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.

How to Rig Your Android Phone to Play Old Floppy Disk Games

iStock
iStock

Owning a smartphone means you have thousands of games at your fingertips, but capturing the nostalgia of playing a game saved on a floppy disk isn't as simple as downloading an app. Reviving floppy disk games for the smartphone era is a bit more complicated, and YouTube vintage video game reviewer LGR shows you just how to do it step by step.

In this video, spotted by Kotaku, LGR takes an old floppy disk, the same kind you used in your computer class at school, and uses it to play a classic video game on a smartphone. This is made possible with an Android phone, a USB connector, an Android USB adaptor, and a portable floppy disk drive that's about as big as the phone itself. (The hardware doesn't work for iPhones, but if you're an Apple user there are plenty of ways to play old PC games online).

Just inserting the disk into the drive when it's connected to your phone isn't enough to start playing: You need to download a special app that mimics Microsoft's old disk operating system, like Magic Dosbox, for example. Once you have that on your phone, you can use it to open whatever game is saved to your floppy disk.

Because old PC games weren't made for touchscreens, the smartphone gameplay can be a little be a little awkward—but if you're willing to hook a floppy disk drive up to your phone, convenience likely isn't your goal. You can watch LGR's full instructions in the video below.

[h/t Kotaku]

The Blue Light Emanating From Your Smartphone Could Ruin Your Eyes

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iStock

We already know that the blue light from our devices is a major contributor to insomnia. Now, a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that our ubiquitous screens pose an even more insidious threat. As Business Insider reports, looking at blue light all day can speed up the process that causes blindness.

For the study, researchers from the University of Toledo shined blue light—the same kind that emanates from smartphones, laptops, and tablets—directly onto eye cells. They found that the light transformed retinal molecules in the eye's photoreceptors into molecules that were toxic to the cells around them. The new, mutated retinal dissolved the membranes of nearby photoreceptor cells, ultimately killing them. In other words: Blue light can cause serious damage to the eyes.

Macular degeneration is what happens when photoreceptor cells in the eyes break down, as was the case in the researchers' blue light experiment. Unlike other some cells, photoreceptor cells in the retina can't regenerate, so if enough of them die, it can lead to permanent vision impairment or even blindness.

This process happens naturally to some people as they age, but blue light adds an unnatural element to the equation. If you spend enough time with your eyes locked to a screen, the quality of your vision could degrade much faster than it would otherwise.

The easiest way to avoid this outcome is to look at your phone less, which is easier said than done. A more realistic resolution to make is to avoid scrolling through apps or opening your computer in the dark.

[h/t Business Insider]

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