Forget about RoboCup, where teams of robots kick soccer balls around indoor fields. The first ever robot marathon finished up over the weekend, and one knee-high humanoid took home the prize with just one second to spare.
This video shows the winner’s final stretch:
Five robots competed in Robo Mara Full, the world’s first marathon for our plastic and metallic friends. The race, funded by the city government of Osaka, began on Friday; 54 hours, 57 minutes, and 50 seconds later, Robovie-PC finally completed its 422th lap, thereby hitting the 26.2-mile mark and sealing the victory. With an average speed of 0.48 miles per hour, these machines are no speed demons.
The game may be the same, but the gear is different: This Saturday, as NFL prospects try to impress coaches at the Combine workouts, a few players will don smart shirts–souped-up sports attire that measures everything from players’ heart rates to g forces of acceleration.
Designed by Under Armour and Zephyr, this sophisticated shirt is called the Under Armour E39. It weighs less than 0.3 pounds and boasts a load of sensors that sit just below the athlete’s sternum; the sensors include a triaxial accelerometer, a heart-rate monitor, and a breathing-rate monitor. As an athlete practices, trainers can follow the player’s vital signs on their smartphones, laptops, or any other device that can receive Bluetooth data. As Wired explains:
“What we have is something very close to the body’s center of mass that’s measuring the accelerometry data from that center of mass,” Under Armour vice president Kevin Haley told Wired.com.
It wasn’t your typical American Museum of Natural History crowd: yesterday evening, a handful of kids and the standard science nerds were joined in the Hall of Ocean Life by ping pong aficionados.
Five ping pong tables—courtesy of co-host SPiN ping pong club—were set up in the hall for the event, “This is Your Brain on Ping Pong.” The evening included time for guests to practice the sport, as well as a panel discussion moderated by museum icthyologist Melanie Stiassny.
The evening’s attempts to connect ping pong and science were, well, a little weak. Stiassny ran through a brief history of life on Earth, with references to the sport dotting her speech like product placements: 500 million years ago the first organisms with nervous systems are on the scene—hey, you need a spinal cord to control a ping pong paddle! “Clearly evolution has a purpose, and that purpose is ping pong,” said Stiassny.
One panelist was legendary actress Susan Sarandon, perhaps most beloved for her role as Janet in Rocky Horror; she’s also an investor in SPiN. Why does she think SPiN is so popular? Sarandon claimed that it’s all about the romance: “You play it facing someone, maybe your date,” she said. “I see some people nodding, people here on dates.”
In pursuit of a glorious future in which robots can outrun humans (what could possibly go wrong?), researcher Ryuma Niiyama has unveiled Athlete, a bot that’s intended to sprint.
The bipedal robot’s upper legs are modeled on the human musculoskeletal system, while the lower legs are fashioned from the spring-like blades that amputee runners use (and use so effectively that some have called the blades an unfair advantage).
Erico Guizzo of IEEE Spectrum explains:
Each leg has seven sets of artificial muscles. The sets, each with one to six pneumatic actuators, correspond to muscles in the human body — gluteus maximus, adductor, hamstring, and so forth…. The researchers are now teaching Athlete to run. They programmed the robot to activate its artificial muscles with the same timing and pattern of a person’s muscles during running.
Niiyama described his bot at the IEEE conference on humanoid robots last week, and has published a paper (pdf) on the project in the journal Industrial Robot. The challenge is to get all those artificial muscles working in sequence as the bot bounds across the landscape.
It’s a big challenge. So far, Athlete can take only three to five steps before tumbling to the ground. Still that’s pretty impressive compared to a hopping prototype from 2007 (seen in the video below), which took one great leap for robotics and promptly fell down. Humans, maybe you don’t need to run for your lives just yet.
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Video: Ryuma Niiyama
Those unearthly howls, shrieks, and grunts that burst out of tennis players’ mouths may do more than just fill the silence of tennis stadiums. A new study suggests that a player’s grunt might slow down the response time of her opponent, giving the grunter an advantage.
For the study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers asked students to watch videos of a tennis player hitting a ball; some shots were accompanied by a soft grunt, others were performed in silence. For each shot, the student had to indicate which side of the court the ball would land on by hitting a keyboard key.
According to the study, “The results were unequivocal: The presence of an extraneous sound interfered with a participants’ performance, making their responses both slower and less accurate.”
Though these multicolored horns might look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, World Cup followers can attest that the vuvuzela is a loud and droning reality. South Africa’s soccer stadiums are resounding with their buzzing calls, driving TV audiences to distraction and causing many a viewer to reach for the mute button.
Some spectators have called for bans on the instrument, but FIFA has refused. Its president, Sepp Blatter, said via Twitter: “I don’t see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?”
But there may be a technological fix, an audio filter meant to cancel out, acoustically, the collective roar of the plastic horns.
The Telegraph reports that German recording and mixing engineer Clemence Schlieweis believes that viewers can cancel out the sounds blaring from their televisions by playing his 45-minute track of an “inverse” sound wave. He made the sound by manipulating a recording from a match broadcast, and compares his technique to ones commonly used by sound engineers to improve recordings’ quality, to remove the buzz of an air conditioner from an interview, for example.
But some acoustics experts are skeptical, given that the vuvuzela’s sounds are anything but uniform. Trevor Cox at the University of Salford, told The Telegraph:
“I can’t see how it could work. The vuvuzela chorus may come across as a single sound on television, but it is actually hundreds of instruments being blown at different times.”
But if Schlieweis’s recording can’t beat the vuvuzela, another technology is allowing spectators to join the chorus. The vuvuzela iPhone app is the number one downloaded free iPhone app in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Netherlands, UK, and South Africa, with reportedly over one million downloads.
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Image: flickr / Dundas Football Club
To answer that question, don’t go comparing their personality traits (the Newfie: famously loyal and sweet, Tiger Woods: um, no comment). Instead, look to the knees.
Newfoundland dogs are prone to cruciate ligament disease, the same knee disorder that has troubled Woods and many other professional athletes–the disease makes dogs and humans more prone to ligament ruptures. Now, researchers at Liverpool University are asking Newfie owners to send in DNA samples from their pets so they can search for genetic factors that predispose dogs to the condition.
According to lead researcher Arabella Baird, the study could have two benefits. If researchers determine which genes put dogs at risk of the condition, they can help breeders create healthier lines of dogs by preventing matings between dogs with the key genes. But the study may also help medical researchers find the comparable genes in humans, The Guardian reports:
Baird added: “The disease in humans tends to occur when stress is put on the ligament, but there have been some preliminary findings that suggest there is a genetic component that could predispose humans to the condition…. Our project will be looking at many genes and the results of our study in dogs will be comparative to the human medical field.”
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Penn State’s college football team has a new trick in its playbook–courtesy of acoustical science.
Penn State graduate student Andrew Barnard’s acoustic mapping research illustrates how the relocation of 20,000 student-fans in Penn State’s Beaver Stadium could lead to more wins for the Nittany Lions football team.
Last year, during three homes games, Barnard recorded and measured crowd noise at the stadium using a series of strategically placed acoustic meters. He found when the Nittany Lions had the ball, the crowd noise reached 75 decibels on the field. But when the opposing team played offense, the noise climbed to 110 decibels. As a result, the visiting quarterback’s calls could only be heard within about 18 inches from him.
Barnard wondered whether he could make it even tougher for visiting QBs. So when the stadium was empty, he used a loudspeaker to create noise in various seating locations and measured the sound intensity on the field. According to Gizmodo, Barnard zeroed in on the stadium’s acoustical sweet spot, where the loudest fans could be the most effective against opposing teams:
If want to go out for a jog outside but don’t want to get your sneakers dirty, here’s a unique solution for you. Now you can work out to your heart’s content on the new treadmill bike, a treadmill that has been rigged up to a bike–to offer a workout that can only be described as unnecessarily complicated.
Describing the contraption, The Red Ferret Journal writes:
Built with rugged design and all-terrain tires, this 2-wheeled wonder will take you anywhere a standard bicycle will, and give you a great cardiovascular workout with the burn of that walking treadmill you’ve got a love-hate relationship with in the gym.
Gizmag reports that by taking the workout outside, the machine makes sure you are buff and not bored:
The Treadmill Bike is for people who love the feel of a treadmill beneath their feet but don’t want to be stuck inside pounding away when it’s a beautiful day outside. Bicycle Forest [which sells the machine] says the creation has the same fat-burning benefits of a conventional treadmill without the gym membership fees (although you do have to buy the bike).
At the foot of an active volcano 900 miles from the South Pole, Tom Leard leads a fearless band of men and women over a battlefield of frozen sea, beneath a relentless sun. Ash billows out from the peak behind them as they approach their enemies, who stand staggered across the barren stretch of ice, clad in black from head to toe.
“Don’t let them in your heads,” Leard tells his motley crew of carpenters, engineers, and service workers. “We’re the underdogs, but if we support each other, we can win.”
Here, on a January day in Antarctica’s frozen McMurdo Sound, Leard and company have come for the latest installment of a decades-long tradition: A rugby match, played between the American and New Zealand research bases, on a field of sea ice 10 feet thick.
Just a few miles away, scientists lead some of the world’s most exotic research projects, taking advantage of the extreme conditions on Earth’s coldest, driest and iciest continent. After a long week studying cold-adapted bacteria or the diving physiology of elephant seals, the scientists and staff take Sunday off to relax. But this is no ordinary Sunday.
Today’s match is the 26th in the series—which New Zealand leads, 25-0. Zero is also the number of ‘tries’—rugby’s equivalent of touchdowns—the Americans have scored in the history of the rivalry, which is the southernmost rugby game in the world.
Nearby McMurdo Station, operated by the United States, is home to over 1,000 summertime residents, a few dozen of whom have donned red, white and blue uniforms in support of their country. McMurdo is the largest station on the continent, far larger than neighboring Scott Base, which houses fewer than 100 New Zealanders—but that doesn’t stop New Zealand from fielding a winning team year after year.
Text and photos by Chaz Firestone. Click through for more photos and the rest of the story.