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     Volume 5 Issue 112 | September 15, 2006 |

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Cardboard Boxers
No matter what the latest toy sensation in Japan is, it always involves robots. But now geeks are putting aside traditional mold-injected plastic figurines in favour of Kami-robo (paper robots), which players assemble themselves. If they look like a kid's art project, that's because they are. Tomohiro Yasui started crafting them in 1982, at age 11, because he couldn't bear the thought of playing with his precious store-bought bots. He used cardboard, scissors, wire, tape and markers to construct his own durable automatons. Yasui, now a designer, went on to build hundreds of handmade creations including a ring for them to battle in, and even a bar where they can unwind. He never intended them to be more than a personal hobby: "I didn't show off my robots," he says. "I didn't want to trouble people with my private obsession."

Smart Buildings Make Smooth Moves
What if buildings could function like living systems, altering their shapes in response to changing weather conditions or the way people use them? That's the vision of a new breed of architects who are working on what they think is the future of architecture -- "responsive structures" that observe their internal and external environment and change form to suit any situation. A building that mimics a living system would be able to sense and respond appropriately to exterior conditions like varying winds, temperature swings or changing sunlight. Inside, the building might change to accommodate crowd flow or better circulate warm air.

"If we could develop shelter ... that truly responds to the environment like a natural organism, that would be the most successful form of adaptive construction," says John Folan, an architect and assistant professor at the University of Arizona. "This is the wave of the future." At the Office for Robotic Architectural Media & The Bureau for Responsive Architecture, Tristan d'Estree Sterk is working on shape-changing "building envelopes" using "actuated tensegrity" structures -- a system of rods and wires manipulated by pneumatic "muscles" that serve as the building's skeleton, forming the framework of all its walls. By connecting the skeleton to embedded, intelligent systems, Sterk is creating smart structures that are light, extremely robust and capable of making extensive shape changes without consuming a lot of energy.

Sterk said there are other advantages. Imagine a high-rise tower that braces itself against sudden strong winds by distributing stresses. Or a home that shakes the snow from its roof. Sterk said architects have long known that the way buildings are lit, heated and cooled is intimately related to a building's shape. Taller spaces heat and cool very differently from short spaces.

"By using an exoskeletal, actuated tensegrity superstructure, the building lets wind blow through it, reducing harmful shaking and swaying," Sterk says. "The frame also swivels and twists gently in the wind to control the building's centre of gravity since it doesn't rely on its own weight to hold it in place; this allows architects to build taller and more sustainably." While advances in technology have made interiors more intelligent and comfortable (intelligent lighting, smart air conditioning systems, etc.), the idea of a building as a whole changing shape is only just emerging because of the complexity of the task.

Cool-down Vests
Tomoko Takashima, a member of a Japanese non-profit organisation, displays the prototype model of a "cool down" vest that has six peltier modules, well-known semi-conductor elements for cooling down a computer's CPU. The vest has been developed for the patients of anhidrosis and for elderly people who are unable to control their own body temperature.

The teenage brain
Researchers say teenagers are sulky and inconsiderate because their brains are changing rapidly. As one expert put it, teenagers' brains are still works in progress. A new study says tests show humans do not fully develop the ability to empathise with others or consider others' emotions and thoughts until adulthood. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of University College London, who led the work, suggests ít's not just hormones that cause teenagers to be their typical selves, but it could be the way their brains are developing as well.


Compiled by IMRAN H. KHAN

Source: AFP, Wired and Webindia123


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