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Robot arm manipulates complex objects with one touch



In terms of human features, which robots are probably most envious of, fingers should be on par with eyeballs and brains. Our fleshy little fingers are insanely dexterous compared to their size, and packed with so many sensors that allow you to manipulate complex objects without seeing your eyes. Obviously, these are features that would be nice to have in a robot, especially if we want them to be useful outside of factories and warehouses.

This problem has two parts: first, fingers that can work like human fingers (or as close to human fingers as is reasonable to expect); secondly, to have the intelligence necessary to do something useful with those fingers.

“Once we add visual feedback along with touch, we hope to be able to achieve even greater dexterity and one day get closer to reproducing a human hand.”
– Matei Ciocarli, Columbia University

In an article just adopted Robotics: Science and Systems 2023 conference researchers at Columbia University showed how to train robotic fingers to perform dexterous hand manipulations on complex objects without dropping them. Moreover, manipulations are performed exclusively by touch – vision is not required.

Robotic fingers manipulate random objects, a level of dexterity that humans have mastered by the time they are toddlers.Columbia University

There’s a lot going on inside those slightly stocky fingers that make these manipulations possible. Under the skin of each finger is a flexible reflective membrane, and under this membrane is an array of LEDs and photodiodes. Each LED turns on and off for a fraction of a millisecond, and photodiodes detect how the light from each LED reflects off the inner membrane of the finger. The nature of this reflection changes when the membrane is bent, which is what happens if the finger is in contact with something. The trained model can match this light pattern with the location and amplitude of finger touches.

So now that you have fingers that know what they’re touching, they also need to know how to touch something in order to manipulate it the way you want without dropping it. There are objects that are suitable for robots when it comes to manipulation, and there are objects that are hostile to robots, such as objects of complex shape and concavity (l or You shapes, for example). And with a limited number of fingers, doing manual manipulation often conflicts with making sure the object stays in a stable grip. This skill is called “finger gait” and it takes practice. Or, in this case, reinforcement learning is required (which I think is possibly the same thing). The trick the researchers use is to combine sampling-based methods (which find trajectories between known initial and final states) with reinforcement learning to develop a control policy trained on the entire state space.

While this method works well, all this blindness is a bit of an artificial limitation. That’s not to say that the ability to manipulate objects in darkness or clutter isn’t very important, just that vision has even more potential, says the Columbian researcher. Matei Ciocarli: “Once we add visual feedback along with touch, we hope we can achieve even greater dexterity and one day get closer to reproducing a human hand.”

Sample-Based Research for Dexterous Reinforcement Manipulation Learning”, written by Gagan Handate, Siki Shang, Eric T. Chang, Tristan Luca Saidi, Johnson Adams and Matei Chocarli of Columbia University, accepted in RSS 2023.

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Joint venture to build an “underwater space station” to study marine life and climate change



The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Proteus Ocean Group have formed a joint venture to build an “underwater ocean space station” to study marine life and climate change.

According to NOAA, the PROTEUS station will be built and located off the Caribbean island of Curacao and will be the first underwater facility of this magnitude.

Fabien Cousteau leads nighttime reconnaissance in the Florida Keys. (

The station will serve as an underwater habitat where scientists and researchers can live underwater while studying the ocean environment for extended periods of time.

PROTEUS will include state-of-the-art science labs, living quarters, an underwater food production garden, and a full-scale video production facility to provide live streaming of research and educational programming.


“This partnership has the potential to greatly enhance our ocean exploration capabilities,” said Jeremy Weirich, director of NOAA Ocean Exploration. “By living underwater for long periods of time in this new ocean laboratory, we will be able to unlock the mysteries of the ocean so we can better manage, use, protect and value its resources sustainably.”

Fabien Cousteau, founder of Proteus Ocean Group’s chief oceanographer and grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, said PROTEUS will provide the team with “unrestricted 24/7 ocean access.”

Proteus will conduct “possible long-term studies with continuous human surveillance,” Cousteau said. “Through our collaboration with NOAA, the discoveries we will be able to make – on climate shelters, supercorals, life-saving drugs, climate-related microenvironmental data, and more – will be truly groundbreaking.”


Through their partnership, NOAA will provide access to scientists, vessels and technology, while Proteus Ocean Group will share data and insights related to the development of underwater habitats.

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COVID deaths fell through 2022, but it still remains the top killer



National Mortality from COVID-19 fell nearly 50% in 2022 from the previous year, a decline that was attributed to widespread vaccination as well as a rise in natural immunity following the first Omicron surge.

There were 244,986 deaths in the US in which COVID-19 was listed as the underlying or contributing cause, a 47% decrease from 462,193 deaths in 2021, according to the report. analysis preliminary death certificate data released Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number does not include residents of US territories and foreign countries.

The first months of 2022 saw the second deadliest surge of COVID-19 as the first wave of Omicron sent out the highly contagious variant, seemingly everywhere in the US. But in the summer and last winter, mortality dropped sharply.

In addition to vaccinations and boosting natural immunity, 2022 also brought widespread availability of COVID therapeutics, such as Paxlovid, an oral drug that greatly reduces the risk of hospitalization and death when taken by people infected with the coronavirus.

However, with almost a quarter of a million dead in 2022, COVID-19 remains main cause of death – works less so. Last year, the death rate from COVID-19 was seven times higher than the annual rate. influenza deathswhich averaged about 35,000 per year during the decade prior to the pandemic.

Nationwide, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in both 2020 another 2021. It dropped to fourth place last year, behind heart disease, cancer and unintentional injuries (a category that remains high due to an elevated number of drug overdose deaths).

COVID-19 great death — now 1.13 million in the US and 6.9 million worldwide — staggering: the death toll in the country exceeds the last global pandemic of this magnitude, although the global figures are much lower. An influenza pandemic that began in 1918 killed an estimated 675,000 people in the United States and at least 50 million people worldwide.

According to the latest analysis released by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, deaths from COVID-19 were the highest in the US among people aged 85 and over. In 2022, the death rate in this group was three times that of those aged 75 to 84, and about eight times that of the youngest seniors aged 65 to 74.

Mortality was 50% higher in men than in women.

Of all deaths with any mention of COVID-19 on the death certificate, 76% listed COVID-19 as the underlying cause. This is lower than in 2020 and 2021, when COVID-19 was the leading cause of 90% of deaths when the disease was mentioned anywhere on the death certificate; the rest listed it as one of the causes of death.

Among the deaths where COVID-19 was listed as a contributing factor, the most common underlying causes of death were heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, unintentional injury, diabetes, kidney disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

In 2022, the majority of deaths from COVID-19 – 59% – occurred in hospitals. The report says that an increasing number of cases occur at home (15%), in a nursing home or in a long-term care facility (14%).

The analysis also calculated mortality rates for 10 regions designated by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

For the second year in a row, the South has the lowest death rates from COVID-19. The highest rate in both 2021 and 2022 was in the central south region, which covers Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and New Mexico. In 2022, the rate for this region was 69.3 deaths from COVID-19 for every 100,000 inhabitants.

In second place for both years was the Southeast, defined as Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi. The figure there in 2022 was 65.5 deaths from COVID-19 for every 100,000 inhabitants.

Close behind was the Midwest—Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota—with 65.1 deaths from COVID-19 for every 100,000 people; and Mid-Atlantic, which represents Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, and the District of Columbia, with 64.9 COVID-19 deaths for every 100,000 people.

In fifth place were the central Great Plains states of Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska, with 63.7 deaths from COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants, just above the national death rate of 61.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

Below the national COVID-19 death rate was the New York-New Jersey region, with 57.4 deaths per 100,000 residents. The Southwest, which covers California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii, had the fourth lowest rate, with 53 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents. In the northern Rocky Mountains and northern Great Plains states of Colorado, Utah, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming, the COVID-19 death rate was 52.2 per 100,000 residents.

The region with the second-highest COVID-19 death rate in 2022 was the Northwest—Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska—with 50.9 deaths per 100,000 residents. New England had the lowest COVID-19 death rate in 2022, with 49.5 deaths per 100,000 residents.

The South has not always had the highest COVID-19 death rate in the country. In 2020, the New York-New Jersey region led the way, while New England’s death rate was also slightly higher than the national average.

Only in three regions, mortality from COVID-19 was lower than the national average for all three years of the pandemic: South-West; Northwest; and northern Rocky Mountains/northern Great Plains. Conversely, one region had a higher death rate than the nation in each of those years: the central south region, which includes Texas and its neighboring states.

The magnitude of the disparity in COVID-19 deaths across races and ethnic groups decreased in 2022 compared to the previous year, but still persists for many. In general, inequalities across race and ethnicity have been exacerbated during outbreaks of the pandemic, with fewer outbreaks in 2022.

In 2022, Native Americans had a 42% lower COVID-19 death rate than white residents; for Blacks and Pacific Islanders, the figures were 19% and 11% worse, respectively. Hispanic death rates from COVID-19 were about the same as white residents, while Asian American and multiracial groups had lower rates than white residents.

Mortality inequality was larger in 2021. Compared to white residents, the COVID-19 mortality rate for Native Americans and Pacific Islanders was more than 90% higher; Hispanic death rates were 54% higher; and black deaths were 44% higher.

In 2020, compared to white residents, Native Americans had a 157% higher death rate from COVID-19. For Hispanics, the rate was 122% higher; Black residents are 109% higher; and Pacific Islanders, 67% higher.

The death rate from COVID-19 has decreased for all racial and ethnic groups from 2021 to 2022. However, between 2020 and 2021, it rose markedly for white residents, jumping by 42%. They also increased by 59% for multiracial residents and 63% for Pacific Islanders. During the same period, the death rate among Hispanics, Blacks, and Native Americans remained generally at the same, depressingly high level.

The data released in the CDC analysis is considered preliminary and incomplete. The final mortality data for 2022 is expected to be released by the end of this year.

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Group says shortage of monkeys for research undermines U.S. preparedness



There is a shortage of monkeys available for medical research, and the US should expand its breeding programs rather than rely on international suppliers to deal with the problem, a powerful scientific advisory group said Thursday.

Research using non-human primates, especially monkeys, has been critical to life-saving medical advances, including the development of COVID-19 vaccines, due to their resemblance to humans. The US is funding colonies at National Primate Centers, but supplies have been limited and even before the pandemic, more animals were regularly imported.

Then China, once a leading supplier, stopped exporting research monkeys in 2020 as scientists around the world needed more for coronavirus research. And last fall, the US filed charges to stop a Cambodian smuggling ring accused of transporting endangered wild monkeys instead of those bred for research, further restricting supplies.

The report, released Thursday, only looked at NIH-funded research deemed key to public health emergency response, not pharmaceutical companies or other publicly or privately funded monkey research.

The country’s preparedness is being undermined by its dependence on imports of these animals, which are especially important for research into infectious diseases and neuroscience, the commission from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said. Highlighting this vulnerability, the US faced a 20 percent drop in imports of one species, the cynomolgus macaque, when China abruptly cut off supplies.

The panel also called for further development of alternatives to testing on monkeys, and in the meantime called for closer collaboration among scientists to make the best use of each research animal.

“If the US wants to conduct high-impact biomedical research and have a research infrastructure capable of responding to the next public health crisis, now is the time to strengthen the systems needed for non-human primate research,” said committee chairman Dr. Kenneth Ramos of Texas A&M University.

The use of animals in biomedical research, especially non-human primates, is controversial. Under pressure, the NIH has already excluded chimpanzees, humans’ closest relatives, from invasive research, but says the need for apes still exists. The report states that primates make up 0.5% of all animals used in biomedical research in the US.

In a survey of NIH-supported researchers, a panel of national academies found that 64% reported problems obtaining non-human primates needed for their jobs, including increased waiting times and costs. The report says that in 2021 the National Primate Research Centers had such a shortage of monkeys never used in previous studies that they could not meet two-thirds of the researchers’ requests.


The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science and Education Media Group. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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