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5 Unusual & Convenient Drive-Through Spots

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1. Emergency Room

When you're going to the emergency room, the last thing you want is to sit next to someone who's coughing and sneezing. Who knows what they're coming in for and how contagious it is? Luckily, Stanford has a plan to ease those worries. Earlier this summer, researchers experimented with a drive-through emergency room to ease congestion during the busy flu season. Patients drove in and were first registered and given paperwork, because it wouldn't be a trip to the hospital without paperwork. At the next stop, they went through the triage and had their vital signs checked. Finally, they were seen by a doctor and diagnosed, when they were either admitted to the hospital or told to drive away. The organizers hope the drive-thru ER would help cut down on wait times and quickly move along patients that didn't need extensive treatment. Too bad this happened after the opportunity to write an ER / Taxi crossover.

2. Legislative visit

Over the last month, when politicians have been meeting with their constituents, it hasn't gone well. So adding road rage to the equation wouldn't seem to do much to help. Luckily, Pennsylvania state representative Kevin Murphy hasn't reported any of those problems with his drive-through legislative window. He says the drive-up window at his Scranton office allows more people to see him and makes submitting paperwork more convenient for the elderly and disabled. When he can, he even staffs the window himself two days a week.

3. Wedding

drive-thru wedding
In Las Vegas, where you can get married on a whim, doesn't it just make sense that you should be able to do without getting out of your car? Enter the Little White Chapel's Tunnel of Love. The Chapel, which hosted such celebrities as Michael Jordan and George Hamilton, opened up a drive-through window for weddings in 1991 after the owner saw a handicapped couple having difficulty getting into the chapel. The tunnel has been tricked out with a decorated ceiling. The Little White Chapel doesn't have Vegas' only drive-up window, though. Based on pictures, couples riding anything from antique cars to scooters have gone for convenience for their ceremonies.

4. Convenience Shopping

It seems incredibly misguided to offer a drive-through liquor store, what with our whole effort against drunk driving. But the ultra-convenience stores have been springing up across the country. Some offer more than just alcohol "“ recently stores offering groceries have been abandoning the parking lots and opening the aisles up to cars. People can drive up, place an order with a staffer and have it delivered to their car at checkout. In some chains, you can even just pop the trunk and have staffers put your bags right in there for you.

5. Trees

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Like the forest, but don't want to get out of your car? Then head down to California, where people have been carving tunnels through the giant Redwoods since cars became popular. A popular site is the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree in Legget, which has been in business since 1930. But there are plenty of other drive-through trees, including the Drive-On Tree, which allows you to go up a ramp onto a fallen tree and pretend your car conquered nature.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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