Profile: Juan Wachs

Surgeons could use his hand-gesture system to control robots

3 min read
Profile: Juan Wachs
Photo: Greg Ruffing

Three years ago, Juan Wachs was brainstorming engineering projects with his Ph.D. students when someone suggested a robotic nurse that could hand instruments to a surgeon during an operation.

“We started laughing,” says Wachs, an assistant professor of industrial engineering at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind. “In the beginning, it was more like a joke. But then one of the students came up with some algorithms that suggested it could actually be done. We said, ‘If we don’t try this, we’ll never know.’ ”

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
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Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush
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Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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