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Stanford’s Doggo is a petite robotic quadruped you can (maybe) build yourself – TechCrunch

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Got a few thousand bucks and a good deal of engineering expertise? You’re in luck: Stanford students have created a quadrupedal robot platform called Doggo that you can build with off-the-shelf parts and a considerable amount of elbow grease. That’s better than the alternatives, which generally require a hundred grand and a government-sponsored lab.

Due to be presented (paper on arXiv here) at the IEEE International Conference on Robots and Automation, Doggo is the result of research by the Stanford Robotics Club, specifically the Extreme Mobility team. The idea was to make a modern quadrupedal platform that others could build and test on, but keep costs and custom parts to a minimum.

The result is a cute little bot with rigid-looking but surprisingly compliant polygonal legs that has a jaunty, bouncy little walk and can leap more than three feet in the air. There are no physical springs or shocks involved, but by sampling the forces on the legs 8,000 times per second and responding as quickly, the motors can act like virtual springs.

It’s limited in its autonomy, but that’s because it’s built to move, not to see and understand the world around it. That is, however, something you, dear reader, could work on. Because it’s relatively cheap and doesn’t involve some exotic motor or proprietary parts, it could be a good basis for research at other robotics departments. You can see the designs and parts necessary to build your own Doggo right here.

“We had seen these other quadruped robots used in research, but they weren’t something that you could bring into your own lab and use for your own projects,” said Doggo lead Nathan Kau in a Stanford news post. “We wanted Stanford Doggo to be this open source robot that you could build yourself on a relatively small budget.”

In the meantime, the Extreme Mobility team will be both improving on the capabilities of Doggo by collaborating with the university’s Robotic Exploration Lab, and also working on a similar robot but twice the size — Woofer.

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Not just MagSafe: Apple reminds users not to hold iPhones near pacemakers

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This week, Apple published clarifications to its support documents to address consumer concern that, because of the presence of the MagSafe magnet system in new iPhones, the iPhone 12 and its 2020 peers are particularly unsafe to hold in close proximity to an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) or pacemaker.

The updated warning from Apple to customers repeats previous statements that keeping any iPhone within six inches of an ICD or pacemaker (or within 15 inches, while charging wirelessly) is unsafe. The warning also claims the iPhone 12 is not specifically more dangerous than other models.

Several weeks back, Heart Rhythm Journal published results of a test wherein it repeatedly found that moving an iPhone 12 with MagSafe close to a patient’s ICD interfered with the functioning of that lifesaving device. After that report, tech enthusiasts visited forums, Twitter, and Reddit to spread speculation that the iPhone 12 was particularly dangerous to people with pacemakers because of the introduction of MagSafe.

However, the journal didn’t mention that modern smartphones already contained magnets and emit signals that necessitate that users with ICDs or pacemakers keep them several inches away from those medical devices, even before the introduction of MagSafe to the iPhone line in 2020.

In other words, it is indeed unsafe to hold the iPhone 12 close to these medical devices—but it was also unsafe to do so with the iPhone 11, iPhone X, or any number of competing smartphones. In its support document update, Apple claims that the iPhone 12’s MagSafe feature does not change its warning, because the warning was already in place.

Here’s what it says:

iPhone contains magnets as well as components and radios that emit electromagnetic fields. All MagSafe accessories (each sold separately) also contain magnets—and MagSafe Charger and MagSafe Duo Charger contain radios. These magnets and electromagnetic fields might interfere with medical devices.

Though all iPhone 12 models contain more magnets than prior iPhone models, they’re not expected to pose a greater risk of magnetic interference to medical devices than prior iPhone models.

Medical devices such as implanted pacemakers and defibrillators might contain sensors that respond to magnets and radios when in close contact. To avoid any potential interactions with these devices, keep your iPhone and MagSafe accessories a safe distance away from your device (more than 6 inches / 15 cm apart or more than 12 inches / 30 cm apart if wirelessly charging). But consult with your physician and your device manufacturer for specific guidelines.

For those unfamiliar: MagSafe is a feature in new iPhones that among other things allows the devices to attach magnetically to a small Qi wireless charging pad. This magnetic alignment allows for more optimal charging speeds than in previous iPhone models.

MagSafe was previously offered in Macs, too, albeit in a slightly different form. And recent reports suggest that it may soon return to the Mac.

Listing image by Samuel Axon

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Apple doubles down on Fitness+ with new “Time to Walk” Apple Watch content

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Today, Apple launched a new component of its Fitness+ personal health subscription service: “Time to Walk.” With it, users who own an Apple Watch can take a tracked walk exercise while listening to stories or inspiring talks from “influential and interesting people.”

These talks will be automatically downloaded to users’ Apple Watch, provided those users subscribe to Fitness+. When users start listening to one of the 25-40 minute episodes, the Watch will begin tracking a Walk workout. For users in weelchairs, Time to Walk is instead called “Time to Push” and offers up an Outdoor Weelchair Walk Pace workout instead.

The announcement states that “each Time to Walk episode is shaped by the guest’s personal, life-shaping moments and includes lessons learned, meaningful memories, thoughts on purpose and gratitude, moments of levity, and other thought-provoking topics, recorded while walking outside or in locations that are meaningful to them.”

The stories and talks obviously involve audio of the figure speaking, but Apple says this feature will also surface photos on the Apple Watch at specific times during the talks to illustrate the stories or points.

Also, the talks are followed by short playlists composed of songs that gave the speaker “motivation and inspiration.”

The first Time to Walk episodes come from the following guests: country singer Dolly Parton, NBA player Draymond Green, musician Shawn Mendes, and actor Uzo Aduba. New episodes will be released each Monday “through the end of April.”

The announcement came with this statement from Jay Blahnik, Apple’s senior director of Fitness Technologies:

Walking is the most popular physical activity in the world, and one of the healthiest things we can do for our bodies. A walk can often be more than just exercise: It can help clear the mind, solve a problem, or welcome a new perspective… Even throughout this challenging period of time, one activity that has remained available to many is walking. With Time to Walk, we’re bringing weekly original content to Apple Watch in Fitness+ that includes some of the most diverse, fascinating, and celebrated guests offering inspiration and entertainment to help our users keep moving through the power of walking.

Experts and organizations like the United States Department of Health and Human Services advise that people get 150 minutes per week of medium intensity exercise, which for some could include walking—but many Americans don’t get anywhere close to that.

Increasingly, personal tech products like smartphones and smart watches have become parts of the battle against that problem in the United States and elsewhere. Apple launched Apple Fitness+ in December—its first health-oriented subscription. There are also numerous third-party apps on the iOS and Android App Stores that offer similar content and features, and many other big tech companies have been looking to make waves in personal health as well.

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Google Maps will soon show COVID vaccine locations

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Enlarge / Vaccine info in Google search.

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The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine means a ton of people are soon going to be looking for vaccination sites. As usual, Google wants to be at the center of getting people where they’re going, and in a new blog post Google says it will start loading Search and Maps with information on vaccination sites. “In the coming weeks,” the company writes, “COVID-19 vaccination locations will be available in Google Search and Maps, starting with Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, with more states and countries to come.”

Soon you’ll be able to search “COVID vaccine” and get location results showing access requirements, appointment information, and if a site has a drive-through. Google says it is partnering with the Boston Children’s Hospital’s VaccineFinder.org, government agencies, and retail pharmacies for the data.

Elsewhere in the Google Empire, the company says it will open up various Google facilities as vaccine sites.

To help with vaccination efforts, starting in the United States, we’ll make select Google facilities—such as buildings, parking lots and open spaces—available as needed. These sites will be open to anyone eligible for the vaccine based on state and local guidelines. We’ll start by partnering with health care provider One Medical and public health authorities to open sites in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area in California; Kirkland, Washington; and New York City, with plans to expand nationally. We’re working with local officials to determine when sites can open based on local vaccine availability.

Google also says it plans on launching a “Get the Facts” campaign across its services, probably to counter the conspiracy theories the company is often caught promoting via the YouTube algorithm. The post says the initiative will run across Google and YouTube to “get authoritative information out to the public about vaccines.”

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