The technology to turn a digital spec into an actual piece of molded plastic has been around for a number of years now. But, as is the way of all technology, the price of that technology continues to plummet. Believe it or not, the printer shown here is available from a company called Desktop Factory for only $5000, about the price of the earliest laser printers.
This printer will take an AutoCAD-like spec and produce a simple, contiguous plastic piece, such as this one:
I want one!!!! First thing I’d do is make some Lego compatible pieces. Imagine the fun you could have with this and a Lego Mindstorms robotics kit…
This is remarkable. Dutch artist Theo Jansen has been working on his wind-powered Rhino robots for much of his adult life. The video below shows one in motion. Reminds me of the Star Wars AT-AT Walkers. Lumbering.
It takes a massive amount of money and power to place a satellite or other object in geosynchronous orbit. Currently, this task is performed by one of our aging shuttles. One theory, originally proposed by Arthur Clarke in his 1979 novel “The Fountains of Paradise” and currently being heavily researched by NASA is that a very thin, very strong cable can be used as the basis for a space elevator that can drag goods and people from the ground up into a space platform, all at a relatively negligible cost.
One key to making the space elevator a reality is the ability to beam power to a climbing object. Many people are working on solving this problem, spurred on mostly by a $2 million NASA sponsored contest, wherein contestants must guide their robots up a 2,953 foot cable dangled from a helicopter and back down again.
I have to say, I love this device. It’s a bit like the Segway, but with a unidirectional feel, as if you were rolling on a ball bearing. I can see a human transport device here, but I think the implications are even greater for robotics. In fact, this drive came out of research Honda did for their ASIMO robot…
Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist with a gift for drawing crazy, complex mechanisms that use outlandish means to accomplish simple tasks. Here’s a sketch of his “Simple Flyswatter”:
I’ve always been a fan of his work, as well as of the work he inspired. I can’t even imagine how long it took this RG-wannabee to build the contraption in the video below. But I wish I could have been there to watch it work…
From Allen, this video shows the astonishing speed and precision now in production for robotic hands. To me, the most amazing part of this video is “dynamic holding”. Watch the slow motion shot of the hand dribbling a small ball. You can actually see the hand adjusting very quickly to hit the ball at the proper angle.
This video shows ASIMO, a humanoid robot built by Honda. The folks in the CMU robotics lab equipped ASIMO with an obstacle avoidance package. One of the coolest things shown in this video is the ability of ASIMO to track moving targets, calculate obstacle trajectories and predict future movements. Subtle stuff, but very powerful…
Check out the Sudoku Magic iPhone app from Magic Solver. It uses computer vision to detect and then resolve a sudoku puzzle embedded in any picture.
Here’s an example, clipped from my Saturday newspaper:
I used my iPhone 3GS to take the above photo. Next, I launched Sudoku Magic and told it to capture a sudoku from this photo. For a human, picking out the sudoku from this image is a piece of cake. But think about the problems you’d need to solve if you were going to write code to fish out the numbers and number placement automatically.
You’d have to suss out the border of the puzzle, identifying the bounds and correcting the skew of the puzzle (I held the camera off at an angle when I took the picture). You’d have to detect the 3×3 boxes as well as the individual boxes within each 3×3. You’d have to filter out the noise in the photo and detect the numbers in squares with numbers. Each of these tasks is daunting and requires some pretty sophisticated mathematical analysis.
Sudoku Magic does an amazing job. Even with this skewed, low contrast image, it was able to properly identify the puzzle and correctly identify each of the numbers. Here’s the results of this particular effort:
As you can see, the puzzle pulled from the original photo matches perfectly. Now it’s time to play. And, if you get stuck, you can press the Solve button, but that’s kind of cheating, no?
Sudoku Magic is terrific, deserves 5 stars, no doubt. But I did find a bug in the version I tested. I took a screenshot of a web-based Sudoku puzzle and took a picture of the puzzle on my display. This resulted in slight Moiré patterns on the image I submitted to Sudoku Magic. No matter how many times I tried to retake the picture, those pesky Moiré patterns proved too much for Sudoku Magic.
When I tweeted my problem, the folks at Magic Solver were quick to respond and promised a fix very soon. Score another 5 stars for customer support!
I love this app. It does so much more than simply jumble together various iPhone interface elements. There’s complex science at work here. Bravo!