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Your Cat Can Help You Hack That Wi-Fi

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cat hackOf all the recent stories about hacking and the invasion of people’s privacy by the good ol’ government, I’m a bit turned off by news of stolen passwords these days. But this is the best hacking story I’ve ever read, so I’m making an exception. Who doesn’t want to know how to hack Wi-Fi with a cat?

When we were little, my brother tied a transistor radio to our cat’s tail. The idea was that the cat would walk around from room to room, filling the house with music. A lovely idea, in theory. In reality, the cat freaked out and took off running down the stairs, smashing the radio to bits. But a cat collar containing a chip with firmware, Wi-Fi card, GPS, and battery could function much the same way. A cat wears this stuff and moseys around the neighborhood, mapping residents’ Wi-Fi networks and gathering information about any routers that either lack encryption entirely, or would be easy to infiltrate.

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Curiosity Celebrates Its Two-Year Anniversary On Mars

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going to mt sharpHow time flies. Can you believe the Curiosity Rover has been on Mars for two years already? Sure, Opportunity’s got more than eight years on the younger probe, but age isn’t everything. Curiosity has provided us with information about water on Mars as well as a dramatic landing. And now it’s getting ready to climb Mount Sharp, its main destination.

Mount Sharp is no joke—at 3.4 miles high, it makes Mount Rainier look small. The peak is so massive that the bedrock at its base extends for miles, forming an area called Pahrump Hills. What a great name. Curiosity is less than a mile away from this area, which will give the probe, as well as scientists, the first glimpse at whatever kind of geological structures form the mountain. Curiosity is approximately 2 miles from the mountain itself.

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Nanodiamonds Can Detect Cancer At Its Earliest Stages

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nanodiamondsScience has been generating some out-of-the-box diagnostic strategies and treatments for cancer lately, including sloth hair and cancer-sniffing bees. Now, it may be possible to detect cancer early on by putting tiny diamonds into your body.

It wouldn’t be like swallowing jewels (or drugs that unlock the brain’s full capacity) for stealthy transport across international lines. These nanodiamonds are super, super tiny, and they’re able to identify problems and abnormalities on the molecular scale. The approach was developed by a biotech firm called Bikanta, which focuses on early detection of cancer (and thus, much higher survival rates). It’s true that the current technologies often miss cancer, especially if it’s in an early stage.

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In Robot News: Self-Folding Origami Robots And The Latest Iteration of ASIMO

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Self-Folding-Robots-004In June GFR reported on robots that use shape-changing origami wheels to get around, and in the past few weeks, researchers have made even greater strides when it comes to integrating the art of folding into their robots. Scientists from Harvard and MIT (of course) have created an origami robot that can self-assemble from a flat pack and then run away.

As anyone who’s decent at origami knows, you can actually devise a pretty sophisticated structure via folding. The scientists used this potential, along with inspiration from natural systems (flower petals, proteins and amino acids, etc.) to create their robot. They laser-printed flat composites of the design, which can be punched out of paper and folded. They program the composite, basically telling it where, how, and how much to hinge and fold, and then battery power allows it to assemble itself in roughly four minutes. The same research group previously devised robots that could self-assemble from similar materials when heated, but this model delivers heat to the robots’ folding parts via electricity, not an oven.

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Tortoises Can Use Touchscreens

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tortoise touchscreenYou’d expect to see monkeys using touchscreens, or dolphins, or maybe even elephants, but tortoises? I guess there’s no excuse for my inability to use them, then, as this sets the bar pretty low (no offense to the turtles).

Life sciences professor Anna Wilkinson of the UK’s University of Lincoln wanted to see if it was possible to teach animals navigational techniques that they weren’t already born with. She choose the red-footed tortoise, which originates in Central and South America, in part because of the differences between turtles and mammals that might otherwise be used in such a test.

Mammals use the hippocampus to navigate spaces, while reptiles seem to use their medial cortex. Much of Wilkinson’s research has involved observing tortoises to see how they move around within their environment via spatial and directional cues. Another reason she chose the tortoise is because the creatures have been around for a long, long time, and are largely the same as they were millions of years ago. Studying them might provide clues to the way the brain and thought processes have evolved over time.

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Rosetta Spacecraft Sends Back Stunning Close-Up Photos Of A Comet

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RosettaYou don’t hear the phrase “scientific Disneyland” all that often, at least not in my line of work, but that is how one observer described the new close-up photos of a comet that just arrived courtesy of Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft.

Rosetta, launched in 2004, recently arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is a mouthful—I bet his friends just call him 67P—and almost immediately started sending back incredible pictures. This is a meeting that was more than a decade in the making. Taken at a distance f roughly 81 miles away, the photos show off what scientists are calling the “neck,” “head,” “body,” and “head of the dirty snowball” of the deep space projectile, all in incredible detail.