A low-cost robot ready to face any obstacle
Researchers have designed a robotic system that allows a small, legged robot to go almost anywhere – up and down stairs almost at its own height; traversing rocky, slippery, uneven and varied terrain; walking through the gaps; and even operate in the dark.
The research paper will be presented at the upcoming Robot Learning Conference 2022, in Auckland, New Zealand.
The researchers trained the robot with a computer simulator in which 4,000 robot clones practiced walking and climbing on difficult terrain. The simulator was so fast that it allowed the robot to gain six years of experience in a single day.
Motor skills acquired during training were stored in a neural network that was then copied to the robot in real life, an approach that required no manual engineering of its movements.
Most robotic systems use cameras to create a map of the surrounding environment and use that to plan movements before executing them, but not this one.
“This system uses vision and feedback from the body directly as input to send commands to the robot’s motors,” says co-author Ananye Agarwal, who holds a Ph.D. machine learning student at Carnegie Mellon University. “This technique allows the system to be very robust in the real world. If he slips down the stairs, he can recover. He can go into unfamiliar surroundings and adapt.
The lifespan of bees is 50% shorter today than half a century ago
Colony renewal is a normal part of beekeeping, as bee colonies age and die naturally. But American beekeepers have reported high loss rates over the past decade, which has forced them to replace more colonies to maintain operations.
Now a new study in Scientific reports found that the lifespan of individual bees kept in a controlled laboratory environment is 50% shorter than it was in the 1970s, and this could be due to their genetics.
The researchers isolated the bees just before they emerged as adults, which means anything that shortens their lifespan happens before that time.
“This introduces the idea of a genetic component. If this assumption is correct, it also indicates a possible solution. If we can isolate certain genetic factors, then we may be able to breed longer-lived bees,” says lead author Anthony Nearman, who holds a Ph.D. student in the department of entomology at the University of Maryland, USA.
Wireless headphones can work just as well as hearing aids
Hearing loss has broad health implications, but professional hearing aids are expensive and require multiple visits to otolaryngologists and audiologists for fitting; factors that lead to major barriers to their access.
Now, Taiwanese researchers have found that some commercial headphones can work just as well as hearing aids and are often much cheaper.
Apple launched a feature called “Live Listen” in 2016 that lets users use its wireless headphones, AirPods, and iPhone for sound amplification.
The team tested the four devices – AirPods 2, AirPods Pro, premium hearing aids and a basic pair of hearing aids – with 21 participants with mild to moderate hearing loss. Researchers read a short phrase, such as “electricity bills have gone up recently,” to participants, who were asked to repeat their words verbatim while wearing the devices.
The AirPods Pro also performed well against basic hearing aids in a quiet environment and were only slightly lower than the premium hearing aids. The AirPods 2, while having the lowest performance of the four, helped participants hear more clearly, compared to no hearing aids.
The study published the journal iScience could help a large proportion of people with hearing loss gain access to more affordable sound amplification devices.
Genes that increase your risk of being nearsighted the longer you are in school
Researchers have found five genetic variants that may increase a person’s risk of myopia the longer they stay in school.
People often become nearsighted as children, and the condition seems to result from a mixture of genetic factors, too little time spent outdoors, and many years of education. In a new study, researchers used genetic and health data from more than 340,000 participants (of European ancestry) to carry out a genome-wide study – identifying the genetic variants that make people more likely to become short-sighted in combination with intensive schooling.
“As well as requiring the wearing of glasses or contact lenses, nearsightedness (myopia) is one of the leading causes of uncorrectable visual impairment. Building on our previous research linking education and myopia, the new study identifies 5 genes associated with the development of myopia whose effects are amplified by additional years spent in education,”
Three of the genetic variants identified were previously unknown, while two were found in cohort studies from East Asia, where around 80% of children become myopic.
The results have been published in a new study in PLOS genetics.
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