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A New Robot Hand Can Play the Piano Without Moving its Fingers

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robot hand

The robotic hand resting on the piano. (Credit: Josie Hughes)

Halloween may be behind us, but The Nightmare Before Christmas proved you can combine the spooky holiday with the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” to get some fabulous music. With that in mind, we present a robot hand, shaped like a human skeleton’s, that can play jingle bells:

Credit: Josie Hughes

To paraphrase a Russian proverb, the marvel is not that the robot skeleton hand plays well, but that the robot skeleton hand plays at all. It’s the latest work from a robotics lab at the University of Cambridge, and it’s more significant than it might at first appear.

Gotta Robot Hand It To ’em

The new robot hand, described today in Science Robotics, recreates the most important human structures south of the wrist: bones and ligaments. The thing effectively has joints with adjustable stiffness, resulting in a device that can play various types of musical notes solely through “passive” dynamics — the fingers themselves don’t move, but they react differently based on the conditions they encounter.

Basically, the robot hand only moves at the wrist and arm level, whose motor skills are provided by a standard robot arm attachment. The skeletal fingers react to the piano keys differently, depending on their joints’ stiffness and how they’re placed on the keys. So this single hand design, 3-D printed in one go with various materials, can play various musical styles: a staccato single-finger technique, a Fats Waller inspired crawling baseline and a glissando the researchers charitably call the opening of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Credit: Josie Hughes

Today Piano, Tomorrow the World

This variety from a single passive system — simpler and more energy efficient than a system that powers each individual finger — is why we can forgive the robot hand’s finger fumbles. A different system might be more accurate with individual notes, but this one is more versatile, and capable of much subtler movements. “This approach allowed the printing of a passive anthropomorphic hand that provided the ability to reproduce complex human hand capabilities,” the authors write, “and to show hand behaviors that cannot be performed by other conventional robots.”

Ultimately, piano playing is just a stand-in for any sufficiently advanced display of human dexterity. It’s technology with obvious practical applications, from improved designs for prosthetics (including, yes, hand design) to uses for any industry that needs delicate control over automated processes, such as manufacturing or storage. And, as the authors point out, their research can even help biologists better understand animal anatomy “by building bioinspired robotics that explore biological design and function.”

So let’s cut the robot hand some slack on the piano. We just have to give the technology time to develop — as any good musician knows, the only way to improve is to practice, practice, practice.

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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