Steve Carell's final episode of The Office aired last night, and without him, we're left with a hole in our lives where those "that's what she said" jokes (hereby referred to as TWSS jokes) should be. Luckily, a couple of computer scientists have created some software that recognizes the opportunity to make a TWSS joke in the midst of natural language. It sounds like a huge effort, but definitely has the potential to fill that hole. (That one was a gimme.)
ST. LOUIS — The future of engineering is in the hands of kids like Alejandro Castro. He wants to be an aeronautical engineer, perhaps an unlikely option for a high school sophomore who lives in one of the poorest parts of California and whose parents work in service-sector jobs. But a one-armed wheeled cart named G-Bot will help make it possible.
Castro, 15, was the building manager for his school's rookie FIRST Robotics Competition team, which won a regional award and catapulted an unlikely mix of Latino kids to the Midwest for a week. Castro is one of more than 12,000 school kids from kindergarten through high school participating in the FIRST Championship, a series of three events showcasing student-built robots and the new-cool culture of science and tech nerdiness.
Fire ants might be infuriating little beasts, an invasive species we'd all be pleased to see banished to its native Brazil, but it turns out a fire ant colony has some pretty amazing properties. In groups, they knit together, more like a fabric than anything else, and are waterproof, totally flexible, and nearly indestructible. A mechanical engineer describes these groups as behaving like a thick liquid.
SpaceX will send humans to Mars within 10 to 20 years, according to an interview with its CEO in the Wall Street Journal. Elon Musk says his company will send people to space within three years, and he wants to colonize other planets next.
“I want SpaceX to help make life multi-planetary,” he said. “We’re going all the way to Mars, I think. Best case, 10 years, worst case, 15 to 20 years.”
The Da Vinci robot, a remotely-controlled tool for surgeons, is capable of performing all-robotics surgery, but sometimes we like to see it tackle delicate, everyday, non-medical tasks to see just how amazingly dextrous it is. That might mean folding a tiny paper airplane, or, in this case, lacing a football. We always thought football needed more robots (it only has the one, right? That dancing one on Fox broadcasts?).
As industrial robots go, Chris Shepherd’s Quad Delta Robot System is decidedly awesome. It’s not so much that it produces something particularly amazing--it doesn’t. All it does is sort colored blocks as they trundle by on a conveyor belt. No, the cool thing about this particular factory ‘bot is that it is made entirely of Legos.
The jetpack dream is moving forward--or perhaps upward--once again. Martin Aircraft, makers of the Martin Jetpack (a PopSci Best of What’s New winner in 2008), have set a new flight duration record with their personal flight device, putting it in the air for seven solid minutes during a recent outdoor test.
Self-healing materials are a thing of the future, but certainly not a distant future. For instance, NASA plans to wrap airliners in a self-healing skin within the next 20 years, and things like flexible, self-healing concrete have already been demonstrated, albeit only in the lab.
At this afternoon’s Phillies-Brewers game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, 2008 Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee will take the mound for the home team. One would think Lee’s job is secure, but even a renowned fastballer may have reason to sweat his position in the rotation after today’s game-opening festivities, when a robot fashioned by the University of Pennsylvania will toss the game's opening pitch. Insert your own “pitching mechanics” joke here.
Why does an unmanned bicycle stay upright (for a while) when you give it a shove? Researchers from the United States and the Netherlands designed a riderless bicycle that shows that the various mechanisms scientists have long believed to be responsible for keeping bikes upright are actually not necessary.