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Look, Ma: No Hands! Pilot Drones With Just Your Torso

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Drones are in, but joysticks are out.

Scientists at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a modern, intuitive way to pilot unmanned aerial vehicles—using your torso.

Perhaps a little odd to watch, the immersive—and seemingly effective—process leaves your head free to look around, “much like a bird,” according to the research institute.

“Our aim was to design a control method which would be easy to learn and therefore require less mental focus from the users so that they can focus on more important issues, like search and rescue,” Jenifer Miehlbradt, of EPFL’s Translational Neuroengineering Laboratory, said in a statement.

“Using your torso really gives you the feeling that you are actually flying,” she continued. “Joysticks, on the other hand, are of simple design but mastering their use to precisely control distant objects can be challenging.”

(Not for children of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, who grew up on television, computer, and arcade games.)

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The team placed infrared markers across the upper body of 17 willing participants, monitoring movement and muscle activity during simulated drone flights.

As patterns emerged, researchers realized only the four markers on the torso were necessary—in flight simulators and real-world obstacle courses.

Not only did the human body outperform joystick control in precision and reliability, but it required minimal training sessions, meaning anyone can jump into the hot seat if necessary.

“Data analysis allowed us to develop a very simple and intuitive approach which could also be used with other populations, machines, and operations,” Bertarelli Foundation Chair Silvestro Micera said. “The approach significantly improves the teleoperation of robots with non-human mechanical attributes.”

Moving forward, researchers are working to make their torso strategy completely wearable—something like the Fly Jacket, developed by Carine Rognon, a researcher at EPFL’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems.

The lightweight garment translates the torso strategy into control commands, without external motion detectors; it allows pilots to control a drone intuitively by leaning forward or backward, and pivoting their upper body.

“The Fly Jacket not only produces an immersive and intuitive flight control experience, but also frees the human hands for other tasks,” co-author Dario Floreano, head of the Laboratory of Intelligence Systems, said. “This could be very useful for firefighters or rescuers to quickly and precisely identify locations where help is needed.”

Results of EPFL’s study were published in this week’s issue of PNAS.

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LGBTQ+ Video Creators Sue YouTube, Google

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A group of LGBTQ+ video creators are suing YouTube and parent company Google for discrimination.

Eight plaintiffs are alleging their content was suppressed, their ability to advertise was restricted, and their subscribers were culled, according to The Washington Post.

The suit, filed this week in the Northern California District Court, also asserts that YouTube enforces it policies unevenly, giving a pass to channels with large audiences—even if their content is prejudiced.

“Our LGBTQ+ content is being demonetized, restricted, and not sent out to viewers, which has highly affected our ability to reach the community that we strongly want to help,” singing duo and lesbian couple Bria Kam and Chrissy Chambers said in a video explaining why they’re suing Google/YouTube.

“YouTube is supposed to be a safe space for us. I don’t feel safe at all,” transgender cat lover Chase Ross added.

“Things need to change. The algorithm needs to change. We need to stand together, because we’re more powerful in numbers,” he said. “And honestly, standing here, watching our videos get demonetized, it’s disheartening; it hurts. And it needs to end right now.”

The class action lawsuit maintains that YouTube’s software algorithms, as well as its human reviewers, single out and remove content featuring words like “gay,” “lesbian,” or “bisexual.”

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As a result, those video creators are losing followers and advertising revenue.

Kam and Chambers, whose BriaAndChrissy channel boasts more than 850,000 subscribers, claim that YouTube’s enforcement reduced their monthly earnings from $3,500 to about $500.

Brett Somers’ channel Watts the Safeword—”kink-friendly” sex education—lost more than $6,000 in average monthly sales as a result of restrictions, he said.

YouTube, meanwhile, denies the allegations (two years after it was caught censoring LGBTQ+ users).

“Our policies have no notion of sexual orientation or gender identity and our systems do not restrict or demonetize videos based on these factors or the inclusion of terms like ‘gay’ or ‘transgender,’” company spokesman Alex Joseph said in a statement published by FFWD.

“In addition,” he continued, “we have strong policies prohibiting hate speech, and we quickly remove content that violates our policies and terminate accounts that do so repeatedly.”

The Google-owned video streaming site—the world’s largest, with nearly 2 billion monthly views—wields enormous power over creators. It can promote or bury content as it sees fit, and there’s very little anyone can do about it.

“By controlling an estimated 95 percent of the public video communications that occur in the world, Google and YouTube wield unparalleled power and unfettered discretion to apply viewpoint-based content policies in a way that permits them to pick winners and losers,” Peter Obstler, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told WaPo.

“We are not going to stand by and let our community get dismissed, belittled, or discriminated against,” Somers said in the video, encouraging supporters to spread the word and stand up against YouTube.

Neither Google nor YouTube immediately responded to Geek’s request for comment.

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Robot Dog Astro Can Sit, Lie Down, and Save Lives

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Who’s a good boy? Astro, the four-legged seeing and hearing intelligent robodog.

Using deep learning and artificial intelligence, scientists from Florida Atlantic University’s Machine Perception and Cognitive Robotics (MPCR) Laboratory are bringing Astro to life.

A robotic tail wagger is not exactly new: Boston Dynamics has been honing its all-electric Spot lineup for years.

But Astro has a head start—literally.

FAU’s quadruped features a 3D-printed noggin (designed to resemble a Doberman pinscher) that contains a computerized brain.

He doesn’t just look like a dog, though. He learns like one, too: Astro is being trained via deep neural network to learn from experience and perform real-life tasks.

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Built-in sensors, radar imaging, cameras, and a directional microphone help ensure that, just like a flesh-and-blood pooch, he can respond to commands like “sit,” “stand,” and “lie down.”

Eventually, researchers hope Astro will be able to understand hand signals, detect different colors, comprehend various languages, coordinate with drones, distinguish human faces, and recognize other dogs.

“Astro is inspired by the human brain and he has come to life through machine learning and artificial intelligence, which is proving to be an invaluable resource in helping to solve some of the world’s most complex problems,” Ata Sarajedini, dean of FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, said in a statement.

Designed to engage and react to his surroundings in real time, the intelligent machine will be able to navigate rough terrains and respond to dangerous situations.

As an information scout, Astro can assist police, the military, and security personnel in sniffing out guns and explosives. He is also capable of rapidly searching faces in a database, smelling the air for foreign substances, and hearing distress calls well outside a human’s audible range.

As if that weren’t impressive enough, the heartwarming hound may be programmed to work as a service dog for the visually impaired or provide medical diagnostic monitoring.

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Easily Assign Tasks With Google Assistant

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With less than four weeks left until our wedding, my fiance and I are in full productivity mode.

Planning the seating chart. Issuing responsibilities. Finalizing table decor. Trying to ensure nothing slips through the cracks while also enjoying the everyday activities of Edinburgh’s many August festivals.

We could certainly use an extra set of hands—or a digital helper.

Google Assistant now features assignable reminders to help families and housemates collaborate and stay organized at home or on the go.

“This means you can now create reminders for your partner or roommate to do things like pick up the groceries, pay a recurring bill, walk the dog,” Glenn Wilson, group product manager for Google Assistant, wrote in a blog post.

Or get the programs and table-name placards printed.

To assign a reminder, simply tell your Assistant, “Hey Google, remind Greg to take out the trash at 8 p.m.”

Greg will receive one notification on his Assistant-enabled smart display, speaker, and/or phone when the reminder is created, and a second at its set time.

Your absent-minded mate can even access all of his cues with a quick, “Hey Google, what are the reminders for Greg?”

The feature is rolling out to phones, speakers, and smart displays (via Google)

The feature also works for location-based prompts with a specific address or landmark.

Say you want to nudge Claire to pick up flowers but don’t know when she’ll be shopping. Just say, “Hey Google, remind Claire to pick up flowers when she gets to the San Francisco Ferry Building.”

Using her phone’s GPS, Assistant will alert Claire when it recognizes that she’s arrived at the Ferry Building.

Users can send and receive reminders only from people in their Google family group, or those whose accounts are linked to the same smart display or speaker and are voice matched.

The recipient must also be in a sender’s Google contacts.

“In addition, you have the control to block anyone from sending you reminders at any time through the new Assignable reminders section in Assistant Settings,” Wilson explained.

The feature is rolling out in English over the coming weeks to phones, speakers, and smart displays in the US, UK, and Australia. It will also work with Google Nest Hub Max upon release later this fall.

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