Tiny robots climb walls carrying more than 100 times their weight

Mighty things come in small packages. The little robots in this video can haul things that weigh over 100 times more than themselves.
The super-strong bots – built by mechanical engineers at Stanford University in California – will be presented next month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle, Washington.
The secret is in the adhesives on the robots’ feet. Their design is inspired by geckos, which have climbing skills that are legendary in the animal kingdom. The adhesives are covered in minute rubber spikes that grip firmly onto the wall as the robot climbs. When pressure is applied, the spikes bend, increasing their surface area and thus their stickiness. When the robot picks its foot back up, the spikes straighten out again and detach easily.
The bots also move in a style that is borrowed from biology. Like an inchworm, one pad scooches the robot forward while the other stays in place to support the heavy load. This helps the robot avoid falls from missing its step and park without using up precious power.
Heavy lifting
All this adds up to robots with serious power. For example, one 9-gram bot can hoist more than a kilogram as it climbs. In this video it’s carrying StickyBot, the Stanford lab’s first ever robot gecko, built in 2006.
Another tiny climbing bot weighs just 20 milligrams but can carry 500 milligrams, a load about the size of a small paper clip. Engineer Elliot Hawkes built the bot under a microscope, using tweezers to put the parts together.
The most impressive feat of strength comes from a ground bot nicknamed μTug. Although it weighs just 12 grams, it can drag a weight that’s 2000 times heavier – “the same as you pulling around a blue whale“, explains David Christensen – who is in the same lab.
In future, the team thinks that machines like these could be useful for hauling heavy things in factories or on construction sites. They could also be useful in emergencies: for example, one might carry a rope ladder up to a person trapped on a high floor in a burning building.
But for tasks like these, the engineers may have to start attaching their adhesives to robots that are even larger – and thus more powerful. “If you leave yourself a little more room, you can do some pretty amazing things,” says Christensen.
ORIGINAL: New Scientist
24 April 2015
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Amazon, following Microsoft, introduces a cloud service for machine learning

Amazon Web Services senior vice president Andy Jassy speaks at the 2015 AWS Summit in San Francisco on April 9.
Image Credit: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat
Amazon Web Services, the largest public cloud in the market, today debuted a service developers can use to introduce machine learning into their applications.
Andy Jassy, head of the Amazon cloud, spoke about the new service, Amazon Machine Learning, at the 2015 AWS Summit in San Francisco.
It’s not the most surprising thing in the world, considering that MS announced its own similar service, Azure Machine Learning, last June.
It will be interesting to see how Google, the other company in the triad of leaders in the cloud infrastructure market — and arguably one of the most significant machine learning companies in the world — will respond to Microsoft and now Amazon making cloud services anyone can use to train models and make predictions as a managed cloud service.
Amazon’s service is available to try out today, Jassy said.
Check out Amazon’s blog post for details on the new feature.
ORIGINAL: Venture Beat
April 9, 2015 11:02 AM
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IBM starts testing AI software that mimics the human brain

We haven’t talked about Numenta since an HP exec left to join the company in 2011, because, well, it’s been keeping a pretty low-profile existence. Now, a big name tech corp is reigniting interest in the company and its artificial intelligence software. According toMIT’s Technology Review, IBM has recently started testing Numenta’s algorithms for practical tasks, such as analyzing satellite imagery of crops and spotting early signs of malfunctioning field machinery. Numenta’s technology caught IBM’s eye, because it works more similarly to the human brain than other AI software. The 100-person IBM team that’s testing the algorithms is led by veteran researcher Winfried Wilcke, who had great things to say about the technology during a conference talk back in February.
Tech Review says he praised Numenta for “being closer to biological reality than other machine learning software” — in other words, it’s more brain-like compared to its rivals. For instance, it can make sense of data more quickly than competitors, which have to be fed tons of examples, before they can see patterns and handle their jobs. As such, Numenta’s algorithms can potentially give rise to more intelligent software.
The company has its share of critics, however. Gary Marcus, a New York University psychology professor and a co-founder of another AI startup, told Tech Review that while Numenta’s creation is pretty brain-like, it’s oversimplified. So far, he’s yet to see it “try to handle natural language understanding or even produce state-of-the-art results in image recognition.” It would be interesting to see IBM use the technology to develop, for example, speech-to-text software head and shoulders above the rest or a voice assistant that can understand any accent, as part of its tests. At the moment, though, Numenta’s employees are focusing on teaching the software to control physical equipment to be used in future robots.
[Image credit: Petrovich9/Getty]
ORIGINAL: Engadget
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Fluorescent proteins light up science by making the invisible visible

Multiple fluorescent proteins illuminate the cells in a human brainstem. Jeff Lichtman/Harvard University, CC BY-NC-ND
When you look up at the blue sky, where are the stars that you see at night? They’re there but we can’t see them. A firefly flitting across a field is invisible to us during the day, but at night we can easily spot its flashes. Similarly, proteins, viruses, parasites and bacteria inside living cells can’t be seen by the naked eye under normal conditions. But a technique using a fluorescent protein can light up cells’ molecular machinations like a microscopic flashlight.
The crystal jellyfish has about 300 photo organs on the bottom edge of the jellyfish’s umbrella.Courtesy Steven Haddock – http://biolum.eemb.ucsb.edu, Author provided
The first fluorescent protein found in nature comes from the crystal jellyfish, Aequorea victoria, where it is responsible for the green light emitted by its photo organs. It’s called green fluorescent protein (GFP). We don’t know why these jellyfish have this lit-up feature.
Fluorescent proteins absorb light with short wavelengths, such as blue light, and immediately return it with a different color light that has a longer wavelength, such as green. In Aequorea victoria, a protein named aequorin produces blue light which GFP converts into the green light emitted by the jellyfish’s photo organs. This visibility under standard conditions is extremely rare; most other organisms have fluorescent proteins that are only visible if they are illuminated by external blue light sources.

Close up of a few of the photo organs. Courtesy Steven Haddock – http://biolum.eemb.ucsb.edu,Author provided
After the green fluorescent jellyfish protein, many other fluorescent proteins have been both found in nature and created in the lab. We now have a spectrum of fluorescent colors available to us that make previously invisible biological structures and processes visible in blazing fluorescent glory. Many new applications reliant on these colors are being published on a regular basis.
Petri dish with bacterial colonies expressing differently colored fluorescent proteins. These fluorescent proteins developed by Roger Tsien’s group are called the mFruits and have names like mHoneydew, mTomato, mCherry, mRaspberry, and mPlum. Paul Steinbach and Roger Y. Tsien, University of California, San DiegoCC BY-SA
Shining a light on imaging
Fluorescent protein technology has led to many other interesting developments designed to improve imaging with these glowing molecules.

CaMPARI is one new technique, short for calcium-modulated photoactivatable ratiometric integrator. By exploiting the fact that calcium concentrations change when nerve cells send signals, CaMPARI is able to light up all the neurons that have fired in a living organism. The technique is based on a fluorescent protein called EOS, which changes its fluorescence from green to red. In fruit flies, zebrafish and mice, CaMPARI-genetically-modified neurons fluoresce red if they are active and green if they are less active.
CaMPARI fluorescence in a larval zebrafish brain showing active neurons (magenta) that were marked while the fish was swimming freely. Looger Lab (HHMI/Janelia), Science, VOL 347, ISSUE 6223.
Before CaMPARI, all the fluorescent calcium indicators available temporarily lit up when the neuron fired. They couldn’t record the firing history of neurons or indicate whether a neuron had fired in the past. According to Loren Looger, one of the researchers who worked on the development of CaMPARI, “The most enabling thing about this technology may be that you don’t have to have your organism under a microscope during your experiment. So we can now visualize neural activity in fly larvae crawling on a plate or fish swimming in a dish.

The CLARITY technique removes opaque parts and makes the whole brain transparent.
Expanding and transparent brains
Even with the help of light emitted by fluorescent proteins, it’s difficult to image neurons tangled deep within the brain. Ed Boyden, a neuroscientist from MIT, has created a method to expand brains to make fluorescent neurons deep within the brain more visible. He uses acrylate, which forms a dense mesh to hold the brain in place and expand in the presence of water thereby inflating the brain equally by about 4.5 times in each direction. It’s a lot like a diaper expanding when it gets wet. Boyden thinks that this “expansion microscopy may provide a key tool for comprehensive, precise, circuit-wide, brain mapping.
Intact adult mouse brain before and after the CLARITY process. The Deisseroth Lab
One of the reasons expansion microscopy is so useful is that the brain can be made see-through before it is blown up several sizes larger. In 2013 Karl Deisseroth and Viviana Gradinaru at Stanford published a method called CLARITY that removes opaque molecules such as fats and makes the brain transparent without changing its shape. According to Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute of Mental Health, “This is probably one of the most important advances for doing neuroanatomy in decades.” Since developing CLARITY for brains, Gradinaru has extended the method to all other organs including an entire mouse.
Both of these methods can be applied to brains that have been genetically modified with fluorescent proteins, therefore allowing for the visualization of neurons deep within the brain.
Mouse neurons labeled by GFPs. Wellcome ImagesCC BY-NC-ND
In 2008, the three scientists responsible for taking GFP from the jellyfish and making it a common tool used in over a million experiments all over the world were awarded the 100th Nobel Prize in chemistry. And in 2014 three other scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize for using fluorescent protein to increase the resolution of light microscopes.
E. coli with GFPs glowing in their petri dishes. Carlos de PazCC BY-NC-SA
Revolutionary and resilient
I’ve been researching the photochemistry and photophysics of fluorescent proteins since they were first used in imaging technology in 1994, I’ve written two books on them, and still I’m stunned by the many different ways in which this fairly simple protein can be used. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that plasmid DNA molecules coding for GFP have survived space flight – not inside the rocket, but on the outside where they were exposed to 1800F (1000C) temperatures and mad friction. 53% of the DNA intentionally placed inside the screw heads in the TEXUS-49 rocket mission expressed fully fluorescent GFP when inserted into cells upon return to earth.
Like stars at night, fluorescent proteins have been lighting up science for the last 20 years. And it won’t be long before they’re guiding surgeons to tumorous growths during surgery and allowing researchers to switch on and off selected biomolecular processes.
ORIGINAL: The Conversation
By Marc Zimmer. Professor of Chemistry and Dean of Studies at Connecticut College
April 7 2015, 6.16am EDT
DISCLOSURE STATEMENT. Marc Zimmer receives funding from NIH.
The Conversation is funded by Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Alfred P Sloan Foundation and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Our global publishing platform is funded by Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
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Apple co-founder on artificial intelligence: ‘The future is scary and very bad for people’

Steve Wozniak speaks at the Worldwebforum in Zurich on March 10. (Steffen Schmidt/European Pressphoto Agency)

The Super Rich Technologists Making Dire Predictions About Artificial Intelligence club gained another fear-mongering member this week: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Wozniak joined original club members Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk by making his own casually apocalyptic warning about machines superseding the human race.

Like people including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have predicted, I agree that the future is scary and very bad for people,” Wozniak said. “If we build these devices to take care of everything for us, eventually they’ll think faster than us and they’ll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently.

[Bill Gates on dangers of artificial intelligence: ‘I don’t understand why some people are not concerned’]

Doling out paralyzing chunks of fear like gumdrops to sweet-toothed children on Halloween, Woz continued: “Will we be the gods? Will we be the family pets? Or will we be ants that get stepped on? I don’t know about that … But when I got that thinking in my head about if I’m going to be treated in the future as a pet to these smart machines … well I’m going to treat my own pet dog really nice.

Seriously? Should we even get up tomorrow morning, or just order pizza, log onto Netflix and wait until we find ourselves looking through the bars of a dog crate? Help me out here, man!

Wozniak’s warning seemed to follow the exact same story arc as Season 1 Episode 2 of Adult Swim‘s “Rick and Morty Show.” Not accusing him of apocalyptic plagiarism or anything; just noting.

For what it’s worth, Wozniak did outline a scenario by which super-machines will be stopped in their human-enslaving tracks. Citing Moore’s Law — “the pattern whereby computer processing speeds double every two years” — Wozniak pointed out that at some point, the size of silicon transistors, which allow processing speeds to increase as they reduce size, will eventually reach the size of an atom, according to the Financial Review.

Any smaller than that, and scientists will need to figure out how to manipulate subatomic particles — a field commonly referred to as quantum computing — which has not yet been cracked,Quartz notes.

Wozniak’s predictions represent a bit of a turnaround, the Financial Review pointed out. While he previously rejected the predictions of futurists such as the pill-popping Ray Kurzweil, who argued that super machines will outpace human intelligence within several decades, Wozniak told the Financial Review that he came around after he realized the prognostication was coming true.

Computers are going to take over from humans, no question,” Wozniak said, nearly prompting me to tender my resignation and start watching this cute puppies compilation video until forever.

“I hope it does come, and we should pursue it because it is about scientific exploring,” he added. “But in the end we just may have created the species that is above us.

In January, during a Reddit AMA, Gates wrote: “I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence.” His comment came a month after Hawking said artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race.

British inventor Clive Sinclair has also said he thinks artificial intelligence will doom humankind.Once you start to make machines that are rivaling and surpassing humans with intelligence, it’s going to be very difficult for us to survive,he told the BBC. “It’s just an inevitability.

Musk was among the earliest members of this club. Speaking at the MIT aeronautics and astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium in October, the Tesla founder said: “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like, yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.


ORIGINAL: Washington Post

March 24, 2015
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The networked beauty of forests (TED) & Mother Tree – Suzanne Simard

Learn about the sophisticated, underground, fungal network trees use to communicate and even share nutrients. UBC professor Suzanne Simard leads us through the forrest to investigate this underground community.

Deforestation causes more greenhouse gas emissions than all trains, planes and automobiles combined. What can we do to change this contributor to global warming? Suzanne Simard examines how the complex, symbiotic networks of our forests mimic our own neural and social networks — and how those connections might make all the difference.


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“Las plantas tienen nuestros cinco sentidos y quince más”: Stefano Mancuso, neurobiólogo vegetal

Foto: Xavier Gómez
Inteligencia vegetal
Representan el 98,7% de la vida en el planeta; sin embargo, sólo el 3% de los científicos estudian las plantas. ¡Sólo el 3% para estudiar casi la totalidad de la vida! Absurdo. Mancuso es uno de ellos, con más de 250 artículos científicos sobre el tema y que acaba de publicar, con la periodista Alessandra Viola, Sensibilidad e inteligencia en el mundo vegetal (Galaxia Gutenberg), en el que narra los estudios y resultados más recientes, propios y ajenos, y que demuestran que las plantas se comunican entre ellas y con otros animales, duermen, memorizan, aprenden, cuidan de su prole, toman decisiones, e incluso son capaces de manipular a otras especies. Un mundo por descubrir. Las plantas sienten?
Mucho más de lo que sentimos los animales. Y no es mi opinión o percepción, es una evidencia científica.No es usted un iluminado.
No. Sabemos que perciben los cambios eléctricos, el campo magnético, el gradiente químico, la presencia de patógenos

¿Oyen, ven…?
Las plantas tienen nuestros cinco sentidos y quince más. No tienen ojos y oídos como nosotros, pero perciben todas las gradaciones de la luz y las vibraciones sonoras.

¿Y les gusta la música?
Ciertas frecuencias, sobre todo las bajas (entre los 100 Hz y los 500 Hz), favorecen la germinación de las semillas y el crecimiento de las plantas hacia la fuente de ese sonido, que equivale a frecuencias naturales como la del agua que corre, pero hablar o cantar a las plantas es perder el tiempo.

¿Hay sonidos bajo tierra?

Se ha descubierto que las raíces producen sonido y son capaces de percibirlo. Eso sugiere la existencia de una vía de comunicación subterránea.

Tampoco tienen nariz.
Su olfato y gusto son muy sensibles. Perciben las moléculas químicas, es su modo de comunicación, cada olor es un mensaje. Y tienen tacto, basta ver a cámara rápida cómo palpa una planta trepadora.

¿Y dice que se comunican?
Se comunican con otras plantas de la misma especie a través de moléculas químicas volátiles, mandan por ejemplo mensajes de peligro. Si un insecto se le está comiendo las hojas, la planta produce al instante determinadas moléculas que se difunden kilómetros y que avisan de que hay un ataque en curso.

¿Y cómo se defienden?
De muchas maneras. Pueden aumentar sus moléculas venenosas o producir proteínas indigeribles para el insecto. Muchas plantas al ser comidas por un insecto emiten determinadas sustancias para atraer a otros insectos que lo depreden.

Eso es comunicación entre especies.
Las plantas producen muchas moléculas químicas cuyo único objeto es manipular el cerebro de los animales, en ese contexto se inscriben las drogas.

Un ejemplo…
Estudios recientes demuestran que un naranjo o un limonero en flor actúa de diferente manera según la cantidad de polen que lleve el insecto. Si lleva mucho polen, aumenta en el néctar la cantidad de cafeína para activar su cerebro, para que se acuerde de esa planta y vuelva. Si lleva poco polen, corta la cafeína.

¿Inteligencia vegetal?
Si inteligencia es la capacidad para resolver problemas, las plantas son capaces de responder de manera adecuada a estímulos externos e internos, es decir: son conscientes de lo que son y de lo que las rodea.

¡Eso es mucho!
Hemos ignorado cómo funciona el 99,7% de la vida en el planeta y no podemos permitírnoslo porque nuestra dependencia del reino vegetal incluye -además del aire, la comida y los fármacos- la energía (los combustibles fósiles son depósitos orgánicos).

Desconocemos el 90 por ciento de las plantas.

En su evolución las plantas han producido millones de soluciones que son muy distintas de las que han producido los animales. Hasta ahora el hombre ha basado su tecnología en cómo estamos hechos nosotros: un centro de mando y una jerarquía de órganos, y así se organizan nuestras sociedades, gobiernos, máquinas…

Hay otro mundo en el que inspirarnos.
Estudiar las plantas nos dará una cantidad ingente de posibilidades tecnológicas. Por ejemplo, las redes: una red de internet y un conjunto de raíces son muy similares. Pero las plantas son redes vivas, imagine lo que podemos llegar a aprender de ellas.

¿Son altruistas?
Compiten con otras especies y cooperan si son del mismo clan. Pero hay algunos ejemplos extraordinarios en los que podemos hablar de un alto grado de altruismo. Hay una investigación muy hermosa que se hizo hace cuatro años en Canadá.

Se aisló a un gran abeto del acceso al agua, y los abetos de alrededor le pasaron sus nutrientes durante años para que no muriera. Las plantas son organismos sociales tan sofisticados y evolucionados como nosotros.

¿Cuidan de su prole?
En las plantas observamos el cuidado parental que observamos en los animales más evolucionados. En un bosque denso, para que un árbol recién nacido adquiera cierta altura para poder hacer la fotosíntesis y ser autosuficiente han de pasar al menos diez o quince años durante los cuales será alimentado y cuidado por su familia.

¿Dónde tienen el cerebro?
Las neuronas son las únicas células en los animales que producen y transmiten señales eléctricas. En las plantas, la mayor parte de las células de su cuerpo lo hacen, y en la punta de las raíces tienen muchísimas. Podríamos decir que toda la planta es cerebro.
ORIGINAL: Vanguardia.es
Victor-M Amela, Ima Sanchís, Lluís Amiguet
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