The Great Robot Race

If you missed the recent showing of NOVA’s “The Great Robot Race,” about the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, the entire program is available online in seven video chapters. There are also some video interviews with builders, a team database, some techie bits, and other material worth checking out.

Chicken-Based Circuit Boards

No, there’s no joke in that title. We’re actually bringing you news of a new type of printed circuit board that uses the keratin fibers of chicken feathers and a soy-based epoxy to construct the PCBs. The resulting boards are not only more environmentally-friendly, they are also faster than traditional boards.

The chicken PCBs were delveloped by Mingjiang Zhan, a student at the University of Delaware, in association with Intel and chicken giant Tyson. While the technology looks promising, it remains to be seen how environmentally-friendly full-scale manufacturing of such “green” boards might be.

An article from the journal Environmental Health Perspectives offers more details.

[Via Treehugger]

Pocket Drive Macho Enough to Wear Pink

The U.K.’s Reg has a review of the new LaCie 30GB pocket hard drive (US$150) called, inexplicably, Skwarim. We have no idea what it means either, but its neon pink rubberized case is bright and gawdy enough to make Hello Kitty blush. No idea who the target demo is (beside Japanese school girls), but the tiny size and weight (8.5 x 8.5 x 1.3cm box weighing 99g) and the 30GB (or 60GB) storage capacity makes it attractive despite its flamboyant lifestyle. We like rubberized hardware as much as the next techno-fetishist, but we’re just not comfortable enough in our geekitude to spring for pink. Now, BLACK rubber, and you’re talkin’ a sale. We definitely dig the ’70s op-art pattern.

Check out the full review here.

Street Tech Travel Tip: Finding Your Outlet

Street Techie Andrew Plumb writes:

One big challenge when traveling is finding enough power adapters to plug your 120-240VAC compatible devices into.

Then it suddenly hit me – I needed a power bar! …but good luck traveling light with a full-size bar. Instead, I picked up one of these medium-duty, multi-outlet extension cords. You want something reasonably heavy-gauge, since technically, it’s not designed for 240VAC. This cable is 14 Gauge, 15A, 125V; much heavier than most of the extended-voltage device cables I’m plugging into it, so quite safe.

It fits comfortably in my laptop backpack and is flexible enough to redirect socket-access from many a cramped hotel room outlet.

Debugging Your Blood

According to a piece on Popular Science, Aethlon Medical, a small biotech company in San Diego, is developing a pen-size device that can filter viruses from your blood. Blood would flow into the “Hemopurifier” from one artery, get pumped by the user’s heart action through a series of toxin filters, “like a colander,” and then flow back into the body via another artery. The device is designed to filter out smallpox, Marburg, Ebola, and other viruses. Aethlon has already tested the Hemopurifier on animals and hopes to begin human trials by the end of this year. Sign me up.

Still Kickin’ Bot

For those who only knew combat robotics through the short-lived cult hit Battlebots on Comedy Central, you may be surprised to know that robot wars are still prosecuted in battleboxes all over our Big Blue Marble. One can only hope that, in this IPTV world, fans of bot-on-bot action can find more ready access to this 21st century take on the contact sport. (Hey TiVo: How about deep sixing that unwatchable Rocketboom and give us BotBash instead!?)

One recent event was tthe 4th Annual National Championship of the Robot Fighting League and the ComBots Cup, held at that mecca for robotic combat, San Francisco’s Ft. Mason. Robot magazine has some really nice photo essays and a report on the event on their website. Also be sure to check out the Combots site for additional coverage and video of the event.

Net Journalist Busks for Story

Here’s something interesting. Blogger Josh Ellis, of Zenarchery, wants to go to the Trinity test site in New Mexico the next time they make the site open to the public (in early April). And he wants US to send him there to write a story about it. He’s taking donations via PayPal and BitPass. He’s looking for US$500. If he gets it, he’ll go and do a story. If he gets less, he’ll donate the money to Witness, an international human rights org. For the money, we get a minimum 2500-word essay on the site, the Manhattan Project, the Bomb, etc. from an “award-winning journalist,” many photos, maybe some video, all posted on his site under a Creative Commons license. He’s already up to $205. I love this. I hope it happens.

Neuro-Chips Grow Ever Closer

When I wrote The Desire to Be Wired for Wired 1.04 (in 1993!), a group of biomed engineers at Stanford had recently managed to grow rat brain nerve bundles into a silicon array. It was an amazing feat, but it was a passive interface. The next step was figuring out how to get the hardware and the wetware to talk to each other, to exchange usable signals. Thanks to researchers at the University of Padua in Italy, we’re a step closer to this kind of man-machine interface, a technology that holds promise for things like the treatment of neurological disorders.

The Italian science team was able to grow rat brain cells onto a silicon chip with 16,000 transistors and hundreds of capacitors on it. And most amazingly, they were able to pass electrical signals from the neurons to the silicon array’s transistors and to use the power in the capacitors to stimulate the neurons. That’s communication, baby! Now that’s a long way off from hardware and wetware really understanding each other (we’re sort of at the level of caveman grunting), but there are some nearterm applications, such as using neuro-chips to test the effect that new drugs have on brain function.

Thanks, Alberto!

Two-Tuner Series 2 TiVos

Zatz is reporting that two new Series 2 TiVo models have surfaced on Amazon and other e-tailers that sport two TV tuners and Ethernet capability.

The 80-hour model (TCD649080) will retail for US$249 and a 180-hour unit (TCD649180) for $349. No High-Def or CableCARD in these, we’ll have to wait for the Series 3, due this fall, for that.