Rupali Arora

Stories by Rupali Arora

  • Communicating Billboards: Signs That Can See

    Imagine watching an advertisement that is watching you. Sound creepy? Some billboards can already communicate by text or photo message with passersby, and researchers are now endowing these signs with artificial intelligence that can take cues from viewers' behavior. Scientists at National Information and Communications Technology Australia, a government-funded research lab, have developed a billboard technology that watches body language and can tell when you're bored and when you're paying attention. The idea is to entice people who are well placed to make impulse purchasing decisions—pedestrians in shopping malls, in department stores, at airports or on sidewalks.This is the future of "agile retail" technology, one of the fastest-growing areas of advertising. It includes digital billboards that can be easily changed throughout the day, allowing commuters to see ads for breakfast cereals in the morning and television shows in the afternoon. Advanced versions can deliver added...
  • The Mini Fingers

    To operate without too much cutting, surgeons have grown adept at using tiny tools much like tweezers and chopsticks. But these aren't adequate for many complicated procedures. Recently, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, invented a robotic hand one millimeter across that's capable of grabbing flesh. Its four ceramic fingers, arranged in a cross, are joined by plastic balloons; the hand opens when the balloons are deflated. "The hand is unique as it runs on gas pressure instead of electricity," says Chang-Jin Kim, a UCLA engineer who led the work. "It works well in air or liquid, making it easier to grasp small biological samples." Since the hand is soft, it won't cause rips and tears, and yet it's strong enough to pluck a single fish egg from a sticky glob of roe. Kim says he can make the microchip hand for about $2,000, but commercial versions won't be available yet for several years.
  • Neuroscience: Risky Business

    Should you invest in a risky start-up company? Should you accept that better-paying but less secure job? Should you abandon your failing marriage?How you answer depends on what kind of brain you have. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, applied functional magnetic resonance imaging to test subjects playing gambling games, and assessed their brain activity. Thinking about the possibility of winning money turns on some of the same areas of the brain as taking cocaine, eating chocolate or looking at a beautiful face. Most people are naturally cautious because their brains are wired to be more sensitive to losses than to gains. But the authors found a wide variation among individuals. "We can predict how risk-averse you are going to be in your choices," says coauthor Russell Poldrack. Marketers take note: the work may eventually lead to ways of predicting purchasing behavior. ...