First robot with 'emotions' unveiled
LONDON, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- European researchers have developed a robot they say is the first able to display and detect emotions and react to being treated kindly.
The humanoid robot, called Nao, can detect human emotions through non-verbal clues such as body-language and facial expressions and gets better at reading a person's mood through prolonged interaction, The Daily Telegraph reported Monday.
With a "brain" designed to mirror the neural network of the human mind, it can remember its interactions with different people and memorize faces, the British newspaper said.
With video cameras to see how close a person comes and sensors to detect out how tactile they are, Nao uses a programmed set of rules about what is "good" and "bad" for it and can indicate whether it is "sad" or "happy" by shrugging its shoulders or raising its arms for a hug.
The actions used to display each emotion are programmed, the scientists say, but Nao decides which feeling to display, and when.
"We're modeling the first years of life," Lola Canamero of the University of Hertfordshire said.
"We are working on non-verbal cues and the emotions are revealed through physical postures, gestures and movements of the body rather than facial or verbal expression.
"If people can behave naturally around their robot companions, robots will be better-accepted as they become more common in our lives," she said.
Group urges protection of seed bank
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- The largest European gene bank of fruits and berries is threatened by development that could destroy irreplaceable biological heritage, environmentalists say.
The Global Crop Diversity Trust is urging the Russian government to step in and protect a valuable crop collection near St. Petersburg from developers' bulldozers, a trust release said.
The Pavlovsk Experiment Station's field collections, amassed over the last century, contain thousands of varieties of apples, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, currants and other crops, 90 percent of which aren't found anywhere else in the world, the trust said.
"It is a bitter irony that the single most deliberately destructive act against crop diversity, at least in my lifetime, could be about to happen in Russia of all places --the country that invented the modern seed bank," Cary Fowler of the trust said in Saturday's release.
Residential real estate developers want to build houses on land occupied by Pavlovsk Station, and the matter is now in the courts with a hearing set for Wednesday.
"Throughout the 20th century, Russia taught the world about the importance of crop collections for the future of agriculture," Fowler added. "This casual decision to destroy Pavlovsk Station would forever tarnish a cause that generations of Russian plant scientists have lived and, quite literally, died, to protect."
Russian scientists at the station famously starved to death rather than eat the seeds under their protection during the 900-day siege of Leningrad during World War II, the trust said.
Search will seek 'extinct' frog survivors
LONDON, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- U.S. conservationists say they're embarking on a world frog hunt in 14 countries for species thought to be extinct but that might just be hanging on.
Amphibians, the most threatened animals on the planet with one-third of species at risk of extinction, will be the subjects of a two-month research effort, the BBC reported Monday.
The project's lead scientist said he believes some of the 100 amphibians targeted in the survey will turn up.
The biggest threat to the world's frogs is loss of their habitat, as forests are cleared and wetlands drained. But many species that have fallen prey to a newer threat -- a fungal disease called chytridiomycosis.
The disease has decimated amphibian species, with one example, the Costa Rica golden toad, going from abundant to extinct in little more than a year.
If it turns out that a few of them do still exist or of any of the other species to be surveyed, researchers could begin conservation efforts, the project's lead scientist says.
"We're limited by our knowledge of many of these species and whether they even exist -- if we don't know whether a species exists, we can't protect it," says Robin Moore of Conservation International.
"So it really is a mission to increase our knowledge of what's out there, what's still alive, so that we can follow up and hopefully do some conservation work on species that are found."
Uranium mining in Australia opposed
PERTH, Australia, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Activists and opposition politicians in Western Australia are urging the state to ban the mining of uranium, saying potential dangers are "off the scale."
A statewide ban on uranium mining in effect from 2002-08 was lifted by the Liberal Party two years ago when it was voted into power in the state, Inter Press Service reported Monday.
The Australian mining company BHP Billiton plans to develop a uranium deposit near the town of Kalgoorlie-Boulder in 2011 in a $15.6 billion project. The mine is set to operate in 2014, with an annual yield of 3,500 tons of uranium ore.
The Wongatha Aboriginal clan that calls the region home opposes all uranium mining.
"We don't need uranium mining in this country," Wongatha leader Geoffrey Stokes said. "We have sun, we've got wind, we've got people. Why should we pollute our country for money?"
Politicians of the opposition Labor Party, who put the ban in effect when they were in power, agree.
"We know that all mining is dangerous but we know that mining uranium is off the scale," says Shadow Environment Minister Sally Talbot. "It presents an unacceptable hazard for workers in the industry, it presents an unacceptable risk to the future and well-being of our indigenous communities and it presents a dreadful threat to our environment in Western Australia."