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Sunday, January 30, 2005

RFID-Equipped Robots Used as Guide Dogs
A professor in computer science at the Utah State University (USU) is building robots to help people with disabilities, according to the Utah Statesman in this article. The story, which is more focused on the professor than robotics, carries several anecdotes, such as an embarrassing voice recognition system. After a blind man cleared his throat, the robot misinterpreted the sound as a sign that the man wanted to go to the bathroom. Later, every time a man cleared his throat before speaking, the robot changed directions and insisted to guide him to the restrooms.

Even if the article is entertaining, this project at USU is far more ambitious. In fact, they want to design RFID-enabled robots mounted on mobile carts which will welcome blind persons at the entrance of a supermarket and guide them through the store. Read more for other details, references and pictures about these RFID-equipped robots designed to help blind people.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 9:00 AM Comments (1)
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Friday, January 28, 2005

The Sexual Network of a High School
Sociologists from Ohio State University (OSU) have mapped the structure of the adolescent romantic and sexual network in a population of over 800 adolescents over 18 months. And they were quite surprised by the results, which showed that, unlike many adult networks, there was no core group of very sexually active people at the high school. Instead, the romantic and sexual network at the school created long chains of connections that spread out through the community, according to this OSU news release.

These results have important implications for preventing the spread of STDs in teenage populations. Unlike in adult populations, in which there are cores of sexually active people who are the main conduits of disease and you can focus prevention efforts on them, you need to educate the whole teenage population. Read more for other details, references and illustrations about this fascinating research.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:32 AM Comments (0)
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The World's First RFID-Enabled CIO
You might remember that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved in October 2004 the usage of a computer chip for humans, which can be inserted under our skin (read this Associated Press story to refresh your memory.) Maybe it doesn't sound like a good idea to you, but some people take their jobs very seriously.

John D. Halamka, the CIO of both the Boston's CareGroup Health System and the Harvard Medical School, decided to take the plunge. Health Data Management reports that he's now a RFID-Enabled CIO. He was successfully implanted with a VeriChip in the arm in December 2004 during a painless, 15-minute procedure. He said that RFID readers can identify him even if he wears several layers of clothing.

He added he wanted to check how the chip could be used in future medical applications, such as retrieving information from a nonresponsive patient or checking if a medication or procedure was given to the correct person. Read more for other details and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:29 AM Comments (1)
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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

From Hieroglyphs to Xerox Glyphs
Researchers at Xerox PARC have developed a new way to imbed machine-readable information in printed documents. According to this article from Sci-Tech Today, "Digital Evolution Continues with Xerox Glyphs," their dataglyphs are composed only of forward (/) or backward (\) slashes -- similar to the zeros and ones used in binary code. These dataglyphs could replace bar codes or be used in faxes, easing the way of routing information in a large company.

Xerox is already using these dataglyphs for several projects, including one in Latin America to reduce check fraud. The company also has started an experiment named 'GlyphSeal' for two-sided documents, one for human eyes, and the other for machines. Read more for other details, references and a dataglyph carrying -- and hiding -- the title of this entry.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 6:53 AM Comments (0)
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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Cars That Sense Our Mood
Cars able to sense our emotions and to take corrective actions if we feel too angry, frustrated or sleepy, could be on the market in two years. These cars will probably not be named HAL-9000, so we should be able to stop them if they're bothering us. But according to this article from the Scotsman, "So are you in the mood for a drive?" such cars could be built by Toyota with the help of Affective Media, a Scottish company.

Many modern cars already have voice-animated systems allowing the driver to control a CD-player, fans or heaters. With the addition of this new voice recognition software, our cars will detect when we're too quiet and try to wake us up. If we start to be too excited, for any reason, like because we're stuck in a traffic jam or listening to great rock music, the car will automatically switch the stereo to 'calming' music.

Would you like to drive such a car, or do you hate the concept? Read more and let me know what you think.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 3:41 PM Comments (0)
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Nanotechnology Used to Clean Up Nuclear Waste
Researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab are using nanotechnology to learn how to clean up environmental contaminants like nuclear waste. They are also using supercomputers and state-of-the-art imaging to predict how quickly pollutants react with minerals in soils and aquifers. This article from the Daily Californian says they are studying kinetics, or rates, of reactions which occur at the earth’s surface using a nanoscale approach. They started to look at the reactions that take place at the pore scale and plan to expand their scope from nanometers to meters in the months to come.

This research has implications for transport of contaminants, especially of radioactive materials, but also for oil or ore recovery. This overview contains more details, references and a picture of a device used to grow and monitor nanocrystals important for our environment.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 3:37 PM Comments (0)
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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Making 'Green' Plastics From Oranges
Once again, I'm amazed by the creativity of scientists. Researchers at Cornell University have made a brilliant and environmentally friendly discovery: plastics made from orange peel and a greenhouse gas. By adding a zinc catalyst to a mix of citrus fruits, such as oranges, and carbon dioxide, they found a way to make a new polymer called polylimonene carbonate, very similar to polystyrene, a petroleum-based plastic.

This is a double whammy: it will reduce existing carbon dioxide, almost certainly responsible for the global warming effect, while reducing future emissions. Of course, time will pass between this discovery and its practical applications. But ultimately, this will greatly beneficial to all of us. Read this overview for more details, references and a diagram showing the process.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 6:32 AM Comments (0)
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Psst... Wanna Buy a Kilo of Processors?
A few months back, in "Will Azul Reign on the Server Market?," I wrote about Azul Systems and its new approach to computing named 'network-attach processing,' similar to the NAS approach for data storage. Now Shahin Khan, VP and CMO at the company, has written a rather provocative article for The Register, "Get ready to buy chips by the kilo."

He argues that we soon should be prepared to order CPUs by the thousands and be ready for some new language. "Do we say: 2.5 kilo CPUs? Do we call this kilo core, or mega core processing? And since it goes way past current multi-core technology, do we call it poly-core technology?"

Jon Udell, from InfoWorld, also commented Khan's views in "VM-enabled polycore computing." This overview contains more details and comments.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 6:30 AM Comments (0)
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Monday, January 17, 2005

Counting Elephants from Space
Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are now counting the animals in their Bronx zoo with the help of a satellite orbiting 280 miles above the Earth -- and New York. In this news release, they say they're so pleased with the results that they plan to count wildlife populations in remote locations in other parts of the world. In the months to come, they'll count "elephants and giraffes in Tanzania, flamingos in South America, and elk, bison and antelope in Wyoming." I wonder if one day they will start to count humans too.

They add that you need a "trained eye" to spot the animals, and believe me, it's true. They released images which look like a bunch of messy pixels to my "untrained eyes." You can see what I mean by checking this overview which contains one image where they spotted a giraffe, but also more details and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 6:09 AM Comments (0)
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Would You Let This BabySitter Rock Your Baby?
I was quite intrigued by a recent brief article (8 lines) from New Scientist, "Robotic baby rocker to relieve tired parents." It said that soon parents will be able to use an electromechanical device to rock their babies when they cry. Basically, the Robopax BabySitter is a device that sits on the floor and which supports almost all varieties of baby carriages. When a buggy is on the top of the BabySitter, it starts to balance it at about 66 rocks per minute.

The Scottish company behind the Robopax opened its website only a couple of days ago. It hopes to sell 20,000 units per month starting this summer for a price of about £80 (around $150 or €115). Would you be interested? Read this report before deciding.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 6:04 AM Comments (0)
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Friday, January 14, 2005

A New Tool to Break the Language Barriers
The European Union has now 25 members -- and 20 official languages, a nightmare for translators. Anticipating this, the EU started three years ago a 4-million euro project, TransType2, which is currently under test with results exceeding the original goals. In this article, the EU's Information Society Technologies (IST) reports productivity gains in excess of 30% above traditional methods.

The system mixes the advantages of both computer-assisted translation (CAT) and machine translation (MT). When you use the computer-assisted system, you start your translation, and several suggestions are offered to you while you're typing, reducing your number of keystrokes and saving you time. Today, TransType2 allows bidirectional translations between English, French, German, and Spanish. Other European languages could easily been added.

The EU is now thinking to bring this tool to us either as a commercial product or a Web service. Read more for other details, links and screenshots.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 3:01 AM Comments (0)
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'Morse Code' Used by Human Cells?
Even if the Morse code usage has almost disappeared, it was a very efficient communication protocol. Now, researchers from several universities and drug companies in the U.K. have discovered that our cells are also using Morse-like signals to switch genes on and off.

In this news release, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) writes that this discovery may have major implications for the pharmaceutical industry.

Better and more efficient drugs would only deliver the signals to our cells that will activate a desired behavior. Sounds like science fiction? Read more for other details, references and pictures.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 2:58 AM Comments (0)
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Monday, January 10, 2005

Robots and the Art of Quilting
If you live in the Chicago area, I hope you'll have some time to visit an exhibit named "The Feminine Face of Fiber," which is partially about robots. The "Female Cyborg Series" is a collection of robot-inspired quilts created by Kathy Weaver, a former teacher and painter. According to this article from Pioneer Press, in Glenview, Illinois, Kathy started to create quilts featuring robots about seven years ago, partially because "she is a longtime collector of '50s sci-fi memorabilia."

Admission is free and details are here. As Chicago is far from Paris, France, I doubt I'll see these quilts. But if you happen to see them, please let me know. In the mean time, check this overview for more details and images from some robot-inspired quilts.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:47 PM Comments (0)
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Bora Bora Seen from Space
It took four years to NASA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to fully process the data gathered during the Space Shuttle Endeavour Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) in February 2000 and to produce the Earth's most extensive global topographic map. Unlike previous Earth's maps, this one shows "detailed swaths of Earth's topography previously obscured by persistent cloudiness," according to NASA News.

The latest images delivered by NASA include Australia, New Zealand and many islands in the South Pacific. NASA adds that these new maps are vital to mitigate "the effects of future disasters such as the Indian Ocean tsunami." I don't really know if this statement is true. Mother Nature is certainly stronger than NASA.

Anyway, don't miss this fly-around movie above New Zealand (Quicktime format, 2 minutes, 6.42 MB). And check this overview for more details and images from Bora Bora.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:43 PM Comments (0)
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A Sprayable Infrared Detector
Researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T) have designed an infrared-sensitive material made of nanocrystals so small they were able to tune them to catch the Sun's invisible rays. In "Nanotechnologists' new plastic can see in the dark," you'll discover that it's the first time that a light-sensitive material works in the invisible light spectrum. This opens the way to a broad range of applications, from clothing to digital cameras that work in the dark.

But the real breakthrough is that it will permit to catch five more times energy from the Sun, up to 30 percent from the 6 percent achieved today by the best plastic solar cells. Hats off to these researchers... This overview contains more details, comments and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:05 PM Comments (0)
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Simulating the First 80 Days of our Universe
In "Scientists Set to Change Face of Cosmology," the Korea Times writes that "a team of Korean scientists conducted the largest-ever simulation experiment to understand the evolution of the universe. The simulation, which involved 8.6 billion mass particles distributed just like after the Big Bang, took 4 years of computation.

But here, I'm confused. Last September, in "Simulating the Whole Universe," I mentioned another simulation done by the Virgo Consortium which used 10 billion mass points. The goals were different. The Virgo team wanted to simulate the entire life of our universe while the Korean team is trying to understand the evolution of the universe during its first 80 days.

Still, the Virgo simulation used more mass particles than the Korean one. Am I missing something here? Read more
and help me to understand why 8.6 billion is larger than 10 billion...
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 1:01 PM Comments (0)
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Friday, January 07, 2005

iPod Imaging
Will 'podimaging' become as popular as 'podcasting'? Probably not, but several thousands of doctors are using the free OsiriX software to manage their medical images on their iPods and Macintoshes, according to this article from eWEEK.

The radiologists who developed the software chose the Apple platform because of the high performance of the Mac graphics. With OsiriX, you can store and manipulate images on your iPod the same way you handle music files with iTune. And then, you can transfer these images or movies to any other Mac, using iChat to discuss a diagnosis with a colleague. Pretty neat...

This overview contains other details, references and a very impressive heart image.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:27 AM Comments (0)
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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Las Vegas Tests High-Speed Mesh Network
Las Vegas, like many other major cities, sees more and more traffic jams. In order to better manage the traffic, it decided to try wireless technology, and more specifically, mesh networking. And it turns out that the pilot program will help not only police officers, but also people living in the city.

In Viva Mesh Vegas, a long article from IEEE Spectrum, you'll discover many details about the three-tier resilient mesh network architecture used in this program. The pilot test covers 5 square kilometers for a cost of about $170,000. If Las Vegas decides to expand it to the whole city, it will cost about $6 million.

Read the original article for more details or this summary for selected excerpts, other references and pictures.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:25 AM Comments (0)
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Monday, January 03, 2005

A Portable Holographic Projector for your Cellphone
It's not the first time I'm telling you about pocket projectors (check here for example). But now, a small UK company, Light Blue Optics, has developed an holographic projector so small that it could be integrated into your laptop or even your cell phone.

In "Holographic projector for your future PDA," PDA Live.com writes that the holographic laser technology used by the company relies on very few components, meaning these future projectors should be cheap to produce. The company says these projectors should be on the market in the next two to four years.

Instead of showing the minuscule screen of your phone to your friends, you'll be able to project it on almost any surface. This overview contains more references and pictures.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 9:50 AM Comments (0)
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Saturday, January 01, 2005

Engineered Enhancers Closer Than You Think
Happy 2035! Thirty years from now, we'll use bionic eyes giving us 'zoom vision' for faster reactions. Nanobots injected in our bloodstream will complement our immune system. Artificial muscles built with electroactive polymers will help us to be stronger and faster. So you think it's science fiction? Not at all. Here is my last reading suggestion for 2004, an article from EE Times.

You'll see that some people are so convinced that this kind of human enhancements will happen that they predict than in a few decades, all sporting events 'will be split up to accommodate enhanced and unenhanced athletes.' And they will be safer than today's drugs. Read more for selected excepts and happy 2005!
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:46 AM Comments (0)
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