There’s an Invisible Tracking Code Embedded in the Documents You Print


Every job contract, term paper, and yard sale flyer you’ve printed at home may have something in common. According to Quartz, several big-name printer companies have been embedding hidden tracking codes in documents for decades.

The practice is no secret: It was first called to the public’s attention by an article that ran on PCWorld in 2004. That report revealed that Xerox embeds sequences of tiny yellow dots on every sheet of paper that passes through one of their copiers or laser printers. Known as printer steganography, the clusters are staggered about an inch apart across the entire page, but with each circle spanning a millimeter in size they’re impossible to detect without the proper equipment. If they were blown up and made darker you’d be able to see an encoded message containing the serial number and manufacturing code of the source printer.

Unless you use your printer for illicit purposes, this likely isn’t something you need to worry about. The codes are there to make it easier for the Secret Service to track counterfeiters. "It's a trail back to you, like a license plate," Peter Crean, a former senior research fellow at Xerox, told PCWorld.

With the advent of the color printer came a new way for felons to forge money and legal documents. Coded dots were first used to combat this problem in Japan, and they became standard in Xerox color printers sold in America in the mid-1980s.

Printer manufacturers aren’t obligated to implement the technology by law, so there’s a chance it's missing from your computer. There’s also no law forcing companies to be upfront about this hidden feature, so if your printer does have it, it may be difficult to tell. One way to check is with a blue LED light and a magnifying glass: If the yellow dots show up you can be sure that page is traceable back to your printer, whether you mail it across the country or staple it to a telephone pole.

[h/t Quartz]

This Amateur Rocketeer Builds Functioning, Miniature Replicas of SpaceX Rockets

Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

Amateur rocketry is a hobby that predates NASA. Hobbyists have successfully made it to space using rockets built without the massive budgets and resources available to larger organizations. And some of these rockets do more than reach incredible heights: As Motherboard reports, Joe Barnard, a 25-year-old rocketeer from Nashville, Tennessee, is working on making model rockets capable of propulsive landings, the same trick that makes some SpaceX rockets reusable.

Most rocket boosters that propel loads past the Earth's atmosphere are designed to go only one way. In 2015, Elon Musk's space exploration company SpaceX made history when it successfully maneuvered the boosters used to launch its Falcon 9 rocket back onto the landing pad. SpaceX says its latest version of the rocket can be re-flown up to 100 times, saving the company millions of dollars per launch.

Joe Barnard is bringing this same level of innovation to the amateur rocketry world. He first became interested in aerospace engineering after watching early SpaceX videos, and instead of earning a degree in the field, he taught himself the basics. He's since made rocketry into a career, founding Barnard Propulsion Systems (BPS), a small business that sells supplies to other hobbyists, and working on rockets of his own.

Like the rockets at SpaceX, Barnard's creations use thrust vectoring—the technology that makes it possible to navigate and stabilize a rocket after launch—only on a much smaller scale. He's built miniature models of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, and as is the case at SpaceX, his launches don't always run smoothly.

Barnard is still perfecting propulsive landings in amateur rockets, but for now he says each failure is a learning experience. You can watch the progress of his experiments on his YouTube channel.

[h/t Motherboard]

This High-Tech Skin Turns Almost Any Object Into a Robot


Instead of trading in their low-tech toys for fancy new gadgets, kids of the future may have the option to turn Teddy into a cyborg. As Gizmodo reports, researchers at Yale University have invented a robot "skin" that can give mobility to just about any inanimate object that can bend.

The researchers describe how this technology, called OmniSkins, works in a paper published in Science Robotics. The material, made from elastic sheets that contain sensors and actuators, can be wrapped around any malleable surface and controlled remotely or with on-board light sensors, essentially turning the item into a makeshift robot. The actuators in OmniSkins manipulate the object, while sensors can gauge exactly how much pressure needs to be applied to perform an action.

The project was largely funded by NASA, and it's easy to see how the tech might be used on one of the agency's missions in the future. On board a spacecraft, every cubic inch of space is precious, and the ability to repurpose something into a robotic arm or rover in a pinch would be invaluable to astronauts.

But the technology has potential applications on Earth as well, and not just to allow stuffed animals to walk on their own. Add a few of the skins to a shirt and it could automatically adjust your posture throughout the day, or you could use them to create a gripper to handle hard-to-reach objects.

You can see OmniSkins in action in the video below.

[h/t Gizmodo]