Technology

Software can point to climate tech

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 19, 2011   View Article

A team of U.S. researchers has developed a model to identify technologies that are on the fast track to constant improvement. When applied to energy, it could help investors and policymakers sort out which ones will help us avoid catastrophic climate change.

“That is certainly an inspiration for this kind of work,” Jessika Trancik, an assistant professor of engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told me on Wednesday.

International climate negotiators have set a goal of limiting climate warming to 2 degrees Celsius, which will require keeping a lid on concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to between 450 and 550 parts per million.

“If you look at the international goals that have been set limiting greenhouse gas emissions, you can see that we really need to move quickly,” Trancik said.

Humans wired for grammar at birth

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 13, 2011   View Article

“Blueberry!” I tell my 15-month-old son as I hand him one, hoping that he makes the connection between the piece of fruit and its name as I daydream about the glorious day when he says, “Please, Dad, can I have another blueberry?”

For now, he points at the bowl full of tasty morsels and babbles something incomprehensible. His pediatrician, family and friends all assure me that he’s on the right track. Before I know it, he’ll be rattling off the request for another blueberry and much, much more.

Robot walks 40.5 miles non-stop

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 12, 2011   View Article

A four-legged bipedal robot named Ranger, about as tall as a human adult truncated at the hips, has walked 40.5 miles on a single battery charge without stopping or any human hand-holding, smashing a world record, researchers reported this week.

The robot was built and programmed at Cornell University. It started walking around an indoor track on May 1 just after 2:00 p.m. ET and came to an abrupt stop May 2 at 9 p.m., after 30 hours, 49 minutes and 2 seconds. In that time, Ranger made 307.75 laps around the .13 mile track at an ambling pace of 1.3 mph.

Human-powered copter ready to rise

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 9, 2011   View Article

On Wednesday, Judy Wexler will pedal furiously, hoping to generate the force needed to lift a human-powered helicopter off the ground and win a $250,000 prize.

The biology student at the University of Maryland is a competitive cyclist with a desirable power-to-weight ratio and endurance, noted Brandon Bush, a graduate student in the university’s school of engineering and project team member.

One signal herds microbot swarm

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 29, 2011   View Article

With the application of a single electrical signal, researchers can control swarms of tiny robots to assemble themselves into structures.

“We are controlling these robots kind of like remote controlled cars,” Igor Paprotny, a postdoctoral scientist at the University of California at Berkeley who is co-leading the research effort, told me Friday.

Military studies squid camouflage

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 25, 2011   View Article

The ability of octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish to instantaneously change the color and pattern of their skin to blend in with their surroundings has caught the eye of the U.S. military. Its goal is a new generation of high-tech camouflage.

The Office of Naval Research has awarded $6 million to a team of U.S. scientists to conduct the basic research required to make the squid-like camo. Precisely how the military will use the technology is classified, noted Roger Hanlon, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Smartphones to ease traffic snarls

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 13, 2011   View Article

All commuters have a personal bag of tricks to skirt traffic. Now, a new smartphone app under development promises to learn your tricks and let you know when to use them.

The opt-in system combines information on your typical driving patterns collected by your smartphone with mountains of historical traffic data collected by sensors at toll booths, in roads, bridges, and intersections to predict traffic snarls and ways to avoid them before you leave home.

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