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(L-R) Apple, Google, Amazon

How AI Assistants Rank When It Comes to Understanding Accents

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(L-R) Apple, Google, Amazon

An AI assistant can be a useful tool for sending emails, controlling appliances, and looking up information from wherever you’re standing. But if it can’t understand what you’re saying to begin with, it’s just a waste of desk space.

For the video below, WIRED chose three popular AI platforms—Google Home, Amazon Echo (or Alexa), and Apple's Siri—to test with a variety of non-American accents. Given the difficulty the speakers had pronouncing some of the words (like Worcestershire and Ouagadougou), each service performed better than you might expect. But the clear winner was Google Home, followed by Siri in second, and Alexa at the bottom.

In addition to comprehending people from Germany, Japan, and Scotland, a Google Home has no problem understanding the sound of its own voice. Here’s what happened when two Google Home devices got caught in an endless conversation loop earlier this year.

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LG
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technology
New Device Sanitizes Escalator Handrails While They're in Use
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LG

If you have ever hesitated to touch a well-used escalator's handrails for fear of contracting some disease from the masses, LG Innotek has an answer for you. The company just released a handrail sterilizer that uses UV light to kill nearly every germ coating the rubber belts, according to The Verge.

As the railings move with the escalator, they pass through the UV light, which kills 99.99 percent of germs, according to tech developer LG Innotek. The sterilizer is placed just before escalator users hop on, ensuring the handrails are still relatively clean when you grab on at the bottom. The device is a little bigger than a regular hand sanitizer dispenser (around the size of a piece of paper) and starts automatically when the escalator begins moving. It runs on power generated by the movement of the escalator.

UV radiation is used to kill super-germs in hospitals (and one company wants to bring it to planes), but it's relatively easy to use on your phone, your toothbrush, or anywhere else in your house. You can already get handheld UV sterilizers online, as well as aquarium-specific ones. In April 2017, LG Innotek released a faucet that purifies water by UV-sterilizing it inside the aerator. However, the fact that escalator railings are constantly on the move makes them easier to clean automatically than subway railings, door handles, and other potentially germy public surfaces we touch every day.

Bear in mind that while nobody likes getting a cold, germs aren't always bad for you. Some types can even help protect you against developing asthma, as scientists found while researching the health differences between Amish children and their counterparts on more industrialized farms. Whether you touch the handrails or not, cities have their own unique microbiomes, and those ubiquitous bacteria are pretty much guaranteed to get on you whether you like it or not. On the bright side, if you are a germophobe, UV sterilization has been touted as a possible alternative to other antibacterial treatments that cause supergerms.

[h/t The Verge]

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JAXA/NASA
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Space
The New ISS Mascot: This Incredibly Cute Camera Drone
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JAXA/NASA

There's a new resident of the International Space Station, and it's definitely the cutest one there. The JEM Internal Ball Camera, or Int-Ball, is a spherical autonomous drone designed to act as the space station's roving photographer. The Japanese space agency JAXA released the first pictures of it on the station on July 14, as Engadget reports.

Int-Ball was delivered to Japan's Kibo module on ISS as part of a payload launched on June 4. It records both video and photos while moving through the microgravity of the space station. More importantly, it can both work autonomously or be controlled from Earth. The imagery can be seen in close to real-time on the Earth, so ground control can see what's happening on the station from the astronauts' point of view, offering guidance and help should anything go wrong.

The 3D-printed ball, which measures just 6 inches in diameter, has two "eyes" surrounding its camera so the astronauts can tell exactly what it's recording. (Not to mention adding to its cuteness factor.) It's propelled by 12 fans and navigates through the station using special pink targets mounted to walls and doors as reference points.

Astronauts spend about 10 percent of their workday photographing what's happening on the ISS, according to JAXA, but the drone camera could significantly reduce that time. The goal is to eliminate the task from astronauts' job descriptions entirely. Instead of documenting their work themselves, astronauts could focus on their research while the Int-Ball does the documenting for them.

[h/t Engadget]

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