Friday, March 30, 2012

Robotic Exoskeleton

The robotic exoskeleton has been a mainstay of science fiction for as long as I can remember. Popular renditions include comic book icon Iron Man, Halo's MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor, and the Power Loader Sigourney Weaver used in the movie Aliens.  Being a fan of Japanese anime, my personal preference  would be something more along the lines of the Robotech Cyclone pictured below.  I mean, who wouldn't want a motorcycle which turns into a suit of protective power armor?

As with much of our currently realized technology, science fiction writers & artist first dream it, then the scientist, technicians and engineers build it.  This seems to be true with the exoskeleton as well.  The first true attempt at a robotic exoskeleton was undertaken by General Electric in the 1960s.  The suit, named Hardiman, was designed to mimic natural movements and to provide the wearer with enough strength to lift up to 1500 lbs. Unfortunately , Hardiman’s size, weight, and lack of stability, kept the machine from functioning properly and   as a result the project never went beyond an experimental prototype.  

Though initial attempts at a working exoskeleton were not successful, continued efforts in the field have resulted in some truly amazing devices.  

Medical Uses
Rex Bionics
Rex is a robotic exoskeleton worn alongside the legs which is able to help mobility impaired users to walk again.  The system is operated with a control pad and joystick thus allowing someone who has lost all movements in the lower limbs to use the device.  It weighs 84 pounds and costs about $150,000 (ouch).

eLegs is a similar device to the Rex except that in addition to the mechanical legs, a set of crutches containing sensors are used to control it's movements.  In exchange for tying up both arms with crutches, it seems as if users are able to move much faster with eLegs than with Rex.  It ways about 45 pounds and cost $100,000.

Military Uses
The HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) is a lower body exoskeleton which enables the user to carry up to 200 pounds with little effort and to run up to 10 mph (a 6 min mile) for short bursts.   Like the above devices, HULC doesn't do anything to enhance arm strength but is still pretty cool.

Now we are getting to the really cool stuff.  The XOS 2 by Raytheon is an impressive full body exoskeleton which essentially provides the wearer with superhuman strength and endurance.  The suit enables a 17:1 lifting ratio, so lifting 200 pounds feel more like 12 pounds.  As the video demonstrates, the suit seems quite responsive and maneuverable.

Mixed Use
HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) developed by the Japanese company Cyberdyne,  comes in two forms.  The HAL 3 is strictly a lower body exoskeleton while the HAL 5 is a full body system.  Sensors on the skin are used to control the suits fluid movements.  Currently HAL 5 allows the user to lift and carry about 5 times as much weight as he or she normally could. The HAL 5 weighs about 50 pounds and depending on the source, I have seen it priced somewhere between $14,000 to $50,000 (substantially less than the other suits).  Most important is that the suit looks very cool, but what would you expect from the Japanese.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Google Augmented Reality Glasses

Rumors afoot that Google has plans to announce the release of a pair of augmented reality glasses by the end of the year.  The glasses will be able to provide the wearer with information about people, places and things viewed & entertainment such as, well, who knows what they will come up with.

Some articles indicate that the glasses will be used with the android smart phone while others believe it will be a stand alone item.  Sources say that the glasses will look similar to the Oakley Thump glasses pictured below.
So what might it be like wearing augmented reality glasses?  Maybe it will be similar to what is shown in this fictitious product advertisement video which was part of the Iron Man 2 marketing campaign.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sand Art of Andres Amador

The beautiful sand designs of San Francisco area artist Andres Amador.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Brain Teaser 7

In which direction is the bus bellow travelling?
The only possible answers are left or right.

Answer below.
I got this one from  It took me about 5 minutes to figure out, but I wouldn't have gotten it if it weren't for the sentence "The only possible answers are left or right".  This of course forces you to choose either left or right, since the phrasing indicates that the answer can not be either way.  The answer is that the bus is travelling toward the left.  The reason?  You can't see the door in this picture, so it must be on the other side.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


RUIN is a sci-fi short created by OddBall Animation.  I like that the main character somewhat resembles Hiro Protagonist from the cyberpunk novel Snow Crash.  Anyway, check it out.  It will probably be the best 8 minutes of your day.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Entitlement Mindset

I really don't have to say anything. I only have to quote Amanda. When asked if she felt it was ethically ok to continue using food stamps after winning the $1,000,000 lottery she said "maybe it was ok because I'm not working". She followed up with "I feel that it's okay because I mean, I have no income and I have bills to pay,I have two houses."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

3D Printer Creates Lower Jaw Implant

Some time ago I posted this video showing the development of what has been referred to as a 3D printer.

Now LayerWise, a Belgium based company that specializes in selective laser melting to produce custom metal parts (3D printing), has built the world's first patient specific lower jaw using laser technology.  The new jaw is made of Titanium and is custom made to fit the patient's bone structure, nerves and muscles.  Quite remarkable use of this new technology.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Halo Effect

The halo effect is a cognitive bias where one's general assessment of another person or thing is influenced (positively or negatively) by one strong characteristic or trait.  For instance, if we perceive a person as being good at A (A being a trait we approve of), we are likely to assume that they are also good at B, C, and D.

The halo effect was first coined in the 1920's by psychologist Edward Thorndike.  He conducted a study where he had two military commanding officers evaluate various qualities of their soldiers categorized within four general groups: 1) Physical Qualities, 2) Intellect, 3) Leadership Skills, 4) Personal Qualities.  The results were that the officers generally rated a soldier as either good in all four areas or bad in all four areas.  Few were rated highly in one area and low in another.

Many later researchers have conducted studies which have supported Thorndike's findings. One study demonstrates the power that one particular characteristic can have on our thinking; that of beauty.  The study was conducted in 1972 by Dion, Berscheid & Walster at the University of Minnesota.  They showed 60 subjects pictures of three different people (an attractive, an average and an unattractive person) and asked them to rate the individuals in the photos in several different areas including personality traits, overall happiness and career success.  The results were that those with attractive faces were judged to be superior in all areas compared to those seen as unattractive or of average looks.  It was concluded that the ratings were the result of the 'What is Beautiful is Good' stereotype, which is essentially a type of halo effect. (1)


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Library Concept: Olivier Charles

This concept was created by architect Olivier Charles for an International Competition of Architecture, for the Stockholm Public Library. Though he did not win the competition, the image did win him the Expose 7 master award for interior architecture.  Very cool.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Virtual Computers

I have been wanting to get one of these virtual keyboards for some time now, but I am waiting until the price drops a bit more.

This got me wondering, if the technology to create a virtual laser keyboard exists, why not a virtual projected tablet computer?  I started to do some research and found this small UK company which has developed exactly this kind of technology.  The company is called Light Blue Optics and the product is "an interactive projector that instantly transforms any flat surface into a touch screen."  

Though not yet available to the general public, it is an impressive demonstration of some very interesting technology.  You can find more information at the company's website