I’m back with another roundup of my favorite fun-sized developments in science and tech. Call it future-lite; my bi-weekly opportunity to gush about goofy science instead of soul-crushing altered humanity.
Eagles vs. Drones
The Dutch have opened a new front in the war against drones. Not to be outdone by the Russians, who use medieval warriors to spear them out of the sky, the Dutch national police are now training bald eagles attack hostile drones. We’ve seen videos of untrained birds of prey knocking drones out of the sky; the next logical step is to recruit them for your security forces.
The propellers of small drones can’t hurt eagle talons, which are coated with thick, scaly skin. Let’s hope the eagles learn to stick with the little guys.
The bald eagle is our national bird, so I’d love to see them join our own police soon. The species is no longer threatened, but it’s still a big step for us to send them into battle.
For now, I’ll be content to watch them nest on live cams and cheer on the eggs.
The Future of Toilet Paper
The “RollScout” is a new sensor-based toilet paper roll that alerts you when the paper is almost out by pulsing with a red glow.
I’m not sure how this helps—seems like your unsmart eyes should catch this problem before it becomes a crisis. But I don’t currently live with multiple people all attacking the same limited supply, so maybe it’s a bigger problem than I realize.
But even without the RollScout, don’t stop appreciating what you have. We’re just a hundred and fifty years removed from a time before toilet paper was even a thing.
The smart-vegetable arms race continues apace. As the Verge reports, scientists have implanted spinach with nanobionic sensors that can detect explosive-based chemicals in the soil when absorbed through the plant’s root system.
If the spinach detects explosives, it emits a fluorescent signal that can be seen by infrared cameras. In addition to detecting explosives, plants could eventually be trained to detect and warn us about many kinds of environmental pollutants.
This is great, but we have more work to do. I eat spinach because I need to, not because I want to. Is flavor-hacked spinach still off the table?
Happy Rats Are More Ticklish
I’ve never tickled a rat. I once lived in an apartment full of them; it was not a happy time for me, and I did my best to make it unhappy for them, too.
But I’m willing to grant the species moments of joy, especially the lab-dwellers. They rarely lead happy lives. So when Popular Science wrote about an experiment to test the ticklishness of rats, I had to share.
As it turns out, rats can be tickled, and they laugh, too, emitting high-pitched squeaks associated with positive emotions and a sense of play. Their “ticklishness” level increases when they are already in a positive mood. Scientists hope the findings will lead to breakthroughs in dealing with human affective disorders.
Next up for tickling research? Geckos:
Twitter Helps Mutant Snails Find Love
I’m not a Twitter natural. I rarely have the kind of random, witty thoughts that fit in a quick 140. But I appreciate the medium, especially when it leads to mutant love.
Only one in a million snails has a counter-clockwise spiral. And because of snail mechanics, those with the mutation can only mate with other counter-clockwise snails. It makes for a lonely, slimy life.
Nottingham University Geneticist Angus Davidson decided to play matchmaker for his counter-clockwise mutant snail “Jeremy” (and bring diversity to the snail gene pool) by seeking help through Twitter. It worked! With the hashtag #SnailLove and a little media attention, he found a mate for Jeremy in nearby Ipswitch.
My romance author friends are going to lose their minds over this one.
That’s it for the roundup. Have a great week all.