Category: Tech

Quantum Computer And Mezzo Soprano To Duet In World First Performance

What happens when you combine the pure tones of an internationally renowned mezzo soprano and the complex technology of a $15 million quantum supercomputer?

The answer will be exclusively revealed to audiences at the Port Eliot Festival when Superposition, created by Plymouth University composer Alexis Kirke, receives its world premiere later this summer.

Combining the arts and sciences, as Dr Kirke has done with many of his previous works, the 15-minute piece will begin dark and mysterious with celebrated performer Juliette Pochin singing a low-pitched slow theme.

But gradually the quiet sounds of electronic ambience will emerge over or beneath her voice, as the sounds of her singing are picked up by a microphone and sent over the internet to the D-Wave 2X quantum computer at the University of Southern California.

It then reacts with behaviors in the quantum realm that are turned into sounds back in the performance venue, the Round Room at Port Eliot, creating a unique and ground-breaking duet.

And when the singer ends, the quantum processes are left to slowly fade away naturally, making their final sounds as the lights go to black.

First Creative Performance Of Quantum Computer

Dr Kirke, a member of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research at Plymouth University, said:

“There are only a handful of these computers accessible in the world, and this is the first time one has been used as part of a creative performance. So while it is a great privilege to be able to put this together, it is an incredibly complex area of computing and science and it has taken almost two years to get to this stage. For most people, this will be the first time they have seen a quantum computer in action and I hope it will give them a better understanding of how it works in a creative and innovative way.”

The three-part performance will tell the story of Niobe, one of the more tragic figures in Greek mythology, but in this case a nod to the fact the heart of the quantum computer contains the metal named after her, niobium. It will also feature a monologue from Hamlet, interspersed with terms from quantum computing.

This is the latest of Dr Kirke’s pioneering performance works, with previous productions including an opera based on the financial crisis and a piece using a cutting edge wave-testing facility as an instrument of percussion.

D-Wave 2X

Geordie Rose, CTO and Founder, D-Wave Systems, said:

“D-Wave’s quantum computing technology has been investigated in many areas such as image recognition, machine learning and finance. We are excited to see Dr Kirke, a pioneer in the field of quantum physics and the arts, utilising a D-Wave 2X in his next performance.

Quantum computing is positioned to have a tremendous social impact, and Dr Kirke’s work serves not only as a piece of innovative computer arts research, but also as a way of educating the public about these new types of exotic computing machines.”

Image: A D-Wave 1000 Qubit Quantum Processor. Credit: D-Wave Systems Inc

SkinTrack Turns Your Arm Into A Smartwatch Touchpad

A new wearable technology transforms your whole lower arm into a touchpad, widening smartwatch interactions beyond the small watch face.

Called SkinTrack, the system allows for continuous touch tracking on the hands and arms. It also can detect touches at specific locations on the skin, creating functionality similar to buttons or slider controls.

“The great thing about SkinTrack is that it’s not obtrusive; watches and rings are items that people already wear every day,”

says Yang Zhang, a first-year PhD student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) at Carnegie Mellon University.

Existing “skin to screen” approaches have used interactive textiles, flexible overlays, and projector/camera combinations that can be cumbersome. SkinTrack demands only that the user wear a special ring, which producess a low-energy, high-frequency signal through the skin when the finger touches or nears the skin surface.

“A major problem with smartwatches and other digital jewelry is that their screens are so tiny,” says Gierad Laput, a PhD student at the HCII. “Not only is the interaction area small, but your finger actually blocks much of the screen when you’re using it. Input tends to be pretty basic, confined to a few buttons or some directional swipes.”

Chris Harrison, assistant professor in the HCII, adds:

“SkinTrack makes it possible to move interactions from the screen onto the arm, providing much larger interface.”

Watch Strap Electrodes

By using electrodes integrated into the watch’s strap, it’s possible to pinpoint the source of the electromagnetic waves coming from the ring because the phase of the waves will vary.

For example, electrodes corresponding to the 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock positions on the watch can detect phase differences that can determine the position of the finger along the width of the arm. Electrodes at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions can determine the finger’s position along the length of the arm.

Researchers found that they could determine when the finger was touching the skin with 99 percent accuracy and they could resolve the location of the touches with a mean error of 7.6 millimeters. That compares favorably with other on-body finger-tracking systems and approaches touchscreen-like accuracy.

Drawings, Maps and Games

The researchers showed that SkinTrack can be used as a game controller, to scroll through lists on the smartwatch, to zoom in and out of onscreen maps, and to draw.

A number pad application lets you use the back of your hand as a dial pad for the onscreen number pad; hovering a finger over the hand acts as a cursor, highlighting numbers on the screen to aid in targeting touch points.

There are a few limitations, though. Keeping the ring powered up has been a challenge.

Signals also tend to change as the device is worn for long periods, thanks to factors such as sweat and hydration and the fact the body is in constant motion.

On the plus side, the technology is safe. No evidence suggests that the radio frequency signals used by SkinTrack have any health effects. The body is commonly excited by daily appliances—everything from the tiny amounts of current drawn from the finger by touchscreens to the electromagnetic noise emanating from fluorescent lights, with no ill effects.

Image: Carnegie Mellon

Robot Mermaid Explores Coral Reef Ocean Depths

A robot named OceanOne with artificial intelligence and haptic feedback systems enables human pilots unprecedented abilities for exploring the depths of the oceans.

Oussama Khatib held his breath as he swam through the wreck of La Lune, over 300 feet below the Mediterranean. The flagship of King Louis XIV sank here in 1664, 20 miles off the southern coast of France, and no human had touched the ruins, or the countless treasures and artifacts the ship once carried, in the centuries since.

With guidance from a team of skilled deep-sea archaeologists who had studied the site, Khatib, a professor of computer science at Stanford, spotted a grapefruit-size vase. He hovered precisely over the vase, reached out, felt its contours and weight, and stuck a finger inside to get a good grip.

He swam over to a recovery basket, gently laid down the vase, and shut the lid. Then he stood up and high-fived the dozen archaeologists and engineers who had been crowded around him.

This entire time Khatib had been sitting comfortably in a boat, using a set of joysticks to control OceanOne, a humanoid diving robot outfitted with human vision, haptic force feedback and an artificial brain—in essence, a virtual diver.

When the vase returned to the boat, Khatib was the first person to touch it in hundreds of years. It was in remarkably good condition, though it showed every day of its time underwater: The surface was covered in ocean detritus, and it smelled like raw oysters.

The team members were overjoyed, and when they popped bottles of champagne, they made sure to give their heroic robot a celebratory bath.

The expedition to La Lune was OceanOne’s maiden voyage. Based on its astonishing success, Khatib hopes that the robot will one day take on highly skilled underwater tasks too dangerous for human divers, as well as open up a whole new realm of ocean exploration.

“OceanOne will be your avatar,” Khatib says. “The intent here is to have a human diving virtually, to put the human out of harm’s way. Having a machine that has human characteristics that can project the human diver’s embodiment at depth is going to be amazing.”


The concept for OceanOne was born from the need to study coral reefs deep in the Red Sea, far below the comfortable range of human divers. No existing robotic submarine can dive with the skill and care of a human diver, so OceanOne was conceived and built from the ground up, a successful marriage of robotics, artificial intelligence, and haptic feedback systems.

OceanOne looks something like a robo-mermaid. Roughly five feet long from end to end, its torso features a head with stereoscopic vision that shows the pilot exactly what the robot sees, and two fully articulated arms. The “tail” section houses batteries, computers, and eight multi-directional thrusters.

The body looks far unlike conventional boxy robotic submersibles, but it’s the hands that really set OceanOne apart.

Frederic Osada, Teddy Seguin/DRASSM

Each fully articulated wrist is fitted with force sensors that relay haptic feedback to the pilot’s controls, so the human can feel whether the robot is grasping something firm and heavy, or light and delicate. Eventually, each finger will be covered with tactile sensors.

The bot’s brain also reads the data and makes sure that its hands keep a firm grip on objects, but that they don’t damage things by squeezing too tightly. In addition to exploring shipwrecks, this makes it adept at manipulating delicate coral reef research and precisely placing underwater sensors.

“You can feel exactly what the robot is doing,” Khatib says. “It’s almost like you are there; with the sense of touch you create a new dimension of perception.”

The pilot can take control at any moment, but most frequently won’t need to lift a finger. Sensors throughout the robot gauge current and turbulence, automatically activating the thrusters to keep the robot in place.

Credit: Frederic Osada, Teddy Seguin/DRASSM

And even as the body moves, quick-firing motors adjust the arms to keep its hands steady as it works. Navigation relies on perception of the environment, from both sensors and cameras, and these data run through smart algorithms that help OceanOne avoid collisions.

If it senses that its thrusters won’t slow it down quickly enough, it can quickly brace for impact with its arms, an advantage of a humanoid body build.

Dangerous Situations

The humanoid form also means that when OceanOne dives alongside actual humans, its pilot can communicate through hand gestures during complex tasks or scientific experiments. Ultimately, though, Khatib designed OceanOne with an eye toward getting human divers out of harm’s way.

Every aspect of the robot’s design is meant to allow it to take on tasks that are either dangerous—deep-water mining, oil-rig maintenance, or underwater disaster situations like the Fukushima Daiichi power plant—or simply beyond the physical limits of human divers.

“We connect the human to the robot in very intuitive and meaningful way. The human can provide intuition and expertise and cognitive abilities to the robot,” Khatib says. “The two bring together an amazing synergy. The human and robot can do things in areas too dangerous for a human, while the human is still there.”

Khatib was forced to showcase this attribute while recovering the vase. As OceanOne swam through the wreck, it wedged itself between two cannons. Firing the thrusters in reverse wouldn’t extricate it, so Khatib took control of the arms, motioned for the bot to perform a sort of pushup, and OceanOne was free.

Next month, OceanOne will return to the Stanford University campus, where Khatib and his students will continue iterating on the platform. The prototype robot is a fleet of one, but Khatib hopes to build more units, which would work in concert during a dive.

Top Photo: Frederic Osada, Teddy Seguin/DRASSM

Playing Tetris Can Diminish Food, Cigarettes, Alcohol Cravings

If you are fan of Tetris, you might be able to diet easier. Playing Tetris for as short a time as three minutes can weaken cravings for drugs, food and activities such as sex and sleeping by approximately one fifth, according to new research.

A tema of psychologists from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology found that playing Tetris interfered with desires not only for food, but also for drugs, including cigarettes, alcohol and coffee, and other activities. The benefits of playing Tetris were maintained over a seven-day study period.

This marks the first test of its kind to study people in natural settings outside of a laboratory. Participants were monitored for levels of craving and prompted to play the block-shifting puzzle game at random intervals during the day.

Cognitive Interference

Professor Jackie Andrade, from the School of Psychology and the Cognition Institute at Plymouth University, said:

“Playing Tetris decreased craving strength for drugs, food, and activities from 70% to 56%. This is the first demonstration that cognitive interference can be used outside the lab to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating. We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity. Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery; it is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time.”

For the study, 31 undergraduates, aged 18-27, were asked seven times a day via text message to report on any cravings they were feeling. They were also encouraged to report cravings proactively, independently of the prompts. Fifteen members of the group were required to play Tetris on an iPod for three minutes, before reporting their craving levels again.

Said Professor Jon May, also of Plymouth University:

“The impact of Tetris on craving was consistent across the week and on all craving types. People played the game 40 times on average but the effect did not seem to wear off. This finding is potentially important because an intervention that worked solely because it was novel and unusual would have diminishing benefits over time as participants became familiar with it.”

Craving was recorded in 30% of occasions, most commonly for food and non-alcoholic drinks, which were reported on nearly two-thirds of those occasions.

Twenty-one percent of cravings were for substances categorised as drugs (including coffee, cigarettes, wine and beer), and 16% were for miscellaneous activities such as sleeping, playing video games, socialising with friends, and sexual intercourse. Food cravings tended to be slightly weaker than those in the other categories.


Jessica Skorka-Brown, Jackie Andrade, Ben Whalley, Jon May
Playing Tetris decreases drug and other cravings in real world settings
Addictive Behaviors, Volume 51, December 2015, Pages 165-170,

Photo: State Farm/flickr

Andoid Stagefright: Samsung, LG And Motorola Working On Fix

In addition to Samsung and LG, Motorola is the latest major Android phone maker rushing to patch its devices against the Stagefright multimedia messaging security flaw. Security firm Zimperium, which uncovered the vulnerability affecting the Stagefright media library in late July, has come out with a detection app available through the Google Play.

Recently Google, Samsung and LG announced they will begin providing more frequent security updates, about once a month, for their Android devices.

Stagefright is a media playback engine provided in the Android OS. It is responsible for unpacking and playing the multimedia message.

This could take place, depending on a phone’s messaging settings, prior to the phone owner opening the message or viewing the video.

The possibility exists that a hacker could insert malware in the video, which could then be processed and access the phone without giving the owner a chance to check the video attachment.

The following products will get a security patch offered to Motorola’s carrier partners:

  • Moto X Style (patched from launch)
  • Moto X Play (patched from launch)
  • Moto X (1st Gen, 2nd Gen)
  • Moto X Pro
  • Moto Maxx/Turbo
  • Moto G (1st Gen, 2nd Gen, 3rd Gen)
  • Moto G with 4G LTE (1st Gen, 2nd Gen)
  • Moto E (1st Gen, 2nd Gen)
  • Moto E with 4G LTE (2nd Gen)
  • DROID Turbo
  • DROID Ultra/Mini/Maxx

According to a statement released by Motorola, consumers can protect themselves by:

“First, only download multimedia content (such as attachments or anything that needs to be decoded to view it) from people you know and trust. You can disable your phone’s capability to download MMS automatically. That way you can only choose to download from trusted sources.

  • Messaging: go to Settings. Uncheck “Auto-retrieve MMS.”
  • Hangouts (if enabled for SMS; if greyed-out, no need to take action): go to Settings > SMS. Uncheck auto retrieve MMS.
  • Verizon Message+: go to Settings > Advanced settings. Uncheck Auto-retrieve. Uncheck “Enable weblink preview.”
  • Whatsapp Messenger: go to Settings > Chat settings > Media auto-download. Disable all video auto downloads under “When using mobile data,” “When connected on Wi-Fi” and “When roaming.”
  • Handcent Next SMS: go to settings>Receive message settings. Disable auto retrieve.”

Photo: TechStage/flickr