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This Robot Just Wants a Hug

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I love hugs. Like, really love them. I’d choose a warm embrace over a cream cheese-smeared bagel, an Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt binge, or a sale on scented candles.

So you can bet I’m excited about the prospect of a humanoid robot programmed to hug people.

HuggieBot—a modified Willow Garage PR2 robot—is the first step toward an IRL Baymax: As tall as an average human, it is made with layers of foam, polyester, and other materials for extra-soft comfort.

(And, as an added bonus, it won’t deflate when the battery runs low.)

“We’re interested in enabling robots to hug because of how common hugs are in daily life and because of their numerous health benefits,” according to lead researcher Alexis Block, a Ph.D. student in the Haptic Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems.

Studies suggest that hugs—whether between family, friends, or significant others—can ease stress, lower blood pressure, and make us feel supported, all of which helps stave off infection.

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Earlier this year, Block presented her own findings, based on a study in which HuggieBot gave 30 participants 12 different mechanical hugs.

The experiment, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, featured the cyborg raising its arms expectantly and asking, “Can I have a hug, please?”

Some folks were wary of embracing the 450-pound computer, while others seemed excited for the novel opportunity.

No one was crushed to death or ran away screaming, NBC News MACH reported; some participants told researchers that HuggieBot was “nicer to hug” than they anticipated.

Researchers are working on a second-generation machine—one that measures how much emotional support its hugs provide. Their ultimate goal, according to MACH, is to “demonstrate that robots are able to comfort people” young and old.

Block has no intention, though, of replacing human embraces (because who would want to?). She simply wants to supplement them.

“We’re advocating for this technology to be used as a complement to other people,” she said, “in situations where it is difficult or uncomfortable to get the support a person needs or wants from another human”—like a college campus or senior living facility.

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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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