Usability for All

Posted on July 29, 2018  Comments (0)

Technology can provide huge benefits when we take care to use it wisely. Considering usability is extremely important and we need to keep focusing on improving usability. This video shows an interesting application by Abhishek Singh’s to increase the usability of “smart speakers.” His app runs on a tablet allow a user to use American Sign Language to interact with Alexa (it displays Alexa’s responses in text on the table).

Related: Getting Closer to a Universal Translator (2010)NASA You Have a Problem with Usability (2008)Appropriate Technology and Focus on Improving Lives at MIT (2014)

Growing Citrus in the Snow

Posted on May 27, 2018  Comments (0)

The system uses the constant ground temperature 2.5 meters (8 feet) below ground to heat a greenhouse. The underground-temperature on his farm is 11 degrees (52 degrees Fahrenheit). Other nearby areas range from 9 to 17 degrees (17 is near a hot spring).

Just circulating air through 64 meters (210 feet) of tubing buried 2.5 meters underground is enough to allow citrus and other plants to thrive. Selling at local farmer’s markets brings in a very high profit for farmers that can grow and sell locally.

Using the power of the sun to grow and the constant ground temperature to keep the air warm enough creates an opportunity to grow all year round. The same principles can be used to cool down indoor temperatures in very hot locations near the equator.

Due to the controlled environment growing organically is easy so that further increases the payoff for this type of farming.

The cost of the system can be as low as $25,000 if you have access to a backhoe to dig the trenches for the air pipes and can do much of the labor yourself. That is the cost of just the heating systems for a conventional greenhouse.

I really like this type of intersection of engineering and business (as well as environment and health benefits – providing healthy local food) that creates value to society by using our knowledge effectively.

Learn more at Citrus in the Snow. The Nebraska farmer (seen in the video) has been growing Citrus in Nebraska this way since 1992.

Related: Sustainable Ocean FarmingBeehive Fence Protects Farms from ElephantsFor Many Crops Ants Can Provide Pest Protection Superior or Equal to Chemicals at a Much Lower CostSmall Farm Robots

Backyard Wildlife: Red-tailed Hawk

Posted on January 31, 2018  Comments (0)

Red-tailed hawk with squirrel

I see red-tailed hawks in my backyard occasionally. This one has a squirrel on a high tree branch in my backyard. The video shows it fly away.

When I hear a murder of crows squawking loudly I often can spot a red-tailed hawk (or perhaps some other hawks) near my yard.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: Sharpshinned HawkRed-shouldered HawkBackyard Wildlife: FoxBackyard Wildlife: Blue Jay

20 Most Popular Post on the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 2017

Posted on January 7, 2018  Comments (0)

These were the most popular (by number of page views) posts on our blog in 2016.

Diagram of solar energy project using molton salt

molten salt solar system diagram

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Animations of Motor Proteins Moving Material Inside Cells

Posted on December 23, 2017  Comments (0)

Very cool. This next video gives a bit more information on how these amazing parts of our cells move material around inside or cells.

This stuff is so interesting. I wish this type of interesting material and informative animations was what my biology education was like in k-12 instead of the boring stuff my classes were instead. I hope students today have better science classes than I did.

It is amazing how such mechanisms evolved to “walk” along transportation microtubules inside our cells.

Related: Molecular Motor Proteins webcast by Ron Vale, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco (35 minutes)Looking Inside Living CellsScience Explained: Cool Video of ATP Synthase, Which Provides Usable Energy to UsExploring Eukaryotic Cells

Toyota’s Newest Humanoid Partner Robot

Posted on November 22, 2017  Comments (0)

T-HR3 reflects Toyota’s broad-based exploration of how advanced technologies can help to meet people’s unique mobility needs. T-HR3 represents an evolution from previous generation instrument-playing humanoid robots, which were created to test the precise positioning of joints and pre-programmed movements, to a platform with capabilities that can safely assist humans in a variety of settings, such as the home, medical facilities, construction sites, disaster-stricken areas and even outer space.

“The Partner Robot team members are committed to using the technology in T-HR3 to develop friendly and helpful robots that coexist with humans and assist them in their daily lives. Looking ahead, the core technologies developed for this platform will help inform and advance future development of robots to provide ever-better mobility for all,” said Akifumi Tamaoki, General Manager, Partner Robot Division.

T-HR3 is controlled from a Master Maneuvering System that allows the entire body of the robot to be operated instinctively with wearable controls that map hand, arm and foot movements to the robot, and a head-mounted display that allows the user to see from the robot’s perspective. The system’s master arms give the operator full range of motion of the robot’s corresponding joints and the master foot allows the operator to walk in place in the chair to move the robot forward or laterally. The Self-interference Prevention Technology embedded in T-HR3 operates automatically to ensure the robot and user do not disrupt each other’s movements.

Onboard T-HR3 and the Master Maneuvering System, motors, reduction gears and torque sensors (collectively called Torque Servo Modules) are connected to each joint. These modules communicate the operator’s movements directly to T-HR3’s 29 body parts and the Master Maneuvering System’s 16 master control systems for a smooth, synchronized user experience.

Learn more on Toyota’s news site.

Related: Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair (2009)Robots for Health Care from Toyota (2017)Toyota Human Support Robot (2012)Lexus Has Built a Working Hoverboard (2015)

Cats Protect Newborns From Developing Asthma

Posted on November 11, 2017  Comments (0)

Everyone should appreciate the value of cats (as we do, honoring cats in our blog’s name); yet some people seem oblivious to the greatness of cats. In another demonstration of what we gain by associating with cats, research has shown living with cats as newborns helps protect those with a specific gene variation from developing asthma.

Cats protect newborns against asthma

The results reveal that cats remove the increased risk of developing asthma among children with a particular variation of the gene 17q21, called TT, which has the strongest impact on whether or not a child could develop asthma.

Almost one in three children in the study carried the TT gene variant, regardless of whether or not their mother had asthma.

“it looks like the effect is linked to a particular gene-variant, which goes to show just how complex the development of asthma and allergies are. It’s not only about genes and the environment, but how the two interact, and there’s so much that we still don’t know,”

The research indicates that cats reduce the risk of childhood asthma, pneumonia, and bronchiolitis in genetically susceptible subjects.

And no, dogs do not provide this protection. As with most research the scientists have new paths of inquiry to follow based on these results. Lead author Jakob Stokholm suspects that the reasons cats have this effect but dogs do not, “could be related to the bacteria that cats carry and perhaps fungi or viruses that they bring into the home”. Those questions can be the topic of further research.

Related: Cat Allergy Vaccine Created (2011)Awesome Cat CamThe History of Domestic CatsParasites in the Gut Help Develop a Healthy Immune SystemHypoallergenic Cats (2006)The Amazing Reality of Genes and The History of Scientific Inquiry

Simple and Cheap Security Camera with 2 Way Audio and Backup to Cloud via Wifi

Posted on October 25, 2017  Comments (0)

This is a cool product at a very reasonable price: $30.

The device offers a 1080p HD smart home camera with 14 days of free rolling cloud storage, wide-angle lens, two-way audio and the ability to send alerts to your phone. You setup the device to use a local wifi network and control it via a smartphone application.

I have long wanted such a product (they have been available for a few years but haven’t been cheap) and now they are available at a great price. The main drawback I see is that it requires a power connection (it doesn’t have a battery option). So setting it up as a doorbell is a bit of an issue (you have to get power to it somehow).

Order your camera. Learn more about the device from Wyzecam

Related: Camera Trap Images of Very Rare Wild CatsAnswer Your Doorbell with Your Smartphone Wherever You Are (and see video of who is at the door) (from 2015Video Cat CamCanon PowerShot SX60 HS Digital Camera

Building a Network of Tunnels Underground to Ease the Flow of Traffic

Posted on October 1, 2017  Comments (1)

Guest post by Aron Alba

“Roads must go 3D” – Elon Musk

The Boring company plans to build the network of tunnels under the ground in order to combat traffic congestions all over United States. As seen in their presentation video, the idea is to construct a system of tunnels in which electric vehicles autonomously zip around cars, people and cargo transport in high speed under the surface (like a scene from a science fiction movie).

The ride would begin with the lift that lowers the vehicles from the surface into the tunnel system. These lifts could be a possible bottleneck for the entire system, but it may be the best solution. To secure the vehicle to the autonomous pod and possibly select the end destination would take some time anyways, so this transition into the tunnel system could go unnoticed. Pods could travel at higher speeds than those allowed for the human driver, since the system is autonomous and completely monitored. The scenery wouldn’t be much though, so probably not the most interesting ride, but certainly fast.

Why build a tunnel network in the first place?
Traffic congestion is a very common nuisance in american lives. With the problem just getting worse. In order to solve this problem you have to build more roads or have fewer cars on them with arranging a better public transport. The land for the roads is scarce. The alternative of going up using drones to fly people around may not become possible due to safety concerns in a long time. Where to go then? Underground.

This has not been done before for obvious reasons, it is really expensive. The most expensive roads to build are tunnels and bridges. Tunnels have even more problems the larger they get. With people driving inside of them there needs to be proper ventilation to get rid of the carbon-monoxide. Resting stops for people. Great deal of risk with so many people driving inside a closed tunnel. The subway system is one solution to many of these problems. Except subways lack the flexibility and require substantially more infrastructure.

Elon Musk’s big plan is to use the technology that his other company Tesla already has developed. Instead of trains like in a subway system, Musk plans to have autonomous pods that run on battery power to zip along the tunnels. This has several advantages. First the battery powered pods to not require power lines to be continuously run through the tunnel like the train does, this saves on the costs of the tunnel. Also since the pods will be autonomous, this saves on personnel needed to operate the system. But probably the smartest idea behind the Boring company’s plans is to build a tunnel with a smaller bore diameter. Probably large enough to fit a pod with a largest planned Tesla vehicle but certainly smaller than the current tunnels for trains.

The Boring company plans to build the tunnel network using a tunnel boring machines. These machines are massive systems build to bore tunnels with circular cross section. They consist of cutting head system, a system for removing earth, systems for advancing the cutting head, systems for laying the concrete walls around the bore. At the end these machines leave a tunnel pretty much ready to use.

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Dr. Steve Goodman’s Work as a Field Biologist in Madagascar

Posted on September 2, 2017  Comments (2)

Dr. Steve Goodman‘s work is a legendary Field Biologist and spends 9-10 months out of the year conducting research in other countries, with a focus on Madagascar for nearly 30 years. Learn more about the future of Madagascar’s biodiversity and research.

This video is from the great Brain Scoop channel with Emily Graslie; if you are not following that channel I highly recommend doing so for people interested in science.

Related: The Michael Jordan of Field BiologyInsect ArchitectureNew Life Form Found at South African Truck StopNeil Degrasse Tyson: Scientifically Literate See a Different World

Stanford Research Scientists Discover 99% of the Microbes Inside Us are Unknown to Science

Posted on August 24, 2017  Comments (0)

Readers of this blog know I am fascinated by the human microbiome. It is amazing how much of our biology is determined by entities within us that are not us (at least not our DNA) (bacteria, viruses etc.). This whole area of study is very new and we have quite a bit to learn. There are scientists across the globe studying this area and learning a great deal.

Stanford study indicates that more than 99% of the microbes inside us are unknown to science

Of all the non-human DNA fragments the team gathered, 99 percent of them failed to match anything in existing genetic databases the researchers examined.

The “vast majority” of it belonged to a phylum called proteobacteria, which includes, among many other species, pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella. Previously unidentified viruses in the torque teno family, generally not associated with disease but often found in immunocompromised patients, made up the largest group of viruses.

“We’ve doubled the number of known viruses in that family through this work,” Quake said. Perhaps more important, they’ve found an entirely new group of torque teno viruses. Among the known torque teno viruses, one group infects humans and another infects animals, but many of the ones the researchers found didn’t fit in either group. “We’ve now found a whole new class of human-infecting ones that are closer to the animal class than to the previously known human ones, so quite divergent on the evolutionary scale,” he said.

Related: We are Not Us Without The Microbes Within UsWebcasts on the Human MicrobiomePeople are Superorganisms With Microbiomes of Thousands of Species (2013)We Have Thousands of Viruses In Us All the Time (2015)Tracking the Ecosystem Within Us (2007)

  • Recent Comments:

    • Alex: This is certainly the future. It is hart warming to see developing countries benefiting from such...
    • Donnie S. Willson: Underground tunnel is a good idea for traffic managment.i really appreciate it.
    • Richard Hopp: Awesome blog post, love the biodiversity. Really excited after watching this video, since I...
    • Robbie Miller: How fantastic, not only a great subject to study, but to be able to travel the world too....
    • Jaspal Singh: Japan has an edge when it comes to humanoid robots. No doubt in few more year, you will find...
    • Marcus Williams: This is actually a marvelous piece of engineering. Kudos for sharing!
    • M Zeeshan Haider: You are so interesting! I don’t believe I’ve truly read through anything like...
    • Jaspal Singh: I fully agree to the post idea. The farming is a natural process and should be free from any...