Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Harvard researchers build flexible robot

Lifted straight out of

LOS ANGELES — Harvard scientists have built a new type of flexible robot that is limber enough to wiggle and worm through tight spaces.
It’s the latest prototype in the growing field of soft-bodied robots. Researchers are increasingly drawing inspiration from nature to create machines that are more bendable and versatile than those made of metal.
(Robert Shepherd/Harvard University/Associated Press) - A soft-bodied robot navigating, top to bottom, an obstacle course. Harvard researchers have built this flexible prototype robot that can crawl and move in a wavelike motion. Unlike rigid robots, soft robots can be used to squeeze into tight spaces.

The Harvard team, led by chemist George M. Whitesides, borrowed from squids, starfish and other animals without hard skeletons to fashion a small, four-legged rubber robot that calls to mind the clay animation character Gumby.
In recent years, scientists have been tinkering with squishy — sometimes odd-looking — robots designed to squeeze through hard-to-reach cracks after a disaster like an earthquake or navigate rough terrain in the battlefield.
“The unique ability for soft robots to deform allows them to go places that traditional rigid-body robots cannot,” Matthew Walter, a roboticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an email.
A team from Tufts University earlier this year showed off a 4-inch caterpillar-shaped robot made of silicone rubber that can curl into a ball and propel itself forward.
The Harvard project, funded by the Pentagon’s research arm, was described online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The new robot, which took two months to construct, is 5 inches long. Its four legs can be separately controlled by pumping air into the limbs, either manually or via computer. This gives the robot a range of motions including crawling and slithering.
The researchers tested the robot’s flexibility by having it squirm underneath a pane of glass just three-quarters of an inch from the surface.
Scientists maneuvered the robot through the tiny gap 15 times using a combination of movements. In most cases, it took less than a minute to get from side to side.
Researchers eventually want to improve the robot’s speed, but were pleased that it did not break from constant inflation and deflation.
“It was tough enough to survive,” said Harvard postdoctoral fellow Robert Shepherd, adding that the robot can traverse on a variety of surfaces including felt cloth, gravel, mud and even Jell-O.
There were drawbacks. The robot is tethered to an external power source and scientists need to find a way to integrate the source before it can be deployed in the real world.
“There are many challenges to actively moving soft robots and no easy solutions,” Tufts neurobiologist Barry Trimmer, who worked on the caterpillar robot, said in an email.
Robotics researcher Carmel Majidi, who heads the Soft Machines Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, said the latest robot is innovative even as it builds on previous work.
“It’s a simple concept, but they’re getting lifelike biological motions,” he said.

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Barney Frank Youtube Redux

lifted straight out of washington post
We can say two things about Congress in the wake of the news that Rep. Barney Frank is retiring after this term: It’s about to get a little dumber, and a lot duller. So here, in appreciation for his years of service and entertainment, are some of Frank’s best YouTube-accessible moments:
“Madam, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.”

Frank’s answer to whether the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” means that gay men and straight men will now shower together: “We don’t get ourselves dry cleaned.”

Frank has, at various times in his career, been accused of pushing “the radical homosexual agenda.” In this clip, he defines exactly what that agenda is:

In a recent Republican debate, Newt Gingrich said Frank should be thrown in jail for his role in the housing crisis. Frank responds:

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Pepper-spray cop works his way through art history

Lt. John Pike, the U.C. Davis campus police officer who pepper-sprayed passive student protesters, is popping up in some of the world’s most famous paintings as part of an Internet meme intended to shame him for his actions.
On Friday, Pike casually pepper-sprayed protesters in a video that quickly went viral. “The apparent absence of empathy from the police officer, applying a toxic chemical to humans as if they were garden pests, is shocking,” The Post’s Phil Kennicott wrote.

Over the weekend, Pike’s visage popped up in Photoshopped into other scenes of languid passivity, such as Edouard Manet’s “Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” (The Luncheon on the Grass).
The images are a cheeky way of fighting back against what students say was an unwarranted use of forceful policing tactics. The university has defended Pike’s actions, though he and two other police officers have been suspended pending an investigation.
Online, the damage to his and the university’s reputations may already be done: Kennicott says the video will be among the defining imagery of the movement.
Although another controversial image, showing an elderly woman hit with pepper spray near an Occupy protest in Seattle, made this nonlethal form of crowd control an iconic part of the new protest movement, the UC-Davis video goes even further in crystallizing an important question: What does the social contract say about nonviolent protest, and what is the role of police in a democratic society?
Though there are dozens of variations on the pepper-spray cop meme — some inserting him into patriotic moments in history, while others are just mash-ups with other memes — the images of Pike in paintings are effective hyperbole for illustrating his nonchalance in pepper-spraying quiescent protesters.
Update: It’s always hard to trace the origins of a meme, especially a viral one like this, but in this case, we may have found one of the masterminds behind some of these pictures. A reader, James Alex, writes that he’s the man behind the Manet, the Willard, and the Wyeth. Thanks, James!
John Trumbull's famous painting, "Declaration of Independence." Pike is blasting pepper spray on the document itself.

Pepper-spraying in Picasso’s “Guernica.” The creator of the image emulated the artist’s style in depicting Pike, center left.

Instead of God giving life to Adam, Pike gives pepper spray to God in this take on Michelangelo’s famous portion of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

It’s “Liberty Leading the People,” but in Eugene Delacroix’s famous painting of the French Revolution, Liberty takes some pepper spray to the face.

Pike pepper-sprays Revolutionary War soldiers in A.M. Willard’s painting “The Spirit of ’76” or “Yankee Doodle.”

Pike makes a stop in “Christina’s World,” by Andrew Wyeth.

In the famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Washington is met with a blast of pepper spray to the face.

Pike aims his pepper spray at a leisurely woman in Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Surfer catches 90 foot wave, breaks record.