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  1. Back in 2011 we looked at an array of small hexagonal plates created to serve as an electronic skin that endows robots with a sense of touch. The team responsible had placed 31 of these hexagonal "skin cells" on a small robot, but now they've gone a lot further, equipping a human-sized robot with 1,260 cells to create what they claim is the first autonomous humanoid robot with artificial skin covering its entire body – even the soles of its feet. In the eight years since the original touchy-feely robot, Professor Gordon Cheng and his team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have refined the look of the individual sensor cells, but they still boast the same basic capabilities. They're still hexagonal in shape, allowing them to be placed in a honeycomb arrangement, and they can still measure proximity, pressure, temperature and acceleration. But the main hurdle the team faced in expanding the number of cells so as to fully cover a human-sized robot was computing power, and it's here that the team is claiming a breakthrough. Continuously processing data from more than a few hundred sensors quickly overloaded previous systems, so the team took inspiration from an approach employed by the human nervous system. Rather than constantly informing us of every single sensation our skin feels at all times, the human nervous system concentrates on new sensations. The team gives the example of wearing a hat – we notice it when we put the hat on, but quickly become accustomed the feeling of it on our head and don't notice it after a while. Then, if the hat is blown off, for example, we notice the change. This kind of "event-based" approach requires much less processing power, and the TUM team have managed to adapt it to their robotic skin, making it possible to cover an entire robot without requiring impractical amounts of computing power. The team's H-1 robot is covered in 1,260 hexagonal cells, providing a total of over 13,000 different sensors. These are positioned on its upper body, arms, legs and the soles of its feet. This allows the robot to balance on one leg and walk on uneven surfaces. It can also give a person a hug without crushing them, which actually requires more calculations than many people realize due to the large number of contact points between the two huggers and the varying pressures. "This might not be as important in industrial applications, but in areas such as nursing care, robots must be designed for very close contact with people," says Cheng. Additionally, thanks to its multicellular construction, the artificial skin will keep working even if some cells stop functioning. The current skin cells are about one inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, but Cheng says the team is now working to make them smaller and increase the potential for them to be produced in large numbers. Source: Technical University of Munich
  2. Researchers at Griffith University in Australia have used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system to effectively cure cervical cancer in mice. The team targeted specific cancer-causing genes, disrupting them so the tumors die, with a 100 percent survival rate of the animals. The study brings us one step closer to a cure for cancer in humans. Infections by human papillomavirus (HPV) are the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer. The virus integrates two particular genes called E6 and E7 into the human genome, which then go on to drive and sustain the cancer. That makes these cancer-causing genes (or “oncogenes”) the perfect target for CRISPR – not only do they provide a weakness for tumors, but because they only appear in cancerous cells disrupting them shouldn’t have any effect on healthy cells. So the team designed a way to target these oncogenes. In most CRISPR experiments, the tool hunts down a specific section of DNA – such as one that causes cancer – then snips it out and replaces it with something benign. In this case, the team instead added extra info that garbles the gene. “The nanoparticles search out the cancer-causing gene in cancer cells and ‘edit it’ by introducing some extra DNA that causes the gene to be misread and stop being made,’’ says Nigel McMillan, lead researcher on the study. “This is like adding a few extra letters into a word, so the spell checker doesn’t recognize it ‘anyTTmore’. Because the cancer must have this gene to produce, once edited the cancer dies.” To demonstrate the effectiveness of the treatment, the team tested it in live mice that bore human cervical cancer cells. They encapsulated the CRISPR machinery into “stealth” nanoparticles, then injected the mix into the mice. The results are quite impressive: the tumors in the treated mice completely disappeared, and the animals had a 100-percent survival rate. The team also reported that the mice showed no signs of side effects, such as inflammation. That said, the researchers did caution that there may be other gene changes that they haven’t noticed yet – after all, previous studies have found evidence of off-target mutations. While safety remains a topic of debate, it’s still a concern worth keeping an eye out for. The team is hoping to have the treatment ready for human trials within the next five years. It might also be applicable to other types of cancer. “This is the first cure for any cancer using this technology,’’ says McMillan. “Other cancers can be treated once we know the right genes.” The team describes the work in the video below, and the research was published in the journal Molecular Therapy. Source: Griffith University
  3. Thanks largely to De Beers, which was created in the late 19th century to control the diamond trade, most people think diamonds are a lot scarcer than they actually are. But an extraordinary diamond unearthed in Russia definitely lives up to the ultra-rare tag, being the only such example ever discovered. It is a diamond with another diamond that moves freely inside it, earning it the name the Matryoshka diamond for its resemblance to traditional Russian nesting dolls. The unusual diamond was discovered during a sorting process in Nyurba, a mining town in eastern Russia. The outer diamond measures just 4.8 x 4.9 x 2.8 mm, and its internal cavity is 6 cubic mm. The tabular-shaped internal diamond bouncing around in this cavity measures 1.9 x 2.1 x 0.6 mm, and has a volume of 1.6 cubic mm. The diamond weighs a total of 0.62 carats (0.124 g), with the internal diamond estimated to account for 0.02 carats (0.004 g) of this. Scientists working in the Research and Development Geological Enterprise of Alrosa, the partially state-owned diamond company that runs the Nyurba diamond mine, have subjected the Matryoshka diamond to various analyses, such as infrared and Raman spectroscopies, and X-ray microtomography, and estimate it may be over 800 million years old. As for how it formed, they have a couple of ideas to explain how the internal diamond came first and was subsequently encased in the external one. "We have two main hypotheses," says Alrosa's Oleg Kovalchuk. "According to the first version, a mantle mineral captured a diamond during its growth, and later it was dissolved in the Earth's surface. According to the second version, a layer of porous polycrystalline diamond substance was formed inside the diamond because of ultra-fast growth, and more aggressive mantle processes subsequently dissolved it. Due to the presence of the dissolved zone, one diamond began to move freely inside another on the principle of matryoshka nesting doll." Neither cavities or inclusions, which is the name given to internal defects, such as structural imperfections, foreign material or another diamond crystal, are uncommon in diamonds. But while they usually lower the value of a diamond, the diamond inclusion able to move freely around the cavity inside the Matryoshka diamond is likely to have the opposite effect due to its apparent uniqueness. "As far as we know, there were no such diamonds in the history of global diamond mining yet," says Kovalchuk. "This is really a unique creation of nature, especially since nature does not like emptiness. Usually, some minerals are replaced by others without cavity formation." Source: Alrosa
  4. Electric-assist bikes are a great option for the last mile to work or as a form of gentle exercise, and there are plenty of models to choose from. But if pedaling is not your thing, there are throttle-only two-wheelers available too. One of the most interesting-looking we've seen recently is the Brekr Model B out of the Netherlands. It has the look of a retro-stylish moped, but doesn't have any pedals. Within the striking aluminum frame sits a chunky battery box, positioned under the padded long seat, that has room enough for two batteries. A single 1.9 kWh battery pack is reported good for up to 80 km (50 mi) per charge, while running with two batteries could double that. These power packs can be removed for home or office top-ups, and fast-charging is supported. The Model B rocks full suspension with dual shocks at the back giving 6 cm (2.3 in) of travel and upside-down telescopic forks up front for 10 cm (3.9 in) of travel. Just below the handlebars sits a 14 cm (5.5 in) diameter, 2,800-lumen halo ring daytime running light to help ensure other road users can see you, and a stereo sound system has been included that throws out a pulsating synth/motor sound so folks can hear you too. Stopping power comes as hydraulic disc brakes front and back, and the moto rides on 17-inch Michelin City Pro tires. Seat height comes in at 79 cm (31 in), there's 14.6 cm (5.75 in) of ground clearance and the funky two-wheeler has an empty weight of 61 kg (134 lb). Brekr has also included a GPS module so you can keep track of the location of your ride using the Brekr mobile app, which also offers ride information. A cargo rack can be added as an option. The Model B comes in two flavors, one with 1,500 W motor for 100 Nm of torque and the other with a 2,500 W motor for 150 Nm of torque. Both models can be had in 25 km/h (15.5 mph) or 45 km/h (28 mph) top speed variants – which is not enough for highway riding, but should be good for around town jaunts. Source: Brekr
  5. SEC says Telegram can't avoid federal securities laws by labeling their product a cryptocurrency. Telegram's plans for its cryptocurrency and blockchain network may be in jeopardy. The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed an emergency action and obtained a temporary restraining order against the company, which prevents it from distributing and selling its Gram tokens in the country. According to the regulators, the company sold 2.9 billion Grams at discounted prices to 171 initial purchasers worldwide, raising $1.7 billion in the process. A billion of those tokens were purchased by people in the US. The agency says Telegram didn't register the offering with its office, and since it sees Grams as securities, it's accusing the company of violating the Securities Act of 1933. It's not clear how this restraining order would affect Gram's launch as a whole. Former SEC attorney Zachary Fallon told Bloomberg that it could also complicate the company's ability to sell tokens in other countries. But even if it doesn't prevent Telegram from launching outside the US, it could still cause huge issues for the company. The New York Times reported back in August that Telegram promised investors it would deliver Grams by October 31st or return their money. The SEC Division of Enforcement's Co-Director Stephanie Avakian said: "Our emergency action today is intended to prevent Telegram from flooding the US markets with digital tokens that we allege were unlawfully sold. We allege that the defendants have failed to provide investors with information regarding Grams and Telegram's business operations, financial condition, risk factors, and management that the securities laws require." The agency also stressed that companies can't avoid federal securities laws just by labeling their products a cryptocurrency or a digital token. Source: US Securities and Exchange Commission
  6. Stripe and eBay have followed PayPal in backing out of Facebook's cryptocurrency, Libra. They confirmed to the Financial Times that they would pull their support, while Mastercard and Visa have also dropped out. "We highly respect the vision of the Libra Association; however, eBay has made the decision to not move forward as a founding member," the company said in a statement. "At this time, we are focused on rolling out eBay's managed payments experience for our customers." "Stripe is supportive of projects that aim to make online commerce more accessible for people around the world," Stripe told the FT. "Libra has this potential. We will follow its progress closely and remain open to working with the Libra Association at a later stage." Soon after those two companies announced they were backing out of the Libra Association, the non-profit created to oversee the cryptocurrency, Mastercard and Visa followed suit. The Libra Association is set to hold its first board meeting on Monday. Among the "founding members" who are still a part of the group for the time being are Spotify, Uber and Lyft. Facebook's libra cryptocurrency coalition is falling apart as eBay, Visa, Mastercard and Stripe... The news comes one week after PayPal announced its withdrawal as government regulators continue to scrutinize the plans. "We are focused on moving forward and continuing to build a strong association of some of the world's leading enterprises, social impact organizations and other stakeholders to achieve a safe, transparent, and consumer-friendly implementation of a global payment system that breaks down financial barriers for billions of people," the Libra Association's policy and communication chief Dante Disparte told CNBC. "We look forward to the inaugural Libra Association Council meeting in just 3 days and announcing the initial members of the Libra Association." Facebook announced the cryptocurrency and the Calibra digital wallet in June, and regulators quickly put it firmly under the microscope. France and Germany have argued Libra should be banned in the European Union, while US, UK and EU regulators, as well as central banks, have sought more information about Libra's stability and its privacy implications. Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify before the Financial Services Committee about Libra later this month. Democratic members of the committee drafted legislation in July to ban Facebook and other major tech companies from releasing their own cryptocurrencies. Update (4:35 PM ET): Added that Visa has left the Libra Association. Update (6:18 PM ET): Libra exec David Marcus tweeted about the departures, thanking Visa and Mastercard for "sticking it out until the 11th hour." He suggested these moves are temporary until there's "regulatory clarity," and encouraged everyone to "stay tuned for more very soon."
  7. Add smart TVs to the growing list of home appliances guilty of surveilling people’s movements. A new study from Princeton University shows internet-connected TVs, which allow people to stream Netflix and Hulu, are loaded with data-hungry trackers. “If you use a device such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV, there are numerous companies that can build up a fairly comprehensive picture of what you’re watching,” Arvind Narayanan, associate professor of computer science at Princeton, wrote in an email to The Verge. “There’s very little oversight or awareness of their practices, including where that data is being sold.” Of course, data is part of the reason TVs have gotten so cheap. Today, Roku’s sell for less than $200, subsidized in part by targeted advertising. Technically, people agree to have their data sold when they set up their devices. But many aren’t aware it’s even happening. That’s true for other smart home technology, too. In a different study, researchers at Northeastern University looked at 81 smart home devices and found that some, including Amazon’s Ring doorbell and Alexa, and the Zmodo doorbell, monitor when a user talks or moves, even when they’re not using the device. “The app used to set up the [Ring] device does not warn the user that the doorbell performs such recording in real time, the doorbell offers no indication that recording is occurring, and the only disclosure is in fine print as part of the privacy policy,” the paper says. To understand how much surveillance is taking place on smart TVs, Narayanan and his co-author Hooman Mohajeri Moghaddam built a bot that automatically installed thousands of channels on their Roku and Amazon Fire TVs. It then mimicked human behavior by browsing and watching videos. As soon as it ran into an ad, it would track what data was being collected behind the scenes. Some of the information, like device type, city, and state, is hardly unique to one user. But other data, like the device serial number, Wi-Fi network, and advertising ID, could be used to pinpoint an individual. “This gives them a more complete picture of who you are,” said Moghaddam. He noted that some channels even sent unencrypted email addresses and video titles to the trackers. In total, the study found trackers on 69 percent of Roku channels and 89 percent of Amazon Fire channels. “Some of these are well known, such as Google, while many others are relatively obscure companies that most of us have never heard of,” Narayanan said. Google’s ad service DoubleClick was found on 97 percent of Roku channels. “Like other publishers, smart TV app developers can use Google’s ad services to show ads against their content, and we’ve helped design industry guidelines for this that enable a privacy-safe experience for users,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement emailed to The Verge. “Depending on the user’s preferences, the developer may share data with Google that’s similar to data used for ads in mobile apps or on the web.” Both Roku and Amazon Fire allow users to turn off targeted advertising. But doing so only stops a user’s advertising ID from being tracked — not the other uniquely identifiable information. “Better privacy controls would certainly help, but they are ultimately band-aids,” Narayanan said. “The business model of targeted advertising on TVs is incompatible with privacy, and we need to confront that reality. To maximize revenue, platforms based on ad targeting will likely turn to data mining and algorithmic personalization/persuasion to keep people glued to the screen as long as possible.”
  8. The partnership arrives as a Boeing subsidiary has been conducting test flights of a fully electric flying vehicle and will focus on developing a product for the premium market. The two companies will work on a "premium urban" air vehicle, according to a partnership announced on Thursday. Already, the companies have begun developing concept designs for a fully electric vehicle that can take off and land vertically. The goal is to create an actual prototype. Boeing and Porsche also plan on assembling a team to investigate the market potential for flying cars and how travelers would actually use them. "This collaboration builds on our efforts to develop a safe and efficient new mobility ecosystem," said Steve Nordlund, general manager of Boeing NeXt, a division of the aerospace maker that's focused on paving the way for self-driving and piloted flying vehicles. A separate Boeing subsidiary, Aurora Flight Sciences, has also been developing an actual flying car prototype, which can hover like a helicopter. In January, the electric-powered vehicle completed its first test flight. The 30-foot long craft has been designed to fly autonomously with up to a range of 50 miles. Porsche expects the "urban air mobility market" to take off after 2025, giving consumers a way to bypass rush hour traffic (assuming they can afford to pay for it). But the companies aren't alone in trying to design a flying car. Over the years, others such as Uber, Intel, and Google co-founder Larry Page have also showed off prototype designs on the promise of making air taxis a reality one day.
  9. The MIL-STD-1553 data bus standard for vehicle computers was invented before hacking was a problem. Hackers could potentially gain access to an airplane, tank, or spacecraft's main computer system through the data bus. The Cyber Anomaly Detection System monitors a data bus for anomalies and quickly reports them to pilots or maintainers. A new anti-hacker system is designed to monitor military and civilian aircraft, looking for signs hackers have tampered with a plane’s computer system. The Cyber Anomaly Detection System (CADS) is designed to monitor the information pipeline on many U.S. and NATO combat planes, including the F-15 Eagle, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and even the B-2A Spirit stealth bomber. CADS is designed to warn pilots and drone operators that their aircraft has been compromised by hackers, who could introduce false or potentially dangerous data into an airplane. MIL-STD-1553 is a military standard that spells out the mechanical, electrical, and functional characteristics of a serial data bus. A data bus is a system universal to computers—from PC or smartphone to computers on military aircraft—that moves data from one part of the computer to the other. It also acts as an entry point for new data coming from sensors, like radars and GPS antennas, to the aircraft onboard flight computer. First introduced in 1973, it is built into almost all U.S. military aircraft, several types of conventional aircraft, the M1A2 Abrams tank, and even the International Space Station.
  10. For years now, automakers have been stuffing their cars with loads of advanced technology on the promise that all these sensors and software will make for a less deadly driving experience. But new research suggests that new technology isn’t doing enough to keep pedestrians safe. The American Automobile Association (AAA) conducted a series of tests using vehicles with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection alerts on a closed course with dummy pedestrians. And what they found was highly upsetting. The vehicles struck the dummy pedestrians that were crossing the road 60 percent of the time — and this was in daylight hours at speeds of 20 mph. The researchers then swapped the adult dummies with a child-sized version, and the results got much, much worse: a collision occurred 89 percent of the time. Testing at night or at higher speeds also yielded a distressing number of collisions. When encountering an adult pedestrian at night, these supposed high-tech detection systems were “ineffective,” AAA says. None of the cars tested were able to detect an adult pedestrian at night. The researchers tested several other scenarios, including encountering a pedestrian after a right-hand turn and two adults standing alongside the road with their backs to traffic. The latter scenario resulted in a collision 80 percent of the time, while the former yielded a 100 percent collision rate. Four model year 2019 vehicles were used in AAA’s testing: Chevy Malibu, Honda Accord, Tesla Model 3, and Toyota Camry. Each vehicle was outfitted with sensors and cameras to capture information about vehicle dynamics, position data, and visual notifications from the detection systems. This new research comes at a time when pedestrian deaths are rising at a disturbing rate. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 6,227 pedestrians were killed on US roads in 2018, the highest number in nearly three decades. There are a number of contributing factors, including dangerous infrastructure, unsafe driving behaviors, and the insatiable need of the American car consumer for bigger trucks and SUVs. America’s favorite motor vehicle type is also the most deadly. The number of pedestrians killed in crashes involving SUVs has skyrocketed by 81 percent in the last decade, according to a report released in 2018 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This is mostly because of the way SUVs are designed: larger bodies and higher carriage mean pedestrians are more likely to suffer deadly blows to the torso. And higher clearance means victims are more likely to get trapped underneath a speeding SUV instead of pushed onto the hood or off to the side. Speed is also a factor because SUVs have more horsepower than a typical sedan. A recent investigation by USA Today and the Detroit Free Press found that the growing popularity of SUVs accounts for the alarming rise in pedestrian deaths. AAA sees a silver lining in these horrific results. New technology can still alert drivers in some scenarios, which lessens the likelihood of a crash. Automakers are on the right path with the development of these systems. But clearly they have a long way to go before drivers or pedestrians can count on them to perform in a consistent manner. Back in 2016, 20 automakers told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that they would make automatic emergency braking standard by 2022. In an update provided earlier this year, 10 automakers reported equipping more than half of the vehicles they produced between September 1st, 2017 and August 31st, 2018, with automatic emergency braking (AEB) system. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that AEB may help prevent 28,000 crashes and 12,000 injuries by 2025. In a statement, Toyota declined to comment on the overall message of the AAA report, but said “t should be noted” that the Camry stopped 100 percent of the time, with an average 4.60 feet clearance to the pedestrian, in one of the test scenarios. GM’s safety features are designed for “real-world crash conditions,” the automaker said in a statement, while going on to note that other studies have shown AEB is effective in reducing rear-end crash rates by 44 percent. “Active Safety technology is truly a benefit to our customers,” the spokesperson said, “however these features do not replace the primary responsibility of the driver.” Honda, for its part, acknowledged some of the limitations of its safety tech. “AAA testing of these systems at night speaks to the limitations present in all such driver-assistive systems, where technologies such as cameras, used primarily for object recognition, have diminished capacities in low-light and other conditions such as rain, snow and fog,” a spokesperson said.
  11. Less than two weeks ahead of the Pixel 4 flagship smartphone’s debut, Google is reportedly pulling the plug on a controversial “field research” program that offered subjects in US cities a $5 gift certificate in exchange for a scan of their face — after a New York Daily News report that one Google contracting agency was actively targeting homeless people in Atlanta and tricking unwitting college students into participating. Originally, the company told us, the idea was to make sure the Pixel 4’s new Face Unlock feature would recognize a diverse array of faces, which could keep it from being biased against people of color — a legitimate concern for facial recognition tech. Google claims it immediately suspended the program and opened an investigation after reading the Daily News’ story. It wouldn’t discuss details, but did say it’s true it hired contractors from Randstad for the research, the same contractor named in the Daily News’ expose, and Google reportedly called the alleged details “very disturbing.” Notably, Google is coming forward after Atlanta city attorney Nina Hickson sent a very strongly-worded email to the company about its homeless being targeted: “The possibility that members of our most vulnerable populations are being exploited to advance your company’s commercial interest is profoundly alarming for numerous reasons,” she wrote.
  12. PayPal has decided to withdraw from the Libra Association, the 28-member nonprofit organization formed in June 2019 to oversee the cryptocurrency’s creation and eventual consumer rollout. The company doesn’t cite a specific reason that it decided “to forgo further participation in the Libra Association at this time and to continue to focus on advancing our existing mission and business priorities as we strive to democratize access to financial services for underserved populations.” “We remain supportive of Libra’s aspirations and look forward to continued dialogue on ways to work together in the future,” the statement continues. “Facebook has been a longstanding and valued strategic partner to PayPal, and we will continue to partner with and support Facebook in various capacities.” However, a report published by the Financial Times yesterday said PayPal had begun distancing itself from the project amid increasing regulatory scrutiny. The company reportedly signaled its intention to skip a meeting in Washington, DC scheduled for today, and the FT reports that at least one primary concern for PayPal has been the lack of attention Facebook executives have paid to Libra’s considerable backlash. Another key concern is how the platform will combat money laundering activity. In a statement, Dante Disparte, the Libra Association’s head of policy and communications, reaffirmed the nonprofit’s commitment to “build a generational payment network. Disparte also confirms that an upcoming council meeting on October 14th in Geneva, Switzerland, where the Libra Association’s headquartered, is still on: Building a modern, low-friction, high-security payment network that can empower billions of financially underserved people is a journey, not a destination. This journey to build a generational payment network like the Libra project is not an easy path. We recognize that change is hard, and that each organization that started this journey will have to make its own assessment of risks and rewards of being committed to seeing through the change that Libra promises. We look forward to the first Libra Council meeting in 10 days and will be sharing updates following that, including details of the 1,500 entities that have indicated enthusiastic interest to participate. Later on in the evening, Facebook’s communications team sent along another statement from Disparte, in which the blockchain project’s policy chief appears to criticize PayPal for not having the “fortitude” to stick with something as difficult and demanding as Libra. “It requires a certain boldness and fortitude to take on an endeavor as ambitious as Libra — a generational opportunity to get things right and improve financial inclusion,” Disparte writes. “The journey will be long and challenging. The type of change that will reconfigure the financial system to be tilted towards people, not the institutions serving them, will be hard. Commitment to that mission is more important to us than anything else. We’re better off knowing about this lack of commitment now, rather than later.” Losing PayPal does not necessarily signal the eventual unwinding of Libra, but the company was a major financial player, alongside existing members like Mastercard and Visa, of the Libra Association. Facebook’s blockchain chief David Marcus, who oversees Libra and Facebook’s companion digital wallet app Calibra, was also a former PayPal president prior to running Facebook Messenger for the social network. Losing PayPal, in that context, is not a great sign for the health of the project. The Wall Street Journal also reported earlier this week that both Mastercard and Visa, as well as digital payment platform and processor Stripe, were also considering withdrawing from the association over similar money laundering concerns. It’s unclear if fellow Libra Association member eBay, from which PayPal was spun out in 2015, plans to continue participating.
  13. It’s been a hard week for net neutrality supporters, as the Trump Federal Communication Commission’s decision to strip neutrality rules from the internet was upheld by the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. It was a fairly narrow win for the FCC, as the court said it was required to defer to the agency’s judgment, and bound by the precedent set in a controversial 2005 case called NCTA v. Brand X (or just Brand X for short). And the court said the FCC cannot block states like California from writing their own net neutrality laws, so that’s where the fight moves next. But what really and truly stands out about the DC Circuit’s decision in this case: net neutrality at the federal level has turned into a legal quagmire with almost no relationship to the real issues regular people face in the market for internet access. The heart of the net neutrality policy debate is incredibly simple and easy for almost anyone to understand: do you think internet providers should have the power to block, throttle, or otherwise interfere with internet traffic outside of normal network management? Most people don’t think so — the polls say net neutrality is a popular idea with Americans across party lines. But because the fight has been going on for so long, and the rules have been imposed and taken away so many times under different legal theories, the actual court case and legal issues are a million miles away from the very simple policy question. Instead, the legal side of net neutrality has become an exercise in lawyers making fine-grained arguments about whether washing machines can make phone calls, whether consumers with a single broadband provider still experience the benefits of competition, and whether or not federal regulations can override state law if the federal regulations don’t actually exist. “Is it good if AT&T can throttle Fox News while streaming CNN for free” never actually comes up, even though that is the fundamental policy question. It’s deeply frustrating. But it’s also revealing, because it makes it abundantly clear that net neutrality needs to get away from lawyers and judges and be written into the actual law. And since the court ruled that individual states could pass their own net neutrality laws, it seems like that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
  14. Home robots could make all of our lives easier, and perhaps most importantly, they could allow seniors to live more independently. But training robots to operate in homes is difficult because each home is unique and filled with so many objects in different combinations and layouts. Toyota Research Institute (TRI) may have a solution: using virtual reality to change the way we train robots. The VR training system allows human teachers to see what the robot is seeing live, in 3D, from its sensors. The teacher can instruct the robot and annotate the 3D scene, for instance adding a note on how to grasp a handle. This allows human trainers to teach robots arbitrary tasks with a variety of objects, instead of specific tasks like they would perform in a more controlled setting. TRI's system allows the robots to be more flexible. They don't require a complete map of the house. Instead, they only need to understand the objects that are relevant to a behavior being performed. And thanks to fleet learning, once one robot is trained in a task, they all learn it. The system isn't perfect yet. In its video, TRI reminds viewers that it creates research prototypes, not product concepts. Still, the VR-based system could change the way robots learn and how we're able to use them in different settings.
  15. A paralyzed man regained the ability to walk with the help of a robotic exoskeleton that he controlled with his mind. Unlike other, more invasive mind-controlled robotics, this one used electrodes implanted above the brain's outer membrane, not in the brain itself. That could reduce the risk of infection and other obstacles that have limited the success of mind-controlled robotics. As part of a study with the University of Grenoble Alpes in France, the patient, who goes by Thibault, agreed to have two five-centimeter discs of his skull replaced with brain sensors, each with 64 electrodes. The researchers mapped Thibault's brain to determine which areas become active when he thinks about walking or moving his arms and used those maps to train the system. Thibault first practice by imagining walking and moving an avatar on a computer screen. He was then strapped to the 65 kg exoskeleton suit and successfully used it to walk. The system isn't perfect yet. It still requires overhead support to keep the user from falling, but because the electrodes are not implanted directly in the brain, they have a reduced risk of brain infection. Previous experiments, which placed the electrodes in the brain, stopped working when cells built up around the electrodes. Researchers don't expect that to happen with these, and Thibault's electrodes are still working after 27 months. With some fine tuning, the researchers say this system could improve patients' quality of life, and with shrinking tech like we've seen in other exosuits, it could eventually be less cumbersome.