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11 Odd Hybrid Fruits and Vegetables

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A UK-based horticulturist company has developed the TomTato—a plant that can produce both tomatoes and potatoes on the same stem. But the plant is not a true hybrid. There are plenty of other combination fruit-vegetables that do exist, though, and are available in stores now.

1. Pluot


Plums and apricots both come from the same genus—Prunus—which made crossing the two fruits relatively easy for Floyd Zaiger, a Nebraskan biologist noted for his work in fruit genetics. The pluot now has a number of different varieties, and in the 13 years since it was created it has become relatively popular amongst fruit eaters.

2. Plumcot

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Zaiger wasn’t the first person to create a plum-apricot hybrid, though. Luther Burbank, a fruit producer and plant nursery owner, managed to cross the two fruits more than a century ago. The problem was that, back then, plant genetics were less advanced than they are today, and Burbank’s plumcots weren’t as hardy as they needed to be to endure the cross-country shipping that fresh produce endures before it reaches our tables and plates. Zaiger owes a debt of gratitude to Luther Burbank, however, for showing him the way.

3. Rangpur

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The fruit with the closest taste and consistency to a rangpur is a lime—and in fact its binomial name (the name assigned to species) is Citrus limonia. In China the rangpur, which is named after the Bangladeshi city in which it was first found, is called a Canton lemon. Though to many western palates and eyes it may be a fringe fruit, in Costa Rica rangpurs are often more popular than lemons and limes.

4. Tangelo

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Tangelos are a cross between tangerines and grapefruits, or pomelos. Created by a USDA biologist named Walter Swingle in 1911, the tangelo is super juicy and incredibly large when put next to an ordinary tangerine.  

5. Blood lime

Home Citrus Growers

Blood oranges already exist, but other "bloody" citrus fruits do not. Eating a plain lime may be too sour for the ordinary person without also having a Synsepalum dulcificum miracle fruit to dull the bitterness. But blood limes are sweeter than ordinary ones, having incorporated the Ellendale Mandarin with a red finger lime.

6. Ugli fruit

The Ugli fruit is a trademarked name for what is—at least in part—a Jamaican tangelo. But Cabel Hall Citrus Company added another citrus fruit into the tangelo mix to make its variant. A Seville orange joins the grapefruit and tangerine hybrid, giving extra tang and flavor.

7. Tayberry

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The British summer season of blackberry and raspberry picking is a popular time, and in 1979 growers found a way to combine both fruits into the tayberry. The berry is difficult to pick industrially, however, so has never been incorporated into commercial farming crops.

8. Rabbage

The rabbage (or Brassicoraphanus) is a crossed cabbage and radish, and was developed successfully to self-propagate by a Soviet agronomist named Georgi Dmitrievich Karpechenko in the 1910s and '20s. It has fallen out of fashion, though, because the hybrid wasn't quite as well-integrated as consumers would like. 

9. Limequat


A cross between a lime and a kumquat, the limequat takes out some of the harsh acidity of the citrus fruit and replaces it with a soft, sweet skin—though some still find the tang too much to take. Just like the tangelo, the limequat was hybridized by Walter Swingle.

10. Yuzu

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Mandarins and papedas met in this grapefruit-looking matrimony localized to East Asia. Yuzu fruits are used in Japanese and Korean cooking, particularly for ponzu sauce, but are less popular in the west. 

11. Jostaberry

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Anyone tasting a jostaberry would think it a cross between a gooseberry and a blackcurrant—for good reason. Both species are part of the jostaberry cultivar, Ribes x nidigrolaria. Though many people enjoy the jostaberry's taste, in the 36 years since its development no one has been able to successfully harvest the fruits on a commercial scale.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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