How a hyperrealistic robo-dolphin is paving the way for animatronic aquariums

Imagine, if you will, that David Attenborough or Jacques Cousteau was put in charge of a technologically advanced theme park like the one on the TV series Westworld, offering visitors a plethora of robots to interact with that are so compellingly lifelike as to be indistinguishable from the real thing.

Now imagine that, instead of an old American West setting like Westworld, this high-tech theme park was a robotic version of SeaWorld, filled with dozens of intelligent (or, at least, artificially intelligent) marine mammals, from dolphins to orcas, that look and act just like their ocean-dwelling counterparts. But, you know, without the need to take these animals out of their natural habitats and put them into cramped tanks for our amusement.

That could be the future of marine parks — and it’s one that San Francisco-based engineering company Edge Innovations wants to help make science reality instead of science fiction.

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These hungry superworms happily munch through plastic

 

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A superworm can eat about eight times more than other plastic-ingesting insects.

Recycling seems like a simple cure for our plastic addiction: just take the plastic we have and make it into new items. But problems abound. Current technology mostly creates plastic of a lower quality than it was before, many types of plastic aren’t recyclable at all, and much of the plastic is floating in the ocean, not even in the recycling stream. So it’s vital that we find new ways to break down plastic, and scientists have just discovered one: a superworm that can eat about eight times more than other plastic-ingesting insects like mealworms.

Superworms are actually beetle larvae, and commonly sold at pet stores as food for reptiles and fish. In a paper recently published by the American Chemical Society, researchers Jiaojie Li, Dae-Hwan Kim, and their team detail how they placed 50 superworms in a chamber with two grams of polystyrene. After 21 days, the superworms had consumed about 70% of the polystyrene.

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The Beetl robot is designed to pick up dog poop

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While I prefer to walk my dogs, there have been times when the weather has been bad, or I’m just too tired at the end of the day, and they end up pooping in the yard. If you let your dog do its business on your lawn, then this new invention could be a godsend.

The Beetl is a fully-autonomous robot that drives around your yard, looking for piles of poop. It then scoops them up into a container for easy and clean disposal. The robot uses computer vision to detect piles of dog doo, as well as to avoid obstacles. It can also be programmed to work strictly within the boundaries of your lawn.

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Bug smuggling is big business

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Demand for exotic pets and collectors’ items drives a flourishing illegal trade in beetles, spiders, and more.

SPECIAL AGENT RYAN Bessey was in his office at the New Jersey branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in Galloway, on September 23, 2015, when he took a call from a colleague in the intelligence unit. The analyst told him that French customs officers had seized 115 emperor scorpions in two shipments from Cameroon. They were addressed to a man in Metuchen, New Jersey, named Wlodzimie Lapkiewicz.

If French authorities considered the bust important enough to tell the U.S. about it, Lapkiewicz was worth looking into, Bessey thought. He began to do some digging.

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Using CRISPR to resurrect the dead

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Gene-editing breakthroughs could allow us to bring extinct species, like the woolly mammoth, back from the dead. But should we?

It really is worse than you think.

We’ve gorged ourselves on fossil fuels, vacuumed up the Earth’s forests and spewed toxic gases into the atmosphere for years on end. The planet is getting warmer, we’re poisoning insect populations with reckless abandon and pulling fish out of the ocean at an alarming rate. The most recent prognosis for a biodiverse Earth is incredibly grim, with 1 million species threatened with extinction in the coming decades.

The havoc we’ve generated has kickstarted Earth’s sixth great extinction event, the first by human hands. This rapid decrease in biodiversity due to human activity is unprecedented.

But we may be able to reverse it.

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Millennials are disrupting Thanksgiving with their tiny turkeys

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Millennials kill again. The latest victim? Big Thanksgiving turkeys.

Tiny turkeys are gaining popularity.

Small birds are having a big moment. Tiny turkeys will increasingly grace Thanksgiving tables next week, thanks to the millennial generation’s ongoing campaign to remake American gastronomy. The holiday depicted by Norman Rockwell-Grandma showing off a cooked bird so plump it weighs down a banquet plate-is still common. But smaller families, growing guilt over wasteful leftovers and a preference for free-range fowl have all played roles in the emergence of petite poultry as a holiday dinner centerpiece.

“People are starting to understand it’s not natural to grow turkeys up to 30 pounds,” said Ariane Daguin, co-founder and owner of D’Artagnan, a wholesale and e-commerce food company in Union, New Jersey. “In general, that means they were penned up with no room to move around, and that’s why they’re fat like that.”

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The foolishness of fail fast, fail often

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The head of human resources said to me, “We need to become more agile. We’re not lean enough. I want to see our culture shift to ‘fail fast, fail often.’”

It was a great moment. For me at least.

In my head, I was playing buzzword bingo, and with the use of “Agile,” “Lean,” and “fail fast, fail often,” I had just scored a perfect game. But it’s a game I was not looking to win.

When leaders do not fully understand or appreciate a term, the result can have the opposite effect of what they wish to achieve.

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World’s first floating dairy farm could be wave of the future

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Floating farm project leader Mink van Wingerden beside the floating dairy farm plaform being built at Merwehaven in the Dutch city of Rotterdam.

“It’s a logical step to produce fresh food on the water.”

You’ve heard of offshore drilling platforms and offshore wind farms. Now a Dutch company is developing what’s being called the world’s first offshore dairy farm. Plans call for the high-tech, multilevel facility to open this fall in Rotterdam, a port city about 50 miles southwest of Amsterdam.

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Inside the very big, very controversial business of dog cloning

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Recently born clones share an incubator.

Barbra Streisand is not alone. At a South Korean laboratory, a once-disgraced doctor is replicating hundreds of deceased pets for the rich and famous. It’s made for more than a few questions of bioethics.

The surgeon is a showman. Scrubbed in and surrounded by his surgical team, a lavalier mike clipped to his mask, he gestures broadly as he describes the C-section he is about to perform to a handful of rapt students watching from behind a plexiglass wall. Still narrating, he steps over to a steel operating table where the expectant mother is stretched out, fully anesthetized. All but her lower stomach is discreetly covered by a crisp green cloth. The surgeon makes a quick incision in her belly. His assistants tug gingerly on clamps that pull back the flaps of tissue on either side of the cut. The surgeon slips two gloved fingers inside the widening hole, then his entire hand. An EKG monitor shows the mother’s heart beating in steady pulses.

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The booming business of luxury chicken diapers

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It’s Instagram’s fault.

Julie Baker never intended to become a figurehead of the luxury chicken-diaper industry. Before she launched her brand Pampered Poultry in 2010, she had never even heard of chicken diapers.

Around 10 years ago, Baker was raising chickens with her daughter on their small farm in Claremont, New Hampshire when she first saw a YouTube video of a chicken wearing what looked to be an upside-down apron that stretched across its backside. The diaper, so to speak, was used to catch chicken poop so the birds wouldn’t leave droppings everywhere (chickens do not urinate separately from defecation. Their urine is technically in their excrement). “I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, I so need to do that,’” Baker said. Baker’s daughter liked to bring her favorite chicken, an Old English hen named Abigail, inside their house, and because chickens poop close to a dozen times per day, Baker needed a better system for managing Abigail’s excrement.

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Who’s a good AI? Dog-based data creates a canine machine learning system

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We’ve trained machine learning systems to identify objects, navigate streets and recognize facial expressions, but as difficult as they may be, they don’t even touch the level of sophistication required to simulate, for example, a dog. Well, this project aims to do just that — in a very limited way, of course. By observing the behavior of A Very Good Girl, this AI learned the rudiments of how to act like a dog.

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