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Photo: Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images

A robot built at the University of Washington can spear a carrot or a tomato, and gingerly lift it up for a person to eat without using their hands.

The big picture: About 1 million American adults need help eating, according to census data. But there's more to feeding somebody than you might think. In experiments, the UW researchers gathered data as volunteers picked up various foods with a fork and fake-fed them to a mannequin.

  • Without thinking, people make all sorts of small adjustments based on a food's size, shape and texture. Most stab a soft banana at an angle, for example, so it doesn't fall off, and skewer a hard carrot by wiggling the fork in.
  • The researchers taught their robot to identify several fruits and vegetables on a plate, and then pick the best place to pick one up: strawberries in the middle; longer carrots at an end.
  • Then, the arm lifts up the food and holds it near the person's mouth for them to bite it off.

Watch more videos of the robot here.

Go deeper

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
6 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.

7 hours ago - Health

Beware a Thanksgiving mirage

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Don't be surprised if COVID metrics plunge over the next few days, only to spike next week.

Why it matters: The COVID Tracking Project warns of a "double-weekend pattern" on Thanksgiving — where the usual weekend backlog of data is tacked on to a holiday.