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    Virtually There
    Ferrari

    Passenger-car gasoline in Italy costs the equivalent of around nine bucks a gallon. Formula One racing fuel goes for several euros more. And at a (full-speed) fuel consumption rate of between three and four miles per gallon, Ferrari's F1 cars can burn through heaps of Italian green during track testing. That's one reason the company, along with a few other F1-entrenched firms, are betting on the latest virtualization tech to help shave a few Euros off the high cost of testing.

    F1 teams have been using simulators for years; BMW Sauber works with sponsor Intel, and Toyota Racing invested in a new, hydraulically–powered that uses data from prior seasons to simulate Monaco, the UK's Silverstone or Montreal's Ile Notre Dame. Now Ferrari has joined the game, commissioning electronic control-systems firm Moog Inc. to build a next-generation driving simulator for its headquarters in Maranello, Italy. Moog (not related to the music-synthesizer company of the 1970s) says the system will offer drivers the feel of a real environment along with the direct feedback on their actions that racing engineers need to properly develop and set up the cars' components. Not that Ferrari needs more help; last weekend the team swept the French Grand Prix.

    Via Moog


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    In the Simulator
    Dani Machlis

    When I slipped behind the wheel of the traffic simulator at Israel's Ben Gurion University recently, it was less than two minutes before I was bumping into the virtual cars and swerving around pedestrians. Maneuvering through the tree-lined urban roads projected in dayglo colors on giant screens was tricky--and I wasn't even one of their hard-drinking or toking research subjects.

    Professors David Shinar and Adi Ronen at the university's Laboratory for Human Factors in Road Safety just opened the custom-built driving simulator this spring where they will conduct further research on pot-smoking drivers versus their inebriated counterparts. The gleaming bronze GM Cadillac simulator, which faces a wall of synchronized 160-degree screen images, immerses drivers in a personalized road trip like an IMAX movie, while researchers monitor their glance, expression, and heartbeat. Anyone who has sped home after a night drinking at the bar, or gone out for a lazy ride after smoking marijuana, may already know intuitively what two Israeli professors have been driven to discover.

    In a recent preliminary study, the professors enlisted 14 students -- all recreational marijuana users -- and tested them both when they were stoned and when they were soused. (Recruiting subjects for the marijuana and alcohol studies doesn't require much work. The lab doesn't even advertise, but as soon as word of the study got out, volunteers came rushing in.) The students were tested for physiological strain and driving performance as they drove through rural communities and desert scenes, and past roadblocks and pedestrians. One group smoked low and high doses of THC. Another downed vodka and "orange drink" cocktails to reach Israel's legal limit of .05 percent blood alcohol content. Others took a placebo.

    None of the doped-up or drinking drivers were models of safety on the road. They tended to switch lane positions, swerve, and vary their steering. But the THC cigarette smokers drove significantly slower than the liquored-up subjects, who zoomed down the virtual lanes. The drinking drivers also tended to be confident and boast a sense of control, while the pot smokers seem to be "more aware of their impairment."

    But that feeling can be a road hazard. "People who smoke marijuana think they can compensate for the drug's effect, but they can't," said Shinar, who founded the lab and is the chief scientist of Israel's National Road Safety Authority. "A detachment from reality is dangerous." More people die in traffic accidents than in wars, Shinar emphasized; he hopes this study will step up enforcement of dosed-up drivers.

    What's the next stop on the research track? Results from a study on how double-dosing on pot and booze impacts driving patterns. The lab will also test the effects of marijuana and fatigue on "hazard perception," and how caffeine-packed energy drinks, when mixed with alcohol, alter driving behavior.

    But teetotal drivers aren't off the hook. Researchers also want to rev up the simulator to see whether talking on cell phones and with other passengers make sober drivers dangerous behind the wheel.

    Driving Simulator
    Dani Machlis

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    Virtual Neurosurgery
    Look guys, I'm doing neurosurgery with one hand!
    CBC

    This simulator goes far beyond the olden days of the board game "Operation." Last month, for the first time, neurosurgeons rehearsed on a 3-D model of a patient's brain just hours before removing a brain tumor for real.

    The simulator takes advantage of fMRI brain scans to create a high-resolution model of the patient's brain. Neurosurgeons can then flex their skills by manipulating tumors or other virtual objects on screens. They even use an instrument resembling a scalpel that creates force-feedback resembling that of the real tool, and simulates the tissue resistances in different parts of the brain. How's that for a Wii-style device, Nintendo?

    The crowning moment for the "Neurotouch" simulator came late last month. Surgeons in Halifax, Nova Scotia practiced a brain tumor removal procedure, and then carried out a successful five-hour operation on a 48-year-old woman with a benign tumor near her brain's speech center.

    Canada's National Research Council started the $9.1 million, three-year project in April 2008, and hopes to improve on the current prototype that only simulates tumors close to the brain's surface. A final simulator may also allow doctors to work with both hands, as opposed to just one hand.

    Surgeons have not hesitated to test out new technologies ranging from robotic hands to even training on video games. We can't wait to see how the artificial "Blue Brain" project can further revamp the future of medicine.

    [via Technology Review]

    For more on NeuroTouch, check out the CBC report in the following video.


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    Simulating Combat
    Just don't whack me with your rifle if we get into hand-to-hand
    Raytheon

    First-person-shooter video games have nothing on a new combat simulator by defense giant Raytheon. Fully rigged warfighters can roam freely in the real world and engage unseen virtual enemies through their VR goggles, tossing real flash-bang grenades and even shaking off the muscle-numbing effects of getting shot.

    Raytheon teamed up with an Oscar-winning 3-D simulation company called Motion Reality, Inc. to develop the combat simulator, which can train up to 12 soldiers on clearing IEDs and small unit tactics. The interactive simulation went on display at the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) annual conference in Washington, D.C. this week.

    The simulation creators wanted soldiers to feel physically and mentally immersed in their training environment. That meant giving participants the freedom to physically crawl and run through hours of virtual training without being tethered by wires or cables.

    Such immersion also contributes to providing some stressful training that can help at least mimic real combat situations. Raytheon's simulator can even provide a jolt when participants get hit by a virtual bullet in the simulator -- not enough to floor people like a TASER device, but enough to put an arm into spasms and render it temporarily useless.

    "We actually give four parts of the body muscle stimulation," says a Raytheon representative in a video taken at AUSA. "If you get shot by an artificial, you have consequences."

    Artificial enemies in the simulator supposedly respond to voice commands and seeing trainees point their rifles at them. Human trainers overseeing the virtual exercise can fly through the entire scenario, freeze the action to explain something to a squad, and even fight the trainees in a free-play session -- not unlike the AI director in first person shooters such as Valve's Left 4 Dead.

    Raytheon has supposedly begun talks with the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization to help train warfighters on the simulator. But civilians with itchy trigger fingers will have to settle for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 or America's Army.

    [via Aviation Weekly]


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    Battlefield Swarm
    Say, from here the soldiers look like ants ...
    Strategic Simulations, Inc./University of Granada

    Moving through real-life battlefields inevitably proves trickier than playing a game of Minesweeper, but Spanish researchers and army officers have converted the video game Panzer General into a simulator that can test troop maneuver algorithms based on ant colony behavior.

    The software would allow army units to find the best paths through hazardous battlefields, with minimal casualties balanced against best possible speed. It takes a cue from the behavior of ant scouts that discover the best paths leading to food, and then leave pheromone scent trails for other ants to follow. Ants end up choosing the "best" routes that have been painted multiple times by their fellow scouts, as a sort of vote on the best trail.

    Similar ant colony algorithms have previously helped researchers establish efficient truck routes and secure computer networks against worms. Drones of the near-future may also operate with a type of swarm intelligence on the battlefield.

    Early results from the Panzer General mod have impressed the Spanish Military of Defense enough for it to consider using the simulator in designing real military strategies. The paper came out earlier this year.

    Perhaps the only visible downside to the simulator is that it does not play as prettily as games like Company of Heroes or Men of War. But then again, war's no game.

    [University of Granada via The Register]


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    Landmine Video Game
    Except in real life, this ain't no game
    Michigan State University

    Cambodian children grow up in a nation where millions of landmines left by decades of civil war have continued to cripple and kill hundreds of people each year. Now they could get a life-saving lesson from a video game developed by Michigan State University researchers.

    In the game, players navigate photos of Cambodian jungle landscapes in search of photos for several adorable cartoon pets -- no cartoon landmine characters here. The point of the maze-like game is to train players and embed warning signals about landmines in their minds.

    The game arose from a request by the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, a Californa-based nonprofit, which expressed frustration with the ineffectiveness of informational pamphlets and other existing methods of teaching landmine avoidance. The project also received a $78,000 grant from the U.S. State Department's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

    Copies of the game should be compatible with the low-cost laptops made available to many developing nations through the One Laptop per Child program, according to Corey Bohil, a media researcher at Michigan State University.

    Leaving aside a faint resemblance to Nickelodeon Jr.'s Dora the Explorer, we like the idea of a video game that can teach kids to avoid the deadly consequences of warfare's long legacy. It's also a nice change from all the "militainment" video games designed with warfighters in mind.

    [Michigan State University]


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    Learning to Win the Peace
    With combat operations over, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan spend more time dealing with local populations. The DoD is seeking brain-reading, voice recognizing simulators to train soldiers in local languages and customs.
    ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office / Cpl. John Scott Rafoss

    U.S. armed forces have been using video games to train troops for years, but the Office of the SecDef wants something way cooler than the combat simulators of yore. The OSD is soliciting proposals for a new kind of immersive training video that really gets inside troops' heads, using EEG, eye tracking, voice pattern recognition, and physiological indicators like heart rate and respiration, to help soldiers learn good decision-making skills in high-pressure environments.

    This new kind of video game is a direct response to new challenges American troops are facing in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. With major combat operations over, more soldiers are spending more time on the ground with civilians, immersed in unfamiliar cultures and dealing with foreign languages and customs. The OSD wants to teach them how to keep their cool.

    As such, the Pentagon is seeking games that respond directly to the cognitive and physiological cues of the trainees. The game then makes adjustments to the gameplay not only to keep it interesting and motivational for the player, but to create challenges that are more realistic for soldiers on the ground. For example, a first person shooter teaches a trainee how to kill, but not how to settle a family dispute in a Pashto-speaking village. The simulator aims to train them in these kind of high-pressure, non-combat situations. According to the solicitation:

    "Trainees will be able to speak to and interact at any level with indigenous non-player characters (NPC), complete with voice recognition, speech, and facial gestures. The characters will react according to how the trainee interacts with them. Further the game will track how the local population reacts to these interactions. The game will adapt to changes in local population response. For example, if a player comes in and insults the local tribal leader the game scenario will change and the trainee will find that future interactions with the local population are more difficult and more hostile."

    The OSD wants the game to be customizable depending on rank and status (commanders might learn culture-specific ways to deal with tribal elders, while grunts will learn the proper protocols for approaching and speaking to women in public spaces in a traditionally Muslim city) as well as fire team-immersive, allowing up to four live players in a simulation at a time. As any Call of Duty fan will tell you, there are plenty of games out there that prepare a limber mind for the ins and outs of warfare; this one might actually help soldiers learn how to win the peace.

    [DoD Small Business Innovation Research via Danger Room]


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    Human Brain Project
    The Human Brain Project has ten years to build the brain with supercomputers.
    courtesy Human Brain Project

    Henry Markram, whose simulated rat brain we have covered before, now wants to build a human brain simulator one neuron at a time. That might take a little while, since there are roughly 86 billion neurons crammed in the average person's skull. But then again, Markram just scored funds--one and a half cents for each neuron.

    Markram is head of the Switzerland-based Human Brain Project, which won $1.3 billion last month to build the human brain in a silicon substrate. Awarded by the European Commission, the prize will be doled out over the next decade as the researchers model brain cells down to the thousands of synapses on each neuron that pass signals between the cells.

    The Human Brain Project is a collaboration between some 80 research institutions in Europe. The team will use supercomputers to investigate how and which genes are expressed by neurons. One big challenge will be figuring out how to differentiate between various types of neurons. Another problem is that the computing power Markram needs doesn't exist yet, but the team will start working on a model to unify brain research efforts in the meantime.

    Human Brain Project Neuron
    One neuron down, 85.9 Billion to go.
    courtesy Human Brain Project

    Markram's "Blue Brain" rat brain project is Mickey Mouse business compared to the new project, because Blue Brain models just roughly one million neurons.

    The goal is to build computers that can learn new tasks the way a human does, without software upgrades. Markram hopes that one day soon researchers can test new drugs and interventions on an accurate sim-brain for neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer's. Here's their video about the project:

    Of course, Markram is not the only scientist in pursuit of recreating man's gray matter. There have even been some fighting words in recent years lobbed by Markram at IBM researchers, who one-upped Markram's rat brain with a cat brain simulation, and last year announced they simulated 10 billion neurons. Read a Q&A with Markram over at Science Mag.

    On the other side, there's Spaun, a computer model with 2.5 million simulated neurons. But Spaun comes at the simulation problem from the other direction. Instead of modeling individual neurons, Spaun's scientists model behavioral outcomes.

    [NewScientist]


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    Passenger-car gasoline in Italy costs the equivalent of around nine bucks a gallon. Formula One racing fuel goes for several euros more. And at a (full-speed) fuel…

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    When I slipped behind the wheel of the traffic simulator at Israel's Ben Gurion University recently, it was less than two minutes before I was bumping into the virtual cars…

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    This simulator goes far beyond the olden days of the board game "Operation." Last month, for the first time, neurosurgeons rehearsed on a 3-D model of a patient's brain just…

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    First-person-shooter video games have nothing on a new combat simulator by defense giant Raytheon. Fully rigged warfighters can roam freely in the real world and engage…

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    Moving through real-life battlefields inevitably proves trickier than playing a game of Minesweeper, but Spanish researchers and army officers have converted the video game…

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    Cambodian children grow up in a nation where millions of landmines left by decades of civil war have continued to cripple and kill hundreds of people each year. Now they…

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    U.S. armed forces have been using video games to train troops for years, but the Office of the SecDef wants something way cooler than the combat simulators of yore. The OSD…

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    Researchers on two continents are reporting two big breakthroughs in quantum computing today — a quantum system built on the familiar von Neumann processor-memory architecture

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    Clint Fishburne, a regional-airline pilot based in Atlanta, wanted to help his children develop the body movement and muscle memory necessary to fly and land a plane. With the cost of commercial flight simulators starting at $2,800, though, Fishburne, a longtime PopSci reader, decided to make one from scratch.

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    Henry Markram, whose simulated rat brain we have covered before, now wants to build a human brain simulator one neuron at a time. That might take a little while, since…

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    Astronaut Eric Boe

    Reach out, touch space

    Touchscreens make it to NASA…

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    Totally Accurate Battle Simulator

    Totally Accurate Battle Simulator looks totally accurate in its alpha test

    Totally Accurate Battle Simulator is totally accurate looking, as long as you don't mind absurdly rag-dolly play-dough figures with googly eyes bounding toward each…