Sunday, April 4, 2010

Japan unveils humanoid robot that laughs and smiles

Courtesy of

Japanese researchers said Saturday they have developed a humanoid robot that can laugh and smile as it mimics a person's facial expressions.

The robot, Geminoid TMF, can move its rubber facial skin to imitate a smile, a laugh showing teeth, and a grim look with furrowed brows, by receiving electric signals from the person it is modeled on.
The researchers demonstrated with a robot made to look exactly like an attractive woman in her 20s with long dark hair. The woman and the robot were dressed in the same clothes - a black skirt and black leather jacket.
The robot smiled and furrowed its brow in almost simultaneous mimicry of the woman, whose face was filmed with a video camera which then provided information on her expressions to the robot through electric signals.
"I felt like I had a twin sister," the woman told reporters afterwards.
The developers said they expected the robot to be eventually used in real-life situations, for example in hospitals.
"We've already got some data showing that the robot gave patients psychological security by nodding and smiling at them, when patients were checked on by doctors," said Satoko Inoue, spokeswoman for Kokoro, one of the two companies involved in the development.
"A new technology always creates some fears and negative opinions," but the researchers wanted to make robots that could express something similar to human emotions, said Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University who led the research.
Copies of the robot are expected to be sold for about 10 million yen (110,000 dollars), mainly to robotics research organizations, Ishiguro said, without giving a timeframe.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A possible new species of human

DNA analysis shows a finger bone discovered in the Denisova cave, southern Siberia, may be from a previously unrecognized, extinct human species (Image: Johannes Krause, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

by Ewen Callaway
Courtesy of New Scientist

The human family tree may be in for a dramatic rewrite. DNA collected from a fossilised finger bone from Siberia shows it belonged to a mysterious ancient hominid – perhaps a new species.

"X-woman", as the creature has been named, last shared an ancestor with humans and Neanderthals about 1 million years ago but is probably different from both species. She lived 30,000 to 50,000 years ago.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," says Chris Stringer, a palaeoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London who was not involved in the find. More hominids that are neither Neanderthal nor human are likely to be discovered in coming years, particularly in central and eastern Asia, he says.

**See the entire story at New Scientist**

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

'Ingredients for Life' Present on Saturn's Moon Enceladus, Say Scientists

Some of 'the major ingredients for life' are present on one of Saturn's moons, according to University College London scientists.
Photo courtesy of N.A.S.A.
Story Courtesy of

A team from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory working on the Cassini-Huygens mission have found negatively charged water ions in the ice plume of Enceladus.
Their analysis of data gathered during the spacecraft's plume fly-throughs in 2008 provide evidence for the presence of liquid water.

The spacecraft's plasma spectrometer, used to gather this data, also found other species of negatively charged ions including hydrocarbons.

MSSL's Professor Andrew Coates, lead author of a paper on the latest discovery, said: "While it's no surprise that there is water there, these short-lived ions are extra evidence for sub-surface water and where there's water, carbon and energy, some of the major ingredients for life are present.

The surprise for us was to look at the mass of these ions. There were several peaks in the spectrum, and when we analysed them we saw the effect of water molecules clustering together one after the other."

Enceladus thus joins Earth, Titan and comets where negatively charged ions are known to exist in the solar system. Negative oxygen ions were discovered in Earth's ionosphere at the dawn of the space age. At Earth's surface, negative water ions are present where liquid water is in motion, such as waterfalls or crashing ocean waves.

**Check out the rest of the story at**

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Still Alive!

Fear not, Mortals! Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. It's not over until the.... well, you know the deal. This blog is still very much alive. Life happens, and all that.

The Symphony of Science songs always give me pleasure when a new one is released. Imagine my surprise to find that two new ones had been released since my last visit to the colorpulse website. Enjoy fellow science geeks.

**Note: The Unbroken thread refuses all attempts to be jammed into the finite space provided it. There is a little overlap with the sidebar. My apologies.

Symphony of Science - 'The Unbroken Thread' (ft. Attenborough, Goodall, Sagan)

Symphony of Science - 'Our Place in the Cosmos' (ft. Sagan, Dawkins, Kaku, Jastrow)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Has dark matter finally been detected?

Hunt may well be over for a mysterious and invisible substance that accounts for three-quarters of the matter in the universe.

Ian Sample
Courtesy of

A computer simulation shows how invisible dark matter coalesces in halos (shown in yellow). Photograph: Science Photo Library

For 80 years, it has eluded the finest minds in science. But tonight it appeared that the hunt may be over for dark matter, the mysterious and invisible substance that accounts for three-quarters of the matter in the universe.

In a series of coordinated announcements at several US laboratories, researchers said they believed they had captured dark matter in a defunct iron ore mine half a mile underground. The claim, if confirmed next year, will rank as one the most spectacular discoveries in physics in the past century.

Tantalising glimpses of dark matter particles were picked up by highly sensitive detectors at the bottom of the Soudan mine in Minnesota, the scientists said.

Dan Bauer, head of the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS), said the group had spotted two particles with all the expected characteristics of dark matter. There is a one in four chance that the result is due to some other effect in the underground detectors, Bauer told a seminar at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago.

Rumours that Bauer's group was on the verge of making an announcement surfaced on physicists' blogs a few weeks ago. Though tentative, tonight's results triggered an immediate wave of excitement in the science community.

"If they have a real signal, it's a seriously big deal. The scale on which people are looking for dark matter is vast," said Gerry Gilmore at Cambridge University's institute of astronomy. "Dark matter is what created the structure of the universe and is essentially what holds it together. When ordinary matter falls into lumps of dark matter it turns into galaxies, stars, planets and people. Without it, we wouldn't be here," Gilmore said.

**Follow the title link to see the rest of the story.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Denver voters will be asked to create UFO commission

By Christopher N. Osher
Courtesy of The Denver Post

A proposal to create a Denver commission to study visitors from outer space will go before voters this summer after supporters gathered the required signatures to get it on the ballot.

City Clerk and Recorder Stephanie O'Malley sent a letter on Monday to Jeff Peckman, who submitted the signatures, stating she had deemed them sufficient.

The ordinance change required 3,974 valid signatures. Peckman submitted more than 10,000 signatures.

Peckman said he will ask voters to approve creating the commission from "grants, gifts and donations."

The seven-member commission would be tasked with collecting evidence that extraterrestrials and their "UFO vehicles" have been visiting Earth.

Peckman, 55, of Denver, and a self-described entrepreneur, said the election on the issue would go with the next regularly scheduled citywide election, currently set for Aug. 10.

He predicted that the election would cause high-profile believers in extraterrestrial to come out and tell Denver voters about what they know.

"They will see there is an attentive audience, and that people are digging into this issue," Peckman said. "They will see there is an opportunity to say something when people are paying attention."

In 2003, Peckman pushed a "Safety Through Peace" initiative that voters rejected. If that proposal had passed, it would have required the city to implement systematic, stress-reducing techniques or programs that are scientifically proven to decrease stress and would financially benefit the city.

Peckman had suggested the peace-inducing techniques could involve everything from more nutritious food in public schools to mass meditation sessions to piping soothing music into public buildings to reduce stress and violence.

The initiatives Peckman has pushed has generated concern among some city council members who fear the threshold for ballot initiatives invites frivolous initiatives. The current system for getting an ordinance change on the ballot pegs the number of signatures required to a percentage of the last mayoral vote, which in recent years has been low.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dream Machines #4

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo getting ready for test flights ahead of space tourism

By Tom Chivers
Courtesy of Telegraph.

The Virgin Galactic - Scaled Components SpaceShipTwo, which should launch in early 2010 Photo: VIRGIN GALACTIC

Virgin Galactic's sub-orbital space plane, the SpaceShipTwo, is preparing for test flights – and Richard Branson's company hopes it will be taking tourists into space by 2012.

For a mere $200,000 (£120,000), wealthy funseekers will be able to enjoy a few minutes' weightlessness, staring out at the curve of the Earth from under a black sky.

Currently in the final stages of construction, SpaceShipTwo is expected to make its first test flights in the early months of 2010.

A small, rocket-propelled, shuttle-like vehicle around the size of a light aircraft, SpaceShipTwo will be carried to 50,000 feet above sea level – 20,000 feet higher than most airliners – by its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo.

Once there, SpaceShipTwo's own rocket engine will fire, launching the little ship to the boundary between the atmosphere and the vacuum of space at three times the speed of sound. After the engines are cut off, they will enter free-fall, experiencing total weightlessness for several minutes.

WhiteKnightTwo has been undergoing flight tests since December last year.

So far 300 people have paid in full for their ticket, while a further 82,000 have registered their interest on Virgin Galactic's website. The engineers behind the craft refer to the rich, middle-aged people who are their target market as “Brads and Angelinas”, according to

The new craft is the descendant of SpaceShipOne, the first ever privately funded manned space vehicle. Scaled Components, the company which built both ships, won the $10 million (£6 million) X Prize for being the first non-governmental organisation to reach space.


ICON A5 going strong
Courtesy of ICON

Since the FAA’s dramatic regulation changes in 2004 created the new Light Sport Aircraft category, ICON Aircraft’s sole purpose has been to bring the freedom, fun, and adventure of flying to all who have dreamed of flight. With these ground-breaking FAA rules solidified, ICON believes that consumer-focused sport aircraft can do for recreational flying what personal watercraft did for boating.

ICON’s sport aircraft are not only designed to deliver an amazing and safe flying experience, but also to inspire us the way great sports cars do. After years of development with some of the world’s best aerospace engineers and industrial designers, ICON Aircraft has released the first of its line of sport planes, the ICON A5. The A5 is a bold yet elegant design that communicates beauty, performance, safety, and most importantly… fun.

ICON was founded in 2005 by Kirk Hawkins. Hawkins, a graduate from the Stanford Business School, is an accomplished engineer, former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot, and long-time motorsport enthusiast. With its world-class team of engineers, designers, advisors, and investors, ICON is located in Southern California – home of the world’s largest concentration of both aerospace and automobile design resources. ICON’s engineering and development team came from Burt Rutan’s famed Scaled Composites, which created such record setting projects as Voyager, Global Flyer, the X-Prize winning SpaceShipOne, and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Strong Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks Early Tuesday Morning

By Robert Roy Britt
Courtesy of
Photo - Brian Scott

One of the best annual meteor showers will peak in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday, and for some skywatchers the show could be quite impressive.

The best seats are in Asia, but North American observers should be treated to an above average performance of the Leonid meteor shower, weather permitting. The trick for all observers is to head outside in the wee hours of the morning – between 1 a.m. and dawn – regardless where you live.

The Leonids put on a solid show every year, if skies are clear and moonlight does not interfere. This year the moon is near its new phase, and not a factor. For anyone in the Northern Hemisphere with dark skies, away from urban and suburban lighting, the show should be worth getting up early to see.

"We're predicting 20 to 30 meteors per hour over the Americas, and as many as 200 to 300 per hour over Asia," said Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. Other astronomers who work in the nascent field of meteor shower prediction have put out similar forecasts.

Urban dwellers and suburbanites will see far fewer, as the fainter meteors will be drowned out by local lights.

Behind the Leonids

The Leonids are created by the comet Tempel-Tuttle, which passes through the inner solar system every 33 years on its orbit around the sun. Each time by, it leaves a new river of debris, mostly bits of ice and rock no bigger than a sand grain but a few the size of a pea or marble.

Over time, these cosmic streams spread out, so predicting exactly what will happen is difficult.

"We can predict when Earth will cross a debris stream with pretty good accuracy," Cooke said. "The intensity of the display is less certain, though, because we don't know how much debris is in each stream."

When Earth plows into the debris, the bits hit the atmosphere and vaporize, creating sometimes dramatic streaks of light and the occasional fireball with a smoky-looking trail that can remain visible for several minutes.

The Leonid stream is moving in the opposite direction of Earth, of 160,000 mph (72 kilometers per second) – higher than many other meteors.

"Such speeds tend to produce meteors with hues of white, blue, aquamarine and even green," says Joe Rao,'s skywatching columnist.

How to watch

The best viewing will be in rural areas. Get out of town if you can. If you have local lights, scout a location in advance where the lights are blocked by a building, tree or hill.

Dress warmly, and take a blanket or lounge chair so you can lie back and scan as much of the sky as possible. "At this time of year, meteor watching can be a long, cold business," Rao reminds people.

Leonids can appear anywhere, but if you trace them back, they all point to a hub, or radiant, in the constellation Leo – hence the name.

Give your eyes 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Then give the show at least a half-hour. The hourly rates stated above typically come in bursts, with lulls that may test your patience. No special equipment is needed. Telescopes and binoculars are of no use because meteors move too quickly.

When to watch

Earth will pass through one of the denser debris streams at around 4 a.m. EST (1 a.m. PST) Tuesday. If you have only an hour or less to watch, center it around this time. Leo will be high in the sky for East Coast skywatchers, putting more meteors into view. In the West, Leo will be low in the eastern sky at this time, so fewer shooting stars will be above the horizon, and therefore Western skywatchers should also try to stick it out until daybreak.

Across Europe, the best bet is to watch anytime between 1 a.m. and daybreak local time.

The planet will pass through an even denser stream later, just before dawn Wednesday in Indonesia and China, but that show won't be visible from North America because it will be daytime here.

One truth about the Leonids: They always produce, and they sometimes produce spectacular, unforgettable fireballs.

**This is kind of late news but there are still a few hours to get outside and check out the action. Head over to using the title link and check out the links and related material.**

Scientists identify gene that can help you live to 100

By Richard Alleyne
Courtesy of Telegraph.

A gene that can help you live to 100 has been identified by scientists.

Researchers studying a group of people with an average age of 97 found they had all inherited a gene that appears to prevent cells ageing.

They found that the 86 people studied and their children had higher levels of an enzyme called telomerase which is known to protect the body's DNA from degrading.

The team from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who studied an American Ashkenazi Jewish community, said that the finding could lead to anti-aging drugs.

Telomerase is known to protect telomeres which stop the string of DNA unravelling much like the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces stop fraying.

Each time a cell divides, its telomeres shortens and the cell becomes more susceptible to dying.

By boosting telomerase, scientists think they could eventually stop the cells dying and so protect against old age.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Symphony of Science - 'We Are All Connected'

Thanks again to John Boswell for another great Symphony of Science.

John's channel on YouTube

Also visit John's "Symphony of Science" website

The Sagan Appreciation Society channel