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RoboJelly, The Unmanned Underwater Vehicle That Uses Water For Fuel A researcher watches RoboJelly, an unmanned underwater vehicle that swims like a jellyfish and uses hydrogen from water as fuel. These are the kinds of jellyfish you don’t need to be afraid of. They look and swim like jellyfish, but they’re actually water-dwelling fuel cells attached to an artificial muscle, and they might just be the answer to a powerful and cheap way to monitor the world’s oceans. RoboJelly is the creation of associate professor Shashank Priya and his team at Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. This biomimetic robot has a bell-shaped, rubbery skin made of shape-memory alloys that return to their original shape after being bent. Except it doesn’t eat small sea critters to keep it going, but draws its energy directly from seawater. The bell is comprised of eight segments which are wrapped in carbon nanotubes, and the nanotubes are in turn coated with a platinum powder. A study on RoboJelly was published this past March in the journal Smart Materials and Structures.

Double Amputee Transformed Into Mermaid With Help From Prosthetics Despite her passion for swimming, it was never Nadya Vessey's dream to be a mermaid. She started swimming after losing her first leg when she was seven, and continued to swim competitively after the second was amputated at the age of sixteen. Vessey picked herself back up on two prosthetic legs and, unlike many Disney fans, didn't give in to any mermaid fantasies. She's used these legs for decades, until now that she's received some assistance from Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop. It all started on the beach where a four-year-old boy questioned her lack of limbs when he saw her taking her fake ones off. The peeps at Weta let us in on how exactly the tail works. Now that she’s been whipping her tail back and forth for a bit, Vessey plans to use it for the swimming section of an upcoming triathlon. Source: the Telegraph Photos via Oprah.com, Matmantra, and Stuff

Robot Skin Can Feel Touch, Sense Chemicals, and Soak Up Solar Power When you meet your robot overlord, it may be wearing super-intelligent skin designed by a Stanford researcher--a solar-powered, super-sensitive, chemical-sampling covering that makes your meatbag covering look pathetic. Zhenan Bao is behind the advances, and the recent development centers on a stretchable solar cell system that can expand and shrink along two different axes, making it perfect for incorporation into artificial skin for robots, human prosthetic limbs, or even clothing. Bao's earlier successes with artificial skin have resulted in a highly flexible and durable material, which is part of a flexible organic-chemistry transistor, built on a thin polymer layer. When the skin is subjected to pressure, the current flowing through the transistors is modified as tiny pyramid shapes molded into the polymer layer compress, resulting in a super-sensitive transducer that can apparently detect the pressure from a house-fly's feet.

New Video Of Army’s Alpha Dog Robot: “This Thing Is Awesome” No need to wait up. The speedier Alpha Dog now trots over flat terrain at 7 mph. For the last decade now Boston Dynamics has continuously provided some of the best two- and four-legged walking robots on the planet, and they’re continuing this trend with their latest version of Alpha Dog. Most articles about Alpha Dog go kind of like, “Impressive, but man, really loud.” The “pack mule” robots are meant to trudge alongside troops, hauling up to 400 lbs of gear so that soldiers don’t have to. In some (but not all) parts of the video it’s clear that this is a quieter robot. Its speed is improved too. DARPA program manager, Army Lt. DARPA will continue, over the next year and a half, to work with military personnel at different bases around the country, finishing with a Marine Corps Advanced Warfighting Experiment in which the robots will perform with troops in operational exercises. [image credits: Boston Dynamics via YouTube]

Drugs, Body Modifications May Create Second Enlightenment | Wired Business SAN DIEGO, California — Imagine a drug that can reduce your need for sleep, increase your concentration and make you smarter, with minimal side effects. Call it Morvigil. What would such a drug do to society? The best answers to those questions, writer Quinn Norton told conference-goers at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego Wednesday, is to be found in the history of another substance: coffee. Coffee debuted in the late 17th century in Oxford, England — leading to rowdy coffee houses, jittery arguments and even an attempt by King Charles II to ban the substance for inspiring seditious behavior. The other consequence: the Enlightenment. (Disclaimer: Norton is a Wired.com contributor and a friend, but her talk was clearly one of the hits of the conference.) A drug like Morvigil could easily do the same, though Quinn thinks its unlikely "people will be popping pills together in a pill house." Call it a second Enlightenment. "How do we give ourselves permission to modify?"

The Robot Hiring Boom Has Arrived The knock against many technology companies is they create too few jobs in their own countries. That complaint needs serious amending. Tech companies are creating plenty of jobs for robots. Foxconn currently supplements its 1.2 million human workers with 10,000 robots. In one regard, this investment will help the company's labor relations. The official response to the media sounded every bit as cynical. Watch: What's the Big Idea? Foxconn has annual revenues of over $60 billion, and the company has put up an astounding compound annual growth rate of over 50 percent for the last decade. This could be a step in the right direction from both a business and humanitarian perspective. What's the Significance? The use of industrial robot labor is spreading rapidly in China. Every industry, from agriculture, to the military, will be impacted by robot labor. Watch here: Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Meet the Amazing Robots That Will Compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Wow. I mean, seriously, wow. We've been incredibly excited to see the progress that Boston Dynamics has been making on ATLAS in preparation for the DARPA Robotics Challenge, but we had no idea what to expect from the challenge's Track A teams, each of whom will be designing and building their own robot with capabilities comparable to what we've seen ATLAS do. Today, October 24, is opening day for the DARPA Robotics Challenge, or DRC. The first half of this is the hardware: DARPA is promising that an "advanced variation" of ATLAS (which is what the above picture is showing) will be ready to go by June of 2013, and will be provided to the advancing Track B and C teams (see our previous post on the DRC for more details on the tracks). As for the simulation software (pictured above), OSRF has been working very, very hard, and the DRC Simulator is currently available in beta version 1.0. Anyone can apply for Track C, but the Track B funded teams are as follows: Drexel University Raytheon

Mind-Reading Experiment Reconstructs Movies in Our Mind The approximate reconstruction (right) of a movie clip (left) is achieved through brain imaging and computer simulation.UC Berkeley It sounds like science fiction: While volunteers watched movie clips, a scanner watched their brains. And from their brain activity, a computer made rough reconstructions of what they viewed. Scientists reported that result Thursday and speculated such an approach might be able to reveal dreams and hallucinations someday. In the future, it might help stroke victims or others who have no other way to communicate, said Jack Gallant, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of the paper. He believes such a technique could eventually reconstruct a dream or other made-up mental movie well enough to be recognizable. People shouldn't be worried about others secretly eavesdropping on their thoughts in the near future, since the technique requires a person to spend long periods in an MRI machine, he noted.

Japanese Researchers Continue Quest To Build Life-Like Humanoid Robots In the graphic novel The Watchmen, the physicist Jon Osterman is vaporized in an experiment and comes back as the god-like Doctor Manhattan after meticulously putting himself together again one organ system at a time. In a way, Japanese researchers are doing their own version of this through efforts to create human-like robots, though it’s requiring a much longer time frame to make a person out of metal and plastics. In a recent effort to mimic the human musculoskeletal system, researchers at the University of Tokyo unveiled Kenshiro, a 50-kg robot that has the bones and muscles akin to a 12-year-old boy. Combined, these systems produce joint motion that is close to the rate that humans can move joints, thanks to a design that balances power, flexibility, and weight. Here’s Kenshiro in action: This latest bot is an extension of the Kojiro robot that was revealed in 2010, which had many of the joints found in humans but did not expressly mimic individual bones and muscles.

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