The Ratcar is Awesome, Kinda Gross

Another genius/disgusting scientific breakthrough is careening your way: Scientists at the University of Tokyo have developed a motorized system they call “Ratcar,” which is controlled by electrodes in Master Splinter’s motor cortex that read his brain and respond accordingly.  Suck on that, PETA!

The researchers first implanted electrodes in the motor cortex of each rat’s brain, and then trained it to tow the contraption around while the motor was turned off. Next the rat was suspended beneath the car so that it could only lightly touch the ground, and couldn’t actually move the robo-car with its limbs. Then the car was switched to brain-reading mode and researchers watched to see if the rat could control the car’s movements with only the pulses from its motor cortex.

“We wanted to develop a brain-machine interface system aiming for future wheelchairs that paralyzed patients can control only with thought,” says Osamu Fukayama of the university’s Medical Engineering and Life Science Laboratory. “RatCar is a simplified prototype to develop better electrodes, devices, and algorithms for those systems.”

Discover Magazine

How could they possibly call it anything besides the “RatMobile”?? Is there no love for cheap puns anymore? Anyway, sounds like a solid cause, but c’mon, we Americans know what this thing will really be used for: Lazy fatasses like myself who tire of pushing the accelerator buttons on our Rascals.  I may have legs but YOU CAN’T FORCE ME TO USE ‘EM. And have we discovered which region of the brain is responsible for milkshake cravings? If you could hook that up to my blender, that would be great.  But maybe we should leave rats out of the testing phase for this one…

RIM Announces Playbook Tablet, Still Playing Defense

RIM has finally announced that its new tablet will go on sale in early 2011.  More importantly, the 7″ ‘PlayBook’ (formerly known as the ‘Blackpad’) will support Adobe Flash, finally giving me the hope that we’ll find out if Apple really keeps flash off of its devices for battery issues, or if Joaoaerbs just wants to keep web applets out of his iTunes/GameCenter ecosystem.

The initial version will have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections but will only be able to connect to cellular networks through a BlackBerry smartphone. RIM said it intends to offer 3G and 4G ready tablets “in the future.”

The PlayBook will run on an all-new operating system built by QNX Software Systems, which makes software used to run everything from cars to nuclear reactors. RIM bought QNX earlier this year, and has been working to adapt the software for mobile phones.

The move means RIM will have to juggle two distinct operating systems. The company announced its BlackBerry 6 operating system for smartphones in April, and rolled out the first handset running on it, the BlackBerry Torch, last month.

WSJ

Connectivity through your existing Blackberry phone sounds like a great idea from a data-consumer’s point of view, but they’re certainly not going to gain market share on Apple with a strategy that only appeals to current Blackberry users.  It should also be noted that, like most Blackberry products, the PlayBook seems to be geared specifically to enterprise.  They’re likely not trying pry loose Apple’s stranglehold over the consumer market just yet.  So despite demonstrations of video, photo, and e-reader uses, as well as its ‘play’ful name, I wouldn’t expect users to be loading it with games any time soon.

Although, if they so wish, and if the browser is strong enough, Blackberry fans could get their fill of gaming through the web since, again, the PlayBook will support flash.  The only difference is they’ll be getting that content for free, whereas Apple’s stonewalling of Adobe’s popular technology has afforded them the unique ability to charge up to $9.99 for games that we would have otherwise played free on the web.

The WSJ article also made no mention of the price point.  It’s certainly a tough question, and it’s entirely possible that RIM hasn’t decided where to position the device in terms of pricing.  To make an Apple comparison again, the iPad can easily be sold at a loss because of the implied revenue they expect to make by selling apps, much like Microsoft has done with their Xbox.  The money is in the software (games or otherwise).  But without a robust developer base, you can’t count on app sales as a revenue stream to keep the device afloat.  In that sense, and with an entirely new OS, the Blackberry faces the same uphill battle that Sony did when they launched the PS3.  The console is certainly a very capable device (as I’m sure the PlayBook will be), but it struggled to gain traction for quite a while because developers shied away from its largely unknown architecture.

Ray Sharma, founder of XMG Studios, a closely held Toronto firm that develops games for the iPhone and Android platforms, was encouraged by RIM’s announcements Monday, but said it’s too soon to say whether his firm will begin developing games for the BlackBerry platform or for the PlayBook.

Mr. Sharma said the QNX operating system, while highly touted, is an unknown. By contrast, the Android system is on version 2.2, while the Apple OS is in its fourth iteration, he said. Mr. Sharma is also monitoring the progress of Microsoft Corp.’s new Windows mobile operating system, which will integrate with the company’s X-Box videogame system, making it particularly attractive for game developers, he said.

WSJ

RIM will try to compete for developers’ attention by waiving developer fees and attempting to streamline the app-creation process with a new development platform, but they are taking a significant risk with PlayBook, because of the enormous first-mover advantage enjoyed in this kind of product.  The quantity and quality of software is what will sell the hardware, and hardware sales attract developers in-turn.  It’s a chicken-egg situation that either results in a snowball-cum-avalanche or complete gridlock.  RIM is attempting to move the PlayBook by adding more features than Apple’s iPad, but they are features that do not offer the company additional revenue streams.  Connectivity through your Blackberry phone’s existing data connection means no revenue through sales of additional data plans.  And as I’ve already said, Flash support means that apps can run on the web instead of being sold in RIM’s version of the App Store.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the PlayBook was actually more expensive than the iPad, offering more features and more free content once you pay the upfront cost, and I don’t see that strategy dethroning El Jobso.  So where’s their edge (and you can’t feed me the BBM mantra anymore!)?

The stock market doesn’t appear to see one, as RIMM shares are trading down about 3% today while the broader market hovers around neutral to slightly positive.

[Wall Street Journal]

Park Spark Project: More Designs for the Brown Revolution

So after you’ve tooted your way around town for a while in your VW Dung-Beetle, how to kick back and relax? With a day at the park of course, where you can continue your new brown-energy lifestyle, and even get your best friend in on the action.  The Park Spark Project is a system that digests your little buddy’s little buddies and uses the methane to power gas a lamppost or other applications.

Anaerobic digestion (without oxygen) is a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen.

Step 1 – Throw dog waste and biodegradable bag in Digester

Step 2 – Stir mixture to help Methane rise to the top

Step 3 – Burn Methane

Basically, any organic material (in this case dog waste) put in an “air-tight” container will start to produce methane. A methane digester is any system that is filled with biodegradable material and closed off from an oxygen supply. To make it a usable system, you must have some sort of control value (hose or pipe with cut-off value) to let out the methane produced to burn.

Park Spark Project

Well played, sir.  Dogshit is probably the last thing on the planet that we haven’t come up with some kind of use for, outside of pranking your neighbors.  This kind of thing is also nice because it gives people a minor incentive to actually bend down and pick up after their goddamn dogs.  No surprise that the project’s pilot light will not be burning in New York City – everyone here seems much more content to let me step in their dogs’ shit on the sidewalk.  I guess they get more utility from the lulz than from being a responsible human.  Anyway, seems like a solid idea – I mean we ought to use this shit for something, and electrical power for those streetlamps obviously costs tax dollars.  And I definitely like savings de money. Anytime you want to let me pay you for your services in dogshit, you let me know.

Also, holler at me when they come out with the home version and I can power my Xbox with farts; I’m pledging right now to be first in line.

Park Spark Project via obviouswinner

Delicious and Educational: Beer Poster

Someone whose sober enough to know a lot more about beer than I do went ahead and put together this handy-dandy infographic to make it clear for the rest of us.  If only he could get rid of the doubled blurriness…

What’s your favorite?

Check out the FULL SIZE at popchartlab.com, where you can order the poster if you have a dorm room to hang it in.

via obviouswinner

Almost Genius: A Thing That’s Two Things

If there’s one thing I love, it’s multitasking.  And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s flushing stuff.  This Eco-Urinal concept is designed to appeal to both of those sensibilities.

To save water, Eco Urinal is designed to use the water that was used for washing hands to flush the urine. By this process, we don’t have to use water twice after using the urinal.
Moreover, it reduces the establishment expenses by optimizing the materials. Upper space of this urinal is made with glass, and it helps to secure a clear view for users. It also promotes people to keep their sanitation because people need to wash their hands to flush the urine after use.

Designer Yeong Woo Kim

Well he’s no Billy Mays, but Engrish aside, it’s nice idea.  Problem is I just don’t care all that much about washing my hands after using a urinal.  I mean maybe I’ll be more inclined to do it since it’s right there but if you really want to give it a double-use how about slapping a beer tap on there? As far as dual-purpose furniture it’s just  not nearly as useful as, say, a coffee table/foot rest or a toaster/mousetrap.  Show me what you can do in the desk chair/toilet/bidet department and maybe we’ll talk.

Speaking of bidets, is that the best we’re doing?  Maybe Kim can take a crack at a cure for the common wipe.  I expect a prototype by 2032 at the latest.

yeongwookim.com via Geekologie