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     Volume 5 Issue 84 | March 3, 2006 |

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This Is Your Robot Life
My mom is in love with her Roomba. But I wish I could buy her a Chibi-Robo. The inch-tall robot scrubs stains clean, picks up trash and helps you cook dinner. Not only that, it'll try to repair your failed marriage and help your psychologically disturbed 8-year-old. Too bad it only exists on the GameCube. Its light, easygoing gameplay might turn hard-core players away, but I found its constant barrage of new challenges and comedic story twists to be addictive. The story begins with little Jenny Sanderson's eighth birthday party, and her present is you, Chibi-Robo, the latest in home gadgetry. Right away, you're set to clean up after the Sandersons -- scrubbing the dog's footprints off the rug, picking up candy wrappers. As you clean up, your battery drains, and you will occasionally have to plug yourself into a wall outlet to recharge. Being a good robot and cleaning the house have much the same effect as killing enemies in a role-playing game: You earn "happy points" and money for doing so, which gives you more battery power and lets you buy new gadgets. The characters are cartoony, but the depiction of family life is realistic. It's easy to imagine children in a divorced family seeing themselves in Jenny's eight-year-old depression, or liking the way she talks through her teddy bear to express the feelings she can't bring herself to say out loud. Some scenes are genuinely sad while others, hilarious! It's brilliant.

New Shrimp on the Block
Chances are all of us have experienced the thrill of unpacking our first box of Sea Monkeys, filling the little plastic tank with water and pouring in the contents of those tiny egg packets, only to watch in disappointment and dismay as the itty bitty brine shrimp wiggled ineffectually around under the tank's magnifying glass bubbles before gradually dying out. Now you can relive that joy all over again with Holoholo, a tiny desktop shrimp aquarium that looks infinitely more entertaining. Unlike Sea Monkeys, the Holoholo shrimp look like actual little red shrimp. So you don't need a magnifying glass to watch them wiggle. And it comes with handy little cleaning squeegees to keep your tank sparkling. Sadly, they are only available in Japan, at about 17 USD.

Bidet Seats More Efficient Than Toilet Paper
Bidets are those devices that spray water (and sometimes air) on your posterior. They are more hygienic than toilet paper, and save you money in the long run. Bidets are very popular in Japan and parts of Europe. You can actually install a "bidet seat" quite easily, in place of your existing toilet seat. Bidet seats attach to the existing water supply through a double adapter and a hose. Some seats are quite elaborate, featuring jets of heated air, remote controls and various water massage settings.

Sony to Drop New Compact HD Camcorder
A few of you may have picked up HD camcorders by now, but chances are not many of your friends have yet. Sony suspects that's because most of the HD choices are too big and bulky. We suspect it's because everyone just bought a new MiniDV camera last season and the market's virtually saturated. Whoever's right, Sony is releasing a new compact HD that's small enough to fit in the palm of this woman's hand. The HDR-HC3E weighs just over a pound, making it the tiniest HD camcorder in Sony's lineup. In addition to its impressive 1080i HD video capture, it has a 2-megapixel CCD for grabbing mediocre stills. The lens features a 10x optical zoom and it's expected to hit the market in April.

Underwater vehicle maps ancient shipwreck
A 4th century B.C. merchant ship that sank off the coast of Greece has been surveyed by an international team using a robotic underwater vehicle. Greek scientists and archaeologists discovered the ancient shipwreck in 2004 during a sonar survey. The wooden Greek merchant ship sank off Chios and Oinoussia islands in the eastern Aegean Sea in about 200 feet of water, too deep for conventional SCUBA diving. The ship went unnoticed until researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Greek Ministry of Culture, and the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research joined forces. The scientists said the project demonstrates how advanced technology can dramatically change the field of underwater archaeology, completing in two days what would have taken SCUBA divers using conventional methods years to accomplish.

Cashing In on Virtual Humans
Digital humans. The very words conjure images of the polygon personas created for the next blockbuster by production houses like Industrial Light and Magic or Pixar Animation. But there is more to this technology than big-screen eye candy. Take Santos, for example. A virtual human, Santos may save corporations big money and help the military save lives. He's a creation of Virtual Soldier Research at the University of Iowa, and was built using algorithms combined with motion-capture data. He can be as tall or as short as his assignments dictate, and everything about Santos -- from his wire-frame skeleton to his muscle movements -- owes its existence to a scanned and digitised human volunteer. "Human modelling technology today is so refined, we can use it to test products before they're ever produced," said Karim Abdel-Malek, professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Virtual Soldier Research program at Iowa. Because just about every manufactured product begins its life in the form of CAD data, a reduced prototype version can be loaded into the system, where it appears onscreen in three dimensions. With a mouse click on a control panel that resembles a PDA, an operator can command Santos to interact with the digital prototype, replicating how a human would engage with it in the real world. Digital modelling of the human body will continue to be refined. One project known as the Visible Human is providing information gleaned from reducing a cadaver to slices only 0.3 mm wide. Resolutions down to the cellular level -- or eventually the atomic scale -- could mean almost limitless scenarios for virtual humans, including forensics and accident reconstruction. "These new roles will become part of the evolution (of digital humans), largely due to the availability of better computing systems," said Clay Easterly, a senior researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


Compiled by IMRAN H. KHAN


Source: Metaefficient, Wired and Webindia123


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