OMG, Origami Robots!

Scientists are exploring uses for robots that can be enveloped in an exoskeleton made from folding a thin sheet of plastic. Cuts are made into a sheet, and then applying heat makes them fold up. The robot can effectively become a rolling ball, a boat, or a glider. They can be developed to have super strong  muscles according to Daniela Rus1, but making tiny robots may be the most promising as a tool to serve humans.

One of the projected exciting uses is in medicine where once inside a human body, an appropriately designed robot could perform a variety of procedures without a single cut with a knife. These include surgery, collection of tissue samples, removing a foreign object swallowed by a child, and dispensing medicine to a particular body site. A magnet inserted into the tiny robot  will allow it to be controlled.

The robot could be frozen in an ice pill, which will melt in your tummy and out will pop the robot reporting for duby.

I first heard about it on NPR’s Science Friday and had to look it up. Check out this source  to see one of these things scuttling around a dinner plate. If I saw one on my kitchen floor, my first instinct would be to stomp on it.

Despite looking like darting insects, part of their beauty is their cost benefit. They are affordable for education and manufacturing marvelous toys. Too bad they’re not yet perfected with Christmas coming up.


  1. Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT

PS I’m changing my blog pattern to every other Saturday from the 10th, 20th, and 30th of the month. I’ve noticed more readers on Saturdays.;

Gut Feeling, a Scientific Reality?


Vagus Nerve System

After disheartening weeks of climate chaos I sought news to  combat depression. I found it in an unusual source: our guts. Gut bacteria and human health is a relatively new area of research. it began with incurable GI problems being treated by implanting fecal material from healthy folks  Then studies began to look at the role our bacteria played in other diseases. Brain Maker, by Dr. Perlmutter, catalogs problems of a number of people who received heavy doses of antibacterial medicine as youth. They later developed a variety of diseases, but rapidly improved with introduction of probiotics. Yogurt aficionados proclaimed “We told you so.” I’ve fallen in love with Kombucha, good for gut beasties and tastes like ginger beer with a bite.

Science is now looking at the connection with mental health. Anecdotal evidence supports the value of probiotics for depressed persons.

From Psychology Today: “There is growing evidence that the trillions of microbes inhabiting our gastrointestinal tracts (commonly referred to as microbiome or gut microbiota) play a mysterious yet significant role in many aspects of our mental health—ranging from psychological resilience to neuropsychiatric disorders.”

OK, Eloise, if none of this is  truly new, get to the point. Let’s suppose our microbes battle depression. . How do those little guys down there message our minds up here? What’s new to my understanding is the microbiome-gut-brain axis, a bidirectional feedback loop facilitated in part by the vagus nerve. This longest nerve in our body is like Hwy 66 with exit and entrance ramps being the nerve fibers which carry messages up and down. I still wonder how those little guys down there create messages or prod the gut to do so.

In a previous blog, Buzz Your Pain Away I wrote about zapping with electricity to control pain. Continuing with the super highway analogy, medical science long knew that pain impulses jump on entrance ramps to alert our brains  to get our hands off the hot stove, but more recently they discovered  the brain sends electrical anti-inflammatory signals out exit ramps to pain sites. Ambulances? As a result, medical science is engaged in research  on Implanting devices to generate such signals via a zap of electricity. .

We are genuinely wired, but I refuse to view myself as a robot.


  1. Psychiatry and Psychotherapy departments at the University of Regensburg in Germany

Psychology Today Article


SF’s Forecast of Robot Coup is Happening Now


I’m a robot, not an evil bot.


No, robots themselves are not governing the world as some works of Science Fiction envisioned, but unscrupulous humans are using a variant called a bot to attempt just that. Here’s what they’ve got bots to do posing as humans.

* Buy up all of the tickets to popular entertainment events and resell for millions in profits.

* Create five star reviews for products to entice unsuspecting buyers. (A single vengeful robot master could also destroy a company or product with one star reviews.)

* Distort public opinion by flooding public comment sites of government agencies.

* Spread propaganda using social media. (Twitter admits to estimates of 27 million fake accounts. Facebook concedes it was essentially hacked during the 2016 elections. Junk news was shared as widely as professional news in Michigan according to an Oxford researcher1 , who also studied the Brexit vote and the French election.)

It is one thing to interfere with commerce, but democracy depends on voters having factual information. Otherwise we will be governed not by robots but by worse, the evil among us. Tim Wu, who authored the article for this blog, suggests we are not far from the following.

* Campaign limit spending by individuals thwarted by using bots to make contributions.

* Voting bots as the ultimate destruction of democracy.

So what’s being done or what should we do? The Captchas we have to fill out to prove we are not a robot are becoming more prevalent. Despite their annoyance— wish they were more legible—they or something similar needs to be more widely employed. Perhaps social media sites should be legally required to employ means to guarantee their members are human. It should also be illegal to use any program that hides its real identity.

If we don’t do something the disastrous results predicted by Science Fiction will get worse.

  1. Philip Howard, runs the Oxford Computational Propaganda Research Project


Post Publication: Hackers at a cybersecurity convention were able to break into every voting machine used in recent US elections and manipulate the software to register fake ballots and change vote tallies.See NYTimesArticle. 

RoboBees are all the Buzz!


The RoboBee is the size of an insect, and it flies like one. Scientists and engineers intent on developing a tiny flying self-directed robot looked to the bee for inspiration. Another unlikely source is children’s pop-up books as the individual RoboBee begins with its parts in a plane. Currently, the tethered RoboBees weigh less than four thousandths of an ounce. The goal is to have the power source be self-contained, but due to the size limit the power would last less than a half hour. Extending the flying time is critical for the intended applications.

The RoboBee was designed for

  • Search and rescue missions, particularly after disasters like earthquakes
  • Surveillance
  • High-resolution weather and climate mapping
  • Traffic monitoring
  • Crop pollination as a stop-gap measure until we can prevent bee colonies from dying. This is said to be up to 20 years off, and at a prohibitive cost for the number of RoboBees required.

Recently RoboBee scientists have found a way to extend flight time by engineering the Bees to rest by perching on leaves or other stationary objects while they survey an area. They perch or stick via electrostatic charge.

Moritz A. Graule, a doctoral student at M.I.T., worked on the perching problem under Robert J. Wood at Harvard, the leader of the team that developed the RoboBee. Dr. Wood and other scientists reported that adding a bit of foam as well as the electrostatic patch saved computing power as the landing need not be so accurately calculated.

Further, the RoboBees are intended to behave like a colony, namely coordinating behavior to accomplish goals. The questions of how bees communicate and make decisions are being studied for relevance to the project.

The research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The research team includes scientists from the fields of biology, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science. The team believes that “crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries facilitates new discovery.” The team is exploring fundamental questions in materials science, fluid mechanics, controls, circuit design, manufacturing, and computer science. The efforts to create intelligent behavior with limited power have technological ramifications for the efficiency and design of custom circuits such as those used in cell phones. The pop-up fabrication technique is being used to design new medical devices for minimally invasive surgery.

Best of all, RoboBee demonstrations have excited school children about science.

Adapted from:




          Human Beings Plan to Invade Alpha Centauri with a Fleet of 1000 Robots

By Eloise Hamann

Shining brightly in this Hubble image is our closest stellar neighbour: Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri lies in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur), just over four light-years from Earth. Although it looks bright through the eye of Hubble, as you might expect from the nearest star to the Solar System, Proxima Centauri is not visible to the naked eye. Its average luminosity is very low, and it is quite small compared to other stars, at only about an eighth of the mass of the Sun. However, on occasion, its brightness increases. Proxima is what is known as a “flare star”, meaning that convection processes within the star’s body make it prone to random and dramatic changes in brightness. The convection processes not only trigger brilliant bursts of starlight but, combined with other factors, mean that Proxima Centauri is in for a very long life. Astronomers predict that this star will remain middle-aged — or a “main sequence” star in astronomical terms — for another four trillion years, some 300 times the age of the current Universe. These observations were taken using Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). Proxima Centauri is actually part of a triple star system — its two companions, Alpha Centauri A and B, lie out of frame. Although by cosmic standards it is a close neighbour, Proxima Centauri remains a point-like object even using Hubble’s eagle-eyed vision, hinting at the vast scale of the Universe around us.

The invasion will not be hostile. The smart phone sized robots only plan to look around and beam pictures back to earth. It will not take the tens of thousands of years, which an ordinary space probe would take. Thanks to assistance from well-focused laser beams, the trip will last less than a single generation of human life.

The small probes will be attached to sails, which will be boosted by laser beams emanating from earth. While the design of the mini-probes is not finalized, a simulation by Stephen Hawking, one of the directors, and Yuri Milner, Russian philanthropist and Internet Entrepreneur seeking funds for the 5-10 billion project, displays the tiny probes at the center of a square sail which looks like an X in a Tic-Tac-Toe square. It is possible to fit the entire probe with computers, cameras and electrical power, in a package with a mass of 1/30th of an ounce.

To the question of what makes human beings unique, Dr. Hawking states, “I believe that what makes us unique is transcending our limits.”

Space scientists have long sought means to cross the void more quickly. As far back as 1962, shortly after lasers were invented, Robert Forward, a physicist and science fiction author, suggested they could be used to push sails in space.

Another advantage of the plan is the number of robots. Many of our little spies can bite the space dust without harm to the others beaming information to earth.

As the closest star system to our solar system, Alpha Centauri is a favorite setting for Science Fiction. In particular: Startrek, Lost in Space, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The project will be directed by Pete Worden, a former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center. He has a prominent cast of advisers, including the Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb who as chair advisor believes the laser is the most intimidating and expensive of the challenges. It would have to generate 100 gigawatts of power for the two minutes needed to accelerate the butterfly probes to a fifth of the speed of light—about as much energy as it takes to lift off a space shuttle.

To achieve that energy would require an array about a mile across combining thousands of lasers firing in perfect unison.

Dr. Loeb once said “Nature teaches us that its imagination is better than ours.” I think Project Breakthrough Starshot challenges his claim.

By Eloise Hamann


Adapted from Reaching for the Stars, Across 4.37 Light-Years by Dennis Overbye, NYTimes 4/12/16