Tech Universe: Wednesday 17 July

By Miraz Jordan

Russia is turning to typewriters when creating top-secret documents. Photo / Thinkstock
Russia is turning to typewriters when creating top-secret documents. Photo / Thinkstock

SPY TRICKS: There's been no doubt recently that communications via the Internet or even just computers are wide open to being spied on. We still need to get messages across space and time though, and can't always hold a private conversation in a sealed room. Apparently Russia's handling this by buying electric typewriters to prepare top-secret documents. They seem to realise that won't stop leaks though, with their statement that 'every typewriter has its own individual pattern of type so it is possible to link every document to a machine used to type it'. We need a worldwide Cone of Silence.

CHAT FOR DUMMIES: That 14 year old girl chatting online may not only not be 14, or a girl, she may in fact not even be a person. Negobot is a chatbot from the Spanish University of Deusto whose purpose is to fool sexual predators into believing she is real.

The bot starts off as a passive and neutral participant in general online chatter. If groomed though the bot relies on game theory to provide convincing conversation that is not flat and predictable in the way chatbots usually are. What's more her chat is designed to use typos, and language errors typical of teenage girls. Negobot has already been implemented and trialled actively on Google's chat service. Make her adult and there are clear possibilities for a useful service that clients would pay for.

THE THINKING ARM: The wearer of a Modular Prosthetic Limb controls the robotic arm with their thoughts. The modular limb can replace the natural arm's motor and sensory function and includes 100 sensors that feed back temperature, pressure, joint angles and acceleration. Where nerves and muscles are still viable the prosthesis makes use of them. Quadriplegics though need cortical implants to convey neuronal information to electronic sensors in the prosthesis. Those who wear the limb need to do up to to 30 minutes a day of mental imagery exercises to re-establish the cortical signals that control the arm and hand. Surely daily use would cover that exercise?

LEGS OF GOLD: Our human skin can simultaneously sense touch, humidity and temperature, but at the moment artificial skin can detect only touch. That means that someone with a prosthetic limb is missing out on useful sensations. A team at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is working on a flexible sensor that could add those sensations to artificial limbs. Their sensor uses gold nanoparticles laid on a plastic substrate. How thick the substrate is and how it bends allow it to detect pressure and sensitivity. The new system is at least 10 times more sensitive in touch than current touch-based e-skin systems. Little by little prosthetic limbs are closing in on the real thing.

ATLAS UNBOUND: ATLAS is a 2 metre tall 150 Kg bipedal robot that may go to work for the US military. Hydraulically driven joints allow it to not only carry heavy objects but adjust very quickly if it loses its balance. The head includes a lidar so it can create a 3D map of its surroundings. At the moment it has a tether for power and cooling water, but the developers aim to make a version without a tether. DARPA say its purpose will be humanitarian rather than adversarial. Our favourite robots.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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