Boffins help dinosaurs step into the digital age

The wacky world of IT

Boffins help dinosaurs step into the digital age

It has been a long wait for the dinosaurs, but Downtime was gratified to read this week that some fading dinosaur tracks unearthed in a Spanish quarry have been digitally preserved by university boffins using the latest laser technology.

The site of the tracks, in the Berguedà region of central Catalonia, was so delicate and inaccessible that experts could not get close enough to the tracks to examine them physically in the 10 years since they were discovered. But scientists at the University of Manchester have got around the problem by using a high-tech laser scanning system to fashion an interactive 3D model of the quarry face which is covered in thousands of tracks made by the Cretaceous dinosaurs.

The equipment is normally used in oil exploration but, not surprisingly, this was the first time the university has used it to create images of dinosaur tracks.

The next area in the sights of the university team is the Hell Creek Formation in the US, which was once home to the T-Rex. Grrr!

Indiana robots put the guesswork into navigation

Downtime likes to navigate from place to place solely by means of educated guesswork, and vindication for our less-than-scientific approach to all exploration came this week in the form of news that robots are being developed and tested that use guesswork to build maps of their surroundings.

US researchers think that using guesswork holds the key to enabling robots to navigate more easily through complex environments, such as buildings.

George Lee and colleagues at Purdue University in Indiana have developed an algorithm that uses information already collected by the robots to "guess" what comes next.

"We realised that because you are building up a map as you go along you can use it like a database to predict the environment in unknown areas," said Lee. "Once you have that prediction, you can either save time and not look, or explore anyway and get a more accurate map."

"Save time and not look" - now that is the kind of science we on Downtime truly appreciate.

Nice work George.

And we shall save the planet with... boxes...

As we all now know, green IT is the way ahead. Trailblazing low-energy chips and whizzy new datacentres cooled by natural airflow rather than aircon are the order of the day.

Enter Dell, whose contribution this week to the white-hot topic of environmental thinking is - wait for it - project Multipack.

So, is this the next big step forward in environmental IT? Well, maybe. Definitely maybe. Or maybe not.

Multipack is the name Dell has given to its initiative to pack large numbers of systems in fewer boxes. That's right, cardboard boxes. So we can all rest easy, the planet is saved. According to Dell, there is about 25% less of its new packaging than there was of the old stuff.

Which is great news. Among other things, it means customers can now receive up to 10 environmentally catastrophic blades in a single box. Wonderful stuff.

No, we are being churlish. All told, Dell thinks the plan will save 2,000 tons of cardboard, 1,000 tons of wood pallets, 300 tons of paper, 80 tons of polyethylene and 40 tons of plastic a year, which certainly sounds like quite a lot more than a wheelie-binful of rubbish that won't now need to be shipped back to China for "recycling".

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