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

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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]

Aquarium Points Out Anatomical Error in Apple's Squid Emoji

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iStock.com

When an inaccurate image makes it into Apple's emoji keyboard, the backlash is usually swift. But the squid emoji had been around for more than two years before the Monterey Bay Aquarium pointed out a major anatomical error on Twitter. As The Verge reports, the emoji depicts a squid with a siphon on its face—not on the back of its head, where it should be.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium dragged Apple for the misstep on Wednesday, December 5. "Not even squidding the siphon should be behind the head," the aquarium tweeted, "rn it just looks like a weirdo nose."

A squid's siphon serves some vital purposes. It pumps water over the gills, allowing it to breathe, and it blasts water away when the squid needs to propel through the sea. It's also the orifice out of which waste is expelled, making its placement right between the eyes in the emoji version especially unfortunate.

Emojis have incited outrage from marine biology experts in the past. When the Unicode Consortium released an early design of its lobster emoji earlier this year, people were quick to point out that it was missing a set of legs. Luckily the situation was rectified in time for the emoji's official release.

Apple has been known to revise designs to appease the public, but getting the squid's siphon moved to the other side of its head may be a long shot: Until the most recent backlash, the emoji had existed controversy-free since 2016.

[h/t The Verge]

The 10 Best Apps of 2018, According to Google

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iStock.com/hocus-focus

One common complaint about the YouTube app is that you need a premium membership to keep listening to audio after you've closed out of the app. Despite this inconvenience, the free version of the YouTube app is still wildly popular. After all, it’s the most downloaded iPhone app of 2018, according to CNN’s analysis of Apple data, and the company’s cable-free YouTube TV app is also this year’s “fan favorite” among Android users.

Apple’s list of the most downloaded apps of the year and Google’s picks for the best Android apps of 2018 paint a pretty clear picture of how we’ve been spending (or wasting) our time. And it’s clear that we can’t get enough of social media. After YouTube, the top downloaded free iPhone apps are Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, and Facebook.

Avatar-creating app Bitmoji, which was the most downloaded app last year, dropped to sixth place in the latest ranking. Snapchat, which owns Bitmoji, also dropped one spot from last year. The social media app reportedly lost 3 million users last summer after an unpopular redesign.

Two photo editing tools—Facetune and Kirakira+—are this year’s most popular paid apps, while Fortnite is the most popular game.

Some of Google’s picks for the best Android apps, on the other hand, are less widely known. Take, for instance, the language-learning app Drops—its top recommendation. The Duolingo competitor offers lessons in 31 languages, including two Spanish variations (Castilian and Latin-American), Cantonese, Arabic, and even native Hawaiian.

Here are a few other apps that Google recommends, many of which are also available for iOS:

1. Vimage: Add animations to photos
2. Scout FM: Listen to podcasts
3. Slowly: Send “snail mail” to pen pals around the world
4. Luci: Keep track of lucid dreams
5. Mimo: Learn to write code
6. MasterClass: Learn how to cook, act, and more
7. Just a Line: Draw with augmented reality
8. 10% Happier: Learn to meditate
9. Notion: Track your productivity
10. Sift: Shop smarter and get refunds when prices drop

[h/t CNN]

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