Category Archives: Sci-Tech

Rise of the Machines: Autonomous killer robots ‘could be developed in 20 years’

Rise Of The Machines: The third instalment of the Terminator film franchise imagines the chain of events that leads to death-dealing computers taking over the planet using robot soldiers

‘If a robot goes wrong, who’s accountable? It certainly won’t be the robot’

– Noel Sharkey, University of Sheffield

Militaries around the world ‘very excited’ about replacing soldiers with robots that can act independently

U.S. leads the way with automated weapons systems, but drones still need remote control operator authorisation to open fire

Human Rights Watch calls for worldwide ban on autonomous killing machines before governments start using them

DailyMail | Nov 21, 2012

By Damien Gayle

Fully autonomous robots that decide for themselves when to kill could be developed within 20 to 30 years, or ‘even sooner’, a report has warned.

Militaries across the world are said to be ‘very excited’ about machines that could deployed alone in battle, sparing human troops from dangerous situations.

The U.S. is leading development in such ‘killer robots’, notably unmanned drones often used to attack suspected militants in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

Drones are remotely controlled by human operators and unable to kill without authorisation, but weapons systems that require little human intervention already exist.

Raytheon’s Phalanx gun system, deployed on U.S. Navy ships, can search for enemy fire and destroy incoming projectiles by itself.

The Northrop Grumman X47B is a plane-sized drone able to take off and land on aircraft carriers, carry out air combat without a pilot and even refuel in the air.

But perhaps closest to the Terminator-type killing machine portrayed in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action films is a Samsung sentry robot already being used in South Korea.

The machine is able to spot unusual activity, challenge intruders and, when authorised by a human controller, open fire.

US researchers are working on a real-life Robocop who would patrol the streets to combat crime – just like in the film. Injured policemen or soldiers will be wired up to the ‘PatrolBot’, pictured below, which will effectively give them mechanical limbs that they have lost whilst in service. The plan is to make a basic version of Alex Murphy, the fictional policeman in the 1987 hit Robocop, who is turned into a cyber cop after being nearly killed in the line of duty. The new technology is based on advances in the US military in telerobotics, which is where users are wired up remotely to a robot and given physical feedback to simulate the feeling of being there.

The warnings come from a new report by Human Rights Watch, which insists that such Terminator-style robots are banned before governments start deploying them.

The report, dubbed Losing Humanity and co-written by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, raises the alarm over the ethics of the looming technology.

Calling them ‘killer robots,’ it urges ‘an international treaty that would absolutely prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.’

Such machines would mean that human soldiers could be spared from dangerous situations, but the downside is that robots would then be left to make highly nuanced decisions on their own, the most fraught being the need to distinguish between civilians and combatants in a war zone.

‘A number of governments, including the United States, are very excited about moving in this direction, very excited about taking the soldier off the battlefield and putting machines on the battlefield and thereby lowering casualties,’ said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch.

While Goose said ‘killer robots’ do not exist as yet, he warned of precursors and added that the best way to forestall an ethical nightmare is a ‘preemptive, comprehensive prohibition on the development or production of these systems.’

The problem with handing over decision-making power to even the most sophisticated robots is that there would be no clear way of making anyone answer for the inevitable mistakes, said Noel Sharkey, professor of robotics at University of Sheffield.

‘If a robot goes wrong, who’s accountable? It certainly won’t be the robot,’ he said.

‘The robot could take a bullet in its computer and go berserk. So there’s no way of really determining who’s accountable and that’s very important for the laws of war.’

DARPA looks to Android to control wearable, battlefield Predator Vision system | Nov 16, 2012

By John Hewitt

Smartphones and tablets have been taking the military by storm. In short order they have proven that they can do a better job in many areas than special purpose systems, some of which have been under development for fifteen or more years. Now DARPA has issued a public proposal for the development of an Android-based system that can integrate multiple camera streams and send the processed data to helmet- or rifle-mounted displays, as well as to fellow combatants and central command centers.

Operating under codename PIXNET (Pixel Network for Dynamic Visualization), the project includes a mandate to optimize size, weight, power, and cost, attributes (known as SWaP-C in military-speak). It also calls for the helmet- or weapon-mounted cameras to collect data across the entire visual and IR spectrum. Composite images are then to be created by fusing this data and delivering it to displays that can be viewed in direct sunlight or discreetly in darkness. Fused images with data overlays have been likened to “Predator Vision” from the famous science fiction movie.

Systems which additionally incorporate face recognition technology would allow ground troops to tag potential foes as hostile or neutral, and share the data with fellow troops on the network. New techniques from the frontiers of neuroscience and computer vision may additionally be used to automatically pick out threatening targets, reducing the mental strain on war fighters.


A few clues to creating hardware that is more SWaP-C were hinted at in the proposal. These include better designs for apertures, focal plane arrays, packaging, and materials science. The cost of the system has been prefigured at $3300.00 for a projected demand of 10,000 units per month. It is interesting to note that most of the basic building blocks for the technology exist and are in active use on the battlefield. The problem DARPA is facing can be summed up in one beastly word: noninteroperability. Most of the current hardware has dedicated functionality, operates in isolation of other instruments, and cannot effectively share data.

Having first looked to the iPhone 4S and iPad to address the problem with an odd set of adapters and apps, known as the Special Operations Apps/System for Optical Attachments, or [SOA]2 (pictured above), PIXNET is now looking to Android to solve the interoperability issue.

Exactly how this Predator Vision system is to integrate with existing army communication infrastructure is not made entirely clear. The 4th Brigade Combat Teams of the 10th Mountain Division presently in Afghanistan have, for example, brought along customized Android-powered Motorola Atrix devices. They are part of a communications program known as Nett Warrior. Troops will be able to transmit data in a series of relays using Rifleman radios connected to the Atrix devices. General Dynamics has also been recently tapped to furnish over 2,000 Nett Warrior radios to begin delivery in early 2013.

Rifle with Tablet mountCommercially available Ku-band Satcom has been commonly used by the army for real-time data and video communications. It can provide voice-over-IP, dynamic IP, and videoconferencing, as well as access to classified and unclassified networks. It appears that dedicated satellite communications will always be required for longer range communication, backup, and security in the absence of commercial coverage, but the on-board radios in Android devices may eventually be utilized at least for local communications. Apps written to use the smartphone’s radio should be easier to upgrade and transfer to new Android hardware as it is deployed in the field.


The old model in which the military obtains its instruments under the oversight of decades-long projects is now almost entirely gone. The new model is using off-the-shelf components which can work together and be easily replaced. The public sector has long benefited through spin-off of military technology (see: Changing the world: DARPA’s top inventions), and this trend is likely to continue into the smartphone age, only now both sides will be working with greater cooperation to drive the state-of-art forward.

Mind controlled android robot: Interactive Digital Human group, working towards robotic “re-embodiment”

Mind controlled android robot

Published on Nov 12, 2012 by Diginfonews

Mind controlled android robot – Researchers at the CNRS-AIST Joint Robotics Laboratory and the CNRS-LIRMM Interactive Digital Human group, working towards robotic re-embodiment

DigInfo TV

BCI Controlled Humanoid Robot

Will Your Future Be Full of Robot Assassins and Spy Aircraft?

With Its “Roadmap” in Tatters, The Pentagon Detours to Terminator Planet

A Drone-Eat-Drone World

At the end of World War II, General Henry “Hap” Arnold of the U.S. Army Air Forces praised American pilots for their wartime performance, but suggested their days might be numbered.  “The next war may be fought by airplanes with no men in them at all,” he explained.  The future of combat aviation, he announced, would be “different from anything the world has ever seen.” | Jun 2, 2012

By Nick Turse

Today’s armed drones are actually the weak sisters of the weapons world.  Even the Reaper is slow, clumsy, unarmored, generally unable to perceive threats around it, and — writes defense expert Winslow Wheeler — “fundamentally incapable of defending itself.”  While Reapers have been outfitted with missiles for theoretical air-to-air combat capabilities, those armaments would be functionally useless in a real-world dogfight.

Similarly, in a 2011 report, the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board admitted that modern air defense systems “would quickly decimate the current Predator/Reaper fleet and be a serious threat against the high-flying Global Hawk.”  Unlike that MQ-1000 of 2030, today’s top drone would be a sitting duck if any reasonably armed enemy wanted to take it on.  In this sense, as in many others, it compares unfavorably to current manned combat aircraft.

The Navy’s even newer MQ-8B Fire Scout, a much-hyped drone helicopter that has been tested as a weapons platform, has also gone bust.  Not only was one shot down in Libya last year, but repeated crashes have caused the Navy to ground the robo-copter “for the indefinite future.”

Even the highly classified RQ-170 Sentinel couldn’t stay airborne over Iran during a secret mission that suddenly became very public last year.  Whether or not an Iranian attack brought down the drone, the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board report makes it clear that there are numerous methods by which remotely piloted aircraft can potentially be thwarted or downed, from the use of lasers and dazzlers to blind or damage sensors to simple jammers to disrupt global positioning systems, not to mention a wide range of cyber-attacks, the jamming of commercial satellite communications, and the spoofing or hijacking of drone data links.

Smaller tactical unmanned aircraft may be even more susceptible to low-tech attacks, not to mention constrained in their abilities and cumbersome to use.  Sergeant Christopher Harris, an Army drone pilot and infantryman, described the limitations of the larger of the two hand-launched drones he’s operated in Afghanistan this way: the 13-pound Puma was best used from an observation post with some elevation; it only had a 12-mile range and, though theoretically possible to take on patrol, was “a beast to carry around” once the weight of extra batteries and equipment was factored in.

Terminators of Tomorrow?

As for the future, the Air Force’s 2011-2036 Roadmap has already hit a major detour.  In 2010, Air Force magazine breathlessly announced, “Early in the next decade, the Air Force will deploy a new, stealthy RPA — currently called the MQ-X — capable of surviving in heavily defended airspace and performing a wide variety of ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] and strike missions.”

Indeed, the 2011 Roadmap lists the MQ-X as the future of Air Force drones.  In February 2012 however, Lieutenant General Larry James told an Aviation Week-sponsored conference: “At this point… we don’t plan, in the near term, to invest in any sort of MQ-X like program.”  Instead, James said, the Air Force will be content simply to upgrade the Reaper fleet and watch the Navy’s development of its Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike or UCLASS drone to see if it soars or, like so many RPAs, crashes and burns.

The Holy Grail of drone ops is the ability of an aircraft to linger over suspected target areas for long durations.  But ultra-long-term loitering operations still remain in the realm of fantasy.  Admittedly, the Pentagon’s blue skies research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is pursuing an ambitious drone project to provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and “communication missions over an area of interest” for five or more years at a time.  The project, dubbed “Vulture,” is meant to provide satellite-like capabilities “in an aircraft package.”

Right now, it sounds downright unlikely.

While the Air Force has had a hush-hush unmanned space plane orbiting the Earth for more than a year, much like a standard satellite, the longest a U.S. military drone has reportedly stayed aloft within the planet’s atmosphere is a little more than336 hours.  Plans for ultra-long duration flights took a major hit last year, according to scientists at Sandia National Laboratories and defense giant Northrop Grumman.

In an effort to “to increase UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] sortie duration from days to months while increasing available electrical power at least two-fold,” according to a 2011 report made public by the Federation of American Scientists’Secrecy News, the Sandia and Northrop Grumman researchers identified a technology that “would have provided system performance unparalleled by other existing technologies.”  In a year in which the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster turned a swath of Japan into an irradiated no-go zone, the use of that mystery technology, never named in the report but assumed to be nuclear power, was deemed untenable due to “current political conditions.”

With the Pentagon now lobbying the Federal Aviation Administration to open U.S. airspace to its robotic aircraft and ever more articles emerging about dronecrashes, don’t bet on nuclear-powered, long-loitering drones appearing anytime soon, nor on many of the other major promised innovations in Drone World to come online in the near term either.

From Dystopian Fiction to Dystopian Reality

Until recently, drones looked like a can’t-miss technology primed for big budgetincreases and revolutionary advances, but all that’s changing fast.  “Realistic expectations are for zero growth in the unmanned systems funding,” Weatherington explained by email.  “Most increases will be in technical innovations improving application of delivered systems on the battlefield, and driving down the cost of ownership.”

Major Jeffrey Poquette of the Army’s Small Unmanned Air Systems Product Office talked about just such an effort.  By the late summer, he said, the Army planned to introduce more sophisticated sensors, including the ability to track targets more easily, in its four-pound Raven surveillance drones.  Put less politely, what this means is no roll-outs of sophisticated new drone systems or revolutionary new drone technology: the Army will simply upgrade a glorified model airplane that first took flight more than a decade ago.

Sci-fi it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean that nothing will change in the world of drone warfare.

The Terminator films weren’t exactly original in predicting a future of unmanned planes dominating the world’s skies.  At the end of World War II, General Henry “Hap” Arnold of the U.S. Army Air Forces praised American pilots for their wartime performance, but suggested their days might be numbered.  “The next war may be fought by airplanes with no men in them at all,” he explained.  The future of combat aviation, he announced, would be “different from anything the world has ever seen.”

The most salient and accurate of Arnold’s predictions was not, however, his forecast about drone warfare.  Pilotless planes had taken flight years before the Wright Brothers launched their manned airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903, and drones would not become a signature piece of American weaponry until the 2000s.  Instead, Arnold’s faith in a “next war” — a clear departure from thesentiments of so many Americans after World War I — proved accurate again and again.  Over the following decades, American aircraft would strike in North Korea, South Korea, Indonesia, Guatemala, Cuba, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Iraq, Kuwait, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq (again), Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen (again), Libya (again), and the Philippines.  New technologies came and went, air strikes were the constant.

In Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and the Philippines, the U.S. deployed pilotless planes as per Arnold’s other prediction.  From Afghanistan onward, all of the countries that have experienced American air power have also experienced lethal drone attacks — just how many is unknown because figures on drone strikes are kept secret “for security reasons,” the Air Force’s Spires recently told TomDispatch.  What we do know is that drone attacks have increased radically over the years.  “More” has been the name of the game.

Still, barely a decade after our drone wars began, dreams of Terminator-esque efficiency and technological perfection are all but dead, even if the drone itself is increasingly embedded in our world.  Fantasies of autonomous drones and submarines fighting robot wars off the coast of Africa are already fading for any near-term future.  But drone warfare is here to stay.  Count on drones to be an essential part of the American way of war for a long time to come.

Air Force contracting documents suggest that the estimated five Reaper sorties flown each day in 2012 will jump to 66 per day by 2016.  What that undoubtedly means is more countries with drones flying over them, more drone bases, more crashes, more mistakes.  What we’re unlikely to see is armed drones scoring decisive military victories, offering solutions to complex foreign-policy problems, or even providing an answer to the issue of terrorism, despite the hopes of policymakers and the military brass.

Keep in mind as well that those global skies are going to fill with the hunter-killer drones of other nations in what could soon enough become a drone-eat-drone world.  With that still largely in the future, however, the Pentagon continues to glow with enthusiasm over the advantages drones offer the U.S.

Regarding the importance of military robots, for instance, the Pentagon’s Dyke Weatherington explained, “Combatant commanders and warfighters place value in the inherent features of unmanned systems — especially their persistence, versatility, and reduced risk to human life.”

On that last point, of course, Weatherington is only thinking about American military personnel and American lives.  Tomorrow’s drone warfare will likely mean “more” in one other area: more dead civilians.  We’ve left behind the fiction of Hollywood for a less high-tech but distinctly dystopian reality.  It isn’t quite the movies and it isn’t what the Pentagon mapped out, but it indisputably provides a clear path to a grim and grimy Terminator Planet.

Read More

Starship dreamers launch 100-year mission with DARPA grant

USS Enterprise Wikimedia Commons

Washington Post | May 22, 2012

By Brian Vastag

Humanity’s journey to the stars is beginning with . . . a modest government grant.

The dreamers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency last week announced an award of $500,000 to a former astronaut to launch an effort to — someday — send explorers to another star system.

It’s a huge job, impractical with existing technology. That’s why the 100 Year Starship Study project will start by building a community of space enthusiasts, engineers, technologists, futurists, scientists and dreamers to chip away at a panoply of technical, financial and social challenges — while seeking funds to keep the effort afloat.

“The first step is to get the seed money to grow into something more while also getting the public engaged,” said Mae Jemison, the former astronaut whom DARPA chose to head the effort. “It has to become something that has its own momentum.”

In 50 years of space exploration, humans have hardly made it out of the driveway of our home planet. NASA’s trips to the moon took three days each way. Mars, the next planet over, is nine months distant by robotic flier. At the speeds attained on those trips, the journey to the nearest neighboring star would take tens of thousands of years.

A starship, then, will need giant engines that draw more power than we know how to produce, said Les Johnson, a NASA scientist who has worked on designs for robotic probes to travel outside our solar system. “There’s no law of physics that says it won’t work,” he said. “Maybe if we get creative in our engineering we can do this.”

In its grant solicitation, DARPA wrote that it wants to “foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder” while encouraging research that will pay dividends here on Earth.

In Jemison, the agency tapped not only a space traveler — in 1992 she became the first woman of color to leave Earth, on the space shuttle — but a physician, engineer, entrepreneur and champion of science education. Her vision: Generate excitement for a grand human ad­ven­ture.

“It’s got to be a global aspiration,” said Jemison.

Her first organizational challenge is getting a 100 Year Starship conference off the ground in Houston this September. Within a century, she wants the project to fund and foster the technologies needed to build a starship.

As a girl, Jemison was entranced with space journeys, real and imagined. She was 12 when she watched Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and she counts Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura on the original “Star Trek” television series, as one of her heroes. (Jemison herself appeared on an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”)

“I’ve always thought the public never lost fascination with space,” Jemison said of the post-moonshot era. “They just felt left out.”

Johnson said a small but dedicated set of space enthusiasts has been mulling starships for decades. Most notably, the British Interplanetary Society published plans for a notional starship called Project Daedalus in 1978.

Paul Gilster, a writer and futurist who keeps close tabs on such work in his blog Centauri Dreams, likened the 100 Year Starship to megaprojects such as European cathedrals and Egyptian pyramids, whose construction spanned generations. “We need to acknowledge we won’t see the end [of the project] ourselves,” he said.

Public interest is sure to grow, Gilster added. He pointed to the discovery of hundreds of planets outside our solar system. “We’re entering what I call the golden age of exoplanets,” he said. “We should know within two years whether there are rocky worlds around Alpha Centauri,” the star nearest our sun.

Finding these alien worlds naturally leads to the next question: How do we get there?

In beating out 20 competitors for the grant, Jemison tapped a group of scientists and engineers already studying how to travel to the stars. They call themselves Icarus Interstellar, and one of their advisers, planetary scientist Ralph McNutt of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, called the 100 Year Starship “an opportunity to get beyond the realm of science fiction.” He likened our current space vehicles to “dugout canoes.” But someday, he said, we’ll have the equivalent of ocean liners in space.

“I think it’s a great idea,” NASA’s Johnson said. “If we’re ever going to get to another star, we’ve got to start sometime.”

Facebook co-founder Peter Thiel: some people will live for centuries, rely on robots and take trips to the moon

Tech visionary Thiel sets out to spark a biotech revolution | Apr 17, 2012

By John Carroll

Peter Thiel, an early venture investor in Facebook and FierceMarkets, has handed out a round of grants of up to $350,000 to a slate of 6 startup biotech companies, each of which promises a game-changing approach to medicine. And he’s hoping that handing out checks to these startup dreamers will help ignite some radical thinking on the possibilities of our collective “amazing future.”

The list of radical “visionaries” includes Longevity Biotech, which is working on artificial protein technology to develop potent oral drugs; Arigos Biomedical, which is developing new technology to allow the long-term storage of organs; Immusoft, which is reprogramming human immune cells; Inspirotec, which is working on a low-cost device to gather and identify airborne agents; along with 3Scan and Positron, which are advancing new medical imaging technology.

“In the past, people dreamed of the future as a radically better, more technologically advanced place: You might live for centuries, delegate work to your robots, and take your vacations on the moon,” said Thiel, who established and funds the Thiel Foundation. “Now, many people expect their children to inherit a world worse than today’s. With Breakout Labs, we want to rekindle dreams of an amazing future. That’s why we’re supporting researchers who dream big and want to build a tomorrow in which we all want to live.”
Sign up for our FREE newsletter for more news like this sent to your inbox!

Thiel set up Breakout Labs to fund early-stage research work, backing teams of radical thinkers working outside traditional academic and industry circles. And he says more companies can earn his backing throughout the year. The new venture is currently focused primarily on the intersection of biology and technology, though Thiel plans to expand the focus as time goes on.

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

iBrain can ‘read your mind’, upload it to computers | Apr 9, 2012

By Eric Pfeiffer


Dr. Philip Low wearing the "iBrain" (Misha Gravenor/

A team of California scientists have developed the world’s first portable brain scanner, and it may soon be able to “read a person’s mind,” playing a major role in facilitating medical breakthroughs.

“This is very exciting for us because it allows us to have a window into the brain. We’re building technology that will allow humanity to have access to the human brain for the first time,” said the project’s leader, Phillip Low.

KGTV reports that the device, created by San Diego-based NeuroVigil, and dubbed the iBrain, fits over a person’s head and measures unique neurological patterns connected to specific thought processes.

Low says the goal is to eventually have a large enough database of these brainwaves that a computer could essentially read a person’s thoughts out loud. One person who has already tried out the iBrain is famed physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking.

“We’d like to find a way to bypass his body, pretty much hack his brain,” said Low. This past summer, Low traveled to Cambridge, England, where he met with Hawking, who was asked to think “very hard” about completing various tasks while wearing the device.

NeuroVigil says the device could be used at home by individuals and worn during sleep. It comes equipped with a USB port for transferring the recorded data to a local computer.

Beyond so-called mind reading, the device has potential medical applications, such as enlisting the iBrain to help doctors prescribe the correct levels of medication based on a person’s brainwave responses.

“This is the first step to personalized medicine,” Low said.

Billionaires should be allowed to BUY up planets, claims expert

Could billionaires buy the moon? An American space expert claims that a loophole might allow investors to buy other planets | Apr 5, 2012

By Rob Waugh

Private companies should be able to buy land on The Moon or other planets for tourism, mining or even to sell property, a space policy expert has said.

Rand Simberg said that if governments started to provide property rights then entrepreneurs and billionaires might pile in and invest – and added that the ‘time is ripe’.

He has proposed a law that would circumvent the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which states no individual or government can have sovereignty over any body in space.

But such a move would mark a huge change in how mankind sees space and could open up the galaxy to a debacle akin to the Colonial era ‘Scramble for Africa’.

One government going alone might also incur the wrath of other nations who all remain signed up to the Outer Space Treaty.

Mr Simberg, who is based in the US, says that the law is open to challenge and does not explicitly forbid anybody from owning chunks of planets, so needs clearing up anyway. reported that his plan is called the Space Settlement Prize Act and was unveiled earlier this month at US conservative think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Any new law would have to work around the 1979 Moon Treaty Act which stops any nation from claiming sovereignty over The Moon, though major countries like the US and Russia have not ratified it.

Mr Simberg’s states: ‘The ratification failure of the Moon Treaty means there is no legal prohibition in force against private ownership of land on the Moon, Mars, etc., as long as the ownership is not derived from a claim of national appropriation or sovereignty (which is prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty)’

Another hurdle that would have to be overcome would be how people get to the moon – Richard Bransons’ Virgin Galactic has yet to even make its first commercial flight into orbit, let alone another planet.

But Mr Simberg said: ‘There are people who believe that rocks have rights; I’m not one of them’.

US space law lawyer Michael Listner told that ownership of The Moon and other planets was a ‘very touchy issue’.

Northern lights shine through a ‘crack’: “Like something blew a hole into Earth’s magnetic field”

Finland’s Aaro Kukkohovi saw an aurora of a different color burst forth on Feb. 27 in the skies over Lumijoki. “I’ve never seen anything close to this,” Kukkohovi told “What a fantastic burst of energy – like something blew a hole into Earth’s magnetic field just above us.” For more from Kukkohovi, check out the gallery at the LumiSoft website. Aaro Kukkohovi

“What a fantastic burst of energy – like something blew a hole into Earth’s magnetic field just above us.”

MSNBC | Feb 29, 2012

Northern lights shine through a crack

By Alan Boyle

A “crack” in Earth’s magnetic field has opened the way for yet another thrilling display of the northern lights near the top of the world.

We’re in the middle of an upswing in the sun’s 11-year activity cycle, leading up to an expected peak in 2013. If solar storms get too intense, there could be a heightened risk of outages in satellite communication and electrical grids. But fortunately, the only significant effects from the solar outbursts so far have come in the form of heightened auroras, occasionally ranging as far south as Nebraska.

Auroras arise due to the interaction of Earth’s magnetosphere with electrically charged particles streaming from the sun. That interaction energizes atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen in the ionosphere, causing ripples of greenish and reddish light between 60 and 200 miles up in Earth’s polar regions.’s Tony Phillips reports that the interplanetary magnetic field tipped south this week and opened a crack in our planet’s magnetic shield to fuel a minor G1-class geomagnetic storm. The Space Weather Prediction Center said the storm was sparked by particles sent out from the sun during an eruption last Friday.

You can see the atmospheric physics at work in the picture above, captured by Andrei Penescu in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, on Feb. 27. Fittingly, Kangerlussuaq is home to the Sondrestrom Upper Atmospheric Research Facility, a project that studies the aurora and other atmospheric phenomena.

Here are a few other photos from this week’s auroral displays, plus two video extras. One is “Temporal Distortion,” a time-lapse tribute to the aurora and other wonders of the night sky by Dakotalapse photographer Randy Halverson. It includes some of the auroral imagery we featured back in October, and features original music by Bear McCreary, the award-winning composer for TV shows such as “Walking Dead” and “Battlestar Galactica.”

The other is David Peterson’s compilation of time-lapse videos captured by astronauts on the International Space Station, including some primo views of the aurora from above. Here’s what NASA’s Mike Fossum, a former space station resident, had to say about the clip: “This is the best video I’ve seen from photos we took on ISS! Stunning!!”