From 2D to 3D Codes

3D codes have been researched for over 15 years. Even 2D codes can store short texts or other information. However, codes that use color as a third dimension are far superior in this respect. They open up numerous fields of application and raise technical, economic and ethical questions. According to a press release, the JAB Code of the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology SIT – JAB stands for “Just Another Barcode” – is on its way to becoming an international ISO standard. “Job references, training certificates and wills, but also proof of authenticity for products can be secured with JAB Code. (Press release Fraunhofer SIT, 26 June 2020) Furthermore, longer texts can be stored. Already in 2010 Oliver Bendel has published a book with QR codes from which haikus could be read offline. In the same and the following year he scientifically dealt with 2D and 3D codes. A longer article on the topic from 2011 can be found here – the teaser and the link are included in in this 3D code, which can be scanned via www.jabcode.org. A 2D code also manages a text like that, but already has an enormous complexity. Waldemar Berchtold from Fraunhofer SIT explains: “With eight colours, readability is robust, with the smartphones available on the market. Whereas with more than eight colours, reliable readability with older smartphones cannot be guaranteed across the board.” More about the Fraunhofer Institute project at www.sit.fraunhofer.de/de/presse/details/news-article/show/bunter-barcode-wird-iso-standard/.

 

Towards Self-replicating Machines

In recent decades, there have been several attempts to supplement traditional electronic storage media. 3D codes with color as the third dimension are an interesting approach. They can be applied to paper or film, for example. Another approach has now been presented by researchers from Switzerland and Israel. They are able to generate artificial DNA and place it in any object. From the Abstract: “We devised a ‘DNA-of-things’ (DoT) storage architecture to produce materials with immutable memory. In a DoT framework, DNA molecules record the data, and these molecules are then encapsulated in nanometer silica beads, which are fused into various materials that are used to print or cast objects in any shape. First, we applied DoT to three-dimensionally print a Stanford Bunny that contained a 45 kB digital DNA blueprint for its synthesis. We synthesized five generations of the bunny, each from the memory of the previous generation without additional DNA synthesis or degradation of information. … DoT could be applied to store electronic health records in medical implants, to hide data in everyday objects (steganography) and to manufacture objects containing their own blueprint. It may also facilitate the development of self-replicating machines.” (Abstract) The approach could also be interesting for robots. They could, for example, reproduce themselves on Mars. The article with the title “A DNA-of-things storage architecture to create materials with embedded memory” has been published in NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY and can be accessed via www.nature.com/articles/s41587-019-0356-z.epdf.

The Ocean Cleanup’s First Results

As Golem reported on 13 December 2019, The Ocean Cleanup project has landed 60 large bags of plastic waste. The plastic waste comes from the Pacific, where several areas are heavily affected. In October, the project managers announced that the 001/B system was working as planned. System 001 had to be reworked because the plastic collected in it but then spilled out again. Now garbage of all sizes was found, from huge nets to household garbage such as car tires or plastic bottles to microplastic. The plastic is now to be recycled – so founder Boyant Slant is quoted by Golem. The goal is to create sustainable products. In a final thesis at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland a student recently described and evaluated six projects for the disposal of plastic waste in seas. An overview can be found here. The Ocean Cleanup was also discussed, beside the WasteShark that sticks out as a robot.

A Garbage Robot for Space

According to Tages-Anzeiger (9 December 2019), a consortium led by a Swiss start-up named Clearspace has won a ESA competition and was awarded the contract for a waste disposal mission in orbit. The so-called “chaser” of the EPFL spin-off has four robotic arms with which a remnant of the ESA launch vehicle Vega is to be captured and drawn. Chaser and the part of Vespa will then burn up together in the atmosphere. Later, the company wants to look for new targets. According to Luc Piguet, the issue of space debris is more urgent than ever. The founder and CEO of Clearspace says that there are currently almost 2,000 active and 3,000 inactive satellites. The problem is likely to worsen over the next few years. Where people roam, the mountains of rubbish grow and space fills with rubbish. This may sound literary, but above all, it’s terrible. Robots could be a solution both on Earth and in orbit.

Virtual Reality for Cows?

Various media claimed in November 2019 that there would be very special experiments with cows in Russia. There are pictures circulating showing an animal wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset. This one could reduce anxiety and increase milk yield if it would show a pleasant environment – that’s at least the media’s assumption. But, according to The Verge, “it’s not at all clear whether this is a genuine trial or an elaborate marketing stunt” (The Verge, 26 November 2019). At the moment, there is hardly any evidence as to whether VR would work for cows. There is no doubt that it makes sense for humans, at least in the context of marketing. They could wear VR glasses to see a landscape with cows. They would then believe that most cows have a good life. But this good life does not exist. Cows suffer from what you do to them – some more, some less. “At the end of the day, what we can say is that someone took the time to make at least one mock-up virtual reality headset for a cow and took these pictures. We don’t need to milk the story any more than that.” (The Verge, 26 November 2019)

Holograms that You can Feel and Hear

A hologram is a three-dimensional image produced with holographic techniques, which has a physical presence in real space. The term “holography” is used to describe procedures that exploit the wave character of light to achieve a realistic representation. Interference and coherence play an important role here. Colloquially, certain three-dimensional projections are also referred to as holograms. According to Gizmodo, researchers at the University of Sussex have created animated 3D holograms that can not only be seen from any angle, they can also be touched. “The researchers took an approach that was similar to one pioneered by engineers at Utah’s Brigham Young University who used invisible lasers to levitate and manipulate a small particle in mid-air, which was illuminated with RGB lights as it zipped around to create the effect of a 3D image. What’s different with the University of Sussex’s holograms is that instead of lasers, two arrays of ultrasonic transducers generating soundwaves are used to float and control a lightweight polystyrene bead just two millimeters in size.” (Gizmodo, 14 November 2019) A video of the Guardian shows quite impressive examples. Further information is available on the Gizmodo website.

Robot Priests can Perform your Funeral

“Robot priests can bless you, advise you, and even perform your funeral” – this is the title of an article published in Vox on 9 September 2019. “A new priest named Mindar is holding forth at Kodaiji, a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Like other clergy members, this priest can deliver sermons and move around to interface with worshippers. But Mindar comes with some … unusual traits. A body made of aluminum and silicone, for starters.” (Vox, 9 September 2019) The robot looks like Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy. According to Vox, it is an attempt to reignite people’s passion for their faith in a country where religious affiliation is on the decline. “For now, Mindar is not AI-powered. It just recites the same preprogrammed sermon about the Heart Sutra over and over. But the robot’s creators say they plan to give it machine-learning capabilities that’ll enable it to tailor feedback to worshippers’ specific spiritual and ethical problems.” (Vox, 9 September 2019) There is hope that the robot will not bring people back to faith, but rather enthuse them for the knowledge of science – the science that Mindar created.

With Low-Tech against Digital Mass Surveillance

The resistance movement in Hong Kong uses different means of defence, communication and information. This is reported by the German news portal Heise on 1 September 2019. Demonstrators direct laser beams at the video cams, which are installed everywhere, not least in intelligent street lamps. The pointers are intended to interfere with the facial recognition systems used by the police to analyse some of the video streams. On television, one could see how the civil rights activists were able to use chain saws and ropes to bring down the high-tech street lights. Services such as Telegram and Firechat are used for communication and coordination. According to Quartz, “Hong Kong’s protesters are using AirDrop, a file-sharing feature that allows Apple devices to send photos and videos over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, to breach China’s Great Firewall in order to spread information to mainland Chinese visitors in the city” (Quartz, 8 July 2019). You could read on a digital sticker distributed by AirDrop at subway stations: “Don’t wait until [freedom] is gone to regret its loss. Freedom isn’t god-given; it is fought for by the people.” (Quartz, 8 July 2019)

Holograms in Teaching

Some universities strive to use holograms in their teaching. Through this technology, the lecturer’s representative would have a physical presence in space. Even interactions and conversations would be possible if the holograms or projections were connected to speech systems. Dr. David Lefevre, director of Imperial’s Edtech Lab, told the BBC one year ago: “The alternative is to use video-conferencing software but we believe these holograms have a much greater sense of presence”. American Samoa Community College (ASCC) has now switched on a digital platform that will stream 3D holograms of University of Hawaiʻi faculty members to deliver classes and engage with ASCC students in real-time. According to the website, students at the HoloCampus launch on August 20 received a lecture by UH Mānoa Water Resources Research Center researcher Chris Shuler on the subject of “sustainability and resilience” – a theme “with special significance for the people of American Samoa and Pacific Islands nations as they face challenges such as increasing plastic waste and more dramatic weather systems brought about by climate change” (Website University of Hawaiʻi). Holograms could play a role in all sorts of areas, including social and sexual relationships.

The Technological Fight against Mass Shootings

Security technologies are spreading more and more. Some of them, such as the security robot K5, guarantee and destroy security at the same time. Mass shootings such as those in Dayton and El Paso are a particular problem. New tech firms like Athena are offering solutions, as Fast Company reports. “Athena Security uses object-motion detection to spot when an individual brandishes a fireman, and immediately send an alert to their client, whether that’s a private security firm or local law enforcement. The company’s AI object-motion detection is camera agnostic, meaning it can work on any CCTV system. When a gun is detected, the video feed of the active shooter is made available to the client both on mobile devices and desktop computers, allowing officers to know what they are dealing with and where it is happening, all in the space of three seconds …” (Fast Company, 23 August 2019) In fact, technologies are often the only means against technologies. They may also be successful in preventing mass shootings. Another possibility would be to disarm the population – but this would meet with resistance in the USA. Another problem is that this is surveillance technology. Therefore, as with the K5 and other service robots, one thing applies: one form of security is gained, another form of security is lost.