An integrated circuit (IC), popularly known as a silicon chip, computer chip or microchip, is a miniature electronic circuit rendered on a sliver of semiconducting material, typically silicon, but sometimes sapphire. Owing to their tiny measurements and incredible processing power — modern integrated circuits host millions of transistors on boards as small as 5 millimeters (about 0.2 inches) square and 1 millimeter (0.04 inches) thick — they are to be found in virtually every modern-day appliance and device, from credit cards, computers, and mobile phones to satellite navigation systems, traffic lights and airplanes.
Essentially, an integrated circuit is a composite of various electronic components, namely, transistors, resistors, diodes and capacitors, that are organized and connected in a way that produces a specific effect. Each unit in this ‘team’ of electronic components has a unique function within the integrated circuit. The transistor acts like a switch and determines the ‘on’ or ‘off’ status of the circuit; the resistor controls the flow of electricity; the diode permits the flow of electricity only when some condition on the circuit has been met; and finally the capacitor stores electricity prior to its release in a sustained burst.
The first integrated circuit was demonstrated by Texas Instruments’ employee Jack Kilby in 1958. This prototype, measuring about 11.1 by 1.6 millimeters, consisted of a strip of germanium and just one transistor. The advent of silicon coupled with the ever diminishing size of integrated circuits and the rapid increase in the number of transistors per millimeter meant that integrated circuits underwent massive proliferation and gave rise to the age of modern computing.
From its inception in the 1950s to the present day, integrated circuit technology has known various ‘generations’ that are now commonly referred to as Small Scale Integration (SSI), Medium Scale Integration (MSI), Large Scale Integration (LSI), and Very Large Scale Integration (VSLI). These progressive technological generations describe an arc in the progress of IC design that goes to illustrate the prescience of Intel head, George Moore, who coined ‘Moore’s Law’ in the 1960s which asserted that integrated circuits double in complexity every two years.
This doubling in complexity is borne out by the generational movement of the technology that saw SSI’s tens of transistors increase to MSI’s hundreds, then to LSI’s tens of thousands, and finally to VSLI’s millions. The next frontier that integrated circuits promise to breach is that of ULSI, or Ultra-Large Scale Integration, which entails the deployment of billions of microscopic transistors and has already been heralded by the Intel project codenamed Tukwila, which is understood to employ over two billion transistors.
If more proof were needed of the persisting veracity of Moore’s dictum, we have only to look at the modern day integrated circuit which is faster, smaller and more ubiquitous than ever. As of 2008, the semiconductor industry produces more than 267 billion chips a year and this figure is raised to 330 billion by the end of 2012.
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]hellfish such as mussels and barnacles secrete very sticky proteins that help them cling to rocks or ship hulls, even underwater. Inspired by these natural adhesives, a team of MIT engineers has designed new materials that could be used to repair ships or help heal wounds and surgical incisions.
To create their new waterproof adhesives, the MIT researchers engineered bacteria to produce a hybrid material that incorporates naturally sticky mussel proteins as well as a bacterial protein found in biofilms — slimy layers formed by bacteria growing on a surface. When combined, these proteins form even stronger underwater adhesives than those secreted by mussels.
This project, described in the Sept. 21 issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology, represents a new type of approach that can be exploited to synthesize biological materials with multiple components, using bacteria as tiny factories.
“The ultimate goal for us is to set up a platform where we can start building materials that combine multiple different functional domains together and to see if that gives us better materials performance,” says Timothy Lu, an associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) and the senior author of the paper.
The paper’s lead author is Chao Zhong, a former MIT postdoc who is now at ShanghaiTech University. Other authors are graduate student Thomas Gurry, graduate student Allen Cheng, senior Jordan Downey, postdoc Zhengtao Deng, and Collin Stultz, a professor in EECS.
The sticky substance that helps mussels attach to underwater surfaces is made of several proteins known as mussel foot proteins. “A lot of underwater organisms need to be able to stick to things, so they make all sorts of different types of adhesives that you might be able to borrow from,” Lu says.
Scientists have previously engineered E. coli bacteria to produce individual mussel foot proteins, but these materials do not capture the complexity of the natural adhesives, Lu says. In the new study, the MIT team wanted to engineer bacteria to produce two different foot proteins, combined with bacterial proteins called curli fibers — fibrous proteins that can clump together and assemble themselves into much larger and more complex meshes.
Lu’s team engineered bacteria so they would produce proteins consisting of curli fibers bonded to either mussel foot protein 3 or mussel foot protein 5. After purifying these proteins from the bacteria, the researchers let them incubate and form dense, fibrous meshes. The resulting material has a regular yet flexible structure that binds strongly to both dry and wet surfaces.
“The result is a powerful wet adhesive with independently functioning adsorptive and cohesive moieties,” says Herbert Waite, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California at Santa Barbara who was not part of the research team. “The work is very creative, rigorous, and thorough.”
The researchers tested the adhesives using atomic force microscopy, a technique that probes the surface of a sample with a tiny tip. They found that the adhesives bound strongly to tips made of three different materials — silica, gold, and polystyrene. Adhesives assembled from equal amounts of mussel foot protein 3 and mussel foot protein 5 formed stronger adhesives than those with a different ratio, or only one of the two proteins on their own.
These adhesives were also stronger than naturally occurring mussel adhesives, and they are the strongest biologically inspired, protein-based underwater adhesives reported to date, the researchers say.
More adhesive strength
Using this technique, the researchers can produce only small amounts of the adhesive, so they are now trying to improve the process and generate larger quantities. They also plan to experiment with adding some of the other mussel foot proteins. “We’re trying to figure out if by adding other mussel foot proteins, we can increase the adhesive strength even more and improve the material’s robustness,” Lu says.
The team also plans to try to create “living glues” consisting of films of bacteria that could sense damage to a surface and then repair it by secreting an adhesive.
The research was funded by the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.
Chao Zhong, Thomas Gurry, Allen A. Cheng, Jordan Downey, Zhengtao Deng, Collin M. Stultz, Timothy K. Lu. Strong underwater adhesives made by self-assembling multi-protein nanofibres. Nature Nanotechnology, 2014; DOI:10.1038/nnano.2014.199
[dropcap]A[/dropcap] major limitation in the performance of solar cells happens within the photovoltaic material itself: When photons strike the molecules of a solar cell, they transfer their energy, producing quasi-particles called excitons — an energized state of molecules. That energized state can hop from one molecule to the next until it’s transferred to electrons in a wire, which can light up a bulb or turn a motor.
But as the excitons hop through the material, they are prone to getting stuck in minuscule defects, or traps — causing them to release their energy as wasted light.
Now a team of researchers at MIT and Harvard University has found a way of rendering excitons immune to these traps, possibly improving photovoltaic devices’ efficiency. The work is described in a paper in the journal Nature Materials.
Their approach is based on recent research on exotic electronic states known as topological insulators, in which the bulk of a material is an electrical insulator — that is, it does not allow electrons to move freely — while its surface is a good conductor.
The MIT-Harvard team used this underlying principle, called topological protection, but applied it to excitons instead of electrons, explains lead author Joel Yuen, a postdoc in MIT’s Center for Excitonics, part of the Research Laboratory of Electronics. Topological protection, he says, “has been a very popular idea in the physics and materials communities in the last few years,” and has been successfully applied to both electronic and photonic materials.
Moving on the surface
Topological excitons would move only at the surface of a material, Yuen explains, with the direction of their motion determined by the direction of an applied magnetic field. In that respect, their behavior is similar to that of topological electrons or photons.
In its theoretical analysis, the team studied the behavior of excitons in an organic material, a porphyrin thin film, and determined that their motion through the material would be immune to the kind of defects that tend to trap excitons in conventional solar cells.
The choice of porphyrin for this analysis was based on the fact that it is a well-known and widely studied family of materials, says co-author Semion Saikin, a postdoc at Harvard and an affiliate of the Center for Excitonics. The next step, he says, will be to extend the analysis to other kinds of materials.
While the work so far has been theoretical, experimentalists are eager to pursue the concept. Ultimately, this approach could lead to novel circuits that are similar to electronic devices but based on controlling the flow of excitons rather that electrons, Yuen says. “If there are ever excitonic circuits,” he says, “this could be the mechanism” that governs their functioning. But the likely first application of the work would be in creating solar cells that are less vulnerable to the trapping of excitons.
Eric Bittner, a professor of chemistry at the University of Houston who was not associated with this work, says, “The work is interesting on both the fundamental and practical levels. On the fundamental side, it is intriguing that one may be able to create excitonic materials with topological properties. This opens a new avenue for both theoretical and experimental work. … On the practical side, the interesting properties of these materials and the fact that we’re talking about pretty simple starting components — porphyrin thin films — makes them novel materials for new devices.”
The work received support from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Norman Yao, a graduate student at Harvard, was also a co-author.
[dropcap]B[/dropcap]uilding on previous research that twisted light to send data at unheard-of speeds, scientists at USC have developed a similar technique with radiowaves, reaching high speeds without some of the hassles that can go with optical systems.
The researchers, led by electrical engineering professor Alan Willner of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, reached data transmission rates of 32 gigabits per second across 2.5 meters of free space in a basement lab at USC.
For reference, 32 gigabits per second is fast enough to transmit more than 10 hour-and-a-half-long HD movies in one second and is 30 times faster than LTE wireless.
“Not only is this a way to transmit multiple spatially collocated radio data streams through a single aperture, it is also one of the fastest data transmission via radio waves that has been demonstrated,” Willner said.
Faster data transmission rates have been achieved — Willner himself led a team two years ago that twisted light beams to transmit data at a blistering 2.56 terabits per second — but methods to do so rely on light to carry the data.
“The advantage of radio is that it uses wider, more robust beams. Wider beams are better able to cope with obstacles between the transmitter and the receiver, and radio is not as affected by atmospheric turbulence as optics,” Willner said.
Willner is the corresponding author of an article about the research that will be published in Nature Communications on Sept. 16. The study’s co-lead authors Yan Yan and Guodong Xie are both graduate students at USC Viterbi, and other contributors came from USC, the University of Glasgow, and Tel Aviv University.
To achieve the high transmission rates, the team took a page from Willner’s previous work and twisted radio beams together. They passed each beam — which carried its own independent stream of data — through a “spiral phase plate” that twisted each radio beam into a unique and orthogonal DNA-like helical shape. A receiver at the other end of the room then untwisted and recovered the different data streams.
“This technology could have very important applications in ultra-high-speed links for the wireless ‘backhaul’ that connects base stations of next-generation cellular systems,” said Andy Molisch of USC Viterbi. Molisch, whose research focuses on wireless systems, co-designed and co-supervised the study with Willner.
Future research will focus on attempting to extend the transmission’s range and capabilities.
The work was supported by Intel Labs University Research Office and the DARPA InPho (Information in a Photon) Program.
Yan Yan, Guodong Xie, Martin P. J. Lavery, Hao Huang, Nisar Ahmed, Changjing Bao, Yongxiong Ren, Yinwen Cao, Long Li, Zhe Zhao, Andreas F. Molisch, Moshe Tur, Miles J. Padgett, Alan E. Willner. High-capacity millimetre-wave communications with orbital angular momentum multiplexing. Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 4876 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5876
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]nkjet printer ink is crazy expensive. Depending on the make and model of your printer, you could easily drop $100 or more for a new round of cartridges – all so that you can continue using a printer that may have only cost you $89. So when you want to maximize the number of printouts you make with that pricey ink, you may find yourself wondering exactly how the printer knows each cartridge is about to run dry.
Before we delve into specifics, it’s worth knowing that manufacturers purposely program their printers to stop using cartridges that are getting low on ink. That’s because if cartridges were to run totally dry, the plastic cartridge may become too hot and eventually damage or destroy your printer’s printhead. In other words, you’d be out a printer instead of just ink.
That said, considering the price of ink, you have a vested interest in squeezing every last drop of the stuff out of each cartridge. Ink may cost anywhere from $13 to $75 for a single ounce. That’s — cough — nearly $10,000 per gallon [source: Consumer Reports].
Ink is exorbitantly priced in part because printer manufacturers are giving away their sophisticated printers at a really low price in the short term, knowing that they’ll make their real profits on ink in the long term.
All of which leads us to this: If ink is such a fabulous cash cow for printer developers, they’d clearly have a reason to fudge on low-ink reminders. After all, if you unknowingly replace cartridges when they still have a usable level of ink inside them, the companies that sell the ink will wind up with significantly higher revenues.
But these companies aren’t necessarily out to get you. On the next page you’ll read more about low-ink reminders and how you can monitor whether you’re getting your money’s worth.
So how exactly does your printer know that a cartridge is getting low on ink? Different manufacturers use different technologies for this process.
Epson’s cartridges are equipped with an integrated circuit chip. This chiptells the printer whether the correct cartridge is installed and also helps the printer keep a record of how much ink each specific cartridge has spewed. Once a cartridge approaches the low-ink threshold, the chip sends an alert to your computer and you see a message on your screen.
Canon takes a different approach. Each printer uses an optical sensor in which shines a light through a prism at the bottom of the ink well. Once ink levels fall to a predetermined level, a beam of light bounces towards a low-ink sensor, which again triggers an on-screen message that tells you to replace the cartridge.
Some other printer makers build the printhead directly onto the cartridge, so there’s no risk of permanently damaging the printer once ink runs low. These use a chip that’s similar to the Epson models. But as part of the system, some of these printers obstinately refuse to print more pages even if ink remains inside, meaning you’ve no choice but to toss perfectly good ink.
Of course, the big questions is just how accurate are these systems, really? Journalists and industry insiders offer varying accounts on ink yield, but the consensus seems to be that manufacturers err heavily on the side of cushioning low-ink alerts. That is, they’d much rather have you toss out a cartridge with ink left than print for weeks or months longer before spending more cash on new ones. One study indicated that nearly 60 percent of ink goes unused and is thrown away [source: Haworth].
If ink costs concern you, your best bet is to do a bit of research before you buy a printer. In general, the cheaper the printer, the more expensive the ink. Spend a bit more on the printer itself and your ink costs will likely decrease [source: Wood(computer world)].
Also consider leaving your printer’s power on. Each time you cycle the power on an inkjet, it goes through a maintenance routine that can use a huge percentage of each cartridge’s ink [source: Consumer Reports].
Print only when you need to and leave the printer on, and you’ll get the most mileage out of each cartridge. Hopefully, you’ll save a bit of cash, as well.
With all this hand-wringing over the ridiculous cost of inkjet printing, you’re probably thinking that there just has to be a better way. There are some workarounds to ink sticker shock. If you only print in black and white, a low-cost laser printer provides a lot more pages for a much lower cost – and the print quality is crisper, too. If you’re stuck with an inkjet, you can consider refilled cartridges that are a fraction of the cost of OEM products, but beware…for print jobs that require the highest quality, manufacturer inks are your safest and most reliable bet.
We all know that Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook buddies are prying into our personal data a bit more than they should. Even when there was no concrete proof, most were aware that there was something funky going on with the biggest social media website in history.
It would seem, however, that those in control of Facebook finally decided to come out and say, point blank, that they will use your browsing history to provide advertisers with the information they need to target you with more specialized ads.
How does this work? Well, basically speaking, when you visit certain websites they load these things called “cookies” onto your computer, which are used to help your browser remember which sites you like visiting for future reference. What Facebook is doing is using this data so that advertisers know what kinds of products you’re interested in. This means if you look for shoes or computers a lot, you’ll see more ads related to those items on Facebook.
The only way to opt out of this is to manually change some settings. That’s right; they aren’t giving you any real options, you either find out on your own how to remove yourself from their new “service” or you’re stuck handing over your personal data to them. Infuriating? Yeah, just a little bit. Below you’ll find a step-by-step process by which you can release yourself from Zuckerberg’s grasp, at least by a tiny amount.
1. Go to the Digital Advertising Alliance’s website.
Here’s a link to it. Note that in order for this site to work properly, you’ll need to turn off AdBlocker Plus (or anything else that prevents cookies from being loaded onto your computer). Which is ironic in itself actually…a website that allows you to opt out of targeted ads…but disallows the use of AdBlocker. Huh.
2. Find Facebook.
Once you’re there, you’ll see the screen shown above. Click on “Companies Customizing Ads For Your Browser.” There you’ll see a list, and you’ll want to go down until you find “Facebook Inc.”
3. Tell Zuckerberg to spy on someone else!
Once you’ve located Facebook, check the box next to its name (on the right hand side). While you’re at it, feel free to opt out of other website’s ad programs by checking them on this list as well.
When you feel comfortable with your selections, click submit. It’ll take a moment to process, and then, you’re in the clear! Well, sort of. There are still a million other things out there on the internet stealing your data, but at least you’ll be protected from the almighty Facebook (well, mostly)!
Of course, the only way to ensure your safety would be to stop using Facebook…
Bonus section: Dealing with the Facebook app.
The above steps will protect you from the browser-based Facebook…but what about that app you use all of the time on your smartphone or tablet?
If you’re an iPhone or iPad user, go to Settings, General, and then Restrictions. Scroll down to the section labeled Privacy, and tap on Advertising. Switch “Limit Ad Tracking” to on and you’ll be good.
For those of you with an Android device, go to your Google settings, find “Ads,” and check the box that says “opt out of interest-based ads.” Nowyou’ll be safe from creepy advertisements as well.
Will these protect you from all of Facebook’s data collection practices? Probably not, since it’s likely they do a ton of stuff in the background that they never tell us about. At the very least though, you can opt out of one of the creepier ways in which they track your browsing history, and for that we should be thankful.
If you have any more privacy related tips or suggestions, feel free to comment below!
The latest instalment in the Planet of the Apes film franchise opens in the US on Friday. The rubber masks of the 60s and 70s films have been discarded in favour of motion capture suits and CGI. But how much did science inform the new movie’s portrayal of our close relatives?
In a career spanning nearly 40 years, Frans de Waal has cemented a reputation as one of the leading authorities on the behaviour of great apes.
The Dutch-born professor at Emory University in Georgia, US, has made a major contribution to our understanding of primate communities – uncovering many parallels with human societies.
But he’s not impressed with the way our evolutionary cousins have often been portrayed on screen.
“If they were shown in a respectful way, that would be one thing. But they are usually made to be clowns, which is not helpful for the conservation case or the ethical case,” he tells me.
So what did this top primatologist think of the new instalment in the Planet of the Apes franchise?
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which goes on release in the US on Friday, is a bold sequel to the 2011 re-boot. That movie – Rise of the Planet of the Apes – saw a group of genetically modified primates revolt against their human masters.
The new film continues the story of that rebellion’s instigator, an intelligent chimpanzee by the name of Caesar, but picks up his story after a manmade virus has devastated the human population. Amid the rubble of our civilisation, the apes are pitted against surviving pockets of Homo sapiens in a battle for mastery of the planet.
Prof de Waal calls the storyline “impressive”, adding: “I’m not usually into action films like this one, but this held my attention.
“The apes are very humanised: They walk on two legs, they talk – somewhat – they shed tears. In real life, apes do a lot of crying and screaming, but they don’t produce tears like we do.”
However, other aspects of ape behaviour in the film, he says, are true to life.
“We know chimpanzees are aggressive and territorial – they wage war. The use of tools and weapons is also a possibility,” he explains.
To quote a colleague in his field, he said: “If you gave guns to chimps, they would use them.”
The primatologist says the reconciliation following a fight between Caesar and Koba – a bonobo character in the film – rang true in terms of ape interactions. He says he also recognised real-life behaviour in a scene where the apes are seen bowing before their appointed leader.
In real groups, Prof de Waal says, “when an alpha male makes an appearance, the other apes grovel and make themselves appear small”.
But he draws attention to the contrast between the thoughtful male chimp Caesar and Koba – a bonobo – who is the most aggressive character in the film.
“It’s strange because, in reality, the bonobo is a more peaceful ape than the chimpanzee. There is also the character of an orang-utan, who is interested in teaching and in books, so they have added some twists to it.”
Fans will recognise this as an allusion to the position of orangs as a clerical caste in the ape society depicted by the 60s and 70s films and the 1963 novel by French writer Pierre Boule, on which the movies were based.
In real life, orang-utan males are rather solitary, but actress Karin Konoval, who plays the orang Maurice in both Dawn and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, says she understands why the forest primates were characterised as wise elders.
“At core, they are the watchers, who are able to assess everything. They never do anything gratuitously,” she told BBC News.
“There is nothing gratuitous that I’ve ever seen with any of the orang-utans I’ve known. They are very specific and clear in every choice that they make.”
To prepare for the role of Maurice – the trusted confidant of Caesar, played by British actor Andy Serkis – Ms Konoval studied videos of the animals and read “every book that had been written” about the apes.
“The movement of a mature male orang-utan is very specific. So one of the challenges I had on Rise [of the Planet of the Apes] was getting the weight right in my performance. I’m a 120lb woman, and Maurice is a 250lb orang-utan male. One of the things we did in the original film was to weight down my arm stilts,” she says.
But she says that being invited to spend time with the five orang-utans at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle gave her a wealth of experience to bring to her performance in Dawn. Her initial introduction to the group was via a 40-year-old orang male called Tuan, who has something of an artistic streak.
“I watched him paint on a canvas for an hour, an hour-and-a-half at a time. He moves the canvas around and considers it as he goes; this is not slapping the paint around. It was a real artwork. It was amazing,” she says.
If the studio were to make another instalment, Prof de Waal says he would advise the filmmakers to include more female and juvenile ape characters, to give a sense of real group dynamics among the animals. In the wild, gorilla and orang males rarely co-operate, as they do in the film, though this is more likely for chimps.
But he praises the film’s “astonishing” visual effects, which leads us on to an issue that exercises the professor – the welfare of primates in entertainment.
Prof de Waal strongly opposes the use of real primate actors in advertising, film and television, and comments that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ realistic depictions of apes using computer technology alone proves that the industry has no need for the genuine article.
“I hope the practice disappears completely,” he tells me.
“The first Planet of the Apes movie raised some philosophical issues: What are the ethics of keeping humans in a cage? Which is a reversal of the issue we are faced with now: What are the ethics of keeping an ape in a cage?”
So if apes really did usurp humans as the dominant group on the planet, what does de Waal think it would be like with chimps, bonobos, gorillas and orangs at the top of the pecking order?
“Hmmm,” he replies, pausing for a moment. “I’m not an optimist in that regard. The male chimpanzee is very aggressive. I’m not sure they would be angels of peace, as Caesar is in this movie.
“The bonobo would be a more peaceful character – they do not wage war on other groups as chimpanzees do. These groups have even been shown to mingle in the wild on occasion.”
“It would be more like Woodstock – and a completely different movie.”
It’s supposedly made with a much-hyped display material called sapphire crystal. Apple already uses a small amount of sapphire glass for the “Home” button and camera lens in the iPhone 5S, but the rest of the front display is made of Gorilla Glass — a product Apple has been using for years and appears ready to abandon when it releases a new phone this fall.
The new glass display is “paper thin,” Brownlee said in his video.
We were already pretty sure the glass was going to be thinner, more flexible and more durable than previous iterations, but Brownlee put those claims to the test by running the display through a gauntlet of scratches and twists. He stabbed the panel with a knife, scratched it with a set of keys and bent the screen 90 degrees — all without damaging the glass.
“I slowly realized there is absolutely no way I can break this display under my own power,” he said. “The worst blemish on the surface was actually my fingerprint marks and the dust from handling it so much.”
The glass is also extremely high-quality, Brownlee noted: “There’s absolutely no color shift while looking through the sapphire glass.”
Brownlee’s screen measures 4.7 inches diagonally, keeping with rumors that Apple will release two different-sized iPhones this year: A 4.7-inch model and 5.5-inch one. Apple is thought to be going big to stay competitive with the increasingly popular large smartphones sold by Samsung and others.
Nasa plans to send Google’s 3D smartphones into space to function as the “eyes and brains” of free-flying robots inside the Space Station.
The robots, known as Spheres (Synchronised Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental satellites), currently have limited capabilities.
It is hoped the smartphones, powered by Google’s Project Tango, will equip the robots with more functionality.
The robots have been described by experts as “incredibly clever”.
When Nasa’s robots first arrived at the International Space Station in 2006, they were only capable of precise movements using small jets of CO2, which propelled the devices forwards at around an inch per second.
“We wanted to add communication, a camera, increase the processing capability, accelerometers and other sensors,” Spheres project manager Chris Provencher told Reuters.
“As we were scratching our heads thinking about what to do, we realised the answer was in our hands. Let’s just use smartphones.”
In an attempt to make the robots smarter and of more use to astronauts, engineers at Nasa’s Ames Research Centre sent cheap smartphones to the space station, which they had purchased from Best Buy, an American electronics shop.
Astronauts then attached the phones to the Spheres, giving them more visual and sensing capabilities.
Looking to further improve the robots, Nasa turned to Google’s Project Tango.
Tango uses the 3D cameras embedded in Google’s latest smartphones to give the handset a human-scale understanding of space and motion.
Once at the space station and attached to the Spheres, the phones will use their onboard motion-tracking cameras and infrared depth sensors to safely navigate around the ISS.
These more advanced phones will be launched into space on 11 July and are intended to replace the earlier models.
Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, told the BBC: “This is an incredibly clever way to unite different technologies in an unexpected way.
“It will be interesting to see how much this inspires Google to use this technology for its own robotics development following on the several world-class robot companies it has purchased in the last year.”
Dr Fumiya Iida, lecturer at the department of engineering at the University of Cambridge, praised Nasa’s ingenuity.
“Robots were and still are usually very expensive and complex, thus they often don’t match to a cost-benefit balance. By using consumer electronics such as smartphones, we can significantly reduce down the development cost for robots with high-performance capabilities which were not possible 10 years ago.”
Nasa envisions a future in which its spatially-aware Spheres can help astronauts with daily chores and risky tasks.
Dr Walterio Mayo of Bristol University’s Robotics Lab told the BBC that the basic idea behind the mapping system, a technique known as Slam(simultaneous localisation and mapping), was developed substantially in the UK ten years ago.
He said that while the robots are an impressive start, they currently have no arms, which could limit their potential.
The Spheres’ creators are said to have been inspired by Luke Skywalker’s training droid, from the film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, although it is unlikely lasers will be fitted to the device.
Facebook has acquired LiveRail – a tech start-up that helps companies place more relevant ads in the videos that appear on their websites and apps.
LiveRail also provides a real-time bidding platform for marketers looking to place ads on online videos.
The firms did not reveal the financial terms, but some reports indicate that Facebook paid between $400m and $500m (£233m and £291m) to buy the firm.
Online video advertising is forecast to grow robustly in the coming years.
“More relevant ads will be more interesting and engaging to people watching online video, and more effective for marketers too,” Brian Boland, vice president of ads product marketing and atlas at Facebook,said in a blog post.
“Publishers will benefit as well, because more relevant ads will help them make the most out of every opportunity they have to show an ad.”
Some other estimates suggest that online video advertising revenues are likely to hit $6bn in the US this year.
As a result, a growing number of firms – especially social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter – have been looking at ways to attract more advertisers and tap into the sector’s growth.
Earlier this year, Facebook said it would start serving ads to third-party mobile apps via a new advertising network.
Twitter, acquired MoPub mobile advertising exchange last year.
MoPub acts as a mediation service, allowing marketers to manage the placement of ads across several networks, including Facebook’s.
Analysts said that given their large user base, social networks were likely to get a big share of this growing market.
“It is no longer about saying, ‘My ad was was seen by so many people,'” said Sanjana Chappalli, Asia-Pac head of LEWIS Pulse, a firm specialising in digital marketing.
“But it is now about knowing who those people are and how they have responded to the information fed to them.
“And on that front, social networks enjoy a tremendous advantage over everyone else.” she added.
Meanwhile, Google’s AdMob and Apple’s iAds platforms and several other smaller firms are also competing to provide the adverts shown on mobile phones and tablets.
Millennial Media, Flurry and Nexage are among the firms promoting their own versions of “programmatic buying” – a way for firms to target their ads at a specific type of consumer via a chosen type of app at an appropriate time and geographic location.