Daily Archives: May 21, 2011

How Darpa’s Tiny Robotic Hummingbird Hovers and Films


To Fly By beating its wings back and forth, the UAV creates lift by deflecting air downward, creating an area of high pressure directly below the wings and low pressure above.  Bob Sauls

PopSci | May 20, 2011

By Joshua Saul

In 2006, Darpa, the Department of Defense’s R&D arm, commissioned AeroVironment, a company specializing in remote aircraft, to create an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) small enough to fly through an open window. AeroVironment had already built the 4.5-foot-wingspan Raven, which first saw combat over Afghanistan in 2003, but making a UAV so much smaller took five years and 300 different wing designs.

Finally, AeroVironment has a working prototype: the 6.5-inch-wingspan Nano Hummingbird. “It was never our intention to copy what nature has done; it’s just too daunting,” says Matt Keennon, the UAV’s head researcher. The camera-equipped bird beats its wings 20 times a second, whereas hummingbirds clock up to 80. Still, it can hover like the real thing, plus perform rolls and even backflips. Here’s how the bird flies.

Wings

A skeleton of hollow carbon-fiber rods is wrapped in fiber mesh and coated in a polyvinyl fluoride film.

Camera

The camera angle is defined by the pitch of the Nano’s body. Forward motion gives the operator a view of the ground, aiding navigation. Hovering is good for surveying rooms.

Body

It weighs 18.7 grams (less than an AA battery). The craft is remote-controlled, but an onboard computer corrects speed and pitch.

Google Invades Your Home…Android Phones Control Your Appliances and Accessories

As Google enables you to create a smart-home, they could also be building the Internet of Things. There will be an RFID chip, NFC panel, or computer embedded in everything you own.

singularityhub.com | May 21, 2011

by Aaron Saenz

Soon your smart phone may be the only light switch you’ll ever need. At this year’s Google I/O conference, enterprising executives from the Silicon Valley search giant announced that their Android OS for mobile devices will soon be able to reach out and touch appliances in your home. The open Accessory Development Kit (ADK) will allow developers to wire lights and other common electrical devices to control boards that can interact directly with Android (via USB or BlueTooth). Google wants to take this hardware interactive capability and use it to turn your home into a smart living space. Push a button in an app on your Android and specially enabled lamps will turn off and on, music will start playing on your speakers, or maybe your air-conditioner will kick in. It’s all up to you – you can command your entire house from your phone or tablet with Android as your operating system. That’s the Android@Home concept and it could make it easy and cheap to upgrade your bachelor pad from a neanderthal’s lair to a real high-tech Batcave. Check out the Google I/O 2011 presentations for the ADK and Android@Home in the video below. Using Android to send commands to other electronics is a great idea, but I’m much more excited about information flowing in the other direction. As Google enables you to create a smart-home, they could also be building the Internet of Things.

Google I/O 2011 streamed live on YouTube, so you can find almost every second of the conference online. I’ve cued up the following video from the day one key note address to where Google starts discussing the ADK. Following an awesome presentation with a life-sized Labyrinth game controlled by tilting an Android tablet, you’ll be able to see the presentation on Android@Home.

The Android ADK should allow developers to make almost any device talk with Android OS. Working with Lighting Science, Google is creating a line of LED bulbs which will be able to talk with Android OS as well as using Android@Home connectivity standards. Coming home to a dark house? Just push a single button on your Android phone and all your lamps could spring to light instantly. Pretty cool, and these bulbs are scheduled to arrive by the end of 2011. Google has also created specialized hubs for this communication through their Project Tungsten. The hubs, which appear as glowing boxes or white orbs, will be able to use WiFi, BlueTooth, or near field communication (NFC) to receive commands from Android devices, read information from NFC embedded products (like CD or DVD cases, action figures/dolls, etc), and control multimedia presentations.

Clearly Google is attacking the “wire your stuff up to Android” idea from different angles. I’m sure we’ll see specialized “Android-enabled” products from third party developers in the near future. The exercise bike seen in the presentation video was a good example. I imagine MP3 playing stereos are also going to be a first wave product as well, and of course those LED light bulbs will be coming soon. At the same time Google will be pushing their Project Tungsten boxes as ‘all in one’ sort of solutions for your media center. Eventually I’m sure we’ll see models that can handle larger appliances and power consuming devices around the house.

A smart house, however, isn’t just about what you can command, but what you can learn. When you send a message to a lamp to get it to turn on, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be able to send data back on its consumption, its bulb life, etc. Or alternatively this data could be collected at the Android device side of things. Either way you have digital information tied to the physical object you’re using. Whether we’re talking bulbs, blenders, or bicycles doesn’t matter – as soon as you have a computer tracking electronic objects in order to give them commands you can use the same computer to track the history of those objects.

As I’ve mentioned before, this object tracking is at the heart of the Internet of Things – the massive system of smart devices and sensors that is forming in parallel to our own people-inhabited internet. On a commercial level the IoT will enable us to track shipments of food, pharmaceuticals, and other goods, but in your home the near terms benefits of the IoT are all about finesse and efficiency. Let lamps turn off automatically when you leave the room. As you drive home your mobile phone could call ahead and fire up the heater or A/C to prep the environment – making your arrival more pleasant and saving energy by matching the timing perfectly. Your tablet, now the magic wand that remotely controls all your appliances, could notice that your refrigerator is cycling on (using more electricity) than normal. Did someone leave it open or is it time to get the appliance fixed?

Are those little money savers too boring for you? How about turning every appliance in your house into a burglar detection system: if a single device is activated while you’re out of the home, an alert could be pushed to your phone warning you that someone flipped on a light or opened your automatic garage door. With products like the Android ADK and Project Tungsten you could even wire up your doors with electronic locks you can remotely control. If someone breaks in, you lock them in, crank up the stereo, and make them listen to your worst Polka MP3s for an hour. You get the idea…if you imagination can dream it up, you should be able to enable it with IoT technology.

Applications like these haven’t been developed yet, but they’re exactly the sort of products I would expect us to eventually create when concepts like Project Tungsten and Android@Home fully muture. We’ve seen other companies bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds, but with Google now in the mix we may see this trend accelerated considerably. Android is a proven market with a large developer base. Now that Android is in the business of controlling other electronics, you can bet that both the necessary hardware and software will arrive – and much sooner than if Google hadn’t thrown their hat into the ring. Some precursors to the Internet of Things are already here, and now I expect more will be coming shortly. We’ve had smart homes for a while, but now the phenomenon could be hitting the mainstream, and smart cars are sure to follow (actually some of them are already here as well). From there it just keeps getting smaller and smarter. One day soon your closet will tell you which clothes match today’s weather forecast, your mobile phone will match your lunch order with your medical record to maximize your health, and there will be an RFID chip, NFC panel, or computer embedded in everything you own. Like so many other technology giants, Google’s moving from the digital to the physical world – get ready.

‘Zombie Apocalypse’ crashes CDC website


A screenshot of the website for the Centers for Disease Control, which were swamped by a massive wave of traffic following the tongue-in-cheek warning of an impending “zombie apocalypse.” CDC

‘Zombie Apocalypse’ Is a Killer — for Website

Reuters | May 20, 2011

A blog post by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that mentions a “zombie apocalypse” as a lighthearted way to get Americans to read about preparing for hurricanes drove so much traffic that it crashed the website, the agency said on Thursday.

The Zombie Apocalypse campaign is a social media effort by the CDC’s Public Health and Preparedness center to spread the word about the June 1 start of hurricane season.

The CDC is a U.S. federal government health agency based in Atlanta.

“There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for,” the blog post begins. “Take a zombie apocalypse for example. … You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.”

The blog appeared just days before May 21, when an evangelical broadcaster in California has predicted “Judgment Day” will mark the end of the world.

“If you prepare for the zombie apocalypse, you’ll be prepared for all hazards,” CDC spokesman Dave Daigle told Reuters on Thursday.

The word zombie comes from voodoo practice of spirit possession in which victims are stripped of consciousness.

Zombies became popular culture references after the success of George Romero’s 1968 horror film “Night of the Living Dead” where flesh-eating zombies roam the eastern seaboard in the aftermath of radioactive contamination.

Daigle said that a typical CDC blog post might get between 1,000 and 3,000 hits. The most traffic on record had been a post that saw around 10,000 visits.

By the end of Wednesday, with servers down, the page had 60,000. By Thursday, it was a trending topic on Twitter.

The campaign was designed to reach a young, media-savvy demographic that the CDC had not been able to capture previously, Daigle said.

Increased traffic did not affect the main CDC website.

CDC Warns Public to Prepare for ‘Zombie Apocalypse’


A screenshot of the website for the Centers for Disease Control, which were swamped by a massive wave of traffic following the tongue-in-cheek warning of an impending “zombie apocalypse.” CDC

Are you prepared for the impending zombie invasion?

Fox News | May 18, 2011

By Joshua Rhett Miller

That’s the question posed by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a Monday blog posting gruesomely titled, “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” And while it’s no joke, CDC officials say it’s all about emergency preparation.

“There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for,” the posting reads. “Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.”

The post, written by Assistant Surgeon General Ali Khan, instructs readers how to prepare for “flesh-eating zombies” much like how they appeared in Hollywood hits like “Night of the Living Dead” and video games like Resident Evil. Perhaps surprisingly, the same steps you’d take in preparation for an onslaught of ravenous monsters are similar to those suggested in advance of a hurricane or pandemic.

“First of all, you should have an emergency kit in your house,” the posting continues. “This includes things like water, food, and other supplies to get you through the first couple of days before you can locate a zombie-free refugee camp (or in the event of a natural disaster, it will buy you some time until you are able to make your way to an evacuation shelter or utility lines are restored).”

Other items to be stashed in such a kit include medications, duct tape, a battery-powered radio, clothes, copies of important documents and first aid supplies.

“Once you’ve made your emergency kit, you should sit down with your family and come up with an emergency plan,” the posting continues. “This includes where you would go and who you would call if zombies started appearing outside your doorstep. You can also implement this plan if there is a flood, earthquake or other emergency.”

The idea behind the campaign stemmed from concerns of radiation fears following the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan in March. CDC spokesman Dave Daigle told FoxNews.com that someone had asked CDC officials if zombies would be a concern due to radiation fears in Japan and traffic spiked following that mention.

“It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek campaign,” Daigle said Wednesday. “We were talking about hurricane preparedness and someone bemoaned that we kept putting out the same messages.”

While metrics for the post are not yet available, Daigle said it has become the most popular CDC blog entry in just two days.

“People are so tuned into zombies,” he said. “People are really dialed in on zombies. The idea is we’re reaching an audience or a segment we’d never reach with typical messages.”

“Is Journalism Worth Dying For?”: One woman’s story


Is Journalism Worth Dying For?: Final Dispatches  [NOOK Book] by Anna Politkovskaya, Arch Tait (Translator)

Politkovskaya argues that federal security services abetted the terrorists, a claim backed up with evidence from the former spy Alexander Litvinenko — who was himself murdered…

A collection of essays by Russia’s murdered Anna Politkovskaya asks the question: Is journalism worth dying for?

salon.com | May 3, 2011

By Jason Farago, Barnes & Noble Review

For Anna Politkovskaya, Russia was a grim country — a “managed democracy” governed by brutal leaders and craven bureaucrats, policed by violent and extortionist security services, and reported on only by “servants of the Presidential Administration.” Her crusading, obsessive journalism made her many enemies, not least inside the Kremlin; she endured beatings, poisoning, and a mock execution; but she did not back down. Murdered in 2006, her killers never found, Politkovskaya lives on in “Is Journalism Worth Dying For?,” a collection of her “final dispatches.”

Politkovskaya’s greatest and most dangerous work was done in Chechnya, the functionally lawless region that foreign and even Russian journalists refused to enter, but to which she returned more than two dozen times. It is a terrifying place, where anarchic paramilitaries roam the streets with Berettas, politicians hit up citizens for cash, and opponents of the regime are abducted and thrown into jail cells dug into the ground, if they’re not killed with impunity. And there is characteristically fearless reporting on the 2002 siege of a Moscow theater by Chechen terrorists, during which Politkovskaya attempted to negotiate with the militants to release hundreds of hostages before Russian authorities gassed the theater, killing at least 130 people. Politkovskaya argues that federal security services abetted the terrorists, a claim backed up with evidence from the former spy Alexander Litvinenko — who was himself murdered a few months after Politkovskaya, poisoned with polonium at a London sushi joint.

Not all of Politkovskaya’s dispatches make such forbidding reading; there are easier reports from Paris and Sydney, and even a long and surprisingly tender essay on her dog. But her enduring importance derives from her refusal to capitulate despite seemingly unbearable pressure — and, even more basically, her commitment to rigorous on-the-ground reporting when journalists, even when not faced with official intimidation, spend more time with P.R. flacks than sources and victims. Upon her death, Lech Walesa mourned her as “a sentinel for truth,” and Condoleezza Rice called her “a heroine of mine”; for the New York Times, she stood as “a symbol of what Russia has become.” Only Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-installed gangster president of Chechnya and a key suspect in her murder, was unmoved. “I was not bothered in the slightest by what she wrote,” he insisted, “and I have never lowered myself to trying to settle scores with women.”

Hey, Remember When Newt Gingrich Was Sponsored By a Human Chip-Implant Company?

bnet.com | May 20, 2011

By Jim Edwards

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich once spoke at an Alzheimer’s conference sponsored by PositiveID (PSID), the human microchip implant company that came under fire for injecting 200 Alzheimer’s patients with wireless chips in Florida without properly obtaining their consent.

The issue of whether Americans should receive subcutaneous wireless RFID chip implants that can link to their electronic medical records emerged again in Wisconsin this week, where former governor and Bush Administration secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson is considering a run for Senate. Thompson was a former board member of VeriChip, the company that renamed itself PositiveID, and once appeared on CNBC with PositiveID CEO Scott Silverman to advocate that everyone receive a chip from birth:

Full Story

GM food toxins found in the blood of 93% of unborn babies


GM: Ninety-three per cent of samples from pregnant women and 80 per cent from umbilical cords tested positive for traces of toxins. (Picture posed by model)

Daily Mail | May 20 2011

By Sean Poulter

Toxins implanted into GM food crops to kill pests are reaching the bloodstreams of women and unborn babies, alarming research has revealed.

A landmark study found 93 per cent of blood samples taken from pregnant women and 80 per cent from umbilical cords tested positive for traces of the chemicals.

Millions of acres in North and South America are planted with GM corn containing the toxins, which is fed in vast quantities to farm livestock around the world – including Britain.

However, it is now clear the  toxins designed to kill crop pests are reaching humans and babies in the womb – apparently through food.

It is not known what, if any, harm this causes but there is speculation it could lead to allergies, miscarriage, abnormalities or even cancer.

To date the industry has always argued that if these toxins were eaten by animals or humans they would be destroyed in the gut and pass out of the body, thus causing no harm.

Food safety authorities in Britain and Europe have accepted these assurances on the basis that GM crops are effectively no different to those produced using conventional methods.

But the latest study appears  to blow a hole in these claims  and has triggered calls for a ban on imports and a total overhaul of the safety regime for GM crops and food.

Most of the global research which has been used to demonstrate the safety of GM crops has been funded by the industry itself.

The new study was carried out by independent doctors at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, at the University of Sherbrooke Hospital Centre in Quebec, Canada.

They took blood samples from 30 pregnant women and 39 other women who were not having a baby.

They were looking for residues of the pesticides associated with the cultivation of GM food.

These include so-called Bt toxins, which are implanted using GM techniques into corn and some other crops.

Traces of Bt toxin were found in the blood of 93 per cent of the pregnant mothers – 28 out of 30. It was also found in 80 per cent of the umbilical cords – 24 out of 30.

In the non-pregnant group, traces were found in the blood of 69 per cent – 27 out of 39. It is thought the toxin is getting into the human body as a result of eating meat, milk and eggs from farm livestock fed GM corn.

The Canadian team told the scientific journal Reproductive Toxicology: ‘This is the first study to highlight the presence of pesticides associated with genetically modified foods in maternal, foetal and non-pregnant women’s blood.’

They said the Bt toxin was ‘clearly detectable and appears to cross the placenta to the foetus’.

Calling for action, the team said: ‘Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the foetus, more studies are needed.’

The director of GM Freeze, an umbrella group for community,  consumer and environmental organisations opposed to GM  farming, described the research as ‘very significant’.

Pete Riley said: ‘This research is a major surprise as it shows that the Bt proteins have survived the human digestive system and passed into the blood supply – something that regulators said could not happen.

‘Regulators need to urgently reassess their opinions, and the EU should use the safeguard clauses in the regulations to prevent any further GM Bt crops being cultivated or imported for animal feed or food until the potential health implications have been fully evaluated.’

The Agriculture Biotechnology Council, which speaks for the GM industry, questioned the reliability and value of the research.

Its chairman, Dr Julian Little, said: ‘The study is based on analysis that has been used in previous feeding studies and has been found to be unreliable.’

He said the toxins found are also used in other farming systems and gardening ‘with no harm to human health’.

Dr Little said: ‘Biotech crops are rigorously tested for safety prior to their use and over two trillion meals made with GM ingredients have been safely consumed around the world over the past 15 years without a single substantiated health issue.’


Biohazard: Millions of acres in North and South America are planted with GM corn containing the toxins, which is fed in vast quantities to farm livestock worldwide