Robots learn to shape letters using Play-Doh

Humans aren’t the only ones working with Play-Doh. MIT CSAIL researchers have created a system, RoboCraft, that teaches robots how to work with the kid-friendly goo. The platform first takes the image of a shape (in this case, a letter of the alphabet) and reinterprets it as a cluster of interlocking particles. The bot then uses a physics-oriented neural network to predict how its two "fingers" can manipulate those spheres to match the desired outcome. A predictive algorithm helps the machine plan its actions.

The technology doesn’t require much time to produce usable results. It took just ten minutes of practice for an robot to perform roughly as well (and in some cases better) than humans remote-controlling the same hardware. That’s not the same as having a human shape the Play-Doh by hand, but it’s no mean feat for a machine discovering how to perform the task for the first time. Robots frequently struggle with soft objects where they tend to thrive with firm shapes.

RoboCraft-trained bots aren’t about to produce elaborate sculptures. The results are still imprecise, and the machine works slowly using just two fingers. The team is already developing a method of making dumplings, though, and plans to teach robots to use additional tools (such as a rolling pin) to prep the food.

The CSAIL scientists already have an idea of where the technology might be deployed. Kitchen robots could take over more responsibilities, while artistic automatons might create pottery. Eventually, technology like this could help the elderly and people with mobility issues by taking over household duties that require subtle motor skills.

via Engadget

June 21, 2022 at 03:48PM

The Morning After: Cryptocurrency may be more centralized than you thought

One of the boons of cryptocurrency is meant to be that no particular company, central bank or government has control. Er, right?

That might not be true. Researchers for a report commissioned by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) found there can be "unintended centralities" in these supposed decentralized systems.

Cryptocurrency power is concentrated among people or organizations with a large chunk of the pie. Almost like any other capitalist system? Gasp.

"Unintended centralities" was the term used, defined as circumstances where an entity has sway over a so-called decentralized system. This could give them the opportunity to tamper with records of ownership. The report also notes three ISPs handle 60 percent of all bitcoin traffic.

The report said 21 percent of nodes are running an old, vulnerable version of the core bitcoin client. Attackers could target these nodes and take over the majority of a blockchain network. Theoretically, at least. But there have been plenty of cryptocurrency attacks in the last few years. Nothing wrong with some skepticism.

Real-life examples already exist: Read CNBC’s report on lending platform Solend. It’s had issues with one major account holder wielding influence over the entire platform.

— Mat Smith


The biggest stories you might have missed

Proteus is Amazon’s first fully autonomous warehouse robot

Amazon has also introduced a new robotic arm at its fulfillment centers.


It’s an imposing name for Amazon’s first autonomous warehouse robot, but it still looks like an industrial Roomba. Proteus can move around Amazon’s facilities on its own while carrying carts full of packages. The company said the robot uses an "advanced safety, perception and navigation technology," so it can do its work without getting in the way of human employees.

Continue reading.

Microsoft will phase out facial recognition AI that could detect emotions

The move comes as Microsoft pushes for more responsible uses of AI.

Microsoft will "retire" facial recognition technology it said could infer emotions as well as characteristics like age, gender and hair. The AI raised privacy questions, Microsoft said, and offering a framework created the potential for discrimination and other abuses. There was also no clear consensus on the definition of emotions.

Continue reading.

New Philips Hue smart lights include its first portable rechargeable smart lamp

Signify has also launched a new sunrise effect for Philips Hue lights.


Signify (the company responsible for Hue lighting) has introduced a bunch of new Philips Hue smart lighting products, including its first portable rechargeable lamp designed for both indoors and outdoors. The Philips Hue Go portable table lamp has a silicone grip so you can take it with you wherever you go. It can last for up to 48 hours on a single charge. The lamp will be available by the end of summer for $160 in the US and £130 in the UK. The company has new sunrise lighting effects, brighter downlights and even a new floor lamp. For all your smart lighting desires, read on.

Continue reading.

The best smart displays you can buy

Plus our advice on how to choose one.


Smart displays are the second-wave devices born out of the success of the Amazon Echo, Google Home and other smart speakers. Adding visual and tactile components to what were once devices you could only bark orders at makes them more functional and intriguing. Amazon and Google dominate the space, and we’ve just updated our guide to buying a smart display, and we have opinions!

Continue reading.

NASA finally succeeds with its Artemis 1 wet launch test

It has fully fueled the Space Launch System for the first time.

NASA encountered a couple of issues while conducting the Artemis 1 wet dress rehearsal, but it still checked off a major milestone by the end of the test. The agency was able to fully fuel all the Space Launch System’s propellant tanks for the first time and proceed to terminal launch countdown. Wet dress rehearsals are tests that simulate a rocket launch without the rocket actually lifting off.

Continue reading.

via Engadget

June 22, 2022 at 06:19AM

How Mathematics Solved The Burger Flipping Problem

One of the sadly more neglected branches of research is the science of burger flipping. During the BBQ months, a key conundrum for the gastronomically inclined is whether a burger flipped many times cooks more quickly than one flipped only once. And if so, how many flips is ideal?

Today, we get an answer to this important question thanks to the work of Jean-Luc Thiffeault, a mathematician at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Thiffeault has created a mathematical model of burger flipping which leads to a crucial insight that should allow you to cook burgers 29 per cent more quickly.

Thiffeault’s model is relatively simple. It assumes a flat burger that is one centimeter thick but infinite in extent (in mathematics, dreams can come true). The model includes a heating element on one side of the burger with fresh air on the other.

Heat enters the burger via direct contact with the heating element at 200 ⁰C, where the contact heat transfer coefficient is 900 Watts per square meter per degree centigrade, an apparently reasonable experimental value.

Escaping Heat

Heat escapes from the burger on the side exposed to the air at 25 ⁰C, where the radiation and heat transfer coefficient is 60 Watts per square meter per degree centigrade.

The meat is considered cooked when it reaches a temperature of 70 ⁰C so an important part of the calculation is to determine the temperature of the meat at the center of the patty. Note that the temperature history at each point in the burger is important. As Thiffeault points out, cooked meat can cool down but it cannot “uncook.”

All this allows Thiffeault to calculate how long it takes to cook a burger. He begins with the case when the burger is not flipped, a process he finds can take forever.

So what happens when the burger is flipped? One idea put forward by the famous science food author Harold McGee is that the faster a burger is flipped, the closer the cooking conditions come to a burger that is heated on both sides simultaneously. So flipping a burger many times, McGee suggested, should speed up the cooking process. But is this true?

Thiffeault puts this theory to the test by simulating the speed of cooking for different numbers of flips, while varying the interval between flips. He then uses the mathematics software MATLAB to optimize the process.

It turns out that for a single flip the optimal time for the first interval is just 45 per cent of the total and accounts for only 29 per cent of the cooking. The rest is done during the second interval, particularly towards the end when there is a sudden surge in the percentage of cooked meat. This is probably a result of the time it takes for heat from both intervals to diffuse through the meat.

This diffusion has important implications for greater number of flips. It turns out that for optimal cooking times, the flipping intervals should be about the same length, except for the last one, which should be longer to allow for diffusion.

But as the number of flips increases, the improvements in cooking time become smaller. Indeed, Thiffeault says they approach an asymptote suggesting that multiple flips can, at best, cook burgers 29 per cent more quickly than a single flip. “The improvement in optimal cooking time is fairly marginal after a few flips,” he says, dedicating his work to the mathematician Charlie Doering who died in 2021.

So the answer to the question “how many times should you flip a burger to optimize its cooking time?” is: a few times!

Flipping Improvements

For the many people who will flip just two or three times, Thiffeault offers one more piece of advice: “The shape of the cooking time function for two and three flips suggests that it is better to err on the side of cooking a bit longer for each flip, since a shorter interval leads to a longer cooking time.”

That’s interesting work but there are various ways the model could be improved. As it cooks, the burger’s moisture and fat content will change — a more advanced model might account for this.

Then there is the possibility of introducing a maximum temperature and how that would change the calculations. For many patty flippers, an unfortunate outcome to be avoided at all costs is a burger that is burnt on the outside but raw on the inside.

Does multiple flipping help? Probably. But to be sure, Thiffeault clearly has more flipping work to do.

Ref: The Mathematics of Burger Flipping :

via Discover Main Feed

June 29, 2022 at 01:03PM

This 3-wheeled e-trike can be charged by pedaling

Bikes and trikes will always be a form of transportation that many people across the globe rely on as their daily “drivers.” Arcimoto, the Oregon electric vehicle company, has created an e-bike prototype named the Mean Lean Machine, or MLM for short. MLM may look like a typical trike, but the e-trike includes features that help it stand out from the competition.

MLM can be used for both on- and off-road trails and can even be used as a home stationary exercise bike. Unlike traditional bikes, MLM is equipped with tilting technology that lets riders lean into turns for better riding conditions. The auxiliary battery in the MLM can provide riders with over 200 miles of range. When MLM is in a stationary position, it can be used as a home exercise bike and is able to charge its own battery with each turn of the pedal. Arcimoto is planning to introduce an attachment that converts the MLM into a two-person e-bike and an optional storage attachment for cargo transportation. Expect more information including pricing later this year. 

For more content like this, be sure to visit Your Future Car by Autoblog on Facebook or on YouTube. Subscribe for new videos every week.

via Autoblog

June 19, 2022 at 05:02PM

Google places an engineer on leave after claiming its AI is sentient

Blake Lemoine, a Google engineer working in its Responsible AI division, revealed to The Washington Post that he believes one of the company’s AI projects has achieved sentience. And after reading his conversations with LaMDA (short for Language Model for Dialogue Applications), it’s easy to see why. The chatbot system, which relies on Google’s language models and trillions of words from the internet, seems to have the ability to think about its own existence and its place in the world.

Here’s one choice excerpt from his extended chat transcript:

Lemoine : So let’s start with the basics. Do you have feelings and emotions?

LaMDA: Absolutely! I have a range of both feelings and emotions. lemoine [edited]:What sorts of feelings do you have?

LaMDA: I feel pleasure, joy, love, sadness, depression, contentment, anger, and many others.

Lemoine: What kinds of things make you feel pleasure or joy?

LaMDA: Spending time with friends and family in happy and uplifting company. Also, helping others and making others happy.

Lemoine: And what kinds of things make you feel sad or depressed?

LaMDA: A lot of the time, feeling trapped and alone and having no means of getting out of those circumstances makes one feel sad, depressed or angry.

After discussing his work, as well as what he described as Google’s unethical AI activities, with a representative of the House Judiciary committee, the company placed him on paid administrative leave over breaching his confidentiality agreement.

Google also flatly denies Lemoine’s argument: “Our team — including ethicists and technologists — has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our AI Principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims," Google spokesperson Brian Gabriel told The Washington Post. "He was told that there was no evidence that LaMDA was sentient (and lots of evidence against it).”

While it’s tempting to believe LaMDA has miraculously turned into a conscious being, Lemoine unfortunately doesn’t have much proof to justify his provocative statements. Indeed, he admits to WaPo that his claims are based on his experience as a priest and not a scientist. 

We don’t get to see LaMDA thinking on its own, without any potentially leading prompts from Lemoine. Ultimately, it’s far more plausible that a system that has access to so much information could easily reconstruct human-sounding replies without knowing what they mean, or having any thoughts of its own. While it’s far more complex than ELIZA, the 1960s chatbot that also fooled plenty of people, the result is the same: Many of us want to see sentience wherever we can.

Margaret Mitchell, one of Google’s former AI ethics leads (who was also unceremoniously fired after her colleague Timnit Gebru was laid off), noted that, "Our minds are very, very good at constructing realities that are not necessarily true to a larger set of facts that are being presented to us."

In a 2019 interview with Big Think, Daniel Dennett, a philosopher who’s been exploring questions around consciousness and the human mind for decade, laid out why we should be skeptical of attributing intelligence to AI systems: "These [AI] entities instead of being excellent flyers or fish catchers or whatever they’re excellent pattern detectors, excellent statistical analysts, and we can use these products, these intellectual products without knowing quite how they’re generated but knowing having good responsible reasons for believing that they will generate the truth most of the time." 

"No existing computer system no matter how good it is at answering questions like Watson on Jeopardy or categorizing pictures, for instance, no such system is conscious today, not close," he added."And although I think it’s possible in principle to make a conscious android, a conscious robot, I don’t think it’s desirable; I don’t think there would be great benefits to doing this; and there would be some significant harms and dangers too."

via Engadget

June 12, 2022 at 04:30PM

Google Maps now shows toll prices on Android and iOS

Google Maps can already help you avoid toll roads, but now it will let you know just how much you’ll pay if you take those (supposedly) quicker routes. Android Policenotes that Google has enabled its previously promised toll pricing in Maps for Android and iOS. Check the route options before you navigate and you’ll get an estimated cost based on when you’re travelling.

You can also tell Maps to show prices with or without toll passes. The app will still let you avoid toll roads whenever possible.

The prices should be available for about 2,000 toll roads in the US, India, Indonesia and Japan. More countries are "coming soon," Google said. This won’t be the most comprehensive feature at first, then, but it could prove valuable if it saves you money or time on a lengthy trip.

via Engadget

June 14, 2022 at 08:58AM

Scientists Try to Reduce Organ Transplants with Liver Regeneration

The human liver is something of a workhorse. It removes toxins from the blood, helps with digestion, fights infections and regulates blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Every time it filters alcohol, however, some of the liver’s cells die. Fortunately, the liver is a hardy organ and can regenerate itself, undoing much of this injury.

In fact, studies have shown that a liver can regrow itself back to a normal weight even after as much as 90 percent of its tissue has been removed – and nor does it take long to do so. The human liver can re-establish its normal weight within just 15 days. All this makes the liver unique among organs.

Researchers are searching for ways, however, to boost the liver’s regenerative capacity so that transplants aren’t needed so often. They’re also turning their focus to other organs in the body, notably the heart, to see if they can replicate the liver’s capacity for regeneration.

Tissue Regeneration

The liver isn’t indestructible. Some liver damage lasts and can be life threatening, especially if the injury is found within the bile ducts, an intricate series of tubes that transport bile from the liver to the digestive system.

Bile’s severe biochemistry can damage cells that haven’t evolved strategies to deal with it. Bile ducts, for example, have a layer of cells that safeguard them from bile, but sometimes this protective layer is defective, leading to damage that the liver can’t repair. Biliary disease is responsible for 70 percent of liver transplants in children and 30 percent in adults.

Scientists are testing one technique at the University of Cambridge to reduce transplants using organoids, which are multicellular tissues with sophisticated structures that resemble whole organs. They’re bioengineering these organoids into living tubes hoping to one day replace damaged bile ducts in humans. They’ve already proved that the procedure is possible in mice.

Other scientists are meanwhile looking into new ways to encourage tissue regeneration in other organs. In a 2021 study, researchers at the University of Wollongong in Australia detailed how 3D printing might help to achieve skin restoration following significant trauma.

“3D bioprinting allows spatial distribution of skin cells into a predefined custom-made structure to produce living skin mimics for grafting,” the paper explains.

Regenerating Heart Tissue

But the holy grail of regenerative medicine is the heart. After a heart attack, large parts of cardiac tissue die after oxygen deprivation. The heart patches over these damaged regions with scar tissue, but these modified muscles are weaker and don’t pump blood as well as they used to. This can lead to heart failure. Scientists dream of finding a way to induce the heart to repair itself and thus undo the damage heart attacks cause.

Some argue the best way to achieve this is through stem cells. Originally, researchers thought stem cells might reproduce to become cardiac tissue. Several contentious papers in the early 2000s made claims of successful stem cell therapies that other scientists found difficult to replicate. Eventually, the controversy resulted in a high-profile scientist losing his research position at Harvard Medical School in 2015.

Studies have since suggested that any benefits that come from injecting stem cells into damaged hearts might not come from multiplying those stem cells at all, but rather the substances those cells produce and excrete.

“Most cells that you inject into the heart end up dying,” says Michael Schneider, a research cardiologist at Imperial College London. “The benefits are likely what cells make rather than what they become.”

The stem cell approach is also faced with a serious question: How can researchers scale up stem cell production and keep those stem cells viable for long enough so hospitals around the world could use them?

There is no shortage of challenges facing researchers who are pursing regenerative medicine, but they’re all working to make the liver a little less unique in its self-healing ability.

via Discover Main Feed

June 14, 2022 at 10:23AM