Archive for January, 2007

Is That a Robot! In Your Pocket (Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?)

January 27, 2007

cricket microbot

Robots are getting smaller–micro-robots, or microbots as they are called. Small and almost invisible, but with good optics. It is not impossible that you are being watched by a robot at this very moment. Especially if you are a terrorist.

Israel is developing a robot the size of a hornet to attack terrorists. And although the prototype will not fly for three years, killer Micro Air Vehicles, or MAVs, are much closer than that.British Special Forces already use 6-inch MAV aircraft called WASPs for reconnaissance in Afghanistan. The $3,000 WASP is operated with a Gameboy-style controller and is nearly silent, so it can get very close without being detected. A new development will reportedly see the WASP fitted with a C4 explosive warhead for kamikaze attacks on snipers. One newspaper dubbed it “The Talibanator.” Source.

Other engineers are developing microbots for exploring difficult to access caves and other planets.

In Phase I, we wanted to focus on robotic units that were small, very numerous (hence expendable), largely autonomous, and that had the mobility that was needed for getting into rugged terrains. Based on Dr. Dubowsky’s ongoing work with artificial-muscle-activated robotic motion, we came up with the idea of many, many, tiny little spheres, about the size of tennis balls, that essentially hop, almost like Mexican jumping beans. They store up muscle energy, so to speak, and then they boink themselves off in various directions. That’s how they move.We’ve calculated that we could probably pack about a thousand of these guys into a payload mass the size of one of the current MERs (Mars Exploration Rovers). That would give us the flexibility to suffer the loss of a large percentage of the units and still have a network that could be doing recon and sensing, imaging, and perhaps even some other science functions.

AM: How do all these little spheres co-ordinate with each other?

PB: They behave as a swarm. They relate to each other using very simple rules, but that produces a great deal of flexibility in their collective behavior that enables them to meet the demands of unpredictable and hazardous terrain. The ultimate product that we’re envisioning is a fleet of these little guys being sent to some promising landing site, exiting from the lander and then making their way over to some subsurface or other hazardous terrain, where they deploy themselves as a network. They create a cellular communication network, on a node-to-node basis. More at Source.

You can find movies of microbots and scholarly papers here.

Here is a report discussing Micro-Air Vehicle research; for the US Air Force.

You can read about an earlier micro-copter and view a movie of the micro-bot flying here. State of the art microbots now are much smaller and potentially more letal.

If you could teach a continuously deformable microbot to fly, there is no end to the amount of mischief such a sneaky little bugger could create.


How Civilisation Can Fall

January 9, 2007

It happened before. When Rome fell, Pax Romana was ended. International trade ground to a standstill while international piracy, brigandry, and warlordism prospered. It is happening in Europe now, gradually but inexorably. Let’s look at Russia:

There are ten million people in Moscow. Do you know how many of them are Muslim? Two and a half million. Or about a quarter of the population. The ethnic Russians are older; the Muslims are younger. The ethnic Russians are already in net population decline; the Muslim population in the country has increased by 40% in the last 15 years. Seven out of ten Russian pregnancies (according to some surveys) are aborted; in some Muslim communities, the fertility rate is ten babies per woman. Russian men have record rates of heart disease, liver disease, drug addiction and Aids; Muslims are the only guys in the country who aren’t face down in the vodka.

Faced with these trends, most experts extrapolate: thus, it’s generally accepted that by mid-century the Russian Federation will be majority Muslim. But you don’t really need to extrapolate when the future’s already checking in at reception. The Toronto Star (which is Canada’s biggest-selling newspaper and impeccably liberal) recently noted that by 2015 Muslims will make up a majority of Russia’s army.


Science Fiction author Orson Scott Card looks at how civilisations can fall:

What Grant finds, though, is that an international economic system that functioned smoothly throughout the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, despite blips like the Trojan War, staggered to a complete collapse.

Starting in the late 1200s bce, a “prolonged series of destructive movements of peoples” (i.e., barbarian invasions) swept through the area. It seemed to be closely related to the fall of the Hittite empire in Asia minor, though whether the barbarian invasions toppled the Hittites, or the fall of the Hittites provided a power vacuum into which barbarians swept is hard to determine from our present vantage point.

What is unarguable is that a high level of arts and crafts staggered downward, getting shoddier all the time; meanwhile, pollen counts showed a drastic drop in crop production, suggesting an equally drastic crash in populations sustained by local farming.

Once again, as with the fall of the Roman West, there were areas that held out a little longer or that recovered more quickly. But in this case, the collapse came in an international system. In other words, it wasn’t a single empire falling, it was a mutually dependent system of neighboring nations and city-states that plunged into chaos.


In other words, an international system of economy and trade is like a house of cards that must be propped up by a protecting power. In modern times, the US protects international shipping and trade–even for its putative enemies China, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and the other increasingly rabid muslim states.

Although it is the goal of jihadis and leftists to topple “globalism” and the infidel hegemony, the end result of such a discontinuity would not be the results of a glorious revolution, or a religious utopia. It will be hell on earth, with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons being used. Although leftists would deny that this is what they are working toward, nevertheless it is.

Changing demographics is an undeniable argument. Civilisation is fragile. Only a few cultures have been able to sustain it for long–and never before has it been sustained except on the back of widespread slavery. The death of western culture will be hardest on women and the weak–children and the aged. But leftists have the best of intentions when they ally with jihadis to topple free market capitalism. Surely the hundreds of millions who will die will not be their fault? Surely.

Lagrange Points as Space Stations to Deep Space

January 6, 2007

Lagrange points are stable orbital positions in specific spatial relation to two massive orbital bodies, such as the Earth and Sol. These points were discovered by Joseph Louis Lagrange in 1772 while working on the “3 body problem.”

Nextsteps, a fascinating report on the best near term plan for space exploration, discusses the placing of a permanent human base located at Earth-Sol L2.

Final Report July 9, 2004
While the early astronomy missions to SEL2 have not been designed for human servicing and repair, this situation will surely change as the telescopes become more complex and expensive. Thus the construction and maintenance of large astronomical facilities at SEL2 may provide a compelling rationale for the initial step in a program of human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The capabilities developed to enable construction and servicing of these large facilities will be an important step toward the overall set of capabilities required to provide human access to the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, Mars, and beyond.
The table below lists some of the possible investigations and the human-assembled or serviced telescope systems they will require.

  • Investigation Candidate System

  • X-ray studies of high-energy objects (quasars, black holes)

  • Interferometric constellation of 10-meter class grazing-incidence telescopes

  • Optical and infrared studies of the deep universe and extra-solar planetary systems
  • 20-meter class cooled aperture telescope, expandable to 100-meter class with upgrades
  • including a coronagraph

  • Optical and infrared imaging of extra-solar planets

  • Multiple 20-meter class cooled apertures, expandable to 100-meters, coherently linked
  • optically over a baseline of 1000 -10000 kilometers

  • Far infrared and sub-millimeter imaging of proto-stellar gas, dust, disks, and young
  • planetary systems

  • Dual 30 meter or larger cooled (~10K or less) apertures over a 10 km interferometric
  • baseline, with narrow-band Terahertz receivers (500-1500 Ghz)

SEL2 also represents a relatively benign and low-risk destination for human space flight
development and staging. Its unique location at the edge of Earth’s gravitational influence
makes it an energy-efficient starting point for missions to deep space. Having developed the
capability to travel to SEL2 for telescope construction and servicing, astronauts at SEL2 may
also help to develop and test systems that will be used for journeys to more distant destinations. Preparing, servicing, and fueling interplanetary vehicles at SEL2 prior to their departure for NEO’s or Mars will allow us to minimize the program’s dependence on expensive new propulsion technologies and will help to reduce the total flight time an interplanetary crew must spend The value of human space flight as an enabler of
science was amply demonstrated by astronaut deployment and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hat tip, Brian Wang’s Nanotechnology Blog.