Hardware reviews are a big part of how I put bread on the table. In order to do my job properly, I’ve got to be something of a platform agnostic.
While I do most of my writing using Apple devices, I also have to consider other platforms in my coverage: software that works well on a laptop running Windows 10 may be a dog’s breakfast on a MacBook once it’s been ported.
A bluetooth speaker that sound great when paired with my iPhone 7 Plus, for example, might sound like hot garbage when linked to another audio source. So I invest in other hardware that may not be used as part of my day-to-day life, but which I still need to think about when doing my job.
About six months ago, I came to the conclusion that maybe hauling the hardware out when it came time to test something and then throwing it back in a box when I’m done with it wasn’t enough: to really understand whether, say a pair of headphones that comes with an app to control their EQ or noise cancellation, without seeing how it fits into my day-to-day life using a given platform. So, I upped the amount of time that I spend working in Windows 10, I now read books on both Kobo and Amazon e-readers and, in a real shift in how I live my lift, I’ve spent more than half a year using Android-powered smartphones as my daily drivers. In the time since I last used an Android device as my go-to, things have improved so much, I was taken aback. Read the rest
Twitter's stock closed 20.5% on Friday after the company announced it lost 1 million active users. More user loss is predicted. Read the rest
The fine folks who created the world's blackest black now have a sprayable version that adheres to most stable surfaces. To demonstrate, they sprayed two bronze masks, one on the inside and one on the outside, producing an interesting optical illusion. Read the rest
MIT nanotechnologists fabricated microscopic chemical sensors that can be sprayed as an aerosol to monitor pollution, detect chemical leaks, or even ingested as a medical nasal spray. Each sensor chip is 110 micrometers across, about the width of a single human hair, just 1 micrometer thick, and powered by ambient light. From Science News
Right now, researchers can determine whether their sensors have come in contact with certain particles only after the fact — by collecting the chips and hooking them up to electrodes. These electrodes test how easily electric current flows through a chip’s chemical detector, which reveals whether it touched a particular chemical after it was sprayed. But future sensors could emit light signals when in contact with target particles, says study coauthor Michael Strano, a chemical engineer at MIT....
Unlike silicon-based devices that might pose environmental or health hazards, the polymers and the minute amounts of 2-D materials used to make the new devices are expected to be more biofriendly, (says researcher Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh).
"Colloidal nanoelectronic state machines based on 2D materials for aerosolizable electronics" (Nature Nanotechnology) Read the rest
CeramicSpeed makes bikes that use a drive shaft instead of a chain. Shane Miller got a close look at Eurobike 2018. Read the rest
Aarran Lee Wright, 36, a married man and father of two young children, says his sex-robot can be switched to "family mode," for G-rated playtime with the kids.
From the NY Post:
Wright revealed that his children, aged three and five, play with Samantha and watch TV alongside her. And his wife said: “I am not worried she will replace me. She is just someone there like a family member.”
Now a group of professors have slammed the idea of a family-friendly sex robot as “damaging” for kids.
“Children will imitate machines if brought up by them,” Kathleen Richardson, professor of ethics and culture of robots and AI at De Montfort University, told New Statesmen.
“A daughter is going to grow up and think maybe this happened because Mommy wasn’t beautiful enough – am I?
“They’ll learn that women only have certain uses. Then they start to use that as a template for how they interact intimately with others – this is profoundly damaging.”
Image: HAVC pipes by F. Javier Ballester/Shutterstock Read the rest
In the current acquisition binge around artificial intelligence, tech behemoths with deep pockets lead the way, including Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Intel, Microsoft, Twitter, and Salesforce. The only one with a limited consumer-facing presence is social monitoring firm Meltwater. Read the rest
In 2008, Telstra Chief Scientist Geoff Huston wrote an informative and important retrospective on the shifts in internet technology since 1998; now, ten years later, he's written another one, tracing the remarkable shifts (and weirdly unbudgeable technological icebergs) in the past decade's worth of internet changes, advances and retreats.
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Improved super-thin solar panels and nuclear fission are all in development to handle the massive logistical problems of meeting power needs in space. Fraser Cain takes viewers through the newest developments, including NASA's new Kilopower Reactor. Read the rest
This is the Dual-rotor embedded multilink Robot with the Ability of multi-deGree-of-freedom aerial transformatiON, aka DRAGON. Designed at the University of Tokyo, this modular bot can rearrange its shape, from an agile snake to a spiral to a flying "L" shape. From IEEE Spectrum:
What’s exciting, though, is why this robot was designed to transform in the first place. The video, which—spoiler alert—is actually a teaser for a 2018 IROS paper, shows the robot changing its shape in order to squeeze through a small gap, and we were told at ICRA that DRAGON is able to autonomously decide how to transform when given the constraints of the space it needs to pass through. There’s more potential here than just fitting through small spaces, though: The researchers conceptualize this robot as a sort of overactuated flying arm that can both form new shapes and use those shapes to interact with the world around it by manipulating objects. Eventually, DRAGON will wiggle through the air with as many as 12 interlinked modules, and it’ll use its two ends to pick up objects like a two-fingered gripper. And we can imagine DRAGON wrapping itself around stuff to move it, or using direct contact with the environment to do other exciting things.
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Artist David Bowen (previously) has produced a new video of his expanded tele-present wind project, where indoor plants in Spain are moved by an outdoor plant buffeted by winds in Minnesota. Read the rest
Pioneering engineer Bill Atkinson was the lead designer/developer of the Apple Lisa graphical user interface, creator of MacPaint and QuickDraw, and part of the original team that developed the Apple Macintosh. In 1985, Atkinson dropped acid and came up with HyperCard, the groundbreaking multimedia authoring program that was really a precursor to the first Web browser. Atkinson recently told Leo Laporte the story of this incredible LSD-fueled eureka moment. From Mondo 2000:
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It seemed to me the universe is in a process of coming alive. Consciousness is blossoming and propagating to colonize the universe, and life on Earth is one of many bright spots in the cosmic birth of consciousness....
The street lamps reminded me of bodies of knowledge, gems of discovery and understanding, but separated from each other by distance and different languages. Poets, artists, musicians, physicists, chemists, biologists, mathematicians, and economists all have separate pools of knowledge, but are hindered from sharing and finding the deeper connections...
Knowledge, it seemed to me, consists of the “How” connections between pieces of information, the cause and effect relationships. How does this action bring about that result. Science is a systematic attempt to discover the “How” connections. Wisdom, it seemed to me, was a step further removed, the bigger perspective of the “Why” connections between pieces of knowledge. Why, for reasons ethical and aesthetic, should we choose one future over another?
I thought if we could encourage sharing of ideas between different areas of knowledge, perhaps more of the bigger picture would emerge, and eventually more wisdom might develop.
In Washington today, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan received a letter signed by 47 Senate Democrats and two independents calling on him to schedule a vote to keep Net Neutrality rules active.
Under Trump's FCC chief Ajit Pai, the Obama-era rules to help keep the internet free, fair, and equal will die next week. Read the rest
Microsoft has submerged an entire data center 100 feet below the surface of the ocean near the UK’s Orkney islands. It is powered by wind, solar, and tidal sources, and will be keep cool by using the frigid ocean water as a heat sink.
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The logic is sound: Bringing data centers close to hubs of computing power benefits customers, enabling smoother web surfing or game playing by cutting down the back-and-forth between users and servers. Microsoft says nearly half the world’s population lives within 150 km (120 miles) of the ocean. And because oceans are uniformly cool below a certain depth, keeping the machines under the sea would cut down the cooling costs that make up a large chunk of the operating budget of data centers.
The Project Natick data center is made up of 864 servers packed in a 40 foot container that now sits about 22 km (14 miles) from the coast. That’s a tiny fraction of some of the huge servers—covering hundreds of thousands of square feet—that tech companies like Microsoft operate. But it may be enough to do a pilot test, and prove that the server could be deployed at commercial scale.
For this pilot project, Microsoft says it will operate the data center for 12 months. First it’ll put the servers through a battery of tests to check on power consumption, humidity levels, noise creation, and temperatures. Then the company will let some customers use the data center. If successful, Microsoft will keep operating the servers, and allow its customers to use it to run their own computations.
Five years ago, my artist/engineer pal Kal Spelletich drew at crowd at an Institute for the Future conference by demonstrating his "Huggerer," a pneumatic robot that delivers free hugs. Now robot hugs are the subject of new scientific research! At a recent human-robot interaction conference, researchers from Stuttgart, Germany's Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems presented their efforts to explore "how robots can be more effectively designed and taught to give the kinds of hugs that humans will love." From Evan Ackerman's fascinating interview with lead researcher Alexis Block in IEEE Spectrum:
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IEEE Spectrum: Why is research on robot hugs important?
Alexis Block: Robot hugs are important because people love to give and receive hugs. Virginia Satir, a well-known family therapist, was famous for saying, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Sometimes, we are put in new or uncomfortable situations where we might not be near our loved ones, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need the support and calming effects that a hug provides. Research on robot hugs is important so we can one day use technology to provide the emotional support and health benefits of hugs to many people, wherever or whenever they need it.
What makes a good hug?
The results from our experiment suggest that to make a good hug whoever/whatever you hug should be compliant, warm, squeeze you, and release you immediately when you indicate you’re ready for the hug to end.
This "biohybrid" robotic finger melds a robotic skeleton with living rat muscle. The device is inside a container of water to keep the muscles from withering. The research is on the cover of this week's issue of the journal Science Robotics. Video below. From National Geographic:
“If we can combine more of these muscles into a single device, we should be able to reproduce the complex muscular interplay that allows hands, arms, and other parts of the body to function,” says study author Shoji Takeuchi, a mechanical engineer at the University of Tokyo. “Although this is just a preliminary result, our approach might be a great step toward the construction of a more complex biohybrid system.”
The research group began looking at living muscle tissue because plastic and metal provided a limited range of movement and flexibility. To grow their robot's muscles, they layered hydrogel sheets filled with myoblasts—rat muscle cells—on a robotic skeleton. The grown muscle is then stimulated with an electric current that forces it to contract.
"Biohybrid robot powered by an antagonistic pair of skeletal muscle tissues" (Science Robotics)
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Naked Prosthetics creates custom-fitted hand and finger prostheses that allow an impressive range of fine motor skills to be done by the wearer, like holding and striking a match or unscrewing a tiny cap.
Matt Finney lost parts of two fingers and his thumb from gangrene stemming from a blood clot. It's cool to hear him talk about how this changed his life. Here's some of the many other demonstrations on their channel:
• Naked Prosthetics Matt Finney (YouTube / Naked Prosthetics) Read the rest