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Horizons

Cities across the U.S. are unprepared for deadly heat

Plus: Intelligent robots take on the wok.

Shutterstock

Summer was once marked by fun in the sun. Now, it may become dangerous to leave the shade. As temperatures, exacerbated by climate change, continue to rise, heat has become a deadly weather hazard.

What are cities doing to protect their constituents? Not enough, a team of researchers says.

HORIZONS explores the innovations of today that will shape the world of tomorrow. This is an adapted version of the June 20 edition. Forecast the future by signing up for free.

What’s at stake — In a study published in June in the journal Environmental Research Letters, scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles examined urban heat plans from the 50 largest cities in the United States. Seventy-eight percent included extreme heat as a problem. Yet few offered clear solutions.

Last summer was the hottest on record. This one’s just getting started.Shutterstock

“Without concrete steps to protect residents, cities are lagging behind the problem," said V. Kelly Turner, lead author of the study.

The researchers found that most heat interventions lacked specificity and failed to recognize the complexity and severity of the problem. Proposed strategies were limited — for instance, simply adding more trees to cool the environment. They also missed obvious solutions, such as providing shade, which is a proven method to reduce heat risk for city dwellers. And the gaps in urban heat planning go on.

Read the analysis.

On the horizon...

Culinary technique or code?Shutterstock

Robots are increasingly entering real world environments as domestic helpers. They can vacuum. They can drive. And in the future, they could stir-fry. It might sound simple, but cooking, at least for a robot, is no cakewalk.

This, at least, is the vision of one team of computer scientists. For the past decade, researchers across three labs — the Idiap Research Institute in Switzerland, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Wuhan University — have been working together to engineer an intelligent robot that can prepare food for people. The challenge lies in teaching a bimanual robot — one that uses both hands — how to coordinate vision with the dynamic movements required to fry ingredients over a hot wok, while stirring them. (If this is tough to master for a human chef, it would be a technological triumph for robots — after all, robotic grasping is still a long way off.)

The computer scientists behind this robot chef have developed a machine learning-based method to teach it cooking techniques. That means you won’t be getting a hot chicken chow mein from R2D2 just yet — but hang tight. The technology is in motion.

Find out more.

See it to believe it

Behold: the final stages of a massive star's death.NASA

When giant stars die, they sporadically shed mass in spiraling directions. This 3D image, created by a University of Arizona-led team of scientists, depicts the ongoing death of VY Canis Majoris, possibly the largest star in the Milky Way galaxy, and the most detailed map of its kind. After its final days, the supergiant may evolve into supernovae explosions or become a black hole — a mystery that still eludes astronomers.

Look closer.

T-minus the internet...

5. Chile hopes to boost childhood nutrition by 3D printing super algae into fun shapes. Cochayuyo seaweed, reports Tech Xplore, is now available as a Pikachu-bite.

4. A former Google contractor claims that the company is overrun by a religious cult. Kevin Lloyd made the allegation upon being fired. The Verge has more.

3. Germany will restart coal plants after Russia cut natural gas deliveries to Europe this week. It’s a bitter decision that conflicts with the country’s commitment to lowering carbon emissions, according to The New York Times.

2. China’s mass COVID testing policy is building a mountain of trash, literally. The amount of medical waste being generated, says Medical Xpress, is unseen in human history.

1. The European Space Agency has approved a new mission, called Comet Interceptor, without a target. The idea, explained on Nature, is to lie in wait for a visitor from the outer solar system.

Beyond the horizon…

Get your sci-fi fix from Netflix’s new thriller Spiderhead. The film takes a dystopian approach to the penitentiary system, with a dark and psychological twist. Heady literature fans might like it too: Spiderhead is based on a short story by American nonfiction star and essayist George Saunders.

Check out our review.

This has been HORIZONS, a newsletter that explores the innovations of today shaping the world of tomorrow.

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