For his work to understand how to build better robots, Joshua Bongard, a researcher at the University of Vermont, received Friday the highest award given by the US government to young scientists.President Barack Obama announced Bongard as one of 94 winners of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers on Sept. 26.Bongard received the award today at a ceremony at the White House. Bongard is only the second researcher in UVM history to receive the PECASE award, which provides $500,000 in research funds over several years.At a ceremony Friday in the White House, President Barack Obama announced UVM robotics researcher and assistant professor Joshua Bongard as one of 94 winners of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest award given by the U.S. government to young scientists. After the ceremony, Bongard displayed the award. To his right is Dr. John P. Holdren, the President’s science and technology advisor and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. To his left is Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy, assistant director for Education and Human Resources at the National Science Foundation.Inspired by evolutionBongard’s far-reaching work looks to nature for ideas. “The goal is to borrow ideas from neuroscience and evolution to help us build better and more intelligent robots,” he says.So far, scientists have had little success in building resilient machines that can continually perform behaviors that are fairly simple but require ongoing adaptation to changing conditions ‘ like paving a road or cleaning up a toxic dump. But Bongard is on a mission to make them.”The prevailing approach to create such machines is to copy physiological and neurological systems observed in animals, and build them into robots,” Bongard notes. “This raises the issue however of what, from among the infinitude of existing biological structures, should be copied.”Instead of guessing, Bongard has innovated systems in which computer programs copy the dynamics of biological evolution and replay them in a virtual space with numerous generations of synthetic creatures ‘ something like a highly sophisticated video game.The resulting algorithm yields ideas for robots that have optimized their neurological structures ‘ and their behaviors and body plans ‘ over many generations of being tested by virtual evolution, instead of human guesswork.With these ideas in hand, Bongard and his students can then build actual robots in their workshop that are adaptable and capable of responding to novel challenges.”My long-term goal is to give back to neuroscience and evolutionary biology, to give us a different tool to investigate: why does intelligence evolve?” Bongard says. “Under what conditions will intelligence evolve? Could we ever consider a machine to be intelligent, or is intelligence something limited to biological organisms?”Presidential visionRecognizing this kind of innovative work, the PECASE awards “embody the high priority the Obama Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the Nation’s goals, tackle grand challenges, and contribute to the American economy,” the White House wrote in a press release.In 1996, the National Science and Technology Council was commissioned by President Clinton to create a program that would support and honor outstanding scientists and engineers early in their research careers ‘ from this council came the PECASE award.Each year, more than a dozen federal departments and agencies nominate scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments “show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions,” the White House press office wrote.”It is inspiring to see the innovative work being done by these scientists and engineers as they ramp up their careers ‘ careers that I know will be not only personally rewarding but also invaluable to the Nation,” President Obama said in the White House release. “That so many of them are also devoting time to mentoring and other forms of community service speaks volumes about their potential for leadership, not only as scientists but as model citizens.”An innovatorBongard, an assistant professor of computer science in UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, was one of 21 nominees presented by the National Science Foundation for the most recent round of awards.Bongard’s research has received national and international attention, and has been featured in Wired magazine, the Boston Globe, The Voice of America, Popular Science, and many other outlets. He also received a fellowship from Microsoft Research in 2007 for research related to self-healing robots ‘ one of five given nationwide. He was named by MIT as one of the world’s top innovators under 35.”This award allows me to continue with my basic scientific research, but it also allows me to create tools that draw many people into my research beyond my graduate students,” Josh Bongard says. “Through this award, we’re developing a web interface that will allow people to perform evolutionary robotics experiments without having a background in evolution or robotics.”UVM. 10.14.2011###
Knoxville man dies while hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park The N.C. Department of Transportation has awarded a $6.4 million dollar grant to Conserving Carolina to purchase the rail corridor known as the TR Line, the potential future site of the Ecusta Trail. Conserving Carolina, Friends of the Ecusta Trail and other partners must now raise $1.6 million in matching funds. American singer and songwriter Mike Posner, 31, has been documenting his walk across American on Instagram. Posner’s walk began in April in New Jersey. The singer’s mission during his cross-country walk was to release a new song each time he crossed a state line. Mike Posner bitten by rattlesnake during walk across America Harold Thompson, 58, of Knoxville, was hiking the Injun Creek manway with his brother on Friday when he began experiencing cardiac distress. Thompson’s brother, an EMT, and park authorities began delivering CPR but attempts to revive Thompson were unsuccessful. Conserving Carolina awarded $6.4 million for proposed Ecusta Trail Thompson had worked for Knox County as a paramedic since 1996. A Facebook post by the International Association of EMT’s and Paramedics Local R5-421, which shared the news of Thompson’s passing, said that, “while not working on the ambulance, Hal enjoyed hiking in the mountains around East Tennessee. He was an amazing friend, brother, father, co-worker and provider. He was a respected mentor and loved by all the great men and women who know him throughout his 40 years of EMS service.” The proposed Ecusta Trail will be built in the shuttered rail corridor, which begins at Kanuga Road in Hendersonville and runs to the old Ecusta Plant property in Brevard. “This is a very big next step for the Ecusta Trail,” said NC House Rep. Chuck McGrady. “There is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of processes to work through that will take time, but this is a large step forward.” The Grammy-nominated singer had clocked 1,800 miles of his 2,833-mile journey when a baby rattlesnake bit him in Colorado. Posner was airlifted to a hospital where he received anti-venom. The singer reports he will not be able to walk for a few weeks. “I knew walking across America was going to be dangerous,” Posner said in a social media post. “I knew I could die doing it. I still might. So don’t feel sorry for me. I’m proud I’m in this hospital after chasing my dream and not sitting on the couch watching Netflix. I’m proud of this pain.”
Sign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York A driver was charged with murder and other counts after the suspect allegedly ran over a 56-year-old woman, who died of her injuries, and wounded two others in Hempstead two months ago, authorities said.Shania Buchanan, 22, pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, assault, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. Judge Jerald Carter ordered her held without bail.“The defendant is charged with barreling into a group of pedestrians while driving an SUV, leaving one bystander dead and two other victims with severe, life-altering injuries,” said Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.Prosecutors said Buchanan was driving her Nissan Pathfinder when she heard about an altercation involving a family member, sped toward her relative’s Linden Avenue home, where a crowd had gathered, and struck three people with her SUV at 5 p.m. April 20.Of the two surviving victims, one’s spine was fractured and the other suffered a broken femur, authorities said.Buchanan surrendered to Nassau County police Wednesday, prosecutors said. She is due back in court July 11. If convicted, she faces up to 25 years to life in prison.