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September 10, 2012

Robots & e-Readers

A few days old now, but DARPA has a new "cheetah" robot that can outrun a human.

Video under the fold.

@kenwheaton writes to note that this demonstrator, while neat, "cheats" because the power supply is external (note the power cords attaching to the "cheetah's" back). It's a neat demonstration, but obviously the thing will need power, and that's going to add weight.

One thing that occurs to me is that they keep finding that mimicking the actual movements of animals is both doable and very efficient. And it occurs then to me that the "cheetah" maintains the same movement the whole time it's running, and doesn't break into, say, the cheetah version of a charging gallop. I bet when they perfect this it will do that, changing the locomotion of its legs to kick in on the top speed.

Much closer to deployment out on the field is Boston Dynamic's "Mule" robot, which looks just like a mule, actually. (Well, you have to imagine a skin over it.)

Watch it follow the leader, navigate hills and rocky terrain, and get up from its belly:

Little noisy. Sounds like it's blowing the leaves off my sidewalk. Otherwise, darned thing is almost ready to start schlepping ammo and water.

And here's that cheetah:

Meanwhile, in consumer tech, Amazon is releasing a new Fire tablet, as well as its newest ereader, the Kindle Paperwhite, so called because they've ditched the dark-gray/tin-colored screen (optimistically called "Pearl") in favor of a pure white one.

Plus, it's got integrated lighting. Front-lit -- it's very clever. It has a bunch of microchannels printed into the underside of the top screen, which permits it to distribute light all over the page, more or less evenly, even though it's all coming from the same point-source or four.

And they've apparently updated the interface. The interface used to be (is, currently) very utilitarian. It does what it's supposed to do, but it looks pretty crude.

Meanwhile, for anyone thinking about buying into this technology, they've made improvements to their old model and dropped the price to $69, which ain't bad at all. You don't have the touch feature, or the lighted page, but otherwise it's a Kindle.

I had thought about getting the Barnes and Noble Glowlight (also with integrated front-lighting) but based on early reviews hands-on demos, the Paperwhite seems superior.

In fairness, no one has reviewed the Paperwhite yet -- Amazon just let people play with them at an unveiling ceremony. it's not really fair to compare a brief playing-around with a full hands-on review.

That said... Yeah, seems the Paperwhite beats the Nook. I'm trying not to be a fanboy here but at least based on the pre-reviews, the Paperwhite distributes light a bit better than the Nook. Plus, the white screen.

I think the white screen has been tough until now for technical reasons. That said, I don't think a pure white page is best. Now that they've demonstrated bright white can be done -- which is their big show-off thing here -- I bet later models will go to an off-white or light cream color.

Sometimes I don't like the dingy tin of the current screen, but I'm not sure I want the high contrast of bright white.

Meanwhile, Apple is probably releasing the iPhone 5 later this week, and maybe something else, like maybe another iPad or mini-iPad.

Bonus: Discussion of the next potential step in drone technologies -- an "ethical governor" that would permit it to make its own lethal decisions.

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posted by Ace at 04:26 PM

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