Space Station Sunday: Robonaut Gets A Leg Up (Two, Actuallly)

With an imminent return to Earth scheduled for Russian cosmonauts Alexander Svortsov and Oleg Artemyev, there has been a lot of activity on the ISS this week. However, one particular development gave legs (literally) to a whole new set of ideas.

Commander Steve Swanson has been making some serious strides on the ISS's synthetic spaceman Robonaut, www.waaytv.com reports. The humanoid helper, who happens to be a robot, has long aided the ISS crew with experiments, and now thanks to Swanson's "robot surgery", Robonaut has gained a whole new range of motion. Formerly a head, torso, and two dexterous arms and hands, Robonaut now has a pair of legs to aid him in station science endeavors.

Since the ISS's microgravity keeps its residents relatively aloft, Robonaut's legs did not need to be proportionally as large as his upper body to support his weight. While comparatively small, they are extremely flexible thanks to three different jointed segments. Additionally, instead of feet, Robonaut has a pair of grasper attachments, making him useful in a variety of positions that human astronauts may not be be able to sustain (and also because come on, what badass space robot needs feet when it can have graspers?)

This frees up Robonaut to scoot around the station doing maitenance, like a cooler version of the Jetsons' Rosie the Robot, allowing the human astronauts to do the more complex scientific tasks that we went to space to work on in the first place. However, the badass 'bot will get his chance to act like one of the real boys (and girls) when he takes his first spacewalk later this year.

Watch this space!

He's got legs...and he knows how to use 'em...(and cool grasper-feet too!)



New 3-D Printed Books Let Blind Kids Read By Touch

The usage of 3-D printing to help those with physical impairments has taken many interesting paths. Recently, this technology has found another excellent use, helping blind children "read" picture books by 3-D printing in Braille.

According to newscientist.com, The Tactile Picture Books for Children Project, an initiative from the University of Colorado, aims to use 3-D printers to bring literature to life for visually-impaired youths. The printers layer the stories' images onto the pages, allowing readers to feel the pictures, which are augmented by text in Braille.

"Since our children have limited or no vision, having a book that they can feel gives them a sense of what the world looks like," says Alice Applebaum, the executive director of Denver's Anchor Center for Blind Children.

So far, 3-D titles include Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Later this year, the Denver group will team up with Boston's National Braille Press to offer the new title Dragons Love Tacos.  Fortunately, Everybody Poops is not yet being considered for this 3-D treatment.

A detail from a 3-d printed book.  No, adults, you CANNOT request a 3-D 50 Shades Of Grey.




E-bola: Watch Virus's Developments With This App

With thousands of cases and escalating confirmed deaths attributed to the Ebola virus in Africa right now, it has become important to keep tabs on the spread of disease, preferably from as far away as possible. The CDC has stepped in to help, creating a new category in their Epi Info app to help monitor the outbreak.

As reported by gcn.com, the "contact tracing" ability of the app makes it possible to deduce where certain carriers of the disease have caused it to spread, allowing for others to avoid possible danger zones. The viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) app creates databases of crucial patient information, such as names, locations, ages, gender, and the especially important "dead or alive" status. Those classified as "sick and isolated" with no further information are also considered cases. Aid workers can then use the data to visualize and assess VHF problems.

Once downloaded, the app is functional sans internet connection, which is useful in the many remote areas in which the disease flourishes. The Epi Info app also can be used to track other epidemics, such as Marburg, Crimean-Congo, Rift Valley, and Lassa. Hopefully, the current Ebola crisis can be partially mitigated in thanks to this careful observational/informational aid, in conjunction with dedicated workers.

“The bottom line with Ebola is we know how to stop it: traditional public health,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Find patients, isolate and care for them; find their contacts; educate people; and strictly follow infection control in hospitals. Do those things with meticulous care and Ebola goes away.”

Maybe head to any other continent for vacation this year.

Shut The World Up: New Window-Mounted Device Eliminates Outside Noise

Sure, you love living in the big city, but maybe you're tired of constant reggaeton music waking you up at ridiculous hours, or perhaps the hip new bar that just opened up underneath your apartment has got too many pseudo-intellectuals screaming drunk conversations at each other outside over their American Spirits. Or perhaps your landlord conveniently forgot to mention that the hospital's ambulances make frequent trips beneath your window. Want to shut out the noise without shutting yourself out of urban life? A new noise-cancelling device can help.

As reported by weburbanist.com, a new invention called Sono is now able to maintain your sanctuary with just a simple sticky dial on your window. Currently a prototype in development, according to inventor Rudolf Stefanich, it “turns your window into an advanced noise cancelling system that allows you to eliminate and/or control the sounds that pass through."

Specific sounds can be filtered out by simply turning the dial, which is essentially a volume knob for real life. The option to replace the nuisance noise with your own special soundtrack rounds out the Sono's usefulness. Correctly stating that, “In our loud and busy world a moment of silence has become a scarce and almost luxurious experience", Stefanich (an industrial designer) was motivated to help keep the peace by creating Sono's broadband antenna rings to reduce "the level of e-smog pollution" in your life.

Doesn't that sound great?

*May not be applicable during Mardi Gras.

A Drone New World: Disney To Use Flying Robots In Their "Magic"

Like them or not, no one can deny that Disney live operations are major spectacles that are specifically engineered for a maximum "wow" factor. Now, they plan to augment their man-made magic with some help from some happy little flying robot friends. Weirdest sidekick ever?

According to the nypost.com, Disney Enterprises are massing a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles to fly around and aid with puppetry and light work in their live shows, like Cinderella or Snow White's fun forest friends (if they were electronic and had cousins with the potential to be used for evils from surveillance to assassinations.)

Similar to Jeff Bezos' notion to put drones to work as delivery vehicles, or Google's plan to make them aerial photographers (supposedly) for cartographical purposes, the masters of the Mouse feel that drones would make good "castmembers" (Disney slang for workers.) Three patents approved this week would allow the ground-controlled gizmos to manipulate puppet "tether lines" from the air, carry around portable "flexible projection screens" like flying carpets for movies, or shoot colored lights from the sky (and with Disney's penchant for fireworks, this could look amazing.)

The latter, as part of Disney's "Symphony of Lights", was quoted as being applicable for use “over a sports stadium or theme park where no or few buildings may be present.” Cue the countdown to someone using it to make a wedding proposal. While this technology is interesting and could be used well by such creative type as Disney, does this open a door for constant drone-based entertainment-whoring or flying advertisements to become part of our world?

It's the cirrrrrcle of liiiiife (and sometimes lack thereof.)




Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun: Investors Bet On Renewable Energy

In a move that would have been more useful to the world a century or so ago, a major player in the banking industry seems to be rallying behind solar power and other renewable energy sources, telling investors to put there money where it's sunny.

UBS, the world's largest private bank, has officially predicted that large "traditional" power stations will be outmoded in as little as ten years' time, with the focus switching to decentralized methods of obtaining and storing power. This decision reflects the fossil fuel industry's waning appeal in the face of numerous other options, not the least of which is tempered by consumer regard for more environmentally-friendly options.

As reported by theguardian.com, UBS issued a statement urging investors to "join the revolution." The authors explained their reasoning in logical terms when saying, “Power is no longer something that is exclusively produced by huge, centralised units owned by large utilities. By 2025, everybody will be able to produce and store power. And it will be green and cost competitive, ie, not more expensive or even cheaper than buying power from utilities.”

The company, which has assets of over $1.5 trillion, went on to explain the nuances of how electric cars will be driving down the currently-expensive sustainable battery prices, which will then lead to more general acceptance in many areas as batteries become better and more available. This will ultimately, according to them, make fuel-burning cars too expensive. A similar effect would occur with solar technology.

“Battery storage should become financially attractive for family homes when combined with a solar system and an electric vehicle. As a consequence, we expect transformational changes in the utility and auto sectors,” the UBS paper says. “By 2020 investing in a home solar system with a 20-year life span, plus some small-scale home battery technology and an electric car, will pay for itself in six to eight years for the average consumer in Germany, Italy, Spain, and much of the rest of Europe.”

This is not to say that every home now must be maintained as a survivalist would. Decentralized power could mean collection facilities such as hydroelectric turbines or windmills that are shared between small cities or neighborhoods, which could bridge the gap while the technology is rapidly progressing to the point where individuals are easily able to use clean energy to gain and store all the power needed for personal use. Such facilities could also serve as a backup in case of emergency or failure of an individual's power system. And they'll quickly pay for themselves...with no deep-sea drilling or blowing the tops off of mountains required.

While the banksters have often proven themselves untrustworthy, when it comes to power, one would think that world-class financiers would know what they're talking about. These people love power in any form, and if they're putting their cash power behind another form of force, that seems like a sound bet indeed.

Turn it into a nightclub/skate park/music studio or something.


Missouri Senator: Cameras On Cops, Or No Federal Funding

Militarized police forces across America have become a major concern for average citizens. There is a good and reasonable answer to help curtail this, and now, one senator has spoken up. Claire McCaskill, a senator from cop-embattled Missouri, wants all police to start wearing body cameras, lest their federal funding be curtailed.

As arstechnica.com reports, her reasoning is reflected by her constituents, and others around the nation. A petition citing similar intents has surpassed 100,000 signatures, requiring the Obama administration to consider the problem. Concrete improvement in police problem reduction has already been proven in a study done by the Rialto, California police department, who wear cameras. Other cities who have taken up this initiative include Fresno, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, and Cincinnati. The issue has been discussed for the NYPD as well.

The ACLU summarized the need for this inexpensive yet effective change to occur by noting its advantages for both parties involved in a police incident. They stated that helmet or body cameras, "have the potential to be a win-win, helping protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time helping protect police against false accusations of abuse."

Hey police...stop resisting.
Maybe GoPro can release a "GoPo" edition?