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'Gecko legged' micro robots in development for repair of spacecraft

International Space Station
Miniature robots, which would be capable of crawling on the outer surface of spacecraft thanks to gecko-like adhesive legs, are being developed in Russia.

At the moment, the microbot platform hardly looks impressive or futuristic. It is basically a rectangular fragment of a regular silicon wafer covered with polyimide film, with eight 'legs' cut out in it. But the people behind it say it may become the go-to technology for inspecting hard-to-reach places in extreme environments, like that of low Earth orbit.

The microbot's legs move depending on the material's temperature. When it gets cold, the leg bends at a 'joint' point, but once electric current is applied and heats the joint up, the leg stretches.


Groundbreaking study discovers a world of previously unknown viruses

© University of Sydney
Schematic invertebrate illustration.
A groundbreaking study of the virosphere of the most populous animals -- those without backbones such as insects, spiders and worms and that live around our houses -- has uncovered 1445 viruses, revealing people have only scratched the surface of the world of viruses -- but it is likely that only a few cause disease.

The meta-genomics research, a collaboration between the University of Sydney and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, was made possible by new technology that also provides a powerful new way to determine what pathogens cause human diseases.

Professor Edward Holmes, from the Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases & Biosecurity and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, who led the Sydney component of the project said although the research revealed humans are surrounded by viruses in our daily lives, these did not transfer easily to humans.

"This groundbreaking study re-writes the virology text book by showing that invertebrates carry an extraordinary number of viruses -- far more than we ever thought," Professor Holmes said.


Has Google's AI translation tool created its own secret language and means of understanding?

© Steemit
All right, don't panic, but computers have created their own secret language and are probably talking about us right now. Well, that's kind of an oversimplification, and the last part is just plain untrue. But there is a fascinating and existentially challenging development that Google's AI researchers recently happened across.

You may remember that back in September, Google announced that its Neural Machine Translation system had gone live. It uses deep learning to produce better, more natural translations between languages. Cool!

Following on this success, GNMT's creators were curious about something. If you teach the translation system to translate English to Korean and vice versa, and also English to Japanese and vice versa... could it translate Korean to Japanese, without resorting to English as a bridge between them? They made this helpful gif to illustrate the idea of what they call "zero-shot translation" (it's the orange one):

Slide bars to see whole diagram.

As it turns out — yes! It produces "reasonable" translations between two languages that it has not explicitly linked in any way. Remember, no English allowed. But this raised a second question. If the computer is able to make connections between concepts and words that have not been formally linked... does that mean that the computer has formed a concept of shared meaning for those words, meaning at a deeper level than simply that one word or phrase is the equivalent of another?

In other words, has the computer developed its own internal language to represent the concepts it uses to translate between other languages? Based on how various sentences are related to one another in the memory space of the neural network, Google's language and AI boffins think that it has.

© Google Research Blog
Part (a) from the figure above shows an overall geometry of these translations. The points in this view are colored by the meaning; a sentence translated from English to Korean with the same meaning as a sentence translated from Japanese to English share the same color. From this view we can see distinct groupings of points, each with their own color. Part (b) zooms in to one of the groups, and part (c) colors by the source language. Within a single group, we see a sentence with the same meaning but from three different languages. This means the network must be encoding something about the semantics of the sentence rather than simply memorizing phrase-to-phrase translations. We interpret this as a sign of existence of an interlingua in the network.

Comment: Interesting (amazing? disturbing?) developments in the mechanics of this self-thinking-linking 'neural' translator, a possible precursor to a self-evolving machine. Given Google's recent political bias and governmental cooperation...where might 'this' go from here? (In science fiction, 'this' never seems to turn out well! Then again, Star Trek had its handy dandy universal translator gizmo, without which the series would have lasted one season.)


Swedish developers offer a way to delete yourself off the internet

The internet can be a beautiful and horrible place at the same time, and it isn't weird to sometimes feel like you want to leave — there's wasn't an easy way out, until now.

Swedish developers Wille Dahlbo and Linus Unnebäck created Deseat.me, which offers a way to wipe your entire existence off the internet in a few clicks.

When logging into the website with a Google account it scans for apps and services you've created an account for, and creates a list of them with easy delete links.

Bad Guys

The Pentagon plans to sink billions of dollars into undersea drone network

Despite ongoing evidence of colossal economic waste and manifest ineptitude by the Pentagon's network of defense contractors, it isn't stopping their commitment to spending many more billions of taxpayer money. Moreover, their plans are becoming even more long-range, saddling future generations with even more debt to service.

Their latest brainchild, according to a report in the Washington Post is an undersea network of drones and drone launch "pods" that will cover the 7 seas with patrol and defense capabilities.

Some of this was put on display during the recent military exercise among many of the allied nations known as "Unmanned Warrior 2016" that took place off the Scottish coast. A wide range of autonomous systems were tested, as well as a test of an overall web of communication between land, air, and sea vehicles.


A phone that charges in seconds? UCF scientists bring it closer to reality with flexible supercapacitors

A team of UCF scientists has developed a new process for creating flexible supercapacitors that can store more energy and be recharged more than 30,000 times without degrading.

The novel method from the University of Central Florida's NanoScience Technology Center could eventually revolutionize technology as varied as mobile phones and electric vehicles.

"If they were to replace the batteries with these supercapacitors, you could charge your mobile phone in a few seconds and you wouldn't need to charge it again for over a week," said Nitin Choudhary, a postdoctoral associate who conducted much of the research published recently in the academic journal ACS Nano.


New study suggests Earth's surface 'vaporized' from asteroid impact that killed off dinosaurs

© Don Davis / NASA / Wikipedia
The asteroid that annihilated the dinosaurs and "reset the clock" for life on Earth could not have done the job without first liquefying the planet's surface, a new study found. Lead researcher and geophysicist Sean Gulick spoke to RT.

The scientific consensus has been for some time that about 66 million years ago, Earth changed forever. But exactly how is still being learned, and new research from the University of Texas at Austin goes as far as to alter "clues into the origin of life on earth," Sean Gulick, a research professor at the Jackson School of Geosciences' Institute for Geophysics, told RT's Manila Chan.

Not only was the sun blocked out by the earth's atmosphere and 75 percent of all life extinguished following an asteroid collision, but the earth's surface at the site of the impact "was vaporized."

"And then a bit below that was ejected," Gulick said. "But the material below that then started behaving, we think, much like a slow-moving fluid."


Paying attention: Your dog remembers what you did

© unknown
People have a remarkable ability to remember and recall events from the past, even when those events didn't hold any particular importance at the time they occurred. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on November 23 have evidence that dogs have that kind of "episodic memory" too.

The study found that dogs can recall a person's complex actions even when they don't expect to have their memory tested.

"The results of our study can be considered as a further step to break down artificially erected barriers between non-human animals and humans," says Claudia Fugazza of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest, Hungary. "Dogs are among the few species that people consider 'clever,' and yet we are still surprised whenever a study reveals that dogs and their owners may share some mental abilities despite our distant evolutionary relationship."


NASA prepares Cassini to fly around Saturn a total of 20 times in "daring" ring-grazing orbits

© JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute / NASA
Cassini crosses Saturn’s F ring once on each of its 20 Ring-Grazing Orbits, shown here in tan and lasting from late November 2016 to April 2017. Blue represents the extended solstice mission orbits, which preceded the ring-grazing phase.
Cassini is picking up speed to launch itself into orbit around Saturn in a groundbreaking mission that will bring it closer to the planet's rings than any spacecraft before. NASA engineers have been "pumping up" Cassini's orbit around Saturn all year in preparation for its series of "dramatic endgame" missions that will last between November 30 and April 22, 2017. Cassini is expected to end it's last year in style by orbiting Saturn a total of 20 times, getting closer to its rings than any spacecraft has before, by diving under and over its poles every seven days.

Comment: Enceladus is now considered one of the solar system's top spots to search for alien life.
See also:


Female monkeys use their wiles to rally male troops

© Juan Mabromata/AFP
Female Vervet Monkey: She needs a hero.
Female vervet monkeys manipulate males into fighting battles by lavishing attention on brave soldiers while giving noncombatants the cold shoulder, researchers said Wednesday. As in humans, it turns out, social incentives can be just as big a driver for male monkeys to go to war as the resources they stand to gain from fighting, whether it be territory or food.

"Ours is the first study to demonstrate that any non-human species use manipulative tactics, such as punishment or rewards, to promote participation in intergroup fights," study co-author Jean Arseneau, a primate specialist of the University of Zurich, told AFP.

Arseneau and a team studied four vervet monkey groups at a game reserve in South Africa for two years. They observed that after a skirmish with a rival gang, usually over food, females would groom males that had fought hardest, while snapping at those that abstained.

Comment: Goal: No chimp pansies.