Category Archives: Computer Technology

25 Teams From Around the World to Compete in DARPA’s 2015 Robotics Challenge Finals

Peter Lobner

20150222DRCFinalsLogo

The international robotics community has turned out in force for the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals, a competition of robots and their human supervisors to be held June 5-6, 2015, at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., outside of Los Angeles. In the competition, human-robot teams will be tested on capabilities that could enable them to provide assistance in future natural and man-made disasters. Fourteen new teams from Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, the People’s Republic of China, South Korea, and the United States qualified to join 11 previously announced teams. In total, 25 teams will now vie for a chance to win one of three cash prizes totaling $3.5 million at the DRC Finals.

TeamROBOTISRobotSoloTeam ROBOTIS entry from Korea

You can see photos of other competitors and read more about the challenge at the following links:

http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2015/03/05.aspx

and

http://www.theroboticschallenge.org

The Cylons are coming!

The World’s Oldest dot.com Address is 30 Years Old

Peter Lobner

We’ve come a long way since the first Internet dot-com address, symbolics.com, was registered on 15 March 1985 by Massachusetts-based computer company Symbolics, which  was one of the original makers of computer workstations. The Lisp computer language that Symbolics developed eventually faded in popularity. Symbolics  filed for bankruptcy in 1993, but the company and its symbolics.com website continue to exist today. Read more at the following link:

http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/13/technology/symbolics-com-oldest-dot-com/

It wasn’t until 1989 that the basis for the world-wide web was created by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee in a proposal that originally was meant to create a more effective  communication system at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Berners-Lee and Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau proposed in 1990 to use hypertext “to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will.” Berners-Lee built and tested the first website around 20 December 1990 and reported about the project on the newsgroup alt.hypertext on 7 August 1991.

First www site

You can read more about Berners-Lee’s first website, and several other early web sites, at the following link:

http://money.cnn.com/gallery/technology/innovation/2014/03/09/website-pioneers/index.html

Medical Tricorder Technology is Closer Than you Think

Peter Lobner

You probably remember scenes from Star Trek in which a Tricorder was used by Mr. Spock or Dr. McCoy to measure and analyze almost anything. That technology is closer than you may think.

tricorder-detail

Qualcomm is sponsoring the Tricorder XPRISE, which “is a $10 million global competition to stimulate innovation and integration of precision diagnostic technologies, helping consumers make their own reliable health diagnoses anywhere, anytime.”

Ten finalist teams have been selected. As part of the Final Round, teams will compete in both diagnostic experience evaluations and consumer testing, slated for mid-to-late 2015. The final judging and awards ceremony is scheduled to take place in early 2016.

Go to the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRISE website for details and, if you wish, sign up for their newsletter.

http://tricorder.xprize.org/?gclid=CM-6_vvmnMQCFc6TfgoduTEA0A

22 May 2015 Update

On 16 April 2014, Dr. Erik Viirre of the XPRISE organization spoke to the Lyncean Group about the Tricorder XPRISE.  You can find more details on this talk on the Lyncean site, Past Meetings tab.  Following is the direct link:

https://lynceans.org/talk-85-41614/

On 17 December 2014, Lambert Ninteman of San Diego State University (SDSU) spoke to Lyncean Group about their entry for the Tricorder XPRISE. You can find details on this talk and the associated presentation on the Lyncean site, Past Meetings tab.  Following is the direct link:

https://lynceans.org/talk-91-121714/

17 December 2015 Update

XPRISE announced the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE has been officially extended through early 2017, providing the seven finalist teams with additional time to make refine their tricorder devices to ensure they can succeed in the competition. You can read details at the following link:

http://tricorder.xprize.org/news/blog/deadline-10-million-qualcomm-tricorder-xprize-extended-early-2017

Have You Ever Heard of Binaural Audio? It is not Dolby 5.1.

Peter Lobner

Binaural audio technology is not new, but so far, it is not common in audio systems.  This technology will likely become more common as it becomes integrated in virtual reality headsets, and perhaps high-end audio recordings intended for listening with earphones. Check out the article at the following link:

http://www.polygon.com/2015/2/12/8028379/binaural-3d-audio-virtual-reality-oculus-rift-project-morpheus

In the above article, there is a link to another article that provides a more detailed description and examples for you to hear binaural audio (aka 3D audio) and compare it to conventional stereo audio.  Have a set of headphones ready so you can really hear the difference.  You can go directly to this article via the link below:

http://www.theverge.com/2015/2/12/8021733/3d-audio-3dio-binaural-immersive-vr-sound-times-square-new-york

I think you’ll like binaural microphones!

3Dio binaural microphone 3Dio binaural microphone 2Source: 3Dio

Retrospective Look at Radio Shack and 1981 Microcomputer Technology

Peter Lobner

With Radio Shack in bankruptcy (again), it’s a good time for a nostalgic look at that company’s impressive product line of computers and peripheral devices before the introduction of IBM’s first personal computer (IBM 5150, introduced in August 1981) and the Apple Macintosh (introduced in a Ridley Scott TV commercial “1984”, most notably during the 3rd quarter of Super Bowl XVIII on January 22, 1984).  In 1981, Radio Shack was considered by some to be the “number one microcomputer manufacturer.

1981 Radio Shack Catalog Cover

1981 Radio Shack Catalog Cover

 Take a trip down memory lane in Radio Shack’s 1981 TSR-80 computer catalog at the following link:

https://mashable.com/2015/02/06/radio-shack-catalog-1981/

Remember, “You can’t go wrong with a TRS-80.”

GPS and Two Alternatives You May Not Have Heard About: GLONASS and Galileo

Peter Lobner

U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS)

The U.S. military-operated Global Positioning System (GPS) achieved full operational capability in 1995 and was declared a “dual-use” (military and civilian) system in 1996.  Today, GPS functionality is embedded in many of the electronic products and vehicles we use on a daily basis.  You’ll find plenty of information on GPS at the following link:

http://www.gps.gov

Russian GLONASS:

Globalnaya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema (Global Navigation Satellite System), GLONASS is a Russian military-operated satellite-based navigation system.   The intent for GLONASS to be a dual-use system was declared in 2007 and full global coverage was achieved in 2011.  By the end of 2011, GLONASS claims it met a goal of matching GPS accuracy and reliability, and GLONASS may be more accurate than GPS at high latitudes because of the higher inclination of GLONASS satellite orbits.  iPhones and several types of Android phones have both GLONASS and GPS chips and may use both satellite signals to improve navigation results.  Check out the story at the following link:

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/glonass-gps-alternative-never-knew-existed/

European Galileo:

While European independence from GPS & GLONASS was a key goal behind the creation of the new system, Galileo is intended to be 100% interoperable with GPS and GLONASS.  The first two operational Galileo satellites were launched in October 2011, with two more following in October 2012.  These four Galileo satellites represent the operational nucleus of the future 30-satellite constellation.  The 5th & 6th Galileo satellites were launched in August 2014 into incorrect orbits and are not operational.

You can get more information on Galileo at the following European Space Agency web site:

http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Navigation/Galileo_and_EGNOS

Relativistic corrections needed for satellite navigation system accuracy:

These three satellite navigation systems depend on relativistic corrections to ensure that accurate data are delivered to the end users.  You can find a short article entitled, “Real-World Relativity: The GPS Navigation System,”  at the following link:

http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pogge/Ast162/Unit5/gps.html

Rendering Disney’s Animated Movie Big Hero 6

Peter Lobner

Disney rendered the animated film Big Hero 6 on a 55,000-core supercomputer.

Disney Big Hero 6

Read the story at the following link:  https://www.engadget.com/2014/10/18/disney-big-hero-6/?guccounter=1

The 1984 movie The Last Starfighter, along with Disney’s Tron, has the distinction of being one of cinema’s earliest films to use extensive computer generated imagery (CGI) to depict its many starships, environments and battle scenes.  A total of 27 minutes of The Last Starfighter were rendered on a Cray X-MP, which was a 4-core machine with a total computing performance of 0.8 GFLOPS/sec (GFLOP/sec = billion floating point operations per second).  
 
In comparison, Big Hero 6 used a modern 55,000 core supercomputer.  To estimate it’s computing performance, I scaled the known 2012 performance of the 75,000 core IBM Yellowstone supercomputer to get an estimate of 1.2 PFLOP/second (PFLOP/sec = million billion floating point operations per second). So the supercomputer used by Disney in 2014 to render Big Hero 6 has 1.5 million times the computing performance of the Cray X-MP used in 1984 to render The Last Starfighter.  
 
That’s pretty good progress in 30 years, and pretty consistent with you would expect using Moore’s Law (basically, computing power of new computers doubles about every two years) over that period.

35 Years Since the Introduction of Personal Computers With Word Processing and Spreadsheet Apps

Peter Lobner

It’s hard to remember how we did our jobs before the introduction of the personal computer and several “killer apps” in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It’s now 35 years since the introduction of personal computers with word processing and spreadsheet functionality; and that was just the beginning.

In June 1979, MicroPro International began selling its CP/M word processing product, WordStar. Its competitors at the time were proprietary word processing systems from IBM, Xerox and Wang Laboratories. WordStar was the first microcomputer word processor to offer WYSIWYG functionality.

wordstar1

On 17 Oct 1979, VisiCalc was released for the Apple II, marking the birth of the spreadsheet for personal computers. In the past 35 years, the spreadsheet has become the now-ubiquitous tool used to compile everything from grocery lists to Fortune 500 company accounts. VisiCalc is often considered the application that turned the microcomputer from a hobby for computer enthusiasts into a serious business tool, and is considered the Apple II’s killer app.

Visicalc

Other “killer apps” that changed our lives since personal computers became an indispensible office fixture are briefly described on the website: “Peter Coffees 25 Killer Apps of All Time”. Check it out at the following link:

http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Enterprise-Applications/Peter-Coffees-25-Killer-Apps-of-All-Time/1

How does your “top 25” list compare?