Category Archives: Science

Get your next generation MIT robots hot from the oven!

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The MIT researcher Daniela Rus is most likely one of the institute’s leading experts on a couple of things. One is puns and word play involving ‘baked’ and marijuana. And the other is how to create robots in new and innovative ways.

Rus has found a way of creating robots by baking them.

“Rus’ project involves cutting out and “printing” plastic materials that change shape when baked, essentially allowing for self-forming objects that build themselves,” TechCrunch reports.

“But producing the pattern of slits is not as simple as just overlaying them on an origami crease pattern and adjusting the widths accordingly, Rus says. “You’re doing this really complicated global control that moves every edge in the system at the same time,” she says. “You want to design those edges in such a way that the result of composing all these motions, which actually interfere with each other, leads to the correct geometric structure.”,” MIT say of the new method in a press release.

More importantly, MIT released this video of how to bake a robot:

Can Wikipedia medical articles kill you?

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According to a recent study, words might pack way more of a punch than sticks and stones if you’re seeking medical advice.

The study reviewed a number of Wikipedia articles on common medical conditions and found that around 90 per cent of the articles contained errors.

Now this is in itself a worrying state of affairs, but according to the study it gets worse:

‘47% to 70% of physicians and medical students admitting to using [Wikipedia] as a reference,’ the study says.

That basically means that your doctor might be using Wikipedia as a reference for finding out what’s wrong with you – and how to treat it. Scary, huh?

Especially if you look at the advice that the people behind the study gave to the BBC.

A side note:

The study was published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. Now I don’t know if it’s a case of Wikipedia wanting to get its own back, but the on-line lexicon’s description of osteopathy includes the following:

‘The practice of osteopathy does not always adhere to evidence-based medicine (EBM). There are few high-quality research studies demonstrating that osteopathy is effective in treating any medical condition other than lower back pain.’

So people who don’t always adhere to evidence-based medicine carried out a statistical analysis….I’m sure there’s irony there somewhere, but I’m just not sure where it is…..

XKCD weighs all your pets and cows – ALL of them

Internet phenomenon XKCD (if you don’t know it, its really an on-line comic thing – except it’s so much more than that) recently sat down with what must have been the mother of all TI 81’s and figured out the combines weight of all humans, pets, cattle – and a whole lot more. The result is this pretty mind boggling map (mind not boggled? Find the elephants).

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Where do we feel that emotion?

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It’s often said that you can make decisions with your head or your heart, which is something most of us have experience with, but have you ever thought about where you feel different emotions?

Is love solely an emotion of the heart, for example?

It was partially questions like this that engineering and psychology researchers in Finland recently set out to answer.

They showed volunteers two blank silhouettes of person on a screen and then told the subjects to think about an emotion. The volunteers then painted areas of the body that they felt were stimulated by that emotion (warm, red and yellow areas on the figures). On a second silhouette, they painted areas of the body that get deactivated during that emotion (the blue areas). The figures above show the findings across all volunteers.

It shows interesting details, like that the physical response to pride and anger are almost the same, and that happiness, love and anger seem to be the only feelings associated with your hands.

An interesting further study would be to see if where we feel emotions varies between countries and cultures.

US Killer Robot Policy – No. 5 gets to press the fire button

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When the US Defence Secretary signed the deliciously named directive 3000.09, he was, in effect, launching the world’s first national policy on killer robots.

The purpose of the directive is split in two and reads like this:

“This Directive:

a.Establishes DoD policy and assigns responsibilities for the development and use of autonomous and semi – autonomous functions in weapon systems, including manned and unmanned platforms.

b. Establishes guidelines designed to minimize the probability and consequences of failures in autonomous and semi – autonomous
weapon systems that could lead to unintended engagements.”

So basically, it’s about who get to develop killer robots, and who we get to point the blame at, should the killer robots go all Robocop 2 on everyone.

It was released last year, but according to a thourhgly researched and very interesting article in the rather niche publication Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the policy actually:

“[…] fully supports developing, testing, and using the technology, without delay. Far from applying the brakes, the policy in effect overrides longstanding resistance within the military, establishes a framework for managing legal, ethical, and technical concerns, and signals to developers and vendors that the Pentagon is serious about autonomous weapons.”

What this means is that not only are we likely to see various arms manufacturers enter a race to build real versions of the No. 5 Robot from Short Circuit (minus the actual short circuiting and evolving feelings from jumping on a frog), but that one piece of legislation has achieved the nigh on impossible feat of horrifying human rights organisations and military drone operators at the same time. .

How much energy would it take to completely wipe you out?

Science Fiction is cool! Just think of things like ray guns…or the phasers from Star Trek. I’ve personally spent way too much time wondering about questions like: ‘how would phasers actually work?’, usually followed by questions like ‘how often would you get the setting on it wrong and end up vaporizing someone instead of just stunning them?’.

Good thing we have science – and scientists, because they are the sort of people who will sit down and find answers for questions like this.

Let’s start with the concept of vaporizing. If we take a pedantic view, then this involves splitting every single atom in your body down into its most base components. This is not an easy thing to do. Actually, it takes “460 kilojoules of energy to break just one mole of oxygen-hydrogen bonds—around the same energy that a 2,000-pound car going 70 miles per hour”.

So, getting out the mother of all abacuses, scientists worked out that it would take a whopping three gigajoules of energy to completely vaporize you. To put it into context, that’s the amount of energy you need to melt 5,000 pounds (roughly 2.2 tonnes) of steel.

Who do we have thank for this information? Well, it’s actually the undergraduate students on the Natural Sciences/Interdisciplinary Science degree programmes at the University of Leicester.

India accuse Jupiter and Mars of invading its territory

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A story that would be a good candidate for the funniest thing to happen for a long time, if it wasn’t for the fact that it involves two countries who both have nuclear weapons.

That’s the quick way of summing up the recent sate of affairs between India and China, which can best be summed up as ‘tense’.

The reason is the disputed Himalayan border area between the two countries, and India has been especially miffed with the fact that China has been sending unidentified objects, possibly drone airplanes, flying into a region that India believes to be its territory.

A total of 329 nocturnal sightings had been reported, before astronomers recently helped the Indian military figure out that what they had sighted was actually the planets Jupiter and Mars.

Sometimes you wish you could just make this stuff up….

NASA crashes something and gets to cheer about it

NASA scientists recently had the novel experience of getting to crash a piece of multi-million dollar equipment – and then cheer about the fact that they had just crashes a multi-million dollar piece of equipment.

The precious piece of equipment was a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter, and the purpose of the crash was to test the helicopter’s crashworthiness – a word that I would guess usually leaves NASA scientists with nervous ticks.

Nissan plans to sell self-driving cars by 2020

Car manufacturer Nissan is putting its autonomous cars where its mouth is…wait, that would really hurt…OK, let’s put it this way: the Japanese car company is making a bold promise of selling self-driving cars by 2020.

Actually, Nissan says it’ll be selling multiple self-driving models at what the company refers to as ‘realistic prices for consumers’. It doesn’t specify which comsumers it’s talking about, so that’s an automatic (or should that be automated) get out of jail free card right there.

Self-driving cars use various technologies to constantly monitor their surroundings in order to guide themselves. Basically, this means that they can react to potential dangerous situations without the need for human intervention. As computers are faster than your fingers, the idea is that this will mean fewer accidents on the roads.