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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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The Best Food Apps for a Festive 4/20

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Let’s not beat around the kush. Recreational marijuana is legal in parts of the United States, not to mention the entire world. So we’re going to stop speaking in euphemisms. This April 20th, as is tradition, a lot of folks are going to get high. They’re going to use apps to find ways to get high. They’re going to read websites about getting high. They’re going to get high for medicinal reasons. And they’re going to explore new technology for getting high and knowing how high you are. Heck, even dogs are getting high.

But after you put dank nugs in your body, you’re going to want to stuff some food in there, too. And thanks to the munchies magic of the internet, you don’t have to go outside and risk exposing your stoned corpse to the judgmental world just to grab a burrito. Here are the best food apps for your 4/20 holiday season.

Postmates

Even if your favorite restaurant doesn’t technically offer delivery, with Postmates, you can hire somebody to go pick that food up and bring it to you. It’s an idea so great; it was probably conceived while high.

Download for iOS or Android

Seamless/GrubHub

Stoned or not, Seamless (or Grubhub for you non-New York folks) is a great service for getting great food in your area delivered to you.

Download for iOS or Android

Xbox Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut

I’m at the Pizza Hut. I’m at the Taco Bell. Well, I’m only at the Pizza Hut with this app, but you get the joke.

Download for iOS or Android

UberEats

Uber may be a gross, sexist, wholly unethical company, but they have a lot of cars on the road. And those cars can bring food to you. Decisions decisions.

Download for iOS or Android

Taco Bell

There’s no shame in embodying a stoner stereotype. Use your phone to Think Outside the Bun ™ and maybe get married while you’re at it.

Download for iOS or Android

Chick-fil-a

Not only is Chick-fil-a delicious but ordering it on 4/20 will probably anger the religious fundamentalist management that otherwise taints enjoyment for the food. Serves them right for being closed on Sunday!

Download for iOS or Android

Burger King

Burger King isn’t above offering sex toys, so if it were legal to sell joints like french fries they’d probably do it. The King himself looks pretty blazed already.

Download for iOS or Android

Chipotle

Now that Chipotle has apparently stopped poisoning people, you can stop being paranoid. After you’re done with your burrito, maybe enjoy a little Farmed and Dangerous, the Reefer Madness of factory farming.

Download for iOS or Android

McDonald’s

Can you imagine a better 4/20 companion than Mac Tonight? Of course, you can’t.

Download for iOS or Android

Haagen-Dasz

Soothe your burned throat with some cool, soft, delicious ice cream. This app can point you toward the nearest scoop.

Download for iOS or Android

Dunkin Donuts

Dunkin Donuts is no Donkin Donuts, but if you pretend real hard, it’s close enough. This app will help.

Download for iOS or Android

White Castle

Channel your inner Harold and/or Kumar with the White Castle app. Maybe you’ll be an Associate Director of White House Public Engagement one day.

Download for iOS or Android

KFC Bluetooth Tray Typer

KFC China

You may not be able to understand this app (or maybe you will once your 4/20 goes on long enough) but who doesn’t love staring at pictures of the Colonel’s fried chicken?

Download for iOS or Android

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Researchers Rediscover ‘Extinct’ Hawaiian Plant With Drone Technology

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Hibiscadelphus woodii, a plant native to Hawaii, was previously thought to be extinct. Now, researchers from the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) on Kauai, Hawaii, have rediscovered the shrub with the help of a drone.

The plant was rediscovered in a small colony of three individuals budding on a vertical cliff face in a remote area of Kauai’s Kalalau Valley, said an NTBG press release. This cliff area, which is known as a biodiversity hotspot in Hawaii, is mostly inaccessible to humans and other types of animals, such as goats. The rediscovery of Hibiscadelphus woodii, which is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as an extinct relative of the hibiscus, demonstrates how drones can help with plant conservation efforts on the Hawaiian Islands.

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In 1991, NTBG botanists discovered Hibiscadelphus woodii in Kauai’s Kalalau Valley. The new species was officially named and published four years later, and at the time, this discovery increased the number of Hibiscadelphus plants to seven species. Hibiscadelphus woodii was last seen alive in 2009, leading scientists to believe that the plant was extinct.

NTBG said Hibiscadelphus woodii grows as a small tree or shrub and produces vibrant yellow flowers that turn a purple-maroon shade as they mature. The plant’s nectar-rich flowers might be pollinated by native honeycreeper birds, like the amakihi. Efforts to breed Hibiscadelphus woodii via grafting, tip cuttings, and cross pollination have failed and Hibiscadelphus woodii also faces threats from rocks slides and other invasive plants.

With the drone, NTBG was able to explore the area where the Hibiscadelphus woodii was growing, which could be difficult to access by walking or driving. Thanks to drone technology, NTBG can further study Kauai’s Kalalau Valley without disturbing its rich biodiversity and greenery.

“Drones are unlocking a treasure trove of unexplored cliff habitat, and while this may be the first discovery of its kind, I am sure it won’t be the last,” Ben Nyberg, GIS Coordinator and drone specialist for NTBG, said in the press release.

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Watch a Fleet of SpotMini Robo Dogs Haul a Box Truck

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Do you hear that? It’s the sound of the impending robot revolution.

Actually, it’s the sound of 10 SpotMini robo dogs hauling a truck across the Boston Dynamics parking lot.

Like I said: impending uprising.

Small and nimble, the 2.75-foot-tall, four-legged machine inherited the mobility of big brother Spot—with the added ability to pick up and handle objects using a claw-like arm and perception sensors.

Considered Boston Dynamics’ “quietest robot” yet, SpotMini can carry a 30-pound payload while operating for up to 90 minutes on a single charge.

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“These Spot robots are coming off the production line now,” the Massachusetts-based engineering firm said in a video caption, promising availability “for a range of applications.”

Company co-founder Marc Raibert last year tipped potential clients in four categories: construction, delivery, security, and home assistance. (And, now, roadside service.)

There is no word yet on pricing.

Anyone else get a sort of sinking feeling watching the robo dogs wake up and snap into position like a headless army?

Something about their asynchronous marching and stiff frames remind me equally of Santa’s reindeer and mechanized assassins.

Yet, when Boston Dynamics last year released a minute-long clip of its droid dog shimmying along to “Uptown Funk,” my heart melted; SpotMini side-steps, twerks, and does the best automated Running Man YouTube has ever seen.

That’s nothing, though, compared with dynamic humanoid Atlas.

Standing nearly five feet tall and weighing 165 lbs, the robot is an athlete and gymnast: In 2017, it landed a perfect backflip—completely unaided; last year, Boston Dynamics highlighted the droid’s ability to job comfortably over uneven natural terrain, jump gracefully over a log, and leap up steps without breaking its stride.

I can’t even jump onto the 18-inch plyo box at the gym.

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