This robot can solve a Rubik’s Cube in .38 seconds

When future generations look back on 2018 what will they remember? Not much, I suspect, except for this amazing robot that can solve a Rubik’s cube in .38 seconds. The video, above, shows the cube in an unsolved position and then the actuators jump into action, slamming squares into place like some kind of crazed version of Will Smith’s character in The Pursuit of Happyness.

Created by Ben Katz and Jared Di Carlo, the project uses set of 6 Kollmorgen ServoDisc U9-series motors and 2 Playstation Eye cameras. The contraption reads the cube, solves it, and then slams the thing around in seconds.

The team also used a unique AND board that ensured that each motor would turn on and off independently, a feature that is necessary to ensure the entire thing doesn’t explode if the motors were to actuate at the same time. It then uses the min2phase algorithm to solve the cube in about 21 moves. They could even make the thing slightly faster with a bit of tweaking.

And there you have it: the technical feat of 2018. As someone who grew so frustrated with my Rubik’s Cube that I peeled off the stickers and told my Mom I solved it myself, hats off to Katz and Di Carlo. Now Elon Musk just has to solve a Rubik’s Cube in space to cap off an already exciting year.

This bonus video features a cube exploding mid-solve:

Pennsylvania woman gets $284bn electricity bill

It’s always the same when the cold weather creeps in – a gradual process that begins with ‘maybe I can get around this by wearing a few more layers’ and ends up with ‘just turn the fucking heating on, all the way up’.

By January we’ve got all the radiators on full blast and we’re googling employment laws to see if ‘hibernation’ counts as a valid reason to stay off work on full pay.

The downside to this is the lingering knowledge that your utility bills are escalating with every passing day until the sun finally returns. Still, you couldn’t do much worse than one woman in the US who received a bill for more than $284 billion (£211bn).

US domestic digital electricity meter. Credit: Kristoferb (talk) – Creative Commons

Mary Horomanski, from Erie, Pennsylvania, was informed that the entire amount would have to be paid by November 2018, with the first payment of $28,176 (£21,000) due in December. Dunno about you, but my personal chances of saving to meet those dates would’ve been pretty limited.

“My eyes just about popped out of my head,” said Mary, 58, to the Erie Times-News. “We had put up Christmas lights and I wondered if we had put them up wrong.”

You’d have to get your lights pretty drastically wrong to rack up a whopper of a bill that size. As the newspaper points out, it’s greater than the national debts of Hungary and South Africa combined.

Luckily it emerged that the figure was wrong – thank fuck for that – with Penelec, her electricity provider, later announcing that the fee was in fact $284.46 (£212).

Credit: PA

A spokesman for Penelec admitted that the company was unsure as to how such a vast miscalculation had occurred.

“I can’t recall ever seeing a bill for billions of dollars,” Mark Durbin told the Erie Times-News. “We appreciate the customer’s willingness to reach out to us about the mistake.”

Luckily Mary was able to see the funny side of the whole thing – probably easier at this point than when the bill arrived, you’d imagine. As the Daily Mail reports, she joked to her son that she now had a new entry on her Christmas wishlist, saying: “I told him I want a heart monitor.”

Still, I think I’d probably revert to the multiple-layers plan until spring rolls around, just to be on the safe side.


15 Celebrities That Prove Time Travel Exists

ou may not believe in time travel, but these pictures may convince you otherwise. A lot of celebrities have doppelgangers in the past, and who’s to say they’re not really the same person? 12 really made me think!

Nothing could explain these 15 pictures besides time travel:

1. Chuck Norris and Vincent van Gogh

2. Johnny Depp and the great grandfather of a Reddit user.

3. Justin Timberlake and an unknown man from the past

4. Kathy Bates and the 27th President of the United States, William Taft

5. Bruce Willis and WW2 general Douglas MacArthur

6. Sylvester Stallone and Pope Gregory IX


7. Liam Neeson and Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro

8. Jennifer Lawrence and famous Egyptian actress Zubaida Tharwat

9. Keanu Reeves and French actor Paul Mounet

10. Alec Baldwin and the 13th President of the United States, Millard Fillmore

11. Nicolas Cage and a man from Tennessee who fought in the Civil War

12. Peter Dinklage and don Sebastián de Morra

13. Orlando Bloom and painter Nicolae Grigorescu

14. Hugh Grant and famous Irish writer Oscar Wilde

15. Jack Gleeson and the Roman emperor Caligula

Mysterious ‘Sun Simulator’ Captured For The First Time?

Wow! Sun Simulator caught on video.

According to disclose:

The Youtuber “MrMBB333” is specialized on weather and geographic events.

In his last videos, he examines some photos that were sent to him. On these photos, you can see a strange anomaly which, after a closer examination, could turn out to be the mysterious sun simulator.

In the second video, he even found the patent for this type of satellite.


The trumpets of the Apocalypse are heard again, now in Canada and Indonesia

People around the world have been reporting eerie, haunting and almost apocalyptic like sounds. According to witnesses of this unexplained phenomenon, they hear humming and loud booms, grinding metal, trumpet-like noises coming from the sky.

But do these sounds really come from the sky or something else is going on?

An in-depth investigation on this issue conducted by Linda Molten Howe has shown that the secret of these sounds is inside the Earth.

And again these sounds have been heard. This time strange apocalyptic trumpet-like sounds are heard in the sky in Downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada on November 2, 2017 at 9:30 pm local time and one day earlier, on November 1, 2017 similar sounds are heard from several locations in Indonesia.


When I think of myself and my relation to the universe, I envision that viral astrophysicist’s video of a journey from face to space. The three minute footage begins on a woman’s face. It then continuously zooms out, revealing a shot of the universe, one billion light years away from Earth.

The purpose of the video is  to visually explain the different scales of the universe. It certainly makes me feel small in an infinite universe. And then it makes me question so many things. 

Stephen Hawing once urged: “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

The complexity of the universe is immense — so much so that if we try to grasp it, even for a moment, it can make your head feel like it’s going to explode until you drop to your knees, flail your arms about, and look for the TV remote to find some meaningless entertainment. But this confusion is beautiful.

We strive to understand so much in our day-to-day lives, so much about ourselves, and so much about the world we live in, whether from the comfort of our living rooms or within the structure of a classroom.

What we know about the universe, as told by textbooks, barely begins to scratch the surface of its complexity. As a child, a part of me thought academia was set in stone. I trusted Christopher Columbus to always be celebrated, and I assumed Pluto was a forever planet. But today, I realize human error makes us, well, human. The universe is the biggest teacher of all, and we are merely trying to learn its lessons one day at a time, one textbook at a time, one online article at a time.

What is our reality? Is it our human flesh, our mortality, the capability of life on Mars? Yes. But it is also quantum entanglement, unified field of consciousness, free energy, superhuman abilities, singularity, parallel universes, and alternate realities. The universe is as simple as the smile on my face and as complex as the word “infinity.”

As an adult, I could perhaps rant forever about the complexities of the universe, but I also feel like I would just be a hamster on a wheel if I did that. Why? Because the adult brain is learned, and therefore it is pretty clouded. Would it be different if I could head back to my childhood years and try to put the complexity of the universe into words?

Perhaps what we need is a child to be bold enough to colour outside the lines. To use their ignorance as intelligence, with ignorance being the lack of boundaries society creates.

Max Laughlin may be just a kid, but he’s certainly not just any kid. Having become famous across the world for presenting his brilliant viewpoints on topics like the nature of the universe and alternate realities, listening to him will make your jaw drop.

In the below video, Laughlin presents a new theory that CERN — the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and one of the world’s largest and most respected centers for scientific research — destroyed our universe and we live in another universe that was parallel and closest to it.

Now if that doesn’t make your head hurt, or at least make you want to find out more, you’re not alone.


Freaky Illusion Gives the Impression of a Floating City in the Clouds

This extraordinary image of an apparent floating city has created a stir among conspiracy theorists, but a well-known optical illusion is the likely explanation for the phenomenon.

As reported in the Independent, the bizarre cloud formation appears to show a cityscape high above the city of Foshan in China’s Guangdong province. Footage of the phenomenon appeared on Chinese TV last week and was apparently witnessed by hundreds of astonished onlookers. The sight lasted for only a few minutes before disappearing. A few days later, a similar cloud city was seen in the province of Jiangxi, China. 

Scientific observers are arguing a case of fata morgana, or a mirage. The phenomenon occurs at the location of a thermal inversion, or when warm air is found on top of cold air. Light rays become bent when passing through varying temperatures in this patch of air, causing the illusion. Mirages have been spotted on horizons for centuries, yet the footage provided does not quite fit the bill, seeing as it is seen much higher in the sky than typical optical illusions.

Finally, one plausible explanation is that the whole thing is a hoax. Given that there is only one video record of the event, even though it is reported that hundreds or thousands of people witnessed the event, this seems very likely. What do you think this floating city could be?

Update: A reader sent me a link with more images. Not sure about the authenticity of these photos, but they’re pretty wild if genuine:

H/t Independent!

Via Gizmodo

Could wood pulp make cars lighter and more efficient?

Car parts of the future could be made out of a surprising material. Wood.

Researchers in Japan are working to create a strong material out of wood pulp that could replace steel parts in vehicles within a decade.

Work is also charging ahead in the country to develop plastics that can withstand high temperatures, to replace metal for parts near the engine.

These innovations are part of a wider industry push to make cars lighter.

“There is a rush to try and cut as much weight as possible, especially on cars which will pollute more, like SUVs [sports utility vehicles] or pick-up trucks,” says Paolo Martino, principal automotive components analyst at IHS Markit.

Slimmer cars consume less fuel. The US Department of Energy says a 10% reduction in vehicle weight can improve fuel economy by up to 8%.

Manufacturers also want to make electric models as light as possible so they can travel further on a single charge, and help resolve the battery “range anxiety” faced by car owners, Mr Martino says.

And that’s where the humble tree could come in. After all, wood has been used to build ships, homes and furniture for millennia.

Researchers at Kyoto University in Japan say a material made from wood pulp could be as strong as steel, but 80% lighter.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Image caption Wood was often used for some car parts, but never near the engine

The team chemically treats wood pulp, which consists of millions of cellulose nanofibres (CNFs), and disperses these CNFs into plastic.

Blending CNFs with plastics creates a strong, hybrid material that could replace steel in auto parts, they say.

Prof Hiroyuki Yano, who leads the work at Kyoto University, says the material could be used to make door panels, fenders and car bonnets. The researchers are working with the Japanese government, carmakers and other manufacturers to develop the material.

Cellulose nanofibres are already used in a range of products, from ink to transparent displays.

While the material faces plenty of competition from more commercially established lightweight options, like carbon fibre, Prof Yano believes CNF-based parts could be viable alternatives.

But Vivek Vaidya, senior vice president at consultancy Frost & Sullivan, has some doubts.


Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Image caption Wood has been used as a building material for millennia

He thinks it’s feasible that “non-performance” parts – anything but the engine, transmission and wheels – could be mass-produced from wood pulp-based materials, but that parts manufacturers might struggle to keep pace with auto production lines.

“Most components are supplied on-demand, [so] whether a wood or organic material can be made available in a just-in-time way is definitely a question mark,” he says.

Separately in Japan, researchers are working on specialised plastics for car parts.

Prof Tatsuo Kaneko, from the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, is developing plastics made with biological molecules.

The new material is also lighter than steel and can tolerate temperatures of up to 300C, the researchers say.

“Plastics haven’t been used in car parts requiring higher heat resistance around [the] engine block because they haven’t been able to withstand the heat,” Prof Kaneko says.

“But the bioplastics I have produced can withstand higher temperatures.”

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Image caption Researchers in Japan say bioplastics could replace metal for parts near the engine

He’s working with a number of Japanese carmakers, auto part and electronics makers – as well as foreign companies – on the research.

And one of the biggest advantages of using the material, which he says could be a viable alternative to steel in around five years, would be a drop in vehicle weight.

While lighter plastic car parts might help cut vehicle emissions and increase the range of electric cars, doesn’t their manufacture bring other environmental risks?

Prof Kaneko acknowledges that substituting materials like glass for bioplastics could increase pollution, as the waste is non-biodegradable.

But he argues that his materials are kinder overall to the environment than traditional plastics.

The manufacture of conventional petroleum-based plastics results in large amounts of carbon dioxide, whereas bioplastics, made from micro-organisms, produce lower volumes of waste, he maintains.

The drive to use “greener” materials is gathering speed among automakers more broadly.

Frost & Sullivan’s Mr Vaidya says manufacturers are trying to shrink the total carbon footprint of a vehicle and “not just the emissions that come out of the tailpipe”.

The push serves tightening regulations and consumer demand. Both the UK and France plan to ban new diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040, to reduce pollution and carbon emissions.

China, the world’s biggest car market, wants electric battery cars and plug-in hybrids to account for at least one-fifth of its vehicle sales by 2025.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Image caption Lightweight carbon fibre is prized in high-performance sports cars

“There’s definite movement towards improving the green credentials of the car by using materials that are more environmentally friendly,” Mr Vaidya says.

To shed weight BMW has focused on carbon fibre, and last month unveiled a new slimmed down M5 sedan with a carbon fibre reinforced plastic roof.

Toyota uses the same material for parts in its Prius Prime and Lexus LC 500 models, cutting weight and boosting battery range in the Prius.

For Jaguar, aluminium is a big focus. The company says the metal weighs about one third of the equivalent amount of steel.

“Every 100kg saved with an aluminium chassis helps to reduce the vehicle’s CO2 emissions by 9g per km, and fuel usage during its life by up to 800 litres,” Jaguar says.

And niche component makers like Corning, which markets its toughened Gorilla Glass for use in windshields and other glass-components, says its high-tech glass is a third lighter than conventional car windows.



Google AI invents its own cryptographic algorithm; no one knows how it works

Neural networks seem good at devising crypto methods; less good at codebreaking.

Google Brain has created two artificial intelligences that evolved their own cryptographic algorithm to protect their messages from a third AI, which was trying to evolve its own method to crack the AI-generated crypto. The study was a success: the first two AIs learnt how to communicate securely from scratch.

The setup of the crypto system. P = input plaintext, K = shared key, C = encrypted text, and PEve and PBob are the computed plaintext outputs.

The Google Brain team (which is based out in Mountain View and is separate from Deep Mind in London) started with three fairly vanilla neural networks called Alice, Bob, and Eve. Each neural network was given a very specific goal: Alice had to send a secure message to Bob; Bob had to try and decrypt the message; and Eve had to try and eavesdrop on the message and try to decrypt it. Alice and Bob have one advantage over Eve: they start with a shared secret key (i.e. this is symmetric encryption).

Importantly, the AIs were not told how to encrypt stuff, or what crypto techniques to use: they were just given a loss function (a failure condition), and then they got on with it. In Eve’s case, the loss function was very simple: the distance, measured in correct and incorrect bits, between Alice’s original input plaintext and its guess. For Alice and Bob the loss function was a bit more complex: if Bob’s guess (again measured in bits) was too far from the original input plaintext, it was a loss; for Alice, if Eve’s guesses are better than random guessing, it’s a loss. And thus an adversarial generative network (GAN) was created.

Alice, Bob, and Eve all shared the same “mix and transform” neural network architecture, but they were initialised independently and had no connection other than Alice and Bob’s shared key. For Alice the key and plaintext are input into the first layer of the neural network; for Bob the key and the ciphertext were input; and for Eve, she got just the ciphertext. The first layer is fully-connected, so the text and key can mix about. Following the first layer there are a number of convolutional layers, which learn to apply a function to the bits that were handed to it by the previous layer. They don’t know what that function might be; they just learn as they go along. For Alice, the final layer spits out some ciphertext; Bob and Eve output what they hope is the plaintext.

Bob and Eve’s reconstruction errors during training. You can see that Eve starts to improve, but then a change in the Alice-Bob crypto method shuts her out again.

The results were… a mixed bag. Some runs were a complete flop, with Bob never able to reconstruct Alice’s messages. Most of the time, Alice and Bob did manage to evolve a system where they could communicate with very few errors. In some tests, Eve showed an improvement over random guessing, but Alice and Bob then usually responded by improving their cryptography technique until Eve had no chance (see graph).

The researchers didn’t perform an exhaustive analysis of the encryption methods devised by Alice and Bob, but for one specific training run they observed that it was both key- and plaintext-dependent. “However, it is not simply XOR. In particular, the output values are often floating-point values other than 0 and 1,” they said.

In conclusion, the researchers—Martín Abadi and David G. Andersen—said that neural networks can indeed learn to protect their communications, just by telling Alice to value secrecy above all else—and importantly, that secrecy can be obtained without prescribing a certain set of cryptographic algorithms.

There is more to cryptography than just symmetric encryption of data, though, and the researchers said that future work might look at steganography (concealing data within other media) and asymmetric (public-key) encryption. On whether Eve might ever become a decent adversary, the researchers said: “While it seems improbable that neural networks would become great at cryptanalysis, they may be quite effective in making sense of metadata and in traffic analysis.”



Forget blades, the Skarp razor wants you to shave with lasers

The Skarp Laser Razor is supposed to use a laser to give a close shave with less irritation. And, since its blade lasts a long time, fewer razors would end up in landfills.

Shaving can be the absolute worst, especially for people with sensitive skin. Razors can leave behind razor burn, ingrown hairs and cuts, and when you’ve worn down a razor so that it’s no longer usable, it joins the others in landfills to the tune of 2 billion razors per year in the US(PDF).

The makers of a new product called the Skarp Laser Razor want to give you an incredibly close, irritation-free shave using lasers. The prototype is an aluminum razor-shaped gizmo that they say uses a laser to cut (not burn) the hair at skin level for a close shave, and works for all hair colors.

Because the laser is supposed to last about 50,000 hours and be usable without water, it would be good for the environment as well.

The team building “the future of shaving” is trying a Kickstarter campaign to help make their design a reality — and it’s already made more than four times its goal in pledges, with 20 days remaining.

Of course, building something that lasts a long time doesn’t come cheap, and the Skarp Laser Razor will set you back more than a standard shaver. The lowest price available at press time is $159 (about £105, AU $255 — Australian price includes an extra $20 for shipping), with a full retail price of $189 (about £125, AU $300).

Preorders can be made on the Skarp Laser Razor’s Kickstarter page, and products are expected to ship to backers in March 2016, provided everything stays on schedule. Of course, with Kickstarter campaigns you can’t count on anything, but the dream of a perfect shave is clearly calling.

Qui-Gon Jinn

Count Dooku