(See my other posts on Robots) – Today’s Cygnus cargo flight with 7,600 pounds of science, supplies & cargo for the ISS includes a pair of new robots. These will replace the current SPHERES robots on the International Space Station (ISS). The Astrobee robots have been developed by the Intelligent Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center.
The new Astrobee robots are autonomous cubes designed to be flown around the ISS. The first pair of Astrobee robots are named Honey and Bumble. A third named Queen is scheduled to fly to the ISS later this year. These are very modular robots with hardware and software designed for a wide range of tasks and experiments.
The robots are intended to fly around the ISS autonomously, perform experiments, and take video. While they will generally be operated by humans from the ground, they will occasionally operate without any supervision.
Each Astrobee robot is about 12 inches (30 cm) square. They will use pressurized air from 12 different nozzles to propel themselves around the ISS. They can rotate in any direction and have no need to refuel as air is compressed and used from the ISS atmosphere.
The Astrobees are based on ROS and are equipped with six cameras, sensors, and enough computing power to allow them to operate autonomously. They can be fitted with modular payloads in their three different payload bays for a variety of experiments. Later this year a small arm will become available for manipulating objects and grabbing hold for maintaining their position. The robots will be able to undock, redock and perch within the ISS independently of the crew.
The robots should complete their checkout before the end of April. After that, they will map and be calibrated for the ISS modules. Final commissioning of the entire Astrobee system should be complete before the end of the year.
Robots – This week, actually it started yesterday, celebrates robotics in the US. Per the National Robotics Week website:
National Robotics Week (RoboWeek) is a series of grassroots events and activities during the month of April aimed at increasing public awareness of the strength and importance of the U.S. robotics industry and of the tremendous social and cultural impact that robotics will have on the future. Activities come in all shapes and sizes from a robot block party, university open house, or a robotics competition. The mission of RoboWeek is simple — to inspire students in STEM-related fields and to share the excitement of robotics with audiences of all ages. Celebrate RoboWeek by hosting an event in your community, sponsoring or attending a local event, or spreading the word on social media.
National Robotics Week was first celebrated in 2010 after university and industry leaders appealed to the Congressional Caucus on Robotics to create a “national roadmap” for robotics technology. On March 9, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolution H.Res. 1055, officially designating the second full week in April as National Robotics Week.
Robots – Articles appear all the time touting how ‘intelligent’ a new system is. But are they really as smart as claimed? The article “How intelligent is artificial intelligence?” raises the point that we should look harder at how these systems have reached their conclusions.
This article is based on work done by researchers from TU Berlin, Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute HHI and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). Among the points raised in the article:
- Some seemingly successful AI systems employ flaky or even “cheating” problem solving strategies
- Some AI systems sometimes use so-called ‘Clever Hans Strategies’ 
- It is quite conceivable that about half of the AI systems currently in use implicitly or explicitly rely on such ‘Clever Hans’ strategies.
The researchers used a technology developed earlier by TU Berlin and Fraunhofer HHI, the so-called Layer-wise Relevance Propagation (LRP) algorithm. This algorithm allows visualizing which input variables an AI system uses to make their decisions
- Clever Hans was a horse that could supposedly count and was considered a scientific sensation during the 1900s. As it was discovered later, Hans did not master math but in about 90 percent of the cases, he was able to derive the correct answer from the questioner’s reaction.
So today is Pi Day, that is today celebrates the mathematical constant Pi. Why today? – Well, today is March 14. For those of us in the US, we write that as 3/14/19. The first few digits of Pi are 3.14.159. So March 14 is 3 14 – get it?
Below is a good history of Pi video. It will help you appreciate Pi a little more.
Coffee – After reading the article “Why Do I Like Coffee, But Not Tea? Science Says It May Come Down To Your Genetics” I now know part of what is in my genetic makeup – bitter taste receptor genes.
A study was undertaken at the University of Queensland in Australia to find out more about the genetic factor in the individual’s preference for coffee. The results of their study (“Understanding the role of bitter taste perception in coffee, tea and alcohol consumption through Mendelian randomization“) has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The study looked at 400,000 people in the UK between the ages of 37 and 73. It compared both their coffee/tea-drinking habits, along with data on their genetic makeup. They found that those who carry the “bitter taste receptor gene” are much more likely to drink large amounts of coffee. In fact, for each “extra copy” of that gene, the probability that the individual would be a coffee drinker went up by 20%.
The new approach to 3D printing prints the entire object using light and special synthetic resin. This new technique is much faster and has other benefits. It can only print small objects now, but there is a lot of potential.
The researchers have nicknamed the printer “the replicator”. It creates objects much like a reverse computed tomography. The object to be replicated is scanned from multiple angles. Those scans are then projected on a tube with the resin. This technique allows printing in minutes rather than the hours of a standard 3D printer.
Have you heard of the Breakthrough Prize? Probably not. I hadn’t until I came across the article “Breakthrough Prize awards scientists $22 million and star status” about it last fall.
What is the Breakthrough Prize? The Breakthrough Prizes honor important, primarily recent, achievements in the categories of Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences, and Mathematics. Recipients of the award receive $3 million each in prize money. They are also recognized in an “Acadamy Awards like” televised award ceremony. The ceremony is intended both to celebrate their achievements and inspire the next generation of scientists.
The Breakthrough Prizes have been awarded every year since 2013. More than $200 million have been awarded over the life of the Breakthrough Prizes. As they say on their website:
Knowledge is humanity’s greatest asset. It defines our nature, and it will shape our future. The body of knowledge is assembled over centuries. Yet a single mind can extend it immensely. Einstein reimagined space and time. Darwin distilled the chaos of life to a single idea. Turing figured out what it means to think. Great scientists enrich us all. They enable technologies that ease our lives, but they also show us what’s beyond our horizons.
We have all seen those in entertainment or sports fields recognized in lavish ceremonies. The Breakthrough Prize attempts to give similar recognition to the scientists and mathematicians that are shaping our future.
Coffee – I came across an article a short time ago that gave further reasons to drink coffee. In the study “Consumption of a dark roast coffee blend reduces DNA damage in humans: results from a 4-week randomised controlled study” published in the European Journal of Nutrition helps protect your DNA.
In this test, participants were split into one group that drank water and another that drank coffee. At the end of a month, those who had been drinking the coffee had fewer breaks in their DNA strands. The official conclusion of the test:
Our results indicate that regular consumption of a dark roast coffee blend has a beneficial protective effect on human DNA integrity in both, men and women.
Just one more test that indicates that drinking coffee in reasonable amounts is good for you.
Propulsion – I have been watching the stories in the media on the EM Drive for a while now. If you are new to this, the EM Drive is a resonant cavity thruster. In simple terms, it is an electrically powered thruster that requires no fuel. It was proposed by Roger Shawyer in 2001. Most consider the EM Drive to be impossible as it defies currently known physics.
Previous tests of an EM Drive prototype by NASA showed some success. The EM Drive was subjected to more strict testing by a team at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany led by Martin Tajmar. They presented their results at the Aeronautics and Astronautics Association of France’s Space Propulsion conference on May 16, 2018. Their tests are not supportive of the claims made for the EM Drive.
The results presented by Tajmar is reviewed in the video above by Scott Manley. Tajmar and his team had not totally given up on the EM Drive at the time of their report. They plan further testing, but the prospect of this being the solution to propulsion hoped for is dim.
- ‘Impossible’ EM drive doesn’t seem to work after all
- EmDrive: Not Quite (Yet?) the Answer to Space Travel
Coffee – Personally I like hot coffee. Now there is some scientific proof that hot coffee is better for you than the ever more popular cold brewed coffee. I read that today in the article “Hot brew coffee has higher levels of antioxidants than cold brew“. Specifically:
the researchers [from Philadelphia University & Thomas Jefferson University] found that hot-brewed coffee has higher levels of antioxidants, which are believed to be responsible for some of the health benefits of coffee.
Their report was published Oct. 30 in Scientific Reports (Scientific Reports is an online multidisciplinary, open access journal from the publishers of Nature) “Acidity and Antioxidant Activity of Cold Brew Coffee“.
So buy some freshly roasted coffee beans, grind them yourself, and brew up some healthy coffee!