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Watch a Lego robot prepare a perfect egg and bacon breakfast

We love Lego. We love robots. And we sure love breakfast. So what could be better than a Lego-based robot ready and willing to whip up a perfectly cooked breakfast? Reminiscent of Caractacus Potts’ breakfast-preparing contraption from Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, the so-called “Breakfast Machine” is a brick creation capable of breaking eggs, disposing of the shells, and then cooking and plating up bacon and eggs. It’s probably not a labor-saving device per se, but it’s definitely a nifty one.

“My son Michael and me are the two people behind The Brick Wall YouTube channel,” Canada-based creator Iouri Petoukhov told Digital Trends. “We have designed and built a Lego machine that can assist in cooking a real egg and bacon breakfast. The idea was to build a remotely controlled machine that will automate breakfast cooking process and pick the egg off the frying pan. We also wanted it to be able to make several different variations, [such as] ‘sunny-side-up’, scrambled, and ‘sunny-side-down.’ We are extremely happy with the result.”

Petoukhov said that the project grew out of his love of cooking breakfast for his family each weekend. His son, however, obviously decided that this was one more job robots could steal from good, hard-working humans since he began work on the Breakfast Machine as a birthday gift for his dad.

“The biggest challenge was to build a mechanism that will be able to pick an egg, move it to the right position, crack it open without losing the shell, and bring the shell back,” Petoukhov continued. “We realized that the heart of the build will be the cracking mechanism. We reviewed several commercial egg crackers to better understand how it is done. However, the challenge was how to do the same with Lego. It [ultimately] took 12 eggs, two weeks, and numerous failures to figure out the right design. [We jumped for joy] when the first egg was successfully cracked and the shell stayed inside the grabber.”

This isn’t the first impressive impressive build the Brick Wall duo have assembled. Previous projects have included a working lawnmower and even a 986-part Lego Roomba, complete with its own pilot.

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Record-breaking solar still purifies water with clever geometry and … paper?

University at Buffalo

There is nothing new about the idea of using the sun’s energy to evaporate and thereby purify water. In fact, the idea was described by the Greek philosopher Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago. But researchers from the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have found a way to improve on this concept and sanitize water at what appear to be record-breaking rates. In doing so, they could help solve one of the world’s most important problems: The continued lack of access to clean water for a large number of people around the world.

Led by associate professor of electrical engineering Qiaoqiang Gan, the researchers developed a practical and low-cost device that uses black, carbon-dipped paper to create a solar still. The still works by using a strip of this carbon-dipped paper — shaped like an upside-down V — which hangs into water to soak it up. When it is heated by sunlight, it encourages evaporation, although the specific angle of the strip means that it is not hit directly by the sun’s rays. The paper’s sloped geometry thereby allows it remain below room temperature, which lets it draw in heat from its surroundings. The result is a more efficient evaporation cycle, and more water vapor gathered. With a solar still the size of a mini fridge, the researchers estimate that they can generate 10 to 20 liters of clean water every single day.

“In recent years, significant interest has developed in using sunlight for electricity-free vapor generation due to its potential to address limitations in fresh water availability around the globe,” Gan told Digital Trends. “However, when systems operate at higher temperatures, conduction, convection, and radiation losses are inevitable, and limit the overall attainable efficiency. In this new report, we developed an opposite approach, using solar energy to generate cold vapor below room temperature.”

To bring the product to market, the team has launched a startup called Sunny Clean Water. It hopes to create a sun-powered water purifier based on this new research.

“We are [currently] working with two NGOs to perform field tests in remote areas and areas affected by natural disaster: One in Puerto Rico, another one in Philippines,” Gan said. “Puerto Rico was destroyed because of [a major] storm in 2017. The NGO in [the] Philippines aims to help residents in remote villages with no access to electricity or water-purification utilities. I am on my way to Argentina to discuss their local needs.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Advanced Science.

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Doctors successfully perform the world’s first robot-assisted spinal surgery

What kind of surgeon do you call in when you’re dealing with an incredibly complex, rare procedure involving a cancerous tumor which affects just one in 1 million people each year? Quite possibly a robot one. At least, that is what neurosurgeons and otolaryngologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine did when they performed the world’s first robot-assisted spinal surgery. The complex procedure utilized cutting-edge robotic arms to remove a tumor in 27-year-old patient Noah Pernikoff’s neck — through his mouth.

The groundbreaking surgery took place at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and required more than 20 hours in the operating theater, carried out over the course of two days. Due to the placement of the tumor in the patient’s neck, doctors were worried he risked permanent paralysis should something go wrong. In addition, if the entire tumor was not removed, it would likely grow back, perhaps even more aggressively than before.

The operation was performed in three phases. Firstly, neurosurgeons entered through Pernikoff’s neck and cut the spine around the tumor. A team of three head and neck surgeons then used the surgical robot to remove the tumor through the patient’s mouth. Finally, Pernikoff’s spinal column was reconstructed using a hip bone and additional rods for stability.

The use of the trans-oral robot (TORS) meant that it was possible to switch from relying on radiation therapy to actively removing the tumor by operating on it. “There are two components that make this work so exciting,” Dr. Neil Malhotra told Digital Trends. “One is that it permits us to switch from palliation for certain types of tumors to, in some cases for the first time, seeking cures. For the second point, this approach is less traumatic for the patient, which means a better recovery.”

Although news of the surgery has only now been made public, it took place in August last year. Nine months later, Pernikoff is now fully recovered and back at work. “We are still trying to determine where and when robotics — or cobotics — can help patients in terms of outcomes and cures,” Malhotra continued. “The case discussed is a new indication.”

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Drone services edge closer with 10 new projects from major tech firms

The use of drones for delivery and other services came a step closer on Wednesday, May 9 with the announcement of 10 major projects across the country.

Announced by the U.S. Transportation Department, major firms including Microsoft, Apple, Qualcomm, FedEx, and Google-parent Alphabet will work with state, local, and tribal governments to proceed with drone development across a range of projects.

Notable by their absence, however, are both Amazon, which arguably launched the whole drone craze with its Prime Air drone delivery project, and Chinese firm DJI, a leading maker of consumer drones. Both companies were linked to proposals among 149 applicants but were not selected.

A myriad of businesses with an interest in drones have been clamoring for looser regulations so they can test how the technology might benefit their various operations, but up to now, regulators with an eye on safety have been moving forward with great caution.

The new government initiative, which was first announced by the Trump administration in October 2017 in a bid to accelerate the use of drones across a range of industries, will bring faster approval for drone trials that would ordinarily raise eyebrows among regulators. That means we’ll likely see for the first time commercial drones flying over crowded areas, out of the line of sight of the operator, and also at night, as part of trials to explore the viability of various sky-based services.

The 10 selected projects were revealed on Wednesday by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Some will explore different drone services while developing technologies such as ground-based, detect-and-avoid radar systems that integrate infrared imaging and satellite technology. Others will test the effectiveness of systems now under development such as air traffic control for unmanned aircraft.

Apple — a curious entry considering the company has shown little to no interest in drone technology until now — will work with North Carolina authorities to develop a drone system for gathering map data, while Qualcomm will team up with San Diego to develop drone platforms for various public safety, commercial, and emergency response applications.

FedEx will explore the use of drones to inspect aircraft at its hub in Tennessee, and also look into parts deliveries for aircraft, while drone company Flirtey, which has featured on Digital Trends’ pages many times, will embark on four projects around the country. One of these will be in Reno, Nevada, to develop a delivery system for life-saving medical equipment such as medical defibrillators in emergency situations in both urban and rural environments.

“Our country is on the verge of the most significant new development in aviation since the emergence of the jet age,” Chao said on Wednesday, according to Cnet. She added that it was now time to “create a path forward for the safe integration of drones if our country is to remain a global aviation leader and reap the safety and economic benefits drones have to offer.”

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A cure for hangovers? A UCLA professor may have cracked the code

Drop everything and pick up a glass of wine. Science may have finally come through for us. A professor from UCLA has designed “an antidote that could help people enjoy wine or cocktails or beer without a hangover.”

According to Yunfeng Lu, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the Los Angeles university, there is now a solution to that all-powerful, all-consuming hangover, and it has been tested (successfully) in mice. In tests, Lu and fellow professor Cheng Ji, an expert in liver diseases from Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and Lu’s graduate student Duo Xu, found that the treatment decreased the blood alcohol level in inebriated mice by 45 percent in four hours.

More impressively, the concentration of acetaldehyde, the carcinogenic compound that is responsible for causing headaches and vomiting during bouts of irresponsible drinking, “remained extremely low” in treated mice. And finally, Lu’s team found that the mice who were treated with the compound awoke from their alcoholic slumber more quickly than mice who did not receive the treatment.

This is key because the ability to break down alcohol more efficiently is linked to earlier wake times, and also prevents alcohol poisoning (which means it’s keeping your liver safe). As it stands, Lu is conducting further tests to ensure that his treatment is safe and does not cause any “unexpected or dangerous side effects.” Should animal tests continue to go well, human clinical trials could begin as early as next year.

Best of all, perhaps, is the fact that this treatment comes in the form of a simple pill, which means that preventing a hangover is in fact easier than grabbing a drink. Lu and his team created capsules filled with natural enzymes found in the liver that help the body process alcohol more efficiently. In total, the team chose three natural enzymes that turn alcohol into “harmless molecules” that are ultimately excreted by the body. To protect the enzymes, the scientists wrapped them each in an FDA-approved shell approved for pills. In their tests, these nanocapsules were injected into drunk mice’s veins, where they made their way through the bloodstream and ultimately to the liver.

“As a chemical engineering professor and wine enthusiast, I felt I needed to find a solution [to hangovers],” Lu noted. “As frivolous as this project may sound, it has serious implications.” For example, he pointed out, “Between 8 and 10 percent of emergency room visits in America are due to acute alcohol poisoning,” and worse still, “alcohol is the leading risk factor for premature deaths and disability among people aged 15 to 49.”

While the hangover treatment is by no means a panacea to alcohol abuse, it may serve as a safety measure that can reduce the adverse side effects of a few too many nights of fun. In the meantime, Lu encourages us to continue to drink safely and responsibly.

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This NYC high-rise building cleans the air like trees do

SoHo remains a super-trendy neighborhood in New York City, but a new high-rise in the neighborhood just might make the area smell a little sweeter. 570 Broome, designed by Turkish architect Tahir Demircioglu’s hot boutique architecture firm Builtd, is using a unique combination of two emerging technologies to constantly clean the air around the building — an attractive and welcome feature for a building that is located adjacent to the Holland Tunnel.

First, the façade of 570 Broome is clad in 2,000 square meters of Neolith paneling. This popular building material is composed of three elements: Minerals from granite, quartz, and feldspar that lend the product a powerful rigidity; minerals from glass and silica that lend the paneling chemical stability; and natural oxides that provide chromatic properties. The panels are produced in a press with force and pressure up to 400 bars before being cured in an oven at temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The panels are very hard and clean in the first place but they have also gone through a second process to give them their unique air-cleaning properties. The panels have been treated with a titanium dioxide nanoparticle-based treatment called Pureti, which actively alters the chemical makeup of the surrounding air.

“Pureti’s technology reverses pollution, helps improve air quality, and as an added perk keeps the facade cleaner for longer … It’s a no-brainer for developers in urban places — and for eco-conscious buyers, it’s a wonderful sustainability and wellness feature,” a representative for Pureti told Culture Trip.

The chemical compound is hygroscopic, meaning simply that it directs dirt and water away from the building. However, the Pureti compound is also photo-catalytic, meaning it transforms harmful polluting particles, such as greenhouse gases that contribute to the city’s growing smog problem, into benign nitrates that ultimately end up as minerals, gas, and water. In short, the nasty pollution that bounces off of 570 Broome ends up as nothing more harmful than H2O.

The technique is so effective in fact that one lane mile (or 6,000 square meters) will remove one ton of nitrogen oxide from the air per year, into perpetuity. It’s an effect equivalent to reserving the polluting effect of cars driving 650,000 miles. In terms of the specific number of Pureti-treated surfaces at 570 Broome, it’s equivalent to taking 2,000 cars off of the island of Manhattan for a year.

Demircioglu, who is also actively working on an immersive play experience for children among his other commercial projects, plans to use the new technology on a multi-family development on Long Island. The Luxury apartments at 570 Broome are already on sale, with prices ranging from a cool $1.275 million for a 677-square-foot studio to more than $3.4 million for a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom unit.

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Need to cut back on your salt? In-mouth sensor tracks sodium intake in real time

Georgia Institute of Technology

Keeping track of your sodium intake is very important if you’re among the 1 in 3 American adults who suffer from high blood pressure. Physicians will advise you to opt for low-salt options when it comes to choosing and eating food, but keeping track of exactly how much salt is passing your lips isn’t easy. That could soon change, however, thanks to a new electronic sensor developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Their stretchable sodium-measuring device could possibly be embedded in a dental retainer, and used to provide highly sensitive, real-time monitoring of sodium intake. The information could then be sent directly to your phone or other mobile device to provide feedback, guidance, and — if necessary — the occasional admonishment.

“The intraoral electronics can measure the amount of sodium from food intake on a daily basis, which is used to control someone’s eating behavior directly related to diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity,” Dr. Woonhong Yeo, whose lab carried out the research, told Digital Trends. “We [have] already developed prototype devices and proved the device functionality with a human study. With the customized Android application, real-time sodium intake from veggie juice, chicken noodle soup, and potato chips was clearly measured and data wirelessly sent to a smartphone or tablet.

In the research team’s prototype version of the sensor, its power source is a rechargeable microcoin battery capable of providing continuous measurements for 12 hours. Since most of us aren’t waking up in the middle of the night to snack on chips (if you are, quit pretending that’s normal), this would be long enough to cover our waking, food-consuming hours. However, the researchers have plans to make it even more efficient and less intrusive.

“The next step is to further miniaturize the device, such that it can be simply laminated on a tooth,” Yeo said. “We are very interested in commercialization of this technology and device. Currently, we are waiting to get contacts from interested companies.”

A paper describing the research, “Wireless, intraoral hybrid electronics for real-time quantification of sodium intake toward hypertension management,” was recently published in the journal PNAS.

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UPS deliveries receive a cartoonish makeover with new electric trucks


The future is now! Or, at least it is for UPS and its latest announcement. The company recently revealed its latest and greatest fleet of delivery vehicles: A new line of purpose-built, all-electric, compact delivery vans for urban deliveries in London and Paris.

This marks a significant step forward toward reducing the carbon footprint of major entities operating large fleets of motor vehicles in the private sector, in conjunction with major automakers pledging to do the same.

In 2017, both governments of the United Kingdom and France made promises to ban all fossil-fueled vehicles from some of its major cities by 2040 for London, and 2030 for Paris, to curb climate-changing carbon emissions. This, of course, put pressure on anyone who depends on a motor vehicle in these major metropolitan and global cities, requiring many to adapt to these new regulations by ramping efforts to roll out all-electric vehicles.

For UPS, its solution for dealing with deliveries in London and Paris without depending on fossil fuels are these new all-electric zero-tailpipe emissions delivery vans. They are built by a company called Arrival, the first commercial automaker in Europe to manufacturer all-electric vehicles specifically for the application and specifications of UPS delivery vehicles.

“UPS is working with Arrival here in the U.K. because their smart electric vehicles are helping to reduce dependency on fossil fuel. This is a pioneering collaboration that helps UPS develop new ways to reduce our emissions,” Luke Wake, UPS’ international director for automotive engineering in the advanced technology group, said in a statement.

These new fully electric delivery vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions, are specifically designed to be lightweight, and serve up a full driving range of more than 150 miles. That currently bests the driving ranges of other all-electric delivery vehicles currently active on the road.

UPS’ new vehicles aren’t fully autonomous, which is still quite some time away. So they still need to be driven by a human behind the wheel. Nonetheless, UPS’ new EV delivery vehicles are also catered to care for the delivery drivers throughout their shifts.

For instance, Arrival’s UPS delivery vans come standard with the company’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, which exist to improve driver safety and reduce fatigue while on the job. It also comes equipped with a ton of wireless connectivity features so that fleet managers can keep better track of delivery vehicles. This data could then be used to better understand, log, and manage the logistics of all the deliveries and its drivers. This helps improve operating efficiency, which could optimize delivery routes for faster and more dependable delivery times.

UPS says the new fleet of all-electric delivery vans will be active before the end of 2018. The company also said that it is continuing to explore all-electric delivery vehicle fleet options in other major cities, such as New York.

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Potential cocaine breathalyzer uses nanoparticles to look for drug abuse

Researchers from the University at Buffalo, New York, and Fudan University in China have developed a low-cost chip which can reportedly detect the presence of cocaine in only a few minutes. If all goes according to plan, they hope that it will lead to the development of a portable breathalyzer-style device which could be used by law enforcement to reveal whether or not a person has been using the drug.

The new chip uses an especially engineered nanostructure which traps light at the edges of gold and silver nanoparticles. In the event that biological or chemical molecules land on the chip’s surface, part of this captured light interacts with the new molecules and is “scattered” in recognizable patterns, which can reveal which compound is present. In addition to cocaine, the surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) technology could be used to look for opioids and the active ingredients in marijuana. It is able to uncover even tiny traces of these compounds.

“In practical applications, especially for commercial SERS chips, shelf time is usually an important parameter,” researcher Nan Zhang told Digital Trends, explaining why the technology is so promising. “Due to the fragile nanostructure and stability of metal materials, the claimed shelf time for most commercial SERS chips is relatively short. The performance of SERS chip may degrade over time, especially for silver-based structures. [However, our] proposed SERS substrate was demonstrated effective after a 12-month shelf time in an ambient storage environment.”

Zhang noted that the technology is also low-cost. The sensors could be made for just a few dollars, offering a high level of sensitivity with very little in the way of investment.

“We have already got a Chinese patent for this low-cost developed SERS substrate,” Zhang continued. “We are trying to introduce this product into a broad market once we find a proper investor to cooperate with. It has been recognized that a huge market exists if this price can be reduced down to $1 to $5.”

A paper describing the work, “Superabsorbing Metasurfaces with Hybrid Ag-Au Nanostructures for Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy Sensing of Drugs and Chemicals,” was recently published in the journal Small Methods.

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A.I. could help cameras see in candlelight, research suggests

Low-light photography is a balance between blur and noise — but what if artificial intelligence could even out the score? Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Intel have trained a program to process low-noise images in a room lit with a single candle. By feeding a RAW image processor two identical shots, one a short exposure and one a long exposure, the group managed to get an image with less noise and without the odd color casts alternative methods provide. With additional research, the processing algorithms could help cameras take images with less noise without using a longer shutter speed.

To train what the group calls the See-in-the-Dark data set, the researchers took two different images in limited light. Using a remote app to control the camera without touching it, the group took a properly exposed long exposure image from ten to 30 seconds long. The researchers then took a second image with a short exposure from  0.1 to 0.03 seconds long, which typically created an image that was almost entirely black.

Repeating this process around 5,000 different times, some with a Sony a7S II and some with a Fujifilm X-T2, the researchers then used the paired images to train a neural network. The images were first processed by separating into different color channels, removing the black and reducing the image’s resolution. The data set also used RAW data from the camera sensor, not processed JPEGs.

The algorithms created from the data set, when used on RAW sensor data, created brighter images with less noise compared to other methods of handling the camera data, like demosaicing. The resulting images also had a more accurate white balance than current methods. The results improve on traditional image processing, the researchers said, and warrant more research.

The enhanced processing method could help smartphones perform between in low light, along with enhancing handheld shots from DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, the group suggests. Video could also benefit, since taking a longer exposure isn’t possible while maintaining a standard frame rate.

While the sample images from the program are impressive, the processing was only tested on stationary subjects. Image processing was also slower than current standards — the images took 0.38 and 0.66 seconds to process at a reduced resolution, too slow to maintain the burst speeds on current cameras. The group’s data set was also designed for a specific camera sensor — without additional research on data sets for multiple sensors, the process would have to be repeated for each new camera sensor. The researchers suggested that future research could look into those limitations.

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