Japan's Robot Revolution and the Uncanny Valley

in robotics on (#3RB)
story imageBladerunner, the Jetsons, I, Robot: our fascination with a future world where robots serve (and sometimes kill) us continues unabated. But while most of us are just idly daydreaming what that world of automated companions would look like, or working on purpose-built robotics like Big Dog, Japan is aggressively pushing the envelope on robotics research. In fact, by most accounts, they've got us squarely in the Uncanny Valley, that awkward emotional malaise you feel when interacting with a robotic being that is almost, but not quite human.

CNN has published an interesting overview of the Robot Revolution in Japan1. And it's pretty amazing. Start with the world's first virtual pop star, or Pepper, the first humanoid robot programmed with emotion. Freaky? Then check out Miraikan [Japanese], Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, where a lot of the magic is happening.
Here, visitors can interact with ASIMO, the Honda-developed android that can run, perform tasks, and interact with people. Honda first unveiled ASIMO a decade ago, and even today it remains a futuristic vision of what robotics may one day hope to achieve on a consumer scale. ... There's Otonaroid, who looks like a young Japanese woman with silicone skin, flowing hair, and blinking eyes. ... And then there's Kodomoroid, an android newscaster that reads headlines to museum visitors, and Telenoid, a creepy-looking communication device that allows you to "speak" to friends or loved ones who are far away -- and feel as if you are sitting with them. You can hold and hug the Telenoid, and it hugs you back with its little stubs for arms.
Curious to see what the future looks like? Now's your chance.

1[Ed. note: This time, the "Robot Revolution" refers to spectacular advances in the science of designing and building robots. Next time though, it's going to mean we all hide in the hill caves before the Killer Robots overthrow and enslave us ...]

Mars Curiosity rover sustains wheel damage but scientists remain hopeful

in space on (#3R8)
story imageThe Mars Curiosity rover has sustained serious damage to its wheels. Photos reveal the damage was more extensive than expected, which may cause NASA to reconsider the route to Curiosity's primary goal, Mount Sharp. Nonetheless, scientists are confident the mission can still be completed, but the mission may need revamping. It has meant taking a much closer look at the proposed route to Mount Sharp, and driving backwards to prevent the front wheels from failing.

Curiosity is now traversing a section of ground en route to its goal that is particularly dangerous as it is the same type of surface that has caused the majority of the wheel damage. Cross your fingers for Curiosity and pay close attention: it's going to be a wild ride!

Xbox Entertainment Studios cut in Nadella's Re-org

in games on (#3R6)
story imageThe victims and beneficiaries of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's reorgnanization are now known, and among the casualties of today's big Microsoft layoffs will be original content planned for the Xbox: Xbox Entertainment Studios. As first reported by Re/Code, the shutdown will occur in the next few months, Xbox chief Phil Spencer wrote in a memo to staff.
Xbox Entertainment Studios was founded last year in order to produce original content for the Xbox platform. The L.A.-based, 125-person studio was led by former CBS television president Nancy Tellem, who remains "committed to new, original programming already in production," Spencer said today.
XBox Entertainment Studios had a short life. It was announced only a year ago, but design decisions led to poor reviews. Among its weaknesses, the software was bloated and slow, and Microsoft not only hobbled it with DDR3 memory but also needlessly restricted the games to using only 6 of the 8 cores.

[Author note: I have an AMD 8320 and Win8.1, it utilizes only 2% of the processor at idle. And the Xbox doesn't have full on Win8, but a stripped down, slower version running on two full cores. Win8.1, for all it's bad press, is very fast and works great for a gaming rig simply because it does have a smaller footprint and uses much less of the processor. Most of the biggest complaints have been corrected and there's always classic shell. So there is no reason a stripped down Win8 needs 2 full cores. Next Gen just isn't going to live up to it's promise. At least not on the Xbox One.]

[2014-07-21 11:10 Ed. note: corrected misspelled CEO's name.]

"Kerbal Space Program: First Contract" is now live

in games on (#3R5)
story imageThe Kerbal Space Program has just released an update called "First Contract," a name chosen by the popular indie game's active user community. It introduces the concept of funds and contracts to the basic science career mode, giving a sense of purpose to the space agency simulator.

Other new aspects to the game with this update include all new agency icons (they were all fan-created and voted on), and the new factor of reputation as well: keeping those little green dudes alive actually takes on importance.1 The game has all the goodness of a fully functional career mode, and there is now 64 bit support for both Windows and Linux (the Linux version has been 64 bit capable for some time now). If you have been hiding in a cave for the last 3 years here is a link to their homepage. Available through the website or Steam. $26.99 US at this time.

So, go forth and build rockets! In the famous words of Jebidiah Kerman, 'Splosions are the sprinkles on your ice cream sundae.'

1 If reputation is a factor, I am in trouble for certain.

Maybe Runaway wasn't so far fetched after all...

in science on (#3QH)
That the 1984 movie 'Runaway' with Tom Selleck was a lackluster performer is undisputed. However, the movie did show an interesting tech. Bullets that could home in on a target and change their course mid-flight. At the time these mini missiles seemed a bit over the top. The era of such miniaturization and processing speed were still the realm of science fiction.

Well, apparently DARPA was paying attention. The have released footage of their Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program in action.

These would be truly scary to go up against on the battlefield. .50 caliber bullets being fired at you is one thing, having them chase you down is quite another.
"This video shows EXACTO rounds maneuvering in flight to hit targets that are offset from where the sniper rifle is aimed. EXACTO's specially designed ammunition and real-time optical guidance system help track and direct projectiles to their targets by compensating for weather, wind, target movement and other factors that could impede successful hits."
The video shows the ordinance making quite a severe course correction before striking its target.

The full program information is here.

With the ability to turn anyone into a sniper, what does this bode for the future battlefield? Will these inevitably end up in militarized police usage?

Where to find credible, interesting science and tech stories to submit?

in ask on (#3HE)
Ok, here's my dilemma: I do not use Linux (Gamer and moterhead, with a decent understanding of science and tech...but nobody would mistake me for technician) so I would not recognize a good story from bad there. However, I do understand Windows and the hardware side reasonably well.

I am well read, and understand the basics of most of the scientific topics. Where do you guys recommend (outside of, etc.) for good, topical, well written and interesting articles? I would like to find some reputable sources to post, preferably without all the hype that tends to surround the more common sites.

I would like to contribute more, but outside of gaming, I am concerned I might link to something incredibly stupid without recognizing it. I want to find interesting things for you to read, not drivel.

I doubt you want to hear about my adventures in a heavily modded Skyrim.....

Kerbal Space Program

in games on (#3HC)
How do you deal with a software release that goes bad? Ask Squad, creators of the fantastic Kerbal Space Program , a fun game where players create their own space program and try to build a space-worthy craft, capable of flying its crew out into space without killing them. The collection of parts must be assembled to create a functional ship. Each part has its own function and will affect the way a ship flies (or doesn't).

But shortly after hyping the release of a new patch to the game ("Asteroid Redirect Mission" or ARM), Squad was bitten by the notorious Space Kraken: a game breaking bug was discovered that pushed the patch release into "sometime in April." Fans were not happy. Fortunately, Squad took the high road. They publicly admitted to the P.R. error and asked their fans for understanding. Then they quickly issued fixes for that bug as well as a small game-save bug that cropped up, putting all their energy behind making things right. With fans appeased, anticipation again mounts for the Kerbal Space Program to leave Alpha development phase.

Though development does still have a long way to go, KSP is already rich with content and has a large modding community. If you have any interest in physics based space games, this one is genuinely a step up from anything else, even Orbiter. You'll need a high-end gaming computer at the moment. Check the forums for details, including issues regarding 64 bit and Linux support.

Asteroids was never this much fun, or as difficult!

(cross submitted to Soylent News)
[2014-04-02 14:53 UTC: re-edited for clarity: the PR was about the asteroid redirect patch]