Monthly Archives: November 2011

South Korean prison to be guarded by robots

A prison in South Korea is going to use five-foot tall, four-wheeled, friendly-faced robots to keep an eye on the inmates.

The robots will start work with a one-month trial, commencing in March. It will consist of three prototypes beginning their duties in a prison in the city of Pohang. The project will cost around 1bn Won (£554,000) in total.

The robots will work mainly in night-time shifts. They are able to alert human guards if they find any problems: they contain technology that is sophisticated enough to detect violence and even notice suicide attempts. They are also able to help prisoners connect with officers, as the robots have cameras mounted on their torsos which allow “remote conversation”.  

Should the trial be a success, the future of prison security may well end up being controlled by robots.

Full story: POPSCI http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2011-11/robotic-guards-will-soon-patrol-south-korean-prison

8.4 million people in Britain will not read this blog post

The office of National Statistics has revealed that more than 8.4 million adults in Britain (16.8% of the adult population) have never used the internet.

This is the surprising finding of official figures published this month, which also revealed a sharp increase in the number of non-internet users in the UK.

These numbers say more about a lack of accessibility, rather than a lack of technology, in Britain. For instance, 4.25 million of the 8.4 million non-internet users have a disability (36.3% of the disabled population), while 72.4% of people over 75 years of age have never ventured online.

“A growing gap exists between those who are online and those who are not, as the internet becomes more of an essential utility for consumers … The Government must provide even more targeted support to those who lose out the most,” said Jonathan Stearn of Consumer Focus.

The Government aims to have everyone in the UK using the internet by 2015.

Full Story: Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/8893705/More-than-8.4m-Britons-have-never-used-web.html

Earth and giant asteroid have near miss

An asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier whistled past planet Earth at 30,000 miles per hour yesterday.

As you can probably tell, judging by the lack of an apocalypse on Tuesday, and the fact you are still here, the giant lump of cosmic rock did not hit our planet. However, it is the closest an asteroid has passed by planet Earth in over 200 years.

NASA had been tracking the asteroid – named 2005 YU55 – and confirmed that it had come to within 201,700 miles of our planet. That may sound somewhat distant from us – but that is well over four hundred times closer than the distance to the sun.

The next visit by a large asteroid will occur in just under 20 years: we have a regular visitor to our planetary neighbourhood named the Apophis asteroid. It has been calculated to have a near miss with Earth in the year 2029, and again in 2036.

NASA can give incredibly precise forecasts of these things. On 13 April 2029, Apophis will pass by Earth and come to within just 18,300 miles of our planet. Put a note in your diary and remember to look up at the sky.

Full story: BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15572634

CERN scientists prepared to retry neutrino experiments; Jim Al-Khalili prepared to eat boxer shorts

We reported on this blog last month that the laws of Physics had apparently been broken, as scientists at CERN had seemed to make neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light. Einstein’s theory of relativity – along with our entire understanding of the Universe – would have to be completely re-written.

This has turned out to be a controversial and unpopular finding; the validity and reliability of the test have been heavily questioned by Physicists. It is for this reason that the scientists at CERN are set to fine-tune and repeat the test, to make sure they haven’t just made a mistake.

In the original test, a beam of neutrinos were sent on a 720km underground journey from Geneva to San Grasso, and were recorded to turn up sixty-billionths of a second faster than a beam of light would have done. This led to the conclusion that the speed of light (the speed limit of the Universe) had been broken.

Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Physicist and TV presenter (pictured left), believes the result is an error and will be proved wrong. Summing up the general attitude of Physicists everywhere, he confidently announced to the media: “If the Cern experiment proves to be correct and neutrinos have broken the speed of light, I will eat my boxer shorts on live TV.”

The test is scheduled to be repeated before the end of this year. This gives the CERN scientists time to refine their method and calculations, and (as expected by many) conclude that neutrinos cannot travel faster than light. It also gives Professor Al-Khalili some time to invest in some chocolate boxer shorts, just in case.

Full story: The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/oct/28/physicists-check-neutrinos-faster-light?CMP=twt_iph