The Future is Here: The Autonomous Robotic Jellyfish!

Matt Russiello submerges the RoboJelly. Remember the Medusoid, that creepy robot jellyfish creature that debuted in July of 2012? Well, it seems that Virginia Tech was working on their own, with help from the military. Yes, whereas the medusoid was a project in organic-synthetic interfacing, a collaborative effort between Harvard University and Caltech researchers, this one is the result of ongoing work by the United States Navy.

After years of working on their own model for a robot jellyfish, they unveiled the fruits of that labor earlier this month. Named Cyro – a contraction of robot and Cyanea capillata (the species name for the lion’s mane jellyfish) – this 170 pound biomimetic machine looks and act like a jellyfish, but is in fact an autonomous robot.

cyro1And much the Medusoid and Robojelly – Cyro’s hand-sized predecessor – this second-generation model utilizes what is called “Bio-Inspired Shape memory Alloy Composites (BISMAC)” in order to mimic the motions of the real thing. This consists of a
layer of smart materials (aka. shape memory alloy) that is soft and shaped in such a way to maximize deformation and propulsion.

Underneath this layer of composite material are a number of actuators (i.e. robotic arms) that control the movements of the Cyro. These in turn are mounted on a central body that contains enough hardware to allow the robot to communicate, gather information, and make decisions. What’s more, the developers envisage a fleet of networked Cyros, conducting surveillance and research and sharing the results with each other.

cyro2And as the video below explains, this robot jellyfish is likely to have numerous applications. These included environmental monitoring, cleaning up oil spills, or conducting military surveillance. Of course, it seems pretty obvious what the primary use of the Cyro is going to be, given that the ONR and the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center are responsible for funding it!

No telling how Human Right Watch will react to this, though. How safe would you feel, knowing that the next time you’re snorkeling, swimming or ocean kayaking that a perfectly innocent looking Man-of-War could be spying on you? Check out the video of the Cyro being tested below:


Sources:
fastcoexist.com, emdl.mse.vt.edu

Terminator 5 News!

Terminator-5-UpdateIt’s official! Terminator 5 have been announced and some rather interesting news items have been released this month as to who will be attached to it. For starters, the production team of Megan and David Ellison, who brought us such movies as Zero Dark Thirty, Killing them Softly and True Grit will be spearheading it.

In terms of writers, there’s Laeta Kalogridis, a frequent collaborator with James Cameron who helped produce Avatar and also co-wrote the Fantastic Voyage and Battle Angel films and was a writer on Shutter Island, Alexander, Night Watch and the Bionic Woman pilot. She will be paired with Patrick Lussier, the writer/director of Drive Angry and Dracula 2000 and an editor with many films under his belt.

AI_arnyBut the biggest of all is that Mr. Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has apparently announced that he will be in the next Terminator movie as well. No telling exactly what role he will be filling, whether it will be an aging T-800 or as a regular human being. Then again, they makers might use his presence to do a little background on who the man was that inspired the original cyborg look.

Who knows? Point is, Arny made the announcement late last month, where he confirmed participation in not only this project, but also a new Conan movie. Wow, two relaunches at the same time. Who does he think he is? Sylvester Stallone? And in the end, it seems clear at least that in this particular cameo, he will not be appearing as a CG cyborg. Though to be honest, that was one of the least lame points of that movie…

Source: IO9.com, Screenrant.com

Criminalizing Transhuman Soldiers

biosoldiersIt seems to be the trend these days. You take a predictions that was once the domain of science fiction and treat it as impending science fact. Then you recommend that before it comes to pass, we pre-emptively create some kind of legal framework or organization to deal with it once it does. Thus far, technologies which are being realized have been addressed – such as autonomous drones – but more and more, concepts and technologies which could be real any day now are making the cut.

It all began last year when the organization known as Human Rights Watch and Harvard University teamed up to release a report calling for the ban of “killer robots”. It was soon followed when the University of Cambridge announced the creation of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) to investigate developments in AI, biotechnology, and nanotechnology and determine if they posed a risk.

X-47BAnd most recently, just as the new year began, a report funded by the Greenwall Foundation examined the legal and ethical implications of using biologically enhanced humans on the battlefield. This report was filed in part due to advances being made in biotechnology and cybernetics, but also because of the ongoing and acknowledged efforts by the Pentagon and DARPA to develop super-soldiers.

The report, entitled “Enhanced Warfighters: Risks, Ethics, and Policy”, was written by Keith Abney, Patrick Lin and Maxwell Mehlman of California Polytechnic State University.  The group, which investigates ethical and legal issues as they pertain to the military’s effort to enhance human warfighters, received funding from the Greenwall Foundation, an organization that specializes in biomedicine and bioethics.

In a recent interview, Abney expressed the purpose of the report, emphasizing how pre-emptive measures are necessary before a trend gets out of hand:

“Too often, our society falls prey to a ‘first generation’ problem — we wait until something terrible has happened, and then hastily draw up some ill-conceived plan to fix things after the fact, often with noxious unintended consequences. As an educator, my primary role here is not to agitate for any particular political solution, but to help people think through the difficult ethical and policy issues this emerging technology will bring, preferably before something horrible happens.”

US_Army_powered_armorWhat’s more, he illustrated how measures are necessary now since projects are well-underway to develop super soldiers. These include powered exoskeletons to increase human strength and endurance. These include devices like Lockheed Martin’s HULC, Raytheon’s XOS, UC Berkeley’s BLEEX, and other projects.

In addition, DARPA has numerous projects on the books designed to enhance a soldiers abilities with cybernetics and biotech. These include VR contact lenses, basic lenses that enhance normal vision by allowing a wearer to view virtual and augmented reality images without a headset of glasses. There’s also their Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS), which is a computer-assisted visual aid that instantly identifies threats by augmenting their visual faculties.

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90And in the cognitive realm, there are such programs as Human Assisted Neural Devices (HAND) that seeks to strengthen and restore memories and the Peak Soldier Performance (PSP) program that will  boosthuman endurance, both physical and cognitive. But of course, since post-traumtic stress disorder is a major problem, DARPA is also busy at work creating drugs and treatments that can erase memories, something which they hope will give mentally-scarred soldiers a new lease on life (and military service!)

And of course, the US is hardly alone in this regard. Every industrialized nation in the world, from the EU to East Asia, is involved in some form of Future Soldier or enhanced soldier program. And with nations like China and Russia catching up in several key areas – i.e. stealth, unmanned aerial vehicles and aeronautics – the race is on to create a soldier program that will ensure one nation has the edge.

bionic_handsBut of course, as Abney himself points out, the issue of “enhancement” is a rather subjective term. For example, medical advancements are being made all the time that seek to address disabilities and disorders and also fall into the category of “enhancement”. Such ambiguities need to be ironed out before any legal framework can be devised, hence Abney and his associates came up with the following definition:

“In the end, we argued that the best definition of an enhancement is that it’s ‘a medical or biological intervention to the body designed to improve performance, appearance, or capability besides what is necessary to achieve, sustain or restore health.”

Working from this starting point, Abney and his colleagues made the case in their report that the risk such enhancements pose over and above what is required for normal health helps explain their need for special moral consideration.

These include, but are not limited to, the issue of consent, whether or not a soldier voluntary submits to enhancement. Second, there is the issue of long-term effects and whether or not a soldier is made aware of them. Third, there is the issue of what will happen with these people if and when they retire from the services and attempt to reintegrate into normal society.

It’s complicated, and if it’s something the powers that be are determined to do, then they need to be addressed before they become a going concern. Last thing we need is a whole bunch of enhanced soldiers wandering around the countryside unable to turn off their augmented killer instincts and super-human strength. Or, at the very least, it would be good to know we have some kind of procedure in place in case they do!

What do you think of when you hear the word "super soldier"? Yeah, me too!
What do you think of when you hear the word “super soldier”? Yeah, me too!

Source: IO9.com

Of DIY Cybernetics and Biohacking

transhuman3It seems that biohackers and enthusiasts of body augmentation could be setting a new trend, and doing it all from the comfort of their basements. That’s the essence of an article filed by Neal Ungerleider this past September, in which he stated that biohackers have not only cloned the innovation strategies of Silicon Valley, but could also be reshaping how technology is being created.

Amongst their efforts are such things as brain interfaces that can control video games with human thoughts, Bluetooth sensors that are meant to go under the skin and send vital signs to mobile phones, tissue engineering that can create in vitro “steaks” and leather, and devices that convert brainwaves into actual speech. These efforts are collaborative in nature and connect numerous basements, labs and research facilities together to share research, resources, and breakthroughs.

Those who take an active part in this trend are often known as grinders or biohackers, people who have chosen not to wait for cybenetic enhancements and body augmentation to become commercially available and seek to create them on their own.

According to Ungerleider:

“West Coast biohackers and grinders were the pioneers of this tech-driven, California brand of utopianism… For biohackers everywhere, augmentation of humanity itself—whether through technology or more traditional methods—is the primary goal. Common conversation points include DIY cyborgs, the quantified self, and diet…

“But a growing community on the East Coast—in greater New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh—is synthesizing Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial DNA for its unique innovation model. Experimentation and science here is not only an exercise in advancing humanity through tech but is often applied toward creating viable cybernetic products for the market.”

One such group is Biohackers NYC, a group that was formed in 2012 largely in response to all the innovation that was taking place on the opposite coast. In additi0n to the initial startup group, it was joined by numerous startups, incubators, and workspaces scattered across the outer boroughs. As group founder and psychiatrist Lydia Fazzio claimed in an interview back in September:

“Our intent was to cover the spectrum of biohacking from manipulating non-human genomes to also the body and the mind. It’s a holistic approach to the meaning of biohacking, whether technology or nutrition. However you get there, we all have the innate potential to be an optimal functioning human in society. Our question is: How do we get there?”

davinci_transhumanOne of the attractions of this new movement is that it allows the merger of skilled professionals and dedicated hobbyists a chance to collaborate on projects of mutual interest. It also takes advantage of new business and development models – i.e. crowdsourcing – which is made possible thanks to the digital revolution.

Already, message boards have sprung up that allow disparate “labs” to post information on their work and share with others who have similar interests and projects on the go. These include DIYbio, which deals with the larger field of DIY biotechnology labs; and biohack.me, where the possibilities of subdermal bone conduction headphones and echolocation implants are being contemplated.

TranshumanIn the end, this is really just a small part of a much larger movement, which takes on various names. On is transhumanism, a movement which believes that human limitations can and must be transcended with the help of technological innovation. Another is Singularitarianism, a movement popularized by such Futurists as Ray Kurzweil. These individuals believe that technology will (or has) reached the point where human beings can take control of their own mortality, abilities and evolution. While some are willing to wait, others are intent on making it happen sooner other than later.

Naturally, there is a great deal of skepticism towards this new trend. For one, there are countless people who believe it to be the stuff of “science fiction”, and not real science. But, as Ungerleider claims, this represents the culmination of trends that have been in the works for some time. What’s more, it represents the monetization and mass marketing of technologies which have been under development for many years. And in truth, the line between science fiction and science fact has always been a fine one. All that’s ever been needed for us to transcend it is for people to make it happen.

Sources: fastcompany.com, Wired.com, IO9.com

ROSA: A Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Short

Just came across this on Wired.com, a sci-fi short about a futuristic cyborg assassin that is tasked with restoring the world’s ecosystems. That’s the basic premise of ROSA, the brain child of resident Jesús Orellana, an amateur director based in Barcelona who released this movie to the world last year. After premiering at the Seattle International Film Festival, the shortplayed at Screamfest, Toronto After Dark, Anima Mund and Sitges International Film Festival.

The story follows the exploits of Rosa, a beautiful cyborg whose appearance calls to mind such archetypes as Trinity, Cortana and a little Halle Berry thrown in for good measure. After waking from her cryochamber, she finds a world that is stark and lifeless, and sets out to accomplish her mission. As part of the “Kernel Project”, she was designed to help restore the Earth’s to its former glory. But soon, she discovers that she is not the only one awakened to the horror of the modern world…

Needless to say, the video is both eye-popping and downright impressive, especially when you consider one mind created it from the comfort of his basement. In addition to the kick-ass fight scenes, detailed environments and rich subtext, the video has some great production value going on! After making the rounds in 2011, the video came to the attention of the Raymond Brothers and Scott Glassgold, three Los Angeles based producers who are now developing it into a full-length live-action movie. No word yet on when it will be out, but if the source material is any indication, it ought to be great!

The Future is Here: Insect Biobots!

One small step for man, one giant leap for man-machine interface! Or man-roach interface, I guess! It seems that researchers at the iBionicS lab at North Carolina State University have created a remote-control system to stimulate and steer cockroaches. This report came at the 34th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society last month, and represents quite the step forward for cybernetics.

In short, the research team equipped a Madagascar hissing cockroach with a circuit board that connects directly to its antennae. It’s a well known fact that cockroaches, in addition to being nuclear war-resistant, use their two antennas to find their way around. By sending electrical signals to one or the other, they were able to steer the cockroach as it made its way around.

To be fair, this is not the first case of insect cyborgs being developed. In 2009, the researchers at iBionicS unveiled a similar program using remote-controlled hawk moths. In that same year, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan presented their collaborate project: remote-controlled beetles! Here, the beetles had electrodes wired into their brains and flight muscles which were used to command them to take off and steer them while in the air.

Interestingly enough, research in both of these latter cases was being funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with the goal of creating remote-controlled insects could go where humans cannot and aid in search-and-rescue or even spy missions. You’ve heard of UAV’s, aka. spy drones, doing reconnaissance, right? Well look out! The next time you see a flying beetle or a hawk moth, you could be on someone’s camera. Smile before you step on it!

And be sure to check out the video below of iBionicS lad testing their remote-control roach steering system.

Source: Discover Magazine

Real-life Robocop?

Imagine if you will, a machine that gives disabled police officers a chance to continue working with the force, but from the comfort and safety of an office. Rather than walking the beat and putting themselves in harm’s way, they could telepresence themselves to the streets through a robot body, one which does the job of getting around and locating offenders, while they issue the arrests and infractions. This is the concept that lies behind a new breed of patrol robot that is being developed by Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Robins and Florida International University’s Discovery Lab.

Initially, Robins began this program as a way of bringing some of the thousands of disabled police officers and soldiers in the U.S. back to the workforce. Ultimately, this would call for the creation of a “telebot” that is not only equipped with the latest in wireless technology, but also one that can get around and take some serious punishment. In many ways, this is an elaboration on the concept of Robocop, the hybrid man-machine that stole our hearts back in the 80’s with his signature lines: “You’re move creep!” and “Dead or alive, you are coming with me!” And let’s not forget that sweet gun trick!

But of course, these new robots would be asked to do less adventurous things than the gun-toting cyborg who saved Old Detroit. In addition to working as patrol officers, they would responsible for handling all the regular tasks of police officers. These would include responding to 911 calls, writing traffic tickets, patrolling specific routes, and staying vigilant for law breakers. In addition, they could also be charged with safe guarding government and high-value facilities from terrorists or other criminals, doing both surveillance and acting as an on-site security force.

Early sketches of the robot give some indication of what it would look like. Essentially, it would have to be mobile, which would call for a wheeled chassis. It would have to be ambulatory, which would require arms. And it ought to have some semblance of a person, since it would be expected to carry the officer’s voice and interact with people. In essence, even little children need to be able to approach this robot and ask it if it can help them find their mothers.

An early rendition, shown here, has been appropriately named “Tough Guy”. Like all other design ideas, the end result calls for a robot that has a two-wheeled chassis, a mobile upper body, and a head that carries a two-way audio and video device so that the officer commanding it can both view and interact with the robots and environment and other people.

Already, the Discovery Lab has announced that the end product will be military grade and usable by the army under the 2 million dollar initiative that DARPA’s (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) set up years ago. Robins is also trying to get NASA to sign on with its Robonaut tech – a program to develop a robotic astronaut. So while the end product will be used primarily by police, plans are already in place to expand it to other areas – such as military operations and unmanned space exploration – as well.