MIT researchers use artificial intelligence to identify powerful new antibiotic – Blog – 10 minute

In brief: Researchers at MIT are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to create powerful new drugs capable of killing disease-causing bacteria, some of which are resistant to all known types of antibiotics.
Only a small number of new antibiotics have been developed over the past few decades due to the cost and time associated with screening them. In fact, most newly approved antibiotics are simply minor variants of existing drugs. But now thanks to the power of artificial intelligence and the growing need to fend off antibiotic-resistant bacteria, that is changing.
Researchers at MIT created a machine learning model to look for chemical features that make molecules effective at killing E. coli, training it on around 1,700 FDA-approved drugs and 800 natural products. Once trained, the model was tested on the Broad Institute’s Drug Repurposing Hub which consists of around 6,000 compounds.
The model honed in on a molecule that it predicted to have strong antibacterial properties and a chemical structure that differed from existing antibiotics. A separate machine learning model indicated it might also have low toxicity to human cells.

(Halicin (top row) prevented the development of antibiotic resistance in E. coli, while ciprofloxacin (bottom row) did not.)
The molecule, which they dubbed halicin after the computer “HAL” in 2001: A Space Odyssey, was tested against dozens of strains of bacteria and found to be effective in eradicating many of them including Acinetobacter baumannii, Clostridium difficile and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
In mice infected with a particular strain of A. baumannii that is resistant to all known antibiotics, halicin completely cleared up infections within 24 hours.
Researchers believe halicin kills bacteria by rattling its ability to maintain an electrochemical connection across cell membranes. This gradient is necessary to produce ATP and without it, the cells die. What’s more, it proved effective against mutations.
Over a 30-day period, E.coli didn’t develop any resistance to halicin. In comparison, the bacteria developed resistance to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin within one to three days. By day 30, the bacteria was roughly 200 times more resistant to ciprofloxacin than it was initially.
The researchers’ model has since been used to identify 23 other candidates, two of which were particularly powerful against bacteria. They plan to conduct additional testing on halicin and work with a nonprofit or pharmaceutical company to develop it for human use.
Masthead credit: Antibiotics by ESB Professional.

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MIT developed a simulation to determine the best way to deflect an asteroid – Blog – 10 minute

Why it matters: Barring self-inflicted catastrophes like nuclear war or irreversible climate change, the biggest threat to humanity is likely to come from outer space in the form of a rogue asteroid. It’s the type of fodder that makes for a decent blockbuster film but the truth is, it’s a very real concern.
Scientists for decades have theorized how to avoid an impact and now, researchers have gone so far as to lay out a framework to help determine what method of intervention would be best to mitigate a threat.
Their decision method accounts for multiple factors including an asteroid’s mass and momentum, the amount of time scientists would have before an impending collision and its proximity to a gravitational keyhole, among others.

Sung Wook Paek, lead author of a paper appearing in the journal Acta Astronautica this month, said people have mostly considered strategies of last-minute deflection, when an asteroid is heading toward a collision with Earth. “I’m interested in preventing keyhole passage well before Earth impact. It’s like a preemptive strike, with less mess,” the researcher said.
Paek and his team developed a simulation to help determine the best type of defense based on an asteroid’s various properties. The simulation was tested with Apophis and Bennu, asteroids in which researchers already know the locations of their gravitational keyholes, with a variety of variables.
Time seemed to be the major differentiator. For example, with Apophis, if they have at least five years before it will pass through a keyhole, there would be time to send two scouts out – one to measure the asteroid’s dimensions and another to nudge it slightly off track as a test before sending a main impactor to deflect it at a later date. If keyhole passage is set to occur between two and five years out, there may only be time for a single scout. Should the asteroid pass through a keyhole within a year or less, it could be too late to intervene.
Using the simulation tool, Paek and team may be able to set up alternative deflection methods in the future, such as launching projectiles from the Moon or using defunct satellites as kinetic impactors.

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The MIT Media Lab controversy and getting back to ‘radical courage’, with Media Lab student Arwa Mboya – gpgmail


People win prestigious prizes in tech all the time, but there is something different about The Bold Prize. Unless you’ve been living under a literal or proverbial rock, you’ve probably heard something about the late Jeffrey Epstein, a notorious child molester and human trafficker who also happened to be a billionaire philanthropist and managed to become a ubiquitous figure in certain elite science and tech circles.

And if you’re involved in tech, the rock you’ve been living under would have had to be fully insulated from the internet to avoid reading about Epstein’s connections with MIT’s Media Lab, a leading destination for the world’s most brilliant technological minds, also known as “the future factory.” 

This past week, conversations around the Media Lab were hotter than the fuel rods at Fukushima, as The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, perhaps the most feared and famous investigative journalist in America today, blasted out what for some were new revelations that Bill Gates, among others, had given millions of dollars to the Media Lab at Jeffrey (no fucking relation, thank you very much!) Epstein’s behest. Hours after Farrow’s piece was published, Joi Ito, the legendary but now embattled Media Lab director, resigned.

But well before before Farrow weighed in or Ito stepped away, students, faculty, and other leaders at MIT and far beyond were already on full alert about this story, thanks in large part to Arwa Michelle Mboya, a graduate student at the Media Lab, from Kenya by way of college at Yale, where she studied economics and filmmaking and learned to create virtual reality. Mboya, 25, was among the first public voices (arguably the very first) to forcefully and thoughtfully call on Ito to step down from his position.

Imagine: you’re heading into the second year of your first graduate degree, and you find yourself taking on a man who, when Barack Obama took over Wired magazine for an issue as guest editor, was one of just a couple of people the then sitting President of the United States asked to personally interview. And imagine that man was the director of your graduate program, and the reason you decided to study in it in the first place.

Imagine the pressure involved, the courage required. And imagine, soon thereafter, being completely vindicated and celebrated for your actions. 

Arwa Mboya. Image via MIT Media Lab

That is precisely the journey that Arwa Mboya has been on these past few weeks, including when human rights technologist Sabrina Hersi Issa decided to crowd-fund the Bold Prize to honor Mboya’s courage, which has now brought in over $10,000 to support her ongoing work (full disclosure: I am among the over 120 contributors to the prize).

Mboya’s advocacy was never about Joi Ito personally. If you get to know her through the interview below, in fact, you’ll see she doesn’t wish him ill.

As she wrote in MIT’s The Tech nine days before Farrow’s essay and ten before Ito’s resignation, “This is not an MIT issue, and this is not a Joi Ito issue. This is an international issue where a global network of powerful individuals have used their influence to secure their privilege at the expense of women’s bodies and lives. The MIT Media Lab was nicknamed “The Future Factory” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. We are supposed to reflect the future, not just of technology but of society. When I call for Ito’s resignation, I’m fighting for the future of women.”

From the moment I read it, I thought this was a beautiful and truly bold statement by a student leader who is an inspiring example of the extraordinary caliber of student that the Media Lab draws.

But in getting to know her a bit since reading it, I’ve learned that her message is also about even more. It’s about the fact that the women and men who called for a new direction in light of Jeffrey Epstein’s abuses and other leaders’ complicity did so in pursuit of their own inspiring dreams for a better world.

Arwa, as you’ll see below, spoke out at MIT because of her passion to use tech to inspire radical imagination among potentially millions of African youth. As she discusses both the Media Lab and her broader vision, I believe she’s already beginning to provide that inspiration. 

Greg Epstein: You have had a few of the most dramatic weeks of any student I’ve met in 15 years as a chaplain at two universities. How are you doing right now?

Arwa Mboya: I’m actually pretty good. I’m not saying that for the sake of saying. I have a great support network. I’m in a lab where everyone is amazing. I’m very tired, I’ll say that. I’ve been traveling a lot and dealing with this while still trying to focus on writing a thesis. If anything, it’s more like overwhelmed and exhausted as opposed to not doing well in and of itself.

Epstein: Looking at your writing — you’ve got a great Medium blog that you started long before MIT and maintained while you’ve been here — it struck me that in speaking your mind and heart about this Media Lab issue, you’ve done exactly what you set out to do when you came here. You set out to be brave, to live life, as the Helen Keller quote on your website says, as either a great adventure or nothing. 

Also, when you came to the Media Lab, you were the best-case scenario for anyone who works on publicizing this place. You spoke and wrote about the Lab as your absolute dream. When you were in Africa, or Australia, or at Yale, how did you come to see this as the best place in the world for you to express the creative and civic dreams that you had?

Mboya: That’s a good question — what drew me here? The Media Lab is amazing. I read Whiplash, which is Joi Ito’s book about the nine principles of the Media Lab, and it really resonated with me. It was a place for misfits. It was a place for people who are curious and who just want to explore and experiment and mix different fields, which is exactly what I’ve been doing before.

From high school, I was very narrow in my focus; at Yale I did Econ and film, so that had a little more edge. After I graduated I insisted on not taking a more conventional path many students from Yale take, so [I] moved back to Kenya and worked on many different projects, got into adventure sports, got into travel more.

Epstein: Your website is full of pictures of you flipping over, skydiving, gymnastics — things that require both strength and courage. 

Mboya: I’d always been an athlete, loved the outdoors.

I remember being in Vietnam; I’d never done a backflip. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to learn how to do this.” But it’s really scary jumping backwards; the fear. Is, you can’t see where you’re going. I remember telling myself, ” Okay, just jump over the fear. Just shut it off and do it. Your body will follow.” I did and I was like, “Oh, that was easy.” It’s not complicated. Most people could do it if they just said, “Okay, I’ll jump.”

It really stuck with me. A lot of decisions I’ve [since] made, that I’m scared of, I think, “Okay, just jump, and your body will follow.” The Media Lab was like that as well.

I really wanted to go there, I just didn’t think there was a place for me. It was like, I’m not techie enough, I’m not anything enough. Applying was, ’just jump,’ you never know what will happen.

image 4

Image from Arwa Mboya

Epstein: Back when you were applying, you wrote about experiencing what applicants to elite schools often call “imposter syndrome.” This is where I want to be, but will they want me?

Mboya: Exactly.




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MIT Creates Light-Sensitive ‘Reprogrammable’ Ink



You probably had to agonize over colors the last time you bought a car, a pair of shoes, or anything else where color matters. What if you didn’t have to pick a single color, though? Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a new color-changing ink that you can “reprogram” with light to produce different colors and patterns. Best of all, you can change the colors as many times as you want. 

MIT calls this “PhotoChromeleon” ink, and it’s a mix of multiple polychromatic dyes that can be spray-painted on almost any object. The team started by mixing standard automotive lacquer with cyan, yellow, and magenta polychromatic dyes. Each individual dye changes color when exposed to UV light. 

When you mix all three dyes together, you have a paint that can produce a wide range of colors. By understanding how each dye reacts to light, the researchers are able to precisely control each color channel. It’s similar to the way a modern inkjet printer uses individual cartridges of cyan, magenta, and yellow ink to create almost any shade you want. 

The team tested the programmable ink on various objects like a show, a phone case, and a (quite fittingly) a toy chameleon. The video below demonstrates how the clear ink becomes DLP projector shines high-intensity light onto the object’s surface as it spins on a turntable. However, it does take a few hours to create a pattern on small objects in the lab. The result is a colorized layer that looks like it was painted on. It was in a sense, but you can change the paint job whenever you want. 

This system is an evolution of ColorMod, a previous MIT experiment that used a 3D printer to create objects that could change color. In that case, the printer had to create each “pixel,” so the resulting patterns weren’t very clear. PhotoChromeleon produces crisp images, and you can quickly “reset” the ink with an ultraviolet light. 

MIT believes PhotoChromeleon technology could eventually make manufacturing more efficient and reduce waste. Imagine that you didn’t need to get two different pairs of shoes in different colors. You could just reset the color and change it to something else whenever you want. Bored with your phone case? Don’t buy a new one, just change the pattern with light. MIT is already working with Ford to advance the PhotoChromeleon project, which also supported the development of ColorMod.

Now read:

  • MIT and Amsterdam Partner on Autonomous ‘Roboats’
  • NASA, MIT Design Hollow Morphing Airplane Wing
  • MIT Creates Lasers That Whisper in Your Ear


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Joi Ito resigns from MIT Media Lab – gpgmail


The Daily Crunch is gpgmail’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Joi Ito resigns as MIT Media Lab head in wake of Jeffrey Epstein reporting

Joi Ito and the MIT Media Lab were already facing criticism for the funding they’d received from disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, and the criticism intensified after a New Yorker piece reported that Ito and others at the media lab worked to conceal Epstein’s contributions.

In an email to the university administration, Ito wrote, “After giving the matter a great deal of thought over the past several days and weeks, I think that it is best that I resign as director of the media lab and as a professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately.”

2. Fitbit Versa 2 review

The Versa gave Fitbit a way forward beyond simple fitness trackers, and Brian Heater says the new smartwatch is a worthy update.

3. The Vivaldi browser lands on Android

Vivaldi for Android retains the desktop browser’s look, feel and speed without getting bogged down trying to bring all of its features to mobile.

4. Top VCs say the landscape for enterprise startups is changing

We sat down with Jason Green of Emergence Capital, Rebecca Lynn of Canvas Ventures and Maha Ibrahim of Canaan Partners, who said that startups shouldn’t expect a big M&A event right now. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

5. AppZen nabs $50M to build AI tools for expenses and other finance team work

To date, AppZen’s biggest product has been a service that automatically audits expenses — comparing, for example, an employee’s charges with the travel they’ve undertaken.

6. Pagerduty’s Jennifer Tejada and Box’s Aaron Levie will talk IPOs at TC Disrupt SF

Tejada and Levie both guided their companies to successful IPOs, with Box going public in 2015 and Pagerduty listing its stocks only a few months ago.

7. This week’s gpgmail podcasts

Speaking of Box, the latest edition of Equity includes a discussion of why the content management company is underappreciated, while the Original Content team reviews the Amazon series “Carnival Row.”


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Joi Ito resigns as MIT Media Lab head in wake of Jeffrey Epstein reporting – gpgmail


Joichi Ito, the embattled director of the M.I.T. Media Lab, has stepped down according to a statement by MIT’s president, L. Rafael Reif. The news was first reported by The New York Times, which had received a copy of an email sent by Ito to university provost Martin A. Schmidt.

“After giving the matter a great deal of thought over the past several days and weeks,” the now-former director writes, “I think that it is best that I resign as director of the media lab and as a professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately.”

In addition to resigning as director, Reif’s statement also confirmed that Ito resigned as a professor of the university.

The ‘matter’ to which the letter refers to is Ito’s reported connections to Jeffrey Epstein. The financier died in prison by hanging on August 10, following an arrest a month prior on federal charges of sex tracking minors.

Ito was among several high profile and powerful people whose alleged ties to the disgraced billionaire came into sharp focus following his arrest. In the immediate aftermath of that arrest, it came to light that the MIT Media Lab and Ito personally received funds from Epstein, to which Ito apologized in an August 15th letter.

The allegations against Ito intensified overnight following a report by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker that Ito’s engagement of Epstein were far deeper than had been previously been acknowledged. According to emails and documents discovered by Farrow, Ito and MIT Media Lab’s head of development, Peter Cohen, worked in tandem to conceal Epstein’s contributions from MIT’s central fundraising office, such as by marking donations anonymous and keeping his name out of disclosure statements.

Ito has long stood firm that the facts of his relationship with Epstein have been misreported. In an email to the Times, Ito said that the New Yorker piece was “full of factual errors.”

In response to Farrow’s piece, M.I.T, president L. Rafael Reif in today’s statement said:

Because the accusations in the story are extremely serious, they demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation. This morning, I asked MIT’s General Counsel to engage a prominent law firm to design and conduct this process. I expect the firm to conduct this review as swiftly as possible, and to report back to me and to the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, MIT’s governing board.

The MIT Media Lab is a storied research center with a long legacy of contributions to science, technology, and innovation. There are no indications yet on who might replace Ito.

In addition to the MIT Media Lab, Ito sits as a board director for The New York Times Company, where he sits on the company’s audit committee.

One can’t help but point out a perennial tweet that Ito wrote more than a decade ago about fundraising:


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Ginger, an MIT spinout providing app-based mental health coaching to workers, raises $35M – gpgmail


Mental health issues are thought to impact one in every five people in the US, and the stress of working life can be an exacerbating factor. Now, one of the startups that’s using technology to build ways to support this population has raised a significant round of funding to expand its platform to aid in getting them the help they need.

Ginger, a startup that works with organizations and their healthcare providers to provide employees with an-app based way to connect with coaches to talk through their issues and suggest ways forward, is today announcing that it has raised $35 million in a Series C round of funding, money that it will use both to expand the data science behind its therapy programs and the variety of its clinical programs; as well in terms of its business opportunities. The plan is to grow its service internationally and to more touch points beyond the employer channel, including those who access healthcare through health plans (which might include, potentially, countries with nationalised health services).

The funding is a Series C being led by WP Global Partners (an investment firm that backs both companies — for example, it also is an investor in Postmates — as well as other funds) with participation from some of a number of other new and previous high-profile investors that include City Light Capital, Nimble Ventures, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Khosla Ventures, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, and Kapor Capital.

“As the global mental health crisis intensifies and access challenges increase, employers are searching for solutions to address the shortage of affordable, available providers,” said Russell Glass, CEO of Ginger, in a statement. “In building the world’s first virtual behavioral health system, we are reinventing the approach with instant access to care. This latest round of funding accelerates our ability to expand high-quality care — any time of day or night — to millions of people around the world.”

It brings the total raised by Ginger to $63 million, and the company is not disclosing valuation (we’re asking), but it has been growing at a very steady clip and says that over 200,000 people are able to access the service by way of their employers’ Ginger plans. Ginger says that customers include CBS, Netflix, Pinterest, Sephora, Twilio, Yelp and BuzzFeed, and it’s now active in 25 countries outside the US, including major markets like the UK, Japan, Australia, Canada and India.

Founded nearly a decade ago as a spinout from the MIT Media Lab, Ginger started life initially with a platform that would monitor a user’s smartphone interactions to detect potential mental health issues and help connect that user with someone to talk to. This lean-forward approach appears to have been retired in favor of a service that relies on the users themselves making the first move.

That first move comes in the form of text message, which an employee can send 24/7 and receive an immediate response. That in itself is notable: the traditional way of going about speaking to a counsellor or therapist that you might get through your work’s health insurance can take up to 25 days for your first appointment, Ginger notes, by which point the problem that got you interested in speaking to someone in the first place may have become significantly worse.

While some users keep their coaching — this is the word used by Ginger itself, and I think the reason is because it helps to differentiate this from in-person, more classic therapy sessions, and because the people who are trained to work with you might not actually be doctors — to texts, others may get referred up the ladder to other mediums, such as video therapy and video psychiatry with licensed clinicians.

The latter is a route that applies to some 8% of Ginger’s users, the company says, with the rest resolving issues through the text-based coaching. Time with clinicians is guaranteed to be provided within a 72-hour window.

On the other side of the issue of getting to speak to someone, Ginger also offers options for people to reach out and book coaching and therapy sessions outside of work hours (which presumably is a bonus both to the employer as well as to employees who are less keen to disrupt work or keep their therapy to themselves).

The approach seems to work: Ginger says that some 70 percent of members surveyed that have used Ginger reported “a significant reduction in symptoms of depression within 12 weeks.”

Overall, app-based and other health services that do not require a person to physically be in the same room as his/her therapist still face a perennial problem that is a hallmark of many a mental health service: they still require a person to “turn up” so to speak — that is, a person at some point needs to make the proactive effort to reach out for help, and usually continue to work on resolving the problem on a persistent and regular basis.

Tele-therapy solutions have both an advantage and disadvantage: being something you can pick up wherever and whenever makes it something that maybe we are more likely to use; but the lack of physical presence may well make it much easier for problems to be less apparent. In a sense, the mandate is even more on the likely vulnerable patient to be even more proactive as a result.

But the cost to employers of rolling out wide-scale, physical programs with licensed clinicians, as well as of having too many people off work due to mental health issues, are the rock and hard place that will likely continue to fuel significantly more development of services like Ginger’s and those of its competitors.

And that list is a long one, with other startups like Lyra Health (founded by the former CFO of Facebook Dave Ebersman), Unmind, Pacifica, Huddle, Modern Health, and Eliza all also closing in on the challenge.

Ginger’s investors believe in the mission and that its horse is one that will run the course.

“We have significant experience investing in healthcare and believe that technology is the key to solving the global mental health crisis,” said Donald Phillips, Chairman and CEO of WP Global Partners, in a statement. “As we looked to expand our portfolio, it became clear to us that there is no other company in the world that provides emotional and mental health support as quickly and effectively as Ginger does.”


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MIT develops a sensor that can work underwater without a battery and send back data – gpgmail


MIT researchers have created a new underwater sensor and communication system that doesn’t require batteries, and barely uses any power at all. This could help set up an underwater ‘internet of things’ according to MIT, which would allow for real-time sea temperature and marine life monitoring, without requiring regular equipment and power swaps to make it work. Without that requirement, it would even be possible to set up networks of underwater sensors in the seas of distant planets.

The system devised by MIT researchers use a transmitter that sends out sound waves underwater, which then hit sensors with embedded receivers, transmitting a tiny amount of energy in the process. The sensor then either uses that energy to answer back – or doesn’t, which corresponds to either a 1 or a 0, meaning it can effectively communicate in binary. The only energy required for this to work is the power stored in the sound wave sent by the transmitter.

The inspiration for devising this system came from a somewhat unlikely source: Fadel Adib, an assistant professor in the MIT Media Lab and one of the researchers who worked on the project was watching nature doc “Blue Planet” and thought about how much of the Earths oceans are left unstudied, and also about how the solution for that can’t be battery-powered sensors since that could result in a lot of excess pollution.

Essentially, the system works but allowing piezoelectric resonators, which have been used in things like microphones for well over 100 years, to either deform in response to a sound wave, or retain their shape and reflect, based on information contained in any kind of sensor you might want to pair with the piezoelectric material. That sends back the binary signal, which can then be collected and interpreted.

Next up for the research team is to show that this can work at longer distances, and in concert with other sensors for simultaneous transmission. Eventually, it might even be able to transmit sound and even low-res images, which would be a huge development in terms of establishing remote monitoring stations – especially as we pursue more science and research on worlds not our own.


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MIT built a better way to deliver high-quality video streams to multiple devices at once – gpgmail


Image via Getty Images / aurielaki

Depending on your connection and the size of your household, video streaming can get downright post-apocalyptic – bandwidth is the key resource, and everyone is fighting to get the most and avoid a nasty, pixelated picture. But a new way to control how bandwidth is distributed across multiple, simultaneous streams could mean peace across the land – even when a ton of devices are sharing the same connection and all streaming video at the same time.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab created a system they call ‘Minerva’ that minimizes stutters due to buffering, and pixelation due to downgraded stream, which it believes could have huge potential benefits for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that increasingly serve multiple members of a household at once. The underlying technology could be applied to larger areas, too, extending beyond the houseful and into neighbourhoods or even whole regions to mitigate the effects of less than idea streaming conditions.

Minerva works by taking into account the varying needs of different delivery devices streaming on a network – so it doesn’t treat a 4K Apple TV the same as an older smartphone with a display that can’t even show full HD output, for instance. It also considers the nature of the content, , which is important because live action sports require a heck of a lot more bandwidth to display in high quality when compared to say, an animated children’s TV show.

Video is then served to viewers based on its actual needs, instead of just being allocated more or less evenly across devices, and the Minerva system continually optimizes delivery speeds in accordance with their changing needs as the stream continues.

In real-world testing, Minerva as able to provide a quality cup equivalent to going from 720p to 1080p as much as a third of the time, and eliminated the need for rebuffing by almost 50 percent, which is a massive improvement when it comes to actually being able to seamlessly stream video content continuously. Plus, it can do all this without requiring any fundamental changes to network infrastructure, meaning a streaming provider could roll it out without having to require any changes on the part of users.


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MIT researchers are working on AI-based knitting design software that will let anyone, even novices, make their own clothes – gpgmail


The growing popularity of 3D printing machines and companies like Thingiverse and Shapeways have given previously unimaginable powers to makers, enabling them to create everything from cosplay accessories to replacement parts. But even though 3D printing has created a new world of customized objects, most of us are still buying clothes off the rack. Now researchers at MIT are working on software that will allow anyone to customize or design their own knitwear, even if they have never picked up a ball of yarn.

A team of researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), led by computer scientist Alexandre Kaspar, released two new papers describing the software today. One is about a system called InverseKnit that automatically creates patterns from photos of knitted items. The other one introduces new design software, called CADKnit, that allows people with no knitting or design experience to quickly customize templates, adjusting the size, final shape and decorative details (like the gloves shown below).

The final patterns can be used with a knitting machine, which have been available to home knitters for years, but still require a fair amount of technical knowledge in order to design patterns for.

Gloves made using CADknit

Both CADKnit and InverseKnit want to make designing and making machine-knitted garments as accessible as 3D printing is now. Once the software is commercialized, Kaspar envisions “knitting as a service” for consumers who want to order customized garments. It can also enable clothing designers to spend less time learning how to write knitwear patterns for machines and reduce waste in the prototyping and manufacturing process. Another target audience for the software are hand-knitters who want to try a new way of working with yarn.

“If you think about it like 3D printing, a lot of people have been using 3D printers or hacking 3D printers, so they are great potential users for our system, because they can do that with knitting,” says Kaspar.

One potential partner for CADKnit and InverseKnit is Kniterate, a company that makes a digital knitting machine for hobbyists, makerspaces and small businesses. Kaspar says he has been talking to Kniterate’s team about making knitwear customization more accessible.

CADKnit combines 2D images with CAD and photo-editing software to create customizable templates. It was tested with knitting newbies, who despite having little machine knitting experience were still able to create relatively complex garments, like gloves, and effects including lace motifs and color patterns.

To develop InverseKnit, researchers first created a dataset of knitting patterns with matching images that were used to train a deep neural network to generate machine knitting patterns. The team says that during InverseKnit’s testing, the system produced accurate instructions 94% of the time. There is still work to do before InverseKnit can be commercialized. For example, the machine was tested using one specific type of acrylic yarn, so it needs to be trained to work with other fibers.

“3D printing took a while before people were comfortable enough to think they could do something with it,” says Kaspar. “It will be the same thing with what we do.”


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