The Light Side: Therapy Through a Baby Harp Seal Robot

January 10, 2014

The Physics Behind the Ice Hockey Slapshot

Things Not to Do During the Polar Vortex


Editor's Note: "Light Friday" has been renamed "The Light Side" as part of changes ThomasNet News is making for 2014. Enjoy!

CES 2014

in Las Vegas concludes today, and the mammoth annual tech showcase is always guaranteed for a few new robots that fascinate, amaze, and entertain. But generating buzz -- again -- at the Robotics TechZone at the show is Paro, a therapy robot in the form of a baby harp seal stuffed animal that's been finding its way into U.S. hospitals and healthcare facilities since 2008.

Who really minds that Paro's been around for a few years and has appeared at CES before? It's an artificially intelligent baby harp seal.

Schaumburg, Ill.-based PARO Robots U.S. Inc.

once again took to Vegas to market its automaton to buyers from institutional care facilities, where having live baby harp seals is obviously impractical (not to mention immoral). But the benefits of dog- and other animal-assisted therapy have been well documented. We're sure the dogs won't mind a robot baby seal stealing some of their thunder.

Paro was developed in Japan - the world's hotbed of odd robots - and has various kinds of sensors to perceive light, touch, noise, temperature, and its own position. Paro can sense light and dark, feel itself being stroked or beaten (?!), and learn words such as its name, greetings, and praise and repeat positive actions. As a New York Times report

described, "[it trills and paddles when petted, blinks when the lights go up, opens its eyes at loud noises, and yelps when handled roughly or held upside down."

A "biomedical feedback device," as described by its maker, Paro has the voice of a real baby harp seal and adjusts to the recipient's behavior. So if you hit Paro, it remembers the action that prompted the negative reaction and refrains from doing it again. This intelligence helped Paro become the "World's Most Therapeutic Robot" by Guinness Book of World Records (yes, we mention those folks at Guinness yet again).

Paro is just the beginning of robots becoming substitutes for real things in everyday life, not just therapy animals and pets. Indeed, robots have gone well beyond the realms of manufacturing plants and military missions, as they increasingly make their way, via diverse forms, into our homes, offices, and hospitals. Now they help care for loved ones and impact our lives.

The International Federation of Robotics

keeps tabs on both the worldwide professional service and domestic/personal robot markets. In 2012, medical robots, which include therapy robots, accounted for 44 percent of total service robot sales of $3.42 billion. Sales of robots for personal and domestic use totaled $1.2 billion; that was a jump of 20 percent over 2011.

But enough numbers and serious stuff. We know you want to see Paro. Here it is, shown at CES 2013, courtesy geekbeattv:


Click here

for more videos by PARO of its cute robot engaging medical patients, children, and the elderly.

The Physics Behind the Ice Hockey Slapshot

The XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, are less than a month away. As there are several ThomasNet team members who are avid hockey fans, we looked around the web using "science of hockey" and found a video gem that breaks down the physics of a slapshot.

Demonstrated on high-speed cameras, Julie Chu, a member of the women's USA hockey team who will be making her fourth trip to the Olympics, takes a big windup for one of her feared slapshots. It is an example of near-perfect transfer of kinetic energy from a moving object (Chu's stick) to a still one (puck).

The slapshot consists of four key elements. Chu's windup and weight generate momentum and force. When the stick hits the puck, it flexes, so instead of an immediate kinetic energy transfer, the stick actually gets loaded with potential energy, and that energy adds to the puck's velocity. "The flex and whip of the stick almost shoots the puck for you," says Zach Parise, who is on the men's USA team and a star for the Minnesota Wild in the National Hockey League, in the video.

The third element is today's light and flexible hockey sticks, made from aluminum and carbon graphite, which allow greater flex and result in greater shot velocity. The last element is the shooter's follow-through, where spin action helps the puck launch off the blade for a stable trajectory.

The current world record for fastest slapshot is held by a Russian professional player, Alexander Ryazantsev, at 113.23 miles per hour. Merriam-Webster

defines the slapshot as "a shot that is made by swinging your stick with a lot of force." You bet.

Watch the video breakdown of Chu's slapper here:

As for the favorites to win hockey gold in Sochi, on the men's side, Canada is the top contender again, but Team USA is among a field of challengers that includes Russia, Finland, and Sweden. On the women's side, it is universally expected to be, once again, a showdown between Team USA and Canada.

Things Not to Do During the Polar Vortex

The polar vortex earlier this week was strange, indeed, when temperatures in the continental U.S. were lower than those in Alaska. It thus made people do strange things, including an escaped convict who decided to return to prison because it was too damn cold. There also were at least 50 social media cases of folks burning themselves trying to attempt what is now known as the boiling water trick.

In Kentucky, 42-year-old Robert Vick apparently wasn't keeping an eye on the weather forecast while plotting his prison breakout. As the Associated Press

reported, he escaped minimum-security Blackburn Correction Complex in Lexington, Ky., on Sunday, Jan. 5, which coincided perfectly with the weather event. Running around in prison-issued khakis, a shirt, and a light jacket amid single-digit temperatures, Vick didn't take long to retreat into a motel and ask someone to call the police and surrender himself.

While Vick was being escorted back to prison, others nearby -- emboldened by two Lexington meteorologists

-- might've been heading to hospital with scalds and burns after attempting to throw boiling water into the air and watch it freeze into eye-catching midair clouds.

There were other tries of the stunt around the country, reportedly inspired by a Russian video

that went viral worldwide last year. That successful demonstration of the phenomenon can be explained by the Mpemba effect

, in which hot water can freeze faster than cooler water "under some conditions." The problem is science hasn't figured out exactly why and how it happens.

So a lot of the boiling water stunts backfired -- with visual proof

. Even in freezing and subzero temperatures, you can still get burned.


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