Modular robots 🤖 Media multitasking 📱 Cruise return 🛳️!

Technology News

Metal Spheres Swarm Together to Create Freeform Modular Robots

A research team is presenting a new kind of modular robot that uses little robotic vehicles inside of iron spheres that can stick together. Each FreeBOT module consists of an iron sphere, inside of which is a little vehicle with two motorized wheels and a permanent magnet. The magnet keeps the vehicle stuck to the inside of the sphere, and when the wheels spin, it causes the shell to roll forward or backward. Since each robot has a ferromagnetic shell plus an internal permanent magnet, attaching one robot to another robot is relatively simple. Multiple FreeBOTs makes it possible to create blobs or chains of robots to help overcome obstacles.

JR East offers test ride for ALFA-X experimental shinkansen

The train, having a maximum speed of 400 kilometers per hour, traveled at up to 382 kph in the test. The two end cars of the ALFA-X are shaped differently so the differences in wind pressure when the train travels in both directions can be compared. An aerodynamic braking system is installed on the rooftop of the ALFA-X to improve its braking performance. In addition, a system to decelerate the train using electromagnetic resistance with the rails is employed. To give a more comfortable ride during high-speed travel, the ALFA-X is also equipped with an improved damper that reduces not only horizontal but also vertical vibrations.

Science News

Media Multitasking Disrupts Memory, Even in Young Adults

A new study suggests that “media multitasking” – or engaging with multiple forms of digital or screen-based media simultaneously, whether they are television, texting or Instagram – may impair attention in young adults, worsening their ability to later recall specific situations or experiences. Higher reported media multitasking correlated with a tendency toward attentional lapses and decreased pupil diameter, a known marker of reduced attention. Attention gaps just prior to remembering were linked with forgetting the earlier images and reduced brain-signal patterns known to be associated with episodic memory – the recall of particular events.

A fluid concept: Finding the most productive time of the day

New research shows that, on average, our brains work best in the middle of the day – if asked to perform abstract, logical or problem-solving tasks. Economists came to this conclusion after studying 500,000 exam paper results in the UK over a five-year period. The exams were scheduled at 9am, 1.30pm and 4.30pm. The advantage conferred by the 1.30 exam was strongest in January (the European winter), when the circadian clock starts later. The exam’s timing gave STEM students an average 5% advantage – not enough to turn a bad student into a good student, “but if you are borderline for a high distinction, this would make a difference”.

Business News

Cruise stocks rise after CDC lifts no-sail order, clears industry to plan return

Cruise stocks rose after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it will replace its nearly 8-month old no-sail order with a less restrictive “Conditional Sailing Order.” The new order establishes a framework that will help the industry implement safety measures that will enable it to resume operations in U.S. waters in a phased approach. The companies will face tests from the CDC on how safe their protocols are. While most industries have suffered from the pandemic, the cruise industry is among the hardest hit. Shares of Royal, Carnival and Norwegian are down at least 50% from Jan. 1.

Amazon had a blowout quarter as people flocked to online shopping

Amazon ,during the three months ending September 30 grew it’s sales 37% compared to the same period last year, to $96.1 billion, and profit increased 197% to $6.3 billion. Revenue from Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing business and largest profit driver, grew 29%. Amazon has strengthened its position during the pandemic, drawing existing Prime members to its platform more frequently and adding new subscribers. Amazon’s core Prime shoppers skew higher income, which make them less susceptible to job losses stemming from the pandemic and a new stimulus bill not being passed in Congress, analysts say.

Miscellaneous News

Yemen on brink of losing entire generation of children to hunger, UN warns

Almost 100,000 children under the age of five are at risk of dying in Yemen as the country slides back into a hunger crisis. An analysis by UN agencies says the coronavirus pandemic, economic problems and conflict have led to the highest levels of malnutrition ever recorded in parts of the country. Serious malnutrition in southern Yemen has risen 10% this year, according to the study, but rose to 15% among under-fives. Oxfam has warned that donor funding has plummeted, falling shorter of its targets than at any point since the conflict escalated in 2015.

Unconditional job guarantee to be trialled in Austria, in world first

Out-of-work people in Austria will be guaranteed paid jobs as part of a new trial policy that could transform how countries deal with unemployment. It will see all long-term unemployed people in the town of Marienthal, an estimated 150 individuals, given work in fields such as childcare, gardening or home renovations, and paid a full wage. Economists have long suggested that an unconditional job guarantee could make economic sense as a way of controlling unemployment – but the Marienthal experiment is the first time the plan has been trialled at scale.

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