Sunday, October 09, 2005

Robot Vehicles Pass the Test! Go Stanford!

Sorry for you folks at Carnegie-Mellon, but I have to give a little rah-rah cheer here for my hometown team from Stanford. But hey, really, every robot that crossed the finish line was a winner.

After last years result, this is fantastic, though I have to admit that I'm not sure how I feel about truly automous vehicles being used by the Army. I suppose it's inevitable though.

For more

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Desert Race Will be a Tough Challenge

Well, today is the big day. The second annual Robot Challenge is being held today. We'll have to wait and see if there is a winner....

Last year's race went from Barstow, CA to Pimm, Nevada; this years race is going the opposite way. So far, Carnegie-Mellons entry, the Highlander, narrwly beat the Stanford University team's modified Volkswagon SUV. Also running is Carnegie-Mellon's Sandstorm which was last years first place contestant, despite only having made about 7.5 miles of the course.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Devil's Garden the Work of Ants

Ants have always fascinated people and served as a focus of reflection about ourselves, from the days of King Solomon to the present.

"Socialism, great idea, wrong species."

One of my favorite quotes, if I'm not mistaken by renowned entymologist and environmentalist E.O. Wilson

To local's, 'Devil's Gardens' were places of mystery and superstition, rather like the Witches Circles in England. These patches of forest occupied uniquely by one species of tree were avoided or crossed reluctantly and with caution. According to legend, these strange gardens were the work of Chuyachaqui, an evil dwarf spirit with one human foot and one hoof. Chuyachaqui had the power to appear in many guises, appearing as friends or family to lone walkers, leading them in circles until they were lost.

Recent research by Megan Elizabeth Frederickson, a graduate student at Stanford, suggests that they are the work of those ingenious creatures, ants. Various ant species are known to engage in behavior that many people consider to be human by definition: agriculture, even slavery. But this is the first time that they have been found to use an herbicide.

Lemon ants((Myrmelachista schumanni)) live in the Lemon Ant Tree and use formic acid to kill off other tree saplings in the area. Formic acid is usually used in ant communication, allowing them to follow each other's trails for example.

Once an ant colony settles in a Lemon tree, they begin clearing the area around it, gradually expanding into new lemon trees as they sprout up. Over time, they create huge super-colonies, like a giant ant megalopolis. The oldest of these is about 800 years old according to Frederickson.

Ants have always fascinated people and served as a focus of reflection about ourselves, from the days of King Solomon to the present.

"Socialism, great idea, wrong species."

One of my favorite quotes, if I'm not mistaken by renowned entymologist and environmentalist E.O. Wilson

More info:

The research will also be highlighted in an upcoming Sir David Attenborough BBC production, Life in the Undergrowth:

For information about ants in general, complete with a google earth interface for finding ant species and habitats, look at this cool site:

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Robo-Challenge 2005

Last years Robot Challenge, the DARPA funded drone only rally fizzled in the Mojave desert last year. The best performance was Carnegie Mellon's robo-Hummer, Sandstorm, which only made 7.5 miles before it bogged down and a wheel caught fire as it spun around. Indeed, the entire race was hamstrung by a series of mechanical failures, blunders, and just plain stupid bots. But hey, nobody said it was going to be easy.

The Robot Challenge is back again this year, with double the money- a 2 million dollar prize for the bot that can run the 150 mile race to the end. A lot of hard lessons were learned last year, and hopefully this year will see some real winners!!!

See for more information.
Lift off!? Space Elevators may move from Sci-fi to Real-sci.

Taking and elevator into orbit may sound like a preposterous idea, the realm of way out there science fiction. Indeed, until recently it was. The idea was first proposed by Russian engineer Yuri Artsutanov, in 1960.

The idea has been featured in numerous science fiction stories, the first of which was Arthur C. Clarkes 'Fountains of Paradise'. This is what Clarke had to say about the idea a Times , article from Sept. 24, 2005.

"When I wrote it (Fountains), I considered it little more than a fascinating thought experiment. At that time, the only material from which it could be built — diamond — was not readily available in sufficient megaton quantities. This situation has now changed, with the discovery of the third form of carbon, C60, and its relatives, the Buckminsterfullerenes. If these can be mass-produced, building a space elevator would be a completely viable engineering proposition."

The idea is really simple. A superstrong cable or ribbon is strung from the earth to a stationary satellite whose centripedal force maintains the cable under tension as a lift moves up and down the cable. Of all the ways to move out of the space-age pleistocene, this seems like the best.

For more information on the space elevator some teams working to make it possible:

Arthur C. Clarkes Times article:,,1072-1794500,00.html

thanks to Bruce Sterling's Wired magazine blog for the Clarke link.

Image courtesy of
Brad Edwards/ISR