Sunday, 7 June 2015

The DARPA Robotics Challenge Final, 2015

The Final of the DARPA Robotics Challenge took place on June 5th and 6th - the final challenges of the competition were completed yesterday, and spectators were treated to a mixture of exciting robotic action and a lot of waiting around.

It's certainly true to say that robots have come a long way in the last few years, and the challenge, which took place in LA, California, gave people a chance to see some of the latest, most sophisticated robot machines to date.

25 teams from all over the world qualified for the finals, and at the end of two days of gruelling challenges, the South Korean team, Team Kaist, took victory.

In the Team Kaist feature video, Jung Woo Heo tells us a little about the team's entry to this year's competition.

One thing that particularly interested me was that many of the entrants were humaniod bipeds. This is a supremely challenging configuration. We humans make it look easy, but the control needed is ridiculously complex. The robots have to keep their balance while they walk, navigate uneven terrain, climb in and out of a vehicle, and perform the other challenges, If you watch some of the videos on the DARPA Robotics Challenge website, it'll soon become clear just how challenging that is.

Congratulations to all the teams who brought their innovative work to the competition, and particularly, congratulations to Team Kaist for their well-deserved win.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the next decades will bring in advancing this technology.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Tidbits - An amazong new alloy, Cheap books, Music, and more...

An Amazing New Alloy


Amazing new memory alloy

When my lovely wife Margo makes her sterling-silver chain-maille jewellery, she has to make each little ring that goes into a chain. One of the problems with bending metal, though, is that if it's bent too many times, it becomes brittle. That's called work-hardening. It's a change in the metal's crystal structure that results from all that bending, and it makes the metal brittle, rather than pliable. The problem is one you've probably come across yourself, albeit perhaps not with sterling silver, and the solution is a heat-cycling technique called annealing. But what if you could bend it ten million times before it got brittle? In this article, you can read about the new memory alloy that's set to enable some amazing new products. Even though it's unlikely to change the world of chain-maille jewellery, it could be a game-changer for pacemakers and other more mechanically demanding products.


Compromise for the Thirty Meter Telescope


Go-ahead for protest-hit Thirty Meter Telescope, but with fewer future sites on Mauna Kea

This is one of those situations nobody wants to see happen. On the one hand are the plans to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on Hawaii's highest peak, Mauna Kea. On the other hand, native Hawaiians have protested that its construction is a desecration of their spiritual and cultural pinnacle.

Science in conflict with culture.

Happily, a compromise has been reached, and construction can go ahead, but with fewer sites, and with the release of associated land, and the decommissioning of other facilities.

This may not be seen as ideal, but it's a compromise in which both sides have given ground and gained ground. Let's hope that despite being far from ideal, it is at least acceptable to all concerned.

That old Banjo


Recently my banjo fell off the wall, took a chip out of Beethoven's shoulder (actually, a bust of Beethoven), and landed on the piano. The bit of string that I'd used to hang it up broke clean through. This immediately reminded me of an old song my dad introduced me to a long, long time ago. It was the b-side of the better known Green Green by the New Christy Minstrels, and it's called The Banjo. Here it is for your enjoyment...