Autonomous Helicopters Teach Themselves to Fly

Posted on August 31, 2008  Comments (7)

photo of Stanford Autonomous Learning Helicopters

Stanford’s “autonomous” helicopters teach themselves to fly

Stanford computer scientists have developed an artificial intelligence system that enables robotic helicopters to teach themselves to fly difficult stunts by watching other helicopters perform the same maneuvers.

The dazzling airshow is an important demonstration of “apprenticeship learning,” in which robots learn by observing an expert, rather than by having software engineers peck away at their keyboards in an attempt to write instructions from scratch.

It might seem that an autonomous helicopter could fly stunts by simply replaying the exact finger movements of an expert pilot using the joy sticks on the helicopter’s remote controller. That approach, however, is doomed to failure because of uncontrollable variables such as gusting winds.

Very cool. Related: MIT’s Autonomous Cooperating Flying VehiclesThe sub-$1,000 UAV Project6 Inch Bat PlaneKayak Robots

Saving Lives with Smarter Hurricane Evacuations

Posted on August 30, 2008  Comments (3)

A sign indicating a hurricane evacuation route near Boca Raton, Florida. Photo / Wikimedia Commons

Software developed by a MIT student is aiding emergency officials as they decide on evacuation plans:
Saving lives through smarter hurricane evacuations

Michael Metzger’s software tool, created as part of the research for his PhD dissertation, could allow emergency managers to better decide early on whether and when to order evacuations — and, crucially, to do so more efficiently by clearing out people in stages. The tool could also help planners optimize the location of relief supplies before a hurricane hits.

“All in all, this is a complex balancing act,” Metzger says.

The concept of evacuating an area in stages — focusing on different categories of people rather than different geographical locations — is one of the major innovations to come out of Metzger’s work, since congestion on evacuation routes has been a significant problem in some cases, such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Metzger suggests that, for example, the elderly might be evacuated first, followed by tourists, families with children, and then the remaining population. The determination of the specific categories and their sequence could be determined based on the demographics of the particular area.

By spacing out the evacuation of different groups over a period of about two days, he says, the process would be more efficient, while many traditional systems of evacuating a given location all at once can and have caused serious congestion problems.
Other factors that could help to make evacuations more effective, he says, include better planning in the preparation of places for evacuees to go to, making sure buses and other transportation are ready to transport people, and preparing supplies in advance at those locations.

Related: Engineering the Boarding of AirplanesMIT Hosts Student Vehicle Design SummitLighting in Slow Motion

MythBuster: 3 Ways to Fix USA Science Education

Posted on August 29, 2008  Comments (2)

MythBuster Adam Savage: 3 Ways to Fix U.S. Science Education

Let students get their hands dirty.
It’s really difficult to absorb things just by being told about them—I know I don’t learn well that way. If students could get their hands dirty in science class they’d be more likely to internalize information. You can lecture about the surface tension of water, but it’s not as effective as conducting an experiment with a needle and a single beam balance. Jamie and I are in touch with a lot of teachers from industrial engineering programs, and one of them told us he thinks our show has helped shift the emphasis from the strictly theoretical to a more hands-on approach.

2. Yes, spend more money on science.

3. Celebrate mistakes.
A good scientist will tell you that being wrong can be just as interesting as being right. The same holds for our show. We love hearing from fans who challenge our conclusions—especially kids.

Related: Report on K-12 Science Education in USA (2006)posts on science educationThe Economic Consequences of Investing in Science EducationMiddle School EngineersLego LearningThe Importance of Science Education – Science Toys You Can Make With Your Kids

Blinking Cats: Friday Cat Fun #4

Posted on August 29, 2008  Comments (4)

Blinking Cats

What is your cat trying to tell you? A blinking cat is a happy cat. Blinking in cats is a signal that they recognize the presence of another cat in their vicinity but they are not going to fight it. A blink sends the message: “You are my friend. I am not angry. I am not threatened, or threatening.”

This kind of message is very important in the wild, where cats battle for territory. Run across a neighboring cat and you’d better make your intentions clear, or you may find yourself in a fight. The blink serves to say: all’s well here.

So, why do cats blink at us, when we aren’t cats and don’t understand such feline messages? Well — do you ever speak to your cat?

Related: Cat Eye BlinkingMy cat ran up a $300 water billOrigins of the Domestic Catmore fun with cats

A Journey Into the Human Eye

Posted on August 28, 2008  Comments (3)

Zoom into a human eye

The webcast goes into the human eye while describing the microscopic details of the human eye. See more such videos: The Eyes of a FlyZoom Into a FishZoom Into a Butterfly

Related: Non-Newtonian Fluid Demoposts on biologyscience webcasts

Anthropologists Find New Type of Urbanism in Amazon Jungles

Posted on August 28, 2008  Comments (0)

Anthropologists Find New Type of Urbanism in Amazon Jungles

Recently-discovered Amazonian settlements could be a new type of metropolis, unseen elsewhere in the world and hidden until recently in the Kuikuro jungle, say anthropologists.

Revealed by overgrown earthworks, the 100 square-mile urban units consist of clusters of interconnected villages ranging from 50-150 acres in size. The town-nodes were arranged along a highly-regular pattern of roads built around a central plaza about 500 feet across. The cities appear to have been at their height between the 13th and 17th centuries.

“No single Xingu settlement merits the term ‘city.’ But what do you do with a core of five settlements are few kilometers away from each other?” Michael Heckenberger, a University of Florida anthropologist currently in Brazil, told Science. “A fast walk from one to another would take you 15 minutes, maximum.”

Related: Aztec MathSurfing a Wave for 12 kmTraffic Congestion and a Non-Solution‘Hobbit’ human is a new species

Alumni Return to Redesign High School Engineering Classes

Posted on August 28, 2008  Comments (0)

Prince George’s County High School Alumni Return to Redesign Classes

Cressman joined nine fellow graduates of the elite science and technology magnet program every day for six weeks to create top-flight engineering courses for high school students. The class at the Greenbelt, Maryland, school will teach the latest in computer programming and drafting with software used by college professors and professional engineers. And since engineering teachers can be hard to find, the curriculum is designed to be taught by a non-expert.

All freshman in the science and technology magnet program are already required to take two introductory engineering classes, but the curricula for those classes were originally designed in 1976. “There has been some revamping through the years, but we knew we needed a major overhaul. Things have changed so much,” explains Jane Hemelt, coordinator of the science and technology program, which serves about 900 of the school’s 2,700 students. The problem was that there wasn’t an easy way to get the expertise to fix it.

Hemelt talked about the problem with Rocco Mennella, a mathematics professor at Prince George’s Community College and Catholic University who teaches science and math at Roosevelt. For several years, Mennella had been recruiting Roosevelt graduates as tutors for his summer precalculus class, and he told Hemelt that his recruits—who were science, math, and engineering majors—might serve double duty by redesigning the engineering curriculum.

Mennella’s college recruits came from Caltech, MIT, Brown, Johns Hopkins, Georgia Tech, and the University of Maryland, where they have been exposed to some of the best science and engineering teachers in the country. In addition, Cressman contacted about 80 engineering professors at universities and colleges around the country to find out what they would like their incoming students to know; almost 50 responded.

For example, all agreed that the classes should focus on the practical aspects of engineering, including computer-aided design and computer programming, while exposing the high school students to electrical, civil, and mechanical engineering. But the curriculum designers also wanted their younger peers to have fun while learning, so they put in many hours on computers creating lessons that would challenge students to redesign the Taj Mahal, build an SUV, or guide a robot.

Eleanor Roosevelt High School will test some of the modules as part of other classes this fall, which will reach 30 students or more, and the team hopes to roll out the other classes full time in coming years. The Prince George’s school district’s other two science magnet schools, Oxon Hill and Charles Flowers, also plan to use the curriculum. But Mennella and Hemelt hope it will spread even wider, including to schools that don’t specialize in science and math. Those schools might just use parts of the curriculum, or spread a semester-long class out over a year. “Who knows, this could become a model for the state and maybe a model for the country,” Hemelt says.

I am looking into how people can see the curricula, and any other material that may be available.

Related: Center for Engineering Educational OutreachKids in the Lab: Getting High-Schoolers Hooked on ScienceMiddle School EngineersTechnology and Fun in the ClassroomEducation Resources for Science and Engineering

Black Raspberries Alter Hundreds of Genes Slowing Cancer

Posted on August 27, 2008  Comments (2)

Black Raspberries Slow Cancer by Alter Hundreds of Genes

Researchers at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center examined the effect of freeze-dried black raspberries on genes altered by a chemical carcinogen in an animal model of esophageal cancer

“We have clearly shown that berries, which contain a variety of anticancer compounds, have a genome-wide effect on the expression of genes involved in cancer development,” says principal investigator Gary D. Stoner

Stoner notes that black raspberries have vitamins, minerals, phenols and phytosterols, many of which individually are known to prevent cancer in animals. “Freeze drying the berries concentrates these elements about ten times, giving us a power pack of chemoprevention agents that can influence the different signaling pathways that are deregulated in cancer,” he says.

Their analyses included measuring the activity, or expression levels, of 41,000 genes. In the carcinogen-treated animals, 2,261 of these genes showed changes in activity of 50 percent or higher.

Pretty cool stuff.

Related: DNA Passed to Descendants Changed by Your LifeCancer Deaths Increasing, Death Rate DecreasingPeople Have More Bacterial Cells than Human CellsEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

General Biology Berkeley Course Webcast

Posted on August 27, 2008  Comments (1)

General Biology Course at University of California – Berkeley, Fall 2007. Instructors John Forte, R Fischer and R Malkin. “General introduction to cell structure and function, molecular and organism genetics, animal development, form and function. Intended for biological sciences majors, but open to all qualified students.” A great service from Berkeley with video and audio… Topics include: Macromolecules structure and function, How cells function-an introduction to cellular metabolism and biological catalysts, Microbes – Viruses, Bacteria, Plasmids, Transposons and Homeostasis: The body’s defenses.

Related: Science and Engineering Webcast DirectoryHarvard Course: Understanding Computers and the InternetBerkeley and MIT courses onlineArizona State Science Studio PodcastsGoogle Tech Talks

Robot Fish

Posted on August 26, 2008  Comments (1)

Pretty cool swimming fish robot from Essex University.

Related: Robot Fish Debut in LondonRobo-SalamanderRoachbot: Cockroach Controlled RobotRobo Insect Flight

Wireless Power

Posted on August 25, 2008  Comments (3)

An end to spaghetti power cables by Maggie Shiels, BBC News

Mr Rattner envisaged a scenario where a laptop’s battery could be recharged when the machine gets within several feet of a transmit resonator which could be embedded in tables, work surfaces, picture frames and even behind walls.

Intel’s technology relies on an idea called magnetic induction. It is a principle similar to the way a trained singer can shatter a glass using their voice; the glass absorbs acoustic energy at its natural frequency. At the wall socket, power is put into magnetic fields at a transmitting resonator – basically an antenna. The receiving resonator is tuned to efficiently absorb energy from the magnetic field, whereas nearby objects do not.

Intel’s demonstration has built on work done originally by Marin Soljacic, a physicist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, researcher Alanson Sample showed how to make a 60-watt light bulb glow from an energy source three feet away. This was achieved with relatively high efficiency, only losing a quarter of the energy it started with.

Don’t expect to see this available commercially this year, they estimate it is at least 5 years away. Though this is not university and business collaboration in the sense they are working together, it is in the sense that Intel is building upon the work MIT did. See other posts on university and business collaboration.

Related: Water From AirEngineers Save EnergyMicrochip Cooling Innovation