By David Hambling
Posted 01.13.2012 at 12:02 pm 12 Comments
Manned surveillance missions are critical to obtaining useful intelligence. But sending a soldier into sensitive areas can often be too dangerous. Scientists are developing robots that could do the job. Last spring, the Advanced Technologies Laboratory at Lockheed Martin unveiled a prototype that uses sensors to model its environment, detect potential threats, calculate lines of sight, and locate good hiding places.
The tools for safely disposing of explosive threats like improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have come a long way over the last decade, but one rule of explosives ordnance disposal (EOD) holds fast regardless of how much technology you throw at it: you can’t terminate a threat if you don’t know where it is.
Drones: they’re not just for controversial cross-border airstrikes anymore. Physicist Jason Barnes has designed a robotic aircraft that could cruise the methane skies of Saturn’s moon Titan almost indefinitely, beaming data and images back to Earth and terminating with extreme prejudice any terrorist threats it encounters there (we made that last part up).
There are plenty of pillows out there designed to properly cradle the weary noggins of back sleepers or side sleepers or front sleepers. Today, I saw one that does both. The intelliPillow is a self-adjusting pillow that senses which position your body is in and then inflates or deflates itself according to your preferences. The prototype, brought to us by Innvo Labs (the same people who made the Pleo, the robot dinosaur) made its first public appearance today.
Parrot's AR.Drone--what we suppose we should now call the AR.Drone 1.0 (spoiler alert)--won a 2010 Best of What's New award, so we were definitely excited to see the new version here in Las Vegas, cheerfully performing flips in a crowded convention hall (video below, of course). So what's new in version 2.0?
Our enthusiasm here for cyborg insects keeps us firmly plugged in to the cyborg-insect-sphere such that we’ve been able to bring you up-to-date coverage of such innovations as the nuclear powered cyborg insect and the cyborg insect powered by harnessing the kinetic energy generated by the insect’s own wings.
You have to hand it to the Japanese; Last March’s Tohoku earthquake and associated tsunami wasn’t the first natural (or unnatural, for that matter) disaster to befall the island nation, but as just as before the country isn’t simply rebuilding. Instead, it’s rethinking and improving upon what was there before. The latest example: Japan’s agriculture ministry is building a fully robotic experimental farm on a swath of farmland inundated by the tsunami.
Here at PopSci we don’t like to spread rumors. And that’s how I generally like to start off a post wherein I intend to propagate some kind of hearsay rooted mostly in speculation. Hearsay like this: America’s X-37B spaceplane, the shuttle-like unmanned robotic orbiter that the Air Force put into orbit for the second time back in March, is probably (possibly) spying on China’s Tiangong-1 space station.
Holographic video is sort of the holy grail of video display technology right now. Stereoscopic 3-D is fine and everything, but it basically works by tricking the brain into seeing that 3-D depth via two offset 2-D images--hence the occasional headaches associated with current commercial 3-D displays. Holographic video, by contrast, creates images that are really three-dimensional, no glasses or headaches required.
Even when it starts out in a nosedive, a leaping lizard uses its tail to right itself, flinging the appendage to alter its own angular momentum and ensure it lands safely on its feet. Robots can do this, too, using controlled robotails that will guarantee a safe landing, a new study says.
Telepresence is cool, but it’s currently not very versatile and--at least if you’re going the commercial telepresence robot route--pretty expensive. For a princely sum, you can remotely putter around a faraway office or home and communicate with people there via a computer terminal. Outside of that, the technology has yet to break down any serious walls. That is, until software engineer Taylor Veltrop devised a way to brush his cat remotely via a robotic avatar, spearheading what could be the biggest revolution in cat-grooming technology since that kitty brush that you wear like a glove.
For animals and animal-inspired machines, launching into flight takes lots of energy. Some animals have evolved to achieve air not by accelerating and lifting off, but by jumping and then using their wings or flaps of skin to glide — like sugar gliders, for instance, or grasshoppers. Now a new Swiss robot can do this, too.
When you can make a humanoid robot that plays soccer and dances, why limit him to below-average or even average human stature? He should definitely be a giant robot instead, because there is nothing terrifying or awkward about that, not at all. Don’t worry, a Japanese robotics company is planning just that — a 13-foot-tall iron giant.
When American and coalition troops rolled into Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, they quickly began doing exactly what any military playbook said they should do, leveraging their superior firepower and aerial superiority into a string of quick victories. In both engagements, coalition forces quickly hammered conventional military threats into submission and settled into a long role of occupation and rebuilding. That’s when the bombs started going off.
Farming has always been about man, says David Dorhout, but man is now the limiting factor in agriculture. The future of farming is not about getting more efficiency out of each farmer--the human farmer has already been pretty well optimized by technology. Rather, the future is about getting more production out of each tract of farmland. The future, in other words, is Prospero, Dourhout’s swarming, game-theory-crunching fleet of autonomous robo-farmers.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.