Hello reader, welcome to our weekly roundup of enjoyable stories that don’t really feel like ‘work’.

It’s been a pretty good week for ‘and finally..’ stories, my favourite involving using AI to trim lettuces. Let’s get stuck in.

Trimming lettuces at scale….with AI

John Deere has bought a Silicon Valley AI startup called Blue River Technology for $305 million. According to Quartz, the startup makes “an automatic precision weed-sprayer, a device that trims lettuce at scale, and software for drones to analyze crops.”

The Quartz article also begins with arguably the line of the week – “If you are a weed, we have some sombre news.”

Finally, a use for the Apple Watch!

I stole that headline from MIT Tech Review. The Boston Red Sox have been using an Apple Watch to gain an advantage during baseball games. An excellent interactive graphic from the New York Times shows how the Red Sox have been stealing catcher signs with the help of the watch.

For readers who aren’t familiar with baseball, the catcher is behind the batter and signals to the pitcher to request a particular type of pitch. Stealing these signals (which is not against the rules, but is ill thought of) is traditionally done by a runner on second base (who himself signals to the batter) but the Red Sox have developed a more reliable and circuitous system involving the team watching the game in a video room and relaying info to an Apple Watch in the dugout.

iPhones are banned in the dugout, so it remains to be seen if the Apple Watch is also outlawed.

sign stealing

How to kiss

Google says that “how to…” searches have increased by more than 140% since 2004, with ‘how to fix’ things being a notable trend.

To showcase its utility, Google Trends has teamed up with designer Xaquín González Veira to create a visualisation of ‘how to’ searches which involve fixing things around the home. The search engine has also released a list of its top 10 ‘how to’ searches globally.

It’s a list for our times, that’s for sure. From making money to making French toast.

  1. How to tie a tie
  2. How to kiss
  3. How to get pregnant
  4. How to lose weight
  5. How to draw
  6. How to make money
  7. How to make pancakes
  8. How to write a cover letter
  9. How to make french toast
  10. How to lose belly fat

Shoplifting in a store without cashiers

The excellent Rachel Metz visited a concept store designed by Standard Cognition which uses AI to track what items you take from the shelves.

The concept is much like Amazon Go, and Metz wanted to see if she could shoplift, given the lack of human oversight in the store. The system was fairly successful, catching the Red Bull that Metz had secreted up her jumper. She explains:

“When I was done, I walked over to a tablet that showed me a list of all the items Standard Cognition thought I had in my basket. It missed one of my two bottles of Coke and added an additional bottle of soap—things we could edit in the checkout app on the tablet. But the list was mostly correct, and, to my chagrin, it caught that Red Bull, too.”

A voice-activated home, ready to buy for $139,000

The Verge is producing a four-part video series titled Home of the Future.

The first video looks at Kasita, a home pod with more than 60 smart home devices that come connected to a main Kasita app. The home can be programmed to recognise ‘moods’, such as theater mode – dimming lights, revealing the hidden flatscreen and opening your streaming app.

Internet of Things functionality includes thermostat, security and even the shower (apparently to save water).

Apple and Amazon to bid for James Bond rights?

Apple and Amazon are in the hunt for the distribution rights to James Bond, alongside Sony, Universal, Fox and frontrunners Warner Bros.

The Hollywood Reporter reports (duh) that the two tech companies see Bond as “one of the last untapped brands (like a Marvel, Pixar or LucasFilm) that could act as a game-changer in the content space”.

roger moore sean connery

Finally, a cool Alexa Skill!

Alexa Skills are rubbish, let’s not kid ourselves. But Amazon has just launched some Skills for kids which seem very promising.

A Sesame Street Skill involves games suited to the medium, with Elmo playing hide and seek in one, offering verbal clues as to his location. The Skill includes engaging sounds such as animal noises.

There’s also a Spongebob Squarepants Skill and Amazon’s own Storytime Skill, some of which also rely on memory games.

sesame street skill

Smile for your dinner

Yum (owner of KFC) has launched a healthy eating concept restaurant which uses Alipay’s Smile to Pay technology.

Customer faces are scanned for one or two seconds, and the customer also has to enter their telephone number, as a fraud protection mechanism. Yum hopes the tech will bring in a younger generation of consumer.

More from Reuters

smile to pay

Customer service interaction of the week

For American readers, ‘fanny’ means something different in the UK.