Shape-Shifting Robots... And More News You May Have Missed

The most interesting tech-related stories impacting government and industry

The Internet Doesn’t Want Longer Tweets

Twitter announced yesterday it’s allowing certain users 280 characters, but some people aren’t exactly loving the idea of longer tweets. As Wired reports, the news was met with skepticism: Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star of “Hamilton,” tweeted, “Ya don't add syllables to the haiku, or limerick, or sestina.” Rep. Eric Swalwell tweeted a picture of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly holding his face with the caption, “That moment when @WhiteHouse Chief of Staff John Kelly got the news about #280characters.”

In announcing the news, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey said allowing additional characters would solve “a real problem people have when trying to tweet.” In responding to the ensuing criticism, Dorsey tweeted he had expected “all the snark & critique for #280characters” but pleaded with the naysayers to “give us some time to learn and confirm (or challenge!) our ideas.” Wired

MIT Debuts Tiny Shape-Shifting Robot

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have created a small robot that can walk, roll, sail and glide using recyclable exoskeletons. The cube-shaped robot, named Primer, can shed its skin by immersing itself in water, which dissolves the exoskeleton. It can be controlled by magnets.

Primer’s various abilities allow it to perform many different tasks. For example, the “wheel-bot” makes Primer move faster than the “walk-bot,” and the “boat-bot” can float in water and carry twice its weight.

The idea is to give Primer even more capabilities, “from driving through water and burrowing in sand to camouflaging their color,” MIT News reported.

The Primer project was partly supported by the National Science Foundation. MIT News

Russia and U.S. Are Collaborating, Believe It or Not

In space, at least. NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos are working on a mission called the Deep Space Gateway. It’s an American-led plan to put a human-accessible space station in near-Moon orbit, and is designed to dock with NASA’s next-generation Orion spacecraft. It aims to support four astronauts as sort of a “pit stop” for human and robotic exploration of the lunar surface.

The DSG would also be a staging point for space missions to distant locations like Mars or Venus, and Roscosmos plans to develop the docking and life support systems for the lunar outputs. While estimated cost and launch date haven’t been finalized, the modules are scheduled to be built in the 2020s. Motherboard

FDA Looks to Fast-Track Health Tech

The Food and Drug Administration is starting a pilot program with nine major tech companies to get products pre-cleared, avoid the multimonth long application approval process and modernize its regulatory framework. FDA chose Apple, Fitbit Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., Verily Life Sciences, Johnson & Johnson and Roche Holding AG.

The intent is to ease the process for developers working on health software and products, and speed up the implementation of disruptive tech tools that can transform health IT, preventative and diagnostic care. Apple is exploring whether its watch can detect heart abnormalities, and Verily is working with Novartis AG on contact lens that could monitor the body’s blood sugar. Bloomberg Technology

Did Someone Say Self-Flying Taxis?

Dubai did, and the city test-flew an uncrewed two-seater drone called the Autonomous Air Taxi. It’s environmentally friendly, powered by electricity and the city claims it’s the first self-flying taxi service. The prototype has a maximum flight time of 30 minutes, cruising speed of 31 mph and maximum airspeed of 62 mph.

The AAT hovered 200 meters in the air during the test flight, and even has optional emergency parachutes. Dubai plans to make it available through a smartphone app that would allow users to book flights and track routes, and will work with the city’s road and transport authority over the next five years to develop policy and laws. Dubai has a target for autonomous transport to account for a quarter of its total trips by 2030. The Verge

Camille Tuutti contributed content.

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