Joking Robots, Fat-Detecting Chairs and a Suddenly Shrinking Lake

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So this robot walks into a bar"¦

C3PO.jpg What's a robot's favorite album? Spark Side of the Moon.
Robots don't get that joke, since it requires a (relatively) complex analysis of word substitution and figuring out why it's funny. Two researchers at the University of Cincinnati are working on a robot that does understand simple puns, though. By giving the bot a vocabulary and then teaching it how certain words can be substituted for others, they say they can teach the robot to recognize and react to simple jokes. It's still not complex enough to distinguish between a groaner and a knee-slapper or pick out an inappropriate joke, but the researchers say they're working on it. Which means that we're moving ever closer to smart-aleck robots in the vein of C-3PO.

Don't Go Into the Light

Cop shows could get a lot more gross if a new flashlight designed for the Department of Homeland Security catches on. The light has the normal ability to blind a suspect, but also adds a feature to make them feel disoriented and nauseated. The device will shoot pulses of bright light from LEDs at a suspect, creating a disorienting feeling (it's similar to helicopter pilots who crash after looking at the interrupted light through the chopper blades). This temporary sickness would allow police to take the suspect away more easily, but could also leave them an unpleasant mess to clean up.

Better than Chugging Water

hic cup.jpgThere are so many cures for the hiccups, from the terrifying to the tasty (I always try eating a spoonful of peanut butter, even though it's worked exactly 0 percent of the time). There's always room for a new one, so here comes the Hic-Cup. This muzzle-like device puts electrodes on your temple and cheek and creates a current when you fill the cup with water and drink. The resulting current effectively stops the hiccups. The device's website has plenty of success stories, but does nothing to quell any concern about strapping an electrified cup to one's face.

More science news after the jump!

Not So Superior Anymore

Lake Superior has always kind of been the big dog of the Great Lakes, with its gargantuan size (a surface area as large as South Carolina) and financial prowess. But something is going wrong in the lake- the water level has dropped to its lowest point in eight decades and the temperature has risen 4.5 degrees since 1979. This is spelling trouble for the lake's fans- beachgoers now have to contend with muckier shores, while fishers have to seek out cool water for the fish. Global warming is the obvious suspect, but some are taking a more noir approach and accusing the government of funneling the water to surrounding cities and farms for political gain.

Couches with Emotional IQ'sfuwapica300707.jpg

Everybody's got that favorite couch, the one that's so faded and stained you can't even tell what color it is, but it doesn't matter because it probably wouldn't match the room anyway. Now Japanese researchers have designed furniture that will react to the people and objects around it by changing color. Fuwa pica, which translates to "˜soft and flashy,' has a set with a table containing a computer and LCD display and four chairs. The computer picks up on the environment and mood of the person, slowly changing color to match an object on the table. Also, in an inexplicably cruel feature, the chairs will also turn red when a heavy person sits on it "as if the blood pressure was rising high," in the words of one of the creators.

Do the Wave

Add the ocean to the increasingly crowded list of alternative energy sources. Scientists have designed a buoy device that floats on the ocean's surface with a Slinkie-like polymer inside that contracts and expands with the bobbing of the waves, creating an electrical current. Currently, the Electroactive polymer artificial muscles have only generate enough to light a small light bulb, but they've been kept in tame waters. It might be worth it to try them on some gnarly 40-footers.

Under My Umbrella

Because of the god-awful, overplayed Rhianna song, I've been doing my best to avoid any mention of umbrellas this summer, but I couldn't pass this story up. Ambient Devices has unveiled an umbrella that tells you when it's needed. The handle has a radio transmitter that picks up weather reports from AccuWeather and glows accordingly- soft pulses for a drizzle and flashes for a thunderstorm. Finally we'll be able to cut the awkward "will I look foolish if I bring the umbrella and it doesn't rain" debates out of our mornings.

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August 8, 2007 - 2:48am
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