Radio Controlled Beetle

Robotic Flower Beetle PhotosScientists at the University of California have implanted electrodes into different spots in a giant flower beetle’s brain. Those electrodes are wired to a microcontroller and wireless radio which receives commands from a laptop. By sending electric impulses to the beetle’s optic lobes and flight muscles the scientists are able to directly control the beetle’s flight. Pulses of varying frequency, amplitude, and duration have different effects on the beetle’s motor activity. Instead of trying to redesign a system that can maintain flight from scratch, these scientists are piggybacking on millions of ears of evolutionary progress in the natural world. A cyborg in the most literal sense. Technologyreview.com has an article that explains all of this much better than I can. What’s most impressive, though, is the video. Be sure to take a look at it.

There seems to be two reactions to this news, wonder and nervousness. Personally, I rank myself in the ‘wonder’ category. The story popped up as a Twitter post from Ed Stafford (@pixel8r) right as I was hitting the meat of the book How the Mind Works (which I wrote about briefly earlier). The mechanical processes that go on inside our nerual systems are extremely fascinating, and it’s exciting to see progress in the field.

I think the nervousness (or straight up fear) from most people comes from a couple areas: the concepts of sentience and conciousness in organisms (with the concepts of suffering in the beetle), and the fact that the research was funded by the Department of Defense. For sure, these aren’t issues to be made light of, and there’s some very interesting discussion going on in the comments of this Hack a Day post about the story.

I for one would like to welcome our new robotic beetle overlords.

Via: @pixel8r, Make: Blog, Hack a Day, Technology Review

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Palm Pre Announced

palm-preI know this is one of 800,000 blog posts about this today, but I felt like this was big enough that I should add to the noise.

When I heard that Palm was going to have a big announcement and this year’s CES, I wasn’t sure if we’d see the revolutionary and promising direction the company needed to stay relevant, or another misstep that would be lost in the noise and seal Palm’s fate for good. I have to be honest, I had my imaginary money on the latter. It wasn’t easy for me to take this stance though. The Handspring Visor Deluxe got me started in the world of PIM, and I didn’t move away from the PalmOS until 5 devices later. Unfortunately, the industry progressed and Palm didn’t.

As the live coverage of the event from Engadget and GDGT progressed I started to believe that Palm was pulling it off. The Palm webOS, from what I can tell, is basically a powerful web browser running applications coded with standard web technologies like HTML, CSS, and Javascript. This promises to make application development extremely accessible and quick.

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Axiotron Modbook Pro

modbookpro3-737507Via: Develop3D

You may remember Axiotron from when they released the Modbook, a portable tablet computer built around a hacked up 13″ Macbook. With a professional quality pen tablet screen the Modbook became a subject of lust for many designers and artists that have been forced to turn to Windows systems for a portable tablet.

Now that Apple has released the new line of Unibody Macbook Pros, Axiotron has stepped up to release the Modbook Pro, another portable tablet built around the guts of a 15″ Macbook Pro. The system is more powerful and has a bigger screen, but that’s not what has me most interested in the unit.

A major downfall of traditional tablet computers is that you lose many of the keyboard access you need for shortcuts and modifier keys while working in applications like Painter, Photoshop, Illustrator, Rhino, etc. Axiotron is trying to overcome this with the Modbook Pro though, touting their new Synergy Touch technology. This technology lets you use the pen while also using your fingers for touch input at the same time. System software overlays keyboards, numpads, or shortcut keys in floating transparent panels so that you can hold down modifier keys while giving input with the pen. If this works as well as they say it does I believe it could change the tablet industry. I’d love to see them license the technology out to other tablet manufacturers or even Wacom for use in the Cintiq line of displays.

As far as how they’re accomplishing these two input methods at once… I’m assuming it’s a capacitance touch setup for the hand input, and the typical RF Wacom technology for the pen. They must have a threshold set on the capacitance input to ignore a surface area much larger than a couple fingers, otherwise the palm of your pen-hand would be delivering all sorts of false input while you operate the pen.

The Modbook Pro is a pretty hefty investment at $5,000, but I imagine there are a few professionals who will see the pricetag as a bargain for such a mobile workstation. It will be interesting to see how Axiotron does with this product, and what else they’ll come out with.

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Mini: Augmented Reality Print Ad

Mini AR AdVia: Technabob

Mini has released a print ad in Germany that takes advantage of augmented reality technology to give you a virtual model of the new Mini convertable. When you go to the special Mini website you can launch an applet that ties into your webcam and looks for the print ad. Hold the ad up and you get a 3D model of the car. Unfortunately, the application is Windows/IE only right now, but if you’re on a Windows machine you can print out a PDF of the ad and try it out yourself.

Check out the Technabob post for more information and a video.

My friend Henry also pointed me to this article on artoolkit for the iPhone, which gives developers the ability to roll out this sort of interactive media on the handheld. It would be amazing if applied to print ads in the city, with 3D models and even video trailers for movies being overlayed. Nearby WiFi access points could be installed or leased to provide bandwidth (perhaps the AR application used could automatically connect to WiFi hotspots with certain names).

iPhone AR Toolkit

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Amazon iPhone/Touch Application Released

There has been a Mobile Safari optimized version of Amazon.com for a long time now, and it’s a site I use a lot. I was extremely exicted to find out that Amazon has realesed a native application for the iPhone and iPod Touch. TUAW has a good write up about the app. One of the most interesting features is the “Remembers” feature. You can apparently take a photo of an object and upload it to Amazon. A couple mintues later you will be sent a link to the product. I’m not sure how they’re doing this, whether they’re licensing technology like TinEye or running the image to a bank of humans… but if it works as advertised, it will become an indespensible part of my shopping habits.

I was very glad to see that Amazon has made it easy to add items to your wishlist. I use the wishlist a lot to keep track of items I’m interested in but I’m not ready to buy.

Get the Amazon app from the iTunes Store: iTunes Link

Via: TUAW

[Update]

I tried out the Remembers feature, and it really surprised me! It recgonized my new 15″ Macbook Pro from a really poor photo I snapped. And it did it quickly.

[Update 2]

As Nathan mentioned in the comments, the Remembers system isn’t working off of any image recognition software or anything like that. Instead, it’s leveraging the Mechanical Turk system that Amazon launched not too long ago. Anyone can sign up to complete short tasks, such as looking at a picture submitted by the Amazon iPhone app, and returning the Amazon store URL. Check out more information at www.mturk.com.