Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Ben Coxworth

FoamBot built this quadruped robot out of electromechanical modules and self-hardening foa...

Appealing though general-purpose humanoid robots like C-3PO may be to many of us, real-life robots are usually most effective when they're designed for one specific purpose. In some situations, however, that purpose might not be known until the robot is in the field - at a disaster site, for instance, an autonomous robot might discover that it needs to squirm through debris, even though it wasn't designed to do so. One attempted solution to this problem has involved creating modular robots, that can take themselves apart and then reconfigure themselves as needed. Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania's Modular Robotics Laboratory, however, are taking a slightly different approach. They've created a robot that can build other purpose-specific robots, using electromechanical modules and self-hardening foam.  Read More

Scientists at the UK's National Physical Laboratory have developed technology that can ide...

Now that we’re moving towards automated orange-sorting and autonomous tractors, what might be the next step in replacing human agricultural workers with machines? Well, how about robotic strawberry pickers? That’s what scientists from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) say could be on the way, thanks to a system that is able to identify ripe strawberries in the field.  Read More

The prototype SidebySide system allows animated images from two separate pico projectors t...

When you were a kid, perhaps you and your friends played with flashlights, chasing each other’s light spots across the wall – if you were born within the past 20 years, just substitute the term “laser pointers” for “flashlights.” In either case ... wouldn’t it have been neat if those spots of light came to life when they met, and fought with each other? That’s the type of thing that’s now possible with the prototype SidebySide system, developed by Disney Research, Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University. It enables animated images from two separate handheld projectors to interact with each other on the any surface.  Read More

Researchers have demonstrated how a smartphone could be used to determine what words are b...

If you're looking for a reason to buy an iPhone 3GS as opposed to an iPhone 4, besides the lower price, here's one: it's technically possible that malware on an iPhone 4 – if that phone were placed beside its user's computer keyboard – could be used to deduce what the user was typing. Once that data was stored on the phone, it could then be transmitted to another party. According to researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who were able to use one of the phones for this purpose, any smartphone made within the past two years should be capable of doing so.  Read More

Lytro's consumer light field camera, which allows users to adjust a photograph's focus aft...

So, you’re looking at that one photo you took, and wishing that the flower in the foreground was in focus instead of the person behind it? Well it’s no big deal, just go in and shift the focus. Oh yeah, that’s right, you can’t ... but you will be able to soon. California-based Lytro, Inc. announced today that its consumer light field camera is now available for preorder, and should be shipping early next year. It is the first camera of its kind made for the general public.  Read More

By applying electrical pulses to the new nanomaterial, a sea of small negatively charged i...

By now, we’re all fairly used to electronic devices such as smartphones, which can act as a mobile phone, computer, camera and navigation unit all at once. These devices, while multi-functional, still use different hard-wired electrical circuits for their different functions. Thanks to research being carried out at Chicago’s Northwestern University, however, all those functions may one day be able to utilize the same physical piece of electronic material – the electrical current would simply be “steered” through it differently, depending on what was needed. This means that a single section of the material could act as a resistor, rectifier, diode or transistor, as instructed by a computer.  Read More

The T3 Non-Lethal Response Vehicle is an EV designed for police use in riots and violent p...

When people are looking into buying an electric vehicle, they typically ask questions like “What sort of range does it get?”, “How big is its battery?” or “How long does it take to charge?”. They don't usually ask “How many guns does it have?”. In the case of T3 Motion’s new T3 Non-Lethal Response Vehicle (NLRV), however, that would be a legitimate inquiry. The three-wheeled stand-up EV is designed for police use in riots or violent protests, and it in fact has two semi-automatic launchers, capable of shooting non-lethal ammo at a rate of 700 rounds per minute.  Read More

Motorola is bringing back the RAZR, as an incredibly thin smartphone

The Motorola RAZR is back, only this time it's a smartphone – and a very slim one, at that. Motorola Mobility and Verizon Wireless unveiled the new 7.1 mm-thick DROID RAZR yesterday, with the promise that it should be in stores early next month. Not only is the device said to be the skinniest smartphone in existence, but it is reportedly also the first to be able to stream video from Netflix at HD resolution.  Read More

Cyclist Jim Artis' Catrike 700 recumbent tricycle, aka Silk

If you're a cyclist who wants to turn a few heads on the road, you should ride a recumbent tricycle ... people can't help but notice something that appears to be a low-riding lawn chair on wheels. If you want to get noticed by other recumbent trike riders, you might look into getting a Catrike 700. With its 700C wheels and relatively light weight of just 33 pounds (15 kg), it's said to be one of the fastest production trikes that money can buy. However, how do you get noticed by other Catrike riders? Well, you could try equipping your trike with just about every accessory imaginable, all of them in black. That's what Fayetteville, North Carolina native Jim Artis did with his. The result - which he named "Silk" - looks like something designed for dispatching evil-doers by dark of night, before tearing off in a swirl of dry ice vapor.  Read More

Prof. Ki Chon and doctoral student Chris Scully, who is working on Chon's app (Photo: WPI)...

Users of the Pulse Phone app may be justifiably impressed at the way in which it lets them measure their heart rate, simply by placing their finger over their iPhone's camera lens. Well, a biomedical engineer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts has taken that concept several steps farther. Inspired by Pulse Phone, Prof. Ki Chon developed an Android app that measures not only heart rate, but also heart rhythm, respiration rate and blood oxygen saturation - all through a finger against the lens. Measurements made by the app are said to be as accurate as those obtained using standard medical monitors.  Read More

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