Category Archives: IEEE Spectrum

Automated Eyes Watch Plants Grow

A decade ago, a group of crop scientists set out to grow the same plants in the same way. They started with the same breeds and adhered to strict growing protocols, but nonetheless harvested a motley crop of plants that varied in leaf size, skin-cell density, and metabolic ability. Small differences in light levels and plant handling had produced outsize changes to the plants’ physical traits, or phenome.

The plunging price of genomic sequencing has made it easier to examine a plant’s biological instructions, but researchers’ understanding of how a plant follows those instructions in a given environment lags. “There is a major bottleneck for a lot of breeders to be able to get their phenotypic evaluation in line with their genetic capabilities,” says Bas van Eerdt, business development director at PhenoKey, in ’s-Gravenzande, Netherlands.

Read the rest of this news story in the January issue of IEEE Spectrum: [html] [pdf].

This Robot Transforms Itself to Navigate an Obstacle Course

When you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail, but the world starts to look more interesting if your hammer can change shape.

For the builders of a class of robots called modular self-reconfigurable robots (MSRR), shape-shifting is the first step toward endowing robots with an animal-like adaptability to unknown situations. “The question of autonomy becomes more complicated, more interesting,” when robots can change themselves to meet changing circumstances, said roboticist Hadas Kress-Gazit of Cornell University.

Read the rest of this blog post at IEEE Spectrum: [html] [pdf].

India’s Biometric IDs Trigger Privacy Lawsuits

In January, justices of the Supreme Court of India gathered to discuss the country’s national identification system, called Aadhaar. Since 2010, authorities have enrolled 1.19 billion residents, or about 93 percent of India’s population, in the system, which ties fingerprints, iris scans, and photos of Indian citizens to a unique 12-digit number.

Almost a decade later, India is still grappling with the technical, legal, and social challenges of launching the world’s most ambitious government identification program. Aadhaar’s reach and ubiquity has made it a tempting vehicle for centralizing activity, including welfare payments and mobile number registrations. But it has also raised major privacy and security issues. Continue reading

The Tech That Won the First Formula Student Driverless Race

Engineering student Manuel Dangel of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich and teammates were walking the racecourse at Formula Student Driverless in Hockenheimring, Germany, earlier this month when they realized that the computerized wheelbarrow they were using to map the course had gone haywire. [See “Students Race Driverless Cars in Germany in Formula Student Competition” 16 August 2017.] Continue reading