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Researchers Have Created a Stabbing Robot to Solve Crimes

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Here’s some fuel for your nightmares: Australian researchers have built a robot whose entire purpose is to stab things with knives.

As TechCrunch spotted, forensic scientists and engineers at the University of Technology Sydney recently created a “stabbing machine” to study the way knives tear through clothing and other textiles.

The idea is that the robot can simulate the same stabbing motions as a violent criminal, allowing forensics experts to study how different types of knives, angles, penetration speeds, and other factors affect fabric, as they write in Forensic Science International.

Knives rip through fabric in very specific ways depending on these factors, so when someone gets attacked with a knife, their clothes can reveal a lot about the crime. But while forensics experts can manually stand around in a lab and stab at fabrics themselves, human error is inevitable. Herein lies the beauty of the stabbing machine. It always performs the same motions perfectly, reducing the extraneous information that a person might introduce while trying to copy someone else’s stab patterns.

The machine has 60 different stab positions. It can test out several different types of knife handles, since the knives are secured to the robot with a clamp. The researchers tested the machine out with four different knife designs, analyzing how each knife tore through the fabric.

The machine was capable of making the same motions repeatedly, wielding the knives more consistently than any human could. While stabbing machines like this already exist, this one is more variable than others, allowing researchers to test more potential angles. Eventually, these researchers want to create a systematic appendix of textile responses to blades, putting together reference data on how certain knife characteristics can be seen in ripped fabrics.

However, while the machine proved very accurate in the tests, it was not very forceful. As Popular Science notes, the machine’s stabbing motions were only about as forceful as a human bite. To study crimes, it might help to have a machine that can jab someone with a knife as forcefully as an angry human could.

[h/t TechCrunch]

All images courtesy Benson et al., Forensic Science International (2017)

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History
Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.

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crime
German Police Tried to Fine Someone $1000 for Farting at Them
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Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images for IMG

In Berlin, passing gas can cost you. Quite a lot, actually, in the case of a man accused of disrespecting police officers by releasing a pair of noxious farts while being detained by the police. As CityLab reports, Berlin’s police force has recently been rocked by a scandal hinging on the two farts of one man who was asked to show his ID to police officers while partying on an evening in February 2016.

The man in question was accused of disrespecting the officers involved by aiming his flatulence at a policewoman, and was eventually slapped with a fine of 900 euros ($1066) in what local media called the "Irrer-Pups Prozess," or "Crazy Toot Trial." The errant farter was compelled to show up for court in September after refusing to pay the fine. A judge dismissed the case in less than 10 minutes.

But the smelly situation sparked a political scandal over the police resources wasted over the non-crime. It involved 18 months, 23 public officials, and 17 hours of official time—on the taxpayers’ dime. Officials estimate that those two minor toots cost taxpayers more than $100, which is chump change in terms of city budgets, but could have been used to deal with more pressing criminal issues.

[h/t CityLab]

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