Science and Technology

Thursday, September 21, 2000....Those Wild and Crazy Carbon Nanotubes Have Struck Again! They're Thermal Superconductors....With Time Running Out at CERN, Un. of Wisc. Team Closes in on Higgs Boson....Evolution of Photosynthesis Traced to Rhodopsin- and Chlorophyll-Based Bacteria....Gigantic Telescopes in the Works....The Tropical Pacific May Be the Driver in Global Climate Change....Global Warming: It's Real....Dr. Moravec's "Robots After All", July, 1999...."Ripples and Puddles", by Dr. Hans Moravec....Four-Bit-Per-Cell Flash Memory Chips May Be Introduced....For Details, Click on "Banner News" (Sidebar)
News Bites
The Coming "Age of Robotics" and Artificial Intelligence.
    Robotics and artificial intelligence are so indissolubly wedded that I haven't tried to separate them. The picture on the right shows the experimental Eureka automatic carpet sweeper. 
    After decades of hype, computer technology has finally reached the launching ramp. Robotics and omputer vision requires computational speeds measured in gigops to reach merely reptilian levels of intelligence. This has just become available and the 2003-2005 era is now targeted for the first visually navigated robotic devices.
 SpecialandGeneralRelativity Made Simple
Deriving the Lorentz Form of the Maxwell Equations.      More Relativity   Tableau-Vivants
  The paper "Our 4-Dimensional Universe" represents an attempt to present special relativity  intuitively to high school students in terms of what it is: four-dimensional geometry. Fortunately, only two dimensions are required to see and understand rotations of the t (time) axis about the x (spatial) axis. The treatment of general relativity derives the Schwarzchild solution for a planet moving around its primary without using tensors, although it does evaluate the off-diagonal elements of the metric tensor. This writeup needs to be redone, and, hopefully, simplified somewhat further, but it's still quite a bit simpler than the simplest tensor derivations of which I'm aware.
A Review of the Latest Bill Joy Warnings Concerning Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics  
 Computer Technology Forecasts  
 12/30/2000 Robotics Alert:  
 Robotics Update  
  Robotics Discussion  
  Robotics Update  
  Additional Important News on Robotics.  
 Back at the Dawn of the Space Age...  
 Policing Outer Space  
 Magnetic Bubble Propulsion  
 Solar photovoltaic power.  

    Below is a preview of a very-small subsection of the "News of the Ultranet" submission to the editor of Ubiquity Magazine. Hope you enjoy it.

Here Come More Robots

Mobile Household "Robots"
   The February issue of Ubiquity Magazine contained an article entitled, "Here Come the Robots", discussing the coming "Age of Robotics". In it, I opined that the dividing line between a robot and an automatic machine is very fuzzy. Automatic washers and robotic car washes have been with us long enough that we no longer consider them to be robots. Clockwork dolls have been around for hundreds of years,  no doubt sparking stories like Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", followed by the wondrous mechanical inventions of the 19th century, e. g., Morganthaler's Linotype machine, inspiring visions like Karel Kapek's "R. U. R." ("Rossam's Universal Robots"). Now, a new generation of computer-based automatic machines is in the offing. These will fall far short of human capabilities, although speech recognition, text-to-speech synthesis, and machine vision are a few of the humanesque characteristics that these devices may exhibit. This is not to say that artificial intelligence isn't something that humanity must eventually take seriously... only that the coming wave of automatic carpet sweepers, lawn mowers, floor scrubbers, and self-guided delivery carts will at first be no more than automatic machines, and will have to pass through insectile, and then reptilian levels of intelligence before they reach primate levels of intelligence, and beyond... assuming that they can, in fact, scale such heights.
   Little by little, mobile household "robots" are creeping into our peripheral vision. The September, 2000, issue of Popular Mechanics contains an article (on page 90) describing four new "robots". These would seem to be harbingers of a fleet of such devices. Of course, they'll really be automatic machines with less brainpower than a dust mite... worthy successors to automatic washers and automatic dishwashers. However, over time, they'll spare us some of the manual labor that is still required around the household (mowing, trimming, and edging the yard being at the top of my list).
    It will be more than two years before Dr. Hans Moravec's program to develop a practical, low-cost, visually guided platform comes to fruition. However, once this and similar programs deliver such platforms, automatic, self-guided devices may become popular for commercial use,  and a little later, for home-based applications. Like most such developments, there will probably be a period of product refinement..
    The first of these "robots" is Probotics "Cye-sr" ("sr", stands for "sound response"), costing $995 fully loaded. This includes the Cye-sr "tractor", a wagon that can carry mail or coffee, a Hoover cordless vacuum, and a T-shirt.

Cye Vacuuming the Living Room

Cye Delivering Coffee to Its "Mother"

                                                                                                                  The Carebot Carrying Soft Drinks to Its Guests
    As it creeps around your living room at 10 inches a second, Cye is continuously controlled by a computer program called "Map-N-Zap" through a radio link that attaches to your PC through a serial port. It uses spoked wheels that drive dual odometers that, in turn, enable the computer to estimate Cye's location by dead reckoning. However, when it encounters an obstacle, Cye calculates a new path around it. Cye can also navigate back to its docking station when its batteries run low, where both it and the Hoover cordless vacuum recharge. Measuring 16" by 9" by 5", the 9-pound Cye can vacuum carpets for one to two hours before it has to recharge itself.
    A law office in Pittsburgh utilizes Cye to deliver the mail on a half-hour, 31-office route, and then follows it up with coffee delivery using the little wagon that comes with Cye.
    Probotics is developing a robot arm so that Cye can grab a Coke out of the refrigerator. Cye will also need speech-recognition capability to respond to your cammands, and machine vision that  can process the information coming from a Webcam robotic eye.
    A more elaborate and expensive "robot" may be found in the Gecko "Carebot" ($2,695). Like Cye, Carebot also uses a PC, in this case, to generate a map from data gathered by the Carebot's sensors. The 4-foot-tall Carebot sports more than 200 sensors, including infrared and sonar rangefinders. The Gecko software boasts "cognizant navigation" in which the Carebot will circumnavigate a detected obstacle, returning to its path after it has skirted the obstacle. The Carebot also offers a vacuum cleaning module, but at an additional cost of $400. With a deep-discharge marine battery, it can operate for 8-10 hours, or equipped with a wheelchair-type gel cell, it can run for up to 35 hours on a charge. Gecko is currently developing a low-cost pan-tilt camera with a directional microphone for health-monitoring applications.
    It might be worth noting that 50 years ago, Edmund Berkeley developed robotic "turtles" that would explore their environment, and then return to their recharging huts. At the time, a couple of us graduate students at Case Institute of Technology designed wire-following automata that could deliver items around a house by following a wire buried under the carpet. I myself never followed through with actual construction of such a robot because it would have been no more than a conversation piece, and because, after graduation, I discovered that I would be expected to work full-time, as opposed to fooling around with my own hobby horses. Now, however, low-cost components are becoming available that could spawn automatic devices that are orders-of-magnitude more sophisticated than what could have been marketed in the 1950's.