Watch a team of autonomous quadrotors build a tower structure

At the end of May last year we posted up a video of a quadrotor helicopter capable of aggressive movement. The movement was so accurate that the quadrotor could fly through a window at speed with less than 3-inches of clearance and at multiple angles. It could also do multiple flips while retaining full movement control, and land on angled surfaces (even upside down) using a Velcro pad as an anchor.
The project was headed up by David Mellinger at the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab. Since then work has continued with the quadrotors to make them more useful. The latest development is teams of quadrotors working together to build structures with a new gripper attached to their underside.
The quadrotors have been programmed to pick up and use parts of a framework to build a tower structure. Each end of the frame sections has a strong magnet allowing it to stay in place if positioned correctly next to other frame sections. The quadrotors just have to accurately place the framework in either a horizontal or vertical position.
Once positioned they check a piece is secure with a “yawing moment” which attempts to twist the section. If it remains in place then the quadrotor determines it is positioned correctly and moves on. If it moves out of place it obviously isn’t secure and the quadrotor tries to position it again.
The accuracy the quadrotors have in picking up and placing the frame sections is impressive enough, but they can also work as a team. Each quadrotor can keep track of the others that form part of the team working on a given structure and navigate around them. This drastically speeds up the construction of a tower.
Read more at BotJunkie
Matthew’s Opinion
The important technology on display here is the accuracy of the quadrotors and the ability for them to work together. In their current small form the potential for them carrying objects is limited, but there’s nothing to say the quadrotors couldn’t be scaled up and made to carry much larger cargo.
The one limiting factor of the quadrotors is their battery life. But with such accurate movement it shouldn’t be difficult for them to navigate to and land on a charging pad. With teams of quadrotors working together recharges could be handled in such a way that there is always an active group of quadrotors working.

Absolutely fascinating to watch, robotics continues to advance at an almost frightening pace.


Covering Climate Change | Worldwatch Institute

Ups and Downs
Before Climategate, most reporters and editors stopped covering climate change as a scientific controversy, but the episode tested whether journalists truly understood climate science. The widespread willingness to regard it as a matter of political debate, with two sides deserving equal attention, reflected a lack of journalistic progress.
In the science community, many criticized news coverage for succumbing to the back-and-forth debates adored by climate change deniers. “It was a total manipulation. The press reacted like lemmings – they jumped on it and it’s a non-issue,” said Columbia University paleoclimatologist Peter deMenocal.
Such poor scientific awareness, common throughout newsrooms, is not likely to improve anytime soon. Economically faltering news organizations across the industrialized world have downsized staff, shrunk content, and reduced coverage. PriceWaterhouseCoopers expects the global newspaper market to undergo a 2-percent annual decline through 2013 as advertisers spend their money elsewhere and readers turn to free online content. Although media markets are prospering in some places, such as India and Latin America, most European and U.S. print, broadcast, and radio newsrooms are grappling with smaller budgets.
Recent layoff trends in the media market suggest that science and environment reporters are often the first to lose their jobs. CNN, for instance, laid off its entire science and technology staff in 2008. In the United States, two decades ago nearly 150 newspapers included a science section; today fewer than 20 do. The remaining reporters are expected to cover stories such as climate change along with their regular reporting duties.
Many U.S. news organizations have also closed their foreign bureaus. Christian Science Monitor correspondent Jill Carroll counted 141 U.S. newspaper foreign reporters in 2006, 47 fewer than in 2002 and likely many more than today. They instead practice “parachute journalism,” temporarily traveling abroad to cover breaking news in places where they often lack the background, sources, or cultural sensitivities necessary to provide a fully contextualized story.
While CNN still managed 33 foreign bureaus as of 2008, most broadcast news organizations have shuttered international operations. “All broadcasters had bureaus in all the major cities. That just doesn’t happen anymore,” said Judy Muller, a former correspondent for National Public Radio and ABC News. “Africa is usually covered by stringers – that’s a whole continent!”
Worldwide, however, climate change coverage is on the rise. A 50-newspaper survey across 20 countries by University of Colorado and Oxford University researchers found “climate change” or “global warming” mentioned in about 400 stories in January 2004, mostly in the European, North American, Australian, and New Zealand press. Following the 2006 releases of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and British economist Nicholas Stern’s report on the cost of climate change inaction, coverage increased considerably. The survey found some 2,000 stories, on average, each January from 2007 through 2009, with an increase in reports from Asia and the Middle East.
Despite the increase in science and environment stories, in-depth coverage of scientific developments, technology solutions, and political responses is decreasing by the day. The Baltimore Sun, for example, has reduced its news staff and the size of its print edition significantly in recent years. As a result, the Pew Research Center observed that the newspaper produced 32 percent fewer stories on any subject last year compared to 1999 and 73 percent fewer than in 1991. Tim Wheeler, a longtime environment reporter at The Sun, must find a local angle to justify writing a national or international story. One proposed story (Maryland-based scientists who were conducting climate-related research in the Bering Sea) was quashed last year due to the expense.
“Unless current conditions change,” Wheeler told me, “I do worry that the public won’t get enough credible, independent information about the climate legislation pending in the Senate or other climate-related issues to make really informed judgments.”


A really great video from the Post Carbon Institute… a little history, and some humor. Some of the comments on the YouTube page come from rabid attack dogs, but that seems to be common for all YouTube videos these days.
Have a look at it here, or follow the link to the YouTube page.
Definitely a nice roll up of the information.

Testimony wasn’t about science – JSOnline

I generally hate to stretch the bounds of “Fair Use policies”, but I’m indulging my personal paranoia and quoting the entire article from the Milwaukee-Wisconson Journal Sentinel, on the off chance that this opinion piece should suddenly vanish. I really appreciated the point of view discussed, as did The Guardian Environment in the UK that provided the link to this article. Think of this as a sort of electronic “clipping” of an article I thought was worth keeping for future reference.
By the way, many of us out here refer to Christopher Monckton, as “Lord Crazy-pants”. Here’s a snippet from a backgrounder :

Christopher Walter Monckton is a retired British international business consultant, policy advisor, writer, and inventor. He served as an advisor to Margaret Thatcher and has attracted controversy for his public opposition to the mainstream scientific consensus on global warming and climate change. He is not a scientist and has no formal science background. Instead, his educational background is in the classics and he holds a diploma in Journalism from the University College, Cardiff.
In 1982 Monckton became a policy advisor for Margaret Thatcher. In 1986, he became assistant editor of the newly established, and now defunct, newspaper Today. He was a consulting editor for the Evening Standard from 1987 to 1992 and was its chief leader-writer from 1990 to 1992.
Although he has in the past stated that he is “a member of the Upper House of the United Kingdom legislature,” Monckton has never been a member of either the House of Lords or the House of Commons.

Sensenbrenner’s little piece of political theatre was only able to survive with collusion from his like minded conspirators within Congress. In my opinion, none of them are worthy of the titles or offices they occupy, and their behaviour is worthy of censure from the respective bodies. But that’s not how politics is “played” these days, logic and reason seem to have no place in the US Legislature any longer. See the post that I’m ranting about below:

Testimony wasn’t about science

Recently, 26 highly respected scientists submitted a document to Congress that responded to the testimony of Christopher Monckton before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is a member of the committee. The report reaffirmed that humans are causing substantial changes to the Earth’s climate.
Why would these scientists take the time to submit a lengthy report in response to a single congressional witness? The answer is that by inviting Monckton to testify, Sensenbrenner – making the invitation on behalf of the minority party on the committee – made a mockery of the time-honored tradition of inviting expert testimony to inform legislative decisions. Monckton is not distinguished by his scientific credentials (he has none), nor by the many peer-reviewed articles he has written on the subject (he has written none). Nevertheless, he was invited to testify to Congress as an “expert.”
Monckton’s testimony was in sharp disagreement with many major scientific organizations and the vast majority (more than 95%) of climate scientists. What does Monckton know that climate scientists don’t? The answer is not much. In fact, the report outlined nine key errors of Monckton’s testimony in stark detail. From start to finish, Monckton’s misunderstanding of even basic scientific principles was evident.
Witnesses should not be invited based on ideology; invitations should be based on the quality of their scientific work. Monckton’s appearance in the halls of Congress is an embarrassment to our Congress and our nation.
Unfortunately, Sensenbrenner and a number of his colleagues have a history of ignoring scientists with relevant backgrounds in favor of easily debunked pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. On Dec. 4, 2009, for example, Sensenbrenner stated that scientists “found a trick to hide the decline in temperature data.”
Later, Sensenbrenner read the text from the supposed “offending” e-mail. The text did not indicate that scientists hid a “decline in temperature data” as Sensenbrenner suggested. In fact, the e-mail was written in 1999, on the heels of the warmest temperatures on record. The author of the e-mail was referring to a well-known problem that had been described more than a year earlier – that certain tree-ring records do not provide reliable information about temperatures in recent decades.
The e-mail was discussing the fact that recent temperatures were rising faster than those tree rings suggested.
There is a larger point that goes to the heart of what it means to have a truly honest discussion of the science. By focusing on, and misrepresenting, a single phrase cherry-picked from one of thousands of stolen e-mails, Sensenbrenner conveniently avoided acknowledging the subsequent body of work by the scientific community over the past decade, including a thorough review of climate research that allow temperatures to be known many centuries back in time.
That review, conducted by a board of the National Academy of Sciences, completely vindicated the work alluded to in the aforementioned 10-year-old e-mail. It establishes that the rise in global temperatures over the past century is unprecedented for at least the past thousand years and likely far longer. Such findings are just one small part of a much larger and compelling body of evidence that humans are causing the climate to change in ways that are dangerous to future generations.
The issue of climate change has become so politicized that no substantial action has been possible. Meanwhile, the Earth is rushing toward a point of no return.
We believe that people on both sides of the political spectrum need to act quickly, and together, in order to take effective action. Conservatives must realize that denial of scientific results that do not conform to ideological or political positions should not be a litmus test for their representatives. They also need to realize that the science behind climate change is well-established among the real scientists. Continued denial of climate science likely will become a political liability in the near future.
Liberals must recognize that many of their conservative counterparts have deep-seated, and in many cases, well-reasoned fears about regulation-based solutions. They also must realize that not all conservatives are anti-science and anti-environment. The discussion we need to have is, “What is the best way to move forward?”
Ray Weymann is from Carnegie Observatory and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. John Abraham is from University of St. Thomas. Barry Bickmore is from Brigham Young University. Michael Mann is from Penn State University. Winslow Briggs is from Carnegie Institute for Science and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

This opinion piece is fairly short, and definitely worth a read. You can also find the 48 page PDF file of the scientific review on the Skeptical Science site.

Greenland Faces Tipping Point For 23 Foot Sea Level Rise

Why is this not all over the evening news?

When a gigantic 100 square mile ice island broke away from Greenland at the beginning of August, during what scientists are calling the hottest year so far globally on record, Congressman Ed Markey invited scientists to testify on the largest such event in nearly 50 years before the House committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
If the ice on Greenland melts, scientists have long said that there will be a 23 feet rise in sea levels submerging coastal cities like Los Angeles, London and New Orleans. The scientists testifying this month told Rep. Markey’s committee, Greenland could reach a tipping point, causing it to melt, once the world’s average temperatures rise 2 degrees celsius (3.6 degrees fahrenheit), which one of them said could happen within the next decade.
Why has the US media ignored Dr. Richard B. Alley, Dr. Robert Bindschadler, and Dr. Andreas Muenchow testify about the melting of Greenland's Petermann glacier and rising temperatures in the Arctic?
The US media has completely ignored this testimony, all through August, and now, all through September. It should be household knowledge by now. It is not.
The hearing was held by Rep. Markey (D) who chairs the House committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
According to the UK Guardian,  Richard Alley, a geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University, testified …
“Sometime in the next decade we may pass that tipping point which would put us warmer than temperatures that Greenland can survive,” adding that a rise in the range of 2 degrees celsius to 7 degrees celsius would mean the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet -which is about 8,400 feet of ice.
Low-lying cities around the planet from Hong Kong to New York would be submerged.
“What is going on in the Arctic now is the biggest and fastest thing that nature has ever done,” said Richard Alley,  a geo-sciences professor at Pennsylvania State University.
Robert Bindschadler, a research scientist at the University of Maryland, cautioned “While we don’t believe it is possible to lose an ice sheet within a decade, we do believe it is possible to reach a tipping point in a few decades in which we would lose the ice sheet in a century.”
Climate change is truly a risk to the human race unlike any we have ever faced. I read of this hearing in an English newspaper – the UK Guardian. And even that news was almost immediately greeted with the usual jeers by deniers in the comment sections, who behave as if it is their job is to get in fast and poison the discourse on climate change. It’s almost as if deniers are paid to pounce anytime a climate change story breaks in major news outlets, with their prompt response.
The otherwise inexplicable US media silence on this news is the result of a concerted effort by the only industry that is threatened by a switch to clean energy (the dirty energy industry). Will we just fade from this planet, a has-been race, after just 200,000 years, without our journalists in the US even telling you this news?
Do your job US journalists!

Well, if the MSM won’t do its job, we should.

‘Dry Water’? Anyone know what it is?

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This article posted 25 August 2010 on the news service site is pretty intriguing.  It tends to make me wonder a couple of things.  How many of our discoveries that we have left behind should be resurrected?  And how do we figure out what we forgot?

‘Dry water’ could make a big splash commercially

An unusual substance known as “dry water,” which resembles powdered sugar, could provide a new way to absorb and store carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, scientists reported today at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.
‘Dry water’ (image from website
Credit: Ben Carter)

It’s a big step from cosmetics to carbon sequestration, and has lots of hidden issues.  For instance, how much does it cost, energy wise, to create ‘Dry water’?  Or to put it another way, do we have an idea of what the carbon footprint is for creating the powder?

Putting all that aside, it’s a fascinating idea, and should not be left behind to be re-‘discovered’ again in the future.  Professor Carter and his team are looking for help to take this idea further.  Any takers?

Carter noted that he and his colleagues are seeking commercial or academic collaboration to further develop the dry water technology. The U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Center for Materials Discovery provided funding and technical support for this study.