Month: August 2011
Researchers at Carlos III University of Madrid’s (UC3M) Robotics lab are participating in the international research project known as HANDLE. The objective of the project is to create a robotic hand that can reproduce the abilities and movements of a human hand in order to achieve the optimal manipulation of objects.
HANDLE is a large scale “Integrated Project” that is part of the Seventh European Framework Programme FP7; Spain is a participant in the project, whose goal is to reach an understanding of how humans manipulate objects in order to replicate its grasping and movement abilities in an artificial, anthropomorphic articulated hand, thus endowing it with greater autonomy and producing natural and effective movements. “In addition to the desired technological advances, we are working with basic aspects of multidisciplinary research in order to give the robotic hand system advanced perception capabilities, high level information control and elements of intelligence that would allow it to recognize objects and the context of actions,” explains the head researcher on the UC3M team working on this project, Mohamed Abderrahim, of the Madrid university’s Department of Systems Engineering and Automation.
His team has already gotten very good results, in his opinion, in the areas of visual perception, and cinematic and dynamic systems, which allow the system to recognize an object in its surroundings and pass the information on to the robotic hand’s planning and movement system.
The robotic hand that these researchers are working with is mostly made up of numerous high precision pieces of mechanized aluminum and plastic, as well as sensor and movement systems. In all, it has 20 actuators and can make 24 movements, the same as a human hand. Its size is also the same as that of an average adult male’s hand and it weighs approximately 4 kilograms. According to the partner in the project who manufactures the hand, the approximate cost of the version that is currently in development at UC3M comes to about 115,000 euros.
The problems involved in imitating a hand
When trying to recreate the movements of a human hand with a robotic system, there are several complex problems that must be resolved. In the first place, there is a lack of space. This is because “a human hand is incredibly complete, which makes it a challenge to try to put all of the necessary pieces into the robotic hand and to integrate all of the actuators that allow for mobility similar to that of a human hand,” comments Professor Mohamed Abderrahim. Second, another problem is that there are currently no sensors on the market that are small enough to be integrated into the device so that it can have sensitivity similar to that of a human hand and, thus, be able to make precise movements. Finally, although the researchers may manage to make a perfect robot from the mechanical and sensorial point of view, without intelligence elements the device will not be able to function autonomously nor adapt its movements and control to the characteristics of the objects, such as their geometry, texture, weight or use.
“It is not the same to take hold of a screwdriver to pass it to someone, or to put it away, as it is to use it, because in the last situation, it has to be reoriented in the hand until it is in the right position to be used. This position has to be decided by the intelligence part of the robotic hand,” the researchers say. “A robotic hand that is able to perform this seemingly simple task autonomously,” they say “only exists in science fiction movies.” “My personal estimation is that it will take around 15 years of research into these areas to build a robotic hand that is able to perform certain complex tasks with a level of precision, autonomy and dexterity that is similar to that of a human hand,” predicts Professor Abderrahim.
The research carried out by the HANDLE project’s partners has brought about results that are very interesting in the area of visual perception, motion planning, new sensors, acquisition of motor skills using artificial intelligence techniques, etc. Nevertheless, important challenges still remain when it comes to integrating the results obtained by all of the partners into a single system, which will be the result of the next two years of work.
HANDLE (Developmental pathway towards autonomy and dexterity in robot in-hand manipulation) is a Large Scale “Integrated Project” funded by the European Union within The Seventh Framework Programme FP7, in which nine European institutions, coordinated by the Pierre and Marie Curie University of Paris (France), participate.
HZB scientists observe how a material at room temperature exhibits a unique property — a „multiferroic” material with potential uses for cheap and quick data storage.
Researchers at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) in close collaboration with colleagues in France and UK, have engineered a material that exhibits a rare and versatile trait in magnetism at room temperature. It’s called a “multiferroic,” and it means that the material has properties allowing it to be both electrically charged (ferroelectric) and also the ability to be magnetic (ferromagnetic), with its magnetisation controlled by electricity.
This research was based around a material known as barium titanate (BaTiO3), a ferroelectric crystal that is promising to have potential uses in multi-state data storage while being cost effective. Their paper titled, “Interface-induced room-temperature multiferroicity in BaTiO3″ appears now in Nature Materials.
“We’ve shown a way where you can obtain a multiferroic at room temperature,” said Sergio Valencia, post doc researcher at HZB, referring to the scarcity of room temperature examples. “Barium titanate is ferromagnetic, so it means you have a net-magnetic moment you can really control by an electric field. The idea is that you can apply a voltage to the ferroelectric reversing the ferroelectric polarization which in turn affects the magnetization of your film [BaTiO3].
You can use this for example to write bits of information in memories of computers by only applying voltages, which is much cheaper in terms of power than traditionally applying magnetic fields.”
It is this ability to control the material’s magnetism and to be able to do it at room temperatures which makes this multiferroic potentially more cost-effective compared to other current multiferroic materials, which require complex arrangements to work.
Finding these two traits of ferromagnetic and ferroelectric working together in a compound is tricky due to the strange love-hate relationship exhibited by the two phenomena. What a ferromagnetic requires to exist is not the same as what a ferroelectric requires. Yet strangely, the two compliment each other and share a strong relationship, where one affects the other. The scarcity of these multiferroics however, is a result of this unique phenomenon combined with the few naturally occurring examples. “They are scarce and the problem is that most of them are multiferroic only at very low temperatures,” added Valencia. “Therefore they are not useful for applications. If you have to go to -270 °C for a multiferroic then it’s really complicated and expensive to implement them in room temperature working devices.”
The researchers witnessed this multiferroic behaviour by investigating magnetic moments of Titanium (Ti) and Oxygen (O) atoms in BaTiO3 by using BESSY II synchrotron radiation source of Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.
They used a research method known as soft X-ray resonant magnetic scattering. The team was able to witness the dual traits of both ferroelectric and ferromagnetic in the thin films of BaTiO3. And since BaTiO3 is a non-magnetic ferroelectric material at room temperature, the ferromagnetism was induced by proximity to natural ferromagnets such as iron (Fe) and Cobalt (Co). In order to achieve these results the researchers deposited a ten atom thin film of iron and cobalt on top of a four atom thin BaTiO3 film. “These small thicknesses are indeed required for the implementation of such materials in devices to keep their small size,” added Valencia
Surprisingly, transmitting information-rich photons thousands of miles through fiber-optic cable is far easier than reliably sending them just a few nanometers through a computer circuit. However, it may soon be possible to steer these particles of light accurately through microchips because of research performed at the Joint Quantum Institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland, together with Harvard University.
The scientists behind the effort say the work not only may lead to more efficient information processors on our desktops, but also could offer a way to explore a particularly strange effect of the quantum world known as the quantum Hall effect in which electrons can interfere with themselves as they travel in a magnetic field. The corresponding physics is rich enough that its investigation has already resulted in three Nobel Prizes, but many intriguing theoretical predictions about it have yet to be observed.
The advent of optical fibers a few decades ago made it possible for dozens of independent phone conversations to travel long distances along a single glass cable by, essentially, assigning each conversation to a different color-each narrow strand of glass carrying dramatic amounts of information with little interference.
Ironically, while it is easy to send photons far across a town or across the ocean, scientists have a harder time directing them to precise locations across short distances-say, a few hundred nanometers-and this makes it difficult to employ photons as information carriers inside computer chips.
“We run into problems when trying to use photons in microcircuits because of slight defects in the materials chips are made from,” says Jacob Taylor, a theoretical physicist at NIST and JQI. “Defects crop up a lot, and they deflect photons in ways that mess up the signal.”
These defects are particularly problematic when they occur in photon delay devices, which slow the photons down to store them briefly until the chip needs the information they contain. Delay devices are usually constructed from a single row of tiny resonators, so a defect among them can ruin the information in the photon stream. But the research team perceived that using multiple rows of resonators would build alternate pathways into the delay devices, allowing the photons to find their way around defects easily.
As delay devices are a vital part of computer circuits, the alternate-pathway technique may help overcome obstacles blocking the development of photon-based chips, which are still a dream of computer manufacturers. While that application would be exciting, lead author Mohammad Hafezi says the prospect of investigating the quantum Hall effect with the same technology also has great scientific appeal.
“The photons in these devices exhibit the same type of interference as electrons subjected to the quantum Hall effect,” says Hafezi, a research associate at JQI. “We hope these devices will allow us to sidestep some of the problems with observing the physics directly, instead allowing us to explore them by analogy.”
Epson Korea has been hit by a massive data breach, involving the personal information of 350,000 registered customers.
Hackers broke into Epson Korea’s computer systems, and stole information including passwords, phone numbers, names, and email addresses of customers who had registered with the company.
A warning message was posted to the Epson Korea website, and computer users who believe that may have been affected are advised to change their passwords as soon as possible.
Although you may not care very much if someone can log into your account at Epson, you certainly will care if they can also use the same password to access your other online accounts. Once again, we find ourselves having to reminder users to get into the habit of using different passwords for different websites.
Malicious hackers could clearly use the information they have stolen in targeted attacks against Epson customers, including spammed-out malware attacks (perhaps posing as driver updates for Epson products) or phishing campaigns. The fact that the hackers have their hands on other personal information belonging to Epson’s customers can make any such attack all the more believable.
The Epson data breach is the latest in a series of hard-hitting attacks to have struck South Korean internet users in recent months, the most notable being when a staggering 35 million social networking users had their personal information stolen last month.