Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Soft Robot Muscles Lift 1,000 Times Their Weight

The Verge reports: [edited]

Soft robotics has been a promising field of research for years, but these squidgy and flexible creations have been held back by the absence of one important characteristic: strength. Now, scientists from MIT CSAIL and Harvard’s Wyss Institute have come up with a way to give soft robots some power — by outfitting them with rigid origami skeletons.

In a paper published today in the journal PNAS, researchers describe a new type of soft artificial muscle that could be used to build soft robots. Each muscle consists of a sealed bag filled with air or fluid, containing a folding origami structure that functions as the skeleton. When the pressure inside the bag is reduced using an electric pump, the whole structure collapses and contracts, just like the muscles in your arm or leg.

The new muscles have their drawbacks, though. The biggest being that they’re not as easily controlled or as reprogrammable as traditional robots. The direction they move in is entirely dictated by their inner structure and once created, can’t be changed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Self-Driving Trucks Delivering Refrigerators

Wired reports: [edited]

Since early October, autonomous trucks built and operated by the startup Embark have been hauling Frigidaire refrigerators 650 miles along the I-10 freeway, from a warehouse in El Paso, Texas, to a distribution center in Palm Springs, California. A human driver rides in the cab to monitor the computer chauffeur for now, but the ultimate goal is to let the trucks rumble solo down the highway.

“This is the first time someone has demonstrated this end-to-end," Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues says. "It showcases the way that we see self-driving playing into the logistics industry.”

Embark believes semis, not personal cars, are the smartest use of autonomous technology. They’ve got some good arguments. First off, making a robot that can drive itself on the highway, where trucks spend nearly all their time, is relatively easy. You don’t have to account for pedestrians, cyclists, traffic lights, or other variables. The big rig just has to stay in its lane and keep a safe distance from fellow travellers.

Better yet, the need for autonomous trucks is very real: Trucks carry 70 percent of goods shipped around the US, but truckers are scarce. According to the American Trucking Associations, the industry is now short 50,000 drivers. As current drivers retire or quit, that number could hit 175,000 by 2024. Cut down the need for the human, and that shortage stops being a problem. And a self-driving truck isn't subject to rules that ban humans from spending more than 11 hours at a time behind the wheel.

Indeed, make a truck that doesn’t tire (or text), the thinking goes, and you save lives: In the US, more than 4,000 people die in crashes involving trucks every year, crashes that nearly always result from human error.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sony a7R Mark III

Digital Photography Review has published a full, positive review of Sony's latest high-resolution full frame mirrorless camera.

Snippets from the conclusion follow:

"At its core, the a7R III can be seen as a mashup of the best parts of its predecessor, the a7R II, and Sony's sports-shooting flagship a9. As with Nikon's D850 for DSLR users, the a7R III has the potential to be a 'Goldilocks' camera for those looking at mirrorless solutions. You get tons of resolution, great burst speeds, capable autofocus and impressive video."

"The sheer capability of the Sony a7R III is hard to overstate. With the sports-oriented a9, Sony was aiming for outright speed; the a7R III has inherited much of that, but offers far more resolution and dynamic range. Like the Nikon D850, the a7R III is a camera that you can shoot just about anything with, from landscapes to fast action."

"There is a vast number of small improvements and refinements in the a7R III. From the ergonomics to the better organised menus, this is the most usable and engaging a7-series camera yet. The on-sensor autofocus system needs some work in terms of subject tracking, but in other autofocus modes, the a7R III makes it dead easy to get the most out of the 42.4MP of resolution it offers. Never before has shooting such high resolution files been so fun, or so painless."

"The a7R III still can't quite match the feeling of immediacy that comes with using a high-end DSLR; the card write speeds can get in your way, and the learning curve for new users can be steep. But the fact remains that the a7R III is capable of gorgeous still images and video, and has the feel of an impressively polished product. In our opinion, this is easily Sony's best camera yet, and one of the best cameras we've ever tested. It's the most well-rounded mirrorless camera on the market today, and for that, it earns our highest award."

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Toyota T-HR3 Humanoid Robot

PC Mag reports: [edited]

T-HR3 is remotely controlled from a "Master Maneuvering System" that lets a human operator become 'one' with the robot. Wearable controls map the operator's hand, arm, and foot movements and communicate them to T-HR3's body parts.

When the operator moves their arms, the robot mirrors those movements. The operator can also walk in place to make the robot move forward or laterally. Plus, a head-mounted display lets the operator see from T-HR3's perspective.

Toyota said its latest robotics platform can "safely assist humans in a variety of settings, such as the home, medical facilities, construction sites, disaster-stricken areas, and even outer space." T-HR3 can even maintain its balance if it collides with something.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Free Typeface – IBM Plex

After decades of using Helvetica (and paying millions of dollars for the privilege) as its corporate font, IBM has decided to design its own typeface. IBM Plex is a work in progress, and includes sans serif, slab serif and monospace versions.

To my eyes they look like a not very beautiful committee mash-up of Din, Bell Gothic, News Gothic and Archer, but if you fancy trying them out, all 48 styles are available for free download at Font Squirrel.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

A Potpourri Of iPhone X Reviews

The Verge has produced a comprehensive no-nonsense review.

DxO has reviewed the iPhone X's camera, and concludes that, for stills, it is the best smartphone camera available. Their conclusion follows:

“For portraits, the improved telephoto lens delivers sharp results even indoors, and the bokeh simulation produces a natural and pleasing background blur. Outdoors, exposures are outstanding, with great dynamic range, impressive skies, good fine detail, and punchy color rendering. Add to all that the extra features on the front-facing camera, including a Portrait mode for blurred-background selfies, and the iPhone X delivers one hell of a smartphone camera.”

On a less serious note, Wired has published an amusing summary of some of the more gushing iPhone X reviews.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Cochlear Nucleus 7 Sound Processor

Mashable reports: [edited]

The Nucleus 7 allows users to stream sounds directly to their Cochlear implant from their iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

People living with severe to profound hearing loss will be able to listen to music, play games, watch videos, get directions from Maps, or make FaceTime calls.

Users can control the sound processor on their iPhone using the Nucleus Smart App, which monitors the device's volume, battery and location with the Find My Processor feature.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Free Fonts - Arima

Font Squirrel reports: [edited]

A typeface with soft edges and a calligraphic feel, designed for screen reading. Both families come in 7 weights, Arima Madurai has extended language support for Tamil and Latin scripts.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Robots More Accurate Than Human Surgeons

BGR reports: [edited]

A new study aimed at comparing the steady hand of a human surgeon against the cold precision of the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) revealed just how much better a bot really is, and what that means for patients going under its knife.

The research pitted the surgical bot, which is still in active development, against a human surgeons operating on a human analog — in this particular case, it was pig tissue including muscle, fat and skin. The cuts made by both the human doctors and the STAR were judged based on how precise their cuts were as well as how much damage was done to the flesh surrounding the incision.

The STAR system not only produced more precise cuts in terms of length, but they were also closer to the 'perfect' line and the incision caused less damage to the flesh.

The STAR could one day be completely autonomous. “I really believe that this is the future of surgery,” study co-author Axel Krieger, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland said. “I believe this will come about first for small sub-functions of surgery and get more and more complex. Similarly to autonomous cars, where small features such as brake-assist slowly morphed into more and more autonomy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Get To Anywhere On Earth In An Hour

Bloomberg reports: [edited]

Elon Musk is planning to build a new rocket ship code named “BFR” capable of traveling anywhere on Earth in under an hour.

If the concept becomes reality, Musk said a journey from New York to Shanghai can be done in about 30 minutes.

“If we are going to places like Mars, why not Earth?” Musk said at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia. Toward the end of Musk’s presentation, an animation played on a big screen behind him, showing scores of people getting on a high-speed ferry in New York, then boarding the BFR on a platform in the water. The spaceship then travels to Shanghai in roughly half an hour.

"Fly to most places on Earth in under 30 mins and anywhere in under 60," Musk wrote in an Instagram post after he’d left the stage without taking questions. "Cost per seat should be about the same as full fare economy in an aircraft. Forgot to mention that."

The BFR would contain 40 cabins capable of ferrying roughly 100 people at a time.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Robots Performing Dental Surgery

Independent reports: [edited]

A robot has carried out a dental operation without help from humans for the first time, carrying out implant surgery on a patient in China.

Although medical staff were present during the one-hour surgery in Xian, Shaanxi province, they did not play an active role.

Two new teeth, created by 3D printing, were successfully implanted into a woman’s mouth, the South China Morning Post reported.

The robot followed a set of pre-programmed commands to fit the implants into the patient’s mouth, and was able to make adjustments as the woman moved.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Techniblogic reports: [edited]

PearlMountain provides an online logo maker – DesignEvo free of charge. There are over a million icons as well as hundreds of fonts and shapes available.

Once you enter the app, popular searches are displayed under the icon search panel such as computer, Facebook, sale and technology. With a click on the desired icon, you can add it to the editing canvas and customize it at will. Each icon can be scaled, flipped, rotated and coloured.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

66-year-old man sees in colour for the first time

Born colourblind, William lived his whole life in back and white. For his 66th birthday, his family decided to pitch in together to buy Enchroma glasses that have colour correcting lenses that help the colourblind see colour. This video is his expression to opening his gift and witnessing color for the first time.

via kottke

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Apple Watch Series 3

Trusted Reviews reports: [edited]

Apple announced three new iPhones yesterday, along with a 4K Apple TV. All of them are lovely pieces of technology, but its most interesting announcement was that it has made significant improvements to its Apple Watches, with its top model now possessing cellular connectivity.

You’ll now be able to take and make calls from your Apple Watch Series 3, and it’ll use the same number as your iPhone. You’ll also be able to stream music thanks to the cellular connection through Apple Music directly from your wrist.

There’s a new S3 dual-core processor delivering 70% more performance than the previous chip. This means Siri can now talk through the built-in speaker, reading out useful information without you needing to look at the display. There’s a new W2 chip for wireless connectivity, including an 85% boost to Wi-Fi performance and 50% increase in power efficiency for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (v5).

An altimeter is now included. This means elevation data can now be obtained, which is great for runners, cyclists and skiers alike. It also means the Apple Watch Series 3 will detect the flights of stairs you climb, useful if you need the added motivation to take the stairs in lieu of the elevator.

The display is the antenna for LTE and UMTS, which is a clever feat of engineering when many antennas are integrated into the strap making them stiff and uncomfortable. The Apple Watch Series 3 will also use a e-SIM, which also cuts down on the size. This means the Apple Watch Series 2 and Series 3 are almost the same size.

The Series 3 will start at £329 for the GPS model and £399 for the cellular + GPS option. The Series 2 will drop to £249.