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Will We Accept the Use of Robots for Personal Care or Social Activities?

A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology indicates that older adults are willing to use robots for the daily activities that become more challenging with age, unless the tasks involve personal care or social activities. After showing adults (ages 65 to 93 years) a video of a robot's capabilities, the researchers interviewed them about their willingness for assistance with 48 common household tasks. Participants generally preferred robotic help over human help for chores such as cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, and taking out the trash. When it came to help getting dressed, eating, and bathing, however, the adults tended to say they would prefer human assistance over robot assistance.

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Is Affective Programming a Promising Technology?

The New York Times recently reported on Egyptian programmers' attempts to train computers to recognize facial expressions and define human emotion. This emerging technology field called "affective programming" could be used in a variety of applications, such as providing better learning experiences for online education programs, or even alerting drivers as they deal with stress. The technology, however, raises privacy concerns, as well as questions of accuracy (since human beings themselves commonly make mistakes when interpreting emotions).

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Will We See Bio-Printed Organs in the Near Future?

3D printing has been used in the health care field to make prosthetic limbs, custom hearing aids, dental fixtures, and other helpful tools for patients. The printing technology is now being used to create more complex structures, even human tissue. Bio-printers, for example, form human tissue using a "bio-ink" made of living cell mixtures. The structure is then built with the bio-ink, layer by layer, to build tissue. Eventually, researchers hope to use the bio-printing technology to create and replace organs.

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Should Pearl Harbor "go green?"

As part of the Navy's plan to convert at least 50% of its energy demands to alternative sources by 2020, the branch may cover part of Pearl Harbor with solar panels. The 4000-foot, unused runway in the center of Pearl Harbor's military base is a good location for the solar project and is "critically important to achieving renewable energy mandates," according to a Navy spokeswoman. American history aficionados and the Pacific Aviation Museum, however, say the site should be preserved as sacred ground.

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Will We Send Astronauts Beyond the Moon?

The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that NASA's next major mission could be the construction of a "gateway spacecraft" outpost that would send astronauts 277,000 miles from Earth, farther than ever before. The outpost would hover in orbit on the far side of the moon, support a small astronaut crew, and function as a staging area for future missions to the moon and Mars. The spacecraft would be much more remote than the current space station, which orbits about 200 miles above Earth. The distance raises questions about how to protect astronauts from the radiation of deep space — and rescue them if something goes wrong.

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Will Robots Work Directly with Humans?

In today's work environments, robots are often kept isolated from humans due to their massive weight and speed, traits that could possibly endanger humans in their vicinity. Many machines are kept either inside glass cages or behind laser-controlled light curtains. New robots, however, are being built with mechanisms and sensors to protect the human workers it assists, including sonar sensors that automatically slow a robot's movements whenever a human approaches. The Demark-based Universal Robots firm, for example, has introduced a robot arm that does not need to be put in a glass cage, though the system requires a knowledgeable programmer to operate it.

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Will Exoskeletons and Robotic Suits Become a Part of Everyday Life?

Many companies, including Raytheon and the Israel-based Argo Medical Technologies, have created self-contained, wearable robotic suits to reduce injuries from heavy lifting, for example, and help paraplegics walk again. Ekso, based in Richmond, California, builds a suit without any tethers to a power supply. Its suits are currently used in rehabilitation centers. In an article in The New York Times, Russ Angold, a founder and the chief technology officer of Ekso, predicted that exoskeletons, like today’s smartphones, would become, slimmer, powerful, and more affordable.

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