• Why Work?

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-29 18:03:26
  • DARPA combines human brains and 120-megapixel cameras to create the ultimate military threat detection system

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-26 21:01:07
    'After more than four years of research, DARPA has created a system that successfully combines soldiers, EEG brainwave scanners, 120-megapixel cameras, and multiple computers running cognitive visual processing algorithms into a cybernetic hivemind. Called the Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS), it will be used in a combat setting to significantly improve the US Army’s threat detection capabilities.

    There are two discrete parts to the system: The 120-megapixel camera, which is tripod-mounted and looks over the battlefield (pictured below); and the computer system, where a soldier sits in front of a computer monitor with an EEG strapped to his head (pictured above). Images from the camera are fed into the computer system, which runs cognitive visual processing algorithms to detect possible threats (enemy combatants, sniper nests, IEDs). These possible threats are then shown to a soldier whose brain then works out if they’re real threats — or a false alarm (a tree branch, a shadow thrown by an overheard bird).

    The soldier is linked into the computer system via an EEG (electroencephalogram) brain-computer interface that continually scans his brains for P300 responses. As we’ve discussed previously (see: Hackers backdoor the human brain), a P300 response is triggered when your brain recognizes something important. This might be a face of someone you know or the glint of a sniper scope — it doesn’t matter. P300 responses are very reliable and can even be triggered subconsciously.

    In short, CT2WS taps the human brain’s unsurpassed ability to recognize objects. In testing, the 120-megapixel camera, combined with the computer vision algorithms, generated 810 false alarms per hour; with a human operator strapped into the EEG, that drops down to just five false alarms per hour. The human brain is surprisingly fast, too: According to DARPA, CT2WS display 10 images per second to the human operator — and yet that doesn’t seem to affect accuracy. The total overall accuracy of the system is 91% — but that will improve as DARPA moves beyond the prototype stage.

    Moving forward, once our computers are suitably power efficient (or there’s a breakthrough in battery efficiency), the ultimate goal is to create binoculars or head-up displays (HUD) with threat detection technology built in. It’s very tiring for a soldier to be constantly on the lookout for threats — but such a system could monitor the surroundings, and then flash up images of potential threats for the soldier to act upon, significantly lowering his workload. With a large enough sensor and the right lenses, such a system could allow the soldier to see for miles in every direction.'
  • Robotic tuna is built by Homeland Security

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-22 21:23:45
    'No question about it...they're very good at what they do. But they don't take well to orders, especially those to carry out inspection work in oily or dangerous environments, or in any kind of harsh environment, for that matter. Still, they're one of the fastest and most maneuverable creatures on the planet, having extraordinary abilities at both high and low speeds due to their streamlined bodies and a finely tuned muscular/sensory/control system.

    This impressive creature is the humble tuna fish.

    The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is funding the development of an unmanned underwater vehicle designed to resemble a tuna, called the BIOSwimmer. Why the tuna? Because the tuna has a natural body framework ideal for unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), solving some of the propulsion and maneuverability problems that plague conventional UUVs.

    Inspired by the real tuna, BIOSwimmer is a UUV designed for high maneuverability in harsh environments, with a flexible aft section and appropriately placed sets of pectoral and other fins. For those cluttered and hard-to-reach underwater places where inspection is necessary, the tuna-inspired frame is an optimal design. It can inspect the interior voids of ships such as flooded bilges and tanks, and hard to reach external areas such as steerage, propulsion and sea chests. It can also inspect and protect harbors and piers, perform area searches and carry out other security missions.

    Boston Engineering Corporation's Advanced Systems Group (ASG) in Waltham, Massachusetts, is developing the BIOSwimmer for S&T. "It's designed to support a variety of tactical missions and with its interchangeable sensor payloads and reconfigurable Operator Controls, can be optimized on a per-mission basis" says the Director of ASG, Mike Rufo.

    BIOSwimmer is battery-powered and designed for long-duration operation. Like other unmanned underwater vehicles, it uses an onboard computer suite for navigation, sensor processing, and communications. Its Operator Control Unit is laptop-based and provides intuitive control and simple, mission-defined versatility for the user. A unique aspect of this system is the internal components and external sensing which are designed for the challenging environment of constricted spaces and high viscosity fluids

    "It's all about distilling the science," says David Taylor, program manager for the BIOSwimmer in S&T's Borders and Maritime Security Division. "It's called 'biomimetics.' We're using nature as a basis for design and engineering a system that works exceedingly well.*

    Tuna have had millions of years to develop their ability to move in the water with astounding efficiency. Hopefully we won't take that long."'
  • 9 Overlooked Technologies That Could Transform The World

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-18 20:29:25
    'We live in an era of accelerating change. Technology is changing and innovating faster than most of us can keep up. And at the same time, it's easy to get so caught up in shiny visions of the future, and not notice the astounding things that are happening in science and technology today. So the next time people ask you where the future went, tell them it's already here.

    Here are nine underrated or overlooked technologies that could transform the world before you know it.

    1. Cheap and fast DNA sequencing

    Most of us know about DNA sequencing — but you probably don't realize just how fast and cheap it's getting. In fact, some experts suggest that it's following along a Moore's Law of its own. As Adrienne Burke has pointed out, the speed of genome sequencing has better than doubled every two years since 2003 — back at a time when it cost $3.8 billion (i.e. the Human Genome Project). Today, thanks to advances in such things as nucleic acid chemistry and detection, a company like Life Technologies can process DNA on a semiconductor chip at a cost of $1,000 per genome. Other companies can sequence an entire genome in one single day. And the implications are significant, including the advent of highly personalized medicine in which drugs can be developed to treat your specific genome. Say goodbye to one-size-fits-all medicine.

    2. Digital currency

    The idea of digital currency is slowing starting to make the rounds, including the potential for Bitcoin, but what many of us don't realize is that's it's here to stay. Sure, it's had a rough start, but once established and disseminated, electronic cash will allow for efficient and convenient online exchanges — and all without the need for those pesky banks. Despite the obvious need for a distributed digital currency protocol, the adoption rate has been relatively slow. Barriers to entry include availability (it's in limited supply), the cryptography problem (the public still needs to be assured that it's secure), the establishment of a recognized and trustworthy dispute system (sensing some opportunities here), and user confidence (a problem similar to the one that emerged when paper money first emerged).

    3. Memristors

    Back in 1971, University of California at Berkeley professor Leon Chua predicted a revolution in electrical circuits — and his vision has finally come true. Traditionally, circuits are constructed with capacitors, resistors, and inductors. But Chua speculated that there could be a fourth component, what he called the memristor (short for memory resistor). What sets this technological innovation apart is that, unlike a resistor, it can "remember" charges even after power is lost. As a result, this would allow the memristor to store information. This has given rise to the suggestion that it could eventually become a part of computer memory — including non-volatile solid-state memory with significantly greater densities than traditional hard drives (as much as one petabit per cm3). The first memristor was developed in May 2008 by HP, who plan on having a commercial version available by the end of 2014. And aside from memory storage, memristors could prove useful in signal processing, neural networks, and brain-computer interfaces.

    4. Robots that can do crazy futuristic stuff

    Today we have robots that can self-replicate, re-assemble after being kicked apart, shape-shift, swarm, create emergent effects, build other robots, slither like a snake, jump to the tops of buildings, walk like a pack mule, and run faster than a human. They even have their own internet. Put it all together and you realize that we're in the midst of a robotic revolution that's poised to change virtually everything.

    5. Waste to biofuels

    Imagine being able to turn all our garbage into something useful like fuel. Oh wait, we can do that. It's called "energy recovery from waste" — a process that typically involves the production of electricity or biofuels (like methane, methanol, ethanol or synthetic fuels) by burning it. Cities like Edmonton, Alberta are already doing it — and they're scaling up. By next year, Edmonton's Waste-to-Biofuels Facility will convert more than 100,000 tons of municipal solid waste into 38 million litres of biofuels annually. Moreover, their waste-based biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60% compared to gasoline. This largely overlooked revolution is turning garbage (including plastic) into a precious resource. Already today, Sweden is importing waste from its European neighbors to fuel its garbage-to-energy program.

    6. Gene therapy

    Though we're in the midst of the biotechnology revolution, our attention tends to get focused on such things as stem cells, tissue engineering, genome mapping, and new pharmaceuticals. What's often lost in the discussion is the fact that we already have the ability to go directly into our DNA and swap genes at will. We can essentially trade bad genes for good, allowing us to treat or prevent diseases (such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis) — interventions that don't require drugs or surgery. And just as significantly, gene therapy could eventually give rise genetic enhancements (like increased memory or intelligence) and life extension therapies. Gattaca is already here, it just hasn't been distributed yet.

    7. RNA interference

    The discovery of RNA interference (RNAi) was considered so monumental that it won Andrew Fire and Craig C. Mello the Nobel Prize back in 2006. Similar to gene therapy, RNA interference allows biologists to manipulate the functions of genes. It works by using cells to shut-off or turn down the activity of specific genes, and it does this by destroying or disrupting messenger molecules (for example by preventing mRNA from producing a protein). Today, RNAi is being used in thousands of labs. It's becoming an indispensable research tool (to create novel cell cultures), it has inspired the creation of algorithms in computational biology studies, and it holds tremendous potential for the treatment of diseases like cancer and Lou Gehrig's disease.

    8. Organic electronics

    Traditionally, our visions of cybernetics and the cyborg is one in which natural, organic parts have been replaced with mechanical devices or prostheses. The notion of a half-human, half-machine has very much become ingrained in our thinking — but it's likely wrong. Thanks to the rise of the nascent field of organic electronics, it's more likely that we'll rework the body's biological systems and introduce new organic components altogether. Already today, scientists have engineered cyborg tissue that can sense its environment. Other researchers have invented chemical circuits that can channel neurotransmitters instead of electric voltages. And as Mark Changizi has suggested, future humans will continue to harness the powers of their biological constitutions and engage in what Stanislas Dehaene calls neuronal recycling.

    9. Concentrated solar power

    A recent innovation in solar power technology is starting to take the world by storm, though few talk about it. It's called concentrated solar power (CSP), and it's a massively distributed system for extracting solar energy with mirrors and lenses. It works by focusing the incoming sunlight into a highly concentrated area. The result is a highly scalable and efficient energy source that is allowing for gigawatt sized solar power plants. Another similar technology, what's called concentrated photovoltaics, results in concentrated sunlight being converted to heat, which in turn gets converted to electricity. CPV plants will not only solve much of the world's energy needs, it will also double as a desalination station.
  • After 35 Years, Voyager Nears Edge Of Solar System

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-11 15:48:18
    'The Voyager 1 spacecraft's 35th anniversary is proving to be unexpectedly exciting, as scientists gathered this week to examine new hints that the spacecraft is on the verge of leaving our solar system.

    Voyager 1 is now more than 11 billion miles away from Earth. It blasted off in September 1977, on a mission to Jupiter and Saturn. But it also carried a Golden Record filled with music and the sounds of our planet, in case it encountered intelligent life as it moved out toward the stars.

    Scientists have been eagerly waiting for Voyager 1 to become the first human-made object to leave the solar system. And in recent weeks, the spacecraft has sent back intriguing signs that it might be getting close, to the delight of researchers who have been working on it for decades.

    One of those scientists is Norman Ness, a professor at the University of Delaware who sent NASA a proposal for a Voyager instrument back in 1969. That December, he recalls, he received a telegram from NASA saying it had been selected.

    He was ecstatic, because these probes were going to visit far-off giant planets. The prospect of leaving the solar system, and exploring interstellar space, was not really on his mind. After all, the spacecraft might not live long enough. And, Ness notes, "we didn't know if NASA was going to continue to support the mission after the primary mission had been accomplished."

    But NASA kept funding it. And even though Voyager's technology is primitive by today's standards — for example, each spacecraft has an on-board eight-track tape recorder — the probes just keep working.

    "So we're getting anywhere from five to eight hours of data every day from each of these spacecraft, and it's quite remarkable," says Ness.

    Of the two, Voyager 1 is the farthest away from Earth. Don Gurnett of the University of Iowa, who has worked on the mission since the mid-1970s, says Voyager 1's radio signals now take more than 16 hours to reach us.

    "Astronomers like to think of distances in terms of 'light-years.' Well, we're not anything like a 'light-year,' but we're now a substantial fraction of a 'light-day' from the Earth," says Gurnett. "And I just find that extremely impressive."

    ** Out Beyond The Planets **

    When will Voyager 1 finally leave our solar system? It's already way beyond the planets — it even looked back and snapped photos of them, including a famous one of Earth, looking like a pale blue dot. For years, scientists have been waiting for Voyager 1 to exit the bubble of charged particles that stream out from our sun, because then it would truly be in the space between stars.

    Just in the past couple of months, researchers have been getting some tantalizing hints that Voyager 1 might be almost there.

    Ed Stone, the Voyager project scientist at Caltech, showed off some brand new data this week during a public lecture at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Voyager 1 has been seeing decreases in the number of lower-energy particles that come from inside our solar system, he said. Meanwhile, it's been seeing increases in the high-energy particles that come from outside our solar system.

    "So there is some kind of connection between where Voyager is and the outside, which lets the particles that are inside out, and lets particles outside in," explained Stone.

    This is uncharted territory, and no one really knows just what the boundary with interstellar space is like. So Stone can't say how long it will be before Voyager passes through it.

    "I can't tell you whether it's days, months or years. I really can't tell you," he said. "That's the nice thing. From a science point of view, there is so much that we're learning that we had no way of really understanding before Voyager."

    Still, scientists are extremely excited that they could be getting there. Robert Decker of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who has worked on Voyager since 1980, says the rapid changes being seen now are extremely unusual, and they come after a number of years when not much seemed to be happening.

    "And the way that the changes are taking place — that is, the low energy is going down and the high energy is going up — certainly is evidence to me that we're very close to the interstellar medium," says Decker, "because that is what you would expect to happen as you get into the interstellar medium."

    In the weeks ahead, scientists will be looking for more indicators that Voyager 1 is finally moving out. For example, they'll analyze the direction of the magnetic field, to see if it has changed.

    Voyager 1 can keep talking to Earth for about another decade. That's how long the plutonium that powers it should last. After it falls silent, it will still keep going. But it will be about 40,000 years before it wanders close to another star.

    ** The Golden Record **

    Tucked aboard each Voyager spacecraft was a 12-inch, gold-plated, copper phonograph disc "containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth," according to NASA.

    The probe contained 115 images and audio clips, selected by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan. The images were encoded in analog form. The audio was designed to be played at 16 2/3 rpm; a needle, cartridge and symbolic instructions for using the record were also included.'