Archive for January, 2016

A True Ninth Planet

When Pluto lost its planet status and got relegated to a dwarf planet there was a fair bit of upheaval in the academic circles. However now there seems to be some more controversy headed our way from the studies of astronomers at the California Institute of Technology who have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system.

Now is this planet, which they have nicknamed Planet Nine, the true successor to Pluto as the ninth planet of the Solar System? The composition of the planet is mostly gaseous which is similar to that of Uranus and Neptune. It also has ten times the mass of Earth, so no danger of being a dwarf there. It has been calculated that on average it takes the planet between ten to twenty thousand years to complete a full orbit around the sun.

This is partly because of its highly unusual orbit and of course also because its about 2.8 billion miles or more away from the Sun. So far things are falling into place for the Planet Nine. Perhaps the scientific community may like to undertake a scientific study deeming this planet worthy of being included in our humble Solar System?

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Mars Pioneers and the Circadian Clock

Any human being who heads over to colonize the Red Planet is bound to be facing some pretty daunting odds. Now scientists have come up with one more thing that early pioneers to Mars will have to overcome. What’s different about this point is that it has nothing to do with the hostile environment outside, but everything to do with the body’s own bio rhythm.

A team of scientists from Holland, Germany and the UK’s University of Manchester conducted a study on animals whose Circadian Clock had moved up from 24 hours to 20 hours. The 24 hour Circadian Clock which has been found commonly in most animals and human beings stems from the speed of the earth’s rotation.

The animals were moved outdoors into the 24 hour rhythm and observed. Within a few generations it was observed that the mice with the faster Circadian clocks of 20 hours had almost completely been wiped out of the population. While this reinforced other studies conducted on the disruption of the clock associated with abnormal work and lighting conditions, it also brings out a problem for space travellers in the future.

Now considering the fact that a day on Mars is actually 37 minutes longer than a day on Earth, one can imagine the troubles that human beings will eventually face there. Naturally the scope of this single science experiment is not enough to comment on a problem of such magnitude.

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Robotic Exoskeleton for Shoulder Injuries

The human shoulder is a truly complex joint which when injured can hinder a wide range of motion and abilities to work for the wounded person. Rehabilitation of this complex joint can also be difficult, but the researchers at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in conjunction with the Center for Automation and Robotics may have just made it easier.

The robotic exoskeleton which has been developed by the scientists is able to help in the different types of rehabilitation therapies that an injured shoulder may need. The use of strength and motion sensors allows the exoskeleton to ascertain the level of recovery of the individual and customize the treatment process from the feedback gained.

Cecilia García Cena, the main researcher of the science project has said that the system is not just about replicating the shoulder joint but also the entire functioning of the skeletal system, muscles, tendons and ligaments all working together. At the same time, its a simple system which can be adapted to use for a number of patients quite easily.

The exoskeleton developed by the Center for Automation and Robotics researchers has helped to reduce the recovery time from a shoulder injury, as well as providing progress of the entire rehabilitation process. Needless to say this research project will have far reaching impact on the future of shoulder physiotherapy.

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Would You Trust a Toddler with a Robot?

NAO is a twenty two inch robot which the researchers at the University of Delaware wish to use as a new approach to paediatric rehabilitation based on social interaction between robots and humans. Basically they let the young kids with disabilities play with the robot.

Children with motor disabilities require a lot of practice during rehabilitation. Many of the tasks that form this process are repetitive and  NAO can be programmed to personalize the experience for each child based on their ability and knowledge level. It will also react to the behaviors of individual children and deliver personalized interventions. Tanner says that this work has the potential to change lives by providing an immediate effect.

The science project is being called GEAR (Grounded Early Adaptive Rehabilitation) and will have robotics expert Herbert Tanner, mobility researcher Cole Galloway, and computational linguist Jeffrey Heinz working with researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Imaging Science.

The interdisciplinary approach is needed to make this rather unique program a success. Its not just the children who are learning in the current studies as per Heinz, who says that they can use insights from how children learn language to design robots that can likewise learn from their experience.

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The Drone Catcher

With the number of unmanned drones that will be flying through urban skies soon, it is little wonder that some people are already thinking ahead about the kind of safety protocols these will have to follow. Then there is also the very real possibility of rogue drones which are out to do more harm than good.

That’s why Mo Rastgaar, Associate Professor Michigan Technological University is already working on the science project which will give us a drone catcher. This is going to be a bigger, meaner drone that can follow and capture the ones that are acting like a menace to society. Or simply end up in the wrong air space, like over the White House for instance.

The idea is that if a rogue drone is spotted then a human on the ground can pilot this drone catcher and follow the rogue drone, eventually shooting out a net and capturing it. Its better than merely gunning it down, because using firearms may not always be a viable option. Plus the net entangles it very well, allowing the human handler to retrieve it and any data that it may have stored as well.

The drone once operational will come in handy against smugglers, terrorists, and even spies. Of course the science project is still in the basic stages of prototype testing and getting commercial models is a long way off yet.


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