Yim, a mechanical engineering professor at the GRASP lab at the University of Pennsylvania, says that his robot is one of the first fully active prototypes of a new kind of machine composed of what some researchers call smart matter: mechanical parts that can function independently and act cooperatively. One of the obvious applications of such research is military. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, is exploring how to endow robots and other military equipment with the self-sufficiency to function independently amid the explosions and changing landscapes of a war zone. source

My comment: There's something very cute in the process of destroying something and then seeing it reassemble. At least while it's not trying to kill you, the point when it's no longer fun. But for the moment, the technology is awesome. Notice the presence of US Department of Defense- that certainly sounds little scary, but let's hope that enough countries will have such robots so that they ultimately won't be a threat.

Sevenfold Accuracy Improvement for 3-D 'Virtual Reality' Labs

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have developed software that improves the accuracy of the tracking devices in its immersive, or virtual, research environment by at least 700 percent. The software can be used by scientists in other immersive environments with slight modifications for their individual laboratories. This advance is a step forward in transforming immersive technology that has traditionally been a qualitative tool into a scientific instrument with which precision measurements can be made.

Immersive environments such as NIST’s are typically made up of two or more 8 foot by 8 foot walls onto which images ranging from larger-than-life bodies or actual-size buildings can be displayed on the walls and the floors. The images are three-dimensional. Researchers wear 3-D glasses and hold a wand, each of whose location is tracked. Using these devices the researcher can walk around and interact with the virtual world with the help of the underlying graphics system.

The visuals in immersive environments are sometimes not quite accurate because of an inherent problem with the electromagnetic transmitters and receivers used to track where the user is in the space. These distortions are especially obvious when an image with lines or edges meets the virtual environment’s 90 degree angles where the walls and the floor meet.

To improve the image’s accuracy, Hagedorn and colleagues concentrated on the inaccuracy of the tracking devices. The researchers mapped two sets of data points—where they knew the sensors actually were and where the computer said they were. Using this data, they developed software that transforms the reported positions of the sensors into the actual position. Average location errors were reduced by a factor of 22; average orientation errors by a factor of 7.5.

The first test with the new software was measuring a lattice structure with elements of about 2 to 3 millimeters in size designed to grow artificial skin replacements or bone.

My comment: Although it's kind of too technical, the idea of immersive environment is good enough by itself. And every perfection they make to it is a good news. So yay for the cool virtual sex or Mars exploration we'll do one day in them.

Dreams may no longer be secret with Japan computer screen

A Japanese research team has revealed it had created a technology that could eventually display on a computer screen what people have on their minds, such as dreams.

Researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories succeeded in processing and displaying images directly from the human brain, they said in a study unveiled ahead of publication in the US magazine Neuron.

While the team for now has managed to reproduce only simple images from the brain, they said the technology could eventually be used to figure out dreams and other secrets inside people's minds.

When people look at an object, the eye's retina recognises an image that is converted into electrical signals which go into the brain's visual cortex.

The team, led by chief researcher Yukiyasu Kamitani, succeeded in catching the signals and then reconstructing what people see.

In their experiment, the researchers showed people the six letters in the word "neuron" and then succeeded in reconstructing the letters on a computer screen by measuring their brain activity.

The team said that it first figured out people's individual brain patterns by showing them some 400 different still images. source

My comment: Ok, I didn't quite understand the idea of the experiment and most importantly whether it was a blind one-meaning the showed 400 images and then the showed them a random word and they reconstructed it on the screen. But it's fun as it is. I can't wait to see an interface working in the reverse direction -to see things that the computer sends you. Not this is very nice.

No Batteries Required: Future Devices Could Power Themselves

Physicists aim to eliminate replaceable power supplies by improving energy harvesting materials.

December 9, 2008

Research shows that high-tech devices will be able to power themselves in the future by converting pressure waves into energy. No recharge needed.

The field behind this innovation is "piezoelectrics," which aims to develop self-powering electronics, eliminating the need for replaceable power supplies, such as batteries. Piezoelectrics are actually materials, such as crystals or ceramics, which generate a significant amount of voltage when a form of mechanical stress is applied, such as a push.

There are other mechanisms other than "pushing" that can generate pressure waves to spark energy in piezoelectric materials. Imagine a self-powering cell phone, for instance, that never needs to be charged because it converts sound waves produced by the user into the energy it needs to keep running.

Specifically, Cagin and his team have found that a certain type of piezoelectric material can double its energy output when manufactured at a very small size — in this case, around 21 nanometers in thickness.

But as it turns out, when materials are constructed bigger or smaller than around 21 nanometers in thickness, they show a significant decrease in their energy-converting capacity, he added.

Significant changes in scale, especially within such minuscule units, makes a material react differently and become more susceptible to change from its surrounding environment.source

My comment: That sounds very exciting. Even if it can be technologically challenging who wouldn't want a self-powered self phone. Or hopefully a laptop. Sure, it sounds little bit odd to see how this will happen for a laptop- currently they are quite powerful, but after all, we're surrounded by sound waves, why not use their energy for whatever they are worth.