Edward Willett

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Is this the ancestor of my Marseguro killerbot?

This proposed underwater robot with a sense of touch looks scarily like what I imagined the Selkie-tracking "killerbots" of Marseguro to be. Mine had tentacles rather than articulated arms, but still: Oh, and for comparison's sake, here's how cover artist Steve Stone pictured the killerbot:

Posted by Edward Willett at 10:29, May 7th, 2009 under Blog |

Reverse-engineering the brain

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2009/05/blue-brain.mp3[/podcast] Ah, the human brain. Seat of consciousness, miracle of creation or evolution (discuss amongst yourselves), able to jump to tall conclusions in a single bound, so incredibly complex that we’ll never be able to understand how it works. Um, not so fast. A year and a half ago, scientists at the Blue Brain Project in Switzerland announced they had successfully created an extremely detailed—down to the molecular level—model of the neurocortical column of a two-week-old rat...and that was just Phase 1 of their ambitious research effort aimed at nothing less than reverse-engineering the mammalian brain and recreating it in a computer. The neurocortical column (NCC) is the basic unit of the neocortex, which in mammals is responsible for higher brain functions ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 12:13, May 5th, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |

Surveying technology

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/surveying-technology.mp3[/podcast] I’m working on a history of the Saskatchewan Land Surveyor’s Association—and, as with everything I work on, learning stuff I never knew before. In this case, stuff about the technology of surveying. The ancient Romans did pretty well using just three simple instruments: the groma, the chorobate, and measuring rods. The groma consisted of crossed arms resting on a bracket attached to a vertical staff. From each of the four arms hung a plumb bob. The groma could be used to survey straight lines, right angles and rectangles. The chorobate was a ten-foot long wooden trough with a groove running down its middle. Water was poured into the groove; if it pooled instead of running out either end, then whatever the chorobate was placed ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 16:10, April 21st, 2009 under Blog, Science Columns |

The artificial scientist

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/the-artificial-scientist.mp3[/podcast] As I’ve noted before, the very first science column I wrote, ca. 1991, was entitled, “What is a scientist?” Last year I re-ran that column with minor editing: the answer to the question hadn’t changed in 17 years. But it may have changed now. That’s because researchers at Cornell University have created a computer program that can derive fundamental physical laws from raw observational data. In other words, they’ve created an artificial scientist. By observing the behavior of a single pendulum, a double pendulum, and a spring-loaded linear oscillator (things you might use in a high school physics classroom), their software figured out some basic laws of physics, previously discovered by Isaac Newton and successors. Big difference: it took human scientists centuries. The computer ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 17:36, April 7th, 2009 under Science Columns |

Programming matter

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/programmable-matter.mp3[/podcast] Remember the shape-changing T-1000 robot in the 1991 movie Terminator 2? It could disguise itself as anything—a policeman, the floor, whatever—and sprout tools and weapons as required. It turns out it may very well have given us a glimpse of a very real future (though hopefully without the whole Armageddon-like-conflict-between-robots-and-humans thing). Researchers right now are working on “programmable matter,” matter that can be ordered to assemble itself into...well, pretty much anything. You could think of it as a 3D equivalent of the pixels on a computer screen. Imagine a bracelet that could morph into whatever electronic gadget you required, from cell-phone to pocket computer; a 3D model of a prototype car that automobile executives (if such people still exist in the future—a long ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 17:50, April 1st, 2009 under Science Columns |

A Canadian satellite proves small is beautiful

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/canx-2.mp3[/podcast] Space satellites, typically, are big, expensive beasts, which is one reason we all cringe when one fails to achieve orbit, as happened on February 24 with NASA’s $280 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO). Complex satellites like the OCO, which was intended to monitor atmospheric carbon dioxide, are of course absolutely necessary for some tasks. But satellites don’t have to be big and expensive to do useful work, a fact proved beyond a doubt by a much, much cheaper and smaller satellite marking the one-year anniversary of its successful launch next month. Best of all, it’s Canadian. Called the Canadian Advanced Nanospace eXperiment 2 (CanX-2), it masses only 3.5 kilograms (compared to 447 kilograms for the OCO, which was pretty typical), and is ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 12:19, March 10th, 2009 under Science Columns |

My recent Futurismic posts

I've managed to post more regularly to Futurismic in the last little while, so I thought I'd provide some links to what I've recently put up over there, should you be looking for more cool-tech-and-science blogging:Life-size telepresence robots make their appearanceUniversal Robots take over the world…on stageMIT researchers create cheap "sixth-sense" ubiquitous computing deviceCheaper to give away Kindles than print the New York TimesInvestigating the science of fictionFermi Paradox solved?Does the future of the novel lie with the cell phone?...

Posted by Edward Willett at 16:40, February 10th, 2009 under Blog |

Ten sci-fi gadgets that may soon be real: Part 1

As I have not exactly been shy about pointing out (Buy my book! Buy my book!), I write science fiction novels as well as science fact.As a science fiction writer, I have the luxury of equipping my characters with futuristic gadgets that don’t exist yet, but might some day. Now New Scientist magazine has dug out its crystal ball and come up with its own list of such gadgets: 10 things that are science fiction now, but might be in common use within 30 years.Heading the list is super vision. In 2006 engineers at Cambridge Consultants unveiled the Prism 200, a briefcase-sized system which used ultrawide-band radar to detect people on the other side of ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 18:00, January 26th, 2009 under Science Columns |

High-tech cooking

If you are my age or older, you still think of microwave ovens as pretty fancy high-tech gadgets.But microwave ovens (like me) have been around for decades. There are many more high-tech gadgets landing in kitchens all the time, and if most of them are currently found in expensive restaurants, that doesn’t mean they won’t soon be landing in a kitchen nearer to home.Many of these gadgets have been invented by one man, Philip Preston, president of PolyScience. PolyScience manufactures laboratory equipment, but last year five percent of its total sales came from sales to restaurants rather than police labs and factories.Preston is profiled in the July, 2008, issue of ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 20:04, July 7th, 2008 under Blog, Science Columns |

High-tech cooking

If you are my age or older, you still think of microwave ovens as pretty fancy high-tech gadgets.But microwave ovens (like me) have been around for decades. There are many more high-tech gadgets landing in kitchens all the time, and if most of them are currently found in expensive restaurants, that doesn’t mean they won’t soon be landing in a kitchen nearer to home.Many of these gadgets have been invented by one man, Philip Preston, president of PolyScience. PolyScience manufactures laboratory equipment, but last year five percent of its total sales came from sales to restaurants rather than police labs and factories.Preston is profiled in the July, 2008, issue of ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 14:04, July 7th, 2008 under Science Columns |