Boston Dynamics robots are back to let you know they can really shake em down. In a stunning dance video that s part celebration of an incredible engineering achievement and part advertisement for the robotics company, Boston Dynamics showed four of its robots performing fully choreographed dance moves to The Contours hit "Do you love me." The MIT spinoff sells its lifelike robots to warehouses, police, utilities, laboratories and factories to perform tasks better and more safely than humans can. To show off how far its robots skills have come, Boston Dynamics on Tuesday had its robots doing the twist, the mashed potato, and some seriously complicated dance moves that were one part impressive and one part eerie. Tesla CEO and famous artificial intelligence skeptic Elon Musk noted: "This is not CGI" -- even if the impressive show was beyond belief.Boston Dynamics hasn t quite achieved the business success some robotics champions had expected or hoped. The company lists just a handful of customers, and it s had three different owners in the past three years: Google (GOOGL) bought it in 2013, then sold it to Softbank in 2017 before Hyundai purchased it earlier this year. The company began selling its robotic dog Spot to US businesses in June for $74,500 each. Spot, featured in the video with the more human-like Atlas robots and the wheeled Handle robot, is Boston Dynamics most famous product. The four-legged robot has garnered attention for the tasks it can perform, which include running, climbing stairs, and even reminding people to practice social distancing in the Covid-19 era. It s generally used for inspections on construction sites or similar situations. But Atlas stole the show in the "Do you love me" video. Last year, Boston Dynamics showed Atlas performing parkour tricks, including backflips, aerial somersaults and 360-degree turn-around jumps. This year s video was jaw-dropping, by comparison, showing how far Atlas capabilities have come in a year. Atlas was a convincing dancer, performing agile jumps and high leg kicks in rhythm.
Vybe Together, an app that allowed people to arrange and attend parties that might violate Covid-19 safety protocols, has been taken down from Apple s App Store, and its TikTok account has been shut down. The app used its Instagram account, which remains online, to explain why it disappeared from iPhones and iPads. "App Store took us down!!! We will be back!!," the Instagram post said. The Instagram account suggests using the app to "Find your vybe. Local wine nights, beer pong games and dancing in an apartment near you." The app s slogan is "Get your rebel on. Get your party on."Neither Vybe Together, Apple (AAPL) nor TikTok immediately responded to requests for comment. The action against the app was first reported by The Verge. Vybe Together had a now-removed FAQ page that suggested it was supporting small gatherings, not large ones, The Verge reported. "We are aware that Covid is a major health problem to the country, our communities, our friends and family," said the FAQ page. "If we all could just be in isolation this could actually go away. Having large scale parties is very dangerous. That is why we don t support that. But Vybe is a compromise, no big parties but small gatherings. We could be living, at least a little during these times with Vybe." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against holding even smaller social gatherings that bring together people from different households due to the risk of Covid-19 spread. "The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with Covid-19 and Covid-19 spreading," the CDC said in its guidelines. Many local governments have also issued directives banning gatherings.Vybe Together got some flak on social media Tuesday, before Apple and TikTok took action. Taylor Lorenz, a tech and internet writer for the New York Times, was among those critical of the Vybe Together app. "Some terrible people built a whole app for finding and promoting Covid-unsafe large, indoor house parties and they re using TikTok to market it to millions of ppl," he tweeted. "They re currently in the midst of promoting secret NYE ragers in nyc." Lorenz identified a co-founder of Vybe Together, and included the person s LinkedIn profile page. That page was offline as of Wednesday morning.
The Trump administration isn t giving up on its campaign against TikTok just yet. The US government on Monday appealed a decision handed down by a federal judge earlier this month that prevented authorities from fully implementing its restrictions against the popular short-form video app. The appeal challenges a Dec. 7 preliminary injunction from US District Court Judge Carl Nichols, which prevented the US Department of Commerce from enforcing rules that would have made it illegal for infrastructure companies to carry TikTok s network traffic.That ruling followed an earlier injunction that prevented the Commerce Department from banning downloads of TikTok from US app stores. TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has been in the Trump administration s cross hairs for months. US President Donald Trump has accused TikTok of posing a national security risk because its Chinese owner, ByteDance, could be forced to hand over TikTok s user data to the Chinese government. TikTok has denied the claim and said TikTok stores US user data in Virginia and Singapore — out of the reach of Chinese law. TikTok has been hammering out a deal with the US government meant to satisfy its concerns that would bring in US investors, such as Oracle (ORCL) and Walmart (WMT). But that deal has not been finalized. Earlier this month, the US government declined to extend a deadline it had set for ByteDance to sell off the app. But it also decided not to enforce an executive order requiring the sale. That allowed negotiations between TikTok and US officials to continue. But it s not clear whether concerns about the app will be resolved before President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month.
Covid-19 catapulted the health sector to the forefront of cyber-security in 2020, but the next year is likely to see the dangers continue and evolve. Threats from nation states and criminals to the health system are a growing concern. The huge logistical challenge of rolling out vaccines faces the risk of disruption to complex supply chains. And criminal ransomware poses a threat at a time when the pandemic has increased our reliance on technology. Supply chain The distribution of the various coronavirus vaccines may bring relief, but it also brings with it a major challenge: many of those involved have not had to think hard about security in the past. The complex global supply chain for vaccines ranges from factories in one country to internet-connected fridges in another. It will create new pressure on doctors surgeries, IT systems, and sometimes small providers who play a critical role. IBM has already said it has seen suspected state-hackers target the "cold chain" used to keep supplies at the right temperature during transportation. And in the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre, which worked quickly when the pandemic began to secure vaccine research, has since pivoted its efforts towards vaccine distribution. At least the large pharmaceutical companies are no stranger to cyber-espionage. Their security officials say they first began thinking hard about the issue after a major espionage campaign back in Spring 2010. But the issues around the pandemic have changed the sector s importance. "We are now on a grander stage," is how one person involved puts it. In July, the UK accused Russian intelligence of targeting research, including for the Oxford vaccine, while the US accused Chinese hackers of similar activity. The emergence of "vaccine nationalism" led intelligence and security officials to raise questions about whether countries could try and undermine the efforts of others going forward. "It could be trying to steal the intellectual property for financial purposes," Tonya Ugoretz of the FBI told a recent Aspen Institute Cyber Summit. "It could be to undermine confidence... or to advantage another country s own development. "We see our most determined nation-state adversaries not just relying on one method to target the supply chain, but combining cyber with using more traditional espionage and human sources." One much discussed tactic is the deliberate spread of misinformation online about vaccinations, or questioning a country s safety and testing record. The UK Army s 77th Brigade has supported a Cabinet Office investigation into whether foreign states are driving anti-vaccine fears within the UK. Most sentiment was domestically generated, head of Strategic Command General Sir Patrick Sanders said at a recent Chatham House event. And he raised the possibility of retaliation. "Where these things are being fuelled from overseas, then we will take action, and if the NCF (National Cyber Force) has a part to play in that, it will." Cyber-blackmail campaigns But despite concerns about states, experts say, criminal ransomware - the locking of people out of their computers and data until they pay - remains the more serious and persistent threat. There was some talk at the start of pandemic from criminal gangs that they would not target health. But it did not last and attacks have multiplied. A recent report from security firm Positive Technologies says half of all the cyber-attacks on healthcare were ransomware in the July-to-September quarter of 2020. US hospitals have been worse hit than the UK. It is thought this is because criminals see them as richer than their NHS counterparts. In just 24 hours in October, six American hospitals received ransom demands of at least $1m (£810,000), leading to some cancer treatments being cancelled. "The healthcare sector has become such a big, rich, juicy target," Greg Garcia, executive director for the US Cybersecurity of the Health Sector Co-ordinating Council, recently said. "It s as if they moved on from the financial services sector." The UK has made stride to fix weaknesses in the NHS systems exposed by 2017 s Wannacry ransomware attack. Even so, there are concerns it could be hit again. Dr Saif Abed has long warned that such an attack could kill a patient. He is a former NHS doctor who left clinical practice to set up the AbedGraham group, which advises on IT security risks to health. "The thing that s really concerning is that attackers now understand the concept of clinical urgency," he says. "They understand: If we create a risk that disrupts the ability to provide patient care, we re more likely to get a payout. " His worry is that the pandemic has accelerated the digitisation of health. While that has brought benefits such as consultations taking place online, he says the investment needed to keep internet-connected systems and devices secure has not kept pace. Dr Abed says he often hears security researchers talk about hacking insulin pumps to kill someone. But he says a bigger risk is the fact that more devices are being connected together while remaining vulnerable, leading to the risk of a cascade effect. He adds that his biggest worry is that criminals move from just locking organisations out of their health data to starting to tamper with it, posing risks to patient safety. The desire to limit further Covid-19 outbreaks may also create a further drive to share data more broadly. And that in turn may present further opportunities to steal or subvert it. Another sign that the cyber-security of health is likely to be on the front line in 2021.
Now that coronavirus vaccines are starting to roll out in the US and abroad, many people may be dreaming of the day when they can travel, shop and go to the movies again. But in order to do those activities, you may eventually need something in addition to the vaccine: a vaccine passport application. Several companies and technology groups have begun developing smartphone apps or systems for individuals to upload details of their Covid-19 tests and vaccinations, creating digital credentials that could be shown in order to enter concert venues, stadiums, movie theaters, offices, or even countries. The Common Trust Network, an initiative by Geneva-based nonprofit The Commons Project and the World Economic Forum, has partnered with several airlines including Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, as well as hundreds of health systems across the United States and the government of Aruba. The CommonPass app created by the group allows users to upload medical data such as a Covid-19 test result or, eventually, a proof of vaccination by a hospital or medical professional, generating a health certificate or pass in the form of a QR code that can be shown to authorities without revealing sensitive information. For travel, the app lists health pass requirements at the points of departure and arrival based on your itinerary. "You can be tested every time you cross a border. You cannot be vaccinated every time you cross a border," Thomas Crampton, chief marketing and communications officer for The Commons Project, told CNN Business. He stressed the need for a simple and easily transferable set of credentials, or a "digital yellow card," referring to the paper document generally issued as proof of vaccination. Large tech firms are also getting in on the act. IBM (IBM) developed its own app, called Digital Health Pass, which allows companies and venues to customize indicators they would require for entry including coronavirus tests, temperature checks and vaccination records. Credentials corresponding to those indicators are then stored in a mobile wallet. In an effort to address one challenge around returning to normalcy after vaccines are distributed widely, developers may now have to confront other challenges, ranging from privacy issues to representing the varied effectiveness of different vaccines. But the most pressing challenge may simply be avoiding the disjointed implementation and mixed success of tech s previous attempt to address the public health crisis: contact tracing apps. Early on in the pandemic, Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) set aside their smartphone rivalry to jointly develop a Bluetooth-based system to notify users if they d been exposed to someone with Covid-19. Many countries and state governments around the world also developed and used their own apps. "I think where exposure notification ran into some challenges was more of the piecemeal implementation choices, lack of federal leadership ... where each state had to go it alone and so each state had to figure it out independently," said Jenny Wanger, who leads the exposure notification initiatives for Linux Foundation Public Health, a tech-focused organization helping public health authorities around the world combat Covid-19. To encourage better coordination this time, The Linux Foundation has partnered with the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative, a collective of more than 300 people representing dozens of organizations across five continents and is also working with IBM and CommonPass to help develop a set of universal standards for vaccine credential apps. "If we re successful, you should be able to say: I ve got a vaccine certificate on my phone that I got when I was vaccinated in one country, with a whole set of its own kind of health management practices... that I use to get on a plane to an entirely different country and then I presented in that new country a vaccination credential so I could go to that concert that was happening indoors for which attendance was limited to those who have demonstrated that they ve had the vaccine," said Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Linux Foundation. "It should be interoperable in the same way that email is interoperable, the same way that the web is interoperable," he said. "Right now, we re in a situation where there s some moving parts that get us closer to that, but I think there s a sincere commitment from everybody in the industry." Part of ensuring wide usage for vaccine passports is accounting for the large subset of the global population that still doesn t use or have access to smartphones. A few companies within the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative are also developing a smart card that strikes a middle ground between the traditional paper vaccine certificates and an online version that s easier to store and reproduce. "For us it s [about] how that digital credential can be stored, can be presented, not only through smartphones but also in other ways for those people who don t have access to stable internet and also who don t own smartphones," said Lucy Yang, co-lead of the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative. "We re looking into it, and there are companies who are doing really promising work. Once they build a vaccine passport, companies will need to make sure people are comfortable using it. That means confronting concerns about the handling of private medical information. CommonPass, IBM and the Linux Foundation have all stressed privacy as central to their initiatives. IBM says it allows users to control and consent to the use of their health data and allows them to choose the level of detail they want to provide to authorities. "Trust and transparency remain paramount when developing a platform like a digital health passport, or any solution that handles sensitive personal information," the company said in a blog post. "Putting privacy first is an important priority for managing and analyzing data in response to these complex times." With vaccines manufactured by multiple companies across several countries in varying stages of development, there are a lot of variables that passport makers will need to account for. "A point of entry — whether that s a border, whether that s a venue — is going to want to know, did you get the Pfizer vaccine, did you get the Russian vaccine, did you get the Chinese vaccine, so they can make a decision accordingly," said Crampton. The variance can be wide: the vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm, for example, has an efficacy of 86% against Covid-19, while the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna each have an efficacy of around 95%. It s also unclear how effective the vaccines are in stopping the transmission of the virus, says Dr. Julie Parsonnet, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford University. So while a vaccine passport app will show that you ve received the shot, it may not be a guarantee that you safely attend an event or get on a flight. "We still don t know if vaccinated people can transmit infection or not," she told CNN Business. "Until that is clarified, we won t know whether passports will be effective." Still, Behlendorf anticipates that the rollout and adoption of vaccine passports will happen rather quickly once everything falls into place and expects a variety of apps that can work with each other to be "widely available" within the first half of 2021.
California has given the go-ahead for a commercial driverless delivery service for the first time. Robotics start-up Nuro plans to start its driverless delivery operations as early as next year. It previously tested its R2 vehicles in the state in April, but the permit will let it charge people for its service. The firm s vehicles will be limited to 35mph (56km/h), and will be restricted to operating in "fair weather" conditions. “Issuing the first deployment permit is a significant milestone in the evolution of autonomous vehicles in California,” said California Department of Motor Vehicles director Steve Gordon. “We will continue to keep the safety of the motoring public in mind as this technology develops.” Nuro was founded by two former Google engineers and has funding from Japanese firm Softbank. Its vehicles are designed to operate without a driver or passengers in them. The R2 uses radar, thermal imaging and 360-degree cameras to direct its movement. And it lacks a steering wheel, pedals or side-view mirrors. The vehicle has an egg-shaped frame that is smaller than most cars in the US. It also has two temperature-controlled compartments for deliveries. Doors raise up to reveal the items once a code has been entered by the recipient. During a previous trial in Houston, Texas, in February, the R2 delivered pizza for Domino s Pizza, groceries from supermarket chain Kroger and goods for Walmart. Even so, one transport expert said safety issues would continue to be a concern. "It will be very limited to begin with while the technology is thoroughly evaluated," said Prof David Bailey from the University of Birmingham. "So, for example, the vehicles will only be allowed on surface streets with their speed limited to 35mph, and the smaller Nuro delivery bots will be limited to just 25mph. "It s essentially a limited trial, but still a significant step towards a driverless future."
The US space agency (Nasa) has released an animation showing how its one-tonne Perseverance rover will land on Mars on 18 February. The robot is being sent to a crater called Jezero where it will search for evidence of past life. But to undertake this science, it must first touch down softly. The sequence of manoeuvres needed to land on Mars is often referred to as the "seven minutes of terror" - and with good reason. So much has to go right in a frighteningly short space of time or the arriving mission will dig a very big and very expensive new hole in the Red Planet. With a distance on the day of 209 million km (130 million miles) between Earth and Mars, every moment and every movement you see in the animation has to be commanded by onboard computers. It starts more than 100km above Mars where the Perseverance rover will encounter the first wisps of atmosphere. At this point, the vehicle, in its protective capsule, is travelling at 20,000km/h (12,000mph). In little more than 400 seconds, the descent system has to reduce this velocity to less than 1m/s at the surface. Most of the work is done by a heat shield. As the capsule plunges deeper into the Martian air, it gets super-hot at more than 1,000C - but at the same time, the drag slows the fall dramatically. By the time the supersonic parachute deploys from the backshell of the capsule, the velocity has already been reduced to 1,200km/h. Perseverance will ride the 21.5m-wide parachute for just over a minute, further scrubbing that entry speed. The most complex phases are still to come, however. At an altitude of 2km, and while moving at 100m/s - the Perseverance rover and its "Skycrane" separate from the backshell and fall away. Eight rockets then ignite on the cradle to bring the rover into a hovering position just above the surface. Nylon cords are used to lower the multi-billion-dollar wheeled vehicle to the ground. But that s still not quite it. When Perseverance senses contact, it must immediately sever the cables or it will be dragged behind the crane as the cradle flies away to dispose of itself at a safe distance. The sequence looks much the same as was used to put Nasa s last rover, Curiosity, on the surface of Mars 12 years ago. However, the navigation tools have been improved to put Perseverance down in an even more precisely defined landing zone. Touchdown is expected in the late afternoon, local time, on Mars - just before 21:00 GMT on Earth. It s worth remembering that on the day of landing, the time it takes for a radio signal to reach Earth from Mars will be roughly 700 seconds. This means that when Nasa receives the message from Perseverance that it has engaged the top of the atmosphere, the mission will already have been dead or alive on planet s surface for several minutes. The robot will be recording its descent on camera and with microphones. The media files will be sent back to Earth after landing - assuming Perseverance survives.
Mohamed Fanni, Professor of Robotics and Mechatronics at the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology (EJUST), announced on Monday that a research team from EJUST has succeeded in manufacturing the first innovative industrial robot with international specifications. The team used locally-sourced parts that are less expensive and more efficient than their imported counterparts. Fanni said that the new robot has a unique structure that combines the advantages of serial robots (specifically their capability to perform in a large workspace) and parallel robots (known for their speed and accuracy), as the new robot uses rotational motors to perform linear motions that have multiple industrial applications. In a statement to Egypt Independent, Fanni added that the robot can be used in many different industrial sectors such as food, plastics, home appliances, and automotive parts.The robot’s construction is part of a bigger plan to boost Egypt’s industrial sector, according to Fanni. “In particular, we aim to build a novel 3D interconnected translational industrial robot that we have developed in the last five years. We then aim to establish a company in EJUST to build and sell these robots for commercial use,” Fanni added.The proposed new industrial robot has a large workspace-to-size-ratio, comparable to those of serial robots. It has also high speed, accuracy and rigidity like parallel robots. Its unique structure brings combined advantages that make it superior to other industrial robots, a statement from the university said. The statement added that the robot’s free-interior-singularity workspace makes task planning and control easier. It has solely rotary joints and actuators, which makes it more reliable and cheaper than robots with linear joints and actuators. The robot has a balancing system that uses small-sized motors, which reduces power consumption dramatically. This makes it a strong competitor in the market from both an engineering as well as an economic standpoint.Fanni said that this invention will encourage many Egyptian investors to modernize and automate the country’s industry, as the cost of purchasing will be less than imported robots, and spare parts will be readily available at a low price. “Our main objective is to contribute in the economic development of Egypt through manufacturing. For the first time in Egypt, we have a robot that can contribute to the country’s fourth industrial revolution.”
Apple has placed a second major supplier in Asia on probation after finding that the company delayed payments to workers — a breach that apparently spurred vandalism at a factory in India earlier this month. The Silicon Valley tech firm launched an investigation after local Indian media reported that workers vandalized an iPhone factory near Bangalore run by Taiwanese manufacturer Wistron. A local labor minister and a labor organization told CNN Business last week that workers there claimed they were not being paid their wages. Apple (AAPL) said in a statement to CNN Business that an independent audit conducted in the wake of the violence found that payment for some workers was delayed in October and November."Our main objective is to make sure all the workers are treated with dignity and respect, and fully compensated promptly," Apple said, adding that it has stopped placing new orders with Wistron as a result of its findings. "We are very disappointed and taking immediate steps to address these issues." Wistron did not respond to multiple requests from CNN Business for comment on Monday. However, the company has let go of an executive in charge of its business in India, according to Taiwanese media reports. "We are removing the vice president who oversees our business in India," Wistron said in a statement, according to the Taiwan Times. "This is a new facility and we recognize that we made mistakes as we expanded." Apple has had to grapple with serious labor concerns in Asia in recent weeks. Last month, it placed another big supplier, Pegatron, on probation for violating its labor code by having some student workers in China work nights and overtime. Apple said at the time that Pegatron had fired an executive in light of the infractions. Pegatron also said that it had worked to increase oversight after the violations were discovered, including by arranging an external audit. Allegations against Pegatron haven t gone away, however. Last week, hundreds of workers protested at Pegatron s facilities in Shanghai and the eastern Chinese city of Kunshan because they said they were owed bonuses and wages, according to human rights group China Labor Watch. The organization estimates that up to 500 temporary workers, employed by local recruitment agencies in partnership with Pegatron, gathered outside the company s Shanghai factory to protest on Saturday, chanting: "Pay the workers, sweatshop!" Agencies had promised the workers special bonuses if they worked for 55 days, but did not follow through upon completion of their work, according to China Labor Watch. Pegatron declined to comment on Monday.The riot at the Wistron factory in India, meanwhile, made headlines worldwide last week after footage circulated on social media that appeared to show people smashing glass panels and tearing down CCTV cameras. In a filing with the Taiwan Stock Exchange last Tuesday, Wistron estimated that the violence had caused as much as $7 million worth of damage. In its statement Monday, Apple noted that Wistron had taken disciplinary action and was in the process of "restructuring their recruitment and payroll teams" in Narasapura, the Indian region where the factory is located. The firm has also set up a hotline for workers at the facility to call in anonymously with any concerns, it said. Apple has long faced criticism for how workers in its supply chain are treated. To improve practices, the US company regularly conducts audits, including surprise visits, of its suppliers facilities around the world.
The coral reefs at the Red Sea reserves are in grave danger as a result of rising environmental violations including illegal fishing by trawlers, whose nets threaten Egypt s national wealth of coral reefs and wildlife and have harmed sea turtle and dolphin populations. Marine environment preservation associations have confirmed that overfishing is one of the biggest threats to the Red Sea s environment, as many fish species are being captures en masse while coral reefs are cracked apart. These fishing nets extend kilometers across the coral reefs within the borders of the Northern Islands Reserve, which is protected by Law #102 of 1983 which forbids any acts that harm the environment and wildlife. Red Sea marine workers have monitored the destruction of coral reefs in the areas of Al-Fanous and Al-Araq in northern Hurghada, caused by overfishing inside the Northern Islands Reserve. Divers in Hurghada confirmed that overfishing is on the rise, due to marine patrols failing to cover certain areas due to the expiration of navigational licenses and the failure of the Maritime Inspection Office to issue new ones for patrols operating in the Red Sea Reserves Administration. The workers have called for more marine patrols to help curb the rising threat of overfishing, alongside preventing any illegal violations or environmental actions while and enforcing the Red Sea s environment and natural reserves law.
Broadband offering speeds of up to 1Gbps is now available to one in four homes across the UK, Ofcom has said. But 600,000 people in towns and more rural locations remain restricted to 10Mbps or less. This year has seen increased demand for faster connections, with many people having to work from home. The government had promised everyone access to broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps by 2025 - but that target has been cut to 85% of homes. Ofcom network and communications group director Lindsey Fussell said: "For millions of families this year, life during lockdown would have been even more difficult without reliable broadband to work, learn, play and see loved ones." "So it is encouraging the future-proof 1Gbps broadband is now available to a quarter of homes and we expect that to rise even faster in current months." The faster speeds are delivered either via: the enhanced cable network developed for transmitting TV fibre-optic connections that replace the copper wires installed for the telephone network Virgin Media offers cable services, while Openreach, a spin-off from BT, has responsibility for the vast majority of fibre-optic connections. There are also a handful of alternative providers offering bespoke fast-broadband services in various regions of the UK.
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese ground crews are standing by for the return of a lunar probe bringing back the first fresh samples of rock and debris from the moon in more than 45 years. The Chang e probe is expected to land in the Siziwang district of the vast Inner Mongolia region late Wednesday or early Thursday. It fired its engines early Wednesday to put it on course before the orbiter separates from the return vehicle, with all systems functioning as expected, the China National Space Administration said. Recovery of the return vehicle will be complicated by its small size, darkness and heavy snow, state media reported. Plans call for it to perform an initial bounce off the Earth s atmosphere to reduce its speed before passing through and floating down on parachutes, making it difficult to precisely calculate where it will land, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Bian Hancheng, a leader of the recovery crew, as saying. State broadcaster CCTV showed four military helicopters standing by Wednesday morning at a base on the snow-covered grasslands. Crews in vehicles on the ground will also seek to hone in on signals. While sprawling in size, the area is relatively familiar because of its use as a landing site for China s Shenzhou crewed spaceships. Chang e 5 set down on the moon on Dec. 1 and collected about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of samples by scooping them from the surface, and by drilling 2 meters (about 6 feet) into the moon s crust. The samples were deposited in a sealed container that was carried back to the return module by an ascent vehicle. Flying a Chinese flag, the lander ceased functioning soon after it was used as a launching pad for the ascender, which was ejected from the orbiter after transferring the samples and came to rest on the moon s surface. The spacecraft s return will mark the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since the former Soviet Union s Luna 24 robot probe in 1976. Chang e 5 blasted off from a launch base in China s southern island province of Hainan on Nov. 23 on a mission expected to last 23 days. It marks China s third successful lunar landing but the only one to lift off again from the moon. Its predecessor, Chang e 4, became the first probe to land on the moon s little-explored far side and continues to send back data on conditions that could affect a future extended stay by humans on the moon. The moon has been a particular focus of the Chinese space program, which says it plans to land humans there and possibly construct a permanent base. No timeline or other details have been announced. China also has joined the effort to explore Mars. In July, it launched the Tianwen 1 probe, which was carrying a lander and a robot rover to search for water. China s space program has proceeded more cautiously than the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was marked by fatalities and launch failures. In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the Soviet Union and the United States. The latest flight includes collaboration with the European Space Agency, which is helping to monitor the mission. Amid concerns over the Chinese space program s secrecy and close military connections, the U.S. forbids cooperation between NASA and the CNSA unless Congress gives its approval. That has prevented China from taking part in the International Space Station, something it has sought to compensate for with the launching of an experimental space station and plans to complete a permanent orbiting outpost within the next two years. The rocks and debris brought back by Chang e 5 are thought to be billions of years younger than those obtained by the U.S. and former Soviet Union, offering new insights into the history of the moon and other bodies in the solar system. They come from a part of the moon known as the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, near a site called the Mons Rumker that was believed to have been volcanic in ancient times. As with the 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of lunar samples brought back by U.S. astronauts from 1969 to 1972, they will be analyzed for age and composition and likely shared with other countries.
The European Union is set to unveil new rules it says will "overhaul" the digital market, including how tech giants operate. A pair of laws - the Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts - will be announced later on Tuesday. They are expected to be the biggest revision in 20 years, focusing on competition and making platforms responsible for hosted content. There are also likely to create heavy fines for violations of the rules. The rules are being spearheaded by commissioners Margrethe Vestager and Thierry Breton, both of whom have a history of strong rhetoric against the biggest tech giants - as commissioners for competition and the internal market respectively. Writing a joint opinion piece for The Irish Times on Sunday, the pair hinted at the tone of the proposals: "The business and political interests of a handful of companies should not dictate our future. "Our rules on digital services in Europe - the most coveted single market in the world - date back to 2000. Most online platforms hardly existed back then," they wrote. "We need to update our toolbox and make sure that our rules and principles are respected everywhere. Online as well as offline." Stricter rules for technology companies Apple has €13bn Irish tax bill overturned Amazon charged with abusing EU competition rules One key part of the legislation is expected to address the dominance of big players such as Google and Facebook - which tend to be US-based. In particular, the European Commission has indicated it objects to such giants using the data they gather from one service to "improve or develop" a new one in a different area, making it difficult to compete with them. The Commission labels such firms "gatekeepers", saying they "set the rules of the game for their users and their competitors". Technology analyst Benedict Evans said the new rules are likely to have "unintended consequences". "California thought Uber drivers should be classed as employees, which we can debate, but passed a law that accidentally banned all freelance work," he said, referencing the years-long controversy over worker s rights in the state, which was only settled by popular vote last month. "GDPR aimed to protect privacy, but also strengthened Google and Facebook and weakened independent media," Mr Evans added. Smaller media outlets have found it difficult to comply with the privacy, leading many US outlets to simply not allow EU readers on their sites. He said he expected the new acts to "probably contain sensible things, contentious things, and silly things".
A new variant of coronavirus has been found which is growing faster in some parts of England, MPs have been told. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at least 60 different local authorities had recorded Covid infections caused by the new variant. He said the World Health Organization had been notified and UK scientists were doing detailed studies. He said there was "nothing to suggest" it caused worse disease or that vaccines would no longer work. He told MPs in the House of Commons that over the last week, there had been sharp, exponential rises in coronavirus infections across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire. "We ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the South of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas. "We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant but no matter its cause we have to take swift and decisive action which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out." Prof Alan McNally, an expert at the University of Birmingham, said UK testing labs had picked up on this new variant in the last few weeks. He told the BBC: "Let s not be hysterical. It doesn t mean it s more transmissible or more infectious or dangerous. "It is something to keep an eye on. "Huge efforts are ongoing at characterising the variant and understanding its emergence. It is important to keep a calm and rational perspective on the strain as this is normal virus evolution and we expect new variants to come and go and emerge over time." Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome, said it was potentially serious. "The surveillance and research must continue and we must take the necessary steps to stay ahead of the virus." There is a simple rule for understanding all "new strain" or "new variants": Ask whether the behaviour of the virus has changed. This is crucial as viruses mutate all the time, it s just what they do. And so far we ve been given the "scare" but not the "answer". Matt Hancock said the new variant of coronavirus "may be associated" with the faster spread in the south-east of England. This is not the same as saying it "is causing" the rise and Mr Hancock did not say this virus has evolved to spread from person-to-person more readily. New strains can become more common for reasons that have nothing to do with the virus. One explanation for the emergence of the "Spanish strain" over the summer was tourism. So at the moment there are scary headlines everywhere, but still no scientific detail to know how significant this is. Presentational white space Prof Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at Nottingham University, said: "The genetic information in many viruses can change very rapidly and sometimes these changes can benefit the virus - by allowing it to transmit more efficiently or to escape from vaccines or treatments - but many changes have no effect at all. "Even though a new genetic variant of the virus has emerged and is spreading in many parts of the UK and across the world, this can happen purely by chance. "Therefore, it is important that we study any genetic changes as they occur, to work out if they are affecting how the virus behaves, and until we have done that important work it is premature to make any claims about the potential impacts of virus mutation."
In a year when industries that require the physical presence of their customers are on the ropes -- from airlines and theme parks to brick-and-mortar retailers -- those that don t require in-person participation are thriving. Exhibit A: Online gaming, which has been among the big winners of 2020. Exhibit B: The hardware. The Nintendo Switch was largely sold out at major retailers for months during the summer and holiday season. In November, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X sold out almost immediately. But can that trajectory continue into 2021 given the ongoing recession and steep unemployment? In March, as countries around the world were heading into lockdown, "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" was released and became a record hit for Nintendo, selling 26 million copies at $60 apiece. People loved "Animal Crossing" for its ability to transport them to a deserted island, where they could architect, granting them control and a sense of adventure. People held wedding ceremonies in idyllic vacation games like "Animal Crossing," and teachers taught classes in virtual reality. Some who didn t like gaming started to play just to spend time with faraway loved ones. A few even became video game coaches to earn extra cash. "Overall, 2020 added to the need to escape reality, release tensions and frustrations, uplift the spirit at a time where we were forced to do most of that at home," said Carolina Milanesi, a tech analyst at research firm Creative Strategies. All that time spent online translated into massive sales for gaming companies and even firms in unrelated industries like Uber Eats and Wendy s seized on the marketing opportunities More people became gamers and more people started watching gamers, as livestream services like Amazon s Twitch and Facebook Gaming logged record growth. Facebook announced in October it had launched games on Android and it expressed confidence it would continue to grow in 2021. "As people begin to responsibly edge back into our pre-Covid routines, I believe many will continue to turn to gaming," said Vivek Sharma, vice president of Facebook Gaming. Even the nascent esports industry benefited from the hours streamed as traditional sports were paused. Not every gaming initiative was a smash hit. Two notable flops came from tech giants that analysts have compared to "oil tankers" that have a hard time pivoting after committing to a direction. In July, Microsoft shut down its livestreaming service Mixer after the company poured millions of dollars into the project. "Crucible," Amazon s own attempt at a blockbuster, free-to-play game in a similar genre as "Fortnite," sank quickly after launch and the company announced in October that the game would be shut down by November. How 2021 could shake out Yet most companies in the games industry are bullish that the growth will continue into 2021 despite the recession and high unemployment. "Even in this economic state, we see a lot of people willing to put down $500 for a new console," said Carter Rogers, an analyst at Nielsen s video game arm SuperData. "We don t foresee anything sort of gaming crash due to economic factors because there are a lot of people stuck at home, shifting discretionary spending into gaming." Tech giants like Google and Amazon are still investing in cloud gaming services like Stadia and Luna, hoping to join into the console wars dominated by Sony and Nintendo (NTDOF). "The games business is a tough business... There s a reason why there hasn t been a major new entrant into the gaming space since the Xbox in the early 2000s," said Jack Buser, games director at Google Stadia, who previously worked at Sony for over seven years. "Have we made mistakes? Absolutely. Have we learned from those mistakes? Absolutely. Will we make mistakes in the future? I m sure we will. Right. And that s part of what it means to be in this business. But one thing is for sure: we are committed to it." Google s video platform YouTube logged its best year ever in 2020 with more than 100 billion hours in gaming content watched. Ryan Wyatt, head of YouTube Gaming, said economic conditions like the recession are "ultimately out of our control" but that the company would continue its strategy of entertaining people next year while vying for their attention spans. Jessica Stout, a 31-year-old mother of three who has a YouTube channel with more than 7 million subscribers, told CNN Business that she believes gaming growth will slow if people are able to venture outside safely again. Stout, who goes by the name "Aphmau" on her channel, said that "a lot of people are going to spend more time going out than they ever have before, after being inside for so long."
Google says it will examine the departure of a prominent Black female researcher in the field of ethics in artificial intelligence, whose recent, sudden exit has angered thousands of the company s employees and others in the tech and academic communities. In a memo sent Wednesday to Google (GOOG) employees, CEO Sundar Pichai said the company needs to "assess the circumstances" that led up to Timnit Gebru leaving Google last week, and examine "where we could have improved and led a more respectful process." "We will begin a review of what happened to identify all the points where we can learn — considering everything from de-escalation strategies to new processes we can put in place," he wrote in a memo that was first posted online by news website Axios and has been confirmed as authentic by CNN Business. A Google spokeswoman said the company had no comment. Gebru is known for her research into bias and inequality in AI, and in particular for a 2018 paper she coauthored with Joy Buolamwini that highlighted how poorly commercial facial-recognition software fared when attempting to classify women and people of color. Their work sparked widespread awareness of issues common in AI today, particularly when the technology is tasked with identifying anything about human beings.Until early December, Gebru was the co-leader of Google s ethical AI team, and one of very few Black employees at the company overall (3.7% of Google employees are Black, according to the company s 2020 annual diversity report) — let alone in its AI division. The research scientist is also co-founder of the group Black in AI, which aims to increase representation of Black people in the field. On Wednesday, December 2, Gebru tweeted that she had been "immediately fired" for an email she recently sent to Google s Brain Women and Allies internal mailing list. In the email she expressed dismay over the ongoing lack of diversity at the company and frustration over an internal process related to the review of a not-yet published research paper she coauthored about the risks of ever-larger AI language models that are trained on text from the internet.Google AI Research Scientist Timnit Gebru speaks onstage during Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 7, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch) In later tweets, Gebru clarified that no one at Google explicitly told her that she was fired. Rather, she said Google would not meet a number of her conditions for returning and accepted her resignation immediately because it felt that her email reflected "behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager." In an email sent to Google Research employees on December 3 that was posted publicly the following day, Jeff Dean, Google s head of AI, told employees his perspective: that Gebru coauthored a paper but didn t give the company the required two weeks to review it before its deadline. He also wrote Gebru responded with demands that had to be met if she were to remain at Google. Pichai said in the memo that he was sorry for how Gebru leaving Google has "seeded doubts and led some in our community to question their place" at the company. He did not apologize for the way her employment at Google ended. Gebru did not respond to a request for comment about the memo, but in a tweet she said she sees Pichai s comment about seeding doubts as, "I m sorry for how it played out but I m not sorry for what we did to her yet." In response to Gebru s departure, which struck many of her colleagues as a failure by an industry titan to foster an environment supportive of diversity, over 2,200 Google employees and over 3,100 supporters in the academic and AI fields signed a Medium post decrying her departure and demanding transparency about Google s decision regarding the research paper. Those sharing their support include numerous women who have fought inequality in the technology industry, such as Ellen Pao, CEO of Project Include and former CEO of Reddit; Ifeoma Ozoma, a former Google employee who founded Earthseed; and Meredith Whittaker, faculty director at the AI Now Institute and a core organizer of the 2018 Google Walkout, which protested sexual harassment and misconduct at the company. Others include Buolamwini, as well as Danielle Citron, a law professor who specializes in the study of online harassment at Boston University and a 2019 MacArthur Fellow.
Six people died during trials of the coronavirus vaccine produced by the American pharmaceutical company “Pfizer” and the German “BioNTech” company, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Wednesday. In a statement released by US channel Al-Hurra, the FDA confirmed that among the deceased was a participant who was obese and suffering from arteriosclerosis and died three days after taking the first dose of the vaccine. The FDA added that two participants died from heart attacks or stroke, and the cause of death of two others is still being determined. “Of the six dead, three are over the age of 55,” the FDA clarified. According to Pfizer s website, Phase Three of the clinical trials included a total of 43,538 participants. The FDA previously confirmed the vaccine s 95 percent efficacy rate, and supporting documents have proven that the drug is safe and may be used for emergency situations. The American biotechnology company Moderna said in December that it had submitted a request to the FDA to obtain a license for emergency use of its vaccine, less than a year after it began its clinical trials. Moderna was the second company to request emergency approval from the FDA, just two weeks after Pfizer and BioNTech. If Moderna successfully obtains permission from the FDA, it can begin giving doses of its vaccine on December 21. Moderna previously announced that its vaccine against the coronavirus was 100 percent effective against severe cases of the virus – a significant leap in COVID-19 vaccine development. Moderna joins Pfizer/BioNTech, Russsia s Sputnik V, and Oxford/AstraZeneca as the most successful coronavirus vaccine manufacturers in the world as of now.
China says it has pulled Tripadvisor (TRIP) from mobile app stores in the country as the government embarks on a fresh bid to "clean up" the internet. In a statement Tuesday, the Cyberspace Administration of China said it had removed 105 apps it considered to be "illegal," including that of the US travel giant. Most of the platforms belonged to local Chinese firms, and it was not immediately clear why Tripadvisor — which features reviews of hotels and holiday destinations — was caught up in the crackdown. The Massachusetts-based company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. As of Tuesday afternoon, Tripadvisor s website was still accessible in China.Chinese regulators said the apps they removed were the first of many that would be taken down in a wide-ranging "clean-up" of online content that started last month. The campaign is being held in accordance with several Chinese laws, and is intended to wipe out content related to illegal activity, including obscenity, pornography, prostitution, violence, fraud or gambling, according to authorities. "The Cyberspace Administration of China will continue to ... strengthen the supervision and inspection of mobile apps information services, promptly clean up and dispose of illegal mobile applications and application stores, and strive to create a clear cyberspace," the agency said in a statement.Chinese internet users have lived behind the so-called "Great Firewall" for years. US social media networks, such as Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR), have long been blocked in the country, and the United States and China have increasingly clashed over technology from both sides. Recently, for example, the Trump administration has threatened to ban short-form video app TikTok if it is not sold by its Chinese parent company ByteDance. Those negotiations are still ongoing. China is also known for taking a hard line on restricting online content, even if the platforms are homegrown and wildly popular. In 2018, regulators reportedly pulled Toutiao — a news aggregation app that at the time was ByteDance s biggest hit — from iOS and Android app stores because of pornographic and vulgar content on its feeds. The next day, Beijing ordered ByteDance to permanently shut down Neihan Duanzi, a social media platform where users were known to share crude content. During the episode, China s State Administration of Radio and Television urged ByteDance to "learn a lesson from this and weed out similar video content." That same year, China blocked hotel group Marriott s app and website for a week. The move came after the company was found to have listed Hong Kong and Macao as individual "countries" on its platforms, angering officials.
American actor and activist Ashton Kutcher is urging EU policymakers to grant tech giants like Facebook and Google a reprieve from new privacy rules that would prohibit them from using automatic detection tools to combat child pornography. The European Electronic Communications Code, which comes into effect on December 21, aims to rein in the broad powers that tech firms have to scan private digital communication. Privacy advocates say the mass screening of emails and messaging apps in search of child pornography violates the rights of Europeans. But critics argue the privacy protections will put children at risk. "We [need to] protect the privacy of these kids," said Kutcher, who is the co-founder of Thorn, a non-profit organization that combats human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children with a focus on internet technology. "They didn t consent to their abuse being shared online ... Their privacy matters, too."Kutcher has backed an interim law proposed by EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson that would give tech companies an exemption from the code, allowing them to continue tracking child sexual abuse online. The law proposed by Johansson faces a vote in Brussels on Monday. At the moment, tech giants routinely run software that scans their platforms for pornographic images and video involving children. "Some of these kids are toddlers, even as young as infants," Kutcher told CNN Business. "These are vital clues that help us identify these children and bring them to safety. If this interim legislation doesn t happen, those clues are gone. They re in the dark. Nobody can see them. We can t find those kids." Last year, almost 90% of known URLs containing child sexual abuse material were hosted in Europe, according to the Internet Watch Foundation. In that same year, the US National Center for Missing and Exported Children said it received almost 17 million referrals of child abuse content from tech firms. "My legislation is a temporary one, just to make sure that [the] voluntary detection of child sexual abuse that is taking place today, will not be stopped," said Johansson. "[Without it, it s] like we are turning off the light and letting the pedophiles and the perpetrators continue [in] the dark." Johansson s proposal has gained support from law enforcement agencies around the world. Inspector Timothy Zammit, of the Maltese Police, who chairs the European Union Cybercrime Taskforce, said: "The reality is that the biggest losers in the situation are the children, are the child victims, that we continue to come across on a day-to-day basis in our regular work." The European Union has pushed in recent years for stronger protections for personal data. In 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect, forcing companies to make sure the way they collect, process and store data is safe.The European Electronic Communications Code overhauls European telecoms rules, but it also includes some consumer protections. "Indiscriminately examining and searching the content of everybody s digital correspondence is as if the post office were just opening all our letters to check if there is something prohibited in them, which is really unthinkable," said German lawmaker Patrick Breyer. Breyer, who has called for the European Parliament to reject the temporary law proposed by Johansson, said he believes it would be better to run "targeted investigations against suspects" on such platforms, rather than conducting mass screening operations. The European Commission will propose separate legislation to tackle child sexual abuse online by the second quarter of 2021. The temporary law proposed by Johansson would apply until that legislation comes online.
TOKYO (AP) — Japan s Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully released a small capsule on Saturday and sent it toward Earth to deliver samples from a distant asteroid that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on our planet, the country s space agency said. The capsule successfully detached from 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) away in a challenging operation that required precision control, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said. The capsule — just 40 centimeters (15 inches) in diameter — is now descending and is expected to land Sunday in a remote, sparsely populated area of Woomera, Australia. “The capsule has been separated. Congratulations,” JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda said. Hayabusa2 left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) away, a year ago. After it released the capsule, it moved away from Earth to capture images of the capsule descending toward the planet as it set off on a new expedition to another distant asteroid. About two hours later, JAXA said it had successfully rerouted Hayabusa2 for its new mission, as beaming staff exchanged fist and elbow touches at the agency s command center in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. “We ve successfully come this far, and when we fulfill our final mission to recover the capsule, it will be perfect,” mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa said from the command center during a livestreaming event. People who gathered to watch the capsule s separation at public viewing events across Japan cheered the success. ”I m really glad that the capsule has been successfully released. My heart was beating fast when I was watching,” said Ichiro Ryoko, a 60-year-old computer engineer who watched at Tokyo Dome. Hayabusa2′s return with the world s first asteroid subsurface samples comes weeks after NASA s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made a successful touch-and-go grab of surface samples from asteroid Bennu. China, meanwhile, announced this week that its lunar lander collected underground samples and sealed them within the spacecraft for their return to Earth, as space developing nations compete in their missions. In the early hours of Sunday, the capsule, protected by a heat shield, will briefly turn into a fireball as it reenters the atmosphere 120 kilometers (75 miles) above Earth. At about 10 kilometers (6 miles) aboveground, a parachute will open to slow its fall and beacon signals will be transmitted to indicate its location. JAXA staff have set up satellite dishes at several locations in the target area to receive the signals. They also will use a marine radar, drones and helicopters to assist in the search and retrieval of the pan-shaped capsule. Australian National University space rock expert Trevor Ireland, who is in Woomera for the arrival of the capsule, said he expected the Ryugu samples to be similar to the meteorite that fell in Australia near Murchison in Victoria state more than 50 years ago. “The Murchison meteorite opened a window on the origin of organics on Earth because these rocks were found to contain simple amino acids as well as abundant water,” Ireland said. “We will examine whether Ryugu is a potential source of organic matter and water on Earth when the solar system was forming, and whether these still remain intact on the asteroid.” Scientists say they believe the samples, especially ones taken from under the asteroid s surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors. They are particularly interested in analyzing organic materials in the samples. JAXA hopes to find clues to how the materials are distributed in the solar system and are related to life on Earth. Yoshikawa, the mission manager, said 0.1 gram of the dust would be enough to carry out all planned researches. For Hayabusa2, it s not the end of the mission it started in 2014. It is now heading to a small asteroid called 1998KY26 on a journey slated to take 10 years one way, for possible research including finding ways to prevent meteorites from hitting Earth. So far, its mission has been fully successful. It touched down twice on Ryugu despite the asteroid s extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during the 1½ years it spent near Ryugu after arriving there in June 2018. In its first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In a more challenging mission in July that year, it collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history after landing in a crater that it created earlier by blasting the asteroid s surface. Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and therefore may help explain how Earth evolved. Ryugu in Japanese means “Dragon Palace,” the name of a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale.
The world has been inching toward fully autonomous cars for years. In China, one company just got even closer to making it a reality. On Thursday, AutoX, an Alibaba (BABA)-backed startup, announced it had rolled out fully driverless robotaxis on public roads in Shenzhen. The company said it had become the first player in China to do so, notching an important industry milestone. Previously, companies operating autonomous shuttles on public roads in the country were constrained by strict caveats, which required them to have a safety driver inside. This program is different. In Shenzhen, AutoX has completely removed the backup driver or any remote operators for its local fleet of 25 cars, it said. The government isn t restricting where in the city AutoX operates, though the company said they are focusing on the downtown area. The company released a video of its minivan — the Fiat Chrysler Pacifica — navigating on its own through the city s downtown area, showing passengers getting in, loading a package into the backseat and letting a dog hop in for a spin. It also depicts the car navigating around loading trucks, veering past pedestrians, and performing a U-turn. AutoX demonstrating its driverless robotaxis on the roads in Shenzhen. Credit: AutoX "It s a dream," AutoX CEO Jianxiong Xiao said in an interview. "After working so hard for so many years, we ve finally reached the point that the technology is mature enough, that we feel confident by ourselves, to really remove the safety driver." Xiao said the company won over regulators after working to improve both its software and hardware. "We have over 100 vehicles driving every day on the road [in China] to capture data," he said. "The AI software is better [now.]" "From a technical point of view, the car is ready," Xiao said. "It s very crucial to have this car, otherwise we cannot go driverless." AutoX was founded in 2016 by Xiao, a former assistant lecturer at Princeton who still likes to be called "Professor X." The Shenzhen-based firm focuses on making the technology that goes into self-driving cars, and partners with major automakers, such as Fiat Chrysler, to develop and put out its robotaxis. The new initiative is still in trial mode and not currently open to the public. That likely won t change anytime soon, according to Xiao, who said that he hoped to obtain permission to expand the program to regular passengers in the next two or three years. Race of the robotaxi While AutoX has claimed an edge in China, it s not the first time fully driverless shuttles have hit public roads. This summer, the company obtained approval to carry out completely autonomous tests on public roads in parts of San Jose, California, clearing another hurdle in one of its most important markets. In October, Alphabet s Waymo went a step further, saying that it would start opening up its unmanned transportation service to members of the public in Phoenix, Arizona. Domestic competition is also heating up. Recently, Chinese companies have started to let more ordinary people experience what it s like to ride in a self-driving car.This year, the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated the need for contactless services, which encouraged the government to move faster with autonomous technology, said Xiao. In June, Didi, China s biggest ride-hailing firm, began offering free rides in its autonomous vehicles within a designated area of Shanghai. Recently, Chinese tech giant Baidu (BIDU) also announced that anyone could try its robotaxi service in certain districts of Beijing. Both of those programs require dedicated safety drivers. AutoX already has more than 100 robotaxis deployed in five Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Wuhan. Over the next year, it aims to double its reach to more than 10 local cities. Whether the company can pull humans from behind the wheel in other markets depends on local regulators, Xiao said. In Shanghai, its vehicles are available to public users, who can hail them through Alibaba s Autonavi app, a Chinese mapping app.The startup s latest approval from local authorities in Shenzhen came after six months of trials it had already conducted there. Some of the company s lessons so far include how to better adapt to traffic conditions in each place, according to Xiao. In Shenzhen, for instance, motorists often have to watch out for delivery workers on bikes and scooters, and drivers are known to drive more aggressively than in the United States, he said. "The traffic scenarios are much more challenging," he added. "For our AI, we had to do a lot of work to adapt to the local Chinese way of driving." China, home to the world s biggest auto sector, could someday become the top global market for automated vehicles, according to a report from consulting firm McKinsey. It projects the country could generate as much as $1.1 trillion in revenue from autonomous mobility services by 2040. The industry, however, still faces a long road ahead. Xiao estimates it could take another five years for unmanned taxis to become the norm across China. "The bar is incredibly high," he said. "It s extremely challenging, but we re very happy."
After years of working in the English version of Copts United, our journey comes to an end. Yes, to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3: 1). However, we didn t wish or expect to see our lovely platform closed that soon. In the past years, we have tried to be the voice for the voiceless following the vision of the creator of this electronic newspaper Eng. Adly Abadir.