[Fribo] the robot is a research project in the form of an adorable unit that hears and speaks, but doesn’t move. Moving isn’t necessary for it to do its job, which is helping people who live alone feel more connected with their friends. What’s more interesting (and we daresay, unusual) is that it does this in a way that respects and maintains individuals’ feelings of privacy. To be a sort of “social connector and trigger” between friends where every interaction is optional and opt-in was the design intent behind [Fribo].
The device works by passively monitoring one’s home and understands things like the difference between opening the fridge and opening the front door; it can recognize speech but cannot record and explicitly does not have a memory of your activities. Whenever the robot hears something it recognizes, it will notify other units in a circle of friends. For example, [Fribo] may suddenly say “Oh, one of your friends just opened their refrigerator. I wonder what food they are going to have?” People know someone did something, but not who. From there, there are two entirely optional ways to interact further: knocking indicates curiosity, clapping indicates empathy, and doing either reveals your identity to the originator. All this can serve as an opportunity to connect in some way, or it can just help people feel more connected to others. The whole thing is best explained by the video embedded below, which shows several use cases.
Continue reading “Social Networking Robot Actually Respects Privacy”
For all that we love 3D printers, sometimes the final print doesn’t turn out as durable as we might want it to be.
Aiming to mimic the properties of natural structures such as wood, bone, and shells, a research team lead by [Jennifer A. Lewis] at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Lewis Lab have developed a new combined filament and printing technique which they call rotational 3D printing.
Minuscule fibres are mixed in with the epoxy filament and their controlled orientation within the print can reinforce the overall structure or specific points that will undergo constant stresses. To do so the print head is fitted with a stepper motor, and its precisely programmed spin controls the weaving of the fibres into the print. The team suggests that they would be able to adapt this tech to many different 3D printing methods and materials, as well as use different materials and printed patterns to focus on thermal, electrical, or optical properties.
Be it adding carbon nano-tubes or enlisting the expertise of spiders to refine our printed materials, we’re looking forward to the future of ever stronger prints. However, that doesn’t mean that existing methods are entirely lacking in endurance.
[Thanks for the tip, Qes!]
Infusion pumps and other medical devices are not your typical everyday, off-the-shelf embedded system. Best case scenario, you will rarely, if ever, come across one in your life. So for wide-spread exploitation, chances are that they simply seem too exotic for anyone to bother exploring their weaknesses. Yet their impact on a person’s well-being makes potential security holes tremendously more severe in case someone decides to bother one day after all.
[Scott Gayou] is one of those someones, and he didn’t shy away from spending hundreds of hours of his free time inspecting the Smiths Medical Medfusion 4000 infusion pump for any possible security vulnerabilities. Looking at different angles for his threat model, he started with the physical handling of the device’s user interface. This allowed him to enable the external communication protocols settings, which in turn opened to the device’s FTP and Telnet ports. Not to give too much away, but he manages to gain access to both the file system content and — as a result of that — to the system’s login credentials. This alone can be clearly considered a success, but for [Scott], it merely opened a door that eventually resulted in desoldering the memory chips to reverse engineer the bootloader and firmware, and ultimately executing his own code on the device.
Understanding the implications of his discoveries, [Scott] waited long enough to publish his research so the manufacturer could address and handle these security issues. So kudos to him for fighting the good fight. And just in case the thought of someone gaining control over a machine that is crucial to your vitality doesn’t scare you enough yet, go ahead and imagine that device was actually implanted in your body.
Although quantum computing is still in its infancy, enough progress is being made for it to look a little more promising than other “revolutionary” technologies, like fusion power or flying cars. IBM, Intel, and Google all either operate or are producing double-digit qubit computers right now, and there are plans for even larger quantum computers in the future. With this amount of inertia, our quantum computing revolution seems almost certain.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, though, before all of our encryption is rendered moot by these new devices. Since nothing is easy (or intuitive) at the quantum level, progress has been considerably slower than it was during the transistor revolution of the previous century. These computers work because of two phenomena: superposition and entanglement. A quantum bit, or qubit, works because unlike a transistor it can exist in multiple states at once, rather than just “zero” or “one”. These states are difficult to determine because in general a qubit is built using a single atom. Adding to the complexity, quantum computers must utilize quantum entanglement too, whereby a pair of particles are linked. This is the only way for any hardware to “observe” the state of the computer without affecting any qubits themselves. In fact, the observations often don’t yet have the highest accuracy themselves.
There are some other challenges with the hardware as well. All quantum computers that exist today must be cooled to a temperature very close to absolute zero in order to take advantage of superconductivity. Whether this is because of a reduction in thermal noise, as is the case with universal quantum computers based on ion traps or other technology, or because it is possible to take advantage of other interesting characteristics of superconductivity like the D-Wave computers do, all of them must be cooled to a critical temperature. A further challenge is that even at these low temperatures, the qubits still interact with each other and their read/write devices in unpredictable ways that get more unpredictable as the number of qubits scales up.
So, once the physics and the refrigeration are sorted out, let’s take a look at how a few of the quantum computing technologies actually manipulate these quantum curiosities to come up with working, programmable computers. Continue reading “Quantum Computing Hardware Teardown”
We’ve seen the 3D phone fad come and go, with devices like the Evo 3D, that used a parallax barrier to achieve autostereoscopy (that is, 3D viewing without glasses). These displays aren’t holograms, they are just showing your eyes two different images like a 3D movie or a stereopticon. However, researchers from Australia and China are hoping to change that. They’ve developed a nano-hologram (their term) that is about 1000 times thinner than a human hair. You can see a video about the invention, below.
Conventional holograms modulate the phase of light to give the illusion of three-dimensional depth. But to generate the required phase shifts, those holograms need to be as thick as the optical wavelengths involved. The researchers claim the holograms are “simple” to make, but that depends on what you compare it to. You need some exotic materials, vacuum deposition gear, and a laser that can do femtosecond-long pulses.
The research team has broken this thickness limit with a 25 nanometer hologram. Their technique relies on a topological insulator material a novel quantum material that holds a low refractive index in the surface layer but a much higher refractive index in the bulk of the material. This forms an intrinsic optical resonant cavity which can enhance the phase shifts and makes holography possible.
The next step is to develop a rigid thin film to overlay an LCD screen. The current version has pixels at least ten times too large to be practical for that application, so that’s another hurdle to overcome.
We’ve seen screens that shoot 3D images on movies like Star Wars for years. This isn’t it yet, but it is the next step. Imagine a phone, a wrist watch, or a contact lens that could generate a holographic image. Or a garbage-can-sized robot.
Continue reading “Holograms Can’t be Too Thin”
3D printing is one of the best things that has happened to the maker community in recent years, however the resulting output has always been prone to damage when used in high temperature applications or places where the part may be exposed to corrosive chemicals. In a recent paper titled “Three-dimensional printing of transparent fused silica glass“, [Kolz, F et. al.] have proposed a method which uses stereolithography printers to create glass objects that can be used in research applications where plastic just won’t cut it.
When we say stereolithography you probably think of resin printing, but it refers to the general use of light beams to chain molecules together to form a solid polymer. The researchers here use amorphous silica nanoparticles as a starting point that is later cured by UV light creating a polymerized composite. This structure is then exposed to high temperatures of 1300 °C resulting in models consisting of pure fused silica glass. This means that the part has excellent thermal and chemical properties, and is also optically compatible with research grade equipment.
Continue reading “3D Printing Glass Using Stereolithography”
News comes to us this week that the famous HAARP antenna array is to be brought back into service for experiments by the University of Alaska. Built in the 1990s for the US Air Force’s High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, the array is a 40-acre site containing a phased array of 180 HF antennas and their associated high power transmitters. Its purpose it to conduct research on charged particles in the upper atmosphere, but that hasn’t stopped an array of bizarre conspiracy theories being built around its existence.
The Air Force gave up the site to the university a few years ago, and it is their work that is about to recommence. They will be looking at the effects of charged particles on satellite-to-ground communications, as well as over-the-horizon communications and visible observations of the resulting airglow. If you live in Alaska you may be able to see the experiments in your skies, but residents elsewhere should be able to follow them with an HF radio. It’s even reported that they are seeking reports from SWLs (Short Wave Listeners). Frequencies and times will be announced on the @UAFGI Twitter account. Perhaps canny radio amateurs will join in the fun, after all it’s not often that the exact time and place of an aurora is known in advance.
Tinfoil hat wearers will no doubt have many entertaining things to say about this event, but for the rest of us it’s an opportunity for a grandstand seat on some cutting-edge atmospheric research. We’ve reported in the past on another piece of upper atmosphere research, a plan to seed it with plasma from cubesats, and for those of you that follow our Retrotechtacular series we’ve also featured a vintage look at over-the-horizon radar.
HAARP antenna array picture: Michael Kleiman, US Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.