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Inflatable Seat Belts

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Old curmudgeons like me like to talk about how much freedom children had when we were young. We had less supervision, more responsibilities, and the freedom to come and go that our children and grandchildren can scarcely imagine. But there is one area we check ourselves. When someone says, "When I was a kid, we didn't even have seat belts, or laws that said you had to use them, or airbags." The next line should be "...and we turned out fine," but we stop because we all know at least one kid who didn't turn out fine, who isn't here to relive those memories. Many childhood dangers are overblown, but traffic accidents are still the most common cause of death for youngsters.
And now Ford has what they believe is a better idea. Inflatable seat belts for back seat passengers have been in testing for eight years, and will be an option on the 2011 Ford Explorer. The device is a combination of seat belts and airbags, like the inflatable seat belts used on some airplanes. The belts do not inflate unless the front or side airbags are deployed. The advantages of such a system are that it eliminates the danger to children that front-seat style airbags pose, because the bags are already fitted around the child's chest area. They also cover a larger area, whether deployed or not, which will spread the force of an impact and cause less injury from the belt itself than conventional seat belts. And the inflatable belts are more comfortable than conventional belts, which may lead more back seat passengers to buckle up.

Ford says that the system will be available on other models soon after its debut in their new model Explorer. Sure, you can expect the seat belts to add to the vehicle's price, but safety features are worth it even if they are never used, especially compared to other options on which we spend hundreds of dollars.

Update: Wes Sherwood of Ford Motor Company appeared in the comments to address some concerns.

The rear inflatable belts deploy sideaways and away from the occupant with cold gas technology. Since the belt already is on the occupant, the inflatable belt will deploy slower than traditional air bags that use different gases to deploy the air bags quick enough to make up the distance from the occupant.

We recommend customers use the LATCH anchors -- standard in all of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury North American vehicles -- to restrain child seats as recommended by the U.S. government. We also tested the new rear inflatable seat belts in many ways, including with a variety of front- and rear-facing child seats and booster seats, and did not find any cause for concern. We even tested a crash dummy that simulated a child sleeping with their head on the seat belt as the inflatable belt deploys and found no issues.

The inflatable belts will not deploy if they're not buckled. However, there is no on/off switch because we have not seen in our testing a situation that would require such a feature.

Ford currently offers seat sensing technology in the front passenger seat, not rear seats.

Thank you again for the opportunity to join the discussion.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


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]