I’ve always wanted a house on the moon:
Architects Fosters and Partners have revealed designs for a building on the Moon that could be constructed from material already on its surface.
An inflatable structure would be transported from Earth, then covered with a shell built by 3D printers.
The printers, operated by robots, would use soil from the Moon, known as regolith, to build the layered cover.
The proposed site for the building is the southern pole of the Moon.
It is designed to house four people and could be extended, the firm said.
In 2010 a team of researchers from Washington State University found that artificial regolith containing silicon, aluminium, calcium, iron and magnesium oxide could be used by 3D printers to create solid objects.
Over at The Register, there’s a discussion on the latest frontier in paleontology — Xeroxiraptors:
Dino-loving boffins in the US have embarked on their very own Jurassic Park-esque experiment to bring the actions of Earth’s favourite prehistoric lizards to life.
The researchers, from Philadelphia’s Drexel University, are using 3D printing to create dino-bones and then attaching artificial muscles and tendons to create dinosaur robots.
“Technology in paleontology hasn’t changed in about 150 years,” paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara said. “We use shovels and pickaxes and burlap and plaster. It hasn’t changed — until right now.”
The 3D printers build the dino-bones by repeatedly putting out thin layers of resin or another material to build up the object based on a digital design.
Yep. DARPA is hoping to release “swarming robot space vampires”* in geosynchronous orbit:
More than $300 billion worth of satellites are estimated to be in the geosynchronous orbit (GEO—22,000 miles above the earth). Many of these satellites have been retired due to normal end of useful life, obsolescence or failure; yet many still have valuable components, such as antennas, that could last much longer than the life of the satellite. When satellites in GEO “retire,” they are put into a GEO disposal or “graveyard” orbit. That graveyard potentially holds tens to more than a hundred retired satellites that have components that could be repurposed — with the willing knowledge and sanction of the satellite’s owner. Today, DoD deploys new, replacement satellites at high cost — one of the primary drivers of the high cost is the launch costs, which is dependent on the weight and volume of antennas. The repurposing of existing, retired antennas from the graveyard represents a potential for significant cost savings.
DARPA’s Phoenix program seeks to develop technologies to cooperatively harvest and re-use valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in GEO and demonstrate the ability to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost. “If this program is successful, space debris becomes space resource,” said DARPA Director, Regina E. Dugan.
[. . .]
“Satellites in GEO are not designed to be disassembled or repaired, so it’s not a matter of simply removing some nuts and bolts,” said David Barnhart, DARPA program manager. “This requires new remote imaging and robotics technology and special tools to grip, cut, and modify complex systems, since existing joints are usually molded or welded. Another challenge is developing new remote operating procedures to hold two parts together so a third robotic ‘hand’ can join them with a third part, such as a fastener, all in zero gravity. For a person operating such robotics, the complexity is similar to trying to assemble via remote control multiple Legos at the same time while looking through a telescope.”
* “Swarming robot space vampires”, courtesy of jwz.org.
Over at The Register, Bill Ray talks about the robotic domestic servants in operation around his house:
We like to consider ourselves the new breed of enlightened robot owners — not hobbyists, or enthusiasts, just enormously lazy people who’d prefer to see something else doing the work. That includes mopping the floor, cutting the grass or letting the cats in, not to mention motivating the children into keeping both room and garden tidy for fear of having their toys eaten by the machines.
[. . .]
We know Mowbot can destroy toys because sometimes he does, if the children are foolish enough to leave them on the lawn: he’ll bounce off walls and larger obstacles, but he’ll give them a shove first. It was moments after I predicted he would have no difficulty bouncing off the inflatable paddling pool that it vanished in a swirling maelstrom of plastic and water droplets that was enough to ensure the children kept the garden tidy for a year or two.
[. . .]
iRobot developed the first Roomba to raise money and credibility so it could get into the far-more-lucrative military robot business, but what makes Roomba, Scooba and Mowbot useful is not how clever they are but how much they achieve with such limited intelligence.
While Dyson repeatedly demonstrates prototypes that scan the room with sonar, and Electrolux charges a thousand pounds for their Trilobite bristling with sensors, iRobot’s Roomba bounces off walls at random while Mowbot repeatedly cuts the same grass and calls it “mulching” to avoid having to pick up the bits. None of our robots is efficient, a human could do the job in half the time – but speaking as that human I’m glad I don’t have to.
We’ve been considering buying a Roomba for one particular room in our house: our bedroom. We have three cats, one of whom is utterly terror-stricken at the sight or sound of a vacuum cleaner. At the first hint of a vacuum cleaner attack, he retreats at maximum speed in a random direction, leaving a trail of urine in his wake. This means that our bedroom gets far too infrequently vacuumed. We’re hoping that a Roomba won’t trigger his flee-and-pee instincts . . .
It may not herald a new droid army, but it’s a welcome development for front-line troops:
The Protec RWS is the key component of the U.S. Army CROWS (common remotely operated weapon stations). This idea of a remote control turret has been around for nearly half a century, but years of tinkering, and better technology, have finally made the remote control gun turret finally work effectively, dependably and affordably. This has made the RWS practical for widespread combat use. While some troops miss the greater feeling of situational awareness (especially being able to hear and smell the surroundings) you got as an old-school turret gunner, most soldiers and marines have adapted and accepted the new system. What it lacks in the smelling and hearing department, it makes up in terms of night vision and zoom. And it’s a lot safer.
CROWS is a real life saver, not to mention anxiety reducer, for troops who drive through bandit country a lot, and man the turret gun. You’re a target up there, and too often, the bad guys get you. Not with CROWS. The gunner is inside the vehicle, checking out the surroundings (with night vision, zoom and telephoto capabilities). CROWS also has a laser rangefinder built in, as well as a stabilizer mechanism to allow more accurate fire while the vehicle is moving. The CROWS systems (RWS, weapon and installation) cost about $260,000 each, and can mount a variety of weapons (M2 .50 caliber machine-gun, MK19 40-mm automatic grenade launcher, M240B 7.62mm machine-gun and M249 5.56mm squad automatic weapon). CROWS comes in several different configurations, based on weapon mounted and armor installed (light, at 74 kg/163 pounds, standard, at 136 kg/298 pounds and CROWS II, at 172 kg/379 pounds.) The heaviest version is usually used in MRAP (armored trucks) and has a better user interface, a thermal imager and sniper detection system.
By the end of 2006, there were about a thousand CROWS in service. There are now nearly 8,000. Many of the enemy fighters have seen Western or Japanese films featuring killer robots, and often think that’s what they are facing. The fear factor is real, and it helps. The accuracy of the fire, and uncanny speed with which the CROWS gun moves deliberately, is due to something few officers expected. The guys operating these systems grew up playing video games. They developed skills in operating computer systems (video games) very similar to the CROWS controls. This was important, because viewing the world around the vehicle via a vidcam is not as enlightening (although a lot safer) than having your head and chest exposed to the elements (and any firepower the enemy sends your way). But experienced video gamers are skilled at whipping that screen view around, and picking up any signs of danger.
It’s not ready to be used in the field yet, but the next military robot may be a stretcher bearer:
Killing a soldier removes one enemy from the fray. Wounding him removes three: the victim and the two who have to carry him from the field of battle. That cynical calculation lies behind the design of many weapons that are intended to incapacitate rather than annihilate. But robotics may change the equation.
The Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot, BEAR for short, is, in the words of Gary Gilbert of the American Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Centre (TATRC), “a highly agile and powerful mobile robot capable of lifting and carrying a combat casualty from a hazardous area across uneven terrain.” On top of that, when it is not saving lives, it can perform difficult, heavy and repetitive tasks, such as the loading and unloading of ammunition.
The current prototype BEAR is a small, tracked vehicle with two hydraulic arms and a set of video cameras that provide a view of its surroundings to its operator across a wireless link. It has been developed by TATRC in collaboration with Vecna Technologies, a company based in Maryland that invented the robot.
Take back all the panic-mongering in this post. Cyclone Power Technologies assures us that their battlefield robot (the disturbingly named EATR) is on a strictly no human corpses diet:
Many commentators, our own Lewis Page included, not unreasonably took this vague “biomass in the environment” concept to mean anything EATR could get its robotic claws on, including humans.
Some press reports went further, suggesting EATR would suck nourishment from corpses as it went about its unholy business.
Cue an entertaining press release (pdf) from Cyclone, which stresses that EATR is “strictly vegetarian”. The company explains: “Despite the far-reaching reports that this includes ‘human bodies,’ the public can be assured that the engine Cyclone has developed to power the EATR runs on fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips.”
Cyclone marvellously adds: “Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI.”
Stepping out of the Matrix back-story and moving to replace the human soldier, the EATR:
A Maryland company under contract to the Pentagon is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old furniture, even dead bodies.
Robotic Technology Inc.’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot — that’s right, “EATR” — “can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable,” reads the company’s Web site.
That “biomass” and “other organically-based energy sources” wouldn’t necessarily be limited to plant material — animal and human corpses contain plenty of energy, and they’d be plentiful in a war zone.
Just a tad creepy . . .
H/T to Alex Haropulos for the link.
(Cross-posted to the old blog, http://bolditalic.com/quotulatiousness_archive/005581.html).
Update, 20 July: Oh, it’s okay. They claim it’s a vegetarian. It’s not going to snack on the battlefield casualties after all.