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Jonathan How, MIT
Jonathan How, MIT

New MIT Technology to Help Drones Dodge Obstacles May Make Deliveries Easier

Jonathan How, MIT
Jonathan How, MIT

New technology developed by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) may help drones dodge collisions as they fly, making things like drone pizza delivery a whole lot more plausible on a large scale.

Whether you’re a human or a drone, moving through a city always involves a certain amount of uncertainty. Will that light turn green as you approach? Will a pedestrian bump into you? Will a pigeon fly in your face? Will there be a sudden road closure for a parade, or a newly installed crane at a construction site? And if there’s one thing that machines tend to be bad at, it’s dealing with uncertainty. For a fast-flying drone, navigating with a static map just won’t cut it in the real world.

So CSAIL researchers created NanoMap, a new system that can model uncertainty, taking into account that, as a drone flies, the conditions around it might change. The technology helps the drone plan for the fact that it probably doesn’t know precisely where it is in relation to everything else in the world. It spends less time calculating the perfect route around an obstacle, relying instead on a more general idea of where things are and how to avoid them, allowing it to process and avoid potential collisions more quickly.

It features depth sensors that constantly measure the distance between the drone and the objects around it, creating a kind of image for the machine of where it has been and where it is going. “It’s kind of like saving all of the images you’ve seen of the world as a big tape in your head,” MIT researcher Pete Florence explains in a press release. “For the drone to plan motions, it essentially goes back into time to think individually of all the different places that it was in.”

In testing, the NanoMap system allowed small drones to fly through forests and warehouses at 20 miles per hour while avoiding potential collisions with trees and other obstacles.

The project was funded in part by the Department of Defense’s DARPA, so it could be used as part of military missions, but it would also be helpful for any kind of drone-based delivery—whether it’s ferrying relief supplies to combat zones or your latest Amazon Prime package.

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You Can Finally Mute Users on Instagram
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Since launching as a photo editing and sharing app in 2010, Instagram has grown into the third most popular social media platform behind YouTube and Facebook. That means the list of people you follow likely includes friends you like as well as exes, distant family members, and former high school classmates whose constant updates you could do without. Now BuzzFeed reports that Instagram just made it a lot easier to trim your feed of unwanted content without the user’s knowledge.

To mute someone without unfollowing them altogether, tap the ellipsis to the right of their username next time you see one their posts. Next, select “Mute” from the list of options that pops up. From there you can choose to just mute their regular posts or block their posts and Instagram Stories from showing up on your end. There’s no way for the user to know you muted them (at least not yet), and you can visit their profile to unmute them any time.

Instagram had already made it possible to mute someone’s Stories by tapping and holding their profile icon, but this is the first time users have the option to hide all posts from a person as well. Prior to the update, users either had to put up with obnoxious oversharing or hit the unfollow button and risk their friend (or acquaintance, family member, etc.) noticing their follower count dropped.

Interested in curating your other online feeds? If politics is your biggest social media peeve, here are some ways to see less of it.

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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Not Sure How to Plan a Multi-City Vacation? A New App Will Do It for You
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If you want to explore the world but planning a multi-city vacation seems overwhelming, Eightydays is the app for you. The service, which we spotted via Travel + Leisure, is designed to help you decide where to go on your vacation and how to get there by auto-generating potential travel itineraries. And it can help you do it cheaply.

Eightydays uses an algorithm to generate potential travel itineraries to get you between major cities in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, finding you flights and trains that will be both budget-friendly and convenient. And it does it more or less instantly, saving you the time and hassle of sorting through travel times or staring at maps.

The algorithm excludes remote airports that are far from cities and limits choices to direct flights and trains, making sure you spend the bulk of your time exploring, not sitting in transit. It also limits departure times so that you don't have to wake up at 3 a.m. to make your flight.

You can choose to stay in up to six cities in one trip, or limit your itinerary to just a few different destinations. It provides links to buy tickets from Kiwi.com and suggestions for accommodations from sites like Airbnb and Booking.com. If you don't like the initial destination suggestions, you can hit "shuffle," and it will suggest a different itinerary.

Screenshot of Eightydays.me showing a suggested itinerary starting in Barcelona
Screenshot, Eightydays

If you aren't the most creative trip-planner, Eightydays can help you find destinations beyond the basic cities on every world traveler's bucket list. To test it out, I asked the app to find me destinations around Europe between August 1 and 8, starting in Barcelona. It suggested I hit up Narbonne, Montpellier, Marseille, Toulon, and Nice, all for a total of $200 in train tickets. On a second try, it suggested my Barcelona vacation include stops in Stuttgart, Strasbourg, Metz, Luxembourg, and Cologne instead, for a total of $242 in air and train fare. These are definitely not cities I would immediately think to visit if I were planning on my own, but they're relatively cheap and easy to get to from my preferred starting point.

There are some limitations. You have to start and end in the same city, and it won't create an itinerary for more than 20 days or more than six cities. But if you're looking to see as many places as you can on a limited budget and a limited timetable, Eightydays is a simple way to do it.

Get it for iOS here, or browse online at eightydays.me.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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