New MIT Robots Can Be Created in Mere Hours, Even If You Aren’t an Expert


Creating your own robot is no easy task. (Unless you’re Simone Giertz, of course.) But in the future, people with no robotics experience might be able to design their own working versions in just minutes. Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) are developing a way to allow non-experts to create 3D-printed robots in less than a day.

Called Interactive Robogami, the system lets users determine the shape of the robot and how it moves, with simulations and interactive feedback to help speed along the process for people with no experience designing, programming, prototyping, and tweaking autonomous machines. Instead of starting from scratch, you can choose between 50 different shapes (including bodies, wheels, and legs) and gaits. The system helps guide you into creating a robot that is feasible, rather than one that won’t be stable enough to move. You can see some examples of Robogami robots at the 46-second mark in the video below:

You can’t print custom robots yet, but the team's new study in the International Journal of Robotics Research suggests that it might be possible soon. Their tests gave eight different people 20 minutes of training before letting them loose to design a moving car in under 10 minutes, using a Robogami design that prints in 2D and can be folded into a 3D machine. The participants were able to design robots that could move in a wide range of ways with both legs and wheels, all designed in 10 to 15 minutes, printed in less than seven hours, and assembled in 30 to 90 minutes.

“Designing robots usually requires expertise that only mechanical engineers and roboticists have,” one of the lead authors, Adriana Schulz, explained in an MIT press release. “What’s exciting here is that we’ve created a tool that allows a casual user to design their own robot by giving them this expert knowledge.”

CSAIL researchers have previously developed other origami-style robots that can rid your stomach of indigestible items like small batteries. Elsewhere at the university, researchers are working on flexible, modular robots that you can bend, twist, and customize, and gel robots that can catch and release a live fish.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

Google Is Tracking Everything You Do With Its ‘Smart’ Features—Here’s How to Make That Stop

Maybe you don't want Google seeing how many exclamation points you use in your emails.
Maybe you don't want Google seeing how many exclamation points you use in your emails.
Taryn Elliott, Pexels

Since we don’t all have personal assistants to draft emails and update our calendars, Google has tried to fill the void with ‘smart’ features across Gmail, Google Chat, and Google Meet. These automatic processes cover everything from email filtering and predictive text to notifications about upcoming bills and travel itineraries. But such personalized assistance requires a certain amount of personal data.

For example, to suggest email replies that match what you’d choose to write on your own—or remind you about important emails you’ve yet to reply to—Google needs to know quite a bit about how you write and what you consider important. And that involves tracking your actions when using Google services.

For some people, Google’s helpful hints might save enough time and energy to justify giving up full privacy. If you’re not one of them, here’s how to disable the ‘smart’ features.

As Simplemost explains, first open Gmail and click the gear icon (settings) in the upper right corner of the page. Select ‘See all settings,’ which should default to the ‘General’ tab. Next to ‘Smart Compose,’ ‘Smart Compose personalization,’ and ‘Smart Reply,’ choose the ‘Off’ options. Next to ‘Nudges,’ uncheck both boxes (which will stop suggestions about what emails you should answer or follow up on). Then, switch from the ‘General’ tab to ‘Inbox’ and scroll down to ‘Importance markers.’ Choose ‘No markers’ and ‘Don’t use my past actions to predict which messages are important.’

Seeing these settings might make you wonder what other information you’ve unwittingly given Google access to. Fortunately, there’s a pretty easy way to customize it. If you open the ‘Accounts’ tab (beside ‘Inbox’) and choose ‘Google Account settings,’ there’s an option to ‘Take the Privacy Checkup.’ That service will walk you through all the privacy settings, including activity tracking on Google sites, ad personalization, and more.

[h/t Simplemost]