This Cuddly Robot Can Help Teach Social Cues to Kids With Autism

Guy Hoffman
Guy Hoffman

When it sits still, Blossom resembles a handmade children's toy that's more basic than your average Barbie doll. But give it a moment and the soft, knitted body starts to move, bouncing and nodding in a way that doesn't make it seem any less warm and cuddly. Guy Hoffman of Cornell University designed Blossom to be a different type of robot, and he hopes his invention will eventually act as a social companion for kids with autism, Co.Design reports.

Kids who fall on the autism spectrum can have trouble picking up social cues like body language and facial expressions. Blossom could be used to demonstrate these interactions in an approachable way. Partnering with Google, Hoffman engineered his robot to watch YouTube videos and physically respond to the action on screen. By designing Blossom to detect and react to certain emotions, the idea is that it will teach the kids watching alongside it by example.

Hoffman understood that design is a crucial part of building an empathy robot. Instead of rigid metal, the skeleton is made from soft materials like rubber bands and silicon that make for imperfect, lifelike movements. The elements that are visible from the outside, like wooden ears and knitted wool, were chosen for their warmth and familiarity. Depending on how you dress it up, Blossom resembles a cat, a bunny, or an octopus.

Many of the items that make the device can be found around the household, and that's intentional. The goal is for families to one day build Blossoms of their own and pass them down generation to generation.

The project is still in its early stages, and details on when it will be introduced to kids—and how effective it will be—aren't yet clear.

For now you can experience Blossom's unconventional cuteness in the video below.

[h/t Co.Design]

Aquarium Points Out Anatomical Error in Apple's Squid Emoji

iStock.com
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

iStock.com/hocus-focus
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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