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Robot Insects
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Souls and Confections...?
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On Souls...?
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Beware the False Consensus Effect!
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Your Preferences - Preliminary Results
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Popularity Survey - DO IT FOR SCIENCE!
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zietsch's Response to PZ, Laden and Scicurious.
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The Personality of Cities
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Discussion #1 - Walking Speed and City Size
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People who Doodle Learn Faster = Bullshit
Thursday, August 25, 2011

Good News Everyone!
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Got the Time? Part II
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Got the time?
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Can Randomness Predict the Future?
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The House of Psycasm
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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Open Letter: A follow-up
Tuesday, May 31, 2011

This is a lie, she said.
Sunday, May 22, 2011

MSPaint is mightier than the Sword
Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Art of Indecision
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Skeptical Checklist 1.1
Friday, May 13, 2011

The Skeptical Checklist 1.0
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Of Chimps, Children and Post-Grads...
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Magical Thinking: Voodoo, Prayer, Black Cats, and You
Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Art of Character Creation
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Video Game Morality: Actions inside the box?
Friday, January 21, 2011

Psychobabble goes live!
Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Trolley Problem: Who cares?
Sunday, January 16, 2011

Podcast delay and misc. Drugs!?
Saturday, January 15, 2011

My very own Natural Disaster
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A window into your Genetics and Mate Preference?
Sunday, January 9, 2011

Oh sorry, I totally phased out there...
Thursday, January 6, 2011

Porn: A force of Mutual Benefits
Sunday, January 2, 2011
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Statistical Pwnage
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why you should care...
Thursday, December 16, 2010

The paper of Influence
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Sharing: Part I - Emotions
Sunday, December 12, 2010

No-one cuts deeper than a Science Blogger.
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Me Meme [Ohh, links now]
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Half Full, or Half Empty? Well, That Depends on the Shape of the Glass.
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What Your Voice Says About You
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Babushka Blog: A Meta-Blog on ResearchBlogging.
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An Announcement:
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Willful Self-Deception is Bliss
Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dance, Blogger, Dance!
Friday, November 19, 2010

The Science of Marriage
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The Moon and Antarctica
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Available: One Mentee. Good Condition.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Again we are limited by our puny human-ness
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Blogging Carnival - What is Psychopathology?: Origins
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*sigh* Psi: A Rebuttal
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The Science of Mind-Reading
Thursday, October 28, 2010

How not to think yourself smart...
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Welcome to Assassins' League
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TODO LATER. A story of procrastination and forgiveness.
Thursday, October 21, 2010

A man and his words.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Little kids, little minds...
Sunday, October 17, 2010

Smoking (maybemightcould) is Good.
Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to stop the Apocalpyse
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How to trick yourself creative
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Siesta - It sounds like Fiesta, but isn't.
Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Dread Pirate Rift
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Being Blonde. Natural or otherwise...
Sunday, October 3, 2010
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Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The other day the institution I study at was lucky enough to have Dr. Justin Werfel, a robotics researcher at Harvard (at the Wyss Institute), give a talk on a couple of his current projects. 

It was mainly aimed at the engineering/robotics faculties, but a few of us Psych people heard about it and decided to attend. 

I can do no justice to his work here, so I will attempt to provide as many links and videos as possible, and outline only that which I am most sure about. In any event, the videos should be enough to fill to spark your imagination. 

Social insects - like Bees, Ants and Termites - are able to engage in surprisingly complex and apparently sophisticated behaviours despite lacking a lot of faculties many 'higher order' organisms have. The fact that termites, for instance, can each act autonomously and with very little direct information from other termites within a mound, construct huge self-regulating mounds is quite amazing. The design of some of these mounds has been shown to be such that its actually regulates temperature and air-flow.


A mound that is approximately two metric utes+a kid tall. Source at bottom of post.

A termite mound roughly two metric 'utes+a kid' tall. Source at bottom of post.

Bees are the same. Despite being relatively simple animals, relying a number of simple visual processing systems, they can - collectively - map out large areas of terrain accurately, communicate position taking into account the position of the sun, and determine the degree of accuracy of the information in a dance. 



 Now it's interesting to consider how they can do all these things. But this was not the focus of the talk. Werfel works in robotics and his goal was to model what these animals do to achieve a certain goal. Understanding (though important) was not the primary objective. In his own words Robobees are essentially being developed to address the concern of Colony Collapse Disorder. Should it happen that the biologists can't save the bees from this disorder it is imperative to ensure that pollination of agricultural crops can still occur. The goal, as it was explained in the talk, was to create a robot that can do this should such an event come to pass. There's not so many good videos of the Robobees  but this should give you an idea of what they look like, and how they're progressing.



 Personally I found the termite project far more interesting (known as 'Termes'). The argument made for this project is that construction is an industry untouched by industrialization. We still need men in plastic hats climbing steel pillars and bolting stuff together. People die doing this. The ultimate goal is to have little machines do all the dirty work for you - you just plug in the details of what you want produced and the little robots go ahead and make it. Naturally, on a big enough project, all possible errors that can happen will happen. So they've tried to make each little Termes robot self-correcting for the small stuff, with a bunch of very simple and elegant algorithms to deal with most/all situations. You can see in the video that the little guy occasionally struggles with loading or unloading, turning or climbing, but it ultimately can self-correct as it goes along. Note also the really cool wheel design ('Whegs'). 


 Given the scope of the talk and the fact that it was a little outside my area of knowledge (a little?) I can't say much more. I just want everyone to know how cool these things are - and that the apocalypse will not be at the hands of terminators, but more likely the hive-mind of swarm robotics.

Even though 'Big Dog' is one scary motherfucker...





Source: Termite Image

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Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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I'm probably going to have nightmares about bigdog...  Great stuff!

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