Theory says early humans first stood to climb rocks
A new study by archaeologists at Britain’s University of York challenges evolutionary theories behind the development of our earliest ancestors from tree-dwelling quadrupeds to upright bipeds capable of walking and scrambling.
The researchers say our upright gait may have its origins in the rugged landscape of East and South Africa which was shaped during the Pliocene epoch by volcanoes and shifting tectonic plates.
Hominins – our early forebears – would have been attracted to the terrain of rocky outcrops and gorges because it offered shelter and opportunities to trap prey. But it also required more upright scrambling and climbing gaits, prompting the emergence of bipedalism.
The York research, published in the journal Antiquity, challenges traditional hypotheses that suggest our early ancestors were forced out of the trees and onto two feet when climate change reduced tree cover.
Isabelle Winder, one of the paper’s authors, said, “Our research shows that bipedalism may have developed as a response to the terrain, rather than a response to climatically driven vegetation changes.” Eurekalert.org
Beer-pouring robot anticipates human actions
A robot in Cornell University’s Personal Robotics Lab has learned to foresee human action in order to step in and offer a helping hand, or more accurately, roll in and offer a helping claw.
Understanding when and where to pour a beer or knowing when to offer assistance opening a refrigerator door can be difficult for a robot because of the many variables it encounters while assessing the situation. A team from Cornell has created a solution.
Gazing intently with a Microsoft Kinect 3-D camera and using a database of 3D videos, the Cornell robot identifies the activities it sees, considers what uses are possible with the objects in the scene and determines how those uses fit with the activities. It then generates a set of possible continuations into the future – such as eating, drinking, cleaning, putting away – and finally chooses the most probable. As the action continues, the robot constantly updates and refines its predictions.
In tests, the robot made correct predictions 82 percent of the time when looking one second into the future, 71 percent correct for three seconds and 57 percent correct for 10 seconds.
It’s official: The coolest 10 new species of 2012
An amazing glow-in-the-dark cockroach, a harp-shaped carnivorous sponge and the smallest vertebrate on Earth are three of the newly discovered top 10 species selected by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. A global committee of taxonomists – scientists responsible for species exploration and classification – announced in May its list of top 10 new species of 2012.
Also on this year’s list: a snail-eating false coral snake, flowering bushes from a disappearing forest in Madagascar, a green lacewing that was discovered through social media, and hanging flies that perfectly mimic ginkgo tree leaves 165 million years ago. Rounding out the list is a new monkey with a blue-hued behind, a tiny violet and a black staining fungus that threatens ancient cave paintings in France.
Members of the international committee picked the top 10 from more than 140 nominated species. Eurekalert.org
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