Tag Archives: MIT


If you’re familiar with sci-fi anthology series called Black Mirror, you might think of one of the episodes from the 5th season titled “Metalhead”. Apparently, it’s not a fiction anymore, it’s our today’s reality.

The robot dog named Spot is an invention that Boston Dynamics started first developing out of MIT. According to the state’s nonprofit branch called American Civil Libertie Union, these robots are now working with the Massachusetts State Police’s bomb squad.
The ACLU  accessed a memo of agreement document between the state and Boston Dynamics through a public records request.
The request letter that the organization wrote in the records is the following: “The ACLU is interested in this subject and seeks to learn more about how your agency uses or has contemplated using robotics.”.
The ACLU collected all the valuable information about the new partnership, including that Boston Dynamics leased the Spot robot dog to the police force for 90 days between August and November. Because there is no detailed information revealed for a public eye, we don’t know how they are exactly using these machines. The only information that a state police spokesman David Procopio provided about Spot is:  “for the purpose of evaluating the robot’s capabilities in law enforcement applications, particularly remote inspection of potentially dangerous environments.”.
Michael Perry, Boston Dynamics vice president of business development stated, that the company is aiming to make Spot useful for different areas like oil and gas companies, constructions or entertainment.
Perry said he anticipates, that the police is using Spot by sending it into areas that are too dangerous for human being.

The abovementioned robot dogs are constructed for a general-purpose. They have an open application programming interface, which means, a warehouse operator or in this case, a police department can customize them with their own software. From what we can read on the internet, State police claims they didn’t use that feature yet.
Even though, Perry claims the robot won’t be used in the way that would harm or intimidate people, the ACLU, as well as the internet community, are worried about the situation. Currently, the major issue is the lack of transparency in the overall robotics program.

There are various conspiracy theories made by netizens. They mostly predict worst-case scenarios.
The question is whether this invention is safe for the human race. But let’s face the truth. Everything could be dangerous if used in the wrong way. If people working on these machines will program the algorithm allowing them to shoot to people, they’ll follow the order.
Personally, I’m amazed and don’t really know which adjective to use other than “amazing” in this case. I applaud Boston Dynamics for creating the algorithms of their breathtaking machines.

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Arnav Kapur reads minds. What’s your superpower?

AlterEgo is an early-stage prototype of wearable headset that allows a user to communicate with machines by verbalising words in head without speaking them loudly.

How it works? User just have to articulate words internally. Then, electrodes pick up neuromuscular signals and send them to AI assistants, services or applications where machine learning system interprets these signals like words and finally the user receives an answer. But not an ordinary answer. It can be execution of the command by the device or even aural words given by bone conduction without speaking them. AlterEgo claims that their product “allows humans to converse in natural language with machines… without disrupting the user’s usual auditory perception, and making the interface closed-loop”.

Arnav Kapur, a graduate student at MIT Media Lab, was the lead researcher of this invention. He said that  “Our idea was: Could we have a computing platform that’s more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways and that feels like an internal extension of our own cognition?”

Interestingly, Arnav perceives AlterEgo as antidote to the anxiety concerning AI. He emphasizes that he is aware of the doubts and fears that people have while thinking about AI and he claims that his device will help us rather than replace us. He believes that AlterEgo will save our time and not disrupt our minds. It is meant to improve our relation with electronical devices and make them less involving. Furthermore, AlterEgo aims at helping the ones that have voice disorders.

Examples of usage of AlterEgo include asking about weather, time, date or any information from the phone, advice on how to win chess, summing up the prices of products we are buying, connecting with IoT by for example switching channels on TV, putting the kettle on, turning the light off etc.


There are many nonobvious ways in which this device could be beneficial. Thad Starner, a professor in Georgia Tech’s College of Computing suggest using it in the military where communicating silently is often a must for the success of the operation. More down-to-earth example is ordering an uber while being at the meeting or during the lessons.Sometimes we also need to check infomation discreetly and quickly for example with our lawyer at the hearing.

Tanzeem Choudhury, an associate professor at Cornell University who runs the school’s People-Aware Computing Lab, thinks that AlterEgo will be useful with situations in which we are embarrassed to talk or even write about something.

The main challenge that Kapur has to face in the near future is building a data set for the device since silent speech is something completely groundbreaking. At the moment they are working on different languages versions, extension of vocabulary as well as new functions of the device.

How would you use AlterEgo? Do you think that this device can cause any negative consequences like deteriorating the way we speak for example? Let me know in the comments!








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Have science fiction spaceships just become a reality?

Recently, MIT engineers have designed and built an electric airplane with no moving parts. The absence of turbines and propellers is possible thanks to “ionic wind”, which occurs when ions generated by the thruster on the aircraft collide with air molecules and propel the plane forward. This ground-breaking machine makes virtually no sound and is powered entirely by battery.

Source: MIT

The airplane made by MIT engineers has a 5 meter wingspan and weighs only 2.45 kilograms. Steven Barrett and his team have been working on this design since 2009. Barrett has said that the science fiction phenomenon, Star Trek, which he often watched during his childhood, greatly inspired him when developing the aircraft. Is it possible that the spaceships we have seen in Star Wars and Star Trek can soon become more than just geeks’ fantasies? While Barrett’s design has still got a long way to go, especially when compared to the USS Enterprise, Millennium Falcon or TIE Fighter, it is still a fantastic accomplishment.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/nov/21/first-ever-plane-with-no-moving-parts-takes-flight

In theory, Ionocrafts could be a game-changer in transportation of cargo and people. Still, one has to remember a revolution is still many years away. The aircraft was tested on a distance of about 60 metres, in a closed gym, under close supervision. Still, Barrett and his team have repeated the test 10 times and found that enough ions have been produced to sustain flight the entire time.

Source: Nature YouTube channel

What struck me the most is the fact that the concept of ionic wind propulsion has been around for quite some time –  it was mentioned as far back as 1709, when an English scientist Francis Hauksbee published Physico-Mechanical Experiments on Various Subjects, and in the 1920s by Thomas Townsend Brown, whose research and work have influenced further discoveries. But it was not until the 1960s, when Russian pilot Alexander Prokofiev de Seversky introduced his idea of Ionocraft , that it became to feel more realistic. Still, it was not until earlier this week, in November 2018, that an actual prototype was built and tested.

Source: http://www.doctorkoontz.com/Antigravity/Townsend_Brown/Thomas%20Townsend%20Brown%20Scientific%20Notebooks,%20Vol_%201.htm










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Since the first manned flight was accomplished by the Wright brothers more than 100 years ago, literally every aircraft in the sky has flown only with the help of moving parts such as propellers, turbine blades and fans, which are powered by the combustion of fossil fuels or by battery packs that produce a persistent and annoying noise. We could only dream about futuristic shuttle crafts that effortlessly skimmed through the air, with seemingly no moving parts and hardly any noise or exhaust.

But it seems that science fiction is becoming a reality. In paper, published in Nature journal, MIT researchers, who was inspired by the Star Trek movie, reported that they have created and flown the first plane without any moving parts. It became possible thanks to the concept known as “ionic wind” – the wind is generated in the air between two electrodes when current goes between them. When enough voltage is applied, a thrust can be produced with the “ionic wind” to power a small plane without the need for any moving parts. The idea was first introduced in the 1920s but never widely spread and was successfully applied only in avionics.

MIT’s magic plane flies without fuel or moving parts


Application of this technology would give us many opportunities in the future such as safety, low noise levels, maintenance, and environmental benefits over traditional planes. But this idea also entails many challenges for scientists that they will have to solve.  Prospective aircrafts powered by “ionic wind” would require sustainable supply of electricity in order to create sufficient voltage to propel the plane. A small 2,45 kilograms MIT’s plane model needs around 40.000 volts to get off the ground and scaling it up to the size of commercial aircraft will create huge weight problems that the design would need to overcome.

Obviously, there is still long way to make this concept widely used but some things may become possible in the foreseeable future. Not talking about using this technology for drones, it also creates some prospects for hybrid planes.  Steven Barret, MIT professor and one of the plane creators, believes that this technology could be used in conjunction with jet engines to make the overall craft more fuel efficient by re energizing the air that passes over the aircraft and eliminating drag.

The First steps to create our future are done. Now, looking forward to the continuation of the story.






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