Spencer Kellis
Spencer Kellis

Mind-Controlled Robotic Arm Helps Paralyzed Man Drink Beer, Make Smoothies

Spencer Kellis
Spencer Kellis

After more than a decade, Erik Sorto can finally sit back, relax, and have a cold one—by using mind control. A bullet wound severed 32-year-old Sorto’s spinal cord 12 years ago, and he has been paralyzed from the neck down ever since. Recently, scientists at the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California, and the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California fitted Sorto with a robotic arm. Sorto successfully controlled that arm with his mind, picking up a beer bottle with it and drinking from a straw at his own pace—no caregiver required. 

In 2013, a USC surgical team implanted penny-sized grids of electrodes in Sorto’s brain to record the signals from his posterior parietal cortex, a part of the brain that helps plan actions. Researchers mapped the electric signals that fired when Sorto watched a robotic arm moving and imagined he was controlling it, allowing them to create an algorithm that would be able to decipher his intentions. For two years, Sorto worked at controlling the robotic arm with his mind, spending multiple hours a day at the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. The research is described in this week’s issue of the journal Science

The process isn’t perfect. "Some days we ended up with neurons that were better at enabling him to control things, and other days we would end up with neurons that were less good,” Tyson Aflalo, one of the lead engineers on the project, told the Los Angeles Times. But Sorto can now use his mind to point the arm in different directions, use it to make art, pick up beer bottles and other items, and make smoothies. 

And what is science for if not to enable us to drink delicious beverages at will? 

[h/t: Los Angeles Times]

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The Annual Festivals That Draw the Most People in Every State
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iStock

Every state has that one big event each year that draws residents from across the region or even across the nation. Louisiana has Mardi Gras. Kentucky has the Kentucky Derby. South Dakota has Sturgis. Genfare, a company that provides fare collection technology for transit companies, recently tracked down the biggest event in each state, creating a rundown of the can't-miss events across the country.

As the graphic below explores, some states' biggest public events are national music and entertainment festivals, like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, SXSW in Texas, and Summerfest in Wisconsin—which holds the world record for largest music festival.

Others are standard public festival fare. Minnesota hosts 2 million people a year at the Minnesota State Fair (pictured above), the largest of its kind in the U.S. by attendance. Mardi Gras celebrations dominate the events calendar in Missouri, Alabama, and, of course, Louisiana. Oktoberfest and other beer festivals serve as the biggest gatherings in Ohio (home to the nation's largest Oktoberfest event), Oregon, Colorado, and Utah.

In some states, though, the largest annual gatherings are a bit more unique. Some 50,000 people each year head to Brattleboro, Vermont for the Strolling of the Heifers, a more docile spin on the Spanish Running of the Bulls. Montana's biggest event is Evel Knievel Days, an extreme sports festival in honor of the famous daredevil. And Washington's biggest event is Hoopfest, Spokane's annual three-on-three basketball tournament.

Mark your calendar. Next year could be the year you attend them all.

A graphic list with the 50 states pictured next to information about their biggest events
Genfare
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Alexa Can Now Help You Find a Wine Pairing
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iStock

Even if you enjoy wine regularly, you may not know exactly how you’re supposed to pair it with food. But you don’t have to be a sommelier to put together a good pairing at home. According to Lifehacker, you can just ask Alexa.

An Alexa skill called Wine Finder is designed to help you figure out which wine varietal would go best with whatever food you’re planning to eat. You just have to ask, “What wine goes well with … ”

Created by an app developer called Bloop Entertainment, the Amazon Echo skill features a database with 500 wine pairings. And not all of them are designed for someone working their way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The skill will also help you find the proper pairing for your more casual snacks. In one demo, the skill recommends pairing nachos with a Sauvignon blanc or Zinfandel. (Note that the latter also goes well with Frito pie.)

You can also ask it to find you the perfect wine to drink with apple pie and pizza, in addition to the meats, cheeses, and other wine-pairing staples you might expect. However, if you ask it what to pair with hot dogs, it says “water,” which is an affront to hot dog connoisseurs everywhere.

There are a few other wine-pairing skills available for Alexa, including Wine Pairings, Wine Pairings (two different skills), and Wine Expert. But according to user reviews, Wine Finder is the standout, offering more and higher-quality suggestions than some of the other sommelier apps.

It’s free to enable here, so drink up.

[h/t Lifehacker]

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