Smart Dust Radios?

If you don’t have Lab Notes, the newsletter from the UC Berkeley College of Engineering, on your radar, what the heck is wrong with you?! You *want* to subscribe to this thing. Not only is it chock full of bleeding-edge sci-tech “amp” but it’s also free, and it’s written by Street Tech founding pal David Pescovitz. What’s not to like?

The latest issue covers smart dust radios (cool!), quantum computing, greener chip fabs, and sensor networks from the Silk Road to the Dead Sea.

Evolution Robotics Personal Robot System

The ER1 is [a very cool looking] robot for anyone interested in real robotics (not just toys). The robot platform features an industrial-strength, re-configurable aluminum chassis, plug & play, expandable electronics, a state-of-the-art computer vision system, and an open software control system with APIs and SDKs included. [Base price is $500, with expansion kits for extra power, robotic gripping arms, IR sensors, etc. costing between $100 and $200. Processing power provided by any old Pentium III 500 MHz or faster. Laptop not included.]

[Editors Note: Warning! Warning! The stench of a PR posting permeates the above. Still, the ER1 *is* an interesting approach to low-cost home robotics (for the tinkerer, anyway) and is worth checking out if you’re interested in such things.]

Xeno’s Paradox Solved?

“Physicists have worked out how to look at the smallest sizes and shortest time that some of them believe can exist.

On a human scale, an atom is inconceivably small. But size is relative. On the Planck scale—the smallest that physical theory recognises—atoms are huge. At this scale, named after Max Planck, the founder of quantum theory, many physicists envisage space and time as being grainy, rather than continuous.” – The Economist

Thank goodness. Xeno’s Paradox had always bothered me, but now it seems there is no “half-way” at some level. Somehow that’s reassuring.

Read the full article .

Darpa wants YOU to race a robot!

Darpa is sponsoring a race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The catch is that the race car has to have no human involvement. It has to be completely autonomous. This includes refueling, guidance, and collision avoidance. The race will include both on and off road segments, but there will be only race-related traffic on the roads during the race.

The race will be in February 2004, so get working on those robotic vehicles!

Technology of the Year?

Somehow I missed this–Volkswagen produced a prototype diesel-hybrid that gets 239 miles per gallon, through the judicious use of carbon fiber, magnesium, a 57-lb. engine, and a whole lotta WunderTechen! According to Car and Driver, it got 319 mpg during a recent test run by the retired company president.

Culled from the NYT’s Year in Ideas

Attack of the Rat-Bots

MIT Tech Review has an fascinating piece today about a robot at Georgia Tech that runs on rat brain. Researchers took cultured rat neurons and placed them on a silicon chip with suspended electrodes in it. As the neurons fire, they excite the electrodes, which in turn send signals to the drive motors of the robot. Right now, the steering is a little…ah…erratic. Researchers hope that feedback might allow some learning, and therefore, make rat-bot into a better driver. The bot is equipped with light sensors for proximity navigation. Triggering of these sensors send electrical impulses back into the neuronal soup. Feedback! They’re now looking for any evidence that the rat “brain” is learning anything after closing the loop.

DMCA a Two-Edged Sword?

A couple weeks ago, Wal-Mart and several other retailers forced FatWallet to remove postings in their forums that listed upcoming sale prices, claiming copyright over the info, and using the DMCA as a club. But according to Ars Technica, Wal-Mart may have gone too far, in demanding the info on forum posters. FatWallet is fighting back, using the DMCA itself:

Today, FatWallet sent each retailer a letter contesting its frivolous copyright assertion and demanding payment, under Section 512(f) of the DMCA, for all damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, incurred by FatWallet in addressing the knowing and material misrepresentations of copyright protection. According to Megan E. Gray, “As the retailers well know, simple sales prices are not protected by copyright. Copyright only covers the expression of ideas, not facts.” Deirdre K. Mulligan noted, “This is an example of corporations using allegations of copyright infringement to silence speech.”