In the US Blue River Technology is developing a weed-killing robot called the lettuce bot. The robot crawls along a row of lettuces and uses a camera to distinguish the plants. A classification algorithm identifies the plants — lettuce or weed — and then a Kill algorithm decides the correct moment to inject a deadly dose of fertiliser into the weed. Other types of crops need their own recognition algorithms. Killing those weeds is the kind of backbreaking work a robot would be well suited for.

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BEAUTY AND THE BEAK: Beauty is an Alaskan Bald Eagle found starving in the middle of plenty of food. A poacher had shot her beak off and she couldn't eat. After she was rescued a mechanical engineer decided to give her a bionic beak. He used a laser to scan her stump, 3D modelling software to design a new upper beak and a 3D printer to create it from a nylon based polymer. It was attached to a titanium post that locked on to her stump. Those 3D printers have more uses than you think. GrrlScientist details. Video here.


KEY TROUBLE: Modern BMWs have an onboard computer that can programme a new car key, in the case the old one is lost. It's a complex procedure that takes around 40 minutes and needs specialist equipment. Or at least, it used to be. Now a costly device is available online that can do the task in 3 minutes, and thieves are cashing in. BMW owners need to take a bit more care with both keys and cars, and make sure they get the updates. That's the trouble with security measures — they're so often much more trouble for the honest people than for the dishonest. BBC elaborates.

CUT YOUR CLOTH: Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute have developed a smart but inexpensive fabric that can set off an alarm if it's cut. The fabric incorporates a fine web of conductive threads connected to a microcontroller. If the fabric is cut then software can identify to within a centimetre where the cut is. The fabric uses standard materials and components such as silver-coated conductive threads. The reams of fabric can be trimmed to any length and the functions can be customised. In tests the fabric was put through a hot wash in a machine, left out in the weather and heated in a furnace without ill effect. The fabric could be used to help protect trucks, museums, banks, or anywhere thieves may intrude. It'd be a handy layer in a space suit too. Fraunhofer Institute has further info.

FULL COLOUR GLASS: Nearly 300 million people around the world are colour blind. The problem comes in several forms and can mean it's hard to read maps or pick out ripe from unripe fruit. EnChroma's special glasses enhance certain colours with an optical coating that selectively blocks wavelengths of light. In clinical testing it was found that the glasses helped colour blind people to better experience colours. Try their online colour blindness test too. I wonder if they could apply the coating to contact lenses. EnChroma explains.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz