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Social Robot “Pepper” Wants To Add Spice to Life

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Pepper wants to make you smile! (Image Credit: Aldebaran)

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By Kristen E. Strubberg Editor-in-Chief

Pepper, the emotion-sensing humanoid robot, went on sale in Japan on 20 June 2015. All 1,000 models available “sold out in a minute”, according to Pepper’s creators SoftBank Robotics Corp. So who is Pepper?  Pepper is a four-foot tall autonomous robot who wants to make you happy.

“Peppa-ru” (as pronounced in Japanese) interprets and responds to human emotions through advanced sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) technology. He reads a person’s emotional state using facial recognition programming that identifies facial contortions such as frowning or smiling.  Additionally, he also can sense emotion through vocal tone and has tactile sensors so he is able to learn the emotional association of touch. That’s right, he learns and he is able to share what he’s learned with other Pepper units through his cloud storage function. As such, Pepper continually adapts to better respond to human emotions. This ability is the ultimate aim of Masayoshi Son, the CEO of SoftBank and one of the original minds responsible for Pepper’s creation. He wants Pepper to be a companion robot that is able to not only recognize unhappiness but knows just how to counteract a person’s sadness, whether that means telling a joke or playing a beloved song (Aldebaran website). To increase communication potential, Pepper has a touch screen for interaction or to show what Pepper is sensing about a situation.  Per Pepper’s creator Son, “We want to have a robot that will maximize people’s joy and minimize their sadness” (PCWorld). To this end, Pepper also has, in true Japanese Kawaii style, big, friendly eyes and a small affectionate smile.

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(Video uploaded to YouTube by Conscious AI)

Additional specs for Pepper include remembering schedules and he is linked to the internet so he can research information. Pepper’s 3D camera helps him cruise about without hitting obstacles. His “no pinch” articulated limbs Lets Pepper gesticulate smoothly while telling a story and learn new emotion driven movements through interaction.

Oh, and he can find his own power cord to recharge.

Read more about Pepper at PCWorld, CNN, and Aldebaran’s site.

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softbank pepper

Full length view of Pepper, showing touch screen, articulated limbs, and four 360 degree wheel used for locomotion. (Image Credit: PCWorld)

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Kristen E. Strubberg is the Editor-in-Chief for TGNR. Kristen founded TGNR in 2013 - seeking to create a high quality platform for original, eclectic and substantive positive news journalism by attracting expert contributors in many varying subjects. Kristen also works as a clinical medical researcher in Cardiology, with an original background in Neuroscience. Her passion for science has translated to her science-fiction specialization, with her highly adept published insights into the best of sci-fi’s popular culture. Kristen has served as TGNR’s Editor-in-Chief since 2013.

Sunday Brunch

The New Quartz App: Uzabase’s Bet on the Future of News on Social Media

An inside look at the up-and-coming news and social media platform, Quartz seeks to eliminate fake news, bots, and toxic trolling – aiming to become “the worlds most influential Business Media” by 2023.

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New Quartz app by Uzabase
Image Credit: Pexels

Social media has revolutionized modern journalism. Through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Flipboard, the public curates today’s news through likes, up-votes, karma, and shares. In this way social network subscribers, not editors, determine which headlines fill a subscriber’s Facebook feed and which ones never see the light of cyber day. However, such a user-driven news cycle has spawned growing problems with fake news, bots, trolling, and toxic exchanges between commenters. As a result, many readers have soured on the established social media outlets. Enter Japanese company Uzabase who believes they can re-engage the disillusioned masses with their innovative program: The Quartz App. 

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» Uzabase is a Tokyo-based information infrastructure company, specializing in providing critical information to help inform business activity. 

» NewsPicks was first launched by Uzabase in Japan in September 2013, fashioning the platform as, “a service for supporting the daily decision-making process of business people.” NewsPicks sought to create a social media platform predicated on a growing community of professionals, providing their incisive analysis on news items from each users respective career experience. 

» Uzabase introduced NewsPicks – now The Quartz App – to the U.S. market in November 2017, as a joint venture with Dow Jones. NewsPicks U.S. touted itself as an oasis from fake news, bots and trolling through curation by human editors in real time. NewsPicks has often been described as a hybrid between Twitter and LinkedIn, specifically focused on business related news. 

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» In July 2018, Uzabase acquired Dow Jones’ interest in the NewsPicks platform. Furthermore, Uzabase announced its acquisition of the online business news site Quartz from Atlantic Media. 

» On Tuesday November 13th, Uzabase officially integrated the NewsPicks platform with Quartz, creating a single entity that consolidates the social media platform with the popular online business news brand. In doing so, Uzabase views the move as a critical component to become “the world’s most influential Business Media” by 2023.

TGNR’s Paul K. DiCostanzo spoke with Ernie Sander, Director of Platform Community at Quartz about how the platform has evolved after one-year since launching in the U.S. market, and what Quartz is aiming to achieve in the foreseeable future.

TGNR Paul K. DiCostanzo: You’re coming up on one year since NewsPicks launched. What are you noticing about the nature of the audience you’re building, who are you attracting thus far to the platform?

Quartz Ernie Sander: One thing I notice is that people are hungering for a place where they can go every day to process what’s going on in the world, and to talk about the things in the news that interest them. Not so much news headlines, but stories that they read and that they find compelling or memorable.

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A lot of people are disenchanted with their experiences on the big social platforms. They’ve quit Facebook or Twitter for one reason or another. Maybe it’s the anger or the trolling. Maybe it’s filter bubbles or the dubious news sources.

What I’ve noticed is that there’s a real desire among people to find a venue online where other users are informed about topics, rather than just winging it or reacting from straight emotion. They also want the other users to be capable of behaving in a civilized way.

I hear from a lot of people who tell me, after I’ve introduced the app to them and they’ve played around with it, that they get it. They feel like NewsPicks/Quartz fills that need for them.

It’s interesting because obviously the media industry is really crowded with platforms and apps and publishers. Yet NewsPicks/Quartz is attracting, I think, a crowd that sees a void in all those other offerings.

They might like bits of Reddit, and bits of Twitter, and bits of LinkedIn, but they’re looking for something that unifies those elements—and gets rid of the things they don’t like. That’s what I hear from a lot of people.

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There’s also a really neat unpredictability to who comes to the app. Users end up sharing their picks and comments on their other social channels. They’re starting to organically spread the word to their networks.

We’ll notice new commenters and we’ll look them up and see who they are. They come from all different worlds. They come from science and tech, from retail and entertainment, from banking and education. There’s a cool serendipity to who’s discovering the app.


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TGNR-PKD: What is a specific example of what you’ve described?

QZ: I was talking today, for example, with a couple of guys who are leading figures in the agriculture-meets-tech world. They’re at the center of the question of what food is going to look like in the future. How’s it going to get to the table? How’s it going to be grown? It’s everything from crossbreeding different kinds of strawberries to using robots to pick the crops.

That’s a conversation that is still very nascent in the app at this point. But if you get five, six, seven, eight, 10 people who are in that space professionally, that becomes an interesting discussion. We’re on our way to building that conversation.

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TGNR-PKD: NewsPicks was originally a Japanese endeavor. How has launching this in the United States differed from the original Japanese experience?

QZ: It’s a great question. I, unfortunately, wasn’t there for the launch of the Japanese app, which was three, four years ago. I can’t really speak to what that was like. I think in talking to the founder, Yusuke Umeda, one of the things that we benefit from on the US side is that experience on the Japanese side in terms of knowing what things help growth, what things can cause that growth to slow, how to get it moving again, etc.

The Japanese team has a playbook that has been really helpful here.

TGNR-PKD: The platform has a lot of times focused on business, finance of various forms, hard politics, and things of that nature. How are you looking to further engage in other subjects that are also popular on other social media news outlets, and incorporate that successfully into NewsPicks/Quartz?

QZ: People can pick and comment on anything they want in the app. There’s no requirement that they pick certain topics. That said, I think we are more focused on a business-interested audience. I’m not talking narrowly about things like earnings, the markets, or economic statistics. I’m talking about a much more expansive view of business—business as it intersects with a whole bunch of different sectors, from tech to food to fashion to entertainment to science, etc.

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We think it’s that set of topics that is most profoundly changing the world as we know it—and that’s where the conversation should be happening.

At this point, we’re not interested in building a site for people to talk about last night’s football game or debate a recent movie review. We think there are already lots of places to have those conversations. That’s not to say that somebody won’t pick a story at some point about something like that, and that it won’t generate a big conversation on the site that we might even feature. But in general, we don’t really think about how we can capture that world. I think we’re really focused on people whose interests—and more importantly whose picks and comments–somehow touch business. Again, with that fairly open-ended definition of business.

TGNR-PKD: Now, as NewsPicks/Quartz expands and your audience starts getting bigger, you’re undoubtedly going to have to deal with a variety of issues in all likelihood. Everything from bots to fake news. To this point, the site in my experience has been completely void of any of that. How do you plan to keep it that way as you attract more users?

QZ: There are a couple of things that help us in that respect. One is that our homepage, also called Editor’s Picks, is curated by humans. It’s much easier to control what happens on that page: to delete comments that are inappropriate and rid it of people who don’t abide by our Terms of Service.

Also, we see—and read—every comment that comes in. So there’s a lot of scrutiny on what happens on the app, and we care a lot about the tone, the civility. We’re pretty aggressive about doing what we have to do to adhere to that standard.

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This is different than a lot of the bigger social sites, which historically have taken the position that because they are platforms—rather than publishers–they have less responsibility for policing the content. We think that’s a cop out.


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In The Ascent: A Never Before Published Paul Mitchell Interview (Part I)


TGNR-PKD: One of the things that’s unique about NewsPicks/Quartz is there’s no trolling, and that’s overt in your advertising. As the platform grows, how are you looking to best maintain as well as enforce the standard of civility you’ve achieved thus far? How will you continue to successfully eliminate the trolls?

QZ: On many sites, users get rewarded for mean-spirited behavior, for takedowns of other users. NewsPicks/Quartz is designed to be disappointing for trolls. Our users, for example, can only comment one time per story—to encourage them to be more deliberative and thoughtful with their contributions but also to remove the back and forth between commenters that corrupts so many comment streams.

And there’s no downvoting or disliking of comments. You don’t have to like another user’s comment, but unlike other sites, we don’t offer users a handy way to bash other people’s contributions.

All of this sort of removes the feedback loop that trolls crave.

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“[w]e really want other users on the app to be able to see the people behind the comments they read. And that we want users, in general, to behave as they would if they were sitting in a room with other users of the app.”


TGNR-PKD: How often has it been necessary to chastise anyone?

QZ: If comments are offensive or hateful or even blatantly off point, we get rid of them. When people become repeat offenders of these types of comments, we then get rid of them, too. That’s not uncommon at all.

The app was created as an oasis from the anger and identity politics that are rife on the internet. It’s also supposed to be an alternative to culture of anonymity that is prevalent. We care a lot about the realness of the community.

To that end, one of the things that we do is require people to use their photos and real names when they comment. We sometimes have to reach out to people because they’re using a picture of their dog or they have a movie star’s name as their name. We tell them we appreciate their comments, but we ask them to make those changes to their profiles.

We explain to them that we really want other users on the app to be able to see the people behind the comments they read. And that we want users, in general, to behave as they would if they were sitting in a room with other users of the app. We think that’s part of creating a valuable, trusted community.

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When we reach out to these people, a lot of them have gone ahead and made the changes to their profiles. Then they have written back to us and said, “Oh, OK, I understand what you’re trying to do.”

The lesson for me is that if you set the bar high, a lot of people will appreciate that—and will live up to it.

(Article Continues Below...)

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TGNR-PKD: In your view and the view of NewsPicks/Quartz at this time, how do you want to enhance the user experience one year from today? Where would you hope to be overall?

QZ: We want to be first stop for people looking for a good place to digest the most important and interesting stories of the day. One of the things that’s been so powerful about the Japanese example is that it’s the go-to-place to consume business news for millions of people. It’s an ingrained part of their day. It’s the first stop for them in the morning, in the afternoon, whenever they come, maybe multiple times a day. That’s where we want to be, too.

To get there, we need to make sure that the quality of our curation and comments is so good that users feel like it’s a richer experience than they can get anywhere else.

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The Quartz App is Available for Download on both iOS  & Android Devices

Write to Paul K. DiCostanzo at pdicostanzo@tgnreview.com

*Publication Note: This article is not sponsored content, nor a tacit endorsement for the Quartz App. TGNR and its parent company are not affiliated with Uzabase or its subsidiaries.

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Science

New Imaging Device Can See Inside Human Bodies: The Final Frontier Of Imaging?

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the quest to see inside human bodies

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The ongoing quest to better see inside human bodies has made a major breakthrough. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have successfully built an imaging device that can effectively see through the human body. Medical science has progressed significantly with imaging technology over the last century. Devices like X-Rays and MRI’s are used clinically as a matter of course. This new technology has limitless potential clinical applications, and may help overcome the limitations and risks of current medical scanning. This new visualization technique is due to the most abundant particles in the universe: photons.

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To See Inside Human Bodies: How It Works

In a paper recently published by researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, researchers utilized a time sensitive single-proton avalanche detector or a SPAD array. The array is coupled with a fiber optic probe to visualize the position of a light source through the tissues of the human body – by capturing rogue photons known as “ballistic” and “snake” protons.  The SPAD array detects these photons and translates them into images which allow the researchers – and future clinicians –  to locate the light-emitting optic fiber from within human tissue.

Ballistic and Snake Photons

Photons are elementary particles of light with no mass that travel at the speed of light. Photons are emitted from myriad energy sources in the universe. When photons encounter an object with any mass, they scatter around the object.

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Ballistic and snake photons are being used to see inside human bodies

The origin of photons at the atomic level

Ballistic photons – unlike other types of photons – are light particles that can penetrate mass over very short distances. With its unique ability to remain intelligible when imaged, ballistic photons illustrate human tissues and objects not otherwise visible through conventional imaging. In combination with snake photons that also have less of an ability to scatter, these two particles are used to examine the internal anatomy of a patient – which has proven to be a revolution method to see inside human bodies.

The abilities of ballistic and snake photons are showing a very unique way to aid internal procedures such as an endoscopy.

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The In-And-Out of An Endoscopy

An ediscope is used to see inside human bodies

The dreaded, but necessary, endoscope.

If anyone has ever endured an endoscopy, it is a memorable and unpleasant experience. The endoscope is a camera attached to a long, flexible tube-like probe with a fiber optic light that is used to image and visualize the internal spaces of the body such,as the small intestine, lungs, and esophagus.

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The Endoscope In Action

The endoscopy procedure is an extremely useful examination that can evaluate, diagnose, or even aid surgical procedures. Yet prior to this newest imaging innovation, determining the scopes precise location in the body has been an inexact science.

With standard technology, doctors have gauged the endoscopes position by using a combination of anatomical expertise, images provided by the camera itself, and mastery of the endoscopes steering mechanism. Technology such as x-rays are also used to support the procedure.

Endoscopes are often very accurate and safe. Yet pinpointing the location of a scope in the body is an educated clinical deduction.

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(Article Continues Below…)

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Future of Medical Imaging

Though clinical imaging has advanced a great deal, technology such as CT scans, x-rays, and MRI’s present their own risks.

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X-ray imaging and CT’s both emit considerable radiation to achieve their imaging resolution. In doing so, it is forcing clinicians to determine the proper balance of a patients current medical needs against long term risks of exposure. This quandary has spurred research to find minimally invasive methods of medical imaging, that present little or no risk to patients, and are more accurate than the technological status quo. The creation of a Single Photon Detector array is but the tip of the iceberg for expanding the horizon of safer and more accurate diagnostic tools to see inside human bodies.

Sources: Ballistic and Snake photon imaging for locating optical endomicroscopy fibres

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Technology

Dominos Delivery Drones Hit New Zealand

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Amazon delivery drones work similar to Dominos delivery drones

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Whangaparaoa, New Zealand – It is the dawning age of personal and commercial aerial drones use. No longer is this technology exclusively available for covert military and intelligence gathering missions, as prospective drone use increases in the private sector. Dominos Pizza is the latest company to foray into everyday drone use. This month the pizza chain began implementing Dominos delivery drone technology for their home delivery orders in Whangaparaoa, New Zealand and will serve as a proverbial petri dish for integrating this flourishing technology.

The Operation

With a current delivery radius of roughly 1 mile, Domino’s new autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), or drones, are making an important – albeit limited – introduction into the world of commercial pizza delivery. Surprisingly, what would have been a complicated technological feat six years ago, it is now a streamlined digital operation.

When a pizza is ready for delivery, the pie is loaded into the familiar cardboard Domino’s box and inserted into a secure cache located on the belly of the drone. The drone lifts-off toward the address programmed for its delivery destination. Upon arrival, the drone lowers the pizza via a cable into the yard of the customer. Once the drone has transferred its cargo, it returns to the home restaurant.

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At present Dominos UAX delivery is only available in Whangaparaoa, New Zealand. Dominos is first looking to expand its delivery range to six miles during the next stage of development while they expand to other New Zealand Domino’s locations. However, the biggest hurdle Domino’s faces currently is not logistical but legal.

Delivery Drone Legal Obstacles

At present, the legal status of personal and commercial UAV’s differ dramatically from nation to nation. New Zealand is notably accommodating and open to novel drone applications. Other countries in which Domino’s have a franchise are still formulating policies regulating drones’ commercial application.

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In neighboring Australia, for example, commercial drone delivery is illegal. This is also holds true for the United States. Concerns regarding personal privacy and operating air space safety prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) current policy requiring drones to be flown only in a direct line of eyesight to its operator. While it does seem likely that the FAA will amend their policies on commercial UAV’s in the future, it cannot come quick enough for many companies.

Future Possibilities

Shopping website Amazon has been at the forefront of developing commercial drone use in the United States. The company plans to integrate UAV delivery in their upcoming Amazon Prime Air program which advertises delivery of purchases 5lbs or less in 30 minutes. At present, however, Amazon – like other companies – must sit and wait on further commercial drone use while current FAA regulations stand.

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For now, Domino’s looks to learn and adapt from their new system in New Zealand. Undoubtedly drone delivery is a technological phenomenon that will become far more commonplace in the near future. The Domino’s delivery case study will likely generate useful information and pave the way for its use in everyday life.

Watch The Process First Hand!

Sources: Business Insider, Dominos Pizza, CNBC, CNET

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NASA’s Robot Astronaut Valkyrie In U.K. For Trials

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Valkyrie R5 unit
Image Credit: NASA

Edinburgh, UK– The NASA humanoid robotic astronaut, “Valkyrie,” technically known as R5, is being perfected to eventually explore the surface of Mars. R5 has begun the next phase of its mobility and sensory testing at the Edinburgh Center for Robotics (ECR). To further R5’s ability to navigate and move within variable environments, ERC is working to enhance its abilities to consistently achieve natural human movement.

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Valkyrie’s arrival at ERC is a major step forward in the human exploration of Mars, and potentially the ability to remotely navigate and manipulate disaster zones on Earth. It is NASA’s goal to make Valkyrie its first fully capable “robot astronaut.” With such an ambition Valkyrie requires special trials only ERC experts can provide.

Valkyrie Going Beyond Valhalla

The robot astronaut Valkyrie, known as unit R5, holds NASA’s greater aim to emulate the units symbolic mythic namesake by helping to create its own version of Valhalla on Mars. Among the countless tasks R5 could undertake, its greatest foreseeable role is helping to establish a human colony on Mars. R5 looks to perform the required research to better understand Mars impact on human physiology.

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If humans are to create a permanent living habitat on the Red Planet, Mars must be tested for human suitability using humanoid form. R5 may also provide a great deal of assistance in building and maintaining such a colony. Though why not take another form?

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R5 and the Benefit of Human Form

The greatest importance of R5’s design is its user friendliness to those who are less familiar with the application of current robot’s, few of which are humanoid in shape or application. The unit by design is an intuitive coworker for its fellow astronauts.

With that unique characteristic, R5’s potential expands exponentially when considering the challenges of exploring space. However creating a robotic unit, one that possesses all natural human form and movement is no small task. R5 incorporates a highly complex design to achieve that end, and has a foreseeable crucible ahead.

The Challenges of Human Movement

There are many challenges that come with the creation of a fully functioning humanoid robot designed for incalculable use. According to NASA, Valkyrie contains 44 movable joints to co-ordinate its motion and balance.

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R5 also has an advanced sensor array to scan and map its surrounding environment with precision, so it may accurately navigate any area it encounters. If R5 lives up to NASA’s grand desire, its possibilities for use are endless.

A Tough Design on Trial

The R5 unit stands roughly six feet tall, and weighs a robust 300 pounds. To accomplish the incredible tasks involved in reliably performing human movement, R5 requires intricate training encountering variable environments during its tenure at ECR.

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The R5 unit will also further its ability to operate in humanoid form by undertaking advanced kinesiological testing, as well as furthering its sensory perception capabilities.

Tasks Beyond the Final Frontier

R5 is not merely a Mars rover in human form. The R5 unit can potentially perform a myriad of vital tasks on Earth. Given R5’s design for durability in alien and other inhospitable atmosphere’s, the unit can potentially be used to help aide emergency efforts.

The types of emergency uses for R5 include entering and manipulating biologically contaminated areas, or even be indispensable during a nuclear incident.

(Article Continues Below...)

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Definite Durability

The Valkyrie unit was first debuted in 2013, and designed with a high priority on its durability. There are currently 5 such units constructed, and R5 can be deconstructed with little effort, and shipped expeditiously without fear of damage.

Technology used prior and at present in the exploration of space runs the gauntlet regarding their delicacy. The R5 is designed to last, and appears to be more than just another beefy chap.

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Sources: BBC World Service, Tech Times, NASA, Edinburgh Center for Robotics

 

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3D Photos On The Frontline In Palmyra Syria

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Triumphal Arch at Palmyra

Triumph Arch at Palmyra prior to the occupation by the so-called IS. Image Credit: Institute For The Study Of The Ancient World

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London, UK– In Trafalgar Square last week, a major crowd gathered for the premier of the two-thirds scale replica of the world famous Syrian Palmyra Roman Arch. The original arch was destroyed by the so-called IS during their occupation of Palmyra in 2015. The city was only recaptured this past March following a brutal military occupation. The 2,000 year old Roman ruins located in modern Syria have been one of many casualties of the ongoing, five-year civil war that has torn the nation apart. The quest to restore the damage committed by the so-called IS has been long and difficult and has been largely spearheaded by the Oxford University based Institute of Digital Archeology (IDA). Their approach in doing so has been incredibly innovative and the results are nothing less than stunning.

(more…)

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