Daily Archives: April 13, 2012

No escape: DARPA proto-Terminator robots can walk up stairs too

pcmag.com | Apr 13, 2012

by Damon Poeter

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) multi-year Robotics Challenge is just getting started, but the agency is already teasing some pretty cool robotic prototypes that showcase how a winning entry might go about accomplishing the multiple human-like physical tasks demanded by the contest.

The agency on Thursday posted video (below) of one such prototype built in partnership with Boston Dynamics—the multi-tasking PETMAN robot, which can climb stairs and do pushups. DARPA said a modified version of the humanoid robot “is expected to be used as government-funded equipment (GFE) for performers in Tracks B and C of the DARPA Robotics Challenge.”

The goal of the contest is to produce a robot capable of assisting humans in dangerous or degraded environments, using unmodified tools designed for humans, the agency said in an announcement earlier this week. Teams are being asked to design robots capable of driving a vehicle, using power tools to bash through walls, and even replace a cooling pump, for a $2 million grand prize. Up to $34 million in total will be available in contracts and funding for challenge participants, DARPA said.

The two phases of the competition, which must be attempted by a single robot capable of multiple physical activities, are a virtual disaster challenge followed by an actual disaster challenge, the latter of which determines the final winner.

Some of the things the winning robot will have to do include driving a vehicle, traveling across rubble, removing debris, climbing a ladder, and replacing a component like the aforementioned water pump. Though the beginning-stage GFE Platform in the DARPA video has a humanoid appearance and the final version of the platform is expected to have two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head, the challenge is also open to non-humanoid robots, the agency said.

DARPA has in recent months released several videos on its YouTube channel showcasing robots of all sizes and shapes performing various tasks. Some, like a Nano Air Vehicle clearly wouldn’t be the right fit, but models like the treadmill speedster, dubbed the DARPA Cheetah, do give a hint of elements and functionality that could well be used by a robot in the actual competition.

Masonic murals return to Cox Building in Maysville, KY

This maquette shows the Blue Lodge Room mural, which depicts the ascension of learning the Masonic principles.  This mural measures 15 1/2 feet by 17 1/2 feet.  Terry Prather, The Ledger Independent

maysville-online.com | Apr 13, 2012


Sometimes, there are stories that are best “written” with pictures.

This story about the recreation of the Masonic murals inside the Cox building is one of those times.

Before time, neglect and a fire took their toll, the murals in the Cox building where bold and vibrant in color and held a sacred meaning to the Masonic Lodge organization and its traditions.

“The eye watches over the angels”

Cox Building was originally a Masonic Lodge

Research on the murals has been led by a team of artists with Oppenheimer Art Recovery of Chicago. The artists first arrived in Maysville in December 2010, to evaluate whether or not the walls the murals were painted on could be saved.  Unfortunately, the decision was rendered there was no way to save the original artwork, and the year-long process began to recreate the murals.  The process has involved extensive research about the Masonic organization itself, said Geoff Smalley of Oppenheimer, and traditional Masonic icons like the hourglass, beehive and Maltese cross. These icons were known to be part of the mural artwork in the Cox building, as documented by photographs, Geoff said.

The Blue Lodge Room is the first to have its murals recreated.  This room was the primary meeting room of the Masons, according to research, with the larger third floor room, known as the Asylum Room used for other purposes.

The Blue Lodge Room measures 40 feet by 50 feet; the Asylum Room measures 40 feet by 73 feet.

In the Blue Lodge Room, there is a main mural on the eastern wall representing the ascension of learning the Masonic principles, and four cartouche murals on the ceiling where the cove molding joins the room’s walls to the ceiling.  Each cartouche features a decorative pattern with a Masonic icon in the center.  There will also be a star-shaped medallion painted in the center to serve as an accent to the chandelier.

In the Asylum Room, the 17 1/2 foot by 40 foot mural depicting two Knights Templar will be recreated, along with a mural featuring a crown and cross in the center of the ceiling and two side panel murals flanking the center mural.

Geoff is joined on the project by Scott Ament, a Chicago muralist contracted by Oppenheimer for the project.  The project is expected to be completed in August, with a dedication of the building tentatively scheduled for early September.

1934: Aleister Crowley filed libel suit against author who implied that he practised “black magic”

Aleister Crowley, c 1938. Photograph: Hulton Getty

From the Guardian archive, 13 April 1934: “Black Magic” Libel Action

Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 13 April 1934: Mr. Aleister Crowley, the author, declines to make himself invisible in court

guardian.co.uk | Apr 13, 2012

The “black magic” libel action again came before Mr. Justice Swift and a special jury in the King’s Bench Division yesterday.

Mr. Aleister Crowley, the author, claimed damages against Miss Nina Hamnett, authoress of a book entitled “Laughing Torso,” and Messrs. Constable and Co., Limited, the publishers, and Messrs. Charles Whittingham and Briggs, the printers.

Mr. Crowley complained that the book imputed that he practised “black magic” and he said this was a libel upon him. The defence was a plea of justification.

At the material time Mr. Crowley had a villa on the mountain-side at Cefalu, Sicily, which was known as the “Abbey of Thelema.” He denied that he practised “black magic” there. He also denied that a baby mysteriously disappeared, as the defence alleged, from the “Abbey.”

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Mr. Martin O’Connor (for Miss Hamnett) resuming his cross-examination yesterday, invited Mr. Crowley to try his magic in court. “You said yesterday,” said Mr O’Connor, “that, as the result of early experiments, you invoked certain forces with the result that some people were attacked by unseen assailants. Try your magic now on my learned friend (pointing to Mr. Malcolm Hilbery, K.C.). I am sure he will not object.” “I would not attack anyone,” replied Mr. Crowley. “I have never done wilful harm to any human being.”

When invited again Mr. Crowley replied: “I absolutely refuse.”

“On a later occasion,” continued Mr. O’Connor, “you said you succeeded in rendering yourself invisible. Would you like to try that on now for, if you don’t, I shall pronounce you an imposter? – You can ask me to do anything you like. It won’t alter the truth.”

Counsel then dealt with the ritual observed in the ceremonies at the villa at Cefalu. Mr. Crowley denied that a cat was killed in the ceremony and that part of the cat’s blood was drunk by a person taking part. “There was no cat, no animal, no blood, and no drinking,” he declared.

In re-examination Mr. Crowley agreed that he had studied black magic, though only as a student. He had never practised black magic, and had always written about it in terms of strongest condemnation.

When Mr. Crowley’s evidence was concluded Mr. Justice Swift asked him to tell the Court “the shortest, and at the same time comprehensive, definition of magic which he knew.”

Mr. Crowley: Magic is the science of the art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will. White magic is if the will is righteous and black magic is if the will is perverse.

Mr. Justice Swift: Does that involve the invocation of spirits? – It may do so. It does involve the invocation of the holy guardian angel who is appointed by Almighty God to watch over each of us.

Is it in your view, the art of controlling spirits so as to affect the course of events? – That is part of magic. One small branch.

If the object of the control is good then it is white magic? – Yes.

When the object of the control is bad what spirits do you invoke? – You cannot invoke evil spirits. You must evoke them and call them out.

When the object is bad you evoke evil spirits? – Yes. You put yourself in their power. In that case it is possible to control evil spirits or blind spirits for a good purpose as we might if we use the dangerous elements of fire and electricity for heating and lighting, &c.


Boy was put into coma after being strapped down and shocked 31 times for 7 hours by laughing teachers….because he would not take off his coat

Pain: The disabled boy is shown in the centre of the picture writhing and screaming as the staff pump electricity through him

‘Tortured, terrorised and abused’: Shocking new video shows disabled boy strapped down and shocked 31 TIMES at school by his own laughing teachers for SEVEN hours

Staff at the Judge Rotenberg Center pumped electricity through Andre McCollins’ body 31 times because he would not take his coat off

He was left in a coma for three days caused by shock, a court heard

dailymail.co.uk | Apr 12, 2012

By Martin Robinson

This shocking new video shows how a disabled teenage boy was tied up and given 31 electric shocks over seven hours by his laughing teachers.

Writhing in agony and screaming to be saved student Andre McCollins was strapped face down and ‘tortured’ because he would not remove his coat at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts.

McCollins, who has learning difficulties, is currently suing Rotenberg and three staff for his treatment ten years ago, which left him in a three-day coma caused by fear.

A courtroom just outside Boston was shown the horrific scenes as the case against the school is considered.

Testifying yesterday his tearful mother Cheryl, who sent him to the private school for disabled children said: ‘I never signed up for him to be tortured, terrorised, and abused. I had no idea—no idea—that they tortured the children in the school.

‘I couldn’t turn Andre’s head to the left or to the right. He was just staring straight. I took my hands and went like this (waves hand in front of her face), he didn’t blink.’

Doctors have also said that the school could have killed the boy.

‘He was essentially in what we would call a catatonic condition. That means a condition that happens with people that are acutely psychotically disturbed and they let him stay in the facility basically sitting still, not eating, refusing fluids for the most part, for the next few days. They’re lucky he didn’t die,’  expert witness Dr Marc Whaley said.

‘This violated — in a gross fashion — accepted standards of care,’ he added.

The school has been widely criticised for using electro-shock therapy to treat its disabled pupils.

Two years ago the UN said the technique used there amounted to ‘torture’, and urged Obama’s government to stop to it.

In October 2002, Andre McCollins, then 18, was confronted by staff who wanted him to take off his coat.

The new video shows him being shocked in a chair and collapsing to the ground before being jumped on by several staff.

He was then tied down and shocked continuously for hours and McCollins says that some were laughing as he writhed in pain.

Later that day his mother rescued him and took him to a nearby children’s hospital where they said he was suffering from ‘acute stress’.

Established in 1971 to help ‘fix’ children who are disruptive and intent on self-harm, the school is known for their use of harmful tactics they believe induces positive changes in behaviour.

According to literature provided by the school, children do not feel the electric shocks are anything for students or parents to be concerned about.

‘This treatment, which feels like a hard pinch, has been extensively validated in the scientific literature…is extremely effective, and has no significant adverse side effects,’ the paperwork says.

Military wants better “Mind’s Eye” vision for smarter robot surveillance cameras

venturebeat.com | Apr 9, 2012

by Dean Takahashi

Computer vision works much better than it once did, and that could enable a diverse range of machines to see and understand their environments. Such machines could be useful in everything from military scouting to self-driving cars.

That’s why the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is doing research into vision in a program known as Mind’s Eye. James Donlon (pictured right), program manager for the Mind’s Eye project, said at the recent Embedded Vision Alliance summit in San Jose, Calif., that vision systems being tested now aren’t that bad at recognizing patterns such as a person about to be hit by a car that is backing up. But they still make mistakes that are sometimes comical, like mistaking a stationary object for a person or focusing on the wrong thing in a scene.

The Mind’s Eye research has been going on for about 18 months and is about half-way complete. After three years, the various vision projects will lead to lab prototypes that can eventually be brought to market. The systems being developed will do things like recognize someone walking, touching an object, or taking other actions. If the research pans out, we could see robots and other machines getting much better at the vision-based tasks that humans are best at.

“The difference between how a machine can describe a scene and how a person would describe that scene is quite vast still,” Donlon said. “Solving this is what the Mind’s Eye program is about. So far, humans are still best at this.”

The program has about 15 teams working on various approaches. Donlon spoke to the Embedded Vision Alliance, which has a lot of chip makers as members, because technologists still need to make vision much more computationally feasible. But the task also requires a lot of software smarts aimed at making the hardware smarter. The technology starts with recognition, description, prediction and filling gaps in information, and anomaly detection.

To teach machines how to filter out useless information, the Mind’s Eye researchers are showing all sorts of scenes to the computer-driven machines so that they can understand what is happening. Tracking people moving in a parking lot is doable today.

“What we need to be able to do to make truly robust systems is to enable the systems to recognize anything without advance training,” Donlon said. “I’m absolutely thrilled at the progress we have made, but we are nowhere near where we need to be in the informativeness of the vision analysis or the efficiency of the computing. There are plenty of ludicrous results that go along with the good results.”

In military situations, better vision systems could enable more sensors on a battlefield to interpret meaningful actions, such as an enemy troop movement. Right now, that information is funneled to a command center like the one pictured. But DARPA wants to be able to move the intelligence to the edge of the network, so a camera sensor can send information directly to a soldier that needs it, Donlon said.

Soldiers looking at command screens spend so much time looking at them that they may miss what is important and fail to pass on that information to soldiers in the field.

Right now, the military uses scout robots like those made by iRobot, pictured left, to do reconnaissance ahead of troops so that it can warn them of ambushes or other dangers. The robots have cameras on board, can point at an area, and remain concealed. They can then send back video footage that can be understood by human interpreters. But sending out the right video at the right time is critical.

“This takes some human scouts out of harm’s way and creates more situational awareness,” Donlon said. “It ought to be possible to put the intelligence on the sensors, on the edge. The soldier can then be on the look out for anomalies.”

These kinds of technologies could have both military and civilian applications. You could, for instance, use the vision systems with surveillance cameras for private corporations. Vision could also be useful in car safety. Google is working on a self-driving cars project, for example, in hopes of reducing the more than a million car accidents a year.

“DARPA has a [history] of pioneering technologies that have become important applications,” said Jeff Bier, chief executive of market research firm BDTI and founder of the Embedded Vision Alliance, which has 19 corporate members from Analog Devices to Texas Instruments. “We hope that’s going to happen in this category as well.”

Developers for the Mind’s Eye program include: Carnegie Mellon University, Co57 Systems, Colorado State University, Jet Propulsion Lab/Caltech, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University, SRI International, SUNY at Buffalo, Netherlands Organization for Applied Sceintific Research, University of Arizona, UC Berkeley, USC, General Dynamics Robotic Systems, iRobot, and Toyon Research.