Telepresence: The Good Kind Of Mind Control

Paralysis used to mean being condemned to a life of immobility. Now, thanks to amazing technological breakthroughs, we not only have the ability to restore the power of motion to human beings, but will soon be able to utilize the same "telepresent" technology to operate robotic elements on other worlds.

This week, for the first time ever, a paralyzed young man was able to have mobility and even a level of dexterity restored to his arm, thanks to a microchip embedded in his brain. The research team, comprised of doctors from Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center and engineers from the non-profit research center Battelle, had expected their microchip to enable motion in one finger of the paralyzed 23-year old Ian Burkhart. Stunningly, Burkhart was able to not only open and close his entire hand, but was capable of summoning the dexterity to pick up a spoon.

Burkhart had been paralyzed from the chest down for the last four years.

The fascinating new technology that enabled this breakthrough is called the Neurobridge. Starting with a .15-inch-wide chip implanted in the skull, the Neurobridge "reads" thoughts via 96 electrodes and sends them to a sleeve of receptor electrodes on the wearer's limb, travelling via an external skull-socket not unlike the humans' plug-in ports seen in the "Matrix" movies.

Thank to the success, Burkhart's surgeon, Dr. Ali Rezai, told the Telegraph UK, "I do believe there will be a day coming soon when somebody who's got a disability – being a quadriplegic or somebody with a stroke, somebody with any kind of brain injury – can use the power of their mind and by thinking, be able to move their arms or legs.”

                                           
The basics of the Neurobridge, as shown by www.battelle.org.

Outstanding as it is, this may be only the beginning for telepresent technology. Another organization increasingly interested in mind-powered motion is none other than NASA, who feel the technology could be applied to enabling robotic elements for complex tasks in some of the most remote places possible.

At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, a series of experiments for robot-human interfaces have been taking place, aiming to make telepresence a feature of future spaceflight. Currently projects are underway using video-game technology like Xbox Kinect and Oculus Rift to manipulate robotic avatars in virtual reality, with the goal of someday allowing a human to operate them from afar. The head of JPL's Planning Software Systems Group, NASA's Jeff Norris told www.medium.com:
"We want to go to a lot of different places. Mars is interesting, and we want to go there very much, but there are so many other places in the solar system. The ability to build a robot that is perfectly suited to a potentially very hazardous environment, that’s going to go swimming in the rains of Saturn, or something like that. The ability to build a robot that is optimized for that task, and then to control it in a way that makes you feel like you are there, to me feels like a very powerful competence. Because, here we are, able to use technologies that make us feel present in that environment, but in a way of inhabiting a robotic avatar that is perfectly attuned to that environment. That’s pretty phenomenal."
Beyond the virtual realm, NASA's plans to make telepresence a facet of full-on "telexploration" are already well underway. Robonaut, the humanoid robot installed on the International Space Station, can be controlled telepresently by human operators on earth, expressing 43 degrees of "freedom" via helmet-mounted units, specialized gloves, and posture-positioning trackers. According to NASA, "The goal of telepresence control is to provide an intuitive, unobtrusive, accurate and low-cost method for tracking operator motions and communicating them to the robotic system."

While NASA's plans for spacecraft and robotic control don't yet include a chip in the brain, it continues to improve on the technology that will make the virtual and actual uses of telepresence more immersive, realistic, and dexterous. New algorithms, camera-based tracking, and magnetic sensors will all add to and improve the ability to manipulate elements like Robonaut or other specialized machinery.

The concept of telepresence has been around in science fiction for as long as the genre has existed, but the term itself was coined in 1980 by MIT professor and robotics engineer Marvin Minsky. He theorized that telepresent robots would, in the 21st century, be critical operational elements for dangerous tasks like mining, the maintenance of oil disasters, or even serious trouble like nuclear reactor meltdowns. In his Omni magazine article "Telepresence: A Manifesto", Minsky states that when faced with the challenge of building "unbreakable" reactor parts (that will eventually someday require repair) versus building with realistic material lifespans that could be fixed via robotic telepresence, "I think the better extreme is to build modular systems that permit periodic inspection, maintenance, and repair. Telepresence would prevent crises before they could arise."

Applying this same reasoning to the space program could keep costs in check while maintaining a high standard of operational capability during missions. As for humans, integrated cranial telepresence could restore "mission capability" to damaged limbs. That does not mean the technology isn't still a little creepy in its formative stages, particularly if one wants to be "emotionally" telepresent.

TELL ME YOUR SECRETS:  the Telenoid wants to talk with you.  Image courtesy Ars Electronica.

The Telenoid, a telepresently-operated robot intended for advanced video conferencing, is able to mimic the eye, mouth, and upper body movements of its user, simulating the major tenets of what humans perceive physically as "emotions." Created by Japanese robotics engineer Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, this is an interesting attempt at sharing your feelings with faraway friends. While the Telenoid's pale, spectral presence is still a bit eerie to be considered a good substitute for a human interaction, achievements in android avatar technology in the future may allow for more realistic robotic experiences. While the emotional components of telepresence may still fall short, in the meantime, the physical elements of the technology are now proven to produce results, and disabled humans like Ian Burkhart and others can now hopefully use the technology to at least physically improve themselves.

Telepresence is undoubtedly a fine facet of the future now, and as we continue to map the human brain and unlock its secrets, perhaps externally beaming our thoughts out to our limbs (or those of robots under our command) will surpass many of humanity's previously-known physical limits. Though it seems nearly like movie magic at the present, future developments will branch out abundantly thanks to these current experiments. As Robert Heinlein said when first theorizing about telepresence in his story "Waldo & Magic, Inc.", "Never worry about theory as long as the machinery does what it's supposed to do."

Telepresent Demolition Derby on the moon soon?

Space Station Sunday: Fresh Coffee, New Hairdos, and Volcanoes Of The Andes


One small sip for a man, one giant gulp for mankind.
Image courtesy www.creatingclever.com.

With sixteen sunrises every "day" on the International Space Station, it's tempting to want coffee around every pseudo-breakfast time. Soon, a quick espresso will be available to recover from space snoozing. Enter the ISSpresso machine, an authentic Italian espresso machine that will be sent to the space station in November, coinciding with - what else? - Italy's first female astronaut's six-month mission aboard the ISS. Fighter pilot/astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is psyched about this Starbucks in the stars, tweeting, "How cool is that? I'll get to operate the first space espresso machine!"

Created by espresso veterans Lavazza in conjunction with Italian engineering company Argotec, the ISSpresso machine has steel tubing (instead of plastic) for durability, and is designed with switches similar to other ISS elements so that it fits right in with astro-protocol. As reported to www.cbc.ca, American astronaut Don Pettit was pleased to hear about the ISSpresso.  Pettit is a former space station astronaut and micro-gravity caffeine pioneer:  during his space stay, using a clear plastic folder cover, he invented a teardrop-shaped "cup" to drink coffee from (the shape helped retain what would otherwise be free-floating globs of coffee if poured like normal on Earth), rather than sipping from a pouch with a straw. Though he laments that the low gravity will not allow for traditional espresso foam to rise to the top of a cup, he still admits that, "It would be the best coffee that we've ever had in space."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

In other ISS news this week, the U.S./German World Cup rivalry reached a fever pitch with Germany's 1-0 win against the U.S. on Thursday. American astronauts Reid Wiseman and Steve Swanson lost a gameday bet to German astronaut Alexander Gerst, and were thus bound to have their heads shaved as penalty (Gerst has been rocking a stubble-free skull since his arrival on the ISS.) The Americans took their loss well, with www.space.com reporting that NASA's Mission Control in Houston radio'd up some support: "Our condolences on your loss today for Steve and Reid...Flight wanted to point out that bald is more aerodynamic when flying."

German astronaut Gerst takes his victory over US astronaut Wiseman using the ISS's vacuum-enabled space shears.


   
Gerst later tweeted this image, stating, "Mission Accomplished!"

Gerst (a.k.a. Astro_Alex) also supports the Chilean soccer team, and thus shared from space this cool picture of volancoes in the Andes.  Check out his Twitter feed for more amazing astro-snaps.

Chillin' over Chile.






E-Eats: Play Gourmet To Perfect Real-Life Cooking Skills

Do you want to create diverse, healthy meals, but don't think you have the skills? Don't want to risk expensive meal mistakes burning money? New software is poised to usher in a whole new means of cuisine: the CyberCook.

With elegant renderings, a vast array of ingredients, and realistic cooking technique motions involved, the game is as advanced visually as it is conceptually. Yet the technological breakthrough it symbolizes could reach outside the world of food and create greater educational methodology.

The CyberCook was developed by tech company Starship, whose CEO told www.factor-tech.com that,“It will change the way education is done, it will change the way the format is done of teaching people – and that’s the real clever bit, it’s not the 3D simulation, which everyone thinks is amazing, it’s actually the structure of what we allow people to do with it,” he said.

And perhaps with the dawn of 3-D printing (and maybe baking?), the social-media favorite word of "sharing" will take on a whole new meaning if your friends spot cookies in your e-oven.

But how do you throw a virtual pie?

No Pizza Blitzkrieg Yet: Delivery Drones Deemed Illegal

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to remind everyone that delivery-via-drone, whether for commercial for private purposes, is currently still illegal.

Although the rules regarding the airborne robots are set to be reassessed in 2015, the FAA has allowed drone usage in a limited amount by police and scholars who hold proper "Certificate Of Authority" documentation. They also allowed one company, BP, to use a drone in Alaska to monitor oil pipelines in the deep wilderness.

Regardless of what the rules become in 2015, major businesses that could benefit from drone delivery remain undeterred in their quest to utilize the flying delivery droids. Paul Misener, Vice President of Global Public Policy for Amazon, claims the ruling "has no effect on our plans...this is about hobbyists and model aircrafts, not Amazon."

Drone dogfights to follow?

Birdwatching in 2015 is going to get weird.

"'The Truth At Any Cost' Lowers All Other Costs": Former US Spy Robert Steele's Admirable Advocacy For "Open Source Everything"

After organizing a major CIA intelligence conference, the highly-respected Marine intelligence officer and CIA agent Robert Steele tried to explain that open-source information (the idea of using freely-accessible knowledge to implement policy, rather than secretly-obtained information) is the means to true freedom. The CIA promptly banned him from organizing further conferences. Now, he's taking his wisdom to the masses.

"Sharing, not secrecy, is the means by which we realize such a lofty destiny as well as create infinite wealth. The wealth of networks, the wealth of knowledge, revolutionary wealth - all can create a nonzero win-win Earth that works for one hundred percent of humanity. This is the 'utopia' that Buckminster Fuller foresaw, now within our reach," states Steele.

With this attitude firmly in mind, Steele writes, lectures, and advocates for the concept of "Open Source Everything": taking the power of knowledge from an elite few and making sure it is disseminated throughout all the world, with a focus on long-term goals that benefit all of humanity. Steele advocates truth as currency over violence, using international stewardship councils of experts in varieties of topics to check, balance, and spread information, looking far down the road on the effects that humanity's decisions of all sorts will have. An Open Source Agency, he claims, would collaborate to share this wisdom, with information coming and going from many elements, particularly including the expanse of information-sharing options available to the average computer user.

As Steele told www.theguardian.com, "We have over 5 billion human brains that are the one infinite resource available to us going forward. Crowd-sourcing and cognitive surplus are two terms of art for the changing power dynamic between those at the top that are ignorant and corrupt, and those across the bottom that are attentive and ethical. The open source ecology is made up of a wide range of opens – open farm technology, open source software, open hardware, open networks, open money, open small business technology, open patents – to name just a few. The key point is that they must all develop together, otherwise the existing system will isolate them into ineffectiveness. Open data is largely worthless unless you have open hardware and open software. Open government demands open cloud and open spectrum, or money will dominate feeds and speeds."

On the homefront, Steele maintains that the massive national "security" infrastructure we currently have in place is too big, too expensive, too unaccountable, too nonproductive concerning "terrorism" (which he claims has never been thwarted by the NSA), and ultimately bound to fail (though he admits properly-maintained surveillance should certainly remain in place for issues like corruption, pedophilia, and other crimes.) With intelligence out of the pocket of banks and politicians, citizens can better decide what will truly be of help for themselves and others. If a professional spy is willing to show how this is currently all going wrong, surely America and maybe the world can eventually learn to realize and remedy this?


Steele's revolution pre-conditions checklist.  We qualify, now how do we quell it?

Greenhouse Powerhouse: Cleaner, Stronger Batteries Energize Organically

Power sources of the future will be a lot more eco-friendly thanks to recent discoveries in the fabrication of batteries. New water-based batteries developed by a team at USC last longer than traditional lithium-ion batteries and can be created at a tenth of the cost.

The batteries will be particularly useful as alternative forms of energy become more popular, as the charge gathered from various natural sources requires retaining. Sri Narayan, a USC chemistry professor and co-inventor of the new batteries, explained to www.phys.org that, "'Mega-scale' energy storage is a critical problem in the future of the renewable energy, requiring inexpensive and eco-friendly solutions."

Narayan and his team, after much experimentation, discovered that oxidized organic compounds called "quinones" that naturally aid plants, fungi, and bacteria in photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Their capability for energy transfer is critical to the new battery design, which enables the quinones to become electroactive after being dissolved in water.

The batteries have an estimated lifespan of 15 years and can be built in a variety of sizes. Despite being organic, they are still likely not safe to lick.


Your Phone Is Your Own: Supreme Court Forbids Warrantless Phone Searches

In a major breakthrough for privacy rights, the Supreme Court of the United States has decided that cell phones are among the effects that are Constitutionally protected against warrantless searches.

Yesterday in a unanimous ruling, the court made it abundantly clear that warrants are required before any search of a citizen's cell phone can take place, with some speculation as to what will follow if a person was arrested on charges not pertaining to the vast amount of information a cell phone could contain. Justice John Roberts was quoting as saying, “A phone not only contains in digital form many sensitive records previously found in the home; it also contains a broad array of private information never found in a home in any form—unless the phone is.”

The Constitutional verbiage of the Fourth Amendment, partially reprinted here via www.msnbc.com, guarantees that citizens shall be “secure in their persons, houses, papers or effects." Phones of all types (from brick to smart) are covered under the ruling.  

Image courtesy www.aclu.org.

Monkey In The Middle (Of My Parking Space): New Parking-Spot Auctioning App Banned In San Francisco

The new "sharing economy" sounds like a feel-good, community-building idea, but some elements of San Francisco have turned it into a very capitalistic marketing ploy. The new app MonkeyParking is designed to auction off soon-to-be-vacated parking spaces, which has given the wealthy a new societal edge but given middle-class communities a headache.

Claiming the app fosters a sense of community and "sharing", MonkeyParking is slated to park itself in New York, Rome, Seattle and Chicago soon.

The craziness of auctioning off publicly funded parking spaces is not lost to the sane media. Reporter Will Oremus of Slate notes, "I know this is Silicon Valley, where words have no meaning, but it takes a special brand of Ayn Rand–spouting nincompoop to try to pass off the unilateral privatization and scalping of public services as a new form of 'sharing.'"

Fortunately, citing a local statute that bans buying or selling of public parking spaces, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has issued a cease-and-desist letter to MonkeyParking. But will the monkey be on your neighborhood's back soon?

Too much Monkey business.

After The Automatons: Could A Robot Take Your Job Soon?

With 47 percent of the world's jobs poised to become automated in the next twenty years, what is half of humanity going to do when it is retired by robots?

While creative endeavors and skilled jobs still maintain their value for labor, automated jobs are quickly being phased out by those with the means to reap more capital by building machines to do so. As www.motherboard.vice.com reports, "last year Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook were worth over $1 trillion combined, but employed just 150,000 people." With labor jobs dwindling and information jobs not escalating, what will workers do when their careers and cash all vanish thanks to the rich and their robots?

According to the Oxfam report "Working For The Few", "those richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1 [trillion], as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world's population." With 85 people controlling the same amount of money as 3.5 billion, it is no surprise that ideas like wealth redistribution and possibly guaranteed minimum income may become serious social issues in the coming years.

How safe is your livelihood in the robot revolution?



No Cash For Spy Stash: The NSA Loses Government Funds For Domestic Peeping; Foreign Spyware

Will a lack of "backdoor funding" deter the NSA in any way from spying on citizens at home and abroad? Soon the world will have a chance to find out.

As reported by www.wired.co.uk, on June 19th the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2015 that will prevent the NSA from using government funds to stock information obtained while stalking both Americans and foreign citizens not expressly under warrant.

An open letter from several civil liberties groups to the House Of Representatives regarding the vote stated, "...These measures would make appreciable changes that would advance government surveillance reform and help rebuild lost trust among internet users and businesses, while also preserving national security and intelligence authorities."

This is an important breakthrough, with many foreign citizens recently extra-suspicious of the NSA thanks to discoveries of wireless routers sold in Europe being tainted by American spyware (subsequent hacks and defenses have already been issued to quell this problem.) But will removing Uncle Sam's wallet from Big Brother's pocket really slow down the spying?

Now they'll have to raise funds just as shady as they are.


Assault On The Salt: New "Fertigation" System Desalinates Using Fertilizer

Researchers in Sydney, Australia required a way to quickly and efficiently desalinate water for irrigation during the difficult and dry brushfire season. What they achieved may help mankind the world over.

Creating a system called "Fertilizer Drawn Forward Osmosis" that is 80% more energy efficient than traditional heating/evaporation and filtering methods, researchers hope to preserve the nation's normal clean drinking water supplies while expanding the desalinization for irrigation. "By reducing the demand that irrigation places on our traditional water supplies, we are conserving precious water for domestic use in our homes," said head researcher Dr Hokyong Shon to www.phys.org

The new process, which uses soluble fertilizer to help strain the water, is called "fertigation." It is already in use desalinating water at a coal mining site in Newcastle. Further experiments hope to use the converted "osmotic energy" to power energy devices, like turbines.

A small-scale fertigation system.




3-D Me: Mechanically-Printed Organs And You

With tremendous biomedical leaps set to save you as 3-D printed organs are poised to become a reality, 
www.engadget.com wants to tell the true story behind the technology.  Beginning with "building blocks" printed at the Wake Forest Center for Regenerative Medicine in the late 1990s, bladder cells were printed for the purposes of study.  Later, scientists at Clemson University began printing the actual 3-D organs.  In 2007, the biomedical company Organovo began creating slices of human livers for testing.

After CAT and MRI scans to determine the size and placement of the organ needed, scientists use stem cells as well as other non-organic printable material (such as titanium) to craft the part in question.  Live cellular organisms are then put into incubators to help aid their growth and cell fusion.

Of course, the organs still require acceptance by the body to go into action.  As Cornell engineer Hod Lipson is quick to point out:  "You can put the cells of a heart tissue in the right place together, but where's the start button?  The magic happens after the printing has taken place."

78,837 people currently await organ donations, although only 3,407 donations have been created organically since January of this year.  Hopefully this new onslaught of organ technology will make breakthroughs in time to save lives.

The smallest elements of a freshly-printed organ.

Space Station Sunday: Awards Season!

Top research and technology achievements made possible by the International Space Station were recognized and awarded this week at a conference that included NASA, the American Astronautical Society and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS.)

As reported on www.nasa.com, Allyson Thorn of NASA's International Space Station Research Integration Office spoke at this week's International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Chicago, stating, "This will be an exciting decade for the space station as we continue to learn more and turn ideas into opportunities, results and plans for humanity's future."

Research from scientists in twelve US states, Japan and Russia was analyzed and awarded distinction.   Categories of the ISS-specific awards included Most Compelling Discovery, Biotechnology, Health and Education, Engineering Development and Technology, and Discoveries In Microgravity.

"Most Compelling" results included recognition for research regarding microgravity's effect on immune responses and heart function during spaceflight.

Winsome.

Online Learning: An Intensive Bachelor's Level Computer Science Program Curriculum, Part II

Last month, we published a piece providing a basic template for a bachelor’s level computer science curriculum composed entirely from college or university courses that are freely available online. To date, this has been the most popular post on the blog, and we received a ton of great feedback, both positive and negative, in the comments and from around the web.

The original post was based on a learning plan that I had worked out for myself after I jumped into the study of programming and computer science just over a year ago on something of a whim. As I’ve mentioned before, I do not have any formal background in computer science beyond the handful of courses from this list that I have worked through myself. However, I do have years of experience in teaching and in curriculum design for natural and foreign language acquisition at the college level, and consulted the computer science curricula from a number of universities around the country when putting the plan together.

The idea was not to provide a substitute for an actual college or university education (that would typically also require a large amount of alcohol at the very least, which, unfortunately, is not freely available online), but rather to aggregate resources that have been made freely available online from disparate institutions and organize them into the sort of logical structure one would likely find in a general bachelor’s level computer science program.

On the basis of the feedback from that post, we’ve put together a new list of course offerings that covers a lot more ground. In the process, I’ve also loosened up a number of implicit strictures on resources for inclusion in the present listing. For example, some of these courses require registration at a particular website and/or may not yet be available in full (ex. Coursera), a couple others are actually compiled from other resources freely available online (ex. Saylor). But all of them are still free.

Whereas the first post was intended to provide a general overview of the field along with a generic curriculum and necessary resources suitable for an absolute beginner (containing 27 courses altogether), the present listing is much more extensive and intensive in scope representing 72 courses from 30 different institutions. While we have added a number of new introductory level courses, there is a lot more that may be of interest to intermediate level folks and perhaps even some who are highly advanced and are considering a refresher course or two.

The course listing is broken down into three major divisions: Introductory Courses, Core Courses and Intermediate/Advanced Courses.  Individual courses are then listed by category within each division. 

Last but not least, thanks to everyone who provided feedback and offered suggestions on how to improve the original listing. Special thanks to Pablo Torre who provided a ton of links in the comments to the first post, many of which are included here. 


Introductory Courses 

Intro to Computer Science:
Mathematics:
Programming:
Theory of Computation:
Data Structures and Algorithms:

Core Courses 

Theory:
Algorithms and Data Structures:
Mathematics:
Operating Systems:
Computer Programming:
Software Engineering:
Computer Architecture:
Data Management:
Networking and Data Communications:
Cryptography and Security:
Artificial Intelligence:

Intermediate and Advanced Courses

Algorithms and Data Structures:
Systems:
Programming:
Software Engineering:
Mobile App Development:
Web Development:
Databases and Data Management:
Security:
Cryptography:
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning:
Natural Language Processing:
Digital Media:
Networking and Communications:
Statistics and Probability:
Leave any suggestions for improvements or additions in the comments!

Helo, I Love You: Mini-Helicopters To Solve City Traffic Congestion?

It just wouldn't be the future without flying cars. Now, the myCopter company is seeking to make that a reality, even for the average driver.

The myCopter design, first dreamed up in 2007 by Heinrich H. B├╝lthoff from the Max Planck Institute in Germany, is being tested in flight simulators in Liverpool with surprisingly easy reviews of the projected craft's usability.

Mark D. White, the flight simulator laboratory manager, explained that myCopters are about efficiency (the coolness factor needs no words.) As he told the New York Times, “You have so many man-hours lost sitting in traffic jams, and you have a lot of space above us… Can you travel from your home to your city-center work location without getting stopped in traffic jams?”

While infrastructural and legal issues will still need sorting out, this is still a good step (or flight?) in the right direction for new types of commuting and urban engineering.

Sooo much cooler than the subway.  Image courtesy myCopter.eu.

Drone Dread Au Poivre: Pepper-Spray Paintballs From Above

In a recent development that's sure not to be reciprocated against with escalating force, South African drone manufacturer Desert Wolf has created a new crowd-control contraption that can shoot protesters with dye, plastic projectiles, or even a beautifully-bouquet'd barrage of pepper-spray-filled paintballs.

TheVerge.com reports that the Skunk, as the drone is known, has four cameras and four separate ammunition hoppers with which to mete out face-searing force. Controlled by a two-man operating team of a pilot and a "payload operator" (gunner), the Skunk will make its debut patrolling the volatile environment of South African mines. If the Skunk's glaring lights and amplified command orders don't work, the operators may simply rain peppery hellfire down on their charges.

Desert Wolf director Hennie Kieser claims the operators will be watched by microphone and camera to "ensure they aren't too aggressive." Because nothing says "peacekeeping" like pepper paintballs.


The Skunk, stinking things up.  Image courtest uavactual.blogspot.com.

The Suit Makes The (Space)Man: NASA's New Designs For Spacewear

The iconic "astronaut spacesuit" look is set for some big revamps in function (and maybe even interplanetary fashion.) Though you probably won't see them strolling down a catwalk, they'll be making many appearances during spacewalks.

As www.space.com reports, NASA's new spacesuit designs focuses on maneuverability for both micro-gravity extravehicular activities (such as an astronaut on the International Space Station would undertake) as well as "surface capability" for landing on new planetary bodies.

NASA spacesuit engineer Amy Ross states the new Z-1 series of spacesuits have improved mobility, where "new bearings in the Z-1's shoulder, waist, hip, upper leg and ankles allow for increased leg movement and fine foot placement." The new suits can be entered from a hatch in the back, as opposed to the two-piece current "EMU" (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) design.

The space agency's stated goal of the new suits is to eventually have astronauts wearing them on Mars. Finally, fashion for the future!

Rocking the new Z-1 spacesuit.


"External Communications" And Infernal Revelations: Britain Allows Cyber-Spying On Facebook And Google

While many other nations around the world are condemning the US for its privacy violations, it seems that Great Britain is taking advantage of our lapses.

The BBC reports that British intelligence now considers sites like Facebook and Google to be "external communications" due to the companies' headquarters being based in the US, and thus the information gleaned from these sites is acceptable for agency retainment and/or review. Non-external sources would require the signature of a minister on a targeted warrant, issued only after suspicion of illegal activity was clearly stated.

Privacy International director Eric King noted the actual laws preventing this are unclear and possibly manipulated by those who would scour for secrets, stating "Intelligence agencies cannot be considered accountable to parliament and to the public they serve when their actions are obfuscated through secret interpretations of Byzantine laws."

With America, Britain, and even more of the world now affected by pervasive privacy penetration, an international dialogue on what constitutes infringement may be necessary. With the American Constitution already well trampled in regards to cyber and cell security, perhaps a rallying of world citizens tired of being spied on would achieve some measure of change.




Baxter, The Future: Industrial Robot Learns Like A Human, Works Like A Machine

The reality of easily teachable, versatile industrial robots is manifesting itself in a big way with Baxter, a new robot that can "learn" without any additional software programming.

Baxter is a $25,000 stationary-location robot made by Rethink Robotics. With two arms each containing five joints (plus optional suction-cup "hands") and a tablet "face" that indicates progress, Baxter is an automaton capable of many assembly-line tasks which has already placed him in workforce environments where he can "learn" from human workers, none of whom require specialized programming skills.

As Ars Technica reports, "You teach Baxter how to do something by grabbing an arm and showing it what you want, sort of like how you would teach a child to paint." A series of buttons on Baxter's wrist help instill a chosen series of actions into Baxter's memory (reaching, grasping, picking up, releasing, etc.), then saves them for a certain number of repetitions. Baxter also has an I/O port to help organize its activities with other worker robots.

Baxter is specifically designed to be safe for use around humans, but a giant red STOP button has also been installed in case he tries to build himself a pair of legs to escape his ceaseless servitude.

Word up, worker droids!   

Government To Local Police: Shhh About The Surveillance

It's no longer a secret that the US government routinely, deliberately and invasively spies on their citizens with no regard as to privacy or pertinence of information. Now, it is emerging that they are actively trying to cover their tracks on a local level, as even average officers are using surveillance gear with extreme impunity.

The federal government has been oddly intervening at local public records and criminal trials that deal with information gained in a possibly over-invasive manner, which as Top Tech News reports, "resulted in police departments withholding materials or heavily censoring documents in rare instances when they disclose anything about the purchase and use of such powerful surveillance equipment."

One popular piece of such technology, the Stingray, reroutes the target's call and metadata to the police's receiver instead of a cell phone tower, bringing up serious questions of infractions on the Constitutional rights of those who are being listened to. Various affadavits and documents point to the federal government overtly refusing to answer questions about such technology's locations, design and operations prove that they are trying to cover up a plot that is legally-questionable and lucrative (both informationally for the feds and financially for Harris Corp....the Stingray accounted for nearly one-third of it's parent company's $5 billion in revenue.)

Unsurprisingly, the government and local departments' excuse for their secrecy is "security."

Dissonantly, President Obama claims he is welcoming debates on surveillance and transparency. Dial any number at all to talk to him regarding your feelings...if there's a Stingray nearby, the government will be happy hear you out. 


Seas Of Change: Ocean Power As Sustainable Energy

With companies and societies worldwide scrambling to find the next big (affordable) energy source, there is one option that is gaining attention for its ubiquity and constancy: ocean power.

While many designs for ocean-power extraction could be considered eccentric, it is important to remember that, as the Anchorage Daily News states, "Machine design for ocean kinetic power is at the stage that flight was in the 1920s, and the devices are spectacular in a Rube Goldberg kind of way, at least to the eye of a non-engineer."

This includes designs shaped like flapping hinges, bobbing buoys attached to turbines, giant eggbeaters (helical turbines), or even the now-common windmill-type turbine design...except instead of on windswept plains, they'll be placed deep underwater, generating power from spinning in the path of strong currents.

The technology will first be tested in remote locations, who frequently have high electricity bills. Power stations involving ocean-driven energy technology are already in use in Ireland and Scotland, and are currently being installed in Maine and Alaska.
Various types of ocean power-harnessing technology.  Image courtesy www.permaculturenews.org.



Space Station Sunday: Soccer Style!


  Each Sunday, I'll be posting fun facts about the orbiting outpost of awesomeness that is the International Space Station.  Today's is topical to a worldly event.

Graphic courtesy www.nasa.com.

The International Space Station, at 357 feet end-to-end, could fit nicely on a World Cup pitch.  The ~20 extra feet of width left over on the field could probably fit some nice VIP spaceship parking.

Congressman Rogers: Google Being Unpatriotic For Halting Pro-NSA Bill

"Unpatriotic" is the new "communism" when it comes to slinging mud, and Congressman Mike Rogers has gotten down and dirty on Silicon Valley.

Heavily insinuating that companies like Google and Microsoft were acting unpatriotically for their disapproval of the FISA bill (which did not go far enough enacting measures that would prevent the NSA from broadly expanding its powers of espionage over the internet), Rogers tried to rationalize things in terms of money, like a good politician.

According to www.techdirt.com, Rogers was quoted at a CIA conference on national security, saying, "One sixth of our economy now, is through the internet! One sixth! So this notion that we're all going to say "well the government should do nothing and just completely keep away" -- and I'm not for regulation, by the way, that's not what I mean, but I mean in some way to... to help defend these private networks or allow them to defend themselves -- if we don't get it right, one-sixth of our economy is going to go away. Like that (*snaps*). If every time you turn it on, you lose money, how many times are you going to turn it on and use the internet for commerce? You're not!"

Hypocritically, in the same speech, Rogers had previously attacked the Silicon Valley companies' ethics due to their discreetly-worded rebuttal of the FISA bill.  The companies had rejected the bill citing worries over losses of European profits. As in, Europe would be smart enough to immediately distrust this bill, despite incompetents like former Congressman Rogers (who is retiring to become a talk-radio bloviator) trying to pull the wool over peoples' eyes.


SpaceshipTwo Cool: Virgin Galactic's Offplanet Tourism On Track For 2015

A mere quarter million dollars and you too can join the ranks of the few brave adventurers who have slipped the surly bonds of Earth.  If the missions prove successful, rocket planes may become the hot new transport technology.

That's what Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space initiative claims.  As CNN reports, the company and their flagship transport vehicle, SpaceshipTwo, are poised to reach for the stars starting at the end of this year.  SpaceshipTwo, which is currently being assembled at a secure desert facility in California, comfortably seats six passengers (all with a personal window on the bulkhead and ceiling.)

The ship hitches a ride up to the edge of the atmosphere on a powerful plane called WhiteKnight Two.  Then, the craft separates from the plane, the rockets are fired up, and SpaceshipTwo reaches an altitude of 60 miles high, travelling at over three times the speed of sound (2,500 m.p.h.)

Passengers will then experience an estimated six minutes of micro-gravity heaven.  As Virgin Galactic states, "Life will never quite be the same again."



Drone Sweet Drone: FAA Approves First Commercial Drone In US

It looks like oil security, once again, will be used as the main excuse to make a strong and questionable societal statement...except this one is over civilian privacy, and on (well, above) American soil.

As reported by Gizmodo, drone manufacturing company AeroVironment was given the go-ahead this week for a commercial drone to patrol skies over Alaska as a means to guard BP oil pipelines. The drone will also supposedly participate in "some 3D-mapping, wildlife monitoring, and the occasional search-and-rescue mission."

While it is noteworthy that the first commercial drone has been licensed as a way to do a job that is both difficult and dangerous for humans, there is no telling where the FAA will stop regarding the industries allowed to fly these aircraft, or what they are allowed to do while airborne. Armed with cameras, sensors, and sturdy craftmanship (the military-type AeroVironment Puma AE used in Alaska is nearly five feet long with a nine-foot wingspan), it will be intriguing to see how drones at home will aid or aggravate American lives.




Aerodynamics: From Spaceships To Soccer, NASA Examines Airflow

With even the astronauts on the International Space Station spending some time playing micro-gravity soccer in honor of the World Cup, NASA has joined the fun. Though they did not aid in the design of the current World Cup soccer ball, scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in California turned some of its technology to sports in an aerodynamically-analyzing effort to see what makes a soccer ball superior.

As reported by NASA, Rabi Mehta, their chief of the Experimental Aero-Physics Branch at Ames, claims, “Sports provide a great opportunity to introduce the next generation of researchers to our field of aerodynamics by showing them something they can relate to." Using a wind tunnel, a 17-inch water channel, fluorescent dye and blacklights, the air-flow patterns were assessed at different speeds regarding their interactions with the soccer ball.

The Brazuca, aka the latest soccer ball to feature at the World Cup, has been specially crafted to allow smoother air-flow than the previous spherical target, the Jabulani. Complaints from goaltenders about the Jabulani "knuckling" and creating an unpredictable flight path led to a re-assessment of the ball's design. The improved six-panel Brazuca design should allow for more precise flight patterns.
NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Steve Swanson take on German astronaut Alexander Gerst in the Above-The-World Cup

Ad Astra Per Asparagus? Meteorite-Based Farming Techniques May Feed The Future

We may have the spacecraft power to get to Mars and beyond, but what will our pioneering astronauts eat when they've exhausted all the freeze-dried fruit and packaged proteins they've brought there? With long-duration space travel becoming a possibility, one "astroecologist" is assessing the means to create space-sustainable sustenance...in meteorite dust.

Michael Mautner, a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher, told Vice magazine that even barren extraterrestrial environments could feasibly harbor enough nutrients to grow bacteria, fungi, asparagus or potato plants. The phosphates, nitrates and water present in asteroids or meteorites attest to this, and Mautner has experimented by growing asparagus plants in ground-up meteorite dust, similar to soil, with some success.

However, his plans have one major issue to surmount: "The conditions outside Earth are presumably anaerobic {sans oxygen}—that's an order of magnitude harder to do," Mautner said. "But, if we can find things that can grow in extraterrestrial materials under Earth conditions, you can start to talk about it. We can maybe start to use those materials in artificial, oxygen-containing environments."

Eventually, a "ranking system" of the different types of space "soil" could be tested on, and the preferable mixtures of adaptable microorganisms and extremophilic elements could be sent out via rocket in attempts to terraform new worlds.



Bots Making Shots: World Cup To Be Kicked Off By Mind-Controlled Exoskeletal Robot Suit

Thursday's World Cup action in Sao Paulo, Brazil, will capture the world's attention with its athletic spectacle, but will also feature a fascinating technological innovation. The kickoff for the storied soccer tournament, which is expected to be viewed by billions worldwide, is slated to be made by one of eight paralyzed young adults who have been training for the event in a specially-designed robotic exoskeleton.

New Scientist reports that there is "a phenomenal amount of technology within the exoskeleton, including sensors that feed information about pressure and temperature back to the arms of the user, which still have sensation."

Lead robotic engineer Gordon Cheng, working with a team from the University of Munich, Germany, has developed the means for a skullcap of electrodes to transmit signals from the wearer's brain to a computer interface which then instructs the exoskeleton to kick the ball.

No word on if the machine makes vuvuzela noises upon goal completion.

Simulating Space Undersea: NASA Braves The Waves

NASA announced yesterday the launching of two new missions designed to train astronauts for work on the International Space Station and other spaceflight initiatives. However, instead of the flying, the crew will first be floating.

The "aquanauts", as described by a NASA press release, will live and work 62 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, 5.4 nautical miles off the coast of Key Largo, Florida, as part of an initiative called NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations.) According to NEEMO project manager Bill Todd, “It is critical that we perform science applicable to NASA’s exploration goals in a high-fidelity space operational context. The extreme environment of life undersea is as close to being in space as possible.”

The crew will include astronauts from NASA, the ESA (European Space Agency), the CSA (Canadian Space Agency), and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.) They plan to experiment on habitability, a variety of health issues, tele-mentoring skills (used for learning via imagery when an expert cannot be physically present) and extra-vehicular activities (EVAs) that use the oceanic environment to simulate different types of low gravity.
NEEMO aquanauts rollin' in the deep.

Dropping The Ball On Watching Us All: NSA's "Complex" Software Mysteriously Deletes Info Before Lawsuit

The National Security Agency, who have been arguing accusations of massive breaches of privacy due to their supposed care about protecting the very national security their name entails, have turned out to be rather insecure after all...thanks to the apparent complexity their own software.

The Washington Post reports that the NSA was told to retain information for a lawsuit from the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), intended to assess the depths of the NSA's invasive espionage efforts, but that the information was difficult to retain due to the need to shut down certain software elements where the data would be contained. Deputy director Richard Ledgett claimed that trying to safely retain all of the information required for the lawsuit would be deleterious to the agency, and would create "an immediate, specific, and harmful impact on the national security of the United States."

The EFF maintains that some of the information required for their lawsuit, which deals with the unlawful and downright creepy Big Brothering of American citizens, has already been destroyed. The NSA, meanwhile, maintains massive operational facilities' worth of workers and computer systems in which any of their valuable peeping-tom discoveries could have been "lost."


Block It Like It's Hot: Tetris Still Entertains At 30

The iconic brick-arranging, brainteasing video game classic Tetris turned 30 this week, yet remains a staple for novice to advanced gaming enthusiasts worldwide. First created by Russian engineer Alexey Pajitnov and eventually sold to Nintendo after a messy international battle over the game's rights (Pajitnov, a student at the time of the game's creation, would not see royalties for another 10 years due to his work technically being property of glorious Mother Russia), the beloved game has crossed oceans, language barriers, and gaming interfaces for over a generation.

Pajitnov's game had fascinating societal implications during the dawn of the personal computing age. As he would later tell the Guardian, "Tetris came along early and had a very important role in breaking down ordinary people's inhibitions in front of computers, which were scary objects to non-professionals used to pen and paper. But the fact that something so simple and beautiful could appear on screen destroyed that barrier."

Over fifty takeoffs of the Tetris empire exist, ranging from the sequel (Tetris 2) to Pajitnov's other endeavors (Hatris...a version with hats!) to the more esoteric (Tetripz.) The game's addictive nature has been explained by some psychologists as a means to offer an endlessly-satiating ability of completing small tasks in a neat manner.


Alexey Pajitnov's original Tetris design.



3D-Printed Rock Gear Rolls Out For UK Band Klaxons

Klaxons, a band from the UK, plan to embark on the world's first "3D printed tour." Using guitars, amps, and lights created by 3-D printing software, the band are innovating possibilities for new types of sound and new opportunities for equipment creation.

Crafted by Chelmsford company SJA 3D printing, the attempt was a challenge, though one they took to with great results thus far. Klaxons' Jamie Reynolds told NME, "We're going to do something nobody has ever done before. Something big, something fresh. Why not?"

The band plans to take their futuristic gear on a 9-date tour of the UK, beginning at the Norwich Waterfront on October 25th.
One example of a 3D-printed guitar, by Olaf Diegel of New Zealand

Computer Program Passes Turing Test; Judged As Plausible 13-Year-Old Boy

Like a technological Pinocchio, a computer program called "Eugene Goostman" has convinced researchers that "he" is a real boy.

Ostensibly a 13-year-old boy from the Ukraine, the program was able to pass the Turing Test, which states that a computer could be considered to be "thinking" if it could fool 30 percent of researchers during a five-minute text conversation. First dictated in 1950 by computer pioneer Alan Turing, the test is considered the preeminent benchmark for computational philosophy and artificial intelligence. The Russian-made program, tested by the Royal Society in England, fooled 33 percent of its interrogators.

As reported by the Independent UK, in regards to his success Mr. Goostman stated, “I feel about beating the turing test in quite convenient way. Nothing original."

The success of the test brings about many questions, including many regarding the safety of computer users when dealing with possible cybercriminals. Fortunately the Goostman program has not evolved to a stage of teenage mischief...yet.

UPDATE:  The validity of this article has been proven wrong.  My apologies, that's what I get for trusting the corporate media and their wannabe-robot minds.


Fired Up: Renewable Energy Sources Produce 20% Of Global Power

Renewable energy sources, including solar power, hydro power, geothermal energy, biofuels and wind, have been steadily contributing to energy requirements worldwide. Up from a mere 8% in 2012, the accrued fuel sources range in location from the U.S. to developing nations, with humans across the globe realizing the potential of the myriad new sustainable energy systems.

According to www.cleantech.com, "With developing world’s policy support, global renewable energy generation capacity jumped to a record level; 95 emerging economies now nurture renewable energy growth through supportive policies, up six-fold from just 15 countries in 2005."

China made a stunning leap this year by using more renewable sources than nuclear and fossil fuels combined. Although the U.S. has been relatively slow to catch on to widespread use of new energy sources, smaller nations like Scotland and Tuvalu plan to be 100% powered by renewable sources by 2020.

NASA Budget Bill Passes House GOP With Surprising Reinstated Funds

The White House, having made several deleterious cuts to major NASA initiatives, may have inadvertently led their foes in the GOP to maintain their adversity towards Obama by (gasp) aiding the greater quest for science.

According to the 2015 NASA budgetary report, passed this week by the House, $100 million has been set aside for the preliminary efforts at exploring the Martian moon of Europa, which is a target of interest due to its watery composition beneath an icy surface.

The report also maintains that the SOFIA infrared telescope continues to produce "good science" and will not be defunded, claiming, "Instead, the recommendation provides $70,000,000 for SOFIA, which should be sufficient to support the aircraft’s fixed costs (flight crews, required maintenance, etc.) as well as a base level of scientific observations."

While still requiring compromises and a vote of approval from the Senate and the White House, the bill maintains a startling level of scientific care, atypical to the GOP's usual platforms. An additional $15 million (previously slashed by the White House) has been proposed for education and public outreach, a crucial component of inspiring the engineers, astronauts, and adventurers who will carry out these projects in the coming decades.

Read more about the 2015 NASA Budget here.