Thursday, November 04, 2010

Fortean / Oddball News: Lunar Robot, Star Wars Hologram and Susquehanna River Intersex Fish

"One small step for a robot...one giant leap for robotkind"

discovermagazine - When the space shuttle Discovery launches on Thursday (weather and technology permitting), it will be ferrying an unusual passenger to the International Space Station: Robonaut 2. This humanoid robot was designed by NASA and General Motors to work alongside astronauts on the space station, and could eventually take over some tedious or dangerous tasks.

Human beings who dream of becoming astronauts acquire things like advanced science degrees or the ability to fly jet planes in hopes of catching NASA’s eye and being chosen as astronaut candidates. If they do become candidates, there’s still scads of training before they can take a flight up to the ISS. But how does a robot qualify for and prepare for that trip to orbit? DISCOVER spoke with Marty Linn, General Motor’s principal engineer of robotics, to find out. Continue reading...fascinating! - The Robotic Right Stuff: What It Takes to Become the First Robot Astronaut

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'Weeping' statue bigger draw than ever

UPI - Publicity about a statue of the Virgin Mary that allegedly weeps healing tears in the Canadian border city of Windsor, Ontario, is attracting more pilgrims.

Earlier this week, the Windsor Star reported how the city had ordered the removal of the 5-foot-tall statue from the front yard of Fadia Ibrahim by Nov. 19. Neighbors had complained of noise and crowds on the quiet suburban street for the past three months and city officials responded by saying the statue violated zooming bylaws.

That publicity served to increase the number of visitors and a cash donation box was seen Tuesday night overflowing with money to help Ibrahim in her fight to keep the statue, the Star said.

The figure reportedly smiles during the day, but cries tears of oil at night that believers say have healing powers.

Leonard Daniels, a spiritual healer from Pukatawagan, Manitoba, told the newspaper he was organizing a pilgrimage to the home for his followers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

"I am gonna go there and see that statue," he said. "I'm a firm believer of these miracles that happen. I'm going to go sit there and pray."

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Intersex fish -- male bass with eggs -- found in Susquehanna River, scientist says

pennlive - A federal scientist says intersex fish have been found in the Susquehanna River.

Vicki Blazer, a fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, says more than 90 percent of adult male bass examined in the Susquehanna in the past year had immature egg cells in their sexual organs.

Intersex fish have been found nationwide, including the Potomac River, another key tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Hormones from birth control pills and other consumer and agricultural chemicals are suspected.

Blazer presented her latest findings at a meeting Tuesday in Baltimore of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists.

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"....help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope" - Star Wars 3D holograms 'close to reality'

telegraph - But while they could send a 3D hologram down the line, it took minutes to update – making lifelike movement impossible.

Now a team led by Professor Nasser Peyghambarian, of Arizona University, have developed a way of updating the image every two seconds – making it close to "real time".

The ability to beam a moving hologram to anywhere in the world could lead to holographic teleconferences, 3D adverts, and a wealth of telemedicine, engineering and entertainment industry applications.

Prof Peyghambarian said: "Holographic telepresence means we can record a three-dimensional image in one location and show it in another location, in real time, anywhere in the world.

"This advance brings us a step closer to the ultimate goal of realistic holographic telepresence with high-resolution, full-colour, human-size, 3D images that can be sent at video refresh rates from one part of the world to the other."

At the heart of the system is a laser that burns an image on a screen every two seconds, making it the first to achieve a speed that can be described as "quasi-real-time" by Dr Pierre-Alexandre Blanche, co-author.

Dr Peyghambarian and colleagues had previously demonstrated a refreshable polymer display system, but it could refresh images only once every four minutes.

The new system can refresh images every two seconds – more than one hundred times faster – thanks to a material called a photorefractive polymer.

The images it can capture are almost as sharp as those broadcast on US television – opening up many more possible uses.

Holographs are created by mixing reflected laser light with a second laser beam to lay down a static image – typically a lengthy, complicated and delicate process.

But the ability to quickly refresh images could mean surgeons using holographs as a guide during operations or as a better way for pharmaceutical researchers to study molecular interactions for new drugs during simulations.

Two-dimensional images are taken at multiple angles in one location and sent elsewhere using computer network Ethernet and then printed with the hologram set-up.

Using a single-laser system for writing the images onto the photorefractive polymer, the researchers, can display visuals in colour.

While the current refresh rate for multicolour display is even slower than for monochromatic images the development suggests a true 3D, multicolour system may be feasible.

Lynn Preston, director of the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Centres programme in the US, said: "This breakthrough opens new opportunities for optics as a means to transport images in real time.

"Such a system can have an important impact on telepresence, telemedicine, engineering design and manufacturing and other applications. This is an early and tremendously important outcome from this three-year old centre."

The research was published in Nature.


Click for video

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Invisibility cloak closer with flexible 'metamaterial'

BBC - Scientists in the UK have demonstrated a flexible film that represents a big step toward the "invisibility cloak" made famous by Harry Potter.

The film contains tiny structures that together form a "metamaterial", which can, among other tricks, manipulate light to render objects invisible.

Flexible metamaterials have been made before, but only work for light of a colour far beyond that which we see.

Physicists have hailed the approach a "huge step forward".

The bendy approach for visible light is reported in the New Journal of Physics.

Metamaterials work by interrupting and channelling the flow of light at a fundamental level; in a sense they can be seen as bouncing light waves around in a prescribed fashion to achieve a particular result.

However, the laws of optics have it that light waves can only be manipulated in this way by structures that are about as large as the waves' length.

Until now, the most striking demonstrations of invisibility have occurred for light waves with a much longer wavelength - a far redder colour - than we can see. This is because it is simply easier to construct metamaterials with relatively large structures.

Even flexible metamaterial films have been shown off for this high-wavelength range.

For the far shorter waves that we can see, a metamaterial requires structures so tiny - nanostructures - that they push the boundaries of manufacturing.

"The first step is imagining first of all that this could be done," said Andrea Di Falco of St Andrews University, the author of the paper.

"All the typical results have been reached in flat and rigid surfaces because this is the legacy of the procedures used to create nanostructures."

So instead of building the typical stacks of the "fishnet" structures on hard, brittle silicon, Dr Di Falco used a thin polymer film.

"Typically what you do is stack several layers of fishnet structures and this all together will give you a metamaterial," Dr Di Falco explained.

"What I've done here is fabricate a single layer - I lift it off so that at the end I am left with a self-standing membrane - and show that it has the properties required to create a 3D flexible metamaterial."
Tents moment

Ortwin Hess, a physicist who recently took up the Leverhulme Chair in Metamaterials at Imperial College London, called the work "a huge step forward in very many ways".

"It clearly isn't an invisibility cloak yet - but it's the right step toward that," he told BBC News.

He added that the next step would be to characterise the way that the material's optical properties change as it is bent and folded.

If the properties were sensitive to the movement, delicate manipulations of the films may make them useful for next-generation lenses in, for example, handheld cameras.

If instead they were impervious to bending and motion, the films might be useful for instance in contact lenses. What is more, the invisibility cloak could be that much closer - but Professor Hess added that is still some way off.

"Harry Potter has to wait still - that's the huge goal," he said.

"So far he's had to live in a house and now he can live in something like a tent; it's not the cloak that adjusts to his shape, but it's a bit more flexible. Now we have to take the next step forward."

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