground.

The design for the F-Bike has evolved quite a bit since it began in 2011. Originally the team had set out to build an electric bike, but ultimately decided they had more grand ambitions.

Inspired by the likes of Jules Verne and Czech author Jaroslav Foglar rather than profit motives (at least for now), the three Czech companies – Duratec, Technodat and Evektor – have yet to set a date for a test flight with a human passenger, but plan to do so this summer. There's no serious talk about bringing a flying bike to market anytime soon.

Source: Designyourdreams.cz


43
Transportation / Modular aircraft you can board at a railway station
« on: June 12, 2013, 01:59:27 AM »
Air travel today is a nightmare of long drives to crowded airports, long queues that move at a snail's pace, and long, boring waits in identical lobbies drinking overpriced coffee. It would be so much easier and less frustrating if catching a plane were like catching a train. If Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) has its way, its Clip-Air project will one day produce modular aircraft that will allow you to board a plane at a London railway station and disembark in the middle of Rome without ever setting foot in an air terminal.

Under development since 2009, the Clip-Air project aims to merge the speed of air travel with the flexibility of rail transport. Airplanes are specialized vehicles made for particular tasks, so a passenger plane can’t be used as a cargo plane without extensive modification. On the other hand, a train is a collection of modules with a locomotive “module” providing propulsion. Put passenger cars behind a locomotive and you have a passenger train, put goods wagons there and you have a goods train. You can also add specialist cars, such as buffet cars, sleepers, guards vans, tankers, ore carriers, car carriers and many more.

Clip-Air does the same thing with airplanes. Instead of a locomotive, it uses a flying wing containing the engines, cockpit, fuel and landing gear. And instead of cars, there are up to three modules or capsules that are self-contained airplane fuselages. The capsules can be mixed and matched to suit the purpose at hand. A plane can carry all cargo or all passengers, first class or coach capsules, or any combination along with specialized versions. Another benefit of Clip-Air is that the capsules also increase capacity for an aircraft of a given size, with three passenger capsules carrying 450 people, yet the plane can still operate from a conventional airport.

EPFL has designed the capsules so that they are 30 m (98 ft) long and weigh 30 tonnes (29.5 tons). The clever bit about this is that it makes the capsules suitable for rail transport, which provides the potential to alter the design of airports and how they’re used. Instead of going to the airport and boarding planes, passengers could go to railway stations and board capsules as easily as a commuter train, which on reaching the airport would be attached to the flying wing, so passengers never need to go inside a terminal. The same principle applies to industry, with freight loading moved to railway yards or factories.

EPFL claims that this configuration allows for more efficient and flexible fleet management and reduces the likelihood of empty flights. The modular design also provides savings in maintenance, storage and management. In addition, EPFL claims that the design is greener because the Clip-Air can carry as many passengers as an Airbus A320 with only half the engines. It can also be adapted to run on a variety of biofuels or liquid hydrogen thanks to the ability to swap out a regular capsule for the large tanks that hydrogen requires.

Though EPFL is confident about the future of Clip-Air, it admits that the technology has a long way to go before it’s practical.

"We still have to break down several barriers but we do believe that it is worth to work in such a concept, at odds with current aircraft technology and which can have a huge impact on society," says Claudio Leonardi, leader of the Clip-Air project. “The development of the concept requires performing more advanced aerodynamic simulations and testing a six-meters (20 ft) long flying model powered by mini-reactors in order to continue to explore the concept’s flight performance and to demonstrate its overall feasibility.”

A 1.2-m (3.9-ft) model of the Clip-Air plane will be exhibited from June 17 to 19 at the Normandy Aerospace stand at the Paris Air Show.

The video below shows an animation of the proposed Clip-Air plane.

Source: EPFL


44
Articles / 100 Crazy Ideas
« on: June 11, 2013, 04:44:03 AM »
Insights in Idea Generation

Most often when we start to come up with ideas to solve a problem, whether we’re alone or collaborating with a group, we evaluate the ideas as they come up. Consequently we stop at the first good idea. A better way is to defer evaluation, and just list out ideas, hundreds of ideas! Amongst many ideas there will be some real gems. Also, what’s typical during idea generation is for people to think of the typical ideas first and for novelty to emerge later in the process. Next time you’re faced with a challenge that requires some imagination to solve, try generating a hundred ideas for how to solve it.

Some of the crazy ideas below are real in some form or another. Can you guess which ones?
  • Self-cleaning Cloths.
  • Haircuts that have utility.
  • A dog training service that trains your dog to do useful things, perhaps even income generating things.
  • Garbage cans that recycle trash.
  • Crowd-sourced education.
  • Using devices (smartphones, laptops, etc) as wireless routers. Imagine every device boosted the wifi signal.
  • Shoes that clean the ground.
  • Grounds that clean your shoes.
  • Toys that build character.
  • An alarm clock that simulates the sunrise and sounds of nature to wake you up.
  • A smart phone that brews your coffee just before your alarm goes off.
  • An app for phones to control your TV remotely.
  • A “home” app that connects all of your house’s appliances to the cloud.
  • A bedtime stories database sortable by what type of difficulties your child is having.
  • An app that scans text from paper onto a screen.
  • Retractable packaging - a service that sends packaging back to the seller for reuse.
  • Lightning-powered pants.
  • Lightning-powered power plants.
  • Pants that heat up or cool down depending on the weather.
  • Clothing that heats up as you move.
  • Paint that changes hue when hit by sound waves.
  • GPS for pets. No-more missing cat flyers.
  • Laws that prevent the above technology from being used on people.
  • Sailing on top of the atmosphere the way ships sail on top of the sea.
  • Using one of those atmosphere sailboats to attach the elevator to space.
  • Attaching an expiration date to money.
  • Having a presidential debate with instant audience approval ratings.
  • A series of tech educational videos for old folks.
  • Social skills curriculum at schools.
  • Teaching creativity at school.
  • Toys that teach creativity at home.
  • Video games that teach social skills.
  • Remote controlled snorkeling robots.
  • Underwater Greenhousing for Coral Reefs.
  • Underwater farming.
  • Indoor farming.
  • Dolls of role model women: Rosa Parks, Hillary Clinton, Melinda Gates, Gaby Douglas.
  • A counter for how many times Google searching has settled an argument.
  • Sorting your email by who sent it to you instead of by date.
  • Voice command emailing.
  • A sink that doubles as a dish washer.
  • Have the steering wheel vibrate when you’re too close to the car behind you, instead of that annoying beeping sound.
  • Hats with solar panels. No more dead cell phones.
  • Refabricate pay phones as public outlets. No more dead cell phones.
  • A totally customizable all-in-one healthy habits points system that’s enforceable.
  • GPS tracker for expensive jewelery, so that when it gets stolen you can tell the cops where to look for it.
  • A school that farmed some of it’s own food locally so that students could learn about farming, and systems in general in a hands-on way, maybe it could sell some of that food during harvest season as well.
  • Word-of-the-day unlock screens for smartphones.
  • To-do list on the unlock screen for smartphones.
  • Starbucks set up at busy intersections right up along the street like a drive-through.
  • Flash Mobs that do something useful.
  • Cable car systems for traffic-dense cities.
  • A mobile dating app with augmented reality personal ads/profiles.
  • Planes that are remotely piloted from the ground so they can’t be hijacked.
  • TED Talks from historical figures (such as: Abraham Lincoln, Aristotle, Cleopatra) written by historians and delivered by actors.
  • A bracelet that measures your vitals and stores them in your own personal health database.
  • An app that calculates the nutritional value of your food when you take a picture of it.
  • Using trees to boost WiFi signals.
  • Using cars to boost WiFi signals.
  • Offer drivers in big cities a tax deduction for mounting a WiFi device onto their cars. The device is powered by the car, and the more cars adopt a device the better the city’s WiFi.
  • An app that told you if someone near you went to your high school or college, or had something else in common with you.
  • An app that gave live stats on parties.
  • Massive Multiplayer Online Games that have a productive output or side effect.
  • A spoof of drug commercials to educate kids on the dangers of drug abuse.
  • Pockets that clean your smartphone screen.
  • Smart outlets, that know how much voltage and amperage is optimal for the device that’s plugged in.
  • Cars with multiple energy systems. Solar Panels, Batteries, a combustion engine, breaks that absorb energy.
  • Cars that pull electricity from the road.
  • GPS on public transportation so that we have live updates on when trains and buses will arrive.
  • Packaging that decomposes into fertilizer.
  • Self-sorting Trash.
  • A dating site for old folks.
  • A vacation website where you can search by feeling. For example: relaxation, excitement, laughter, peace.
  • Do-it-yourself cell phone repair kit.
  • The personification of smartphones. Name your device, let it decide things like which restaurant to go to, have it friend other smartphones on Facebook, dress it up for Halloween.
  • Replace text emails with video messages.
  • Napster for university lectures.
  • Contests where the prize is a job at Google or IBM.
  • Cell phone screens that double as solar panels.
  • Order business cards directly from LinkedIn.
  • A web app that let’s you watch TV shows or movies with friends while you’re not in-person.
  • Cup holder that keeps your coffee hot.
  • Building material that sweats to cool the building down.
  • A bar that only people going out alone are allowed into.
  • A website where movie fans can request sequels and contribute ideas for the screenplay.
  • A video game that helps you succeed in your career.
  • A career exchange program. You mentor someone who’s looking to get into your field, and someone from the field you want to get into mentors you.
  • A browser plugin that puts old bookmarks along side search results, so that you can be reminded of the things you bookmarked when you search with similar keywords.
  • Touch screens for laptops.
  • A marketplace that connects bazaars in developing countries with buyers in developed countries.
  • An online platform that helps people crowd-source the completion of small tasks rather than donations.
  • Doubling your headphones as earmuffs in the winter.
  • Combining geothermal energy principles with the heat differential required to run a sterling engine. This could generate electricity in the winter, especially when it snows.
  • A feature that allows you to follow, friend, and share contact info with someone by bumping phones.
  • Computer Viruses that attack other computer viruses.
  • A water park built at the beach.
  • A remote controlled droid for safari adventures. Look out for that Lion! (You break it, you buy it)
  • Flip-chart-sized paper airplanes.
  • Bacteria-resistant money.
  • A Doomsday Kit that held the information needed to restart civilization if we had a near extinction event.

45
High-Tech / Mind Controlled Interface - The Future is here
« on: June 09, 2013, 03:09:17 AM »
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have done away with all that tedious joystick work by developing a mind-controlled quadcopter. It may seem like the top item of next year’s Christmas list, but it also serves a very practical purpose. Using a skullcap fitted with a Brain Computer Interface (BCI), the University's College of Science and Engineering hopes to develop ways for people suffering from paralysis or neurodegenerative diseases to employ thought to control wheelchairs and other devices.

The aim of the Minnesota team led by biomedical engineering professor Bin He is to develop ways of developing thought-control devices that can work reliably at high speed, without the need for surgical implantation. This means extensive real-world testing and, though spectacular, flying is actually a very simple activity in a three-dimensional environment without the complications of obstacles and terrain that a ground vehicle encounters. That’s one of the reason why it was possible to make a plane that flies on autopilot decades before a self-driving car was even considered. So for developing mind-controlled devices, something like a quadcopter is an inexpensive option because is it relatively easy to control the variables of the experiment.

The quadcopter used was an AR Drone 1.0 built by Parrot SA of Paris, France. It is configured to fly with forward motion pre-set and the operator is able to use mind control to make it go left or right or up and down. A video camera mounted on the front provides a field of view pointing directly forward, an arrangement designed to promote a sense of embodiment in the operator and enhance feedback.

The key feature of the mind-controlled quadcopter was the non-invasive BCI skullcap. Invasive BCI are used for controlling robot limbs and have shown some success, but embedding these are a major surgical undertaking with risks of infection and rejection.

Non-invasive versions can avoid these problems we've already seen projects that use this approach for controlling wheelchairs and robotic appendages.

Even if the ultimate goal is an implanted interface, a non-invasive BCI can help in the process by allowing the patient to become familiar with a BCI before the procedure, especially for a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, where early implantation isn’t warranted.

The skullcap BCI is based on electroencephalography (EEG). Inside the cap are 64 electrodes that record tiny currents of electrical activity in the brain. These are usually very complex and chaotic, which is why you can’t strap someone to an EEG machine and read their mind, but brain activity in the motor centers of the central cortex can be more readily identified. The system uses closed-loop sensing, processing and actuation. The cap picks up the signals, they are conveyed to a computer for processing and the output is in the form of commands to the quadcopter’s control system by WiFi.

"It’s completely noninvasive," says Karl LaFleur, a senior biomedical engineering student involved in the project. "Nobody has to have a chip implanted in their brain to pick up the neuronal activity."

The experiment used five subjects – three women and two men in their twenties. Other subjects manipulated the quadcopter using a conventional keyboard to act as a control group. The test subjects were trained to control the quadcopter by imagining opening or closing their fists. Imagining making a left-hand fist causes the brain to fire activity in the area of the motor cortex controlling the left hand, the system detects this and tells the quadcopter to turn left. Imagining a right-hand fist makes it turn right, and imagining making both fists makes it go up and then down again.

This is something of a first because it required precise mapping of the brain. "We were the first to use both functional MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) and EEG imaging to map where in the brain neurons are activated when you imagine movements," LaFleur says. "So now we know where the signals will come from."

The training involved working with simulators that resembled an old Pong game from the 1970s. The subjects had to learn to move a cursor on a screen left and right, then to move it up and down as well. Once they’d mastered this, they were set to controlling a simulated quadcopter in a virtual environment.

In the final experiment, a standard-size university gymnasium was kitted out with two large balloon rings suspended from the ceiling. The object of the exercise was to fly the quadcopter through the rings.

The operators faced away from the area, so they could only see through the quadcopter’s camera as a way of providing feedback on performance. The results showed an over 90 percent success rate in navigating the course once the system had been calibrated and the subjects had familiarized themselves with the layout.


"Our study shows that for the first time, humans are able to control the flight of flying robots using just their thoughts sensed from a non-invasive skull cap," says Bin He. "It works as good as invasive techniques used in the past.

"We envision that they’ll use this technology to control wheelchairs, artificial limbs or other devices. Our next step is to use the mapping and engineering technology we've developed to help disabled patients interact with the world. It may even help patients with conditions like autism or Alzheimer’s disease or help stroke victims recover. We’re now studying some stroke patients to see if it’ll help rewire brain circuits to bypass damaged areas."

The findings of the team were published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

The video below shows the mind-controlled quadcopter in action.

Source: University of Minnesota via BBC


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