Blog Author: Maribeth Back

Virtual Factory at IEEE ICME 2010, Singapore


Happy to note that our overview paper on the Virtual Factory work, “The Virtual Chocolate Factory: Building a mixed-reality system for industry” has been accepted at IEEE’s ICME 2010. The conference is in Singapore in July; I’ll be there, co-chairing a session there that focuses on workplace use of virtual realities, augmented reality, and telepresence. You can see more on the Virtual Factory work here.

Joining the e-book annals: Alice on iPad

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A lot of people (like me) will use the iPad as an e-reader, among other things. It’s a good opportunity to play around with what a e-book actually can be, since the iPad offers things that Kindle can’t (color, animation…). I vote for more like this, please:

It’s in the iTunes store here.

Towels! and, Open Source Robotics

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“Cloth Grasp Point Detection based on Multiple-view Geometric Cues with Application to Robotic Towel Folding.” Just watch it:

This is a PR2 robot from Willow Garage, being used in a project led by Berkeley grad student Jeremy Maitlin-Shepard. (The paper on the folding application is here.) The PR2 and its cousin the Texai have visited us at FXPAL; we’re hoping to improve our acquaintance soon (stay tuned!).

The very interesting approach taken by the roboticists at Willow Garage is to encourage the development of the robotics community through open source development. They also loan their hardware to other research labs on a case-by-case basis, again to encourage development on their ROS platform.

What is ROS? From the Willow Garage site:

ROS, Willow Garage’s software platform, stands for two things: Robot Operating System, a loose analogy to a computer operating system, and Robot Open Source. All of the software in development at Willow Garage is released under a BSD license at It is completely open source and free for others to use, change and commercialize upon — our primary goal is to enable code reuse in robotics research and development. Willow Garage is strongly committed to developing open source and reusable software. With the help of an international robotics community, we’ve also released all of the software we are building on ROS at in the “ros-pkg” and “wg-ros-pkg” projects.

Rapid evolution of social media has its drawbacks

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(Please be aware that some ChatRoulette links may contain mature content.)

Dear me. All those folks doing naughty things on ChatRoulette, secure in their Net-anonymity, may suddenly meet a rude awakening: Chat Roulette Map, a new Google Maps mash-up, maps users’ chat image to their location, based on IP address. Last week, it also showed users’ ip addresses.

Note that Chat Roulette Map has just added a new pop-up window when you first load the page:

Welcome To Chat Roulette Map
We’d like to advise to stop using
student’s names in their hostnames.

We’ve decided, at least for the time being, to
hide IP & host information as some user-identifiable
information was found in some entries.

No, you think? It’ll be interesting to see how this warning window evolves over the next few weeks.

pCubee: a interactive cubic display

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Our friend Takashi Matsumoto, (who built the Post-Bit system with us here at FXPAL) built a cubic display called Z-agon with colleagues at the Keio Media Design Laboratory. Takashi points us at this video of a very nicely realized cubic display (well, five-sided, but still). It’s called pCubee: a Perspective-Corrected Handheld Cubic Display and it comes from the Human Communications Technology Lab at the University of British Columbia. Some of you may have seen a version of this demoed at ACM Multimedia 2009; it will also be at CHI 2010. Longer and more detailed video is here.

Your house as your own power and gas station

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We have a continuing interest in alternative energy sources and other green technologies. I’m intrigued by this article at on new solar-based fuel cell technology coming out from MIT chemist Dan Nocera. Why it’s cool:

With one bottle of drinking water and four hours of sunlight, MIT chemist Dan Nocera claims that he can produce 30 KWh of electricity, which is enough to power an entire household in the developing world. With about three gallons of river water, he could satisfy the daily energy needs of a large American home. The key to these claims is a new, affordable catalyst that uses solar electricity to split water and generate hydrogen.

Nocera’s new company, Cambridge-based Sun Catalytix, recently received funding through the new ARPA-E agency that was created by the US government to promote the development of advanced energy technologies. Take a look:

Renewable energy from slow water currents


People have been trying to harness wave energy for decades, and of course more traditional – and more destructive – hydroelectric projects like dams provide power to hundreds of millions of people. Now, researchers at the University of Michigan are creating a system for fish-friendly power generation from slow-moving water currents in rivers or oceans – and it’s not that expensive; about a third the cost of cheap solar. Here’s the story:

Slow-moving ocean and river currents could be a new, reliable and affordable alternative energy source. A University of Michigan engineer has made a machine that works like a fish to turn potentially destructive vibrations in fluid flows into clean, renewable power.

The machine is called VIVACE. A paper on it is published in the current issue of the quarterly Journal of Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering.

VIVACE is the first known device that could harness energy from most of the water currents around the globe because it works in flows moving slower than 2 knots (about 2 miles per hour.) Most of the Earth’s currents are slower than 3 knots. Turbines and water mills need an average of 5 or 6 knots to operate efficiently.

Click through for more details. Visit the story online for video (Flash or QuickTime).
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DarwinTunes: a social experiment


DarwinTunes bills itself as a “test tube for cultural evolution.” It’s an online experiment being run by researchers at Imperial College London. We often talk about the evolution of social media or cultural memes – but is that just a metaphor, or is it really evolution?

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