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Kickstarter

Introducing a Handbag That Can Keep You Hydrated

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Kickstarter

Carrying around enough water to keep you hydrated throughout the day can be a tricky task, especially if you don't want to travel with a bulky water bottle. A new Kickstarter campaign hopes to make getting your daily H2O easier. The Conway bag is a small purse with a hidden water pouch inside—a fashionable solution to dehydration.

"From clunky water bottles that you lose on a weekly basis to forgetting to drink water all together, 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated," the campaign explains. "The Conway makes drinking water throughout your busy day easier than ever."

The creators of the Conway aim to combat a number of problems that plague thirsty Americans. Constantly buying plastic water bottles is expensive and bad for the environment, but carrying around a cumbersome water bottle can be annoying—especially if you lose things easily. With this new bag, they hope you'll no longer have to worry about these issues.

Each bag has a hidden 17-ounce water pouch that fits snuggly inside a water resistant pocket. Designed by Platypus, the container is easily removed and refilled. It has a flat shape, giving plenty of room for all your other belongings. A long drinking tube is snaked through the strap and can be accessed through a zipper, giving you a sneaky way to quickly get a few gulps in on the go. (The page does not explicitly say you can fill this bag up with wine and sneak it into an event, but we're all thinking it.)

The bag comes in two styles: Classic Black and Weekender. The subtle look and shape of the bag is meant to be a sleek option for customers that don't want to trade fashion for function. The bag is 9 inches tall and 10 inches wide, but only 1 inch deep, meaning it falls flat on your hip but still has plenty of room for your wallet, keys, and phone. It's also made from a light cotton material, so it won't feel heavy, even with 17 ounces of water sloshing inside.

You can pre-order your own bag right here and say goodbye to shoving water bottles in your purse.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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