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This robot scientist has conducted 100,000 experiments in a year – TechCrunch

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Science is exciting in theory, but it can also be dreadfully dull. Some experiments require hundreds or thousands of repetitions or trials — an excellent opportunity to automate. That’s just what MIT scientists have done, creating a robot that performs a certain experiment, observes the results, and plans a follow-up… and has now done so 100,000 times in the year it’s been operating.

The field of fluid dynamics involves a lot of complex and unpredictable forces, and sometimes the best way to understand them is to repeat things over and over until patterns emerge. (Well, it’s a little more complex than that, but this is neither the time nor the place to delve into the general mysteries of fluid dynamics.)

One of the observations that needs to be performed is of “vortex-induced vibration,” a kind of disturbance that matters a lot to designing ships that travel through water efficiently. It involves close observation of an object moving through water… over, and over, and over.

Turns out it’s also a perfect duty for a robot to take over. But the Intelligent Tow Tank, as they call this robotic experimentation platform, is designed not just to do the mechanical work of dragging something through the water, but to intelligently observe the results, change the setup accordingly to pursue further information, and continue doing that until it has something worth reporting.

“The ITT has already conducted about 100,000 experiments, essentially completing the equivalent of all of a Ph.D. student’s experiments every 2 weeks,” say the researchers in their paper, published today in Science Robotics.

The hard part, of course, was not designing the robot (though that was undoubtedly difficult as well) but the logic that lets it understand, at a surface level so to speak, the currents and flows of the fluid system and conduct follow-up experiments that produce useful results.

Normally a human (probably a grad student) would have to observe every trial — the parameters of which may be essentially random — and decide how to move forward. But this is rote work — not the kind of thing an ambitious researcher would like to spend their time doing.

So it’s a blessing that this robot, and others like it, could soon take over the grunt work while humans focus on high-level concepts and ideas. The paper notes other robots at CMU and elsewhere that have demonstrated how automation of such work could proceed.

“This constitutes a potential paradigm shift in conducting experimental research, where robots, computers, and humans collaborate to accelerate discovery and to search expeditiously and effectively large parametric spaces that are impracticable with the traditional approach,” the team writes.

You can read the paper describing the Intelligent Tow Tank here.



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LG enters fray with Google, Amazon, Roku for TV operating system dominance

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LG has announced that it will begin licensing its webOS TV software for use by other TV manufacturers. That will put webOS in direct competition with other platforms in use across TV brands, such as alternatives from Roku, Amazon, and Google.

LG says “over 20 TV manufacturers” have “committed to the webOS partnership” and names RCA, Ayonz, and Konka as examples. They’ll ship the OS in their TVs and, in so doing, gain access to voice control features, LG’s AI algorithms, and a fairly robust library of already built streaming apps like Netflix, YouTube, or Disney+.

For smaller manufacturers, this is more cost-effective than developing these features on their own or lobbying companies like Netflix or Disney to support new platforms.

At the annual Consumer Electronics Show this January, LG announced webOS 6, a major revamp of the interface that adopts a design language that more closely resembles what’s found in most other TV operating systems. However, licensees of webOS will at least for now be limited to an earlier version of webOS which has the old interface.

In addition to any licensing fees, LG will be able to leverage this larger install base to profit from a more robust advertising network and from larger-scale user data collection. The company will also put its LG Channels content operation on more TVs. Further, LG has bigger ambitions for webOS than just TVs, so this move aids the company’s efforts to make webOS more ubiquitous as the software expands into cars, home appliances, and other products.

Users may balk at the advertising and data collection, but there is one upside for them: a larger install base for webOS will likely lead to more frequently updated, higher-quality apps from content companies.

As is the custom, this announcement came with a published statement from a prominent executive at the company—in this case, LG Home Entertainment President Park Hyoung-sei, who said:

The webOS platform is one of the easiest and most convenient way to access millions of hours of movies and TV shows… By welcoming other manufacturers to join the webOS TV ecosystem, we are embarking on a new path that allows many new TV owners to experience the same great UX and features that are available on LG TVs. We look forward to bringing these new customers into the incredible world of webOS TV.

webOS for TVs as we currently know it dates back to 2014, and reviewers and users have admittedly responded well to it because it’s one of the nicer-to-use TV operating systems. Part of its ease of use stems from the Wii remote-like magic remote that comes with LG TVs; LG’s press release says that partners who license webOS will ship TVs with similar remotes.

LG previously released an open source version of webOS in 2018, and Samsung announced plans to make its Tizen TV OS available for licensing by other TV manufacturers back in 2019. But a year and a half later, we haven’t heard anything more concrete about the latter.

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Google Maps for Android officially gets dark mode support

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Google Maps has finally decided to support dark mode on Android 539 days after it officially launched Android 10. Google’s latest blog post says that dark mode in Google Maps is “soon expanding to all Android users globally,” making the feature official after lots of public experiments.

Google’s uneven rollout strategy makes it hard to nail down when any feature officially “launches.” Some users have had dark mode for a while, though, through various experiments and early rollouts. Google has been teasing a dark mode for Google Maps since October 2019, and experimental rollouts hit some users in September 2020. Google Maps has also been showing a dark-colored map in navigation mode for some time, but that’s not the same thing as a comprehensive dark mode for all the UI elements.

If Google Maps is following Android’s best practices, the UI should automatically switch over to the dark theme if your system settings have dark mode enabled. Google says you’ll also be able to find a new “theme” section in the Google Maps settings, where you can toggle the feature manually. The Google Maps dark mode that has been floating around for a while has been on a server-side switch. The code is already on your device, so there’s no version we can point to that will enable dark mode; you just have to wait for Google to flag your account.

With Google Maps finally on the dark mode train, that should cover all of Google’s major apps. The Play Store, Gmail, Google Assistant, Chrome, Calendar, Drive, Photos, and YouTube all support dark mode.

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Lenovo updates ThinkPad lineup with 16:10 screens and more

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Today, Lenovo announced a broad overhaul of its ThinkPad laptop lineup, led by the popular X13 and X13 Yoga.

Lenovo has added many features previously seen in its X1 Nano model to various other laptops across the ThinkPad line. Among those is a continuing shift to 16:10 displays, which most productivity users will greatly appreciate compared to the more media-focused 16:9 aspect ratio found in recent prior models.

There’s also human-presence detection; the laptops use a radar sensor to detect when you’re sitting down in front of them, and they wake up accordingly. And of course, like so many similar laptops in this day and age, you can get these machines with fingerprint readers built into the power buttons now.

As for specs, CPU options for the X13 and X13 Yoga include Tiger Lake (11th Gen) Intel Core chips with optional vPro, plus AMD Ryzen 5000 options. A big focus of this refresh is bridging the previously existing gap in features between the Intel and AMD configurations, now that interest is particularly high in AMD’s processors. We’re not 100 percent to parity, but we’re closer than before.

The X13 and X13 Yoga have 13.3-inch displays at either 1920×1200 or 2560×1600, Finally, the redesign includes wider touchpads, Wi-Fi 6E, and in the X13 only, optional sub-6 5G support.

Lenovo also overhauled the T-series lineup. The new T-series laptops still have 16:9 displays, though that admittedly makes a bit more sense for laptops that offer 4K Dolby Vision display configurations, discrete graphics, and other specs and features oriented around media consumption.

The T14 and T14s have 14-inch displays, and the 15 has a 15.6-inch display. CPU options offer 11th-Gen Core i7 CPUs (also with vPro options) or, alternatively, AMD Ryzen 5000 Pro. Intel versions of various new Thinkpad laptops have an “i” after the name—as in, Lenovo ThinkPad T14 i. The AMD versions don’t.

Across the T series lineup, you’ll find Wi-Fi 6 or 6E, 4G and 5G configurations, and FullHD webcams—though many features are optional or not default when you configure the devices. Here are the starting prices and availability dates for each of the T and X series laptops:

Model Availability Starting price
ThinkPad T14s i March 2021 $1,499
ThinkPad T14s May 2021 $1,279
ThinkPad T14 i March 2021 $1,379
ThinkPad T14 May 2021 $1,159
ThinkPad T15 March 2021 $1,379
ThinkPad X13 Yoga April 2021 $1,379
ThinkPad X13 i March 2021 $1,299
ThinkPad X13 May 2021 $1,139

Other updated products include the L14, L15, and PL14s, as well as a new monitor carrying the P40w label. If you’re interested in those models, you can learn more at Lenovo’s website.

Listing image by Lenovo

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