As technology marches ever onward, robots have taken on more and more of life’s necessary jobs: heavy lifting, precise mechanical manipulations, and, of course, predicting the future.
Peppering the fairs and festivals of India, striking in their boldly colored if battered armor, are a fleet of robots that are part fortune cookie, part street-corner psychic. These bots wait in perpetual readiness to dispense their pre-programmed wisdom, and for only 5 rupees or so, the robot’s handler will allow you to plug a pair of headphones into its metallic underpants and listen as it tells your fortune.
The fortune-telling robots come in a range of shapes and sizes to best suit your fortune-telling needs (there is, in fact, a Flickr pool devoted to the various specimens). One of our favorite designs is the mod/retro combination of a smattering of LED lights and an analog clock, for those mortals bogged down in the worldly concerns of time (below).
The robots’ wisdom, apparently, comes on prerecorded tapes, audio fortune cookies that foresee the future in Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, and Telgu. Not having heard the tapes ourselves—and not having any languages in common with the robots—we aren’t certain about the scope of these predictions. Do the robots whisper ticker symbols and stock market prices of the day after tomorrow? Do they speak of wars and famines, or the mundanities of day-to-day life? We wish we knew. Do you?
Images: Jitendra Prakash / Reuters; courtesy of Paul Keller / Flickr
In 2001, a bizarre red rain showered India’s southern state of Kerala. Godfrey Louis, a physicist now in Cochin University of Science and Technology’s astrobiology department, decided to collect samples and take a closer electron-microscope look. He noticed some particles in the rainwater that looked like biological cells, but when he went looking for DNA, he found none. That enticingly strange result led Louis to speculate that he had found extraterrestrial bacteria.
The new paper (pdf) appears in Arxiv.org, not a peer-reviewed journal. But it repeats earlier work by Louis and a collaborator that they say shows the cell-like particles can survive and grow at high temperatures that would kill most life as we know it (around 250 degrees Fahrenheit). At room temperature, particles appear as inert as, well, odd looking red rain dirt.
Whether you’re looking to make some cash or give someone another lease on life, living organ donation may be an option for you. While you likely already know that you can donate blood and one of your kidneys, it turns out you can put quite a few other body parts on the market as well, as Newsweek reports. Here’s a sample of the other items listed in the article:
Eyes: Whole eyes cannot be transplanted. But individual components of the eye—namely the lens and the cornea—can.
Intestine: It’s possible, but the risks are so great and the need so rare that intestine donations almost always come from deceased donors.
Pancreas: Another organ of which you can donate a segment. Pancreas transplants are often done to improve quality of life (by reducing or eliminating the need for constant insulin injections in diabetics, for example).
The article also compares the price a kidney fetches in various places around the world. In the U.S., they’re worth an average of $30,000 (albeit on the black market—selling organs is strictly illegal here). But in India, you’d only get $1,500 for that same kidney. Which mirrors the rest of the relationship between U.S. and Indian health care—same care, drastically different price tag.
Discoblog: Will Receiving a Transplant Organ from a Murderer Make You Evil?
Discoblog: Need a New Pancreas? It May Come From a Sheep
Discoblog: Doctors Remove Implanted Heart After Original Heart Heals
Image: flickr / Look Into My Eyes
Buffalo might have been driven almost to extinction by overeager Americans, but now we have a chance to redeem ourselves—by genetically engineering new ones. Thanks to a team of scientists in India, we can add buffalo to the list of animals that have been cloned—including a camel, a wolf and, of course, the legendary sheep.
Scientists at India’s National Dairy Research Institute, in the Indian state of Haryana, produced the first cloned buffalo back in February, using DNA from the ear of an adult female—though unfortunately, it died of pneumonia soon after its birth. Now, they’ve tried again, resulting in a 95-pound female calf named Garima. She got her start from fetal tissue, according to a report released yesterday from India’s National Dairy Research Institute. The team also used a cloning technique that allowed them to choose the gender of the calf.
Police in India have found an unlikely solution for a mouse problem: rats. Almost all over the state of Haryana, mice have been getting into just about anything they find appetizing, including official court documents, food supplies intended for people, and even the fiber sacks used to store confiscated narcotics. Landmine removal efforts near the border with Pakistan were jeopardized in 2002 by rodents moving anti-personnel mines from their mapped locations.
On a tip from a local citizen about a month ago, the police in Karnal, a district with a particularly high mouse infestation, bought two domesticated albino rats and released them into problem areas. It worked, the police said, “like magic.” They have since been releasing the rats every night into the storage room of official documents, and the mice have “just disappeared.”
Roman Catholic bishops have called for a new kind of abstinence this Lent: no text messaging. They have deemed every Friday during Lent “no SMS day,” partly to honor “concrete” rather than “virtual” relationships. But the refrain from phones is also an attempt to bring attention to the ongoing conflict in Congo, which is partly fueled by coltan, a mineral found aplenty in the eastern part of the country and which is crucial for many technologies, including cell phones.
Others, meanwhile, are embracing technology to the fullest—enough to try and turn magic carpet rides into reality. In space, no less. A Japanese astronaut will try to fly on a carpet when he arrives at the International Space Station later this month—he’ll also try 16 other challenges out of the total 1,597 total suggestions submitted.
Over in Italy, a “vampire” skeleton has been exhumed from a mass grave in Venice. It is thought to be from a period during the Middle Ages when vampires were believed to spread the plague by chewing on people’s shrouds after dying—an act that grave-diggers sought to prevent by putting bricks in the mouths of suspected vampires.
In the ever-tightening race for soft drinks to win the taste buds of the masses, the competition might soon come from cow urine—in India, at least.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group, is currently developing a soft drink made from cow urine that will be called “gau jal,” which is Sanskrit for “cow water.” A flavor for the beverage hasn’t yet been determined, but the head of the Cow Protection Department, which has overseen most of the planning, has assured us that “it won’t smell like urine and will be tasty too.”
Cows are considered holy in India, and their urine is believed by many to have medicinal properties. Some Hindu groups, including RSS, say cow urine can cure illnesses including liver disease, obesity, and cancer, and it is sometimes drunk during religious festivals.
India’s capital city has issued a ban on all non-biodegradable plastic bags, effective immediately, although enforcement will be gentle initially. In time however, plastic toters in New Delhi will face up to five years in prison and up to 100,000 rupees ($2,034) in fines. The ban prohibits the “use, storage and sale” of all polyethylene bags of any size, shape, and thickness. If these punitive measures seem particularly harsh, officials say laws already in place that ban all but the thinnest plastic bags have been—like jaywalking laws in New York City—largely ignored in a city that generates about 10 million plastic bags per day.
But still, should plastic pollution be a top priority for a country where more than a quarter of the population live in abject poverty (the poverty threshold as defined by the Indian government is $0.40/day)? One hopes that the fines will be targeted to those who can afford them, shoppers at the new sprawling shopping malls and foreign tourists, for example, and not those who live in the slums where much of the plastic rubbish accumulates.