Science, Space, Health & Robotics News - Page 163
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is embracing unmanned ground vehicles and robots, expecting the newer technologies to have a major role on the battlefield.
G-NIUS Autonomous Unmanned Ground Vehicles is expanding away from the Guardium, promoting the Border Patroller UGV. The ground vehicles will be deployed to patrol the border with Gaza, able to detect and identify insurgent activity - and inform manned patrols.
"Its communications systems will be improved [compared to those of the Guardium], and the control aspect will be different," said Maj. Lior Tarbelsi, director of the Robotics Division in the Ground Forces Command's Weapons Department, in a statement published by The Jerusalem Post. "A robot can be risked, and it doesn't have to deal with a lack of lighting. It doesn't have to breathe, and it won't have to worry about getting shot."
More jobs and human workers are at risk of robots one day taking over their roles in the workplace, and much of the concern has focused on low-tech workers. However, researchers from Columbia University and Boston University are worried that high-tech employees could also be at risk as demand for robots accelerates in the years to come.
Supporters note that humans are needed to help program the robots and carry out required maintenance - but there is growing criticism that much-needed jobs are at risk. However, researchers note that sophisticated code writing may be necessary at first, but legacy code will grow while these robots are able to autonomously learn tasks.
Companies have embraced robotics technology in manufacturing facilities to help streamline operations, reduce labor costs, and maintain high-levels of production.
There is a blend of technology and modern medicine helping save lives, as smart medical implants are being used in select cases.
The US government is throwing its weight behind smart implant research, with the DARPA Electrical Prescriptions (ElectRX) program. University researchers also have received additional financial support to develop smart implants that can be used to enhance medicine. Doctors and researchers have successfully created hardware for the human heart, esophagus and other critical areas - but trying to make implants for the brain remains extremely tricky.
"We're like the Wright brothers at the stage where they were first trying to build an airplane," said Tim Denison, director of the Medtronic neuromodulation division, in a statement published by NBC News. "Before they could do it, they had to build a wind tunnel to understand the principles of flight."
Researchers are looking forward to the future of medical technology that could have major life-changing impact, with great breakthroughs in bionic vision. During the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference last week, medical researchers discussed everything from telescopic contact lenses to prototype bionic prosthetics.
New technology developments greatly aid patients suffering from vision impairments - and varying levels of blindness - giving them the chance to better distinguish the world around them.
"Retinal implants have moved from sci-fi into reality over the last few years," said Daniel Palanker, professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University, in a statement to the San Jose Mercury News. "Now we are in the race of improving resolution, improving image processing, dynamic range (of light intensity) and levels of gray - and will keep improving."
DARPA is constantly working on various things that we'll see in the next couple of decades, but one of them is something that started out as "supervision" contact lens for soldiers. But as things progressed, it was looking like it was better suited to age-related macular degeneration.
The latest version of the 'supervision' contact lens has bulked up a bit from its first iteration which was 1.17mm, to 1.55mm. The added thickness could have something to do with adjusting the reflective bits inside of the lens itself, or that there's a different material used in its construction.
When asked about the added thickness, researcher Eric Tremblay said that out of the five patients that have used the lens, said it was light enough and more than comfortable to wear around for daily use. The contact lens itself works as a pair of liquid crystal glasses that the user wears, where winking your right eye turns on the magnification, while winking the left eye turns it off. Blinking, does nothing. The big issue now is getting oxygen through the lens, and to the users' eye. Without oxygen to the eye, the contact can only be worn for around half an hour. The team is already working on fixing this, with current experiments leading them to use tiny channels cut into the contact that feed oxygen as well as add reservoirs of oxygen-rich fluids.
The development of robotics and big data are putting pressure on the US workforce, with almost half of US jobs facing pressure from robots, according to a report issued by Citigroup and University of Oxford researchers.
Robots and automated technology have had an impact in factories and mid-level positions, but developments could lead to increased pressure on low-skill occupations, the report notes. To make matters worse, manufacturers are adopting the use of more robots in factories and offices, with the humanoids able to better complete tasks.
"The bulk of service occupations, where the most US job growth has occurred over the past decades, are now at risk," according to the report. "Already the market for personal and household service robots is growing by about 20 percent annually - a trend that is likely to continue."
China is going to have the most robots working in production plants by 2017 when compared to other countries, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). The production facility is the main focus, but robots are finding their way into restaurants, hotels, offices, and retail stores as hardware and software develops.
South Korea has the most robots per 10,000 workers in the manufacturing industries, with 437, ahead of 323 in Japan, 282 in Germany and 152 in the United States. China currently tallies only 30 robots per 10,000 employees, but has been forced to rapidly adopt robots - and foreign automakers are building manufacturing plants in the country - helping drive adoption.
"Companies are forced to invest ever more in robots to be more productive and raise quality," said Gudrun Litzenberger, general secretary of the IFR, in a statement published by Reuters. "In the current phase it's the auto industry, but in the next two or three years it will be driven by the electronics industry."
With 1.3 million employees under their wing during peak production time, Foxconn Technology Group, the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer and maker of Apple devices, recently let slip that plans are being put into place to reduce their global human workforce, favoring a robot alternative.
Currently sitting as one of the largest private employers in the world, Foxconn reported slows in revenue growth over the last few years, coupled with rising Chinese wages. Group spokesman Louis Woo has stated that this is a concern for his company. Without mentioning a specific time frame or target for this operation, he noted that labor costs have over doubled since 2010. Speaking to media, Woo stated that "we've basically stabilized (our workforce) in the last three years. We would like to stabilize our employee headcount no matter how fast we are growing in the future."
When Woo was asked if Foxconn was looking to reduce its overall employee number, he answered that there were internal targets for long term cuts, however he was unable to disclose any figures, adding "it depends how successful we are in terms of introducing the process automation and also the robotics."
Professor Stephen Hawking and other leading experts might be concerned that artificial intelligence could pose a threat to mankind - but don't count Microsoft Research chief Eric Horvitz as one of the skeptics. Instead, Horvitz believes AI will be extremely beneficial to humans in the long-term, as AI research ramps up.
"There have been concerns about the long-term prospect that we lose control of certain kinds of intelligences," Horvitz said in a statement to BBC. "I fundamentally don't think that's going to happen. I think that we will be very proactive in terms of how we field AI systems, and that in the end we'll be able to get incredible benefits from machine intelligence in all realms of life, from science to education to economics to daily life."
Microsoft has more than 1,000 scientists and engineers engaged in projects with its research department, and Horvitz disclosed a quarter of resources and focus are dedicated to AI-based projects.
Scientists from UC Irvine have figured out a method to 'unboil' egg whites, turning them from a solid back into liquid form. There is a real application to this however, as it is claimed that the process behind this can "help lower the production cost of cancer drugs and other expensive medications" as explained by Gizmodo.
Cancer drugs don't directly correlate to egg whites, however the process between the two is similar and helps show off how powerful and complex the process really is. The process shows that these scientists can now "use and recycle molecular proteins that have a tendency to "misfold" into tiny shapes and structures when produced that actually make them unusable." This basically means that the proteins produced by these scientists generally end up as a spongey-solid, similar to that of a hard-boiled egg, whereas scientists need it to be a liquid - with no easy solution previously available to make this happen, they put in the effort and produced a new method.
The scientists have laid out the process, explaining that "To re-create a clear protein known as lysozyme once an egg has been boiled, he and his colleagues add a urea substance that chews away at the whites, liquefying the solid material."