Thursday, 18 February 2010

Our reporters found out that more and more young people today are
using the Internet on a daily basis. But what do Net users say about it?
Manuel is a 16-year-old exchange student from Portugal, and this
is what he told our magazine:

‘I’ve been studying in Ireland for three months. I’m over here on
an exchange programme and will be staying until the end of June. I
use the Internet a lot to keep in touch with my friends back home. I
miss them a lot and we e-mail each other nearly every day. It stops
me from feeling too homesick, and ordinary post is too slow; we call
it ‘snail mail’. In the evening, I also use the Internet to chat. My
friends and I arrange a time and meet up. I also chat with my mother
in Lisbon and my father, who lives in the Algarve. Last week it
was my youngest brother’s birthday. He’s my father’s son from his
second marriage. I sent him a beautiful card I picked from a set of
cards online. I also wanted to get him something from the Web, but
I haven’t got a credit card so I couldn’t buy anything.’

Rachel, 17, is a language student who is studying Russian and
German at university. She says she is on the Net for hours every day.
As foreign language books are very expensive, she often downloads
texts for her course. She also reads online newspapers and carries out research.
Jessica is 20 years old and works as a trainee Web
designer. She left school last year and did a course in
computing. As part of the course she had 2 months’
work experience in an Internet consultancy. When she
finished the course, she was offered a full-time job at
the consultancy. She is very excited about it. This is
what she said:

‘The job is very creative and challenging.
First, I talk to clients to find out what they want
from their Website and see if they understand the full
potential of the Internet. I work with graphic artists
who design the site and choose the texts.’

Gregory, who is 71, shows a lot of enthusiasm when he talks
about the Net.

‘I started to mess around with computers when
I retired,’ he told our reporter. ‘I was a lorry driver and had a very
busy life. As I was feeling depressed with so much free time on my
hands, my daughter bought me a computer. It was a fantastic idea.
We have access to the world without going out of our front door.
Now our dream, I mean the dream my wife and I have, is to have
a robot to do the housework and have enough money to equip our
home with the latest technology. We already go shopping on the
Internet. Some people think we’ll be controlled by intelligent computers
in the future, but they’re wrong. Men will always control the
machine because it will only do what it’s told. Computers have
opened the door to the information age and it’s impossible to
imagine the world today without them or the Internet. I’ve joined
the Greenpeace Cyberactivist Community and I receive regular
e-mail updates, take part in on-line discussions and help out with
Greenpeace campaigns. I’m what you call a cyberactivist.’

A brief history of Rescue Robots - Part 2

Blitch and Murphy were mobilised immediately after the collapse
of Tower 2 in the attacks on the World Trade Center of 9/11.
Within 24 hours, a team of robots from CRASAR, the only unit of
this kind on the planet, was on the spot to help sort through the
debris. The robots were used for searching for victims, searching
for paths through the rubble that would be quicker to excavate,
structural inspection and detection of hazardous materials.
In each case, the robots were used because they could go deeper
than traditional search equipment (robots routinely went 5-20
metres into the interior of the rubble pile versus 2 metres for a
camera mounted on a pole), could enter a void space too small for
a human or search dog, or could enter a place still on fire or posing
great risk of structural collapse.
The robots performed all their tasks well, though no survivors
were discovered by any method. The robots did find many sets of
remains and, more importantly, were accepted by the rescue community.
All robots were teleoperated due to the unexpected complexity
of the environment, the limitations of the sensors, and user
acceptance issues.
Immediately after the WTC, CRASAR formed a formal rescue
robot response support team consisting of the USF WTC team,
with Murphy as director of operations and team leader. CRASAR
established a pattern of conducting free awareness training for rescue
professionals with field certification and practice working with
rescuers, and conducting field research.
In January 2002, Blitch was sent to Afghanistan and Murphy
became Director, which led to CRASAR receiving a State Type II status,
in essence becoming a research entity formally recognised by the
State of Florida and able to manage its own budget and resources.
After 9/11, many researchers have become interested in search
and rescue. CRASAR continues to lead in basic research and especially
in fieldable systems, and has secured several grants. There is
no specific source that funds search and rescue research, so funding
comes from the defence department. The robots are expected to
be able to gather data by themselves so that operators can focus on
the emergency at hand.
According to the Director of the LA Emergency Preparedness
Department, ‘It is one thing to develop robots and another thing to
integrate them into the world of fire and law enforcement.
Dr Robin Murphy is working to establish a relationship with rescue
workers so that when the technology arrives on the scene, they
don’t say ‘‘What’s this?’’ They say, ‘‘Let’s go to work!”’

A brief history of Rescue Robots

Dr Robin Murphy, a professor of computer science and engineering,and Lt Col John Blitch have played an important role in the use of robots for search and rescue, a subject that has been discussed in scientific literature since the early 1980s. However, the first real research began immediately after the Oklahoma City
(OKC) bombing in 1995.
Dr Robin Murphy was then an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Mines and one of her graduate students, Major John Blitch of the US Army, participated in the response to the OKC, taking notes as to how robots might have been applied. This
led to the development of an expert system for determining which existing robots are useful for which situations — Blitch’s MS thesis — and to the exploration of the marsupial (mother-daughter) class of robots as a solution to several platform deficiencies.
Dr Robin Murphy created a cache of small, fieldable robot platforms to be used in the event of a real disaster. She also devised an experimental platform, which was based on a children’s batterypowered jeep. The work carried out by Blitch provided some of the motivation for the DARPA Tactical Mobile Robot (TMR) programme,
which produced prototype small robots for military operations in urban terrains.
In 1998, Murphy moved to the University of South Florida, where her work changed to directing field studies with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue in Tampa, Florida. Dr Murphy and some graduate students became part of Florida Task Force 3. The work
produced fundamental enabling research, assessing platform needs and producing a preliminary model of how the search task could be conducted with robots, setting the requirements for them.
The artificial intelligence community began to take interest in rescue robots as a challenging and worthy application area. By the summer of 2000, the American Association for Artificial Intelligence had held the first Rescue Robot competition event intended to attract researchers into search and rescue, and in 2001, the
RoboCup competition expanded to include a rescue robot league.
On September 1st of that same year, Lt Colonel Blitch chartered the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) of the University of South Florida (USF) and became the first director.

Will we all be switching to e-books?

Sony certainly wants us to. This week, the Japanese electronics giant announced an exclusive deal with high-street bookseller Borders to promote the new Sony Reader, its pint-sized attempt to finally break open the e-book market.
The Reader, which made its full debut at the CES show in Las Vegas earlier this year, is an impressive little gadget. Around the size of a thin paperback book, it mimics the printed page using electronic ink and has a crisp display that puts no extra strain on the eyes. With the capacity to hold hundreds of titles simultaneously
— as well as being able to download new titles from the Internet — some are saying it might do for publishing what the iPod has done for music.
Borders will promote the Reader in 200 of its American stores, and it looks likely that its 36 British outlets could follow suit when the gadget goes on sale here later this year (with an expected price tag of around £200). It will mark the first time that an e-book reader will have the backing of such a big book retailer.
Evangelists include The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, who believes it will help more people to read.
‘It is not about replacing books,’ he said earlier this year. ‘E-books offer features that traditional books cannot... if I want a new book, I can download it instantly online, even if it is two in the morning.’
They promise particular dividends in academic environments, as the ability to reduce a pile of expensive textbooks and carry one device is attractive for schools and universities. But although we shouldn’t expect to see e-books replace dead tree material, experts say that publishers have been waiting for this technology
for some time. ‘They see it as less of a threat and more of an opportunity,’ says Philip Jones, web editor of the bookseller. ‘Many publishers are already digitising their backlists — they’re not technology providers or creators, so they are waiting for the iPod of the book world.’

by Bobbie Johnson, in The Guardian, Thursday April 6, 2006 (abridged)