Snug as a bug: the hated cockroach inspires a helpful robot

WASHINGTON People use a lot of words to describe the reviled cockroach: disgusting, ugly, sneaky and repulsive, to name a few. But it may be time to add a surprising new one: inspirational.Scientists said on Monday they have built a small search-and-rescue robot, inspired by the ability of cockroaches to squeeze through tiny crevices, designed to navigate through rubble to find survivors after natural disasters or bombings."We feel strongly that cockroaches are one of nature's most revolting animals, but they can teach us important design principles," University of California, Berkeley integrative biology professor Robert Full said.Using a specially built obstacle course, the researchers observed how cockroaches scurried in less than a second through crevices smaller than a quarter of their height by compressing their jointed exoskeletons in half.Once inside the crevice, the cockroaches managed to move rapidly, at nearly 20 body lengths per second, with their legs splayed completely out to their sides. "If you scale it up to the size of a human, it would be equivalent to about 70 miles per hour (113 kph), over twice the speed of the fastest sprinter," said Harvard University biologist Kaushik Jayaram, who worked on the research while at UC-Berkeley.The researchers said the cockroaches were about a half inch (13 mm) tall when they ran freely, but compressed their bodies to about a 10th of an inch (2.5 mm) to get through cracks. Experts have been studying animal locomotion in order to invent robots that can maneuver in tough environments. For example, sidewinder rattlesnakes inspired a serpentine robot."Nature has a library of design ideas. This diversity enables discovery. You never know where basic research will lead. The most important discoveries are often from the most unexpected creatures, some of which are disgusting," Full added.The observations involving the species Periplaneta americana, the American cockroach, inspired the design of a prototype soft-bodied, multi-legged robot called CRAM (Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms) that in the future could be used in swarms to help locate survivors in collapsed structures. The simple and inexpensive robot, 7 inches (18 cm) long, 3 inches (7.6 cm) tall and weighing 1.6 ounces (46 grams), was constructed using an origami-like manufacturing technique, Jayaram said. It can reorient its legs and compress its body like a cockroach to get through "vertically confined spaces," Jayaram added.The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler) Read more

Imagination Tech CEO steps down; warns of operating loss

LONDON Imagination Technologies, a supplier of graphics technology to Apple, said its chief executive ‍Hossein Yassaie had quit, departing as the British company warned it would make an operating loss this year.Non-executive director Andrew Heath had been appointed interim chief executive, the company said on Monday, adding that it would take steps to cut operating costs, including the sale of its loss-making digital radio business Pure.Shares in Imagination, which licenses its graphics and video processing technology to semiconductor companies, have slumped by more than 80 percent since 2012 as it struggled to ease its reliance on the iPhone and iPad maker. They fell as much as 16 percent in early trade on Monday to 108 pence, giving the group a market capitalization of 300 million pounds ($436 million).The company, which counts Apple as an investor, said the market slowdown it saw in December had persisted, and had been reinforced by uncertainty about trading prospects with China. It also said royalties from some key customers had fallen short of expectations in the final quarter of 2015, and license sales were also disappointing.Apple reported its slowest-ever increase in iPhone shipments last month and forecast its first revenue drop in 13 years. Its rival Samsung Electronics has also warned of softer sales of gadgets such as smartphones.Imagination chairman Bert Nordberg said "trading conditions continued to be very demanding", as the group said it expected to report an operating loss for the year to end-April. Analyst had expected an operating profit of 8.85 million pounds, according to Thomson Reuters data.Yassaie took steps to widen Imagination's product line up by buying the MIPS processing platform in 2012 for $100 million, but heavy investment has not paid off in customer orders. He also persevered with its Pure digital radio business, despite it repeatedly failing to break into the black. The company said on Monday it would sell Pure and reduce total operating costs by 15 million pounds in its next financial year by focusing on its core multimedia product.Yassaie, who was knighted by Britain three years ago for services to technology, said he was proud of helping build Imagination from small beginnings into a leading provider of graphics processors."It's now time for someone else to lead this great company," he said. (Editing by Kate Holton; editing by Adrian Croft) Read more

Twitter users decry reported plan to prioritize tweets

NEW YORK The hashtag #RIPTwitter became the top trending U.S. item on Twitter on Saturday, after a report from BuzzFeed said the company is planning to change how it displays users’ tweets.The BuzzFeed report, which went live on Friday night and did not disclose the source of its information, said the social media platform will reorder tweets to prioritize those it believes more users will want to see. Currently, Twitter arranges tweets in chronological order.The response to the news on Twitter was overwhelmingly negative, with the hashtag #RIPTwitter suggesting many users of the micro-blogging site believe the changes would mean the death of the company.Many users were upset that tweets from accounts with fewer followers could possibly be suppressed under the new system. Others complained that the changes would make Twitter too much like Facebook (FB.O), which arranges content through the use of an algorithm. “Dear Twitter, don’t try to be like Facebook, we don’t like Facebook #RIPTwitter,” tweeted ana (@dearcalumthood) on Saturday.“Clearly the motto 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' is something @twitter isn't familiar with #RIPTwitter,” tweeted EldestSalvatore (@EldestDamon) on Saturday. A spokesperson for Twitter declined to comment.Twitter has come under increasing pressure to boost user growth, as it struggles to attain advertising revenues equaling those of its larger Facebook rival. Last month, Twitter came under fire when it announced a new feature that would allow users to post tweets up to 10,000 characters long, up from its previous limit of 140 characters. (Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Tom Brown) Read more

Italian consortium set to win giant Chile telescope contract

SANTIAGO An Italian consortium, including construction company Astaldi Spa, is close to securing a contract to build the world's largest telescope in the Chilean desert, project owner the European Southern Observatory (ESO) said on Thursday.The ESO said its finance committee had agreed to enter into final discussions with the consortium, which was the winning bidder to design, manufacture, transport and build the main dome and structure for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).The consortium includes major Italian builder Cimolai and subcontractor the EIE Group, as well as Astaldi.The ESO said in a statement that it hoped to sign the contract by May but did not give further details. It has said previously that building the E-ELT would cost around $1.2 billion (1.1 billion euros) at 2012 prices. The E-ELT will have a primary mirror 43 yards (39 meters) in diameter, which under current plans would make it by far the biggest telescope in operation worldwide when it begins observations in the mid-2020s.Chile's clear desert skies have made it a prime location for stargazers and a new generation of giant telescopes at various stages of planning and construction. These include the Giant Magellan Telescope, which should briefly be the world's largest in the early 2020s before being overtaken by the E-ELT. The E-ELT's goals include observations of the atmosphere around rocky exoplanets, which may yield signs of extraterrestrial life. The massive telescope should also be able to look back at the earliest moments after the Big Bang and help answer questions related to the expansion of the universe. (Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Tom Brown) Read more

Italian consortium set to win giant Chile telescope contract

SANTIAGO An Italian consortium, including construction company Astaldi Spa, is close to securing a contract to build the world's largest telescope in the Chilean desert, project owner the European Southern Observatory (ESO) said on Thursday.The ESO said its finance committee had agreed to enter into final discussions with the consortium, which was the winning bidder to design, manufacture, transport and build the main dome and structure for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).The consortium includes major Italian builder Cimolai and subcontractor the EIE Group, as well as Astaldi.The ESO said in a statement that it hoped to sign the contract by May but did not give further details. It has said previously that building the E-ELT would cost around $1.2 billion (1.1 billion euros) at 2012 prices. The E-ELT will have a primary mirror 43 yards (39 meters) in diameter, which under current plans would make it by far the biggest telescope in operation worldwide when it begins observations in the mid-2020s.Chile's clear desert skies have made it a prime location for stargazers and a new generation of giant telescopes at various stages of planning and construction. These include the Giant Magellan Telescope, which should briefly be the world's largest in the early 2020s before being overtaken by the E-ELT. The E-ELT's goals include observations of the atmosphere around rocky exoplanets, which may yield signs of extraterrestrial life. The massive telescope should also be able to look back at the earliest moments after the Big Bang and help answer questions related to the expansion of the universe. (Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Tom Brown) Read more

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