Category Archives: Technology

Videogames have positive effects upon brain, say US researchers

If you are someone who spends hours on end sat in front of the PS3 or xbox 360 and always felt it was slowly frying your brain, fear not.

Scientists in the US say that computer games actually have the opposite effect, with research suggesting that gaming improves creativity, decision-making and perception. Computer games can in fact improve a number of skills ranging from hand-eye coordination to night-time driving ability.

Statistics from the research show that people who play action-based videogames are able to make accurate decisions 25% faster than others. It also found that female gamers were more able to mentally manipulate 3D objects.

Obviously, computer games are dangerous if played in excess: sitting around in front of the screen all day will gradually contribute to obesity, laziness, and sqaure eyes. Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of computer games in recent years has been the view that violent games are a bad influence, especially to children, as it makes us all far more aggressive and bloodthirsty. However, the researchers do not share that view. “There has been a lot of attention wasted in figuring out whether these things turn us into killing machines. Not enough attention has been paid to the unique and interesting features that videogames have outside of the violence,” said computational analyst Joshua Lewis at the University of California in San Diego, who studied 2,000 computer game players.

Full story: Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203458604577263273943183932.html

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American firm proposes “Zero Gravity Roller Coaster”

Anyone familiar with Alton Towers or Thorpe Park will know that roller coasters are awesome. But now, BRC Imagination Arts, a Californian design firm, has proposed a roller coaster sure to eclipse any theme park experience.

It is a ride which will accelerate passengers at such magnitude that they will become “weightless” for a whole eight seconds. BRC drew inspiration from NASA’s “Vomit Comet”, the aeroplane which is used to acclimatise astronauts to the sensation of being in outer space.

Their roller coaster will achieve the same effect by accelerating up to top speed, over 100 mph, on a vertical track, and then suddenly starting to decelerate. This will throw passengers out of their seats, and then the ride will adjust its speed so that it matches the velocity of the passengers. Upon reaching the peak of the track and descending, the roller coaster will continue to match the speed of its falling passengers, prolonging the feeling of weighlessness for several seconds.

It is perhaps the closest thing you can come to experiencing being in outer space without needing to be an astronaut. 

Bob Rogers, BRC’s founder and chief creative officer, says the zero-gravity ride would cost $50 million or more, mainly due to the complexity of the precision-response propulsion system. It is still only a concept at this stage, but, if the company could acquire the necessary funds, Rogers claims that this will become a reality by the end of 2013.

Full story: POPSCI http://www.popsci.com/cars/article/2012-01/zero-gravity-roller-coaster

Britons are drunk in three-quarters of their Facebook photos

A recent survey has shown that the average Briton is drunk in over three-quarters of the photos on their Facebook profile. The average British Facebooker admits that they are under the influence of alcohol in 76% of photographs in which they are “tagged” on the social networking site. The survey also revealed that 93% of users have removed tags from photographs because they are “too embarassing”, with 8% feeling that such photos could get them into “serious trouble” at work.   

This may give the British population a reputation of being a nation of binge-drinkers, but it is worth considering that a majority of photos on Facebook are at social events or nights out – and alcohol will invariably be served at such events.

“We’re all guilty of going out and having a good time, but nowadays the photos inevitably catch up with us online, so we wanted to look at how much these photos dominate our presence on social media sites … The thing to remember is that most photos are taken on special occasions or get-togethers with friends and family,” said Rebecca Huggler of MyMemory.com, which carried out the survey.  

Full story: Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/8958714/Britons-drunk-in-three-quarters-of-Facebook-photos.html 

Isaac Newton’s handwritten manuscripts to be published online

 Handwritten work by Sir Isaac Newton is being made available to view on the internet for the very first time. Cambridge University has so far digitised over 4,000 pages of Newton’s work – but that is still only around one-fifth of the contents of Newton’s university archive. The university is publishing pages from his college notebook, as well as annotated drafts from his masterpiece, the Principia Mathematica.  

This is all part of a project called Cambridge Digital Library, which will make public the works of great scientists. Figures such as Darwin and Rutherford shall also have their manuscripts put online in due course for the world to see. 

Writing on the Digital Library’s webpage, Cambridge University Librarian Anne Jarvis says: “Cambridge University Library contains evidence of some of the greatest ideas and discoveries over two millennia. We want to make our collections accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world with an internet connection and a thirst for knowledge.”

Full story: Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/dec/12/isaac-newton-principia-mathematica 

Digital Library official page: http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/

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

Domino’s: One day we will serve pizza on Moon

Don’t you just hate it when you go for a trip through space, visit planetary satellites, and can’t go for a pizza? Fear not. Domino’s has announced plans to become the first pizza restaurant to open on the Moon.

It sounds like an April Fool’s joke, but the Japanese branch of the pizza chain is serious about constructing a two-storey, dome-shaped concrete restaurant on the Lunar surface. The company have calculated it will take 15 rockets to transport 70 tons of construction material and pizza-making equipment to the Moon, and estimate the entire project will cost Y1.67 trillion (£13.4 billion).

Their reasoning behind this somewhat audacious plan is that, one day, people will be inhabiting the Moon. Tomohide Matsunaga, a spokesman for Domino’s, told the press: “In the future, we anticipate there will be many people living on the moon, astronauts who are working there and, in the future, citizens of the Moon.” Domino’s have said they first started thinking about this project last year, but admitted they have yet to decide when the restaurant will actually open. 

The notion of having “citizens of the Moon” may not realistically happen for decades, or even centuries; it may never happen. But if and when it does occur, at least there will be somewhere for these people to have a take-away pizza.

Full story: Daily Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/8734456/Dominos-plans-pizza-on-the-Moon.html

Introducing Robonaut R2: The robot that uses Twitter. In outer space.

R2 is a robot with a difference. Not only is it the first ever human-like astronuat robot, but it uses social networking website Twitter to write status updates from The International Space Station.  The popular robonaut has already acquired over 40,000 followers on the site.

R2 has been designed to assist astronauts in The ISS, both inside and outside the station. (It describes itself on its Twitter profile as “A humanoid robot designed to work side by side with humans, or go where the risks are too great for people”). The robot currently sits in a fixed base, but eventually NASA plans to attach legs so that R2 can crawl through the Station corridors. Further forward in time, it may even be mounted to a 4-wheel rover and sent to explore the surfaces of Mars and the Moon.

The success of R2 is considered a massively encouraging sign for future space exploration. Writing on NASA’s website, John Olson, the agency’s director of Exploration Systems Integration Office, said: “The combined potential of humans and robots is a perfect example of the sum equalling more than the parts … It will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today.”

Full story: BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14647644

The internet is affecting the nature of our memory, research suggests

The way the internet affects human memory has been quantified in a new study – and the findings suggest that it is changing the way our brains remember information.

The scientists behind this research say the internet has become a “transactive memory” for us. In other words, we treat the internet like an external memory – a storage place or a memory bank that exists outside of our heads.

In experiments carried out at Columbia University, participants’ ability to recall answers to quiz questions was poor when told the answers would later be available on a computer. 

A stream of facts was presented to a group of participants – half were told the facts would be stored in computer files, while the other half were told the facts would be erased completely. When tested on their ability to recall the facts, those who knew the information would be erased had a far better recall than those who filed the information away.

However, the group who had the information stored away on a computer were remarkably good at remembering the folders in which they had stored the information.

Columbia University’s Dr Betsy Sparrow concluded: “This suggests that for the things we can find online, we tend keep it online as far as memory is concerned – we keep it externally stored.”

We are a generation that is becoming increasingly reliant on computers to think for us, find facts for us, and remember information for us. Will this over-reliance on the internet eventually make us lazy and stupid? Dr. Sparrow reassures us: “I don’t think [the internet] is making us stupid – we’re just changing the way that we’re remembering things.”

Full story: BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14145045

UK knocked out of Robot Soccer World Cup

The UK’s strongest team of football-playing robots has been eliminated from the World Cup in the group stages. The competition is called Robocup, and is an annual event that has been growing in competitors and popularity since its inauguration in 1997. This year’s finals were held in Istanbul, Turkey.

The UK team coach, Edinburgh University’s Dr Subramanian Ramamoorthy, attributed the team’s failure to software, strategy, and inexperience. However, he feels the team (called Edinferno, comprising four robots) had achieved its goals for the tournament, and will come back strong next year. 

“Almost all the bugs that stopped us were because we were not match ready. I suspect we are one of the few that are here for their first year. Until this year there was no British team, and we learned that our core technology is not that bad even though we have not been very successful,” he explained.

All the robots competing at Robocup are autonomous – they play with their own software intelligence. They may seem a little slow and a little clumsy, but the ultimate long-term goal of Robocup is to produce robots that can defeat a team of human players. The target is to produce a robot team that will beat a human Fifa World Cup-winning team by the year 2050, and Dr Ramamoorthy believes this is achievable.

“I think we could get there. We can make robots that can win that game as all the pieces are here … However, if we did get there, the result would not be just about football. If you had robots that could win that game they would be useful for so many other things,” he said.

Above: video of the Robocup 2011 Adult Size Final. The final score was 1-0 to Virginia Tech’s robot named CHARLI.

Full story: BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14103537

Official site of Robocup 2011: http://www.robocup2011.org/en/