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New Robot Could Spare Astronauts From Dangerous Spacewalks

January 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Lizard-like robots with sticky feet may one day work on spacecraft like the International Space Station, eliminating the need for astronauts to make dangerous spacewalks.

Researchers from the European Space Agency and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia have been working to develop a robot sticky enough to cling safely to the outside of a spacecraft while also remaining mobile.

At this point, the robot, dubbed Abigaille, is able to climb walls on Earth.

“This approach is an example of ‘biomimicry,’ taking engineering solutions from the natural world,” said Michael Henrey, a graduate student in engineering at Simon Fraser and a researcher on the project. “Our Abigaille climbing robot is therefore quite dexterous, with six legs each having four degrees of freedom [or joints], so it should be able to handle environments that a wheeled robot could not.”

He added that the robot can transition from a vertical position to horizontal, which could be useful for navigating around the surface of a satellite or maneuvering around obstacles.

For the lizard-like robot, the European Space Agency said it’s taking a lesson from the hairs on the bottom of the gecko’s feet that enable it to stick to surfaces.

“We’ve borrowed techniques from the microelectronics industry to make our own footpad terminators,” Henrey said in a statement. “Technical limitations mean these are around 100 times larger than a gecko’s hairs, but they are sufficient to support our robot’s weight.”

The agency has tested the robot to see if it could work in the rigors of a space environment.

“The reason we’re interested in dry adhesives is that other adhesive methods wouldn’t suit the space environment,” said Henrey. “Scotch, duct or pressure-sensitive tape would collect dust, reducing their stickiness over time… Velcro requires a mating surface, and broken hooks could contaminate the robot’s working environment. Magnets can’t stick to composites, for example, and magnetic fields might affect sensitive instruments.”

It’s not uncommon for robotics researchers to build machines based on animals or even insects. In November, scientists at New York University said they had built a small, flying robot to move like the boneless, pulsating, water-dwelling jellyfish.

Last spring, Harvard University researchers announced that they had built an insect-like robot that flies by flapping its wings. The robot is so small it has about 1/30th the weight of a U.S. penny.

In the fall of 2012, scientists at the University of Sheffield and the University of Sussex in England teamed up to study the brains of honey bees in an attempt to build an autonomous flying robot.



Processors Continue Downward Trend

February 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Computing

Analyst over at Carnegie have said that world chip sales are likely to be only $22.7billion in January, compared to $23.8 billion in December.

Seasonally adjusted, that would be down 1-2 per cent on a monthly basis and mean that actual chip sales will likely fall 15-16 per cent on a yearly basis. The reason for the fall, the analysts say, is due to disk drive shortages in Thailand which have forced costs to rise. The PC market is likely to be more back-loaded this year, the report notes.

Handset chip sales were likely also soft in January. Chips for cars were softer after a strong December. Other quirks, such as an early Chinese New Year also contributed the low figures in January. Although several chip makers indicated the inventory problems in fourth quarter had ended, Carnegie thinks that the indicator shows that the trend will continue into this year.

PC’s are the biggest chip users, followed by cell phones. Cars, appliances, base stations, and instruments are other significant users, the analyst said.



SoC To Be Used in Slim XBOX 360s

June 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Gaming

The latest fad of using SoC (System-o-Chip) processor will be incorporated into the new Slim Xbox 360 according to Microsoft, which cuts down on two processors. According to Microsoft the chip was designed by IBM/Global Foundries is using a 45nm process and combines the tri-core CPU, AMD/ATI GPU, dual channel memory controller, and I/O onto a single chip with a new front side bus. This technological design is similar to the methods used by AMD’s Fusion and Intel’s Sandy Bridge offerings.

As you the true reason for Microsoft to use SoC is to reduce cost.  That said, it also reduces heat and increases power efficiency; these are two areas that Microsoft has improved upon with each generation of Xbox 360 that has been released.

The new SoC will have 372 million transistors that took Microsoft development team 5 years of research to bring to life.  It is said that Microsoft wanted to pay special attention to guaranteeing compatibility, implemented precision latency and bandwidth throttling that perfectly impersonates the older Xbox systems which used separate chips to make up older XBOX 360s.  Now I wonder if Microsoft will drop the Xbox 360 price even more in the Fall.


University Scientist Create Millimeter Computer

March 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Computing

Scientist at the University of Michigan have created the first of it kind millimeter-scale computing system.

The tiny computer is being called the Phoenix chip, its size is 1 cubic millimeter and was made to be used in the human eye. The little computer does not have a lot on its plate.  The Phoenix has the job of monitoring the intraocular pressure of glaucoma patients, do not be fooled by the assumed simple task,  the device is considered a computer by all technical standards.

Researcher Dennis Sylvester, a professor at the University of Michigan says the Phoenix computer comprised of an ultra-low-power microprocessor, a pressure sensor, memory, a ultra slim battery, a solar cell and a wireless radio with an antenna that can transmit data to an external device.

The Phoenix amazingly uses only 5.3 nanowatts while in use, otherwise it sleeps.  The researchers profess that such tiny computers will one day be utilized to track pollution, monitor structural integrity, perform surveillance, or make virtually any object smart and track-able.

We are always glad to see Universities lead with amazing research to make our lives better.

IBM Puts Efforts Into Developing Quantum Computing

November 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Computing

Ramped-up research efforts at IBM and other labs in the U.S. and Europe could lead to more powerful and more available quantum computers in the near future.

IBM is breathing new life into a quantum computing research division at its Thomas J. Watson Research Center, reports New York Times. The computer giant has hired alumni from promising quantum computing programs at Yale and the University of California-Santa Barbara, both of which made quantum leaps in the past year using standard superconducting material.

Groups at both universities have been using rhenium or niobium on a semiconductor surface and cooling the system to absolute zero so that it exhibits quantum behavior. As the Times reports, the method relies on standard microelectronics manufacturing tech, which could make quantum computers easier and cheaper to make.

The Santa Barbara researchers told the Times they believe they can double the computational power of their quantum computers by next year.

Rather than using transistors to crunch the ones and zeroes of binary code, quantum computers store data as qubits, which can represent one and zero simultaneously. This superposition enables the computers to solve multiple problems at once, providing quick answers to tough questions. But observing a qubit strips it of this duality — you can only see one state at a time — so physicists must figure out how to extract data from a qubit without directly observing it. That’s where quantum entanglement comes in handy; two qubits can be connected by an invisible wave so that they share each other’s properties. You could then watch one qubit to see what its twin is computing.

None of this is simple, however; there are several competing methods for making the qubits, including laser-entangled ions, LED-powered entangled photons, and more. Google is working with a Canadian firm called D-Wave that has claimed 50-qubit computers, although skeptics have questioned that number. In most systems, the number of entangled qubits remains small, but Yale researchers believe they will increase in the next few years, the Times says.

Even better: with all this practice, physicists are getting a lot better at controlling quantum interactions. Their precision has increased a thousand-fold, one researcher said. That’s good news for anyone studying quantum mechanics.