Light Friday: Pixar’s Autonomous Lamp Brought to Life
Credit: Adam Ben-Dror
Credit: Adam Ben-Dror

Plus: 1890s Machine Perfectly Replicates Bird Songs, the Most Looked-Up Words of 2012 and How Far Apple’s Manufacturing Processes Have Come.

The Real-Life Pixar Lamp

Pixar’s iconic mascot, Luxo Jr., a cheerful hopping lamp that was used to showcase pioneering new computer animation techniques, now has a real-world counterpart, as robotics engineers have harnessed innovative techniques to add life to an ordinary desk lamp.

Graduate students at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington designed the Pinokio as lighting device that interacts with people and its environment. It’s a standard desk lamp equipped with automation technology, a microcontroller and a webcam. The webcam tracks the movements of people nearby, causing the lamp to act out, play hide and seek, investigate and try to win attention when ignored.

“Adam Ben-Dror, who worked out the mechanical details, found that it only took six servo motors to actuate the lamp’s hinges,” Gizmag explains. “These hinges had to be replaced with ones he designed in CAD, which were then manufactured using a variety of techniques, from 3-D printing, laser cutting, water jet cutting and CNC lathing to good old-fashioned welding.”

A modified microphone also enables Pinokio to respond to noises. “The result is something that doesn’t just respond to certain triggers with a few rote movements, but rather an object that behaves expressively and dynamically in accordance with what’s going on around it,” Fast Company notes.

Here’s a video showing Pinokio in action:

Pinokio on Vimeo.

1890s Automaton Reproduces Amazingly Lifelike Sounds

Some of us may think of 19th century technology as quaint, but we shouldn’t underestimate the ingenuity and inventiveness of past generations. Without touch screens, Internet connectivity or even battery power, old-fashioned devices were able to achieve an impressive degree of sophistication.

For example, an automaton originally built in the 1890s by a craftsman named Blaise Bontems can reproduce amazingly authentic-sounding bird songs. The device has been completely restored by the folks at the House of Automata and sounds better than ever, even with the original bellows in place.

The Most Looked-Up Words in 2012

The words people frequently look up in the dictionary can shed a surprising amount of light on the issues and thoughts at the forefront of contemporary society. Merriam-Webster recently released its list of the 10 most commonly looked-up words of 2012, highlighting the topics and ideas that sparked the nation’s interest this year.

Considering it was an election year, two dueling philosophies dominated the national discourse. The dictionary publisher ranked “socialism” and “capitalism” as tied for the most-frequently searched words this year.

“It’s fascinating to see which language from a campaign or debate speech resonates with our users,” John M. Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster, said. “With socialism and capitalism, it’s clear that many people turned to the dictionary to help make sense of the commentary that often surrounds these words.”

Here’s a look at the full list:

  1. Socialism and Capitalism
  2. Touché
  3. Bigot
  4. Marriage
  5. Democracy
  6. Professionalism
  7. Globalization
  8. Malarkey
  9. Schadenfreude
  10. Meme

“We follow word trends by watching which words rise to the top of the lookup list on an hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly basis,” dictionary editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski told the Atlantic Wire. Excluding the words that are looked up in high volume every year, “what we’re left with is a group of words that show spikes of interest that often correspond to current events: news, weather, sports or entertainment. This is a quantitative measure of vocabulary curiosity.”

The Last Time Apple Manufactured in the U.S.

For years, Apple has manufactured the bulk of its products in China, but the electronics giant announced this week that it will be returning some of its computer production back to the United States.

“[T]he effort is expected to go well beyond simple final assembly of devices, with Apple and unnamed partners building most or all of the components in the United States as well,” Reuters reports. “The company will spend more than $100 million on the U.S. manufacturing initiative… Apple’s domestic manufacturing effort will likely buy the brand some goodwill at home, where the debate about off-shoring has heated up as the economy sputters along.”

But there was a time when building Macintosh computers in the U.S. wasn’t unusual at all. In the 1980s, Apple’s facilities in Fremont, Calif., produced the Mac SE and Macintosh II. Here’s a video showing the key processes involved (Hint: They’ve come a long way since then):

And, for contrast, here’s a look at how Apple produces the iPhone today:

Have a great weekend, folks!



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