Robots prepare to invade Australia

[Credit: UNSW]

[Credit: UNSW]

Hundreds of robots will arrive in Sydney in 2019 to battle for the coveted RoboCup – the football World Cup for robots.

The RoboCup International Symposium and World Championship pits teams against each other testing AI software that drives the robots, rather than the mechanics of the robots themselves. 

“This is the ‘space race’ of robotics,” said Professor Maurice Pagnucco, Deputy Dean (Education) in Engineering and Head of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and a noted expert in artificial intelligence and cognitive robotics.

“Competition pushes advances in technologies. What we learn from robots playing soccer or navigating a maze can be applied to industry and help us solve difficult real-world problems."

He cited the example of the vision system developed by UNSW for RoboCup, which is now being used to track the hands of workers in a saw mill, to ensure the machinery avoids causing injuries.

In all leagues, robots operate fully autonomously, with no remote control by either humans or computers during games.

RoboCup aims  – by 2050 – to field a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots capable of defeating the World Cup-winning squad in a match governed by FIFA’s official rules.

More than 2,000 researchers and innovators from 50 nations will be in Sydney for RoboCup events that, on top of the soccer games, extend to search-and-rescue, caregiving assistance and other real-world scenarios.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, welcomed the win. “RoboCup will be a major event for Sydney and will be another way to spark interest nationally in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects that are so important to preparing young people for work in a rapidly-changing world.”

NASA completes polar survey Operation IceBridge

NASA Langley Research Center's Falcon 20 aircraft caputered this image from about 10,000 metres above Heimdal Glacier in southern Greenland on 13 October 2015. [Credits: NASA/John Sonntag]

NASA has completed its so-called Operation IceBridge, an airborne survey of polar ice. The mission was actually two overlapping campaigns at both ends of the Earth.

In the south the mission recorded a big drop in the height of two glaciers situated in the Antarctic Peninsula.

In the north it collected much needed measurements of the status of land and sea ice at the end of the Arctic summer melt season.

The mission has flown every year for seven years but usually it carries out separate flights to the Arctic in the spring and to Antarctica in the autumn.

This was the first time with parallel flights in the Arctic and Antarctic

“The main focus of the IceBridge North campaign was to get direct measurements of how much snow and ice has disappeared over the summer,” said John Sonntag, IceBridge mission scientist.

“The way you get a direct measurement of this is by surveying the elevation along some flight lines in the spring, doing it again in the early fall, and then comparing the data.” 

In total, the southern campaign completed 16 research flights totaling 172 hours. IceBridge South achieved extensive areal coverage from Marie Byrd Land to the Antarctic Peninsula, including the fast-changing Pine Island and Thwaites areas as well as the Bellingshausen and Weddell Seas.

In all, the mission in the south surveyed more than 150,000 square kilometres of land and sea ice.

Antarctic sea ice reached its annual maximum extent on 6 October. This video shows the evolution of the sea ice cover of the Southern Ocean from its minimum yearly extent to its peak extent. [Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center]

How eating bread help lower cholesterol

Scientists are hoping gene technology and plant breeding techniques will lead to new wheat varieties that can lower cholesterol.

They are targeting the soluble fibre called betaglucan found in barley and oat grains, but only in lower concentrations in wheat, which can reduce cholesterol reabsorption in the gut.

In wheat, the fibre is slightly different in structure as well, making it insoluble.

In order to introduce the beneficial properties to bread made from wheat, the most popular variety, researchers at Australia's peak government science agency, the CSIRO, have taken the gene that makes betaglucan in oats and expressed it in wheat grain.

This showed we can simultaneously increase the amount of betaglucan and change its structure making it as soluble as barley betaglucan. We did this in trials using genetically modified plants, a great tool to gain knowledge. We’re using them as a small-scale means to test what’s possible and understand exactly what we need to look for when we get to the next stage which doesn’t involve genetic modification.

The research has been published in the journal Science Adavances.

Research suggests older siblings are more intelligent

New studies suggest that a person’s position among siblings has a lasting impact on their life, Ocford University's science magazine Bang! reports.

Older siblings are more likely to exhibit higher intelligence than younger ones. 

In 2015, over 20,000 British, American and German citizens conducted a battery of personality tests in an observational study led by Dr Schmuckle at the University of Leipzig. They concluded personality, including emotional stability, agreeableness and imagination, is not affected by the position we have in a sibling group, contrary to the long-standing stereotype. Despite this, they exhibited slight intelligence differences – older children tended to be smarter than their younger siblings. First-born children were more likely to agree they are “quicker to understand things” than younger siblings. They had richer vocabulary and outdid younger siblings on abstract understanding problems.

But no one is quite sure why this should be although there has been speculation that a higher social rank plays some role.

And as a consolation to younger siblings, a research team at Queen’s University Belfast, found that siblings born first exhibited a higher risk of developing Type 1 diabetes than those born second, third or later.

Foods that make you fart are good for you

The production of gas means that your body is hosting the right kinds of bacteria in your microbiome, an Australian scientists says.

Dr Trevor Lockett, Head of the Gut Health and Nutrition Group at the country's peak government science agency, says we should encourage these "good bugs" by eating more fibre.

“Fermentable components of dietary fibre have a critical role in feeding the gut microbiome,” he told Bugs, Bowels and Beyond, the 2015 National Scientific Conference of the Australian Society for Medical Research held in Adelaide, South Australia this week.

Recent findings describe how different dietary components influence the microbiome, and determine their production of not just gas, but also molecules that are beneficial in the large intestine.  

“For example, we know now that bacteria living in the large intestine produce a short chain fatty acid known as butyrate, which can reduce inflammation by stimulating regulatory immune cells,” Lockett said.

Resistant starches tend to make it through digestive processes in the stomach and small intestine to feed the microbiome in the large intestine. Unrefined whole grains, pulses and legumes, unripe bananas and cooked and cooled foods such as potatoes, pasta and rice are goods sources.


Hubble captures a galaxy exhausted by its formation through merger

[Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt]

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope caught this curious galaxy, the result of a merger of two smaller ones. The process has left millions of stars in its wake, looking like a fine mist.

The process has also left the galaxy – known by the cumbersome code 2MASX J16270254+4328340 – exhausted and unable to produce new stars.

Earlier in the merger, various clouds of gas within the two galaxies collapsed, triggering an eruption of star formation. With this gas now exhausted, the galaxy has no material to produce new stars.

As the newly formed, but aged galaxy goes on, its stars will redden and eventually begin to cool and dim one by one. With no future generations of stars to take their place, the galaxy thus begins a steady path of fading.

Reusable rocket touches down for the first time

A rocket belonging to Blue Origin, the private-spaceflight company owned by Jeff Bezos, has for the first time successfully taken off vertically, left the Earth’s atmosphere and entered space, and successfully landed intact and vertically.

The rocket, called Blue Shepard, has effectively won a race with Space X, the aerospace firm owned by Elon Musk.

Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket has so far failed two attempts to land safely on its barge in the ocean.

Musk was quick to point out that the Blue Origin rocket had not entered orbit, as Space X's Falcon 9 did.


Toyota's fuel cell car faces stiff headwinds

The very first 2016 Mirai fuel cell sedan has landed in the United States. To date, California is the only U.S. state where people can buy or lease the fuel cell auto. (Photo : Angela Weiss | Getty Images)

The very first 2016 Mirai fuel cell sedan has landed in the United States. To date, California is the only U.S. state where people can buy or lease the fuel cell auto.
(Photo : Angela Weiss | Getty Images)

The 2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car has gone on sale in California but faces stiff odds odds against it's success, particularly over the few number of outlets where it can refuel and the cost of providing hydrogen infrastructure.

But few doubt the green credentials of the car, at least with respect to what comes out of the exhaust pipe.

The Mirai is basically an electric vehicle with the fuel cell charging the battery.

Electricity is generated in a fuel cell through a chemical reaction between the hydrogen fuel and oxygen. Hydrogen is supplied to the anode, or negative, electrode and ambient air to the cathode.

Toyota explains the technology on its UK blog

The fuel cell as a whole is made up of individual cells within a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) that are sandwiched between separators. The MEA consists of a polymer electrolyte membrane with positive and negative catalyst layers on either side. Each cell produces less than one volt of electricity, so hundreds of cells are connected in series to produce the required output voltage. As a whole, the combined body of cells is called a stack, or more commonly, the fuel cell unit.

A fuel cell can use almost any hydrocarbon but hydrogen’s advantage is its high energy efficiency, with the potential to convert 83% of the energy in a hydrogen molecule into electricity.

The hydrogen hydrogen reacts within the fuel cell to produce electricity to charge the battery. Leftover hydrogen ions combine with oxygen to produce water, – the Mirai’s only exhaust, which Toyota brags is safe to drink.

The video below explains in more how the system works.

The Mirai has a range of just over 500 kilometres on a full tank of hydrogen.

California is the only US state where individuals can purchase the vehicle and Toyota has sold just sold 34 units there, but has big plans.

"Our goal is to produce 30,000 units annually by 2020," said Mirai's chief engineer Yoshikazu Tanaka in an interview. "Further cost reduction is necessary to make the technology affordable and accessible."

How Mars lost its atmosphere

[Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech]

NASA has produced this graphic showing the paths by which carbon has been exchanged between Martian interior, surface rocks, polar caps, waters and atmosphere.

It also shows one mechanism by which carbon is lost from the atmosphere with a strong effect on isotope ratio. 

Carbon dioxide (CO2) to generate the Martian atmosphere originated in the planet's mantle and has been released directly through volcanoes or trapped in rocks crystallized from magmas and released later. Once in the atmosphere, the CO2 can exchange with the polar caps, passing from gas to ice and back to gas again. The CO2 can also dissolve into waters, which can then precipitate out solid carbonates, either in lakes at the surface or in shallow aquifers.
Carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere is continually lost to space at a rate controlled in part by the sun's activity.  One loss mechanism is called ultraviolet photodissociation. It occurs when ultraviolet radiation (indicated on the graphic as "hv") encounters a CO2 molecule, breaking the bonds to first form carbon monoxide (CO) molecules and then carbon (C) atoms.  The ratio of carbon isotopes remaining in the atmosphere is affected as these carbon atoms are lost to space, because the lighter carbon-12 (12C) isotope is more easily removed than the heavier carbon-13 (13C) isotope. This fractionation, the preferential loss of carbon-12 to space, leaves a fingerprint: enrichment of the heavy carbon-13 isotope, measured in the atmosphere of Mars today.

The physics of the chocolate fountain

 Adam Townsend with the chocolate fountain. [Credit: Adam Townsend/Helen Wilson]

 Adam Townsend with the chocolate fountain. [Credit: Adam Townsend/Helen Wilson]

A mathematics student has worked out the secrets of how chocolate behaves in a chocolate fountain, showing they are models for important principles of fluid dynamics.

The study shows why the falling curtain of chocolate surprisingly pulls inwards rather than going straight downwards.

Adam Townsend, the paper's author, likened the way chocolate behaves to water bells.

"You can build a water bell really easily in your kitchen" says Dr Helen Wilson, the other author of the paper, and supervisor of Townsend's project. "Just fix a pen vertically under a tap with a 10p coin flat on top and you'll see a beautiful bell-shaped fountain of water.

"Both the chocolate fountain and water bell experiments ... allow us to demonstrate several aspects of fluid dynamics, both Newtonian and non-Newtonian," she said.

"It's serious maths applied to a fun problem." continues Adam Townsend. "I've been talking about it at mathematics enrichment events around London for the last few years. If I can convince just one person that maths is more than Pythagoras' Theorem, I'll have succeeded. Of course, the same mathematics has a wide use in many other important industries - but none of them are quite as tasty as chocolate."

The study is published in the European Journal of Physics.