Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for February 5, 2020

in rsslog •  2 months ago 

A TED talk discusses the creation and potential of robots the size of a biological cell; Department of Interior grounds all non-emergency drones; Google releases an open-source application for two factor authentication; Google sends downloaded private photos to the wrong people; and a Steem post with photos of snow under the microscope

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First posted on my Steem blog: SteemIt, SteemPeak*, StemGeeks.


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  1. Tiny robots with giant potential - This TED talk by Cornell's Paul McEuen and the University of Pennsylvania's Marc Miskin was posted in November of 2019 and it came across the site's RSS feed on February 4. The pair of researchers talk about their work creating microscopic, cell-sized robots. McEuen describes work building the brains for the robot, termed Optical Wireless Integrated Circuits (OWIC) that can be mass produced from existing technologies that include at a cost of less than a penny. About a million of them can be built on a single 4 inch wafer. These devices can measure temperature, measure voltage, or just blink a tiny LCD device. The mechanical components of the robots are described by Miskin, who points out that the actuators need to be small, they need to work with low power, low voltage, and tiny. Unlike the OWICs, these could not be built from pre-existing technology. Here is Miskin's description of how the actuators were built:
    Now it turns out, if you take platinum and put it in water and apply a voltage to it, atoms from the water will attach or remove themselves from the surface of the platinum, depending on how much voltage you use. This creates a force, and you can use that force for voltage-controlled actuation. The key here was to make everything ultrathin. Then your actuator is flexible enough to bend to these small sizes without breaking, and it can use the forces that come about from just attaching or removing a single layer of atoms.
    As with the OWICs, he says that they can be built using massively parallel production, again fitting about a million robots onto a single 4 inch wafer. Next in the talk is a video demo of the robots in operation, showing that their size is smaller than that of a paramecium, and showing how they can be remote-controlled through the use of a flashing laser. Miskin suggests some possibilities for micro-robots, suggesting that they may, one day, live in our blood streams or live on crops to eliminate pests.

  2. Department of Interior grounding drone fleet over cybersecurity concerns - On Wednesday, January 29, an order was issued by the Secretary of the Interior to ground all non-emergency drones in operation by the Department of the Interior (DOI). A DOI spokesperson said that the devices will remain grounded during a security review to explore the possibility of threats and to ensure a reliable, consistent, and secure drone policy. This action "expands and formalizes" an October order that grounded the agency's 800 Chinese-made drones and it arises out of concerns that information about the US "energy, transportation, and defense" infrastructure is gathered by the drones and could be extremely valuable to foreign adversaries. This follows actions by the Army and Navy warning about and banning Chinese-made drones out of concerns about "'highly vulnerable' drone systems". A DOI official said that China is the main source of concerns, but the action is not limited to China, and other possible threats are also being examined. In a post linking to this one, Bruce Schneier argues that data exfiltration is relatively easy to detect, and he worries about kill switches on foreign made drones more than he does about information theft. -h/t Bruce Schneier

  3. Google releases open-source 2FA security key platform called OpenSK - Two factor authentication (2FA) is a requirement for applications with substantial needs for security. Until now, however, privacy advocates have been concerned with the lack of transparency among the available options. On January 30, Google began to change that by announcing the release of their Open Source, OpenSK, technology for two factor authentication that makes use of the "FIDO U2F and FIDO2" standards. As-of now, the release is highly experimental and it only works with one piece of reference hardware, but the release has the potential to continue increasing 2FA transparency going into the future. -h/t OS news

  4. Nightmare Google Photos bug sent private videos to the wrong people - Google has been sending e-mails to alert users who were impacted by a bug in the Google Takeout service, a service that lets Google Photos users download their photos for offline viewing. Apparently, some Google Takeout users were able to access private photos that were owned by other Google Photos users. The problem was first observed by 9To5Google and Google says that the problem only impacted 0.01% of Google's users and it has now been resolved. The article notes that the e-mails that have been seen went to Google Takeout users who gained access to someone else's photos, but there have been no reports of e-mails from Google to the users whose photos were downloaded without permission.

  5. STEEM Microscope Photography: Winter Wonderland Edition - This STEEM post by @phoenixwren contains four photos of snow under the microscope that were taken by the author. The author notes that a follow-up post may be on the way with a video that shows the snow under the microscope as it melts in the hand. The post doesn't say anything about licensing for the photos, so you'll have to click through to see them. You can leave an upvote on the post by @phoenixwren while you're there. (A 10% beneficiary setting has been applied to this post for @phoenixwren.)

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