Vision, for the SciFi robot, is a much richer affair than it is for us ordinary mortals. Even the eyes of a trash compactor like Wall-E can home in on an object, zoom in or out as needed, apply light filters, and maintain a heads up display showing velocity or coordinates, as needed. It’s so common in TV and movies that when a movie starts with a view through cross hairs, a light filter, and a rapid zoom on something or someone, it’s an instant signifier that we, the audience, are seeing the world from a robot’s point of view. But not for long,perhaps. A couple of University of Washington researchers are ready to take the cool-vision mantle back from the robots.
In essence, what Dr. Babak Parviz has accomplished is to put an integrated circuit into a contact lens. Using a process called self-assembly, Parviz arranges nanometer-thick metal onto the organic polymer that makes up the contact lens, and then connects them to tiny light emitting diodes. The LEDs will be able to paint information on top of whatever scene you are looking at. They haven’t gotten to the point of lighting up the diodes, but they have begun testing them on animals. So far, rabbits can withstand wearing the lenses for 20 minutes with no ill effects.
But once the microchip is in place, Parviz thinks it will be a short hop, technologically speaking, to getting those robot features built into the lens. Perhaps most of us don’t need targeting computers, but the zoom feature could sure be handy when I have to watch baseball from the nosebleed section, and I have to figure that recording video straight from the contact lens, Finder style, can’t be far behind.
Most of the gadgetry on the lens will be arranged into a ring that surrounds the transparent part of the eye. As contact lens wearers know, the sclera has no nerves in it, which makes it a great spot for putting wireless communications or other features for this lens. Actually, they’re hoping to use that space for solar panels.
The one thing these contact lenses can’t do? Fix your eyesight. I imagine that wll be along soon.
In Pixar’s robot love story WALL-E, the Earth is surrounded by a dense field of orbiting junk. (Incidentally, you know you’re a geek when you’re the only one laughing in the cinema because you recognise one of the satellites that WALL-E has to brush out of his way as Sputnik 1.) But while things today aren’t quite as bad as depicted in WALL-E, space debris is still a big problem, as can be seen on a real plot from NASA of the junk orbiting overhead.
Pixar worked its magic this weekend, shooting to the top of the box office for the ninth consecutive time with WALL-E. And deservedly so–the movie pulls you into its world, and anybody whose heart doesn’t go out to the title character has a soul made of burnt toast. WALL-E is the name of the last robot left cleaning up the garbage-strewn Earth. All the humans left for an intergalactic cruise while the planet was getting spruced up, but the cruise has been going on for 700 years now with no end in sight.
Used to being pampered by robots and never leaving their hover-chairs, the humans have gotten a little bit portly over the centuries, and now find it difficult to even walk (if it ever occured to them to do so). Which is a problem that lurks in the minds of the people who are planning real-life expeditions to Mars.
In advance of its June 27 opening, the animation geniuses who brought us Toy Story and Finding Nemo have put up trailers for their latest movie, a science-fiction affair called WALL-E. The eponymous hero is a janitorial robot, left behind on Earth to clean up our mess after humans depart for space. From the clips online, WALL-E is irresistibly adorable, and it appears unlikely he’ll end up wracking genocidal violence against his creators in the full theatrical release, but one never knows: after a few centuries of picking up someone else’s garbage, who wouldn’t be a little tetchy?