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The Wi-Fi networks aboard the International Space Station (ISS) could allow robots to autonomously roam the orbiting research lab. The SPHERES robots have been aboard the ISS since 2006, mainly used in a small cube location that is marked by ultrasound beacon limiters.
This would be a unique opportunity to determine if robots would be able to carry out menial tasks board the ISS, so astronauts are able to handle more pressing activities. Operators from the NASA Ames Research Center want to discover if it'd be possible to direct SPHERES using the current ISS Wi-Fi infrastructure.
NASA and other participating space nations have shown increased interest in using robotics technology aboard the ISS - hoping to make the environmental safer to work in, while also helping astronauts with their workloads.
The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) recently showed off its RobotSimian, an ape-like robot with four limbs that act as arms and legs. The RobotSimian is able to move across rough terrain, pick up objects, and better interact with its environment.
Robot developers want to create new robotic designs that can be used following natural disasters and other potentially catastrophic events. The RobotSimian will compete against 18 other robotic finalists in a DARPA Robotics Challenge.
"We included industrial designers in the team in an effort to create a robot that looked professional rather than either threatening or overly cute," said Brett Kennedy, JPL Robotic Vehicles and Manipulators Group supervisor, in a media statement. "Basically, we wanted the perceptual equivalent of a St. Bernard."
The Obama Administration is expected to begin outlining new rules regarding commercial drone operation in the United States. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wanted to release initial rules before the end of December, but Congress and other lawmakers said it would be more realistic for guidelines to be published starting in January.
The US government and private drone operators expect 2015 to be a critical year for drone regulation, as companies want to use drones for a wide variety of commercial purposes. When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced his interest in delivering products via drone, many people laughed it off - but the public statement was met with optimism by other companies hoping to benefit from drones.
"We need some sort of process that allows some of the low-risk operations," said Jesse Kallman, Airwave head of regulatory affairs. "I think Congress understands that, and hopefully they'll take steps in the coming year to address that."
The US Navy tested the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter drone during sea trials, with 32 successful takeoffs and landings earlier this week. A heavily modified Bell 407 utility helicopter can be controlled by command teams on military ships or ground-based teams.
"The MQ-8C Fire Scout's fist flight from the USS Dunham represents a significant Navy milestone," said Capt. Jeff Dodge, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Fire Scout program manager, in a press statement. "This is the first sea-based flight of the MQ-8C, and the first time an unmanned helicopter has operated from a destroyer."
The Navy and Northrop Grumman will continue to conduct tests to see how the helicopter drone operates in varying weather and wind conditions.
Want better sleep? Avoid smartphones, tablets and e-readers before bed, as using the electronics may have a negative impact on sleep patterns and long-term health, according to a Penn State University study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
During the 14-day study, neuroscientists studied 12 young participants tasked with reading for four hours using an electronic device in a dimly lit room. They started with an Apple iPad during the first five nights, and then read from printed books for five nights. Participants took 10 minutes longer to fall asleep, and didn't have as much time in REM sleep - the deeper and more restorative sleep phase in which humans dream.
"There's a lot of skepticism out there; a lot of people think this is psychological," said Charles Czeisler, director of the Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine, in a statement to the media. "But what we showed is that reading from light-emitting, e-reader devices has profound biological effects."
The human brain is able to adapt to a number of changes, and it looks like working with touchscreen smartphones is one of those impressive feats, according to researchers. Specifically, touch users were found with a stronger somatosensory cortex - the region of the brain responsible for processing touch - than users of regular mobile phones.
"I was really surprised by the scale of the changes introduced by the use of smartphones," said Dr. Arko Ghosh, the study's author and researcher from the Institute of Neuroinformatics of the University of Zurich. People should be comforted by the fact that our daily lives are interesting to neuroscientists. We have always studied pianists or athletes and such, but smartphones are going to allow us to start linking our digital footprints to brain activity."
Researchers analyzed 10 days of daily use from 26 touch-based smartphone owners compared to 11 right-handed mobile phone users. Using an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine to track brain activity voltage, they stimulated each participant's thumbs, index and middle fingers 1,250 times. Smartphone users had higher cortical activity, and the thumb provided the highest overall response.
There is concern that robots could one day steal jobs from human workers, but there is a niche opportunity for robots able to help in dangerous work zones. In addition to natural disasters, scenarios such as 9/11, Fukushima, and similar hazardous locations would be the ideal opportunity to launch robots to help human first responders.
DARPA, UCLA and the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab visited the Fukushima Daiichi power station to get a firsthand view of the chaos - and have a better idea of what the next generation of robots need to be able to accomplish in case of similar disasters.
DARPA launched a competition in 2012 for engineers to design disaster robotics technology, with participants undergoing an intense obstacle course to see which robots would succeed. There are a number of high-level university programs focused on robotics research, and the potential monetary awards are lucrative.
DARPA wants companies to submit plans for military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can be used as part of the Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program. The FLA program wants to make it possible for small UAVs to be agile and navigate urban warfare environments, such as rooms, corridors, stairways, and other tight areas before ground troops begin their operation.
The drones should be able to travel up to 45 m.p.h., and be nimble enough to fit through an open window, without the need of GPS waypoints. DARPA hopes the algorithms will allow for UAV enhancements so troops can conduct unmanned surveillance to identify ambush points, traps, and other potential threats while out in the field.
"Birds of prey and flying insects exhibit the kinds of capabilities we want for small UAVs," said Mark Micire, DARPA program manager, in a statement published by Phys.org. "Goshawks, for example, can fly very fast through a dense forest without smacking into a tree. Many insects, too, can dart and hover with incredible speed and precision. The goal of the FLA program is to explore non-traditional perception and autonomy methods that would give small UAVs the capacity to perform in a similar way, including an ability to easily navigate tight spaces at high speed and quickly recognize if it had already been in a room before."
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has teamed with drone manufacturers and groups to launch the Know Before You Fly campaign, aimed at educating drone operators about proper - and safe - drone flight.
The effort warns drone operators to fly their craft below 400 feet, learn to fly with local clubs, take a lesson before flying, and to stay away from crowded areas. As more first-time drone operators take to the skies, there is growing concern of potential incidents with aircraft - and other citizens on the ground, in case of drone crashes and other problems.
"There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm around [drones], and the technology is becoming the must-have holiday gift," said Michael Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) group, in a statement. " The 'Know Before You Fly' campaign fills a critical education gap just in time for the holiday season. We want to ensure that all prospective operators have the tools they need to fly safely and responsibly."
Les Baugh is able to use his brain to control two prosthetic arms, as DARPA and the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory show great development in next-generation medical technology. Baugh can functionally control the Modular Prosthetic Limbs, carefully connected to his nerves, despite the limbs not permanently attached to his body.
When Baugh thinks about moving his arms and hands, the prosthetics are able to respond accordingly - as medical researchers were able to measure how his muscles and nerves react when given commands.
"I think we're just getting started at this point," said Mike McLoughlin, program director at Johns Hopkins' Revolution Prosthetics, in the video. "There's just a tremendous amount of potential ahead of us, and we just started down this road. I think the next five, 10 years are going to bring some really phenomenal advancements."