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Scientists control soft robots with magnetic fields

As slick as soft robots are, they tend to have very simple movements. It’d be a challenge to create a truly complex machine using existing technology. Researchers may have a solution to more sophisticated movement, though. They’ve invented a technique that uses magnetic fields to steer squishier robots. The trick was to cover the robots in a polymer film loaded with iron microparticles made to form parallel chains using a magnetic field. When you want to steer a robot, you just subject its relevant components to another magnetic field — the direction and strength of the field determines what happens.

The scientists used their fresh approach to build three robots that take advantage of this newfound flexibility. One is a cantilever (the “lifter” you see above) that can carry up to 50 times its weight. An accordion bot can expand and contract like a muscle, while a valve can squeeze to act as a pump.

There’s no question that it’ll take a long time to make this method viable for real robots. You’d need an external device to produce the field, for a start. However, the potential uses are already easy to see. The accordion and valve robots would be particularly useful for robots that have to mimic organic functions, not to mention prosthetics, implants and other health care equipment.

Source: NCSU, ACS

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There's a good reason why security analysts get nervous about bundled third-party software: it can introduce vulnerabilities that the companies can't control. And Microsoft, unfortunately, has learned that the hard way. Google researcher Tavis Ormandy discovered that a Windows 10 image came bundled with a third-party password manager, Keeper, which came with a glaring browser plugin flaw -- a malicious website could steal passwords. Ormandy's copy was an MSDN image meant for developers, but Reddit users noted that they received the vulnerable copy of Keeper after clean reinstalls of regular copies and even a brand new laptop.

A Microsoft spokesperson told Ars Technica that the Keeper team had patched the exploit (in response to Ormandy's private disclosure), so it shouldn't be an issue if your software is up to date. Also, you were only exposed if you enabled the plugin.

However, the very existence of the hole has still raised a concern: are Microsoft's security tests as thorough for third-party apps as its own software? The company has declined to comment, but that kind of screening may prove crucial if Microsoft is going to maintain the trust of Windows users. It doesn't matter how secure Microsoft's code is if a bundled app undermines everything.

Source: Monorail, Tavis Ormandy (Twitter)