Having robots as far as the eye can see would be a benefit in some situations
Q. Ads for the caramelcolored soft drink are almost everywhere: Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, RC Cola and others. But in the 1940s, the CocaCola Company produced a different-colored cola, informally called “White Coke,” for a specific market. Which one and why? A. In Russia, when Georgy Zhukov, the highest-ranking officer in the Soviet military, took a liking to Coca-Cola, he could not openly drink it, as it was considered a symbol of American capitalism, says Dan Lewis on his “Now I Know” website. So Zhukov contacted his American counterpart, who in turn contacted President Truman, requesting that Coca-Cola develop “a cola which, visually, resembled vodka.” Thus, as the “New York Times” reported, Zhukov could be seen drinking it whenever he wanted, “without risking the ire of Joseph Stalin.”
The arrangement held for years, Lewis says, despite the red tape surrounding USSR imports during that cold-war period. However, White Coke was never introduced to consumers in the United States. Q. Bj 581, a Viking-era grave at Birka – a UNESCO World Heritage site in Sweden – was striking for its position on a prominent terrace and for its grave goods, including a variety of weapons and two horses. What else was noteworthy about it? A. Using ancient DNA analysis, researchers confirmed that the high-ranking warrior was a woman at least 30 years old when she died, reports Gemma Tarlach in “Strange Science,” a “Discover” magazine special issue. Though other women of that period had been buried with weaponry, none had a grave of such high status as did Lady Bj 581, for among the grave goods was a game board and full set of game pieces, likely indicating that she was an officer and involved in tactics and strategy. Her skeleton showed no signs of combat trauma, in keeping with 47 of the 49 confirmed males buried there. Cause of death could have been any variety of ailments, infection, or disease.
Further genetic testing of her teeth also ruled out a Birka birthplace and instead connected her to present-day people of the British Isles and Scandinavia. But that’s not surprising, considering that Birka was the site of a flourishing trade center at the time. Q. With major eye surgery just a few weeks away, you learn that a robot will be part of the procedure. Should this be cause for comfort or concern? A. You might be encouraged by results of a recent trial: Half the participants underwent surgery manually, the other half had a robot with a movable arm filtering out the imperceptible vibrations from the surgeon’s hand, says Timothy Revell in “New Scientist” magazine. Both procedures were successful, but those who had robotic surgery appeared to experience less damage to the blood vessels at the back of the eye overall.
Ultimately, the goal is to perfect a robot capable of performing operations that are impossible for humans to perform manually. For example, using gene therapy on the retina of a person with some vision would require an increase in accuracy “that is beyond human capability.” Even the best surgeons produce vibrations “of the order of a tenth of a millimeter at the tip of their instruments,” but parts of the retina measure only 0.02 millimeters thick, a fifth of that size. A surgical robot, on the other hand, can be moved in increments of 0.01 millimeters to avoid damage to deeper eye structures.
As Bradley Nelson of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology says: Much more needs to be done, but one day “robots will carry out surgery more quickly, less expensively and with better outcomes.”