Beam up my shape shifting robot Scotty: Layer 8's Best of 2008

A coffee break for your head. The best of and the not-just-networking world.

The top 10 Layer 8\'s of \'08

Layer 8 is Network World's coffee break for your head but sometimes it feels more like a relief from reality. This year we had shape shifting robots, unbelievably hard math problems and submersible airplanes to contend with. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Read on!

The Top 10 real life Star Trek inventions

In the past few months a number of technologies and products that invoke the Star Trek name have been rolled out. MIT was the latest with a tractor beam-like device, but all manner of other new stuff from Star Trek funeral products to healthcare items are also out there. We've gathered up some of the more recent products so you can have a quick look-see. Read more .

Related slideshow: The Top 10 real-life Star Trek inventions

Shape-shifting robot squeezes onto military radar

iRobot won a $3.3 million contract to build a shape-shifting, flexible robot for dangerous or hard to reach combat duties. The robot is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Chemical Robots (ChemBots) program that seeks to build soft, flexible, mobile objects that can identify and maneuver through openings smaller than their static structural dimensions; reconstitute size, shape, and features while delivering a meaningful payloads or performing significant tasks, DARPA said. DARPA notes too that ChemBots represent the convergence of soft materials chemistry and robotics to create a fundamentally new class of soft meso-scale robots. Read more .

FTC nails

The Federal Trade Commission settled federal charges against saying the organization can no longer pelt unwitting consumers with sexually explicit pop-up ads. Read more .

Researchers want a submersible airplane

This sounds like something straight out of a James Bond movie but no, it's real and it's your government: Those way out engineers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) want to build an aircraft that's as capable of zipping through the sky as it is underwater. Read more .

Researchers mash Google Earth with electrical data to predict national grid problems

What do you get when you combine images from Google Earth and the brainpower from researchers at Oak Ridge National Labs? Well in this case you get a tool that enables real-time status of the national electric grid that federal state and local agencies can use to coordinate and respond to major problems such as wide-area power outages, natural disasters and other catastrophic events. Read more .

New security camera promises to protect, not reveal your body parts

A camera that is sophisticated enough to tell if you have sugar in your pocket, not cocaine from a distance of 40ft., but doesn't see your naughty bits could find a home at security points in airports or at borders throughout the globe. Read more.

Dancing microrobots waltz on a pin\'s head

Waltzing microbots are all the rage at Duke University. Researchers there today said they made microrobots shaped something like a spatula but with dimensions measuring just microns, or millionths of a meter pirouette to the music of a Strauss waltz on a dance floor just 1 millimeter across. In another sequence, the devices pivot in a precise fashion whenever their boom-like steering arms are drawn down to the surface by an electric charge. This response resembles the way dirt bikers turn by extending a boot heel, researchers said. The researchers said they have also been able to get five of the devices to group-maneuver in cooperation under the same control system. Read more .

System administrator steals almost 20,000 pieces of computer gear

Now this is some serious computer theft. We're talking 19,709 pieces of stolen computer equipment from the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. The theft included everything from PCs and printer toner to hard drives, software and other office equipment amounting to over $120,000 according to court documents and published reports. Read more .

What are the 14 greatest engineering challenges for the 21st century?

The National Science Foundation announced 14 grand engineering challenges for the 21st century that, if met, would greatly improve how we live. But that's not all, it wants you to rank them. Read more .

The world\'s 23 toughest math questions

It sounds like a math phobic's worst nightmare or perhaps Good Will Hunting for the ages. Those wacky folks at he the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have put out a research request it calls Mathematical Challenges, that has the mighty goal of "dramatically revolutionizing mathematics and thereby strengthening DoD's scientific and technological capabilities." Read more .

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