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The Download: automating warehouse tasks, and problems with recycling plastics

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The Download: automating warehouse tasks, and problems with recycling plastics

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

AI is poised to automate today’s most mundane manual warehouse task

Before almost any item reaches your door, it traverses the global supply chain on a pallet. More than 2 billion pallets are in circulation in the United States alone, and $400 billion worth of goods are exported on them annually.

However, loading boxes onto these pallets is a task stuck in the past: Heavy loads and repetitive movements leave workers at high risk of injury, and in the rare instances when robots are used, they take months to program using handheld computers that have changed little since the 1980s.

Jacobi Robotics, a startup spun out of the labs of the University of California, Berkeley, says it can vastly speed up that process with AI. If successful, Jacobi aims to replace the legacy methods customers are currently using to train their bots, whittling down the time it takes to code a paletting process from months to a single day. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

Here’s the problem with new plastic recycling methods

Look on the bottom of a plastic water bottle or takeout container, and you might find a logo there made up of three arrows forming a closed loop shaped like a triangle. Sometimes called the chasing arrows, this stamp is used on packaging to suggest it’s recyclable.

Those little arrows imply a nice story, painting a picture of a world where the material will be recycled into a new product, forming an endless loop of reuse. But the reality of plastics recycling today doesn’t match up to that idea. Only about 10% of the plastic ever made has been recycled; the vast majority winds up in landfills or in the environment. 

Researchers have been working to address the problem by coming up with new recycling methods, sometimes called advanced, or chemical, recycling. But this new approach shares a few challenges with other recycling methods. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

This story is from The Spark, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on energy and climate technology. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Neuralink’s second brain implant is imminent
It hopes to have multiple devices implanted in human patients by the end of the year. (Bloomberg $)
+ Elon Musk confirmed that the company is working on a next-gen implant, too. (Wired $)
+ Meet the other companies developing brain-computer interfaces. (MIT Technology Review)

2 NASA’s astronauts were supposed to return to Earth weeks ago
But they’re stuck on the ISS until engineers are confident they’re safe to fly back. (Ars Technica)
+ Inside NASA’s bid to make spacecraft as small as possible. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Tesla’s cars’ ‘full self-driving’ capabilities are under investigation
It all hinges on whether the term implies the vehicles are autonomous. (WP $)
+ EV startup Rivian is snapping at Tesla’s heels. (Bloomberg $)
+ The Chinese government is going all-in on autonomous vehicles. (MIT Technology Review)

4 The US government is investing less in national security startups 
Compared to the vast amounts venture capitalists are pouring into the ventures. (WSJ $)

5 Apple has agreed to give its rivals access to its payments tech system
The move meets EU demands, and neatly swerves a hefty $40bn penalty. (FT $)
+ But Apple isn’t out of the woods quite yet. (Bloomberg $)

6 Starlink’s portable Mini dish has gone on sale
The internet-from-space kit is small enough to fit in a backpack. (The Verge)

7 Brace yourself for the rise of neurocosmetics
They’re products for your dermis and, err, your brain. (The Atlantic $)

8 Creators are turning hateful comments into content
It’s certainly one way of not letting the negativity get to you. (NYT $)

9 How Spotify turned itself into a social network
Its adoption of polls, Q&As, and comments suggests it has big ambitions. (TechCrunch)

10 It’s not just you—TikTok Shop really is annoying
Let me scroll in peace! (Vox)

Quote of the day

“No industry can thrive without regulation in the long run. It’s mayhem.”

—An AI startup founder tells the Financial Times that Biden and Trump’s lack of plans to govern the rapidly-evolving technology is sparking deep concern in Silicon Valley.

The big story

This grim but revolutionary DNA technology is changing how we respond to mass disasters

May 2024

Last August, a wildfire tore through the Hawaiian island of Maui. The list of missing residents climbed into the hundreds, as friends and families desperately searched for their missing loved ones. But while some were rewarded with tearful reunions, others weren’t so lucky.

Over the past several years, as fires and other climate-change-fueled disasters have become more common and more cataclysmic, the way their aftermath is processed and their victims identified has been transformed.

The grim work following a disaster remains—surveying rubble and ash, distinguishing a piece of plastic from a tiny fragment of bone—but landing a positive identification can now take just a fraction of the time it once did, which may in turn bring families some semblance of peace swifter than ever before. Read the full story.

—Erika Hayasaki

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ Take me to the world’s biggest ball of twine, someone.
+ Duke Ellington Morris is one hard-working cat.
+ We’ve uncovered the world’s oldest known narrative art, dating back more than 50,000 years!
+ Dutch readers, look away now: England’s winning goal in the Euros semi-finals last night was a beauty ⚽

Source: technologyreview.com

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