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Remember when science explained why a black/blue dress could look white/gold? We’re here to remind you science did other important stuff this week of February 23:

  1. Mind over matter: meet the robotic arm. Scientists at the Medical University of Vienna have engineered a robotic prosthetic hand that can be controlled by thought alone. Three amputee patients (who suffered injury to the brachial plexus - the bundle of nerves that control sensation and movement in the upper limbs) were fitted with a working bionic arm that is controlled by neural impulses from the brain. Mind to hand: two thumbs up.
  2. Why do Twinkies supposedly never expire? Emulsifiers. Scientists at Georgia State University have identified emulsifiers, an ingredient in processed foods, as contributors to inflammatory bowel diseases and metabolic syndrome. Emulsifiers extend shelf life and add texture to foods, but they can also promote inflammation of the gut by changing the bacteria living there. The introduction of emulsifiers in processed foods coincides with the increased rate of bowel disease and metabolic syndrome over the past few decades. While the exact mechanism remains unknown, avoiding heavily processed foods may make your gut bacteria happier in the interim.
  3. Want legs like David Beckham? Try growing them. Using genetically engineered muscle precursor cells called mesoangioblasts, international researchers from the United Kingdom, Israel, and Italy were able to grow functional leg muscles for mice. The mesoangioblasts were grown in a culture dish and equipped to stimulate the growth of nerves and blood vessels once implanted in a live mouse. While experiments on human tissues are a ways away, this could have huge implications for treating debilitating muscular disorders.

Image: From our second story. When emulsifiers reach the gut, bacteria can move deep into the mucus layer that is normally devoid of microbes. Credit: Dr. Benoit Chassaing/Georgia State University.

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Video: Boston Dynamics’ new four legged robot.

These videos never disappoint - someone’s always out to kick over robots at Boston Dynamics! (Seems like a bad idea in the long run though)

Spot is a four-legged robot designed for indoor and outdoor operation. It is electrically powered and hydraulically actuated. Spot has a sensor head that helps it navigate and negotiate rough terrain, and weighs about 160 lbs.

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Robo.op

Creative robotics project developed by madlabb.cc aims to make interactive experiences easier to create with industrial robotic arms:

Robo.Op is an open hardware / open software platform for hacking industrial robots (IRs) … Although the last decade has seen a large body of work develop for creative robotics, there are still steep challenges to overcome for working with IRs outside of manufacturing settings. The three primary challenges for working on the fringes of industrial robotics are (1) Access: their high costs make it difficult to even have access to an IR; (2) Siloing: robotics brands are purposefully not compatible with one another; and (3) Private: the knowledge to work with IRs is often hidden or non-existent. Robo.Op tries to address each of these challenge by making it cheaper and easier to customize your IR for creative use. It’s made up of a modular prototyping platform, a simpler software interface, and a centralized hub for sharing knowledge, tools, and code.

You can find out more about the project here

The Marines Are Building Robotic War Balls

Establishing a beachhead on enemy-held turf is historically one of the most dangerous jobs in warfare, just ask Achilles. But the robotic age may make it slightly less so.
A research team from Stamford, Conn. has developed an amphibious drone that they are currently testing with the Marines. The GuardBot is a robot ball that swims over water at about 4 miles per hour and then rolls along the beach, at as much as a 30-degree incline and 20 miles per hour.

They said war balls.  

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DARPA proudly presents the near Robocalypse

Elysium, Robocop, Kill Decision, Robocalypse, I Robot, Terminator… Pick your favorite future.

Warfighters in aircraft, on ships and in ground vehicles have benefited tremendously from technological advances in recent decades, with advanced capabilities ranging from real-time situational awareness to precision armaments. But many of these benefits depend on equipment with substantial size, weight and power requirements, and so have remained unavailable to dismounted infantry squads who must carry all their equipment themselves.

DARPA’s new Squad X Core Technologies (SXCT) program aims to address this challenge and ensure that dismounted infantry squads maintain uncontested tactical superiority over potential adversaries without being overburdened by cumbersome hardware. The goal is to speed the development of new, lightweight, integrated systems that provide infantry squads unprecedented awareness, adaptability and flexibility in complex environments, and enable dismounted Soldiers and Marines to more intuitively understand and control their complex mission environments.

SXCT plans to explore four key technical areas:

  1. Precision Engagement: Precisely engage threats out to 0.6 mile (1,000 meters), while maintaining compatibility with infantry weapon systems and without imposing weight or operational burdens that would negatively affect mission effectiveness

  2. Non-Kinetic Engagement: Disrupt enemy command and control, communications and use of unmanned assets at a squad-relevant operational pace (walking with occasional bursts of speed)

  3. Squad Sensing: Detect potential threats out to 0.6 mile (1,000 meters) at a squad-relevant operational pace

  4. Squad Autonomy: Increase squad members’ real-time knowledge of their own and teammates’ locations to less than 20 feet (6 meters) in GPS-denied environments through collaboration with embedded unmanned air and ground systems

[read more]

Meet Spot, Google’s newest four-legged robot

"Boston Dynamics, the robotics company that Google bought at the end of 2013, has released a video showing off "Spot," its newest four-legged robot. Boston Dynamics is best known for robots like this, having previously built BigDog (which can hurl a cinder block), the cheetah-like WildCat, and a humanoid called “PetMan.”

Spot is a smaller, quieter version of the company’s four-legged robots. The bot has been slimmed down to 160 pounds and is about the size of a large dog. Previous walkers from the company used a two-stroke engine to drive a hydraulics system, which meant the robot sounded like a chainsaw or dirt bike while in operation.”

Read more at arstechnica.