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Honda, best known for its small, fuel-efficient cars and its motorcycles, has spent more than a decade refining a humanoid robot it calls Asimo. Although it seems there’s still a long way to go before the average household will have a mechanized companion to fetch things and handle chores, some of the technologies that allow the automaton to walk, climb stairs, and carry things without falling over are making their way into other Honda products.

Take the U3-X, a personal mobility device that looks like a unicycle. It’s being compared to the Segway Personal Transporter because it takes direction and speed cues from the way the rider leans. The vehicle is supposed to move in any direction at up to 5.6 km per hour and has enough smarts to make the adjustments necessary to stay upright. But on city streets, where cracks in the pavement are more the rule than the exception, will this thing respond quickly enough to a bump that could send a forward-leaning rider hurtling headfirst toward the ground?

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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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