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Researchers Have Invented a Quieter, Less Terrifying Airplane Toilet

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If you’re a frequent flyer, you know how loud airplane toilets could be. Flushing could produce a noise so terrifyingly loud, it almost seems like the whole lavatory is being sucked out through that tiny hole.

But changes might be coming: Researchers from Brigham Young University have invented a vacuum-assisted toilet that is about half as loud as the regular airplane commode.

“People have told us they don’t want their kids to be scared to use the bathroom on a flight,” said lead researcher Kent Gee, BYU professor of physics. “So, we’ve used good physics to solve the problem.”

While aviation tech has developed, the airline industry hasn’t been able to improve vacuum-assisted toilets over the last 25 years. That’s because getting airplane toilets to flush with very little water requires a partial vacuum, which at 38,000 feet, pulls air at nearly half the speed of sound. When things move at that speed, any disturbance at all to the flow — like the bend of a pipe or a valve — generates significant noise.

And with cabins now quieter than ever due to newer airplanes, toilet flushes reverberate much more throughout the cabin.

“Airline companies have always had standards for the toilet noise, but they’ve never met those and there has never been much pressure to do so,”said Scott Sommerfeldt, BYU professor of mechanical engineering. “Now with the reduced cabin sound levels, the sound of the toilet flushing is more noticeable and customers are pushing back.”

To solve the problem, the BYU team focused on three valve conditions during the flush cycle: the initial noise level peak associated with the flush valve opening, an intermediate noise level plateau associated with the valve being fully opened and the final noise level peak associated with the flush valve closing.

The researchers added additional piping to increase the distance between the toilet bowl and the flush valve and made the pipe attachment at the bowl more of a gradual bend as opposed to a sharp 90-degree angle.

Tests of the new contraption show aeroacoustically-generated noise dropped up to 16 decibels during the flush valve opening and about 5 to 10 decibels when the valve is fully opened.

“It’s a great mix between physics and engineering,” said grad student Michael Rose, lead author on the team’s paper published in Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics. “The toilet is much quieter and now kids won’t think they’re going to get sucked out.”

The researchers have filed three patents on the new toilet and are now working with an industry partner to bring it to market. The invention works with existing airplane toilets — only the elbow need be removed during a retrofit, while the valve and the bowl can remain where they are.

The vacuum-assisted tech could also be used for toilets on cruise ships and trains and even in green building projects where housing units are looking at ways to reduce water usage.

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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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