PopSci is is back at the now twice-annual travelling DIY circus that is Maker Faire. The Bay Area iteration was a blast earlier this year (see our coverage here) but this time, not only is the sweet smell of BBQ mingling with the solder fumes here in Austin, TX, we've also brought along some of PopSci's finest makers—staff photographer John Carnett, who has brought along his amazing all-in-one beer-brewing Device as well as the welded-steel vintage Arcade Table, and Theodore Gray, author of our PopSci-meets-Mr. Wizard "Gray Matter" column (check out his latest work here). We'll also be raffling off some original creations from our main project man Dave Prochnow.
Stay tuned right here for the best of Maker Faire Austin, starting Saturday, October 20. —John Mahoney
By Gregory MonePosted 10.19.2007 at 3:06 pm 1 Comment
A recent study in the journal Psychological Science reports that older people are much more likely to shrug off a negative experience or emotion. The scientists recorded the brain activity of 63 adults of different ages while showing them a series of positive and negative images.
The younger folk held on to the negative feelings, while the older crowd was able to move on, and not let the bad pics bring them down. I'm not sure if this explains the single most annoying character in the universe, pictured at left, but you can read more about the study here. And if you're young, try not to get all worked up about it.—Gregory Mone
PopSci editor Nicole Dyer is currently blogging from the Pop!Tech 2007
conference, an annual powwow of remarkable people, extraordinary
conferences, powerful ideas and innovative projects that are changing
the world currently taking place in Camden, Maine.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to interview Robert Boroffice, head of the Nigerian space agency. Now I know what you're thinking: Nigeria has a space agency? It's a common question, one that Boroffice fields constantly. "When I was coming through customs, the guy asked me what I did," Boroffice told me. "He couldn't believe it. It's amazing how people perceive Nigeria."
Of course the reaction isn't all that surprising. Nigeria is one of the poorest nations in the world, and space is notoriously expensive: It costs about $4,000 to launch a single pound into space.
But Nigeria has some pretty practical goals. It isn't looking to land humans on asteroids nor does it want to hunt for water on Mars or take snapshots of Saturn's rings—all those missions are luxuries, Boroffice says. Nigeria's goal is to use space technology to address problems here on earth, and, yes, to make money off it. With the help of China, it recently launched its first communication satellite. The plan is to rent out some of the bandwidth to private telecommunications companies, though it's unclear whether anyone will offer cell service to Nigerians. More clear cut are the benefits of the nation's earth observation satellite (launched in 2003 with the help of British company Surrey Satellites). It's monitoring things like crop health and desert encroachment, which is in turn boosting the nation's food supply. Boroffice told me that thanks to the earth-observation satellite Nigeria has had more success growing its staple crop, a root tuber that Nigerians use to make tapioca, among other things. (Nigeria, Boroffice boasted, is the world's largest producer of tapioca.)
Launching satellites also creates jobs: The Nigerian space agency employs 100 trained Nigerians. And there are more jobs to come, because Nigeria is about to begin building its own satellite manufacturing facility. It currently relies on China to build and launch its satellites, because China offers the lowest manufacturing costs and, unlike NASA, it's fully transparent about its satellite technology. "Most exporters put a lot of restrictions on the technology," Boroffice says. "With China we do not experience the same problem. We are not interested in buying a black box. We're interested in technology transfer. We're interested in learning how to make satellites on our own."—Nicole Dyer
By Gregory MonePosted 10.19.2007 at 2:35 pm 0 Comments
Harvard University scientists have created solar cells made from a single wire that's just 300 nanometers wide. The technology could be used to provide electricity to tiny sensors, or lead to cheaper solar power.
Each of the tiny wires is made up of layers of silicon that basically take over the job of semiconductors in conventional solar cells. Eventually, the nanowires could be packaged together into larger arrays, and might even lead to less-expensive rooftop solar panels. This research is just one aspect of a larger effort to make solar power more competitive with cheaper sources of energy, and according to scientists, it's an important step forward.—Gregory Mone
By Gregory MonePosted 10.19.2007 at 12:30 pm 0 Comments
Last year's crash of a $6.5 million Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, and the safety concerns it raised, is not going to stop Homeland-security from expanding the use of the drones for border patrol applications. The Arizona Republic is reporting that two Predator B robots, which have cameras and other sensors that help operators search for smugglers, are currently working the border with Mexico, but by next year that should increase to six. This week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ruled that human error caused the April 2006 crash. The operator at the time, who was trying to manipulate the camera, accidentally shut off the plane's engine. Yes, I'd call it human error. You really can't blame that one on the robot.
One NTSB official said the fact that the group came up with 22 suggestions for improving the safety of these UAV operations suggests that there are some real issues to deal with here. Clearly, training the handlers on the ground is one of them.—Gregory Mone
(Image credit: National Transportation Safety Board)
By Dave ProchnowPosted 10.19.2007 at 11:10 am 0 Comments
As first demoed at Gadgetoff 2007, the new iRobot Looj took both my daughter and myself by surprise. First, when Helen Greiner asked us if we had any gutters at our home, we responded with a yes. It was after a 5 minute demo of this new gutter-cleaning robot, that we both realized Helen meant gutters on our house and not gutters in the street.
It still remains to be seen how this $99.99 to $169.99 robot is any better than just using a standard garden hose for cleaning the gutters on a house. In fact, the flopping, flailing auger action looks like it would flip the hapless robot out of most built-in style gutters. If you purchase and try the Looj, please post your results in our comments section.
By Andrew RosenblumPosted 10.19.2007 at 10:58 am 0 Comments
One of the hottest exhibits on day one of the E for All Expo was for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Its sinister, military-bunker booth was full all day and into the evening, in part because this is the first time anyone's been able to play the game outside of Japan. Also, Kojima Productions tends to be secretive, which has apparently had the desired effect of driving its fans wild for the merest crumb. Today's demo was a lot more than a crumb, though.
The same day China's largest search engine announced plans to launch an e-commerce service, Baidu made headlines for some decidedly not market-friendly practices. Analysts are reporting that the Great Firewall of China—long criticized for its Government-sponsored Internet censorship—has expanded its domain. Three major search engines (Google, Yahoo and Microsoft) along with a handful of other sites appear to have been hijacked, automatically redirecting visitors to Baidu. Previously, the state-controlled routers have been used for strictly censorship purposes. The latest development suggests economic potential.
Though not confirmed, some believe a possible motive lies in the United States' decision, much-protested by Chinese leaders, to award the Dalai Lama a Congressional Gold Medal.—Abby Seiff
Weve been anxiously awaiting the debut of the Pleo—the super high-tech robo-dino loaded with sensors and artificial intelligence—since we first reported on it last year. Here at Pop!Tech, I had a chance to chat with the Pleos inventor, Caleb Chung.
He brought along the latest prototype (its scheduled to go on sale this Christmas) which proceeded to graze, coo and whine adorably throughout the interview—Chung fed him my business card when he got hungry. I must say, the thing is really cute. And it's all in the little details: he sort of giggles when you chuck him under the chin, has big blue eyes that blink and get droopy when he gets tired, and so on. Chung says they're the most realistic-looking eyes ever placed in a toy and, looking at the Pleo, I believe him.
The other really amazing thing about the Pleo physically is its uniquely soft, rubbery skin. You can sort of scrunch it up in your hand, like puppy scruff, which I proceeded to do immediately. Interestingly, the skin was one of the hardest parts of the Pleo to make, Chung told me, because it basically makes the toy a walking rubber bag. "How do you get sound out of a rubber bag? How do you dissipate heat?"
Much has been made of the pet's artificial intelligence capabilities, but the cooler feature, I think, is the Pleo's programmable open-source computing platform. Want him to speak with your voice? Sleep less? Eat more? He's your pet and you can train him as you please. Hacks are welcome, says Chung. You could even take advantage of Pleos more than 33 sensory inputs—object detectors, infrared sensors, capacitive touch sensors, and more—turning him into a smoke detector or a surveillance cam for your home (my ideas, not Chung's). Making the Pleo quite the multi-talented Dino. And did I mention its cute? —Nicole Dyer
PopSci editor Nicole Dyer is currently blogging from the Pop!Tech 2007 conference, an annual powwow of remarkable people, extraordinary conferences, powerful ideas and innovative projects that are changing the world currently taking place in Camden, Maine.
On my first day here at Pop!Tech, I attended a session on cool new ways to use cell phones to enact social change, which is perfect for armchair activists like myself. My favorite is a simple service called FishPhone. Want to know whether the fish youre about to order is endangered or toxic? Send a text message to 30644 with the word FISH and the name of the fish in question and The Blue Ocean Institute will text you back for free with the fishs environmental status. The verdict on tuna? Bad: (RED) significant env problems, HEALTH ADVISORY: high mercury. Salmon is a little better: Poll or troll (GREEN) few environmental concerns. Check out more at fishphone.org.
Another cool mobile app is called the SMS Blood Bank, which enables nurses in Kenyas local hospitals to simply send a text message to the nations central blood repository to automatically schedule a fresh delivery when blood supplies are running low. Real-time blood levels for each local hospital are displayed on a web-based interface designed for administrators to monitor in real time.
While sending a text may not seem like the most logical way to go about solving the problem of blood shortages, consider this: There are more than 5.6 million cell phone subscribers in Kenya, despite the fact that only about 200,000 Kenyan households have electricity. Local hospitals are often entirely off-the-grid, making communications difficult.
SMS Blood Bank is the brainchild of Nathan Eagle of the MIT Media Lab—the same folks that brought us the One Laptop Per Child project. Nathan hit upon the idea of the SMS Blood Bank when he found himself donating blood two or three times a week in his hometown of Nairobi. Check out more on Nathans work at eprom.mit.edu/bloodbank —Nicole Dyer