iStock
iStock

Microsoft’s Autonomous Gliders Stay in the Air by Mimicking Birds of Prey

iStock
iStock

When designing different ways for vehicles to move, engineers will often look to nature. Animals have had millions of years to evolve locomotion methods that get them where they’re going fast without burning a ton of energy. Now, researchers at Microsoft have chosen the hawk, a master of energy-efficient air travel, as the model for their new autonomous gliders.

As Co.Design reports, the tech company’s “infinite soaring machine” can move through the skies without generating its own propulsion. Instead, it seeks out warms streams of air to provide the upward push, much like a hawk does.

While riding air currents doesn't take up a lot of energy, it does require some sophisticated artificial intelligence. As a substitute for millennia of animal instinct, Microsoft “trained” its glider to fly by plugging it into a video game-like simulator that showed hawks in flight. By repeatedly subjecting the technology to these virtual experiments, researchers eventually developed algorithms capable of recreating the scenes in the real world.

Using onboard sensors, the sailplane can independently navigate the skies without a motor. The gliders are no more than a few feet long, which means they don’t serve much of a practical purpose outside of research. But the aircraft’s simple design is exactly what makes them appealing to engineers.

With less hardware to worry about, they can focus on refining AI software which can be used in different types of autonomous vehicles in the future. And by testing AI navigation in the air instead of on the road, Microsoft gives themselves a much bigger test track to work with.

You can watch the infinite soaring machine take to the skies in the video below.

[h/t Co.Design]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Scientists Have Launched an Earthquake Emoji Design Competition
iStock
iStock

There’s no denying that emojis have changed the way we communicate. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words—and sometimes a thumbs up or crying face emoji will suffice. But could an earthquake emoji help save lives?

A group of scientists thinks it certainly couldn’t hurt. As The Seattle Times reports, a self-proclaimed #emojiquake steering committee is hosting an open competition for emoji earthquake designs that could be used to swiftly spread news of an imminent earthquake to diverse populations.

“We need an emoji so we can communicate quickly with much larger groups of people,” Dr. Sara McBride, a disaster researcher who works with the U.S. Geological Survey, told The Seattle Times. “People can process pictures faster than words, and not everybody is fluent in English.”

As McBride pointed out on Twitter, there are existing emojis to represent other weather events—like tornados and cyclones—but none to depict an earthquake.

Social media has proven instrumental in alerting large populations about impending natural disasters, giving them time to seek shelter or take proper precautions. According to the BBC, Japan and Mexico both rely on earthquake alerts sent to their digital devices via early warning technology.

The winning design will be chosen by popular vote on Twitter, and the steering committee will work with Unicode Consortium—essentially the world’s emoji gatekeepers—to get the earthquake emoji approved for widespread use on phones, computers, and social media.

You don’t have to be a scientist or graphic designer to enter the contest. The committee has already received more than 40 submissions, but entries will be accepted until July 14. Designs can be emailed to emojiquake@gmail.com, but be sure to check out the guidelines and size specifications on the #emojiquake website.

[h/t The Seattle Times]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Apeel
New Plant-Based Coating Can Keep Your Avocados Fresh for Twice as Long
Apeel
Apeel

Thanks to a food technology startup called Apeel Sciences, eating fresh avocados will soon be a lot easier. The Bill Gates–backed company has developed a coating designed to keep avocados fresh for up to twice as long as traditional fruit, Bloomberg reports, and these long-lasting avocados will soon be available at 100 grocery stores across the Midwestern U.S. Thirty or so of the grocery stores involved in the limited rollout of the Apeel avocado will be Costcos, so feel free to buy in bulk.

Getting an avocado to a U.S. grocery store is more complicated than it sounds; the majority of avocados sold in the U.S. come from California or Mexico, making it tricky to get fruit to the Midwest or New England at just the right moment in an avocado’s life cycle.

Apeel’s coating is made of plant material—lipids and glycerolipids derived from peels, seeds, and pulp—that acts as an extra layer of protective peel on the fruit, keeping water in and oxygen out, and thus reducing spoilage. (Oxidation is the reason that your sliced avocados and apples brown after they’ve been exposed to the air for a while.) The tasteless coating comes in a powder that fruit producers mix with water and then dip their fruit into.

A side-by-side comparison of a coated and uncoated avocado after 30 days, with the uncoated avocado looking spoiled and the coated one looking fresh
Apeel

According to Apeel, coating a piece of produce in this way can keep it fresh for two to three times longer than normal without any sort of refrigeration or preservatives. This not only allows consumers a few more days to make use of their produce before it goes bad, reducing food waste, but can allow producers to ship their goods to farther-away markets without refrigeration.

Avocados are the first of Apeel's fruits to make it to market, but there are plans to debut other Apeel-coated produce varieties in the future. The company has tested its technology on apples, artichokes, mangoes, and several other fruits and vegetables.

[h/t Bloomberg]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios