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Scientists Hope Artificial Skin Can Help Burn Victims ‘Feel’

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Artificial skin that could allow for superhuman perception is in development in the US and Canada.

Unless you’re touching a hot stove or holding a cold snowball, it’s easy to take for granted our skin’s ability to perceive pressure, temperature, and vibration.

But burn victims, folks with prosthetic limbs, or anyone who’s lost skin sensitivity are keenly aware of the body’s critical safety function—and their lack of it.

Researchers at the universities of Connecticut and Toronto teamed up to design technology to mimic the sensing properties of skin, and perhaps so much more.

“It would be very cool if it had abilities human skin does not,” UConn chemist Islam Mosa said in a statement. “For example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves, and abnormal behaviors.”

So, the team built a sensor consisting of a silicone tube wrapped in copper wire, filled with special fluid made from tiny particles of iron oxide just one-billionth of a meter long.

These nanoparticles move around inside the tube to create an electric current, which gets picked up as a signal by the copper wire. That signal changes each time the tube experiences a different sensation.

Simply moving while carrying the sensor can alter the current; researchers found they could distinguish between electrical signals caused by walking, running, jumping, and swimming.

Unfortunately, slipping into this metal skin won’t turn you into a budding member of the X-Men. Its intention is more virtuous than forging superheroes: Scientists hope it could help burn victims “feel” again, or act as an early warning for workers exposed to dangerously high magnetic fields.

And, because its rubber exterior is completely sealed and waterproof, it may even have a future as a wearable monitor, alerting parents if their child falls into deep water, for example.

“The inspiration was to make something durable that would last for a very long time, and could detect multiple hazards,” Mosa explained.

Though it’s not yet been tested for a response to hot and cold, the team is confident their sensor will also feel temperatures.

Moving forward, Mosa & Co. must attempt to flatten their device into something more akin to skin, without losing any of its dexterity.

Read more about the sensor in a paper published this week by the journal Advanced Materials.

Wearable e-skins of all shapes and sizes are being refined in labs around the world, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which last year unveiled an electronic skin sensitive enough to detect moving air, water droplets, and crawling ants.

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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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New Uber Initiative Boosts Rider Safety on College Campuses

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Uber is cracking down on fake rideshare drivers after a college student was murdered last month waiting for a pick up.

The transportation network, in partnership with the University of South Carolina, has launched the Campus Safety Initiative: a national effort to help students learn how to avoid fraudulent chauffeurs.

In March, 21-year-old USC student Samantha Josephson went missing after getting into a car outside a Columbia bar. Her body was later found on a secluded dirt road in nearby Clarendon County.

The Columbia Police Department announced that 24-year-old Nathaniel Rowland has been charged with murder and kidnapping, after matching large amounts of blood in the suspect’s car to the missing New Jersey woman, CBS reported.

It’s believed Rowland posed as an Uber driver to lure his victim into the car.

“We were heartbroken by the recent crime committed by a fake rideshare driver in South Carolina,” Andrew Macdonald, Uber VP of operations, wrote in a blog post. “While no words can alleviate the loss felt by the Josephson family, we are committed to continuing to take action to make our communities safer.”

Existing public awareness campaign Check Your Ride, introduced two years ago, encourages users to double check that the vehicle and driver match details in the app before entering a car.

But if you’re in a hurry or maybe a bit tipsy, safety precautions can often be thrown to the wind.

New in-app safety features—like push notifications and banners—are rolling out now to remind folks how to confirm the right car before it arrives.

“In addition to these steps, you can also ask the driver to confirm your name,” Macdonald suggested, echoing the #WhatsMyName mission by the Josephson family to educate the world on rideshare precautions.

Inspired by the University of South Carolina and its students, Uber is working with the Columbia Police Department to create dedicated pickup zones—well-lit areas with law enforcement on hand to help riders and drivers connect safely.

“Our goal is to make checking your ride before you get in the car synonymous with using Uber,” Macdonald said. “There is nothing more important than the safety of the people we serve and we’re constantly working to improve.”

Rival Lyft also announced enhancements to the safety and security of its platform, including continuous background checks and enhanced identity verification.

Neither of which will save an unsuspecting rider from getting into the wrong car. But every little bit helps, right?

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Samsung Galaxy Fold Keeps Breaking and It’s Hilarious

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Does anyone really want a smartphone that folds? Like, really? Shoving two phones together with a seemingly nifty hinge always just felt like a grift to just sell one phone for double the price. Give me a nice small screen and a headphone jack and I’m good.

But even if you’ve bought into the tech hype that foldable phones are the way of the future, you may want to hold back on spending $2,000 on the most high-profile example of this trend the Samsung Galaxy Fold. Tech journalists this week got their review units for the upcoming device and right now it’s looking pretty fragile.

Take a look.

Samsung can show as much footage of robots bending the phone hinge as they want, but something isn’t right if the bridge is breaking just after days of use by careful professionals. If two of your effectively three screens fizzle out so quickly, just buy a normal phone with one solid screen for way cheaper.

Even more concerning is that there are apparently multiple causes of this problem. The most common issue is reviewers accidentally a protective film that appears to be an optional screen protector but is actually extremely vital. So be careful about that if you still want to pick this up. But at The Verge their screen broke after a piece of debris somehow wedged itself in the hinge and basically cut the unfolded screen down the middle. So the solution is to basically treat the Samsung Galaxy Fold like a sick child, not a premium piece of tech.

As a consumer you always face risks being an early adopter of bleeding-edge technology. It takes time for manufacturers to work out little kinks in big innovations. Remember the last Samsung phone disaster when batteries kept blowing up? And I should say we also have a Samsung Galaxy Fold here at the PCMag office that seems okay… right now. Still, unless you absolutely positively need a folding phone as soon as possible, here are some other Android phones you may want to invest in instead of the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

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