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Gizmorama - May 23, 2016

Good Morning,

Today's going to interesting. It seems that scientists have discovered a new form of light. Science!

Learn about this interesting story and more from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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* New software helps robot butler combat clutter *

PITTSBURGH - Clutter can be distracting and make it hard to get work done -- not just for humans, but for robots, too.

New software designed by engineers at Carnegie Mellon University is helping robots cut through the clutter to accomplish their tasks, whether that's navigating a messy living room or retrieving a milk jug from the back of the refrigerator.

When researchers tested their new software on their Home Exploring Robot Butler, or HERB, they found it not only aided HERB's clutter-cutting abilities, but also enhanced the robot's creative problem solving skills.

"It was exploiting sort of superhuman capabilities," Siddhartha Srinivasa, an associate professor of robotics at CMU, said in a news release. "The robot's wrist has a 270-degree range, which led to behaviors we didn't expect. Sometimes, we're blinded by our own anthropomorphism."

During problem-solving tasks, researchers observed HERB using techniques they had never taught it, like cradling an object in the crook of its metal arm.

Researchers also tested their software on NASA's KRex robot, the space agency's latest lunar rover model. The ability to avoid craters, lava flows, hills and debris is vital when traversing the surface the moon.

The software works by teaching the robot about the physics of its surroundings, so that it can understand what objects can be moved and how. The software makes the robot aware of which objects are delicate and which are unmovable.

The algorithm also helps the robot map out a strategy for navigating around obstacles. For each task, the robot uses its software to determine what combination of maneuvering and object rearranging will allow it to most efficiently cut through the clutter.

Researchers are scheduled to present their new software on Thursday to attendees of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, held this week in Stockholm, Sweden.

*-- Scientists discover new form of light --*

DUBLIN, Ireland - Researchers in Ireland have discovered a new form of light. Their discovery is expected to reshape scientists' understanding of light's basic nature.

Angular momentum describes the rotation of a light beam around its axis. Until now, researchers believed the angular momentum was always a multiple of Planck's constant -- a constant ratio that describes the relationship between photon energy and frequency, and also sets the scale for quantum mechanics.

The newly discovered form of light, however, features photons with an angular momentum of just half the value of Planck's constant. The difference sounds small, but researchers say the significance of the discovery is great.

"For a beam of light, although traveling in a straight line it can also be rotating around its own axis," John Donegan, a professor at Trinity College Dublin's School of Physics, explained in a news release. "So when light from the mirror hits your eye in the morning, every photon twists your eye a little, one way or another."

"Our discovery will have real impacts for the study of light waves in areas such as secure optical communications," Donegan added.

Researchers made their discovery after passing light through special crystals to create a light beam with a hollow, screw-like structure. Using quantum mechanics, the physicists theorized that the beam's twisting photons were being slowed to a half-integer of Planck's constant.

The team of researchers then designed a device to measure the beam's angular momentum as it passed through the crystal. As they had predicted, they registered a shift in the flow of photons caused by quantum effects.

The researchers described their discovery in a paper published this week in the journal Science Advances.

"What I think is so exciting about this result is that even this fundamental property of light, that physicists have always thought was fixed, can be changed," concluded Paul Eastham, assistant professor of physics at Trinity.


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