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New Noise-Blocking Material Could Drown Out Drones

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Though less publicized than its notorious air and water counterparts, noise pollution is a growing problem.

And while modern sound-mitigating barriers may help drown out the whir of rush-hour traffic or contain the symphony of music within a concert hall, they leave little room for airflow.

So, a pair of Boston University mechanical engineers created an acoustic metamaterial designed to silence sounds at their source, without blocking the movement of air.

By scrapping the traditional idea of a sound barrier, they instead created a new material—one with unusual and unnatural properties; in this case, the ability to exert an isolated influence on sounds.

The final product: an acoustic metamaterial.

“I’ve been working on metamaterials for more than a decade,” Xin Zhang, a professor at the College of Engineering and the Photonics Center, said in a statement. “But it was [study co-author] Reza [Ghaffarivardavagh] that gradually got me more excited about the fundamental idea of marriage between acoustics and metamaterials.”

Even the most miniscule disturbance in the air formes vibrations, which, in turn, create sound waves. It’s the same principle that explains why, in the vacuum of space, no one can hear you scream.

“Our goal is to silence those tiny vibrations,” graduate student Ghaffarivardavagh explained. “If we want the inside of a structure to be open air, then we have to keep in mind that this will be the pathway through which sound travels.”

The mathematically designed, 3D-printed acoustic metamaterial is shaped in such a way that it sends incoming sounds back to where they came from (via Cydney Scott/Boston University)

The basic premise requires metamaterial to be shaped in such a way that it sends incoming sounds back from whence they came.

In a test case, the team 3D-printed a plastic noise cancellation device, then attached it to a loudspeaker. With the press of the play button, the experimental set-up “came oh-so-quietly to life in the lab,” according to the BU press release.

“The moment we first placed and removed the silencer … was literally night and day,” study co-author Jacob Nikolajcyk said. “We had been seeing these sorts of results in our computer modeling for months—but it is one thing to see modeled sound pressure levels on a computer, and another to hear its impact yourself.”

The team found they could silence nearly all—94 percent—of the noise, making any sounds emanating from the speaker imperceptible to the human ear.

Moving forward, Zhang & Co. are eyeing their “super lightweight, open, and beautiful” structure for use in drones, fans and HVAC systems, MRI machines, and other everyday clamorous objects.

“The idea is that we can now mathematically design an object that can block the sounds of anything,” Zhang said.

“If you ask me and my colleagues, acoustic metamaterials is a relatively young direction,” she added. “It’s the future.”

The full results were published in January by the journal Physical Review.

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Best Gifts for Grads: Tech Presents for Class of 2019

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High school, college, or graduate school is done and now, it is time to start a new chapter in your life. If you are a member of the Class of 2019, you are most likely getting ready for that exciting next step, whether it is moving to a new place, traveling abroad, starting a new job, or continuing your education. Regardless, you will need some savvy gadgets to help you along the way. Here are the best (and most useful) tech gifts for the graduate in your life, whether it’s you, a family member, friend, or coworker.

Garmin Vivoactive 3

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If you like to workout, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 can help you keep track of time and give you vital health stats, including VO2 max and fitness made estimates. Unlike other wearable devices, this smartwatch is not too bulky, includes more than 15 preloaded GPS and indoor sports apps for yoga, running, and other exercise activities, and you can stay updated on smartphone notifications whenever you’re at the gym.

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Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

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Dining hall days are over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be an amazing cook on your own. This Instant Pot Pressure Cooker will step up your daily meal game: Soup, stew, rice, and oatmeal can easily be made in this kitchen-friendly (and space-saving) gadget.

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Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones

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Walking or taking public transit to work? You’re going to need a good set of wireless, noise-canceling headphones, such as the Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones. You can listen to your favorite playlists or podcasts without having to use an annoying pair of earbuds. 

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Portable Phone Charger

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Wouldn’t it be great if every place you went to had outlets? Sadly though, this isn’t in the works anytime soon. However, you can always keep your smartphone powered up with a portable phone charger, like this one from Luxtude. It works with most Android and iPhone models and easily fits in a backpack, purse, or briefcase.

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Keurig Coffee Maker

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Save money on your daily Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, or bougie coffee shop trips and invest in a Keurig Coffee Maker. All you need to do is buy the K-Cup pods, which honestly save you from using filters and ground coffee, put it into the machine, and bam, you get a cup o’ joe on the spot with minimal effort.

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Fire TV Stick

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Binge-watching sessions are essential for downtime, so why not keep all your favorite entertainment sources in one place with the Fire TV Stick? This streaming media device makes it easy to control and launch Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services right from your bed, couch, or desk. Plus, Amazon Alexa can help you search for flicks, dim the lights, and order takeout for the perfect movie night.

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Ford Wants This Headless Humanoid to Make Door-to-Door Deliveries

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As I type this, I am awaiting a delivery from the postman of a parcel I ordered online yesterday.

I am part of the problem.

According to Ford Chief Technology Officer Ken Washington, perks like one-click shopping and two-day delivery are taking a toll on our cities and neighborhoods—not to mention the postal service.

And Ford wants to help.

Together with Agility Robotics, the automaker this week introduced last-mile solution Digit.

The two-legged humanoid robot curls up in the back of an autonomous delivery van, then unfolds to talk packages directly to your door.

Designed to look and move like a human (albeit a decapitated one), Digit can lift packages weighing up to 40 lbs., move up and down stairs, and navigate uneven terrain. It even reacts to being bumped without losing its balance or falling over.

“But Digit isn’t just capable of traversing obstacles—it has a hidden advantage,” Washington wrote in a blog announcement.

The bot, he explained, can tap into the resources of its self-driving vehicle, wirelessly sharing data like detailed maps and other analytics.

“After all, both Digit and the self-driving car need to know where they are in the world, where they need to go, and how to get there,” Washington added.

Equipped with LiDAR and stereo cameras, Digit is smart enough to handle basic scenarios. But what if a strong wind has blown the trash cans into its path? Or a garden ornament is slightly askew?

No worries: Digit simply sends an image to the vehicle, which comes up with a solution and dispatches it via the cloud, where the android retrieves it and follows through.

Once a self-driving vehicle arrives at its destination, Digit can be deployed to grab a package from and carry out the final step in the delivery process (via Ford)

“Whether we are working side-by-side with robots in our numerous factories around the world or living with them as they help push packages to our door, our primary goal is to ensure they are safe, reliable, and capable of working alongside people in intelligent ways,” Washington said.

“Through our collaboration with Agility,” he continued, we are striving to determine the best way for our self-driving vehicles to cooperate with Digit and understand how this new delivery method can be taken advantage of in the future.”

Ford is no stranger to bizarre innovations.

In December, the firm unveiled a prototype noise-cancelling kennel, using the same technology found in cars and headphones to protect sensitive canine ears during loud fireworks displays.

And I’ve had my eye on the lane-keeping smart bed: a revolving mattress which, just as Ford’s Lane-Keeping Aid avoids accidents by “nudging” the steering wheel in the correct direction, gently shifts bed hogs back into position.

Last month, Ford Europe revealed a self-braking trolley inspired by its Pre-Collision Assist technology, and aimed at ushering in a new era of supermarket shopping.

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Next-Gen Google Glass Wearable Ready For Business

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Google Glass may never become the ubiquitous computer it was originally designed to be.

But by rebranding the wearable as a business tool for factory workers and doctors in 2017, parent company Alphabet breathed new life into the smart specs.

Now, the firm is launching an improved model—Glass Enterprise Edition 2—built on the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 platform, which features a more powerful central processing unit and new artificial intelligence engine.

“This enables significant power savings, enhanced performance, and support for computer vision and advanced machine learning capabilities,” according to project lead Jay Kothari.

In 2014, the team at X, Google’s moonshot factory, began rebuilding its wearable technology from zero to corporate hero.

Using GE Aviation as guinea pigs, the company introduced new functions like a heads-up display with instructional videos, animations, and images. That simple change reportedly helped reduce errors and improve efficiency by up to 12 percent.

Following General Electric’s lead, more than 50 companies adopted Glass in the workplace.

The lightweight, clip-on headset also made its way into the healthcare field: Doctors in California used Glass-plus-Augmedix to interact with patients while remotely taking notes.

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Broadening Glass’s existing first-person video streaming and collaboration features, the Enterprise Edition 2 boasts improved camera performance and quality.

Plus, it comes with a USB-C port for faster charging, as well as the promise of increased overall battery life.

The next-gen model was built on Android, making it easier to integrate the services and programming interfaces customers already use, Kothari said.

“Over the past two years at X … we’ve collaborated with our partners to provide solutions that improve workplace productivity for a growing number of customers,” he wrote in a blog post. “We’ve been inspired by the ways businesses … have been using Glass Enterprise Edition.

“We’re excited to see how our partners and customers will continue to use Glass to shape the future of work,” Kothari added.

Like many great inventions, Google Glass has hit a few bumps along the road: Key team members departed, popular apps dropped support, early editions were dubious, and a full product launch never transpired. Not to mention the arrival of Oculus Rift and other, more accessible virtual and augmented reality devices.

The headset’s sordid history seemingly came to an end in January 2015, when Google announced it would stop selling the $1,500 portable computer.

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