By Shinjana Misra
If you’ve seen any robot try to walk , you’ll know that they’re not very elegant. The reason is their cumbersome, inefficient gait, optimised to prevent them falling over , as opposed to being honed for speed.
By contrast, humans and animals are able to walk and run swiftly and smoothly, using the absolute minimum of energy. And roboticists want to know why. So PhD student Geert Folkertsma at the University of Twente has built a robotic cheetah that he hopes can help optimise the robots of the future.
“As you might expect of the fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah makes very efficient use of its energy,” Folkertsma says.
“I wanted to create a robot that runs the same way, with the aim of applying this knowledge to the development of new robots.”
His cheetah-bot is pretty small – thirty centimetres long – and weighs in at just 2.5kg. That makes it twenty times lighter than the real thing and four times as small. “Not every element is where you would find it in the animal, but the spine, shoulders and hips occupy the same position,” said Folkertsma.
Studying video footage of real cheetahs and using software to analyse their movements, Folkertsma was able to figure out what makes the creature so efficient.
“The main difference between existing walking robots and my cheetah robot is the backbone,” he says.
“The trick was to imitate it without complicating matters unnecessarily: instead of vertebrae and intervertebral discs, we worked with a cleverly placed spring which delivers approximately the same effect.
“Cheetahs are also able to store a lot of energy in their muscles for later use. This too is something we have imitated by fitting carefully selected springs in our robot’s legs.”
It doesn’t move as fast as you might expect for a robotic cheetah – just one kilometre per hour. The real thing, if it were scaled down to the same size, would run at 20 km/h. But it is able to move using only about 15 percent more energy than the real thing.
And Folkertsma says he’s working on the speed issue.
“A Master’s student is currently working on a newly developed robotic leg and the first tests, focusing on a single leg, are already promising,” he says.
“With four legs of this type, the robot will be able to run much faster; I think this will help us make genuine advances.”
There’s mind-blowing technology, and then there’s brain-computer technologies.
Facebook’s “direct brain interface,” a creation of its secretive Building 8 division, could take tech-enhanced communication to the next level.
Facebook is exploring a silent speech system with a team of more than 60 scientists that would let people type 100 words per minute with their brain. “What if you could type directly from your brain… with the speed and flexibility of voice and the privacy of text?” Building 8 head Regina Dugan said at the second day of Facebook’s F8 developer’s conference here.
She noted the brain contains about 86 billion neurons and is capable of producing 1 terabyte of information per second. Think of a “brain mass for augmented reality,” she said.
The brain-to-text project is a couple years away and would require new, non-invasive sensors to measure brain activity hundreds of times per second, Dugan told USA TODAY after the keynote. A speech prosthetic for people with communication disorders would likely be the first application. “This (project) could be as transformative as the (computer) mouse,” she said.
While such a project represents a “huge leap”, the implications could be unsettling to consumers, many of whom think Facebook knows too much about their daily habits and actions — let alone their thoughts, says Debra Aho Williamson, a principal analyst at eMarketer.
Facebook is working with scientists, engineers and system integrators from UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who specialize in machine learning methods for decoding speech and language.
“This is about decoding the words you’ve already decided to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain,” Dugan said. It would “be crazy amazing” but only a start, she said. One day, one may be able to share their thoughts independent of speech.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has shown a predilection for telepathy, which he calls “the future of communication.” Once virtual reality and augmented reality have run their course, he has theorized, a form of technology-enabled telepathy will help people capture and then share their thoughts and feelings with friends.
Last year, Facebook poached Dugan, who helped shape Google initiatives such as Project Tango (3-D mapping) and Project Ara (tools for building modular smartphones), to head Building 8, a research-and-product-development group considered vital to Facebook’s 10-year technology road map.
Dugan’s presentation highlighted a keynote devoted to Facebook’s future projects in connectivity, artificial intelligence and virtual reality/augmented reality
More from F8:
Facebook’s futuristic endeavor is the latest to explore the human brain.
Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, last month announced the formation of Neuralink, a company that would merge computers with brains to keep up with artificial intelligence. In October, Braintree founder Bryan Johnson invested $100 million in start-up Kernel to build hardware and software to augment human intelligence. One goal is to facilitate communication between brain cells by hacking the “neural code” that lets people store and recall memories and information.
The implications for brain-to-text technology are mind blowing and cautionary, says Joshua Feast, CEO of Cogito, an artificial intelligence and behavioral science company spun out of MIT.
“This has the potential to be the most important application of artificial intelligence,” he says. “All AI technologies should be applied as a win-win-win for humans.”
“If not,” he warns, “they can be scary and creepy.”
According to rumours, Microsoft is developing a Surface phone as the next product in its Surface line of products. The huge amount of speculations that are going on for the phone, it may give iPhone a run for its money.
The latest speculations suggest an Intel Lake processor, which is a laptop class processor, an almost edge-to-edge display, liquid cooling tech and appears to be sleeker than Lumia phones.
Other top-notch specs include 20MP Carl Zeiss primary camera, compass, proximity sensor, 6GB or 8GB RAM, barometer and a fingerprint scanner embedded under the phone’s display, something not seen before.
Also, it’s rumoured to sport a 5.5 inch super AMOLED display.
But with these killer specs, would this phone be able to make a dent in the market?
It’s highly unlikely though if it runs Windows 10 Mobile. The phone may sport some really cool hardware but almost everyone is aware of the face that when it comes to software, Windows Mobile doesn’t stand a chance.
The company hoped that with Windows 10 Mobile and Project Islewood they’d be able to attract developers and gain a significant market share. Facebook ported the iOS Messenger and Instagram apps to Windows. However, it hasn’t helped much. None of the attempts of the company to attract developers are working. It has, on the contrary, removed apps from its store which hasn’t been updated for a long time, significantly decreasing its chances of having a success in the mobile market.
Also, there are rumours that it may be shipped with Windows 10 giving the phone PC-like performance. And some suggest that it’d be able to run Android apps much like what was there in BlackBerry 10.
Allowing to run Android apps in its native OS didn’t help BlackBerry, so there’s a little chance that it may help Microsoft. However, if they ship Windows 10 Mobile then the phone may be able to disrupt the market.
The phone would be marketed keeping businesses and tech enthusiasts in mind. Now that Lumia is dead, Surface may be company’s attempt at reviving its Windows Mobile line.
With the company upping the ante with each Surface launch, we may expect something really fabulous from the phone. Only time will tell whether it would prove to be a feather in Surface line’s cap or a disaster…Fingers crossed till then.