Dutch Startup Using Crows To Clean Cigarette Litter

It’s more than likely that we call groups of ravens an unkindness due to their unforgiving intelligence. A Swedish experiment training birds to earn food rewards had one raven hacking the project entirely. The thoughtful budgie even took the time to teach other birds the secret. Now, startup Crowded Cities is testing the brainpower of crows, using them to pick up litter.

The idea is to train the crows to drop cigarette butts in a ‘Crowbar,’ which scans the item to confirm it’s a cigarette butt, and then gives the crow a food reward to reinforce the behavior.

Considering the amount of cigarette butts that end up on sidewalks annually (about 4.5 trillion), these crows could make a difference. The butts are not only non-biodegradable, but toxic to marine life. For ultimate efficiency, the Crowbar uses a simple give-and-take mechanism.

[Everything] is done with the intention that the crow will fly away and inform others of this system, so that more crows participate in cigarette butt collecting.

Research has found that crows are as cognitive as apes, so the success of the Crowbar should be anticipated.

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AI Can Distinguish Abusive Language Online

So far, we’ve used artificial intelligence much to our advantage in whatever way possible. We’ve built devices as trivial as visual emotion masks, but overall, people feel mostly optimistic. But now that we know AI can serve purposes of various degrees of impact, developers from McGill University are developing an AI that can recognize hate speech on social media.

Instead of focusing on isolated words and phrases, they taught machine learning software to spot hate speech by learning how members of hateful communities speak… They focused on three groups who are often the target of abuse: African Americans, overweight people and women.

Previous softwares detecting abusive language have proven unsuccessful due to the misleading nature of online slang. That and the fact that machines aren’t well-versed in sarcasm. The system, however, was able to identify racist slurs and avoided false positives. And I believe this first step in compiling data about sites that condone and even encourage abusive language can lead to finding solutions in the future. Perhaps hopefully, not just online. After all, our material reality reflects our online visual reality, and vice versa.

“Comparing hateful and non-hateful communities to find the language that distinguishes them is a clever solution… [But] ultimately, hate speech is a subjective phenomenon that requires human judgment to identify,”

While it won’t eliminate every online bully, it’s a commendable attempt at making the Internet a safer environment.

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Wildflower Strips Act As Natural Pesticides

The detrimental effects of pesticides have many scrambling for alternatives. Be it through pest-sniffing dogs or banning the substance altogether, there has yet to be an affordable and simple solution. With an abundance of arable land in its countrysides, England is taking a different approach. Farms are experimenting with wildflowers, hoping to naturally boost pest predators and alleviate the need for chemical pesticides.

Using wildflower margins to support insects including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles has been shown to slash pest numbers in crops and even increase yields.

Harvesters will use GPS technology to monitor their crops throughout full cycles. Where nature may falter, machines step in — primarily to avoid predator outbreaks. We all know plagues are better off immortalized in history books.

“There is undoubtedly scope to reduce pesticide use – that is a given,” said Bill Parker, director of research at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. “There will be probably quite a lot of years when pests are not a problem and pesticide use could be vastly reduced.”

Despite the experiment’s promising nature, the change demands copious amounts of time and effort. Still, many advocating for a much needed cultural shift in agricultural industries are likely to see it through.

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Computer Allows Locked-In Patients To Communicate

Victims of damaging accidents or conditions don’t always recover completely, but technology can improve their lifestyles. Medical algorithms can help patients with neurological disorders to walk again. The (not-so) humble iPhone can even act as a hearing aid. But for locked-in patients who have lost all muscle control, there aren’t many options for recuperation. Nonetheless, a nano-science professor at Georgia State University has created a new computer interface, allowing patients to communicate with their eyes.

Zhong Lin Wang and his colleagues describe a device, mounted to a pair of eyeglasses, that lies gently against the skin beside the eye and can feel the pressure, in the form of an electrical signal, as the skin presses against it during a blink.

As with any eye-based technology, Wang and his team are still working on the machine differentiating reflexive and intentional blinks. But so far, outcomes look great. Not only is the computer non-invasive, it’s, “stable, small, light, flexible, and low-cost” among other words in the thesaurus.

When placed on the temple of the glasses, the sensor sits gently against the wrinkle beside the user’s eye. That skin flexes slightly outward during a blink, bending the nanogenerator and sending an electrical signal.

The device continues to undergo testing, but things are certainly looking up for locked-in patients.

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Dragonfly Bridge Can Fold Up And Sail Rivers

With concepts such as floating islands becoming a reality, it seems the stuff of sci-fi are more than just fiction. For pedestrians in Inner Mongolia, this solar-powered dragonfly bridge that can sail rivers could soon be a thing.

The futuristic concept is the vision of London-based architect Margot Krasojevic, who is known for her experimental and cutting edge designs.

Her latest ambitious creation would have the ability to fold up for transport, as well as to adapt itself to its surroundings.

This would allow the bridge to move up and down the river, which would be achieved either by towing the massive structure or by onboard sails which would allow it to propel itself.

The bridge complements the city’s ever-changing “urban fabric” and dense population. For this very reason, Krasojevic believes it is important that the bridge is moving as opposed to stationary.

“Why can’t it have another use when it is not a bridge?”

“Cities demand adaptable design rather than a static and debilitating architectural presence.”

The bridge’s projected functions are far too complex for me to enumerate in a nutshell. However, I do find it worth mentioning that the machine will be solar-powered.

While Mongolia is a ways away from seeing the dragonfly bridge come to fruition, it’s concepts like these that never fail to impress.

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Swimming Robot Can Detect Water Pollution

There is no denying the value of robots. They have not only helped us perform difficult tasks like surgery — they have also assisted in data gathering and analysis. This swimming robot developed in Switzerland can detect water pollution and wirelessly send out information in real time.

The robotic eel is outfitted with sensors that make it able to test the water for changes in conductivity and temperature as well as signs of toxins. The robot is made of several modules, each containing a small electric motor and different sensors. The modular design allows researchers to add or take from its length and change the robot’s make up as needed for each task.

Not only are these robotic “eels” more efficient than manual measurement stations — they don’t disturb a lake’s inhabitants. They are also advanced enough to calculate biological changes. Bacteria in these sensors easily recognize toxins.

For instance, the bacteria will luminesce when exposed to even very low concentrations of mercury. Luminometers measure the light given off by the bacteria and that information is transmitted to a central hub for analysis.

As taken from its namesake, the robot can slither towards the polluting source in any body of water. While they are human creations, it seems about time to give robots some credit!

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Renewable Energy Sources Can Produce Food

Dwindling resources have constantly challenged us to find new ways to incorporate unusual materials into producing everyday needs. We’ve masterminded lamps powered solely by bleach and cosmetics made from animal waste. Now, our Finnish friends have found a way to produce food using renewable energy sources like solar power.

Scientists just produced a single-cell protein from electricity and carbon dioxide, and it can be further developed for use as food or animal feed. The final product is a nutritious mix of more than 50 percent protein and 25 percent carbohydrates with the rest consisting of fats and nucleic acids.

While we’re not sure how tasty the oatmeal-like product is, it’s definitely packing a healthy punch. It’s not yet commercially available, but researchers hope to configure machines to produce meals quicker and more efficiently.

“In practice, all the raw materials are available from the air. In the future, the technology can be transported to… deserts and other areas facing famine. One possible alternative is a home reactor, a type of domestic appliance that the consumer can use to produce the needed protein,”

The Lappeenranta University of Technology, where the protein is being produced, is working on developing the machine into a mass product. The device will also decrease greenhouse gas emissions and provide cheap production alternatives.

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New Machines Turn Sign Language Into Text

Technology continues to shape the way we perceive and interact with one another, often improving our daily lives. We have created machines to help us hear, see, and move. Now, KinTrans, a Texas-based start-up has created a device to allow the deaf to communicate better with those who do and do not understand sign language.

KinTrans uses a 3D camera to track the movement of a person’s hands and body as they sign words. A sign language user can approach a bank teller and sign to the KinTrans camera that they’d like assistance, for example. The device then translates these signs into written English or Arabic for the teller to read.

The translation also works inversely–typewritten replies can be translated into signs.

Around 70 million people sign as a first language and there are more than 100 different dialects used around the world.

“It’s great to see innovative technology being developed that could really transform the lives of sign language users,” says Jesal Vishnuram at Action on Hearing Loss.

The technology is still in its early stages, but developers promise that with further research, machines will soon be readily available to the public.

 

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