SciTech Roundup, Sept. 27

Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Schludi from Unsplash Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Schludi from Unsplash

CMU Research Roundup

Team Explorer Places Fourth in DARPA SubT Challenge
A group of students, faculty, and staff from Carnegie Mellon and Oregon State University under the name "Team Explorer" went all the way to the final round and placed fourth in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Subterranean Challenge. The challenge is a simulated search-and-rescue mission, where the team's robots must go into a subterranean environment and identify objects that might belong to a potential human survivor.

Recovering Hispanic Heritage
It's National Hispanic Heritage Month, and to honor it, Hispanic Studies and Translation Professor Kenya Dworkin has worked as part of a committee organizing a series of events with the University of Pittsburgh. In her research, Dworkin is working on recovering the history of 19th century Cuban cigar workers who immigrated to Florida and adapting it into a book.

Robots with Muscles
Nowadays, robots aren't all metals and circuitry: researchers are finding ways to incorporate biological materials into robots to make them function similarly to humans. Mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Wenhuan Sun published a paper examining how one could fabricate a protein like collagen, which is naturally found in human skin and tissues, to mimic the properties of a tendon or muscle to help a robot walk or swim. Sun studied how collagen fibers could be compacted in specific ways to get different muscle or tendon-like properties, training a deep neural network that could recommend different fabrication parameters depending on the user's desired result.

National SciTech Headlines

COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to be available soon in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam issued an order for vaccine providers to start preparing for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to be distributed once further CDC guidance is issued. The CDC is recommending to provide booster shots of the Pfizer-BioTech COVID-19 vaccine to frontline workers, people over 65, and people with underlying health conditions who received the second dose of the vaccine at least six months ago.

The FCC commits to 1.2B in funding student access to technology
Aiming to bridge the "homework gap" between remote students with technology and those without, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it would commit $1.2 billion to funding laptops, tablets, Internet access, and more in schools across the U.S. This money comes from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, a $7.17 billion fund that, paired with the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, can benefit remote students that lack access to technology needed to submit assignments, participate in classes, and utilize other resources that those with technology freely enjoy.

The FCC starts cracking down on robocalls
Voice service providers are now required to file plans with the FCC on fighting robocalls. If those plans are not in the FCC's database, other phone carriers will have to block calls from these providers. The FCC already set a now-passed June 30 deadline for providers to implement anti-robocall technology called STIR/SHAKEN that authenticates the identity of the caller, though smaller providers have gotten an extension on the deadline. Officials hope that these moves will lead to fewer robocalls, but recently robotexts, which are similar in nature to robocalls but don't yet have regulations governing them, have been on the rise.

Trial of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes continues
It is the third week of testimonies for the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, who started health technology company Theranos. Theranos lied about being able to use a pinprick of blood in a machine that supposedly could, but did not actually, run over 200 tests, and garnered the interest of high-profile investors likening Holmes to Steve Jobs. This week, the most notable testimonies were from former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, an investor and board member of Theranos; a patient who Theranos machines inaccurately described as likely to have a miscarriage; and former Theranos lab director Adam Rosendorff who attempted to convince Holmes to push back the launch of the faulty tests.