There is a Robot That Learns to Play Jenga with humans

There is a Robot That Learns to Play Jenga with humans

Jenga—that game that needs careful use of agile and deft fingers, as well as careful consideration of which block can be removed without toppling the tower. Yup, that game! A robot can play that game.

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a self-learning robot with a soft-pronged gripper, a force-sensing wrist cuff, and an external camera, which it uses to see and feel the structure of the Jenga tower and its individual blocks. The details of the Jenga-playing smart machine were published in the journal Science Robotics.

The machine-learning approach of the Jenga-playing robot could help robots in assembling small parts in a manufacturing line like mobile phones

The Jenga-playing Robot

With the information it receives from its camera, the robot can analyze and compare this information to the moves it has previously made. It considers the outcomes of those moves to make a calculation about which individual piece could be moved and how much force is needed to be used to remove the piece successfully. The robot “learns” in real-time about the best moves for different situations in the game.

Alberto Rodriguez, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, said the Jenga-playing smart machine achieved something that cannot be done by previous smart systems:

“Unlike in more purely cognitive tasks or games such as chess or Go, playing the game of Jenga also requires mastery of physical skills such as probing, pushing, pulling, placing, and aligning pieces. It requires interactive perception and manipulation, where you have to go and touch the tower to learn how and when to move blocks. This is very difficult to simulate, so the robot has to learn in the real world, by interacting with the real Jenga tower. The key challenge is to learn from a relatively small number of experiments by exploiting common sense about objects and physics.”

How the Jenga-playing Robot learned to Play

For a robot to learn how to play Jenga, it would need at least tens of thousands of block-extraction attempts as initial data. The self-learning robot, however only needed about 300. The researchers used a more data-efficient way to let the robot to learn how to play Jenga. It is inspired by human cognition, the way we ourselves learn and approach the game.

The team used a customized industry-standard ABB IRB 120 robotic arm. It was first trained with 300 random extraction attempts on the Jenga tower. With each attempt, a computer would record the associated visual and force measurements of the move and mark each of them with a success or failure.

It clusters one attempt with many similar measurements and outcomes to represent one behavior to increase efficiency. This is the same way in which humans cluster similar behavior.

“The robot builds clusters and then learns models for each of these clusters, instead of learning a model that captures absolutely everything that could happen,” said Nima Fazeli, MIT graduate student and lead author of the paper.

Beyond Playing Jenga

This robot is not just a playing companion for those who cannot find someone to play Jenga with. The researchers highlighted that its ability to quickly learn the best way to carry out a task, not just from visual cues but from real situations, could be applied to creating robots that can do tasks that need careful physical interaction.

“In a cellphone assembly line, in almost every single step, the feeling of a snap-fit, or a threaded screw, is coming from force and touch rather than vision,” Rodriguez said. “Learning models for those actions is prime real-estate for this kind of technology.”

Experts Found a Cellular Mechanism to Stop Cancer Before it Starts

Experts Found a Cellular Mechanism to Stop Cancer Before it Starts

Cancer is one of the most deadly diseases that leave most people hopeless. According to the National Institutes of Health, for every 100,000 people, there are 439.2 new cases of cancer every year. Meanwhile, for every 100,000 people, there are a total of 163.5 cancer deaths per year.

Researchers at the Salk Institute had a new discovery about the mechanisms of cancer. A cellular recycling process called autophagy—which was generally thought to fuel cancer’s growth—can actually lead to its death, thus preventing cancer before it starts.

The Telomeres

In the paper published in the journal Nature, researchers investigated molecular tips called telomeres to find out how they are linked to cancer. The researchers likened the telomeres to the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces. Those tips “keep the laces from fraying when we tie them,” similarly the telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes to “keep them from fusing when cells continually divide and duplicate their DNA.”  However, while the loss of the plastic tips may lead to messy laces, losing the telomere may lead to cancer.

Every time the cells duplicate their DNA to divide and grow, their telomeres are slowly chipped away. The researchers explained that once the telomeres become too short “that they can no longer effectively protect chromosomes,” the cells stop dividing permanently.

However, due to cancer-causing viruses or other factors, cells may continue to divide. And because the telomeres are either too short or missing, the unprotected chromosomes undergo “crisis.” They can fuse and become dysfunctional, which may result in the initiation of some types of cancer.

The Autophagy

The team dug deeper to understand this “crisis.” The typical response to this crisis is widespread cell death in order to stop the dangerous fused cells to become full-blown cancer.

To investigate this crisis and the resulting cell death, the research team used healthy human cells in experiments to compare the normally growing cells with the cells they forced into crisis. They then investigated the cellular mechanisms which occur during the crisis; such as apoptosis and autophagy.

Results revealed that when they prevented autophagy in the crisis cells, the cells replicated tirelessly. Additionally, they were fused and disfigured. The severe DNA damage in the cells indicates that they have become cancerous cells. This means that autophagy is an important early cancer-suppressing mechanism.

Surprising Reversal

Previously, the so-called autophagy was generally thought of as a survival mechanism of cancer cells; A process that supports the unsanctioned growth of cancerous cells by eating other cells to recycle raw materials.

However, it seems that this understanding was wrong. The researchers claimed autophagy to be a “completely novel tumor-suppressing pathway.” They added the treatment programs that block the autophagy in order to curb cancer may have the opposite effect and unintentionally promote cancer instead.

Even the researchers were taken by surprise by the results of their study. “These results were a complete surprise. There are many checkpoints that prevent cells from dividing out of control and becoming cancerous, but we did not expect autophagy to be one of them,” said Jan Karlseder, a professor in Salk’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory and the senior author of the study.

6 Parenting Tips on How to Connect with Your Children

6 Parenting Tips on How to Connect with Your Children

One of the problems parents might face at one point is difficulty in connecting with their children. This might be brought by various causes like busy work schedule, rebellion in early adolescence, and others. However, it is never too late to repair your connection and relationship with your children. Here are some effective tips:

1 Make Conversations

This is one of the most basic tricks that never get old. Try to talk and listen to them—about anything really. From how their day went to some interesting and unforgettable memories that you both of you can laugh about. This is the easiest way to let your children know that you care. Don’t just impose on your belief and be a good listener. There will come a day that they will voluntarily entrust you with their troubles.

2 Learn About Their Interests

Talking won’t do all the work. Show your care in your actions by learning about their interests. Won’t a basketball fanatic kid find it easier to talk to their parents who know at least the basic rules of the game or the famous basketball teams? If your kids like video games try to watch and ask to play with them sometimes. They might just shut you out and not let you play together but at least they will feel you are not judgmental of their hobbies.

3 Never Use Guilt Trips

Fine, it might work once, twice or a few times but using their guilt to get your kids to obey you will wear them down and only cause them to resent you sooner or later. Guilt trips are not called “relationship killers” for nothing. It can make your children feel that you are forcing them to do what they do not want using negative criticisms. They may feel hurt and frustrated inside and their overall view about you might go down a notch.

4 Let them into Your World

Another way to make a favorable impression to your kids is by making them feel welcome to your life. Let them go to explore your workplace or let them meet your friends and co-workers. You can also pull your kid to your interests. Drag them to the concert of your favorite band or go with them to places with significance to you and share them your story about it. With this, they won’t feel that you are out of reach.

5 Find a Common Hobby

Find a new activity you both haven’t done yet but somehow interest you and do it together. For example, start some sports activity or enter a yoga class. This will give you more time to bond, make happy memories and develop your relationship.

6 Find Time for One-on-one Time

This is easy for those with just one kid but a little challenging to those with many children. Make sure to dedicate even at least even 15 minutes of one-on-one time to have a heart-to-heart talk or pour your love to each of your kids. There some things they may easily blurt out when you’re alone with them. Try visiting their bedroom to have some snuggle and chat time before going to bed.

6 Amazing Uses of Banana Peels Will Make You Regret for Throwing Them

6 Amazing Uses of Banana Peels Will Make You Regret for Throwing Them

When someone slipped, there might be a banana peel. That’s what we commonly see in most television shows especially in animations for children. Oh, how many cartoon characters have once had mishaps due to the ever-powerful banana peels… But aside from that, how much do you know about banana peels?

Here are 6 uses of banana peels which will make you regret ever throwing them in the trash cans:

1 Make Your Teeth Sparkling White

Dental care products are so pricey, so why not use cheap banana peels? Just rub your newly brushed teeth with the inner white side of the banana peel for about 2 minutes every day. The citric acid in banana peels can effectively lighten surface stains on your teeth in just one week. However, remember to only use fresh banana peels. Putting your banana peels in the refrigerator to be preserved is no good.

2 Add to Your Beauty Regimen

There are many beauty benefits of banana peels. To cure pimples and remove acne, massage fresh banana peels on the affected area on your face and body for 5 minutes every day. You will notice the results within a week. Keep repeating until it disappears completely. You can also make your own banana peel face moisturizer to reduce wrinkles. Simply add an egg yolk to mashed banana peels, apply and leave on your face for up to five minutes and wash off

3 Polish Shoes, Leather and Silverware

Do you know that the potassium in bananas is a key ingredient in making shoe polish? So why do you need to buy a manufactured-with-chemicals version if you have the natural one at your home? Rub the inside of the banana peel on shoes or leather to make them shine instantly. You can also make a paste with blended banana peels and a little water to polish your silver or iron pieces. Just scrub it with the paste with a soft cloth or brush, submerge in water to wash off the remaining paste and dry with a cloth.

4 Remove Ink Stains from Your Skin

Most people remove ink stains on the skin by rubbing it with alcohol until it is all red and irritated. But there is an easier solution for that. Just rub the inside of the banana peels on the affected skin and the natural oils in the peel will weaken the pigment bond on the surface of the skin.

5 Wonder Cure for Skin Ailments

Are you looking for a cheap and quick cure for psoriasis or warts? Banana peels are perfect for various skin ailments as it can naturally moisturize skin and remove itchiness and inflammation. Just rub the banana peel on the affected area and leave it overnight (you can tie it to make sure it sticks to your skin). Banana peels can help heal psoriasis and remove warts on the skin. It is also useful in itchy bug bites.

6 Revitalize Your Garden

All vegetable and fruit wastes have nutrients that can make the soil more fertile to help your plants grow healthy. However, that’s not all there is to banana peels. The high potassium concentrations in banana peels are dreaded by some insects which destroy your garden like aphids and ants.

Exercise Benefits Brain Function in Older Adults According to Study

Exercise Benefits Brain Function in Older Adults According to Study

We’ve learned about the widely known benefits of exercise. It enhances and maintains your overall health and wellness as well as physical fitness. It can also help in increasing body growth and development, strengthening muscles, weight loss, preventing cardiovascular diseases and aging.

But if you think that’s all there is to exercise, you are largely mistaken. A new study reveals it may benefit the brain function in older adults, and prevent or delay the onset of dementia.

Brain Effects of Exercise

In a paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Diseases, researchers revealed that exercise was associated with a change in the blood flow in key regions in the brain. This, in turn, resulted in an improved cognitive performance in a group of healthy older adults and a group diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

The researchers had two groups of older adults go through an exercise training program. The program consists of 30-minute sessions of moderate-intensity treadmill walking or aerobic exercises, four days per week for a total of 12 weeks.

One group was composed of those with mild cognitive impairment while another was composed of healthy older adults without MCI. Before and after the program, the participants underwent aerobic fitness testing, neuropsychological assessment, and an MRI scan.

Both groups yielded positive results. The healthy group had increased cerebral blood flow in the frontal cortex after 12 weeks, which significantly improved their performance on cognitive tests.

On the other hand, the MCI group had decreased cerebral blood flow in the left anterior cingulate cortex and left insula after 12 weeks. This resulted in their improved performance on a test used to measure memory and cognitive health.

How Reduced Blood Flow Increases Brain Function

According to Dr. J. Carson Smith, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology in the University Of Maryland and one of the authors of the study, when we begin to experience subtle memory loss, the brain responds to the crisis by trying to “compensate” the inadequate brain function by increasing the blood flow.

However, while increased cerebral blood flow can be beneficial in normal brain situations, in those diagnosed with MCI, it gives the opposite effect. Dr. Smith states that there is evidence that it may bring further memory loss to those in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Dr. Smith explains the result of the study:

“A reduction in blood flow may seem a little contrary to what you would assume happens after going on an exercise program. But after 12-weeks of exercise, adults with MCI experienced decreases in cerebral blood flow. They simultaneously improved significantly in their scores on cognitive tests.”

These findings provide evidence that exercise can improve brain function in older adults—whether or not their cognitive abilities are already in decline.

Dr. Smith added that that exercise can positively affect “biomarkers of brain function in a way that might protect people by preventing or postponing the onset of dementia.” He highlighted how exercise influences the brain’s neural networks which are linked to memory loss and amyloid accumulation—both signs of MCI and Alzheimer’s.