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Monthly Archives: October 2013

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Toyota Joins Slew of Major Automakers Promising Self-Driving Technology This Decade

Toyota was the latest to step onboard the self-driving car hype machine this week when they announced they would offer a car with “automated driving technologies” by the mid-2010s. In recent months, several carmakers—Tesla, Nissan, BMW—have published forecasts of robot cars inside the next decade.

Much-Hyped, MOOCs Maneuver Toward Version 2.0

As even major universities began invested in MOOC platforms, it seemed clear that the future of education would be in the massive, open platforms. But more recently research on their effectiveness has painted a grim picture of their ability to educate students. Can the courses iterate to overcome the challenges?

Tiny AI Startup Vicarious Says It’s Solved CAPTCHA

Vicarious, a Bay Area-based flexible purpose corporation founded in 2010, is today attempting to prove its mettle as an artificial intelligence venture by demonstrating that its algorithms can break a series of text-based CAPTCHA systems that include Google’s reCAPTCHA, the most widely used system.

Docomo Shows Glasses That Translate Foreign Languages Right In Front Of Your Eyes

If Star Trek or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have the right of it, language will be a negligible barrier when we begin fraternizing with aliens. But before jumping to extraterrestrial translators, it might behoove us to work on the terrestrial sort first—and Japanese telecommunications firm, Docomo, is doing just that.

A Vertical Forest Is Growing in the Middle of One of Europe’s Dirtiest Cities

Denizens of Florence, Italy will have a brand new 2.5 acre forest smack in the middle of their city by the end of 2013. You might think that’s a city with its priorities straight. But the forest didn’t require the sacrifice of precious commercial real estate—it’s of the vertical variety. Brainchild of Italian architecture firm, Stefano Boeri Architetti, the Bosco Verticale (literally, “vertical forest” in English) is two residential apartment buildings peppered with cantilevered terraces. Each terrace is specially designed and engineered to support a small community of trees, shrubs, and other greenery.

Dick Cheney Took Heart Defibrillator Offline in 2007 to Guard Against Hackers

In a recent “60 Minutes” interview, former Vice President Dick Cheney said his cardiologist turned off his defibrillator’s wireless functionality to protect against a potential attempt on his life—by hacking his heart.

Chris Wicher of IBM Watson at the 2013 Graduate Studies Program

Chris Wicher of IBM Watson explains the artificial intelligence behind the computer that competed on Jeopardy and is now tackling some of the world's greatest problems.

Healing Damaged Hearts With Stem Cell Implants Gets New Technique

Stem cells aren't just good for growing new organs, they can also heal old or damaged ones from the inside. Thousands of patients whose hearts were damaged in a heart attack have undergone some form of stem cell therapy worldwide, and the results are promising. But there's a problem. Once in the heart, the cells don’t tend to stay put.

Willow Garage Spinoff Launches UBR-1 One-Armed, Mobile Robot

Unbounded Robotics, a spinoff of Willow Garage, recently debuted its first machine, UBR-1, a multi-joined robotic arm on wheels that runs on the open-source Robot Operating System, or ROS. The startup hopes UBR-1 will support the development of further applications for dexterous, mobile robots.

No More Lying About Your Age: Tissue Test Can Tell

What causes human to age? A study published recently provides a tool that may help future researchers answer that question. It’s a biological clock that can date the age of a cell by measuring methylation, a chemical modification that affects certain parts of DNA. Using the clock, any piece of tissue identified with the biological age of its human source.

Brain Training Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be, Study Finds

The scientific literature offers few answers, with some studies arguing that programs designed to build working memory provide long-lasting memory benefits and even improve overall intelligence, while others claim brain-training programs are little more than snake oil. A recent study by Georgia Institute of Technology psychological scientist Randall Engle concludes that training designed to build working memory capacity can improve cognitive function in that particular area, but that it does not translate to general intelligence.

CastAR Augmented Reality Glasses Blow Up on Kickstarter

There are all kinds of companies experimenting with augmented and virtual reality right now. Google Glass projects a screen onto your retina. Oculus Rift straps a display to your face. Meta SpaceGlasses beam a hologram out in front of you. Now you can add another player to the game—castAR. CastAR is a headmounted augmented reality engine that projects a 3D image on a surface and allows users to interact with it—while playing virtual games like Dungeons and Dragons or Risk, for example.

US Army to Build Armored Talos Suit That Merges Man and Machine

The US Army recently put out a call for proposals to build a futuristic climate-controlled suit of armor that would make soldiers smarter, stronger, and tougher.

Wearable Device GIST Helps the Blind ‘See’ What’s Around Them

Wearable computers have generated a lot of excitement and buzz based almost exclusively on their novelty. Sure it’s easier to wear a video camera on your face than to hold it up, what if wearable devices performed useful functions that smartphones can’t? Meet GIST, a gesture-controlled wearable device that helps the visually impaired navigate the world around them.

New York Manhole Covers To Deliver Power to Electric Vehicles

New York startup HEVO has come up with a clever way to make EV charging more convenient in urban environments. Reserved parking spots feature what look like manholes in the pavement, but are in fact wireless charging devices that will give the trucks a little more juice while they sit.

Hot Silicon Valley Startup Anki’s Robotic Car Game To Hit Apple Stores: Interview With The Founders

Every year, the media flocks to Apple’s WWDC to witness whatever magic Apple has up its sleeve. But this June, the first performer was a previously unknown startup, Anki, showing off their iPhone-controlled car racing game, an intriguing blend of consumer robotics and artificial intelligence. Four months on Anki Drive is ready to launch. Singularity Hub visited the firm’s San Francisco office to play the game and talk to co-founders Hanns Tappeiner (president) and Mark Palatucci (chief product officer).

Eyeglass-Mounted Computing Becomes Crowded Field As Glass Competitors Ramp Up

Google Glass has generated a lot of buzz, but the eyeglass-mounted, touch- and voice-operated computer is still not available to the general public. And while Google has hyped and beta-tested, competing “point-of-view” devices have begun to emerge. With competitors’ approaches ranging from conventional eyeglasses with an embedded digital camera to glasses that allow users to manipulate three-dimensional holograms in the air, point-of-view computing is becoming a crowded and diverse field in which Glass will have to compete.

Ambitious Billion-Euro Human Brain Project Kicks Off in Switzerland

The Human Brain Project, which just kicked off with an initial round of meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland, has promised to build a functional computer model of the brain to expand scientific understanding of the all-important organ. The project will also bring together the scientific literature on mouse and human brains to focus future inquiry. It will be no small task.

Spin App Creates Buzz, Brings New Video Chat Paradigm To Smartphones

Why don’t we use video more? Unless it’s a special communication (someone’s birthday or a long overdue catch-up call with a parent), many of us prefer convenience over connection. But there also isn’t a killer video app yet—which is where the new video conference app, Spin, comes in. Spin hopes to fill a few holes in video chat.

Samsung Now to Sell Curved Display Galaxy Round Smartphone in Korea

We very recently wrote Samsung was promising a curved screen phone in the coming months. Ask and ye shall receive. The electronics behemoth released the details of a curved display smartphone called the Galaxy Round—and if you live in Korea, you’re in luck. That’s the only place the firm is offering the Round.

The Secret To Einstein’s Genius? Brain Study Notes Unusually Well-Connected Hemispheres

We now know that Einstein, one of history’s greatest physicists, had an unusually well-connected brain. The new insight was gleaned from a recently discovered set of 14 photographs of Einstein’s brain taken just after his autopsy.

Algorithm Tracks Literary Emotion in Shakespeare, the Brothers Grimm

Computers are excellent at crunching numbers, looking for words, following a logical set of instructions. But our machines are still highly literal beasts. The subtleties of human emotion largely escape them. Which is why Saif Mohammad—a Research Officer at the Institute for Information Technology, National Research Council Canada (NRC)—wants to inject emotional color into algorithms for research, search, and maybe more.

General Electric Expands Internet of Things to More Industrial Equipment

General Electric recently took a big step toward realizing the long overdue promise of the Internet of Things, when it more than doubled the industrial analytical software systems it offers to connect machines and handle their data. The company hopes to make its mark by significantly reducing the amount of “unplanned downtime” that industrial equipment undergoes, thereby bringing about economic benefits.

MIT’s M-Blocks: A New Class Of Robot Cubes That Self Assemble

What if robots could reassemble themselves at will? The liquid metal cyborg in Terminator was terrifyingly useful. It could look like anyone, repair shotgun blasts, even turn its hand into a murderous icepick. And then of course, you've got Transformers, wherein alien robots morph from cars and trucks into giant humanoid fighting machines. It isn't liquid metal nor is it extraterrestrial, but MIT's John Romanishin, Daniela Rus, and Kyle Gilpin think they’ve found a promising precursor to a similar technology.

The Year of the Smartwatch? Not So Far, But It’s Just the Beginning of Wearable Devices

Since the Pebble Kickstarter dropped last spring, smartwatch rumors and releases have abounded. Even as Samsung released its Galaxy Gear, Apple was rumored to be working on their own smartwatch model. It always seems to be the year of something in tech—and some hailed 2013 as the year of the smartwatch.

Is Gmail Wiretapping? Federal Court Considers How Internet Companies Can Read Our Email

If you had learned in 1980 that the Postal Service was opening your letters (postage cost 15 cents) and skimming them for keywords in order to send you more relevant advertising flyers, you probably would have blown a gasket. And yet, come 2004, you may have been among the flood of users who eagerly signed up for Google’s new email service, where all of your missives would be read by a computer in order to show you targeted online advertising. Are the two situations similar? That is what a Northern California federal district judge is trying to determine in a class action lawsuit that alleges that Google essentially wiretapped all Gmail users in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Designer Baby-Making System Patent Stirs Controversy

The Silicon Valley personal genetics company 23andMe has created a wave of controversy about “designer babies,” following its recent receipt of a patent for a system through which prospective parents could select sperm or egg donors most likely to give them children with specific characteristics, such as blue eyes or low risk of heart disease.

Steve Jurvetson on the Future of Design

Steve Jurveston -- the Managing Director of Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson -- offers insight into design, specifically calling out the errors of focusing on products rather than process. This 15-minute...

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot Walks Like a Human Over Field of Rubble

In movies, robots look like us and can do everything we can—only they’re smarter, stronger, faster, and have questionable motives. Robotics firm, Boston Dynamics, may have a lot to do with whether or not such a future comes to be. The firm’s Atlas robot is one of the most human-like robots out there.

Life Is Short – Our Time on Earth Visualized In Jelly Beans

The average human lives 28,835 days. We all know exactly what a day feels like, how long it takes, and how variable its passing can feel. But 28,835 days is just a number—unless you count it out in jelly beans.

Boston Dynamics’ 4-Legged Robot, WildCat, Gallops at 15 mph Outside

Boston Dynamics has been a wealth of video fun of late. Fresh footage includes their fast new outdoor robot, WildCat, and an update of their robotic workhorse, LS3. LS3 is a plodding junker in comparison to the zippy WildCat—but it’s a heck of a lot quieter these days, more autonomous, and much closer to seeing field duty.

Pill-Sized Implant Enters Clinical Trials as Vaccine Against Deadly Cancer

A diverse team of Boston-based doctors and scientists has developed an approach that lets the patient’s own body serve as a bioreactor to nurture an powerful immune reaction to cancer. The process recently began a two-year clinical trial on 25 patients at the Dana-Farber Cancer Center after it resulted in a 90 percent survival rate in an earlier study on mice with otherwise fatal cancer.

Healthcare is ‘Ripe for Disruption’ – Join the Future of Medicine Executive Program This November

Last February, at Singularity University’s FutureMed, I talked to Dr. Peter Diamandis about medical tricorders and mining asteroids, got a guided tour of a surgical robot from Dr. Catherine Mohr (head of research for Intuitive Surgical), and watched 16-year-old phenom and International Science Fair Grand Champion, Jack Andraka, bring down the house with a talk on how to diagnose pancreatic cancer with carbon nanotubes. What does all this say about FutureMed? One, the event attracts some of the best and brightest. Two, both the participants and faculty span disciplines and specialties. Three, there’s this amazing synergy that only happens at FutureMed—great moments tend to materialize. Like the previous two FutureMeds, the February event sold out early—so, the team decided to put on a sequel at San Diego’s historic Hotel Del Coronado in November. If you missed the February FutureMed, it's not too late for 2013.

Samsung Promises Flex-Screen Phone by the End of the Year

After first promising it as early as 2009, Samsung said recently that it will introduce a curved-screen smartphone in the coming months. Few details are available, but at a recent demo at the Computer Electronics Show, Samsung showed off a phone whose screen cut out at an angle on one side, displaying notifications in the additional space. But an ergonomically curved design or even a phone that unfolds to become a tablet could be in the works.

Facebook Building Major Artificial Intelligence System To Understand Who We Are

Facebook is developing deep learning software to understand what its users say and do online. Unless the company is considering major changes to its business plan, the company will use artificial intelligence to learn more about its users than what they share. And Facebook has a lot of data from which an artificial learning setup could draw inferences.

Robotics and Art Combine in Latest Viral Video “Box”

Last December, we visited two very cool companies at the intersection of high tech and art—Bot & Dolly and Autofuss. In an industrial space behind their café, Front, the two companies use robotic arms, software, and cameras to produce multimedia experiences the likes of which you’ve never seen. And they’re at it again. Bot & Dolly recently released a mindblowing short film titled, “Box.” The visuals alone are striking—but a peek behind the curtain makes them stunning. None of what you’re about to see was done in post-production. Had you seen the film shot live, it would look no different than the video.

Cody Wilson’s War: Saving the World from 3D Printed Guns

The list of objects being 3D printed is impressive and grows by the day. Rocket parts, bionic ears, full buildings, food, meat and leather, and personalized prosthetics. As manufacturing goes, it could “revolutionize the...

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