Science Friday: Mind-Operated Robots, Artificial Physicist, Galileo Event, Space Bone-Loss, NetRabbit + more

This week on Science Friday, learn to control robots with your brain, follow in Galileo’s 400-year-old footsteps, fight the Borg and bone-loss at the same time, witness crystal clear sound come out of a .25mm-thick vibrating sheet, learn why you should fear our future robot overlords, and see a snapshot of the forefathers of modern physics. All this and more (including an Internet Rabbit).


How to Control Robots With Your Brain
Step 1: Go to Japan. Step 2: Acquire your very own Brain Machine Interface (BMI). Step 3: Control robots with your brain. That’s right, Japanese scientists have done it again! The new amazing and just a bit unnerving technology uses electroencephalography (EEG) and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to allow a human to control a robot, in the test case the Honda ASIMO, using mere thought. There is not button pressing or movement of any kind required. The technology offers up to 90 percent control accuracy without the use of physical implants, a huge milestone in human-to-robot interface that the research group hopes will yield new advances in robotics and artificial intelligence. See the thing in action at National Geographic.

And you always thought "Spock’s Brain" was just so silly

100 Hours of Astronomy
Four hundred years ago this year, Galileo Galilei first used the newly-invented telescope to peer at the heavens with a level of detail that had not previously been possible. With that simple act, he flung open a window on a new era in our understanding of the cosmos and our place within it. In a global re-enactment of Galileo’s achievement, hundreds of thousands of telescopes across the Earth will turn this Saturday night, April 4, in unison to the night sky to gaze at the Moon and Saturn. The entire program, which goes from April 2nd-5th, will feature a whole host of astronomy events, many of which will be broadcast live on their website. You can also keep track of the events by following them on Twitter.

Celebrate during the International Year of Astronomy!

Resistance is Not Futile for Osteoporosis Patients, Space Studies Show
Results of a space experiment published online in The FASEB Journal have yielded a giant leap for science that could translate into an important step for mankind in the ongoing battle against osteoporosis. In the report, a team of Italian scientists show for the first time that a lack of resistance (i.e., gravity) activates bone-destroying cells. This outcome helps explain more completely why bedridden patients and astronauts experience bone loss and provides an entirely new drug target for stopping the process.

Relinquish your calcified skeletal components!

New Flat and Flexible Speakers
A groundbreaking new loudspeaker — less than 0.25mm thick — has been developed by University of Warwick engineers. It’s flat, flexible, could be hung on a wall like a picture, and its particular method of sound generation could make public announcements in places like passenger terminals clearer, crisper, and easier to hear. All speakers work by converting an electric signal into sound. Usually, the signal is used to generate a varying magnetic field, which in turn vibrates a mechanical cone, so producing the sound. The new flat speaker technology is a carefully designed assembly of thin, conducting and insulating, materials resulting in the development of a flexible laminate, which when excited by an electrical signal will vibrate and produce sound.

This new technology has incredible application potential

Computer Program Self-Discovers Laws of Physics
In just over a day, a powerful computer program accomplished a feat that took physicists centuries to complete: extrapolating the laws of motion from a pendulum’s swings. Developed by Cornell researchers, the program deduced the natural laws without a shred of knowledge about physics or geometry. The program started with near-random combinations of basic mathematical processes — addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and a few algebraic operators.

Initially, the equations generated by the program failed to explain the data, but some failures were slightly less wrong than others. Using a genetic algorithm, the program modified the most promising failures, tested them again, chose the best, and repeated the process until a set of equations evolved to describe the systems. Turns out, some of these equations were very familiar: the law of conservation of momentum, and Newton’s second law of motion. The research is being heralded as a potential breakthrough for science in the Petabyte Age, where computers try to find regularities in massive data sets that are too big and complex for the human mind.

More about incredibly intelligent computers: ADAM, touted as the first robot scientist, has discovered a new gene. Read the story.

Some say computers will one day be man’s equal. I say the future will have robot slaves like Rosie from the Jetsons.

Pic of the Week: Solvay Conference, 1927
This photo is from the 1927 Solvay conference on quantum mechanics, which was held just in the middle of the quantum revolution when many of the key ideas were being worked out over the course of a few years. Here is an amazing gathering of some of the brightest scientific minds to ever grace the planet Earth. Einstein is in the middle as well as several others you will probably recognize (at least by name), many of whom have given us Trek science (Heisenberg compensators, anyone?). Click on the image for a larger version.

From back to front, left to right: A. Piccard, E. Henriot, P. Ehrenfest, Ed. Herzen, Th. De Donder, E. Schrödinger, E. Verschaffelt, W. Pauli, W. Heisenberg, R.H. Fowler, L. Brillouin, P. Debye, M. Knudsen, W.L. Bragg, H.A. Kramers, P.A.M. Dirac, A.H. Compton, L. de Broglie, M. Born, N. Bohr, I. Langmuir, M. Planck, M. Curie, H.A. Lorentz, A. Einstein, P. Langevin, Ch. E. Guye, C.T.R. Wilson, O.W. Richardson

Gadget of the Week: Nabaztag, the internet-connected rabbit
Nabaztag is the one and only multipurpose, internet-connected rabbit. It sits quietly on your desk or bookshelf and speaks up to let you know that a new e-mail has arrived, to update you on stocks, weather, or news, or to transmit a message sent from your friends. He can even recognize RFID-tagged items, so any object can now be connected to the internet and can trigger your Nabaztag to perform various tasks. He really can do a lot, and he’s just so darn cute. According to Nabaztag’s creators, “Soon, every Thing will be connected to the Internet. It might be a good idea to start with a Rabbit.” Nabaztag retails for $99.00US. Check out the video below to see him in action and visit Nabaztag’s website. Also, check out these fun and informative videos: How does he work?, What can I do with him?, and A day in the life of Nabaztag.

Science Quickies
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.


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Internet connected rabbits? Whew. Hope they don’t bread as much.

Newton meets Darwin :D

By the way, the University of Tübingen has a free PC game for download where you can simulate evolution and create songs.
A set of melodies is created by the program. You rate them and the best ‘survive’. Selection, modification etc. then deliver a unique song after several ‘generations’.
It’s intention is to give students a tool to make evolution easier to understand and to see how it works.

The mind controlled robot reminds me of the last episode of Battlestar. Ekk!


In regards to the slim speakers, are you sure that wasn’t an April Fools joke? When I searched for more info on them all the websites that I found had the article dated for April 1, 2009. Smells like a Japanese market to me….fishy.

Japanese Robotic Scientist have WAY to much time!

I did this back in the 60s.

uh. 2260s…

Instead of new ways of making noise (flat speakers) I wish someone would invent some kind of impermeable sound curtain so I don’t have to listen to other people’s drivel, car stereos… etc..

You get the idea

Grumpy old man.

Now we can give Stephen Hawking a robotic exo-skeleton. That’s actually pretty awesome. Go Japanese!

There’s also another story reported on Slashdot about the supposed impossibility of warp drive:

In the TNG tech manual, we posited a -bunch- of layered moving bubbles to get around the problem, and we did it back in 1990. :)

5. Picard’s barber – April 3, 2009
“In regards to the slim speakers, are you sure that wasn’t an April Fools joke? When I searched for more info on them all the websites that I found had the article dated for April 1, 2009. Smells like a Japanese market to me….fishy.”

That’s great, Mr. Sternbach! I love it when the critics find out that you knew the problems back then and provided a solution :D

Forgot to include this article:
Quantum Setback for Warp Drives

This could explain why the aliens aren’t here yet…

I think it is funny that the Japanese scientist is wearing Crocs.

Sweet Sci-Fri!

Nabaztag is an interesting name, but I think they could come up with something better.

12. The Original Spock’s Brain – April 3, 2009:

Thanks man! That’s the one website I didn’t check, lol.

#15 Isn’t that changed to Syfry now? ;)

#16 Նապաստակ is the Armenian word that translates better as “hare” rather than rabbit (Ճագար). My problem with it is that the standard ISO transliteration yields “Napastak”, which in the western Armenian dialect is pronounced closer to ‘nabastag”. They’re just being cute with the ‘z’

In any case, we’d agree it’s better than Նապաստակ

Hope your readers have Armenian alphabet support :)

naturally, the japanese guy is wearing crocs/jellez/etc. I wish I could go to work wearing those…

NEWS: See official site for more panorama images of…”The Bridge”

Okay, something about that rabbit scares the heck out of me….

“Pic of the Week: Solvay Conference, 1927”

Holy crap!! Is that Richard Alpert of Mittelos Bioscience?! He hasn’t changed a day! (still wears eyeshadow, too…)

@20, lol maybe its just my computer, but im all im getting is part of the floor and celing ? :(

#20… Dude, that bridge looks awesome! ‘Especially when at red alert and when the view screen is in operation.


I remember, I have that manual and I thought the overlapping warp bubbles was a great solution. When will science start paying more attention to you and other Trek thinkers?

The Red Alert Version rocks! But I like the Idea of a Viewscreen-Window Mixed-up thing!

Thats funny, I didn’t know about the Galileo anniversary but I just bought a new telescope this week.

“I’m not coming to dinner Until you get rid of that Damn Rabbit thing!!”

The Robot control thing suddendly makes Battle Mechs feasible, at least in the control arena.

Thought controlled robots?

But we can’t get people to MARS?

Hmmm. Bots are getting less sexy as we go. A spam-bunny for my desktop? Pass. Sorry, but that thing would be on the lawn entertaining my dogs inside a week.

Einstein hated QM. Wonder what he’d have thought if he’d lived to see it applied to filmmaking (a la Mr. Orci’s screenplay.)

The Osteoperosis research sounds fascinating. I may need that soon… I’m gettin’ to be such an old fart.


As always this is ABSOLUTELY my favorite part of this site – not even Star Trek movie or series can come close to my love for this weekly contribution to merit and worth in the world I live in – the real world …

On the DVD form of my video of the Discovery landing things go okay and it’s not so hot, I knew in advance, on the pixelated MP4 upload I would make to youtube … so when posting the landing of Discovery with my favorite astronaut aboard … Dr. Sandy Magnus, on her 2nd flight into space following a 2002 visit to the final Frontier aboard Atlantis that lasted for 3 days, I decided to include the 2008 launch on Endeavor, the 2009 landing on Discovery, and everything in between. I have titled the piece “Sandy Magnus’ REAL Star Trek.”

See the video “Sandy Magnus’ Real Star Strek” here;

Rude to answer my own posts … but the 2002 flight on Atlantis lasted about 11 days, and as my own video educates me (if you can understand the “Right Stuff” of communications in the end of my video) Sandy Magnus spent 144 days in space between November and last week, most of it on the Space Station, but an enviable part of it launching on Endeavor and landing on Discovery. Sorry about the typo.

#11 & #14

The instability might be something akin to the aerodynamic instability encountered by aircraft during the first attempts at breaking the sound barrier.

It just took the right combination of technology and design to overcome it.

Anyhoos Alcurribe’s drive wasn’t something that was technologicaly practical within the foreseeable future anyway.

Several significant discoveries in the nature of spacetime and physics need to be hurdled first and then technology and engineering methods developed to take advantage of those discoveries.

But then the same conditions existed durin the Manhattan project. Only this is on several orders of magnitude more complex than an atomic bomb.