August 15, 2014

Harvard researchers have created a swarm of 1,024 small robots that work together as a team to form shapes or move, herd-like, toward a light source.

These three-legged robots, called Kilobots, weigh as much as three nickels and cost just $14 a piece to make. Other researchers have been working with swarms in hopes of one day having an army of tiny robots that can go into rubble after an earthquake to find victims, or squeeze into other areas where humans can't go, but those swarms have topped out at 100.

"Building 1,000 robots is hard," James McLurkin, director of the Multi-Robot Systems Lab at Rice University, told The Boston Globe. "Getting 1,000 robots to work together reliably is, how they'd say it in Boston? 'Wicked hard.'" McLurkin did not take part in this study, and called it a work of "engineering majesty."

In a study published Thursday in Science, the Harvard researchers explained that they designed software that allowed the robots to use information from each other in order to act; for instance, when the robots were instructed to build a shape, they would follow the edge of the group and measure their distance from a robot acting as a marker.

Because of the sheer size of the swarm, parties were held to assemble the robots, and it can take a good amount of time to charge and activate them. But this is only the beginning, and researchers are already trying to figure out how to make the robots even smaller. --Catherine Garcia

Foreign affairs
11:13 p.m. ET

The Afghan refugee who became famous after her photograph was put on the cover of National Geographic is getting attention again for another picture taken 30 years later.

Sharbat Gula was photographed in 1984 at the Pakistani refugee camp she lived in, and she continues to reside in Pakistan. She grabbed headlines on Tuesday when national media published her computerized national identity card (CNIC), a document that she should not have as a refugee. CNICs allow Afghans to purchase property and open bank accounts, and usually can be procured through bribes, The Guardian reports. A spokesman for the National Database and Registration Authority said that Gula’s card was discovered and banned in August, and four officials have been suspended for their involvement. He also said the authority has found 22,000 other illegal cards.

Millions of Afghans have crossed into Pakistan since the Soviets invaded in 1979, and more than 2.5 million are thought to still be in the country. As evidenced by the anger over Gula having a CNIC, many Pakistanis are ready for them to return to Afghanistan. "We need them to leave Pakistan because we are badly suffering," Hamid-ul-Huq, who represents Peshawar, told The Guardian. "All our streets, mosques, schools are overloaded because of them. It is time for them to leave Pakistan honorably." Human Rights Watch asked the government this week to stop pressuring refugees to leave the country, and a former commissioner for Afghan refugees said that Afghanistan could not handle such a large influx of refugees coming back all at once.

the saga continues
10:03 p.m. ET

Nope, Kanye West's Twitter account wasn't hacked on Thursday: He really did apologize to Beck for the whole jumping-onstage-and-later-talking-serious-smack debacle at the Grammys.

After saying he was sorry to Beck, West decided to make amends with Bruno Mars:

Since the Grammys, West has been making the rounds trying to soften his image, and admitted to a radio station host last week that Beck's Morning Phase, which he didn't listen to before the show, was "kind of good." Now that the Kanye West Apology Tour 2015 is over, can a Yeezus/Beck/Mars collaboration be far off?

justice is (finally) served
9:05 p.m. ET

Out of the more than 7,000 Virginians who were involuntarily sterilized by the state between 1924 and 1979, only 11 are still alive. On Thursday, the Virginia General Assembly agreed to give each survivor $25,000.

The Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act aimed to "improve the genetic composition of humankind by preventing those considered 'defective' from reproducing," The Associated Press reports. The legislation served as a model for other states and Nazi Germany, and across the country, 65,000 Americans were sterilized in 33 states. Virginia's eugenics law was upheld in the 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. writing for the majority, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

In Virginia, six state institutions conducted the sterilizations. Lewis Reynolds, 87, was sterilized at the Virginia Colony for the Epileptic and Feeble Minded when he was 13; they thought he had epilepsy, but he just had temporary symptoms after being hit in the head with a rock. The retired Marine didn't discover he had been sterilized until he was married and trying to start a family with his first wife, who ended up leaving him once she found out he couldn't have children. "I think they done me wrong," he told AP. "I couldn't have a family like everybody else does. They took my rights away."

have you seen this dress?
7:49 p.m. ET

Someone call the fashion police: The pearl-covered dress worn by actress Lupita Nyong'o to Sunday's Academy Awards was stolen from a hotel on Wednesday.

The Calvin Klein-designed dress is said to be covered with 6,000 real pearls, and is worth a hefty $150,000. The gown was reported missing at 11:23 p.m. Wednesday, and police believe it was taken between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. that day. Detectives are dusting for fingerprints, talking to staff, and looking at surveillance footage from L.A.'s London Hotel for clues. "At this point, we don't have any idea who did it," Lt. William Nash of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department told NBC News.

your health
7:22 p.m. ET

The Centers for Disease Control is worried about an increase in the number of people contracting the potentially deadly bacteria C. difficile.

C. difficile is usually found in hospitals, but a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine said that 150,000 people who had not been in a hospital came down with C. diff in 2011, and 82 percent had visited a doctor's or dentist's office in the 12 weeks before becoming ill, CNN reports. Nearly half a million Americans are infected every year, with 15,000 deaths attributed to the bacteria. Researchers say the best way to avoid getting it is by washing hands with soap and water after visiting a doctor's office.

In 2013, researchers found C. diff in six out of seven outpatient clinics tested in Ohio, on chairs and exam tables. The CDC plans to do another study to see just why the numbers are so high outside of hospitals and to determine how many people arrive at the doctor's office already with the bacteria. "This is really an important issue," Dr. Cliff McDonald, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC, told CNN. "We need to understand better how people are getting C. diff."

Shutdown showdown
5:19 p.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Senate appears poised for a vote Friday on a bill that would approve funding for the Department of Homeland Security without blocking President Obama's immigration order. That would give the House — which passed a DHS funding bill last month that included provisions thwarting Obama's immigration action — less than a day to respond; funding for DHS runs out Saturday.

Confronted with a restive conservative wing that wants him to keep fighting and spurn the bipartisan Senate deal, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has yet to say how he will respond once the Senate acts.

Snowball Fights
4:56 p.m. ET

During a speech on climate change, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) employed some very questionable science to prove that global warming is a hoax.

"Do you know what this is?" he asked. "It's a snowball. It's just from outside here, so it's very very cold out," Inhofe said before tossing the snowball.

"Here, Mr. President, catch."

His staff confirmed that the snowball was caught by a Senate page. —Marshall Bright

4:19 p.m. ET

Oversleeping might be the activity of choice for college students, but sleeping more than eight hours a day could have significant health risks.

A new study published in the journal Neurology found that people who regularly sleep for longer than eight hours a day are at a higher risk for stroke than people who sleep six to eight hours daily.

The researchers studied almost 10,000 people aged 42 to 81 for nearly 10 years, recording how long they slept each night and if they had any strokes. The participants who slept the most had a risk of stroke 46 percent higher than average, and their stroke risk was double that of those who slept six to eight hours a night.

For now, the study authors note that more research is needed, since the study only proves correlation, not causation, between the two. But the researchers also note that oversleeping may be a sign of other health problems, such as depression, cancer, or neurological deterioration.

Kiss off?
4:08 p.m. ET

"That's just a kiss, that's all," House Speaker John Boehner explained Thursday after blowing kisses in response to a reporter's query.

With two days to avoid a Homeland Security shutdown, Boehner faces a potential revolt from the right over the fight to block President Obama's immigration order. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) struck a deal with Democrats to undo parts of the House's DHS funding bill, but Boehner insists he's waiting to see a final version of the legislation before he'll commit to a next move.

So when pressed to explain how he would avert a DHS shutdown, Boehner began one response with a few kisses, before adding, "When we make decisions I'll let you know," he said. —Jon Terbush

Fair and Balanced
3:34 p.m. ET
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

It's likely not a surprise that a majority (66 percent) of Republicans trust Fox News. 

What is more surprising, though, is that Fox is both the most and least trusted news source, according to a new study from Public Policy Polling. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they trusted Fox News over ABC, CBS, Comedy Central, MSNBC, CNN, and NBC, while 30 percent of respondents said they trusted Fox the least.

The only network that Republicans and Democrats agree is reliable? PBS. 

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