Thursday, April 30, 2009
A shoal of robotic fish which can detect pollution in the water are set to released into the sea off Spain, British scientists said Thursday.
Five of the robots, worth some 20,000 pounds (21,000 euros, 29,000 dollars) each, are being released into the Bay of Biscay at Gijon in northern Spain as part of a three-year joint project between engineering consultancy BMT Group and researchers at Essex University in southeast England.
The robots, which have an eight-hour battery and do not require remote control, are set to be released in around 18 months' time.
"The hope is that this will prevent potentially hazardous discharges at sea as the leak would undoubtedly get worse over time if not located," said Professor Huosheng Hu of Essex University, whose team is building the fish.
If successful, they hope the fish could be used around the world to prevent the spread of pollution.
The creators of the Child-robot with Biomimetic Body, or CB2, say it's slowly developing social skills by interacting with humans and watching their facial expressions, mimicking a mother-baby relationship.
A bald, child-like creature dangles its legs from a chair as its shoulders rise and fall with rythmic breathing and its black eyes follow movements across the room.
It's not human -- but it is paying attention.
Below the soft silicon skin of one of Japan's most sophisticated robots, processors record and evaluate information. The 130-cm (four-foot, four-inch) humanoid is designed to learn just like a human infant.
"Babies and infants have very, very limited programmes. But they have room to learn more," said Osaka University professor Minoru Asada, as his team's 33 kilogram (73 pound) invention kept its eyes glued to him.
Asada's project brings together robotics engineers, brain specialists, psychologists and other experts, and is supported by the state-funded Japan Science and Technology Agency.
With 197 film-like pressure sensors under its light grey rubbery skin, CB2 can also recognise human touch, such as stroking of its head.
The robot can record emotional expressions using eye-cameras, then memorise and match them with physical sensations, and cluster them on its circuit boards, said Asada.
The professor, also a member of the Japanese Society of Baby Science, said his team has made progress on other fronts since first presenting CB2 to the world in 2007.
In the two years since then, he said, CB2 has taught itself how to walk with the aid of a human and can now move its body through a room quite smoothly, using 51 "muscles" driven by air pressure.
In coming decades, Asada expects science will come up with a "robo species" that has learning abilities somewhere between those of a human and other primate species such as the chimpanzee.
And he hopes that this little CB2 may lead the way into this brave new world, with the goal to have the robo-kid speaking in basic sentences within about two years, matching the intelligence of a two-year-old child.
By 2050, Asada wants a robotic team of football players to be able take on the human World Cup champions -- and win.
Welcome to the cutting edge of robotics and artificial intelligence.
More than a decade since automaker Honda stunned the world with a walking humanoid P2, a forerunner to the popular ASIMO, robotics has come a long way.
Researchers across Japan have unveiled increasingly sophisticated robots with different functions -- including a talking office receptionist, a security guard and even a primary school teacher.
Electronics giant Toshiba is developing a new model of domestic helper, AppriAttenda, which moves on wheels and can fetch containers from a refrigerator with its two arms -- a potentially lucratic invention in fast-aging Japan.
"We aim to make a robot that elderly people can count on when living alone," said Takashi Yoshimi, a senior research scientist at a Toshiba laboratory in Kawasaki city south of Tokyo.
Last month also saw the debut of Japan's first robotic fashion model, cybernetic human HRP-4C, which can strut a catwalk, smile and pout thanks to 42 motion motors programmed to mimic flesh-and-blood models.
Its makers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology outside Tokyo plan to sell the 158-centimetre fashion-bots for around 200,000 dollars each.
Thousands of humanoids could be working alongside humans in a decade or so, if that is what society wants, said Fumio Miyazaki, engineering science professor at the Toyonaka Campus of Osaka University.
If the world is ready for a functioning robot secretary, for example, there is "no need for a major technical breakthrough," he said.
A Tokyo subsidiary of Hello Kitty maker Sanrio, Kokoro -- which means heart or mind in Japanese -- has also produced advanced talking, life-size humanoids.
"Robots have hearts," said Kokoro planning department manager Yuko Yokota.
"They don't look human unless we put souls in them.
"When manufacturing a robot, there comes a moment when light flickers in its eyes. That's when we know our work is done."
Public opinion in Japan may be more open to robots than in the West, where dark science fiction visions from movies such as "Bladerunner" and "Terminator" have conjured images of robo-soldiers taking over the world.
Thanks to such benign cartoon characters as Astro Boy, "Japanese people have a friendly image towards robots," said Toshiba's Yoshimi.
Asada said Japan's indigenous animistic belief system may also have readied people to accept human-like robots with minds of their own.
"Everything has a mind -- the mind of the lamp, the mind of the chair, the soul of the desk," he said, pointing at objects in his office.
"Therefore the machines should have their mind too. If we proceed in this study, machines may have something like a human mind or 'robo-mind'," he sai
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Public prosecutor Leif Johansson mulled pressing charges against the firm but eventually opted to settle for a fine.
"I've never heard of a robot attacking somebody like this," he told news agency TT.
The incident took place in June 2007 at a factory in Bålsta, north of Stockholm, when the industrial worker was trying to carry out maintenance on a defective machine generally used to lift heavy rocks. Thinking he had cut off the power supply, the man approached the robot with no sense of trepidation.
But the robot suddenly came to life and grabbed a tight hold of the victim's head. The man succeeded in defending himself but not before suffering serious injuries.
"The man was very lucky. He broke four ribs and came close to losing his life," said Leif Johansson.
The matter was subject to an investigation by both the Swedish Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket) and the police.
Prosecutor Johansson chastised the company for its inadequate safety procedures but he also placed part of the blame on the injured worker.
TT/The Local (firstname.lastname@example.org/08 656 6518)
Monday, April 27, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Photos from Tehran showed fruit marked "Israel"
A twist has emerged in the story of Israeli citrus fruit reportedly sold in Iran in defiance of a ban on commercial dealings between the two enemy states.
The Sweeties were brought to Iran from China, where faking the origin of goods is a common practice.
The discovery of apparent Israeli origin caused a stir in Iran.
Outrage followed, distribution centres stocking the fruit were sealed and accusations were traded.
Such is the infamy of dealing with Israel that an Iranian official went so far as to accuse the opposition of a "citrus plot".
However, Tal Amit, the general manager of Israel's Citrus Marketing Board, told the BBC the fruit had not originated in his country.
The fruit was packed in boxes marked "Origin China"
"Apart from this, I would like very much the Iranian people to eat Israeli fruit straight from the origin and not via China.
"But the politics is not allowing us to do any commercial relations with Tehran at the moment while back 30 to 40 years ago, Tehran was a superb market for our fruit."
The genuine Israeli Sweetie is primarily exported to the Far East's richest markets, Japan and South Korea.
It is not the first time, however, that citrus fruit have found themselves at the heart of an international political row.
Back in the 1980s, as the most visible of South Africa's consumer exports, oranges became the key target of anti-Apartheid boycott campaign
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
A forest of neurons. A dye is injected into each neuron and then developed in order to reveal the morphology. This image shows a minute fraction of the cells and connections within the microcircuitry of the neocortex.