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Our Friday Science lecture for the month of January was Dr. Kenneth Ford, Director of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. http://www.ihmc.us/

I am hoping they will post a video or audio of his lecture, because it was too cool for words. Also, I didn’t take good notes because I was just darn enthralled with what he was saying. He talked a little bit about sensory substitution and showed a pictures of some soldiers who lost their sight from IEDs in Iraq using a special set of glasses his company created. The idea is that you don’t see with your eyes, they just take in sensory data. You see with your mind, and the soldiers’ minds were fine. They just needed to switch form DVD output 1 to output 2. So they put cameras on sunglasses and made some sensory thing that you placed on your tongue. The tongue is ideal because it’s got loads of nerve endings, is close to the brain (for bandwidth speed), and is wet (for electric current). The TONGUE gets the sensory data and sends it to the brain to see the images! He said it’s like looking through a tunnel, no peripheral vision, but it’s better than no vision. One of the soldiers, upon getting the glasses, just stared at his baby son for hours and hours. He told a funny story about attending a lecture in a very very very famous northern school where the lecturer (not a scientist) talked about humans evolution leading the eyes to be on the head for better distance viewing – the higher up they are the more they see. He then said this lecturer must have never heard of snakes or dachshunds, and he went on to say the eyes are where they are because they are close to the brain. Apparently as a design system we are a bit inefficient and it takes too long for messages to get from one part of our body to another, so putting the eyes really close to our brains speeds things up for us. Believe it or not, that was really funny and interesting when he said it.

He also talked about Legged locomotion and showed some exoskeletons they have created. They go over one's legs (or arms or whatever) to make you more powerful. Very $6000000 man/T1/T2. They were designed for the military to make stronger soldiers, but they have the side effect of being really helpful to people who have lost their legs (arms) – including soldiers returning from wars. As a part of the clips he showed of the various exoskeletons, he also showed some of the robots they built that were designed to not need humans (TBot). I recognized a few of the robots from some of our YouTube nights, which was cool and scary. I would love for him to come to our YouTube parties. He narrates as the robots walked, and he was funny. In one, his coworker is beating the robotic legs with a broom to try to destabilize it. He said “It seems to have sped up. I’m getting away from this guy!” For the “flamingo” robot with backward hinged legs he said something like “we added music to the background for this one because we found it makes him seem more graceful. Without the music it’s not nearly as impressive.” For the DARMA-doglike-robots-climbing-over-rocks competition (not the real name) they programmed their robot to throw himself down after crossing the rocks because 1) they thought it would look cute to fall at the DARMA judge’s feet (suck up!) and 2) it was faster to fall across the finish line than to walk across it so it shaved seconds off their time. The next year, he said, *everyone’s* fell across the finish line. (It was adorable, he was totally bragging. He even showed a bar graph elaborating on how much better their robot did than MIT and others in the competition.)

The majority of his talk was about going back to the moon! Which was awesome!!! So many pictures, so many videos, so many schematics of the moon rover he worked on. In addition to the cool amazing sciential parts of it, he told a lot of personal stories about the astronauts and engineers. My favorite part was when he showed the clip of President Obama at the inaugural parade watching the rover. He made some very giggleworthy comments about his coworkers standing there. He recently had surgery on his arm, so he himself couldn’t attend the parade. He pointed the other engineers from the project marching alongside the rover and said NASA doesn’t have uniforms so they probably all ran out together to buy matching khaki pants. Then he said all the hotels were booked, so NASA set up a tent for everyone to sleep in and IT WAS FREEZING so the other engineers kept sending him emails (because of course the tents had wifi, it’s NASA) saying “we hope your arm *really* hurts.”

This has now become my favorite of the lectures. My other favorites were the volcano one because it was very well done and really held my attention, especially as I didn't have much of an innate interest in volcanoes before attending AND the breeding rabbits one because I got to hold a rabbit for 75% of the lecture. I wish some of my friends could have been there. I ended up sitting next to Ray Sansom!!

(PS right now I'm eating raw brownie - mmmmmm)



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 24th, 2009 11:54 am (UTC)
Very jealous.
I *want* to attend this lecture. Are they all this cool?
They ought to book this guy for Dragon*Con.
/just sayin
Jan. 24th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
That all sounds so fascinating and super cool! Yay!

Jan. 25th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
The brownie was very good. It was for the 25th birthday of the Macintosh, so Monkeys covered it with cream cheese frosting to simulate a computer screen then used M&M's to draw out a famous Mac image pixel by pixel. (One M&M=One pixel) Then he put a happy birthday hat on one of his computers, and we all posed around it for a picture to go on his podcast. :) Silly, but fun.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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