Mental Floss

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

Jason Plautz
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So this robot walks into a bar"¦

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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

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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's

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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