Scientists 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.
Bruce Branit put together this great short film, World Builder, in which he visualizes the future of hands-on 3D modeling. World Builder is a futuristic mix between the Holodeck from Star Trek, Maya (or Sketchup, 3DsMax, Rhino, Modo, etc), and SecondLife. The film was produced with one day of live footage shooting and 2 years of post production.
We surely won’t be using our own World Builder, as pictured, any day soon… But I do wonder how long it will be before we have visualization systems this powerful and interactive. Just look at the progress in computer based modeling software that we’ve made in the last 25 years. Compare Pixar’s first (pre-rendered) animated short from 1984 to what can be visualized in real time with Luxology’s upcoming Modo 401. If experimental visualization tools like ILoveSketch (you must watch the demo videos) are any indication, we won’t have to wait too long for our own World Builder.
Of course progress will be exciting and difficult at the same time. It will be exciting as knowledge of a tool becomes less of a barrier to communicating ideas, but that is exactly what will make the people and industries that have invested so much time and money into learning current tools so defensive. We’ve seen the rise of the user-generated-web shift the production of entertainment from professionals to the masses, and I’d argue that the result has been the discovery of more great ideas and talent that used to be lost due to a lack of resources. Perhaps we’ll see the same shift happen in the design of artifacts.
This is a beautiful example of the Canon 5D MarkII‘s video capabilities. Nine Inch Nails is posting several HD videos of their live performances up on Vimeo on their official account. Below is footage of Burn performed in Melborne. The effect you see from the strobes has to do with the 5D’s rolling shutter, but apparently plagues many other video cameras, and isn’t necessarily a major point against the 5D. The effect actually grew on me as I watched the video… it reminded me of having old film come out of sync with the shutter, and it matches the industrial grunge asthetic of NIN.
I’ve got a pretty solid idea of what I want my next camera to be.
Here’s a nice unintended benefit of having multiple devices wrapped in the same material. Both my iPhone and Macbook Pro have skins on them from www.bestskinsever.com. (So does my DS) Highly recommended skins, though you need a mind for detail when installing them. Especially when you’re installing sheets as large as the ones for the Macbook Pro’s lid. It gets a bit tricky, but well worth it!
It was a lot of fun to watch, and I had the chance to throw a few comments and questions in as well. You can watch the Ustream.tv recording of the show, and an audio version will be coming soon. Be sure to subscribe to updates, Kipp and Wayne are informative and fun to watch.