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July 17th, 2019 at 11:22 am

New analysis techniques unearth a trove of unusual minerals


Nataliyamalikite was discovered in Kamchatka’s Avacha Volcano, which emits sulfurous vapor that’s high in thallium.YURI SMITYUK/GETTY IMAGES

THE LANDSCAPE OF Kamchatka Peninsula steams with sulfurous vapor, its 29 active volcanoes forming a hazy backdrop for the region’s herds of reindeer and rivers of salmon. One of the most geologically active places in the world, Kamchatka juts out from the eastern coast of Russia to resemble a larger version of Florida. A process almost like alchemy occurs here: Like a set of roiling cauldrons, Kamchatka’s volcanoes mix unusual combinations of atomic elements to forge minerals that are unlike anything anywhere else in the world.

And in the past few years, researchers have discovered several new minerals on Kamchatka. “They pop up by accident,” says Joël Brugger, a geologist at Monash University in Australia, who helped discover a new mineral on the peninsula called nataliyamalikite in 2017. “You just have to keep your eyes open.” Researchers don’t set out to make these discoveries, usually. Instead, they stumble upon new minerals during their studies of broader geologic processes that might, for example, cause rare metals to collect in unusually large concentrations in a specific volcano.

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July 17th, 2019 at 11:16 am

Machine learning has been used to automatically translate long-lost languages


Some languages that have never been deciphered could be the next ones to get the machine translation treatment.

In 1886, the British archaeologist Arthur Evans came across an ancient stone bearing a curious set of inscriptions in an unknown language. The stone came from the Mediterranean island of Crete, and Evans immediately traveled there to hunt for more evidence. He quickly found numerous stones and tablets bearing similar scripts and dated them from around 1400 BCE.

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July 17th, 2019 at 11:13 am

We’re going to mistake the drones of the future for annoying flying insects



Harvard’s robotic flying bee has been in development for well over a decade now. And despite its incredibly simple design, over the past few years, its creators have improved Robobee’s capabilities, adding abilities such as the ability to hover and even steer itself down a pre-determined flight path. It’s too tiny to carry its own batteries and has been long reliant on a connected power cable. But last August, for the first time ever, Robobee made its first flight without a wire tether.

It wasn’t necessarily the most spectacular flight, however. Instead of soaring across the laboratory, buzzing past researcher’s ears, Robobee lifted off for a mere second under its own power before falling out of the sky—saved from a crash landing by an emergency kevlar safety wire. To achieve this feat, RoboBee received a couple of key hardware upgrades last year, including the addition of two extra wings, bringing the total to four, which contributed to a 38 percent boost in lifting power. It also got the smallest set of solar cells you can buy, weighing in at just 10 milligrams.

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July 16th, 2019 at 12:06 pm

Consumer groups call for a moratorium on Libra until ‘profound questions’ are answered


Some 33 consumer and public-policy groups sent a letter Tuesday to five Congressional committees and federal regulators asking for a moratorium on the Facebook Inc.-backed Libra cryptocurrency.

“We call on Congress and regulators to impose a moratorium on Facebook’s Libra and related plans until the profound questions raised by the proposal are addressed,” says the letter. “We also urge Facebook to put its implementation of its plans for the new cryptocurrency, Libra, on hold until the Congress and regulators have an opportunity to assess and react to a far more detailed presentation than has yet been made public.”

Among the signatories are the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, the Economic Policy Institute, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Public Citizen, U.S. PIRG, and the Woodstock Institute.

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July 16th, 2019 at 12:03 pm

The second coming of the robot pet



MITA YUN DIDN’T get into robotics to save the world. The lunar rovers she built as a student at Carnegie Mellon, and the software she developed as an engineer for Google—that stuff was just practice. The things Yun really wanted to make were friends.

Yun had hungered for companionship since she was a little girl in China. She’d begged her parents for a pet, but no dice. These were the days of China’s one-child policy, so no sibling either. Instead, Yun’s parents filled her room with a menagerie of stuffed animals, which she liked to imagine springing to life, their little paws dancing on her bedspread, their little bodies stuffed with possibilities.

In 2017, Yun quit her job at Google to start building the friend she’d always wanted. She started a company, called Zoetic, and recruited a few other roboticists to take her imaginary sidekick and turn it into a commercial product. Two years later, she’s ready to introduce her creation: a small, interactive robot called Kiki, which goes on pre-sale later this month.

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