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7 Hi-Tech Tees

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We're all used to posts about the intersection between technology and design, or technology and medicine, but what about technology and fashion? Here are some t-shirts making the most of the latest and greatest tech innovations. (note: a few of these shirts are available for purchase over at ThinkGeek.com)

1. The Guitar Tee

Can't bring your guitar with you to the gym? Don't, er, fret! The electronic guitar tee is just what you need. This cool shirt sports a working guitar and mini amp with a magnetic pick. All of the buttons on the neck play different major chords, which makes it simple to handle, even if you don't play for real. And the chords are sampled from real electronic guitars! Oh, and, yeah, the mini-Marshall stack amplifier definitely goes to 11.

2. The Smart Tee

Here at mental_floss, we love all things smart. So this one is especially interesting to us: a shirt that not only features some cool technology, but could save a life. Originally designed at Georgia Tech for use in battle, the shirt is a wearable and wireless motherboard. This lightweight and unobtrusive garment can be worn under clothes and continually monitors vital signs. As it was originally designed, it allowed medics to learn about bullet wounds and vital signs of all combatants within minutes of any injury. By having this information readily available, medics were able to find and treat the neediest more quickly and efficiently. The smart shirt has been adapted for several other uses, such as for firemen and police, but also has more mainstream appeal. The shirt can be made into any size and customized to fit anyone. So, a much smaller version has been created to monitor babies who are prone to SIDS. Now that's smart!

3. The Wi-Fi Detector Tee

Tired of just getting settled and then opening your laptop to discover there is no Wi-Fi service in your cozy little corner? Now you can know immediately what signals are stitched around you (and the strengths). This revolutionary t-shirt has an animated graphic that you can peel off for washing. Best thing about it? You get the strength for 802.11b or 802.11g. You will need, however, 3 AAA batteries.

4. The Bulletproof Tee

Did you know that President Obama wore a bullet resistant suit during his inauguration? While these bullet resistant shirts are not as tough as a Kevlar vest, they can still stop a bullet from causing a life threatening injury. Lightweight and more comfortable than a vest, the t-shirts can be worn under any clothing, undetected. It's made out of carbon nanotubes, which are thought to be resilient to projectiles traveling at speeds of 200-1400 meters per second. (FYI: A typical rifle bullet flies at between 180 and 1500 meters per second.) In addition to stopping a bullet in its tracks, these shirts will cause the average person to freeze up when reaching for the wallet. For instance, a polo shirt that can stop a shot from a 9-mm revolver will run you about $7,500!

5. The Data-Logging Compression Shirt

Did you know torn ligaments from pitching injuries cost millions in salaries each year? Three students at Northwestern U did, which is part of the reason they set about inventing this cool shirt that monitors the movements of a pitcher and analyzes inconsistencies that could lead to injury. The shirt is a valuable training tool and can help coaches strategize when to replace a pitcher. Labrum tears can ruin a pitcher's career and torn ligaments lead to over $54 million dollars in lost wages every year for major league pitchers. The shirts can be produced for less than $200. Indeed, wearable technology has definitely hit the big leagues.

6. The Cardio Shirt

Working out is important for overall health, but how can you be sure you are working hard enough? The Cardio Shirt monitors your heart rate and transmits it to a special watch. You will always know exactly how fast your heart is beating without being irritated by heart monitor chest straps or those ridiculously inaccurate sensors on stationary bikes and elliptical machines. The shirt is perfect for athletes in training or the everyday jogger. Monitoring your workouts can lead to more effective use of your time and help you to detect any developing health problems by noticing changes in heart rate patterns.

7. The Personal Soundtrack Tee

Ever wish you were the star of your own TV show? Well, the Personal Soundtrack tee can make you feel like you are living in the movies. This t-shirt comes preprogrammed with 20 sound effects to help punctuate your day. However, you can also insert a SD memory card with your own top 20 hits and stream background music of your choice. But wait, there's more! Hook up the shirt to your iPod and the possibilities are endless. The shirt has a speaker integrated into the front and comes with a pocket sized remote. Oh, and, yeah, if you're a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you probably recognize the picture there from the episode where Rajesh Koothrappali wore one!

And while on the subject of tees, don't forget all the awesomely _flossy t-shirts over in our store!

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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