Meet Dextre and Robonaut 2

Posted: December 18, 2010 in Robotics, Spacetrek

Robotics has always been a thing of fascination for mankind. Although the image of Arnie the Terminator armed with a deadly mini-gun and going on a rampage, is probably an image a lot of people associates robotics with. Rightfully so, responsibility and certain regulations certainly need to followed but we are a long way away from that and that is a discussion for another day. For today I want to introduce you to the awe inspiring Robonaut 2 aka R2.

R2 was developed by NASA and General Motors in a joint effort and is currently waiting launch to the International Space Station ISS, where it will be joining Dextre, the Canadian Space Agency’s humanoid robotic system.

Using aluminium and nickel-plated carbon fibre, the R2 unit was constructed for the purposes of dexterity. R2’s designs specifications aims for dexterity and mimic the functionalities of human hands. It is equipped with over than 40 sensors, which are designed to detect surroundings and it also has four visible-light cameras installed in place of it’s eyes, along with a fifth inside its mouth the is used to measure infrared light and aid with depth perception. 38 computer processors are located inside the torso, commanding to its highly dexterous arms and fingers.

Like R2, Dextre also has two long arms for completing tasks but mainly operates on the exterior of the space station, performing routine maintaince. Dextre is primarily designed for flexibility whereas R2 for dexterity. R2’s dexterous functionality allows for more sophisticated tasks, otherwise only humans can perform using their hands.

Shuttle Discovery currently houses R2, boxed in its cargo bay and is set to launch on the 13th of February 2011. Upon reaching the ISS, R2 will be covering the Destiny laboratory, one of the five U.S.-named modules attached to the ISS, where the robot will also undergo further development and testing against vibrations, zero gravity, radiation exposure, and electromagnetic interference.


Go Bionic!

Posted: October 21, 2010 in Robotics

As a sci/fi, anime, tech enthusiast, the stuff of bionics, nanotech and super cool gizmo’s has long been a fascination and believe me when I say, Sigourney Weaver battling aliens in an armoured robotic suit is no longer a far cry from reality.

Trust me and I shit you not! There actually exists a Bionic system, which has been developed and has seen the light of day. Well at least according to reports from a press conference held in San Francisco on the 17th of October, where Berkely Bionics, developers of bionic exoskeletons unveiled their latest product the eLEGS.

So what is this eLEGS ? In layman’s terms it is essentially a pair of robotic legs or rather a support system to help paraplegics walk again.

Amanda Boxtel, one of the first to try out the eLEGS device was paralyzed in a skiing accident more than 18 years ago and upon completing her eLEGS test run, she said, “Walking with eLEGS took some rewiring and relearning, but my body has the muscle memory. And I learned to walk really fast.”

Amazing stuff isn’t it but perhaps it is too early to be optimistic and hope that the product will be affordable enough for the general public. As Eythor Bender, CEO of Berkeley Bionics clearly indicated at the press conference that the prices will linger somewhere around $100,000 base range when launched in 2013.

But still, one can be hopeful!

Science Now (6th October’10) – Zuni Indians thought a red moon brought water. Seventeenth-century English farmers believed in a “dripping moon,” which supplied rain depending on whether its crescent was tilted up or down. Now scientists have found evidence for another adage: Rain follows the full and new phases of the moon.

That was the lead of an article on a study of Moon’s Phase Shifts and it’s effects on the Earth’s climate. A quick ponder; why should we care? Well, for one, lunar phases has long been a fascination of humankind and has been a central topic in literature from which many masterpieces of fiction have been produced.

Lets reflect on the term for a second, Moon Phase! Just hearing the phrase is exciting and why shouldn’t it be? Given the influences it has had on human cultures for centuries, it cetainly seems to be subject of much interest. Well it certainly applies for someone the likes of myself i.e. a fan of science fiction and the horror genres.

However, this particular topic, as much it has been studied, scrutinized, poked and prodded upon over the years. The fact remains that the nature of lunar effects are even now simply a mystery and ambiguous in the entirety of it’s effects. This is possibly the result of the folklore and superstition surrounding the issue which may have stolen the spotlight and as a result denied the deserved emphasis.

I feel compelled to feel sympathy for the author of the article. A challenge indeed when tasked with striking a balance in the validity of the facts and simultaneously, placing significant emphasis on the topic. The point of which would be to make the article interesting enough for drawing the reader’s attention, which in this case, the author seems to have achieved.

On the 14th Oct 2010,  ScienceDaily reported on the discovery of the most massive galaxy cluster at a distance of 7 billion light-years by a group of astronomers at South Pole Telescope.

7 billion light years certainly seems an unimaginable distance but with the usage of the Einstein’s Spacetime Mathematical Model, we can gain a better understanding of what that distance entails. Light year for instance, is the equivalent to the distance of just under 10 trillion kilometers and when travelling at a speed of light that distance can be reached within approximately a year. Bare in mind that any object  that is a light year away, takes a year for the telescopic sight to reach and what we perceive is not an image in live-time but rather a year old.

So yes, you are correct! The giant structure with it’s 800 trillion suns is of a gargantual age of 7 billion years. That is almost half the age of the universe and when our solar system did not even exist. Fun stuff, but it gets better; according to Hubble’s Law of General Relativity the universe is ever expanding and given the time of the sighting of the galaxy cluster, it is safe to assume that by now the cluster has expanded at least four times in size.

“This galaxy cluster wins the heavyweight title. It’s among the most massive clusters ever found at this distance,” said Mark Brodwin, a Smithsonian astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Brodwin was the first author on the paper announcing the discovery, which appeared in the Astrophysical Journal. Brodwin and his colleagues based a research upon 200 square degrees of data that was collected with the new South Pole Telescope SPT based in the Antarctic. Currently the SPT is completing a milimeter-wave survey over a monumental belt of sky covering 2500 square degrees.

According to sources, the purpose behind this expensive venture is to find a large sample of massive galaxy clusters in order to measure the equation of the state of dark energy, which to the average joe refers to the accelerated expansion of the universe.

So there you have it, one of the most significant finds in Astronomy as we know today. Most certainly more will follow over the coming years.