IT consultant Sohaib Athar was just “taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops” in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad when he described, in 140 characters or less, a helicopter hovering overhead and a “huge window shaking bang”—accidentally live-tweeting the U.S. raid that ended a decade-long manhunt and killed Osama bin Laden.
It’s clear from Athar’s tweets (@ReallyVirtual) that he had no idea what was going down—as evidenced by his reference to the “abbottabad helicopter/UFO“—but the unusual presence of helicopters and Taliban disclaimer suggested to him that whatever was happening, it “must be a complicated situation.” UFO, not so much; situation, definitely.
It will start with Robonaut 2, the humanoid maintenance bot that NASA is sending to the International Space Station next week. And now Japan’s space agency (JAXA) has announced plans to send its own bot to the ISS. JAXA’s humanoid robot will not only talk and Twitter, but it will also act as a space nurse, monitoring the health of the astronauts.
The researchers behind the project say the bot would have a number of attributes that would make it a valuable crew member. For example, they say, it would never have to sleep–so it could keep watch when the flesh and blood astronauts are in dreamland.
And then there are its conversational skills, which would make it a lively companion for those lonley spacefarers. “We are thinking in terms of a very human-like robot that would have facial expressions and be able to converse with the astronauts,” JAXA’s Satoshi Sano told the AP.
Reaching out through his Twitter account (where he has more than a million followers), Newark, New Jersey mayor Cory Booker rallied his troops of plows and shovelers to the places they were needed most. A few examples from TIME’s article on Booker’s heroic efforts:
“Just doug [sic] a car out on Springfield Ave and broke the cardinal rule: ‘Lift with your Knees!!’ I think I left part of my back back there,” he reported in one message. One person let Booker know, via Twitter, that the snowy streets were preventing his sister from buying diapers. About an hour later, Booker was at the sister’s door, diapers in hand.
Sick of chasing down climate denialists himself, Nigel Leck put his programming skills to use for him. He created the Twitter bot @AI_AGW, who also goes by the name “Turing Test.”
Every five minutes the bot searches Twitter for tweets relating to climate change denialism, and automatically responds to the posters using a database of hundreds of rebuttals, which include links to information and videos. Christopher Mims at Technology Review talked to Leck about the project:
The database began as a simple collection of responses written by Leck himself, but these days quite a few of the rejoinders are culled from a university source whom Leck says he isn’t at liberty to divulge.
Ncell, a subsidiary of the Swedish telecom company TeliaSonera, has installed a 3G data network in a Nepalese town that should reach the summit of Mount Everest. This high up, high-tech improvement will allow summit-ers to communicate with friends, family, and organizers from the top of the world.
A phone base station was set up near the town of Gorakshep at 17,000 feet above sea level, and the signal should reach to the peak about 12,000 feet above that, telecom officials said–but it hasn’t been tested yet. The service should be fast enough to allow adventurers to make video calls and surf the Internet from their phones.
Lars Nyberg, CEO of TeliaSonera, told the Associated Foreign Press how excited they were to take the mountain into the wireless internet age:
“This is a great milestone for mobile communications as the 3G high speed internet will bring faster, more affordable telecommunication services from the world’s tallest mountain,” said Lars Nyberg.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have been tweeting from space for six months now, making that Twitter phenomenon officially old and busted. So what’s the new hotness? Tweets from an ISS-bound robot astronaut.
Robonaut 2 is currently cooling its heels at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, awaiting its scheduled trip to the International Space Station on November 1st. Once on board the ISS, the two-armed humanoid bot will help out astronauts with their duties; it expects to be particularly useful on tasks that are “too dangerous or boring for astronauts.” But it will also find time to tweet.
Already, Robonaut 2 has addressed some pressing questions via Twitter with answers like these:
“Robots are non-gender by design. I’m an it.”
“No, no relation to Hal. Don’t know if I’d want to admit to having him on my family tree if I was. Def. don’t condone his actions”
Fans can get much more information from the first robot astronaut during its “twitterview” tomorrow. Send a question marked #4R2 and Robonaut will begin answering them at 10 am CST.
Discoblog: Astronauts in Space Finally Enter the Intertubes
80beats: A New Crew Member for the Space Station: The “Robonaut 2″
80beats: Robonaut 2: Coming Soon to Space Stations and Assembly Lines Near You
80beats: Japanese Consortium: We’ll Send a Humanoid Robot to Walk on the Moon
Image: flickr / NASARobonaut
Many cat owners worry/wonder about what their buddies are up to while the humans are away at work. Are they eating the houseplants? Sleeping on the kitchen counter? Prowling next door to bother the neighbors’ pet bird?
Now, researchers in Japan hope to bridge the gap between humans and their pets by rigging cats with sensing devices that help owners track their felines’ activities.
Cat@Log, one such sensing device, allows you to snoop on your cat as he goes about his daily schedule.
You can track his movements, map his territory, and even see what he sees thanks to a bulky device that can be strapped on your kitty’s collar. The tech site Recombu says that Cat@Log comes loaded with a camera, microphone, microSD card, an accelerometer, Bluetooth, and GPS.
Since Twitter blew up into the mainstream last year, it’s become rife with teenybopper types who join the microblogging service just to follow their favorite airheaded celebrities. Which raises the question: Which airheaded celebrity has the, uh, most unsophisticated teenybopper followers?
Comedian and geek Tom Scott got his creative juices cranking to create Stupid Fight–a website that lets you compare whose Twitter followers are dumber. This is great, in case you’ve ever wondered what sort of a person would follow actor Ashton Kutcher or all-around diva Kim Kardashian and try to send them messages.
Scott proclaims on his website:
FACT: A lot of people on Twitter are stupid. Many of these people follow celebrities and try to send them messages. But which celebrity’s fans are most stupid? It’s time to find out.
The idea itself is pretty simple. Scott explains:
Stupid Fight can’t go out and administer an intelligence test to each person that’s sending messages to a celebrity. So instead, it estimates based on several stupid indicators. Are they using twenty exclamation marks in a row? Do they endlessly use the abbreviation ‘OMG’? Do they seem incapable of working out where their Shift key is? These indicators have a strong correlation with the message, and its sender, being stupid.