December 19, 2014

Electronics Inspired by Spider Webs and Leaves

(Boston College)
Have you ever wished your smartphone was shatter-proof, bendable, or even stretchy? If so, you might not have to wait too long for the phone of your dreams because two physicists at Boston College are working on building the next generation of flexible, durable electronics.

December 18, 2014

Mind-controlled Robotic Arm

A new prototype mind-controlled robotic arm is the latest example of brain-computer interface technology being developed with the ultimate aim of improving the quality of life of people unable to use their own arms.
(Journal of Neural Engineering/IOP Publishing)


We recently reported on robotic prosthetic arms for amputees. Those prosthetic limbs can be controlled by the users and also deliver a sense of touch. Now, a woman with quadriplegia has been able to remotely move a robot arm with signals from her brain. She has even been able to use the mind-controlled robotic arm to pick up and move objects.

December 17, 2014

World’s First Walking Robot Stick Insect

(Bielefeld University)
A research team at Bielefeld University in Germany has taught the only robot of its kind in the world how to walk. Designed to be stick insect-like, the walking robot is called Hector has elastic joints and an ultralight exoskeleton.

Hector is the result of an interdisciplinary project at the Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) involving researchers from the fields of computer science, biology, physics, and engineering.

December 16, 2014

Harlequin Filefish Uses Smell to Fool Predators

Researchers have found an ingenious coral-eating fish that can change its smell to hide from predators. 
Harlequin filefish can disguise their  smell to confuse predators  (Tane Sinclair-Taylor)
Harlequin filefish can disguise their 
smell to confuse predators 
(Tane Sinclair-Taylor)

It’s the harlequin filefish, and it camouflages its scent to smell like the coral it’s eating. In other words, it manages to smell like its own food, and not like something else’s.

“By feeding on corals, the harlequin filefish ends up smelling enough like its food that predators have a hard time distinguishing it from the surrounding coral habitat,” explains Rohan Brooker from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia.

December 10, 2014

Finding Earth-like Planets Just Got Easier

Artist's impression of how an early earth-like planet might look (ESO)

Finding Earth-like planets that may someday support life just got easier. 

Among the billions and billions of stars in the sky, astronomers look for young planets (so-called infant Earths) where life might develop. New research from Cornell University shows where, and when, infant Earths are most likely to be found.

“The search for new, habitable worlds is one of the most exciting things human beings are doing today and finding infant Earths will add another fascinating piece to the puzzle,” says Lisa Kaltenegger, associate professor of astronomy in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences.

December 9, 2014

Electric Eels Deliver Taser-like Shocks

The electric eel is an Amazonian fish that can deliver an electrical jolt strong enough to stun a horse, using an electroshock system similar to a Taser. 
Electric eels deliver Taser-like shocks 
(Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University)

Thanks to a new study from Vanderbilt University, we now know more about how this animal hunts with electricity. Vanderbilt University has kindly provided us with a short but excellent documentary video about electric eels.

December 8, 2014

Your Household Robot Is on the Way

A household robot to help with the daily chores is surely every busy person’s dream. But who would want a clumsy robot that’s always getting under your feet? That is the challenge being addressed by researchers at MIT. They have built a sophisticated robot and are teaching it to work together with people.

The Willow Garage PR2 is a sophisticated research robot
designed to work with people. (Claudia Perez D’Arpino, MIT)
In a recent article, we reported on the robots being put to work at the retail giant Amazon to serve our holiday shopping needs. But thanks to MIT and the National Robotics Initiative, the future may very well have interactive and collaborative robots in our homes, too...

December 5, 2014

Citizen Science Inspires Conservation Efforts

Citizens who get involved in science become more environmentally aware and willing to participate in advocacy than previously thought, according to a new study. Researchers at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment have reported that citizen science projects can lead to broader public support for conservation efforts.

The study included a survey of 115 people who had recently participated in citizen science projects in India with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Centre for Wildlife Studies. The research indicates that, in addition to gaining environmental skills such as population monitoring and species identification, participants often became environmental advocates, sharing their new knowledge with their social networks.

Family Support Needed for Future Scientists

Family support makes all the difference in bringing up the next generation of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, according to researchers at George Mason University.

The researchers say that support from family is the primary factor in encouraging children to consider a future a science, with formal education playing a secondary role. The findings could shape public policy and encourage community-centered activities designed to foster a love of science.

Holograms You Can Touch and Feel

Holograms that seem to have mass and can be touched have long been the stuff of science fiction. Now, they are becoming science fact.

Tactile technology which creates haptic feedback has been used for years in entertainment (such as game controllers), rehabilitation and even surgical training. Now, researchers from the University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science have taken a leap forward by using ultrasound to develop a 3D shape in mid-air that can be touched and felt by human hands.

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December 2, 2014

Robots Fulfilling Your Amazon Orders

Robots are hard at work this holiday season in the warehouses and fulfillment centers of Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN).
An Amazon employee picks items from a Kiva robot 
(Business Wire) 

In time for the holiday shopping frenzy, the company unveiled its eighth generation fulfillment centers (where customer orders are processed) which now use a variety of gadgets including Kiva robots, vision systems, and a whole host of other software and mechanical innovations that would make Santa and his elves weep. Amazon is currently operating 10 of these new centers in the United States.

December 1, 2014

Honey Bees Need Less Environmental Stress

Honey bee populations are currently threatened by the parasitic Varroa mite, insecticides, and a host of other factors. But how did the bees get into such a weakened state in the first place?
Honey bee gathering pollen (EH Science)

According to a new study, a complex interplay of stresses has affected the insect’s immune system and health, leaving them too weak to fight off parasites and disease. Now, to better protect these crucial insects, researchers are proposing better honey bee nutrition and a reduction of environmental stress factors.