Today's anniversary in tech is a sad one, and even sadder for how prophetic it would be. Not much is publicly available about the life of Robert Williams, except for the fact that he was 25 years old in 1979 when he was working as an assembly worker at a Ford plant in Michigan. When a five-story machine meant to retrieve castings from shelves seemed to be giving erroneous information, Williams was sent up to investigate.
While onboard the machine, Williams attempted to retrieve the castings himself. As he did so, inadequate safety measures allowed one of the robot's arms, meant to carry one-ton crates, to hit Williams in the head, killing him on this day in 1979. The death is widely known today as the first known time a robot killed a human.
Lethal robots are common today thanks to drones, but Williams' death highlights the risks of working with machines. Robot-related deaths in the workplace are thankfully rare, but they do happen. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration lists two robot-related fatalities as recently as 2019, alongside a pair of hospitalizations. And just as poor safety standards allowed Williams to die, workers at Amazon warehouses have cited aggressive working conditions in conjunction with robotics as reasons for rising injury numbers.
Our question of the week: The first anniversary of most Americans' introduction to Covid-19 is coming up in March. Do you support the idea of a national day of remembrance for Covid-19 victims? How should the first anniversary of Covid be noted? Respond on our Google Form, and we'll publish our favorite answers next week!
Hidden elements — Saturn's moon Rhea has a mysterious material on its surface
Some of these natural satellites have their own unique properties that make them stand out amongst their lunar companions of the Solar System.
Saturn's second-largest moon, Rhea, might be a cold, airless object but it possesses three narrow, dense bands circling around it, the first discovery of rings around a moon. Rhea also has a range of wavelengths that scientists could not previously explain until a team of researchers rummaged through old Cassini data to resolve this long-standing lunar mystery.
What they're saying: “This particular work helps us identify another molecule, which we didn’t know existed before.” — Bhalamurugan Sivaraman, an associate professor at the Physical Research Laboratory in India, to Inverse.
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Such a beautiful day — Why do our minds wander? Brain study shows benefits of daydreaming
During all of this activity, the mind still wanders. But where, exactly, does it go?
In a fascinating new brain study, scientists get a little closer to answering that puzzling question.
Utilizing EEG technology, researchers captured distinct neurophysiological signatures of four different thought patterns. In turn, when this unique activity lights up in different parts of the brain, it can signal whether our minds are focused, fixated, or wandering, the team says.
The research offers an unprecedented look into humans' train of thought, suggesting it may be possible to manipulate this cognitive process to foster creativity or relaxation.
What they're saying: “In letting your mind wander, it potentially frees up attentional resources and also the structured way of thinking that limits creative output.” —Julia Kam , cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Calgary, to Inverse.
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Moving right along — 2021 SpaceX launch calendar: dates, payload, and crew
The year 2021 is slated to be another big year for SpaceX as the company continues to drive its major projects forward. From a space-based internet service available everywhere on Earth to a passenger transport vessel eventually destined for Mars, below is the SpaceX launch schedule for the year.
We'll be updating this all year, but take a look at what 2021 is looking like for the California rocket company so far.
What they're saying: “Production is hard, prototypes are easy. Building ~1000 Starships to create a self-sustaining city on Mars is our mission.” —Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX
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Coming soon ...
There are crises facing President Joe Biden in every direction, and his actions on climate change will be followed closely. Crucially, can the new president find a way to reboot an economy on the verge of collapse for many while reducing methane and carbon emissions?
Coming soon on Inverse, a look at how President Biden might handle the climate crisis in the midst of everything else.
As sperm counts around the world plummet for reasons still unknown and research indicates that male fertility issues account for 40-50% of infertility cases, many men who are struggling to conceive may wonder if they can do something to improve their chances.
And, of course, the world of supplements stands at the ready, offering blends specifically advertised to boost male fertility. But do these products work?
What they're saying: “Did these herbal supplements really help?” —Charles Muller, the director of the Male Fertility Lab at the University of Washington, to Inverse.
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Experiencing thunderstorms on Earth is yesterday's news. The future of thunderstorms is in space.
This unique view of the brewing storms provides new insights into weather on Earth. On Wednesday, a first for an ESA ISS experiment, observations were published in the journal Nature.
The European Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) observatory onboard the International Space Station (ISS) is tasked with observing the phenomena linked to thunderstorms — strange, poorly understood features like elves, sprites, and blue jets.
Blue jets are electric discharges that propagate from the top of thunderstorms into the stratosphere — generating "fantastic sounding" elves (rings of optical and UV emissions), the study finds. These jets begin as flashes in cloud top.
The study is one of the most detailed and accurate looks at thunderstorms to date — and more observations are underway.
What they're saying: "This paper is an impressive highlight of the many new phenomena ASIM is observing above thunderstorms and shows that we still have so much to discover and learn about our Universe." —Astrid Orr of the ESA
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- NASA data reveals the truth about Covid-19's effect on climate change
- Solar wind study explains why the northern lights are so spectacular
And now, for the answers to last week's question about your favorite secret codes.
"A friend and I used to send each other emails with the messages written in binary code." — Jessica Jones
"When I was in high school, my best friend at the time and I used to write notes to each other using runes (glyphs) from the hugely popular series of JRR Tolkien books. It wasn't so much about secret messages as it was a very cool way to communicate in a unique way compared to our peers. It took time to learn to write and then decipher the characters. Today, I am a science fiction writer partially because of that experience." — Robert E. Allen
"The only one I ever wrote in (created cards) was Fortran in the late '60s/early '70s. The tedium of creating the cards is the reason I moved from coding to sales roles early in my career!" — Kathy Murray
That's it for the Daily! If you're looking for more, check out our recommendation for a one-of-a-kind sci-fi heist movie on Amazon Prime. I wrote this one, and really love it!
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