Clever-K: almost scary, but just so awesome.


obotics, originally from the Czech word for slavery, is growing into something much more than machines doing simple, mundane tasks. Today, robotics is one of the fastest-growing branches of computer science and engineering. Just read some of the other robotics stuff we’ve covered and you’ll see how diverse and rapidly-changing it is.

Today, we’re going to share an awesome video from Swedish robotics group IDSIA, and their project for the Clever-K learning architecture. Just watch:

MoBeE is their modular system for Clever-K, which helps a robot learn how to use its own ‘body.’

These robots basically are being programmed to grow through infancy and childhood.

(Also, check out that dude’s giant mohawk.)

What’s powering all of this? Computer science. It’s the fastest growing profession in the world, and will probably stay that way for a long time. Computer scientists can do everything from theoretical work, to programming AI, to making smartphone apps. Computer scientists live in the real world, but are at home in the virtual world.

If you’re interested in studying computer science, check out the “Read on” links.

Read on:


Engineerguy strikes again: look inside a smartphone.


ngineerGuy is one of our favorite YouTube channels, and Bill Hammack knows how to keep engineering technology interesting—if it’s not interesting enough on its own already. Here, he explains the electrical and chemical engineering behind accelerometers, which detect movement and orientation.

Accelerometers are a simple but important device in electrical engineering
today, especially for mobile devices like smartphones.

And EngineerGuy has tons of videos like this. He’s a great internet educator, with each video of his giving a brief lesson on the content inside. And we think it’s a great way to decide what kind of engineering you should do. Watch a few of his videos and find which of them fascinate you.

If you catch yourself skipping the accelerometer video but watching the video on coffee makers or soda can pop tabs, you’re more likely to be a mechanical engineer. But if you’re most interested in how a digital camera sensor works, you might be an electrical engineer. And there are other types of engineering out there, and in his videos!

Augmented reality as a viable future for programmers

Google recently released this ad for what they call Project Glass, an augmented reality system. Naturally it will link up with smartphones and integrate apps and other features, making it easy to find your way around, make appointments, and take pictures like a spy.

This is Google’s rendering of what kinds of features they want to include
in Google Glass.

Some of these features will be very simple to port to glasses like these, which presumably would connect via bluetooth to one’s phone. But other features like creating a map overlay or doing video calls would be complex. Google already has a big team of programmers working on this project, but so far they haven’t released any actual demo videos. That ad is just a pre-rendered commercial.

But then this guy came along. A homebrew programmer named William Powell whipped up his own version quickly, and recorded this video:

And here’s what one homebrew programmer whipped up on his own.
It doesn’t do everything yet, but it’s not just rendered.
It’s actually happening live.

He threw this together from an existing augmented-reality headset called the WRAP920 AR, voice recognition technology called Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and programmed the functionality with Adobe Air. The cool thing is that even though the headset might be hard to get, you might be able to get your hands on the voice recognition software. And Adobe Air is freeware. If you wanted to work on your own version of this, you could very well get to work right now.

Naomi Shah, from Portland, wins Google Global Science Fair

At just 16, Naomi was one of three winners of the Google Global Science Fair. She met with President Obama and other important government policymakers, and shared her science project.

Watch this interview with Naomi:

As you can see she’s very interested in the environment, and got
motivation from her family’s health problems. She might not
be an engineer, but the problems she’s trying to solve
will need engineers to design solutions.

Naomi is great, and so are the other two winners, shown in this video.

One of the girls says that she got started by simply emailing professors around
where she lived, and asking to work in their labs.
Eventually, one said yes.

There are some great lessons to be learned from these three girls, these winners of the Google Global Science Fair. But we think among the most important is that you shouldn’t wait for someone to give you a goal or motivation; you need to find that on your own. Once you have that, though, you’ll find that everything starts falling into place. That doesn’t mean things will be easy, but it does mean things will work out.

Obviously we want you to participate in contests like these, but as an engineer or computer scientist. But wherever your scientific interests lie, these girls (and Naomi in particular, since she lives close to you!) can be a good inspiration.

Seriously, it’s pretty sweet that their trophies are made of LEGO, and they got to hang out with President Obama. All because they did some research on cancer, marinated chicken, and asthma… It’s like the topic didn’t even really matter so long as it was legit work.

Oh wait, that’s true. For real: what your scientific interests are doesn’t matter so long as it’s something you’re really interested in, and you’re willing to do some legit work in that field of interest.

Read on:

  • PSU news release about Naomi doing some studies there, even though she’s still in high school.

Imagining driving in a world without drivers.

Engineers and computer scientists have been working for a long time to make driverless cars a possibility. So many people spend so much time commuting, when they could be doing any number of other things (and some people already try–our advice: don’t).

Imagine if you could have a nice lunch with your family while your car drove to the airport, or if everyone could take a nap during a long drive to vacation.

We’ve talked about this in the past: read about China’s latest driverless-car accomplishments, as well as what’s going on in the driverless-car scene in Europe.

Recently we stumbled upon a video of what a complex intersection might look like, in a world without drivers. Normally you have to stop for a red light to let another direction of traffic go, causing a backup in whatever direction is stopped. In a world where every car is driven by a fast-acting and well-programmed computer, nobody would have to stop–collisions would be avoided by the computers, which could avoid every other car at the intersection:

A great concept of a future, driverless intersection, but not a perfect one.

We think this is cool, but frankly there are some problems that these engineers and computer scientists would have to think about. Because we like to approach things from an engineer’s standpoint:

  • How could you set up an on-the-fly, dynamic network for the cars to communicate through?
  • What would happen if one computer in the network went haywire?
  • After setting up that network, how do you avoid communication errors?
  • How do you secure the network from hackers, who could otherwise cause a lot of damage?
  • How should other cars react if something goes wrong with the steering or brakes in one car?

This is of course beyond the basic problems (which are already tough to solve): getting a car to dynamically detect other cars around it, being able to calculate their velocity, being able to calculate how hard to brake or how sharp to turn, and so forth.

These kinds of questions are things you’d need to ask yourself as an engineer or computer scientist designing the solution. It’s possible that driverless cars will be common when you’re entering the working world, but it’s also quite possible that they still won’t be. But whether they’re common or not, driverless car engineering will be a field that will need a lot of up-and-coming engineers to find solutions to these problems.

Read on:

Dr. Michio Kaku: “The World in 2030”

Dr. Kaku is a great speaker. He’s very inspiring, dynamic, and engaging. Here’s what he has to say about what the world will be like in 2030. He says “physicists” invented all of the things he lists: the internet, the transistor, and many other things, but that’s not totally true.

Dr. Kaku: Romance-physicist. That’s not to say he’s wrong about any of this.

The engineers who invented those things (and the computer scientists who coded the internet) used physics principles to do these things. They were, in a way, physicists. But at their core, they’ve all been engineers and computer scientists. Because that’s who drives the future.

High schooler builds his own 8-bit computer, because he can.

Well, he probably surprised himself in doing it. It sounds like a pretty scary thing to try, but once you get going and focus on getting one step done at a time you’ll be amazed at what you can do.

And that’s what this guy did. A guy named Jack Eisenmann, who just graduated from high school, built himself an 8-bit computer out of an old TV and keyboard, and some chips he probably bought from an electronics store. Oh, and tons of wire, as you can see in the video:

Complete with classy retro music. The system has 64K of memory and
prints a 240×208 black-and-white screen.

From the creator:

The DUO Adept is an 8-bit homebrew TTL CPU + GPU I have designed and built. As a challenge I used only basic kinds of logic chips; no microcontroller or video card. It has a black and white TV monitor and keyboard, and is generally awesome!

Oh, and I forgot to mention: I made this when I was a highschooler with no formal education in electronics. 🙂

Read on:

  • Here’s the project website for what jack calls the DUO ADEPT. Looks pretty complex, but we’ll bet you he took everything one step at a time.
  • Engadget article about the story.
  • Wikipedia article about TTL, which he used to design the computer.