iStruct robot ape evolves to upright because of its active spine

Back in June the world got its first glimpse of the iStruct, a robot ape developed at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) and the University of Bremen. We predicted that in addition to the stability afforded by walking on all fours, the robot ape could feasibly stand up to free its hands for other kinds of work. Now the team has published a video that shows how their robot accomplishes this maneuver with the help of its flexible spine and sensitive feet.

The iStruct’s primary innovation is its active spine, which gives its added flexibility an…A close-up of the iStruct’s active spineiStruct’s upper-body can tilt and turn thanks to its spineBy standing upright, the robot can put its arms and hands to work.

In email correspondences with Daniel Kühn, iStruct’s primary researcher, he explained that while it’s referred to as a “space robot” (and is being tested in a mock lunar landscape), his focus was designing biologically-inspired robotic structures…

Currently, it may only stand and maintain its balance. However, its multi-contact feet could provide the necessary data to maintain the robot’s balance as it transitions from a quadrupedal to bipedal gait. “There are only a few robots out there with an actuated spine that are actually moving and walking around,” Kühn says. “We want to investigate whether it is beneficial for the locomotion or not – but we think it is. For example, in a two legged posture we have an increased arm range of motion, since the spine is active…”

Helluva beginning. Since it can evolve faster than a Darwinian pace, I expect we’ll see a lot more progress over something short of geologic time.

State senator aided workers’ comp fraud worth millions — FBI

State Sen. Ronald Calderon accepted bribes from a Southern California hospital executive who ran an alleged workers’ compensation scheme that brought the executive tens of millions of dollars, according to a sealed FBI affidavit obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

In exchange for payments to family members, Calderon, a Democrat who represents a suburban district here, protected the interests in Sacramento of Michael Drobot, who ran a busy spinal surgery clinic in Long Beach, Calif., the affidavit says. The document says Calderon ensured that changes to state law would not injure Drobot’s lucrative business of providing spinal fusion surgery, which joins two or more vertebrae.

The California State Compensation Insurance Fund, a quasi-governmental organization that makes payments on workers’ compensation claims, filed racketeering charges against Drobot and his medical companies earlier this year. The complaint alleges that he received $161 million through inflated surgery room and spinal implant reimbursement fees in what the state calls “multiple fraudulent schemes.” The allegations are contained in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Santa Ana, Calif.

Until now, Calderon’s alleged behind-the-scenes role in the workers’ compensation payment controversy has never been revealed…

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US spied on the Vatican in run-up to choosing the new pope

The US National Security Agency allegedly eavesdropped on cardinals before the conclave in March to elect a new pope, Italian weekly magazine Panorama claimed on Wednesday.

“The National Security Agency wire-tapped the pope,” the magazine said, accusing the United States of listening in to telephone calls to and from the Vatican, including cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he was elected Pope Francis.

The allegations follow a report on surveillance website, Cryptome, which said the US intercepted 46 million telephone calls in Italy in December last year and early January this year…

“It is feared that the great American ear continued to tap prelates’ conversations up to the eve of the conclave,” it said, adding that there were “suspicions that the conversations of the future pope may have been monitored”.

Bergoglio “had been a person of interest to the American secret services since 2005, according to Wikileaks”, it said.

The bugged conversations were divided into four categories: “leadership intentions”, “threats to financial systems”, “foreign policy objectives” and “human rights”, it claimed.

The Vatican says they’re not worried about NSA bugging their phone calls. They didn’t make it clear whether that was because they think their conversations are boring – or because God is on their side.

Florida woman arrested for attacking her fiance with a knife – and mashed potatoes

Police in Florida said they arrested a woman accused of attacking her fiance with a fillet knife and hot mashed potatoes.

Sebastian police said they responded to an address in the city…on a report of a domestic incident and the fiance of Kimberly Francisco, 42, told officers the couple had been arguing and Francisco allegedly “began throwing hot mashed potatoes and gravy at him…”

The fiance said Francisco then retrieved a fillet knife and attempted to stab him.

“Upon check of the residence, I noticed food, to include mashed potatoes, appeared to be thrown around the kitchen area,” the police arrest affidavit stated.

Francisco told police she did not throw the potatoes, they fell on the floor. She said her fiance made up the story about the attempted stabbing.

Francisco was arrested on a charge of felony aggravated assault with deadly weapon.

I can only presume the coppers considered the “deadly weapon” to be the knife.