Sure, the trampoline was a shock, and the pogo-stick was hours (well, seconds) of bouncing fun, but the gift you always wanted was a remote-controlled plane, wasn’t it? You’d see other kids with them and wonder what was wrong with your own family, and resolve to drop better hints next year (that day with your dad at the airport clutching your Nintendo console pretending to manoeuvre Qantas beasts was clearly too subtle).
There’s a chance the people we’re about to speak of suffered the same trauma.
Starting on Monday, six international search and rescue teams and 14 high school teams will compete in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Challenge. The annual hunt in Kingaroy, Queensland, pits teams’ home-made robotic aircraft against each other in a challenge to locate Outback Joe.
And if you’re worried about poor old Outback Joe out there for days in the elements, don’t. He’s a mannequin. But the world can’t afford to lose good mannequins, particularly in the harsh Australian outback.
Teams search for Outback Joe by flying their robotic aircraft through the 6km search zone with the aim of the competition to drop a package containing 500ml of lifesaving water to him.
The first team to get the water to Joe wins $50,000. Not so silly now, is it? Many teams have come close (in the past six years), but there’s been no robotic cigar.
With the technology to safely fly robotic aircraft in Australian skies expected to be developed by the end of 2014, competition will be fierce in this event that is run by the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation (ARCAA) – a joint venture between CSIRO and Queensland University of Technology. They’re leading Australian research into the development of the robotic flying craft.
“With two international search and rescue teams from Canada and the Netherlands competing, Australian researchers will be afforded the opportunity to view some of the latest international technology in action,” said ARCAA Deputy Director and CSIRO’s Dr Jonathan Roberts.
More details at: http://www.uavoutbackchallenge.com.au/
Twitter: @uavchallenge and @outback_joe
Perfect Match’s Dexter would have to be up there with the favourites. You know, the 1980s robot that, long before eHarmony and RSVP, used to glide across the TV studio and ‘scientifically’ compute the compatibility of awkward contestants looking for love by responding to suggestive questions about which vegetable is most like them.
If only the contestants had their own robot – let’s say it was called Sense – to consult on life’s big questions, such as ‘Should I humiliate myself on national TV for a chance at a 3-star holiday on the Gold Coast with a complete stranger’, or ‘Do I really need this much hairspray?’, or ‘Is tie-dye going to last the fashion test of time?’ But, I digress.
There was something about Dexter that made him likeable – the intellect, the little blue hat, the computerised voice. He was a smidge sexy. Indeed, robots are a little bit cool.
So, you’re probably not surprised that here at CSIRO, where (ahem) cool is the currency, we thought we’d get amongst it. Well, to be honest, we’ve been working in robotics for decades now… but this is particularly clever.
We’re working on a robot for the National Museum of Australia. The idea is that it’ll roam the floors of their Landmarks: People and Places Across Australia Gallery (where Phar Lap’s heart and the prototype Holden are on show) and, using broadband technology, kids in remote and regional areas will be able to link in via the robot to see what’s at the gallery and learn more about the exhibits.
Dr Jonathan Roberts from the CSIRO ICT Centre, who had the idea for the project, probably explains it better…
“The robot will navigate itself around the museum alongside the educator while the remote students will use a special 360-degree field-of-view camera to look around and explore the collection,” Jonathan said.
During the trial, the robot will be accessible by schools and libraries with an NBN connection.
“It’s a pretty nice example of some of the applications that are possible from high-speed broadband technologies,” Jonathan added.
The tele-presence and robotics technology is now being developed by CSIRO, with the first prototype of the robot expected to start ‘walking’ the gallery floors from mid-year. We’ll be sure to show you a sneak peak once it’s made. Students will have access to the system from around October.
And, though they’re too young to remember match-making Dexter, we think the students will find a special place in their hearts for this new piece of robot technology.
Find out more HERE
Indeed, today is Pi Day – 3.14 if you write the date that way. It’s a day to celebrate the mathematical constant that is 3.1415926… I could go on. I mean really go on. Because Pi has no end.
In fact, on Pi Day 2004, a guy named Daniel Tammet recited Pi to 22,514 decimal places. So much for thinking we’d struck upon genius a few years ago at CSIRO when one of our Newcastle scientists managed to get to 241 decimal places before slipping up. She was eating a pie at the time, so we blamed it.
You’ve probably got fond memories of Pi and the efforts you went to trying to remember equations like πr2 and 2πr for your maths exams. Stupid circles, you uttered. Well, today’s the day to replace those haunted memories with celebration.
According to Wikipedia, there are many ways to celebrate Pi Day: “Some of them include eating pie and discussing the relevance of π.” Sounds like a hoot.
So, in the interest of celebration, let me begin my steak and kidney delight (with a generous squirt of tomato sauce) and tell you what I found out when I tried to ‘discuss the relevance of Pi’ with a few of my colleagues from CSIRO’s Mathematics, Informatics and Statistics gang:
“What would we do without Pi? Probably spend most of our time going in circles, because we wouldn’t know when they finish.”
“I still remember the feeling that came over me when my lecturer proved that Pi equalled Pi. It was quite profound.”
“I don’t celebrate Pi Day on 3.14 – I celebrate Pi day on 22/7. The date’s in the right order for Australia, and it’s also a slightly better mathematical approximation of Pi. On 22/7, I team up with a local Canberra maths guy to give a presentation on the wonders of Pi. We usually do it down at the pub, so we can enjoy pies and pints afterwards.”
“If mathematics is the music with which the symphony of the universe is written, then the eternity of Pi is the measure of its beauty.”
Poetic. A pie to each of them. It’ll certainly be an energy (albeit calorie-laden) boost for the more serious work they’re doing… find out more at http://www.csiro.au/org/CMIS
Some people dream of making Who magazine’s Sexiest People list. Others like to climb the ranks of the Forbes Rich List. At CSIRO, the champagne bottle is popped when we make the Top500 supercomputer list. Non-alcoholic, organic, generic-brand champagne, that is. We don’t want to start rumours.
In recent times, CSIRO has claimed a few top performers in the Top 500 list, which ranks the world’s most powerful supercomputers. One computer in particular is pretty special; it’s our very own graphics processing unit (GPU) supercomputer.
Not only was our supercomputer pretty fast, coming it at number 212 on this year’s Top500 announced this week at the SC11 conference in Seattle, USA. But it’s also Australia’s greenest supercomputer ranking 38 on the Green500 list due to its fast, energy-efficient GPUs.
And we’ll bask in the glory of computer speed success without fear of being called nerdy. Au, contraire. Making these lists represents some pretty cool stuff.
For starters, it means our efforts to solve the world’s big puzzles like climate change and food security can happen more quickly. Because superfast GPUs can multi-task and can do in minutes what would take any other computer days or weeks.
CSIRO materials scientist Dr Tim Gureyev and his team have been using the GPU supercomputer for the past two years.
“We have reconstructed a large number of 3D images, from areas such as biology, medical research, geosciences, material sciences, plant and insect phenomics,” said Dr Gureyev.
“Each sample contains up to 64 billion or more voxels, like a pixel for 3D images, and usually takes up to 24 hours to reconstruct on a desktop PC. We can now do that reconstruction in less than five minutes.”
This means we can learn more about the 3D structures in these samples in a snippet of the normal time without having to manually dissect to see fine details or wait hours for high resolution images to appear on a normal PC.
CSIRO eResearch Director Dr John Taylor says rankings for the Top500 list are determined using a benchmark test which measures, under certain conditions, the number of calculations a supercomputer can do per second. The Top500 list reports these results in teraflops although the fastest on the list from Japan and China are now in the petaflop scale.
A teraflop? No, it’s not the sound that hard-rocker Meat Loaf makes when he falls over. Or the title given to an Olympic diver’s failed triple pike.
Put down that champagne and tell us about teraflops, Dr Taylor.
“A teraflop is the way we measure a computer’s speed. One teraflop represents a trillion operations per second.”
“To put things in perspective, the computer you use day-to-day, can probably perform around 1 billion operations per second. You’d have to speed it up 1000 times for it to reach just 1 teraflop.”
CSIRO’s GPU runs at 75.3 teraflops per second. That’s around 75,000 times faster than your average office computer.
And that’s a pretty clever way to speed up research. Now, back to that party. Talk amongst yourselves.
It’s a bingo caller’s dream. At 11.11am today, it’ll be 11:11:11:11:11. Legs 11 on steroids.
But how do we know that’s the right time?
From ancient times, people tracked the sun to determine the time of the day. Indeed, for more than 120 years, people have set their watches by Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Or, Universal Time Coordinated (UTC), to the experts. But time keeping is not without its challenges.
CSIRO astronomer Dr Dick Manchester, knows a thing or two about time. He’s even President of the International Astronomical Union’s Commission on Time. Now that’s a group that’s punctual.
Dr Manchester explained that Greenwich Mean Time is based on atomic clocks, rather than the common assumption that it’s based on the rotation of the earth, or where the sun is in the sky.
“An atomic clock is about the size of a suitcase and contains a vacuum flask that holds a chemical element, often cesium. Cesium atoms emit radiation with a very stable frequency,” Dr Manchester said.
A frequency you could set your watch by, so to speak.
There are atomic clocks dotted around the world. There’s one in Sydney, at Lindfield, that’s managed by the National Measurement Institute. There are lots of atomic clocks in Japan, in the US and also near London in England.
“Those clocks get averaged together by a group of people near Paris in France. And so they produce a time standard which is this international atomic time which is basically the average of all the clocks.”
“The earth is actually a bit wobbly. So, over time, GMT (or UTC) gets a little out of sync with where the earth actually is. In the past, this has been fixed by adding ‘leap seconds’ to GMT,” Dr Manchester explained.
“Every few years scientists monitoring the rotation of the earth decide that an extra second should be added into the time so that what our atomic clocks are telling us matches up with where the sun is in the sky. So, usually on 31 December of that year, instead of our clocks counting seconds from 59 to 0, we adjust things to count 59, 60, zero.”
You’d think an extra second here or there wouldn’t matter, but CSIRO astrophysicist Dr George Hobbs (who, incidentally, took out the NSW Young Tall Poppy Award last week) said leap seconds have an uncanny knack of mucking up computer networks, satellites and other technology which needs accurate time. Which is why our clock watchers have proposed that we do away with leap seconds all together.
“This would overcome all of the problems that leap seconds create for devices such as phones and computer networks,” Dr Hobbs said.
“But it would mean that the GMT would slowly drift from the time according to the sun.”
“Over the next century, it would only amount to a couple of minutes’ difference between atomic time and time according to the sun,” Dr Manchester added.
So, we’d actually be ahead of ourselves.
“It’d only be a small difference, and when you compare that to the annual variations we get from the nature of the earth’s orbit, it’d really be an insignificant amount.”
Makes sense. Which is whydoing away with leap seconds may just happen. The International Telecommunications Union meets in Geneva in February to decide.
But it begs the question… are there more accurate clocks than the atomic kind?
“That’d be pulsars,” Dr Hobbs said.
Alas, we’ve run out of time to go into that. More later. In the meantime, find out more about CSIRO’s astronomy and space research here.
“With all due respect, I am the head of IT and I have it on good authority – if you type “google” into Google you can break the internet – so please… no one try it, even for a joke.” Jen Barber, Relationship Manager, Reynholm Industries.
Despite what the IT Crowd may tell you – you can’t “break” the internet by typing google in to Google.
And that “cloud” everyone keeps talking about in the computer world won’t crash if there’s a, ahem, storm.
But computer clouds do pose their own set of challenges…
It’s a bit like the way the electricity grid provides our power, the cloud will work like a utility to provide our computing resources.
Rather than doing a process on your own laptop or desktop, you send that task off to the cloud and use its processes, power and memory. Which means you don’t have to buy all that expensive equipment. Instead, you buy a smidge of time in the cloud.
“This means that you get to do things super fast, without needing the upfront investment in big boxes,” said Director of CSIRO’s ICT Centre, Dr Ian Oppermann.
“The challenges of the cloud are security and privacy, and we’re working with industry to find the solutions.”
Find out more about CSIRO’s cloud computing work.