Science & Health

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Behold A Robot Hand With A Soft Touch

Dec 11, 2016

Robotics researchers at Cornell University made a hand that has something close to a human touch — it can not only touch delicate items but also sense the shape and texture of what it comes into contact with.

Such a soft robot hand is a step forward for the growing field of soft robotics — the kind of technology that's already used in warehouses to handle food or other products. But it also holds promise for better prosthetics, robots to interact directly with people or with fragile objects, or robots to squeeze into tight spaces.

A cable that's as long as six football fields has been launched into orbit — and when it's deployed, it'll test an idea to knock out orbital debris. Japan's space agency sent the electrodynamic tether into space along with supplies for the International Space Station.

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If you could change the way a monkey or an ape's brain is wired, that animal would be capable of producing perfectly intelligible speech.

That's the conclusion of a study that closely tracked the movements of a monkey's mouth and throat with X-rays, to understand the full potential of its vocal tract.

Any pet owner will tell you that their animal companions comfort and sustain them when life gets rough. This may be especially true for people with serious mental illness, a study finds. When people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder were asked who or what helped them manage the condition, many said it was pets that helped the most.

"When I'm feeling really low they are wonderful because they won't leave my side for two days," one study participant with two dogs and two cats, "They just stay with me until I am ready to come out of it."

Scientists in Ireland are using a rather unexpected material to make an extremely sensitive pressure detector: Silly Putty.

The Irish researchers combined the kids' plaything with a special form of carbon, and came up with a remarkable new material — one they think could someday be useful in making medical devices.

The surprise find of smallpox DNA in a child mummy from the 17th century could help scientists start to trace the mysterious history of this notorious virus.

Smallpox currently only exists in secure freezers, after a global vaccination campaign eradicated the virus in the late 1970s. But much about this killer remains unknown, including its origins.

In 2015, Lida Xing was visiting a market in northern Myanmar when a salesman brought out a piece of amber about the size of a pink rubber eraser. Inside, he could see a couple of ancient ants and a fuzzy brown tuft that the salesman said was a plant.

As soon as Xing saw it, he knew it wasn't a plant. It was the delicate, feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur.

Giraffes are dying at an alarming rate and could face extinction if the trend doesn't reverse, according to a new conservation report on animal populations worldwide.

The report was released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which maintains the so-called Red List of species threatened with extinction.

One of the fundamental ways scientists measure the well-being of a nation is tracking the rate at which its citizens die and how long they can be expected to live.

So the news out of the federal government Thursday is disturbing: The overall U.S. death rate has increased for the first time in a decade, according to an analysis of the latest data. And that led to a drop in overall life expectancy for the first time since 1993, particularly among people younger than 65.

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President-elect Donald Trump intends to nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, announcing his decision in a statement Thursday.

As attorney general, Pruitt has made no secret of his disdain for the EPA.

In the quest to help the poor, it's difficult to know whose needs are the greatest. Without clear data, it's tough to know who to help first.

The traditional way to look for the poorest of the poor is with household surveys. That's the primary source of data for policy decisions, but it has drawbacks.

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We live in a world of screens. And in this digital age — with so many devices and distraction — it's one of the things parents worry about most: How much time should their kids spend staring at their phones and computers? What's the right balance between privacy and self-discovery?

Traffic safety officials regularly warn us of the risks of driving while drunk or distracted.

But Americans still need to wake up to the dangers of getting behind the wheel when sleepy, according to a recent study of crash rates.

A report released Tuesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests that drivers who sleep only five or six hours in a 24-hour period are twice as likely to crash as drivers who get seven hours of sleep or more.

Updated at 10:15 a.m. ET on Dec. 6

The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota is asking people camping near the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline to go home.

"I'm asking them to go," Dave Archambault III told Reuters on Monday, saying that the Obama administration "did the right thing," and that he hoped to "educate the incoming administration" of President-elect Donald Trump.

"Nothing will happen this winter," he said.

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The high-stakes fight over who invented a technology that could revolutionize medicine and agriculture heads to a courtroom Tuesday.

A gene-editing technology called CRISPR-cas9 could be worth billions of dollars. But it's not clear who owns the idea.

U.S. patent judges will hear oral arguments to help untangle this issue, which has far more at stake than your garden-variety patent dispute.

Meat was seldom on the menu when I was a kid. When we did eat it, my family's go-tos consisted of hot dogs (consumed once per year at my dad's work picnic), kung pao chicken from various local Chinese establishments, and my mom's tandoori chicken slathered in yogurt sauce. These dishes all followed my formerly vegetarian, reluctantly omnivorous Hindu parents' Cardinal Rule for Eating Meat: Meat should not resemble animal. Skin and bones were to be avoided, which meant that chicken wings and ribs were inherently problematic, as were Thanksgiving turkeys, which were replaced with lasagnas.

When a robotic probe finally lands on a watery world like Jupiter's moon Europa, what do scientists have to see to definitively say whether the place has any life?

That's the question retired astronaut John Grunsfeld posed to some colleagues at NASA when he was in charge of the agency's science missions.

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Pandemic flu, Ebola, Nipah virus. Emmie de Wit has held all of them in her hands (with three layers of gloves in between, of course).

She's a virologist working at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana. The 450-person facility, which is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is nestled in a town of 4,000. It's surrounded by mountains and national forests. Only one road passes through.

In Florida, oranges are so important that they're on the state's license plates. But after 11 years of fighting a debilitating disease, Florida's citrus industry is in a sad state. The disease, called citrus greening, is caused by a bacterium that constricts a tree's vascular system, shriveling fruit and eventually killing the tree. The bacterium is spread by a tiny insect called a psyllid.

Part 4 of our series, "Unlocking Dyslexia."

Megan Lordos, a middle school teacher, says she was not allowed to use the word "dyslexia."

She's not alone. Parents and teachers across the country have raised concerns about some schools hesitating, or completely refusing, to say the word.

As the most common learning disability in the U.S., dyslexia affects somewhere between 5 and 17 percent of the population. That means millions of school children around the country struggle with it.

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We're reporting this week on the most common reading disability. Ask just about anyone what dyslexia is, you'll almost certainly hear something like this.

Each year, a glowing mass of clouds forms over the South Pole, high in the atmosphere, trapped between Earth and space.

From the ground they look wispy and shimmery, like a blue-white aurora borealis. From space, they look like an electric-blue gossamer haze.

If you're curious about what people really think about some of the hottest of hot-button food controversies, the Pew Research Center has just the thing for you: a survey of attitudes toward genetic modification, organic food and the importance of eating healthfully.

The survey results are published in a 99-page report that can keep you occupied for days. But if you're pressed for time, here are some of the most interesting highlights that caught our eye.

A single tornado can cause a lot of damage. But even worse are tornado outbreaks. Just this week, a cluster of at least 18 tornadoes struck the Southeast over two days.

Scientists are seeing bigger clusters in recent years, and they're struggling to figure out what's happening.

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