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(מתוך http://www.miami.com/herald/special/features/barry/2... )
It's time for Science Lurches Forward, the column in which we look at what our top scientific brains have been thinking, and wonder if maybe they should be getting more sleep.
Our lead story, brought to our attention by alert journalist Claire Martin, is an exciting robot concept invented by Dr. Ian Kelly of the University of West England, which, as you might suspect, is a university located in west England.
Dr. Kelly is trying to solve a major problem with today's robots, which is that they need human help to function. Eventually, they run out of power, and somebody must replace their batteries. We do not have truly independent robots, like the one played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator. If you tried to replace THAT robot's batteries, it would rip your head off. In fact, it would rip your head off anyway. That's how independent it is.
To produce a robot of that caliber, we need a scientific breakthrough. That's where Dr. Kelly comes in. He has built a robot that, when perfected, will power itself by – we are not making this up – catching slugs, and using them as fuel. Dr. Kelly calls his invention ``SlugBot."
Of course this basic concept is not new. The French have been converting snails into energy for centuries. But the French are, for the most part, human, whereas SlugBot is a purely mechanical device. It looks kind of like a power mower with a long robot arm (you can see it on Dr. Kelly's website, www.ias.uwe.ac.uk/goto.html). When SlugBot detects a slug, the arm swoops down, snorks it up, and drops it into a drawer; when the drawer is full, SlugBot screams and passes out.
No, sorry, that's what WE would do, if our drawers were full of slugs. (``Drawers Full of Slugs" would be a good name for a rock band.) What SlugBot will do, once it is fully operational, is convert the slugs into electrical power via some chemical process that we frankly are not scientific enough to understand. Apparently, slugs contain electricity, which comes as a shock (Har!) to those of us who thought they were basically little bags of slime that have figured out how to crawl.
Anyway, Dr. Kelly's goal is for SlugBot to be able – without any human assistance – to catch slugs, turn them into energy, then use this energy to proceed with its mission, which is, well, catching more slugs. If that sounds pointless to you, ask yourself this question: In what significant way is SlugBot's lifestyle different from yours?
But here's the exciting thing: If the SlugBot concept works, maybe it could be adapted in ways that would truly benefit humanity. One obvious application, which I'm sure has already occurred to you, is: automatic movie usher.
Picture the scene: You're in the theater, watching a movie, really enjoying the experience, except for the fact that your feet are bonded to the floor by the most powerful adhesive on Earth, Raisinet goo. Suddenly, two rows behind you, a cellphone rings, and some moron starts yakking. You think the night is ruined. But wait! You hear a whir, and a dark shape glides up the aisle. A second later, a robot arm snakes out and ... SNORK, the cellphone is plucked from the moron's hand. There is applause from the movie patrons. It grows louder when the robot arm reaches out again and ... SNORK, the moron is plucked from his seat.
Because, hey, UsherBot has to eat.
Our next item in Science Lurches Forward comes from an Aug. 11 Science News article sent in by alert reader John Dodds. It states that frog scientists at UCLA are studying – and we are still not making this up – ``the brilliant-thighed dart-poison frog." We assume, based on its name, that this is the frog that provides the poison for poison-tipped darts, and that it has brilliant thighs, which would also be a good name for a rock band.
Anyway, these scientists wish to observe what happens when a male brilliant-thighed dart-poison frog attacks another male. They tried playing a recording of a frog call, but this did not cause real frogs to attack. So they built – you guessed it – a robot frog, which sits on a fake log with a speaker in it. The scientists report that real frogs attack the robot, apparently fooled by the fact that it has a realistic-looking inflatable throat sac, made from a condom.
So there you have it: At long last, scientists have found a way, using condoms, to make poison frogs angry. I know I speak for all humanity when I say to the scientific community, by way of sincere gratitude: Please stop.
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