Lego shows off ‘Women of NASA’ toy set

'Women of NASA' Lego set

Lego’s “Women of NASA” set of minifigures includes Margaret Hamilton, Nancy Grace Roman, Sally Ride and Mae Jemison — but not Katherine Johnson, who was featured in “Hidden Figures.” (Lego Photo)

Seven and a half months after its selection, Lego unveiled a set of minifigures celebrating NASA women researchers and explorers, due to go on sale just in time for the holiday season.

The toy set follows up on a suggestion from science writer Maia Weinstock, but one of Weinstock’s nominees wasn’t included: NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose life story figures prominently in the Oscar-nominated movie “Hidden Figures” and the book on which it was based.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Posted in GeekWire | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

WiBotic unveils wireless charging pad for drones

Drone charging on pad

An octocopter perches on WiBotic’s PowerPad for a charge. (WiBotic via Vimeo)

Seattle-based WiBotic today took the wraps off an integrated wireless charging pad for drones, as well as an onboard charger that weighs just 1.6 ounces.

The two new products are part of the University of Washington spinout’s strategy to provide a system for charging up robotic aerial vehicles as they go about their business, untouched by human hands.

The plug-and-play system is set up to send power wirelessly at short range from the pad’s transmitter to the charger’s receiver. Then the transmission is converted into electricity for a drone’s batteries. It’s an alternative to switching out batteries by hand, or hooking it up to a direct-contact charging system.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Posted in GeekWire | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

ID authentication scheme uses music as the key

Close Encounters

In “Close Encounters of Third Kind,” Francois Truffaut plays a UFO researcher who uses music as an authentication tool for the aliens. (Columbia / EMI via YouTube)

Amazon’s inventors have come up with a computer-based system that makes use musical transformations to authenticate a whole group of users — and block access if anyone strikes a false note.

The concept, which is called chained authentication using musical transforms, is the subject of a patent that was sought back in 2014 and published today.

Here’s how it could work: When a pre-specified group requests access to protected data, the computer service holding that data sends out a “musical seed” to the first user on the group’s list. This seed can be an actual melody, or it can be a series of seemingly garbled tones.

The first user runs the tones through a transformation — for example, changing notes from sharps to flats, or bringing the melody down a fifth. Different users apply their own assigned algorithms to twist and turn the melody, and the last user on the list sends the audio file back to the service for authentication.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Posted in GeekWire | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Robotic skin gets a better sense of touch

Robotic skin on finger

Bio-inspired sensor skin developed by University of Washington and UCLA engineers can be wrapped around a finger or any other part of a robot or prosthetic device to help convey a sense of touch. (UCLA Engineering Photo)

The androids in “Blade Runner” sometimes seem more human than humans, but to feel tears in the rain, you need a sense of touch. Now researchers are closing in on just that: robotic skin that feels.

Engineers at the University of Washington and UCLA have developed stretchable, sensor-equipped skin that can be wrapped over robotic fingers, or prosthetic limbs, and provide electrical impulses for tactile feedback.

The aim of the project isn’t to let androids wax poetic, but to help humans handle robotic tools more precisely.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Posted in GeekWire | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Bigelow and ULA plan outpost in lunar orbit

Lunar depot

An artist’s conception shows a Bigelow B330 expandable module in lunar orbit, with United Launch Alliance’s ACES propulsion stage attached. (Bigelow Aerospace Illustration)

NASA is shifting its attention to the moon, and so are Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance: Today the two companies said they’d work together to put an outpost in orbit around the moon by as soon as 2022.

The plan builds on the companies’ earlier partnership to send one of Bigelow’s B330 expandable space modules into Earth orbit.

Now the idea is to launch a B330 into low Earth orbit on ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicle, get it outfitted as a platform for lunar-orbit operations and send up 70 tons of propellant on two Vulcans. Then ULA’s Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage would fuel up, attach itself to the B330 and push onward to the moon.

Billionaire Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, said the lunar station could play a role in NASA’s plans to establish a moon base and move on to Mars.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Posted in GeekWire | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

AI2’s search engine gets a biomedical boost

AI2's Marie Hagman

AI2’s Marie Hagman drew upon person experience during her work on Semantic Scholar. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

As senior product manager at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, or AI2, Hagman played a key role in figuring out how to incorporate documents from PubMed and other biomedical databases in the academic search tool.

She drew upon her personal experience from 15 years earlier, when she was a software engineer suffering from two stomach ulcers and gastritis. Her specialist gave her a prescription to deal with the issue, but told her she’d probably have to keep taking pills for the rest of her life.

“I was thinking, ‘Hmm … I’m young and healthy. That just doesn’t sound right,’” Hagman recalled. “They still couldn’t tell me why I had this problem. So I decided to be my own advocate.”

She searched through the medical literature on stomach ulcers, and found a study in which researchers pointed to a type of bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori as a potential cause. Armed with that knowledge, she persuaded another specialist to put her on a two-week round of antibiotics.

“I’ve been cured ever since,” Hagman told GeekWire.

Now her objective is to help researchers, and even regular folks, find the most relevant studies that address the medical questions they want to answer.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Posted in GeekWire | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Airbus-Bombardier deal complicates jet dispute

Airbus and Bombardier jets

An artist’s conception puts Bombardier’s CS100 jet alongside Airbus’ A320neo. (Airbus Illustration)

Airbus added a twist to a U.S.-Canada trade dispute by announcing a plan to partner up with Bombardier, the Boeing Co.’s Canadian rival.

The plan calls for Airbus to take on a majority stake in Bombardier’s C Series line of passenger jets, which is due to be hit by U.S. tariffs of nearly 300 percent.

Europe-based Airbus will own 50.01 percent of the C Series limited partnership, leaving Bombardier with about 31 percent and Investissement Quebec with 19 percent. The partnership’s headquarters and primary assembly line will remain in Quebec, but Airbus said it would expand C Series production to its manufacturing site in Alabama.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Posted in GeekWire | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment