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Man Hacks Alexa to Make Her Flush the Toilet

He works very hard to be lazy. Also, snake skin robots, and robotic arms to clear disaster debris.

Snake Skin Robot

Harvard researchers have created a new bio-inspired soft robot that crawls along the surface just like a snake.

The engineers experimented with Kirigami, an ancient Japanese art form in which you cut and fold paper to create 3D shapes. The only difference was that this time the team was using sheets of plastic. 

Snakes use their scales to grip the ground and move forward. The team used a laser cutter to mimic the pattern on the plastic sheet, and then wrapped it around an elastomer actuator that uses air to expand and contract. As the snake expands, the scales grip the ground and propel the snake forward.

The teams experimented with various shapes, but the researchers found that the trapezoidal cuts gave the robot a longer stride than triangular and circular slices. 

According to the researchers, the technology could soon be applied soft robots that could traverse all terrains for exploration, inspection or even search and rescue missions. It could also be used to perform laparoscopic medical procedures.

New Robot Could Clear Disaster Debris

Engineers from MIT and Princeton University have developed a robot that can find and pick up any object, despite whatever else is in the way, and move it to another location.

Some anticipate a day when the robotic system can help with your chores, but this one could make a larger impact organizing a warehouse or clearing debris in a disaster zone.

The pick-and-place system uses a robotic arm from ABB that has been outfitted with a custom gripper, a suction cup and a number of cameras. They developed an "object-agnostic" algorithm that allows the robot to see a bin of random objects and determine the best way to grip or suction onto an item amid the clutter. The robot pulls data from a library of past failures and successes to match the current obstacle with a successful past scenario.

The team has added tactile sensors to the gripper, and the robot is currently picking up things non-stop, amassing a library of information regarding successes and failures to improve performance in the future.

Maker Drops Alexa in the Toilet

When maker Jonathan Gleich attended CES, he had a chance to bear witness to a $6,000 toilet that was controlled by Alexa, Amazon's A.I. That was when he thought to himself, "I can to that for a lot less money." 

After all, on this was the man behind the Zombie Finger Food Prop and the Ooey Gooey Puke Worthy Zombie Shoes. There was no reason to doubt his ability, and he had even hacked Amazon's Echo in the past.

He bought a Washlet luxury bidet seat, an auto flusher, a Broadlink IR commonly used for home automation systems and an Adafruit board. Now, his toilet obeys his every command, and all for $735.

Gleich has posted a couple videos of the toilet flush and cleaning functions working, and thankfully he's a little too shy to post a video of him using it. 

He first started the project as a "geeky gimmick," but it turns out that he actually feels a lot cleaner after using it for a week.

As for why he did it, he wrote, "You work very hard to be lazy."

This is Engineering By Design with David Mantey.

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