Today, scientists develop a stable light-based memory chip, Google becomes Alphabet and drops the line about not being evil, Daimler’s self-driving trucks go out on German motorways and more.
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Researchers have created the world’s first non-volatile light-based memory chip using the same materials found in re-writable CDs and DVDs (Science Daily). While previous photonic memory has required a constant source of power in order to hold its data, precise areas of the new chip can be switched between an amorphous and a crystalline state when hit by an electrical or optical pulse, remaining in that state until re-written. Professor Wolfram Pernice of the University of Munster said that the new technology “could read and write to thousands of bits at once, providing virtually unlimited bandwidth.”
Google is now officially a subsidiary of a new parent company called Alphabet, which has forsaken the old “don’t be evil” code of conduct (The Verge). The new code of conduct instead asks staff to “do the right thing — follow the law, act honorably, and treat each other with respect.” Alphabet staff don’t have to follow Google’s old guidelines about alcohol and cats in the office, either, but the original code of conduct is largely unchanged for staff at Google itself, who are still instructed to avoid evil.
Germany’s Daimler automotive corporation has tested a self-driving truck in real traffic on a south German motorway (Yahoo! News). The truck itself was a standard Mercedes-Benz Actros, but it’s been fitted with Daimler’s self-driving Highway Pilot system, which uses radar and active speed regulators, and can steer the truck. Comparing the system to a plane’s autopilot, Daimler emphasises the need for a human driver to work alongside the system, saying that the driver “retains full responsibility, needs to monitor the traffic at all times and must be able to intervene at any time.”
Mattel’s new View-Master virtual reality headset uses Google’s Cardboard VR technology to revamp a classic toy (VentureBeat). The View-Master itself is a shell for your smartphone with a pair of bi-convex lenses built into it. It works with any Google Cardboard app, not just Mattel’s own. You even still get circular “reels” to use with it, although they’re actually triggers for augmented and virtual-reality experiences.
Researchers at HHMI Janelia Research Campus in Virginia, USA, are putting their lab mice through virtual reality mazes as part of their research into how the brain works when navigating (Technology Review). The study uses a technique called two-photon imaging to see thousands of neurons working in real time, but this requires the subject to be completely still - hence the need for VR. The new virtual reality system for mice stimulates their whiskers to convince them that they’re running down winding corridors.
A study on rhesus macaque monkeys has produced more evidence demonstrating that there is no link between the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism (Ars Technica). Infant monkeys were vaccinated or placed in a control group, and neither showed any difference in behaviour afterwards. The study will hopefully put another nail in the coffin of fringe anti-vaccine movements inspired by a discredited paper, and help to promote the importance of human herd immunity.
While parts of Antarctica are losing ice at an ever-increasing rate, scientists have discovered that the East Antarctic has been gaining mass as snow that fell 10,000 years ago melts and compresses into ice (Nature). The team calculates that this is leading to an average gain of 82 billion tonnes of ice a year, helping to offset losses caused by ice melt elsewhere on the frozen continent. While the news could be grounds for optimism, lead author Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, warned that the findings “should not take away from the concern about climate warming.”
Lexicographer Erin McKean is looking for words so new that they’ve not even been recongised as slang by established dictionaries (New York Times). The Wordnik online dictionary has been collecting words since 2009 and is behind a Kickstarter project to fund the discovery and inclusion of a million words that haven’t previously appeared in dictionaries. “We really believe that every word should be lookupable,” McKean told the New York Times. Words collected so far include procrastatweeting, dronevertising and roomnesia.
Disney Research has created a colouring book which brings characters on the page to life using a companion augmented reality app (Engadget). The app and book aren’t available yet, but the researchers have released a video to show off the new technology and a paper on its development. The results are captivating, with the 3D models reflecting the texture and materials used to colour in their 2D images and moving naturally with the page.
The Washington Post has collected a series of paintings made by French artists at the beginning of the 20th century that imagine what the world would be like in the year 2000. Printed as postcards around the time of the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, they show mechanical devices for everything from cleaning, to flying, to feeding farm animals, although space flight is conspicuous by its absence.
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Security experts have warned that over one billion Android devices are at serious risk from a new vulnerability dubbed Stagefright 2.0. The attack exploits a vulnerability in MP3 and MP4 video files, which once opened can remotely execute code. This could include installing malware, capturing data for identity fraud or accessing photos and messages. Because of the nature of the vulnerability, users would be unable to tell if their device had been affected.
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