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facts & arguments

An undated handout photo of Rethink Robotics' Baxter, a two-armed robot that changes facial expressions and looks friendly. Researchers are developing robots that can mingle safely with humans, and Baxter, which goes on sale for $22,000 in October, is a significant bet that robots in the future will work directly with humans.Rethink Robotics/The New York Times

Future factory worker?

Rethink Robotics of Boston "has unveiled a manufacturing robot that can safely interact with humans, is easily programmable and, at $22,000 [U.S.], is pretty inexpensive, as industrial robots go," says a Discover magazine blog. Baxter, as it is known, goes on sale next month. "Industrial robots are fairly common in today's factories. … But current models, such as those in the automobile industry, are kept behind glass walls and cages to protect their human co-workers. Baxter, in contrast, is meant to work safely with humans. It senses a person's approach and slows down. It has communicative eyes that look where it's going and foretell its next move." Baxter could work at simple tasks for the equivalent of $4 an hour.

Identified by your walk

A recognition system may soon help track individuals by analyzing the way they walk, British researchers say. A test system combining a computer model of the National Physical Laboratory building on the outskirts of London with feeds from CCTV cameras placed around the site can record a person's "gait signature," or specific walk, check where else that person has been in the building and display the results in the model, United Press International reports. "Measurements are taken of the rise and fall of head height between each silhouette [of the person], a pattern of numbers that can be represented by a set of numbers. … The system could have many uses, they said, including identifying crime suspects captured on CCTV systems, by the way they walk."

Software to spot drunks

"Slurred speech is a well-known sign that someone is drunk," says the New Scientist. "But alcohol also dilates blood vessels and makes your face warmer. Georgia Koukiou at the University of Patras, Greece, trained thermal cameras on beer-drinking volunteers and found that the nose of a drunk person is often hotter than their forehead. Software to spot such temperature variations across the face could be used at nightclubs or airports."

Swimmers feeling the pinch

Swimmers in England's Hampstead Heath are being warned not to swim in the nude in open-air ponds because of an invasion of crayfish, reports The Daily Telegraph. "The Red Swamp Crayfish, which are native to America, have rocketed in numbers in the past few months at two ponds. … There are now estimated to be more than 5,000 of the five-inch-long crayfish, which use their powerful claws to catch fish in the ponds and are 'very defensive' of their territory. But after an increase in the number of 'attacks' on swimmers – who regularly take nude dips in the two giant ponds all year round – locals have been warned to 'beware' of the crayfish nipping at them as they swim."

How does chicken taste?

"At least once a week, someone tells me that some food other than chicken 'tastes like chicken,'" writes Jackson Landers for "People throw the analogy around constantly. Virtually any meat that is pale in colour, firm in texture and lacking a strong flavour is subjected to the chicken comparison. … Does chicken taste like chicken? Don't laugh – this is an important question. Even lifelong chicken eaters usually have a very narrow experience, because the birds sold in grocery stores are usually one of a very few breeds that have been designed to grow a lot of breast meat very quickly in factory-farm settings. A Plymouth roasting hen slaughtered for market at seven weeks does not make for the same eating experience as a two-year-old Rhode Island Red. I once ate a bantam rooster that tasted more like iguana than a grocery-store chicken."

Thought du jour

"Show me another pleasure like dinner which comes every day and lasts an hour."

- Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

French diplomat (1754-1838)