Welcome to the Friday Tech Roundup! Contained herein is a weekly dose of some of the best tech news from across the internet, rounded up for your edification and entertainment. Read on for all the details of DARPA’s block-throwing mule robot BigDog, growing semiconductors, making Windows 8 more windowsy, and making people’s heartbeats visible in video.
BigDog has been armed
Boston Dynamics’ DARPA-funded rough-terrain robot, the horrifying BigDog now has a brand new appendage. Not only can BigDog not be knocked down, but now it is capable of retaliating with cinderblocks. By twisting its body and combining the strength of the throwing arm and four gambrel-jointed legs, BigDog can throw a cinderblock with little effort, and enough power that the block is reduced to gravel upon impact.
Research suggests that semiconductors could be grown rather than printed
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have developed a method for the growth of semiconductors, using a self-assembly method that it is hoped will not lead to Replicators turning humans into fertiliser for their semiconductor farms. The method involves suspending nanoparticles of gold in a flowing gas, which then acts as a substrate from which semiconductors can be grown. The resulting “nanowire” can be quickly produced using customised ovens which “bake” the nanowires, thus removing the need for the expensive semiconductor wafers used today. “The process is not only extremely quick, it is also continuous. Traditional manufacture of substrates is batch-based and is therefore much more time-consuming,” says Professor Lars Samuelson, discoverer of the technology. Professor Samuelson believes that the technology could be ready for commercialisation in two to four years’ time.
ModernMix puts the “windows” back in Windows 8
Stardock Corporation, a company with an eclectic stable of generally well-regarded software ranging from desktop enhancement suites such as WindowBlinds, to games like Sins of a Solar Empire and the Elemental series, has announced their latest tool for nostalgic Windows 8 users, ModernMix. Similar in motivation to their previous Start8 application, ModernMix aims to restore an element of older Windows generations to Microsoft’s latest OS by allowing the user to capture Windows 8 applications and display them in a window. Before ModernMix, Windows 8 applications could only be run in either full-screen, or docked to the left or right of the screen. With ModernMix, Windows 8 users can place their “modern” applications wherever they wish, without needing to break out of the desktop paradigm.
MIT project amplifies the tiniest of movements
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has produced a video amplification process which they hope will allow humans to translate the minuscule almost imperceptible movements of the world into information that can be used for a variety of applications. The original plan for this technology was to allow parents to be able to remotely observe the shallow breathing of infants, and even see their heartbeat with little more than a camera, thus avoiding the use of invasive sensors. The technology works by determining the colour of the pixels in a frame of video, and then analysing the changing colours on a frame-by-frame basis. It then amplifies these colour changes 100 times, and overlays this amplification onto the video feed. The resulting video makes even the tiny heartbeat of the child obvious to the viewer, and could put risk-averse parents’ minds at ease without needing to disturb the child. It is speculated that the technology could even be applied to portable devices such as Google Glass, giving the wearer a live translation of the body language of those around them.
Microsoft’s $711m European mistake
Microsoft has been fined $711m for a mistake they are attributing to a “technical error”. In 2009, Microsoft made a commitment to EU competition regulator The European Commission to include a pop-up screen which would alert Windows users to the availability of alternate browsers to Internet Explorer. The pop-up was found to have been removed after an update to Windows 7 in February 2011, and the Commission believes that Microsoft was in breach of their undertaking between May 2011 and July 2012. “Legally binding commitments reached in antitrust decisions play a very important role in our enforcement policy because they allow for rapid solutions to competition problems,” says competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia in a prepared statement. According to a report in the Australian Financial Review, Microsoft took full responsibility for the breach and cut CEO Steve Ballmer’s bonus last year partly as a result. (Thanks to Eddy for sending this through!)