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July 6, 2012 at 7:01 PM
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Human-like eye movement could aid robots

ATLANTA, July 6 (UPI) -- Technology that will allow a robot's camera eye to move more like a human eye could help make robotic tools safer and more effective, U.S. researchers say.

Biologically inspired technology that mimics muscle-like action could help make robots more effective for MRI-guided surgery and robotic rehabilitation, the Georgia Institute of Technology reported Thursday.

"For a robot to be truly bio-inspired, it should possess actuation, or motion generators, with properties in common with the musculature of biological organisms," engineering doctoral candidate Joshua Schultz said.

The technology uses piezoelectric materials that expand or contract when electricity is applied to them, providing a way to transform input signals into motion, the researchers said.

"The actuators developed in our lab embody many properties in common with biological muscle, especially a cellular structure. Essentially, in the human eye muscles are controlled by neural impulses. Eventually, the actuators we are developing will be used to capture the kinematics and performance of the human eye," Schultz said.

The technology could improve industrial robots, medical and rehabilitation robots and intelligent assistive robots, the scientists said.

Star blows 'bubble' in Hubble image

GREENBELT, Md., July 6 (UPI) -- A new Hubble Space Telescope image released by NASA shows a star nearing the end of its life blowing a cosmic "bubble," astronomers said.

Camelopardalis, or U Cam for short, is a star becoming unstable as it runs low on fuel, NASA said in a release Friday.

Every few thousand years, that instability causes U Cam to cough out a nearly spherical shell of gas as a layer of helium around its core begins to fuse.

Located in the constellation of Camelopardalis (The Giraffe), near the North Celestial Pole, U Cam is an example of a carbon star, a rare type of star with an atmosphere that contains more carbon than oxygen.

U Cam's cosmic bubble, a shell of gas both much larger and much fainter than its parent star, is visible in detail in the Hubble image.

This phenomenon is often quite irregular and unstable, NASA said, but the shell of gas expelled from U Cam is almost perfectly spherical.

Research: More cars to become 'connected'

OYSTER BAY, N.Y., July 6 (UPI) -- Sixty percent of the world's cars will include features such as built-in Internet and smartphone connectivity within 5 years, a U.S. market research firm says.

And in the United States and Western Europe, that figure will exceed 80 percent of cars, New York-based ABI Research reported.

At present, only 11.4 percent of the world's cars are "connected," the tech market research company said.

"In-car connectivity is quickly transforming the automotive industry, enabling passive and active safety and security, and offering infotainment and connected lifestyle services to consumers," ABI Vice President Dominique Bonte said.

Most car makers are working on connected cars, with Microsoft reported developing a next generation car platform using Kinect, Windows 8 and Windows Phone, ceoutlook.com reported.

E-waste seen as precious metal resource

ACCRA, Ghana, July 6 (UPI) -- Less than 15 percent of the gold and silver used to make cellphones and other electronic products is recovered from the resulting e-waste, a U.N. report says.

At least 320 tons of gold and more than 7,500 tons of silver are now used annually to make PCs, cell phones, tablet computers and other new electronic and electrical products worldwide, adding more than $21 billion in value each year to metals eventually available through "urban mining" of e-waste, the United Nations University reported Friday.

Most of those valuable metals will be lost, however, as less than 15 percent is recovered from e-waste today in developed and developing countries alike, the report said.

"More sustainable consumption patterns and material recycling are essential if consumers [are to] continue to enjoy high-tech devices that support everything from modern communications to smart transport, intelligent buildings and more," said Luis Neves, chairman of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative.

Electronic waste now contains precious metal "deposits" 40 to 50 times richer than ores mined from the ground, experts told participants from 12 countries at an e-Waste Academy for policymakers and small businesses organized in Accra, Ghana, by the United Nations University and the GeSI.

"Rather than looking at e-waste as a burden, we need to see it as an opportunity," Alexis Vandendaelen of Belgium-based Umicore Precious Metals Refining told the participants.

Notions of "waste management" should be replaced with "resource management," he said.

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