National Taiwan University Develops a Leg-Wheel Hybrid Mobile Robot

"The rugged and modular CompactRIO system is extremely suitable for mobile robot development, where size, weight and performance are important factors. Well-defined integration between LabVIEW and the NI hardware significantly reduces the time and efforts of developers in performing system integration."
– Pei-Chun Lin, Department of Mechanical Engineering, National Taiwan University 
The Challenge:
Developing an energy-efficient leg-wheel hybrid mobile robot that can drive quickly and smoothly on flat terrain and can stably negotiate natural or artificial uneven terrain.
The Solution:
Using NI LabVIEW and CompactRIO with various I/O modules to rapidly integrate the mechanical, electrical and software elements of our design into a functional robot prototype.

Switched On: Next for the nano

For all the grousing about the minimal changes from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S, Apple's fastest smartphone incorporates sweeping shifts compared to what the company did with its iPod line. From keeping the waning iPod classic in the lineup to leaving the still-potent iPod touch untouched save for a blanching and price reduction, the venerable digital media player line seemed all but ignored at a time of year when Apple once primed the holiday pump for MP3 players.

Yet, while the iPod touch may not have received the processor boost or Siri-ousness of the iPhone 4S, it at least continues to remain vibrant via access to Apple's app store. That's not the case for the nano, once the flagship of the line. While Apple's smallest touchscreen device gained new software that enlarged the main icons and brought new clock faces, these improvements are also being offered to owners of the last-generation iPod nano via a software update.

Virtually unchallenged in its price range, the nano can surely survive for years untouched much as the iPod classic has. However, will it merely hang on as its feature set-- long stripped of video capture and playback capabilities -- gets sandwiched between a lower priced iPod touch and a slew of commodity music players priced under $100?

With its new time-telling facades, Apple seems to have humored the idea of the nano as a watch; such usage doesn't hold up well today in the real world. However, the iPhone 4S's support of Bluetooth 4.0 -- which includes the low-power specification that began as WiBree -- may tip Apple's hand a bit as to its ultimate intentions for the nano. The nano does not yet support Bluetooth 4.0 (or any version of the specification), but the standard has been seen as a key component in helping reduce power consumption for such a product, There are also lower power display technologies -- such as Sharp's Memory in Pixel LCD on the forthcoming Meta Watch -- from which Apple has abstained.

Turning the nano into a glanceable display like the Sony Ericsson LiveView or the more recent MOTOACTV discussed in last week's Switched On could help Apple considerably in the widget war. As an interactive window for iOS devices, a revamped nano could make the device even more palatable to those who purchased iOS products such as the iPad. In iOS 5, Apple has revisited the idea of iPhone widgets -- differentiating them more from other iPhone apps -- in the drop-down notification center. However the nano could support not only a widget architecture for iPhones, but revitalize widget development for Dashboard, which seems to have languished since its debut in Tiger and has been somewhat sidelined as a Space in Lion.

Those widgets could even be useful as an addition to Apple TV or an element of an Apple-branded television should Apple pursue that oft-rumored path. Finally, with the advent of Siri, an iPhone-connected nano could bring retrieve bits of helpful info that could be formatted for the nano's 240 X 240 display or, of course, spoken back through the headphones.

When the iPhone was introduced, it had one of the largest touchscreens on a mobile device. These days, it seems compact compared to pocket-packing behemoths such as the Samsung Infuse, HTC Titan or Galaxy Nexus. But while the iPhone may not represent as much of a handful, there's still times that it -- like any phone -- isn't as close as you might want it. A reinvigorated nano could help create a bridge during those times and further tap the creativity of Apple's developer base.

What If This Is No Accident? What If This Is The Future?

The New Luddites are back, and they’re packing heat. The mighty Economist writes of “the disturbing thought” that “America’s current employment woes stem from a precipitous and permanent change caused by not too little technological progress, but too much … A tipping point seems to have been reached, at which AI-based automation threatens to supplant the brain-power of large swathes of middle-income employees.” The New York Times chimes in: “technology is quickly taking over service jobs, following the waves of automation of farm and factory work.”

At which those of us lucky enough to be software engineers burst into derisive laughter, of course. We’ve heard all this before, more than a decade ago, when ‘outsourcing to India’ rather than ‘automation’ was the threat that would destroy our jobs. Obviously this is more of the same kind of nonsense. Right?

…Although, now that you mention it, there is something odd going on. America, Europe, and Japan all seem to be lurching from crisis to crisis without respite; most of the developed world is struggling with debilitating levels of unemployment; but at the same time, the tech world is booming like it’s 1999. Doesn’t that seem kind of weird?

Third unsolicited software recruitment email in the last 7 days, this time from Google. Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…
November 8, 2011 8:59 am via webReplyRetweetFavorite
Maybe I should respond: a recent Hacker News thread analyzes, and ultimately (mostly) validates, a claim that a good 30-year-old Google software engineer now takes home close to $250,000/year in total compensation. Another reports that newly minted Stanford CS/EE graduates are offered an average of $88,000 for their first post-university jobs. Well, hey, let the good times roll! Luddites of all stripes are morons! We just happen to be in the midst of a thrilling boom/bubble while the entire rest of the rich world happens to be in a crippling recession/stagnation. Pure coincidence. Right?


Unless Martin Ford and/or Arnold Kling are right. Ford essentially argues that we have hit an inflection point at which technology destroys jobs faster than it creates them. Kling writes (at length, but it’s worth reading): “The new jobs that emerge may not produce a middle class … gains in well-being that come from productivity improvements [may] accrue to an economic elite … we could be headed into an era of highly unequal economic classes. People at the bottom will have access to food, healthcare, and electronic entertainment, but the rich will live in an exclusive world of exotic homes and extravagant personal services.”

Which sounds eerily like what we would get if we extrapolated from today, no? While millions of long-term unemployed fight desperately to tread water, technology’s handmaidens — software engineers — are minting money like bailed-out bankers. That Stanford survey mentioned above seems to undercut Peter Thiel’s take that “We’re in a bubble and it’s not the Internet. It’s higher education” — but guess again:

It’s beginning to look like we might have entered a two-track economy, in which a small minority reaps most of the benefits of technology that destroys more jobs than it creates. As my friend Simon Law says, “First we automated menial jobs, now we’re automating middle-class jobs. Unfortunately, we still demand that people have a job soon after becoming adults. This trend is going to be a big problem…”

It’s even been suggested that inequality may cause unrest and violence in the Western world. Don’t bet on it. True, inequality has provoked the Occupy movement, and to a lesser extent the Tea Party; but I’ve been around the block a few times, and take it from me, the world is full of nations with a tiny minority of the very rich, a slightly larger well-off elite, a small middle class, and a great majority who are various degrees of poor and struggling. Brazil, China, India and Russia, for instance, to name a famous foursome. There’s nothing unusual or inherently unstable about that kind of inequality. In fact, in most of the world, it’s the norm.

I still believe technology will be the great equalizer that brings comparable economic opportunities to all regions of the world. But I’m beginning to wonder if that same technology will also ultimately make the rich world as fragmented and unequal as the poor, and turn the majority middle class into a thing of the past.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim goes retro in new viral video

Fan-made remake of Elder Scrolls V trailer taps Duck Hunt, Legend of Zelda, and Duke Nukem for inspiration.

The dust has barely settled on this weekend’s release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and there’s already a great viral video making the rounds that puts a retro spin on the much-anticipated new game.

Uploaded by YouTube user RubberRoss, the video puts an 8-bit spin on the Skyrim trailer that also pays homage to classics like Duck Hunt, Duke Nukem, and The Legend of Zelda (among many, many other titles). If nothing else, it’s a nice reminder of how far we’ve come in the gaming scene, given how amazing the real trailer for Skyrim looked.

Flying Over Earth Video Captures Gorgeous Time-Lapse

This video might be the coolest part of your weekend.

Made with NASA photos taken 240 miles above Earth at the International Space Station, the gorgeous time-lapse documents some of the world's most stunning views. Pay close attention to the Aurora Borealis, featured in the first two shots.

Artist Michael König edited the piece. Check out raw footage of Earth courtesy of NASA.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.