December 26, 2015

First Hondajet has been delivered

Honda Aircraft Company today made the first delivery of its recently-certified HondaJet. The delivery to an undisclosed customer was made at the company’s Greensboro, N.C., headquarters, where the light jet is manufactured.

Honda Aircraft has a network of dealers in 11 countries across North America, South America and Europe, which will provide customer support, supplementing Honda Aircraft's 90,000-sq-ft customer support facility in Greensboro.

Hondajet is most adavanced fuel efficient regional 6-place jet in the Aviation industry today. The $ 4.8 million Hondajet is affordable.



Japan, France and Germany offer lower cost bids for Australia's 12 submarine order

Confidential bids lodged with the Australian government last month by Germany, France and Japan each offer a dramatically lower cost of building an eight-submarine fleet in Adelaide than was ­anticipated, in the range of A$10 billion-A$12 billion. It was previously expected that the project would cost about A$20 billion, based on a 12-boat fleet.

Even if the government decides to restore its original promise of building 12 submarines rather than eight, the bidders estimate the construction cost will reach only about A$15 billion, a little more than A$1 billion a boat, amounting to a potential $5 billion saving for taxpayers.

The lower cost estimates reflect the robust competition between the three international bidders to secure the submarine deal, which will be the most lucrative defence contract in the ­nation’s history.

The cheaper than expected estimates for building the new fleet may tempt the government to try to keep its original promise of building 12 submarines, rather than the revised figure of eight submarines with an option for four more that was in Tony Abbott’s draft defence white paper before he was deposed by Malcolm Turnbull in September.

The Australian government wants the largest and most sophisticated conventional submarine ever built, a 4000-plus tonne boat with a US combat system and the ability to fire cruise missiles and deploy special forces.



December 25, 2015

Tokyo police will use net carrying drones to capture other drones

In a first for Japan, Tokyo police will deploy a net-carrying drone to capture unmanned aerial vehicles unlawfully flying over important sites in the capital.

The Metropolitan Police Department’s unit in charge of patrolling the Diet building, the prime minister’s office, the Imperial Palace and other significant locations in Tokyo will be equipped with the drone in mid-December.

“Terrorist attacks using drones carrying explosives are a possibility,” a senior member of the police department’s Security Bureau said. “We hope to defend the nation’s functions with the worst-case scenario in mind.”

Only one crime-fighting drone will be initially deployed. It will be launched if another drone enters restricted airspace and does not comply with police warnings.

A 3-meter-by-2-meter net will hang from the bottom of the six-propeller drone to capture and entangle suspicious drones.

The Metropolitan Police Department had been considering ways to use drones to capture other drones since an unmanned aerial
machine carrying radioactive soil from Fukushima Prefecture was found on the roof of the prime minister’s office in April.

The net will allow police to stop drones from entering restricted airspace and it will also prevent the offending drone from falling down onto the street below, where it could damage a vehicle or injure a pedestrian



Secretive Data-analytics company Palantir Technologies gets $880 million in funding round with a $20 billion valuation

Data-analytics company Palantir Technologies enables large institutions to integrate and analyze information from databases that may be scattered across countries, and even continents, into a single platform. Palantir has helped soldiers search for patterns in the placement of roadside bombs; government regulators investigate accounting fraud; and pharmaceutical researchers hunt for blockbuster new drugs.

Palantir Intelligence is a complete, proven solution that is used throughout the intelligence community to efficiently, effectively, and securely exploit and analyze data, leading to more informed operational planning and strategic decision-making.

As the threat of cyber attacks grows, so too does the scale of data collected that could inform organizations that are most at risk. Palantir Gotham helps institutions across different industries handle petabytes of data, protect their most sensitive information, detect both internal and external threats, respond quickly to attacks, and harden themselves against future cyber attacks.

Palantir enables health payers to integrate the disparate and expansive data they already have—as well as valuable open-source data—to better analyze and understand their markets, member populations, and provider networks at any level of detail or segmentation.

With a fully-integrated view of all available data, Palantir can provide a secure point of access for complex, collaborative analysis, help payers understand and mitigate risk, match member populations with better care from the most effective providers, and optimize strategies for interventions and outreach.



Secretive software company Palantir Technologies raised nearly $880 million in a new funding round. The investment round came with a valuation of approximately $20 billion, according to US media reports.

The California company specializes in data analysis and counts among early investors an In-Q-Tel venture capital firm that focuses on "innovative technology solutions to support the missions of the Central Intelligence Agency and broader US Intelligence Community."

The privately held firm's services are used for financial fraud investigations as well as in counterterrorism efforts.



Stanford scientists look deeper into the body with new fluorescent dye

Glowing dyes help scientists see inside the body and diagnose ailments, but they needed a certain type of molecule to improve the imaging depth. Researchers invented a long wavelength near-infrared fluorescent molecule, and it works.

Physicians and researchers have increasingly turned to glowing dyes to look beneath the skin. An eye doctor, for example, might inject a dye into a patient's blood before shining a bright light in her eye. The dye causes the blood vessels to glow, providing a roadmap of the patient's retina on a computer screen.

At Stanford and elsewhere, researchers have worked to create dyes that, when stimulated, emit light of long wavelengths close to infrared light. Such a light, which is not visible to the human eye, could then be viewed by a special camera and be projected to a monitor to produce deeper, sharper images from inside the body.

This fluorescent imaging can help to pinpoint tumor locations near the skin's surface in a variety of cancers, such as head and neck, melanoma and breast cancer.


The NIR-II dye can resolve blood vessels in the forelimb as well as the brain with unprecedented clarity. The dye also allows clear resolution of tumors in the center of the mouse's brain.

Nature Materials - A small-molecule dye for NIR-II imaging

December 24, 2015

Optoelectronic microprocessors built using existing chip manufacturing

Using only processes found in existing microchip fabrication facilities, researchers at MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Colorado have produced a working optoelectronic microprocessor, which computes electronically but uses light to move information.

Optical communication could dramatically reduce chips’ power consumption, which is not only desirable in its own right but essential to maintaining the steady increases in computing power that we’ve come to expect.

Demonstrating that optical chips can be built with no alteration to existing semiconductor manufacturing processes should make optical communication more attractive to the computer industry. But it also makes an already daunting engineering challenge even more difficult.


Researchers have produced a working optoelectronic chip that computes electronically but uses light to move information. The chip has 850 optical components and 70 million transistors, which, while significantly less than the billion-odd transistors of a typical microprocessor, is enough to demonstrate all the functionality that a commercial optical chip would require. Image: Glenn J. Asakawa

Japan restarting more nuclear reactors and India is close to a deal with Westinghouse to build 6 nuclears reactors

1. A Japanese court gave the go-ahead for the restart of two nuclear reactors Thursday after its operator said in an appeal they were safe.

The Fukui District Court in western Japan lifted an April injunction that was filed by a group of residents who said that a massive earthquake exceeding the facility’s quake resistance could cause a disaster similar to the Fukushima crisis following the March 2011 quake and tsunami.

The order paves the way for a resumption of the Takahama No. 3 and No. 4 reactors, operated by the Kansai Electric Power Co.

The utility plans to go ahead with loading fuel rods into the No. 3 reactor within days, and go through final safety checks before putting the reactor back online late January.

Takahama reactors could be a third and fourth to restart, while prospects for a fifth one, the Ikata reactor in Shikoku, southwestern Japan, are uncertain due to strong local opposition over evacuation plans in case of an emergency.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-business government wants to restart as many reactors as possible

2. India expects to seal a contract with Westinghouse Electric to build six nuclear reactors in the first half of next year, a government official said, a sign its $150 billion dollar nuclear power program is getting off the ground.

The proposed power plant in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat will accelerate India's plans to build roughly 60 reactors, which would make it the world's second-biggest nuclear energy market after China.

India wants to dramatically increase its nuclear capacity to 63,000 megawatts (MW) by 2032, from 5,780 MW, as part of a broader push to move away from fossil fuels, cut greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the dangerous effects of climate change.



Star Wars Force Awakens on track for domestic box office number one but global number one movie is tough

Star Wars the Force Awakens could make over $1 billion in North American box office but still not overtake Avatar globally for highest grossing movie.

Avatar made $760 million in North America and $2.0 billion in foreign box office.

The Force Awakens has already made $363 million domestically after 6 days and should have $560 million after 10 days in theaters (at the end of its second weekend).

The foreign box office is about 10% higher than the domestic run rate and Star Wars has not opened in China.

Star Wars the Force Awakens could have $1.1 billion in North America (over 50% higher than Avatar) and $1.5 billion in foreign box office and still come up short of Avatar's global $2.7 billion. The $1.5 billion would match the second largest international box office which is achieved by Titanic.

$1.5 billion would be $1.2 billion and $300 million in China.





Russia developing second generation rail launching ICBM system and China also developing ICBM rail system

On 5 December 2015 China was observed conducting a launcher test of a new rail-mobile version of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), according to US officials.

It was not a full test, but just a trial of the 'cold launch' system, in which the DF-41 was ejected from its launch tube with a gas charge but the engine was not ignited. As such it was likely meant to test the tube launch system's compatibility with its new rail car. This followed an apparent full flight test of the DF-41 on 4 December 2015.

Details of both tests were first revealed by US officials to The Washington Free Beacon , which reported on the latest test on 21 December 2015.

This also confirms previous reports of China's interest in rail mobility to increase the survivability of its ICBM force. In a May 2012 journal article the former chief of staff of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, retired Colonel General Victor Esin, noted there would be a rail-mobile version of the DF-41.

In 2013 the Georgetown University Arms Control Project reported that China had obtained ICBM rail car insights from Ukraine, where the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau produced the RT-23 (SS-24 'Scalpel') rail-mobile solid-fuel ICBM used by the Soviet Union and then Russia from 1987 to 2005.

The first version of the 14,000 km-range, 10-warhead-capable DF-41 is carried by an 18-wheel transporter-erector-launcher (TEL).

Russia's second-generation rail-based ICBM system, called Barguzin, could enter service in 2020. One train, or a regiment, could carry up to six ICBMs.


An image of an RT-23 (SS-24) missile train could give some indication of the configuration of China's rail-mobile DF-41. Source: Russian Internet

Little is known about the structure of China's rail-mobile DF-41 units, although they are expected to exploit China's rail tunnels. Taiwanese sources have reported that China has already constructed 1,000 to 2,000 km of special rail to accommodate these heavy ICBMs.

Presently, the Russian Strategic Missile Forces have such ICBMs as Topol, Topol-M and Yars. State-of the-art Project 955 Borei-class submarines carry Bulava missiles. Topol missiles exist in mine and mobile design. The drawbacks of both of these forms of operation are obvious: the location of all mines is no secret, and the speed of mobile systems is not high at all. A train would be a considerable difference. At a speed of 100 km/h, a train can travel for 2,400 km a day. In addition, it would be very hard to detect a missile-equipped train among hundreds of other trains.

The "Barguzin" complex will remain in service at least before 2040. The starting weight of a new missile will not exceed 47 tonnes. The missile that will be developed on the basis of the Yars ICBM will be housed in a standard rail car. The new complex will look like a normal train with passenger and freight cars, in which all the necessary equipment will be installed.

The missiles that were used for "Molodets" complexes weighed more than 100 tons each. The cars with the launcher thus had to be equipped with special technology to distribute the weight load on nearby cars, which was, of course, problematic. The use of much lighter missile will cast all those problems aside.

As previously reported, the main element of the complex - the missile - will be developed on the basis of the Yars ICBM. The railway complex will be similar to the ground-based Yars, albeit with many missiles. If we take, for example, a 15-car train with five technical cars, Barguzin's one salvo will consist of ten missiles. A rail complex would be much cheaper than Borei submarines, even though a submarine of this class carries 16 missiles.

Today, the RS-24 Yars has three stages with the total length of about 23 meters. The starting weight is estimated at 45-49 tons. The maximum range - 11,000 km. Details of combat equipment are not available.

UCLA creates terahertz lasers with space, military and other applicatins

Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have identified a new way to make a semiconductor laser that operates at terahertz frequencies. The breakthrough could lead to development of a new class of high-quality, powerful lasers for use in space exploration, military and law enforcement efforts and other applications.

The terahertz range of frequencies occupies the space on the electromagnetic spectrum between microwave and infrared. Terahertz waves can be used to analyze plastics, clothing, semiconductors and works of art without damaging the materials being examined; for chemical sensing and identification; and to investigate the formation of stars and composition of planetary atmospheres.

Researchers led by Benjamin Williams, a UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering, have created the first vertical-external-cavity surface-emitting laser, or VECSEL, that operates in the terahertz range. VECSELs that use visible light have been used extensively to generate high-powered beams, but the technique has not previously been adapted for terahertz frequencies.


Unlike a simple mirror, the metasurface developed in Benjamin Williams’ lab amplifies terahertz waves as well as reflecting them.

Applied Physics Letters - Metasurface external cavity laser

Ceramic nanoparticles dispersed in molten metal will lead to superstrong and lightweight metals

A team led by researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has created a super-strong yet light structural metal with extremely high specific strength and modulus, or stiffness-to-weight ratio. The new metal is composed of magnesium infused with a dense and even dispersal of ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles. It could be used to make lighter airplanes, spacecraft, and cars, helping to improve fuel efficiency, as well as in mobile electronics and biomedical devices.

To create the super-strong but lightweight metal, the team found a new way to disperse and stabilize nanoparticles in molten metals. They also developed a scalable manufacturing method that could pave the way for more high-performance lightweight metals.

“It’s been proposed that nanoparticles could really enhance the strength of metals without damaging their plasticity, especially light metals like magnesium, but no groups have been able to disperse ceramic nanoparticles in molten metals until now,” said Xiaochun Li, the principal investigator on the research and Raytheon Chair in Manufacturing Engineering at UCLA. “With an infusion of physics and materials processing, our method paves a new way to enhance the performance of many different kinds of metals by evenly infusing dense nanoparticles to enhance the performance of metals to meet energy and sustainability challenges in today’s society.”


At left, a deformed sample of pure metal; at right, the strong new metal made of magnesium with silicon carbide nanoparticles. Each central micropillar is about 4 micrometers across.


a, Ultrasonic processing for nanoparticle feeding and dispersion. b, Vacuum evaporation for concentrating nanoparticles in magnesium.

Nature - Processing and properties of magnesium containing a dense uniform dispersion of nanoparticles

Japan increases military spending and the Asia region has an arms buildup

The budget approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet increases military spending to a record level, reflecting Mr. Abe’s desire to bolster the defense of outlying islands that are at the heart of a territorial dispute with China.

Military spending in the year beginning April 2016 is set to rise 1.5% to ¥5.05 trillion ($41.8 billion), which is the first time the figure has topped the ¥5 trillion mark and the fourth straight increase since Mr. Abe took office in December 2012.

Among the items on the defense ministry’s shopping list are F-35 jet fighters, assault amphibious vehicles, V-22 Osprey transport aircraft and wheeled armored fighting vehicles with tank guns, which are easier to deploy to far-flung islands than conventional battle tanks.

The nations' in Asia have a collective defense spending of $435 billion in 2015 and this will increase to around $533 billion by 2020, meaning the region would account for a third of entire global military spending within the next five years.

Asia Pacific countries are embroiled in a slew of territorial spats, particularly over the South China Sea (SCS), a key waterway through which over $5 trillion of global maritime trade passes every year.



Japan's role in the dispute
While Japan is not a South China Sea littoral state and is not party to the territorial disputes over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, Tokyo views the issue as extremely important to its national security. This is because a large proportion of the country's trade passes through the SCS, including all of the vital energy resources that Japan imports from the Middle East.

Due to the importance that Japan attributes to the area, Tokyo has sought to support efforts to oppose the establishment of Chinese hegemony over the area. "This has resulted in Japan significantly weakening its long-standing restrictions of arms sales and also taking the controversial step of reinterpreting the Constitution to permit the use of military force in a wider range of circumstances," said Japan expert Brown.

Japan is projected to increase defense spending by 12% in 2018 while China will increase by 30%.

China has been raising its defense budget at double-digit rates, and it often sends ships to the waters near the disputed islands.

Late last month, Chinese H-6K bombers staged one of their longer missions in recent memory. Flying through the Miyako Straits northeast of Taiwan, the bombers proceeded into the central Pacific, to a point 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the Ryukyu island chain (stretching from the Japanese Home Islands past Okinawa towards Taiwan). As important, they reached a point less than 1,000 miles from Guam.

These actions reflect an ongoing effort on the part of both the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and the PLA Navy’s Naval Aviation force to expand their operational envelope.


Improving Brain’s Garbage Disposal May Slow Alzheimer’s Disease as shown in mice experiments

A drug that boosts activity in the brain’s “garbage disposal” system can decrease levels of toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders and improve cognition in mice, a new study by neuroscientists at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) has found. The study was published today in the online edition of Nature Medicine.

“We have identified a new way to activate the brain’s garbage disposal system, and have shown that we can effectively use a drug to activate this system and slow down disease in a mouse model,” said study leader Karen E. Duff, PhD, professor of pathology and cell biology (in psychiatry and in the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain) at CUMC and NYSPI. “This has the potential to open up new avenues of treatment for Alzheimer’s and many other neurodegenerative diseases.”

The drug used was rolipram, which causes nausea and thus is not a good drug for use in humans. However, similar drugs do not incur nausea as a side effect and can be potentially tested in clinical trials quickly.

Rolipram activates the brain’s garbage disposal system, eliminating excess Tau proteins (glowing red dots) associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’

The ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) degrades misfolded proteins including those implicated in neurodegenerative diseases. We investigated the effects of tau accumulation on proteasome function in a mouse model of tauopathy and in a cross to a UPS reporter mouse (line Ub-G76V-GFP). Accumulation of insoluble tau was associated with a decrease in the peptidase activity of brain 26S proteasomes, higher levels of ubiquitinated proteins and undegraded Ub-G76V-GFP. 26S proteasomes from mice with tauopathy were physically associated with tau and were less active in hydrolyzing ubiquitinated proteins, small peptides and ATP. 26S proteasomes from normal mice incubated with recombinant oligomers or fibrils also showed lower hydrolyzing capacity in the same assays, implicating tau as a proteotoxin. Administration of an agent that activates cAMP–protein kinase A (PKA) signaling led to attenuation of proteasome dysfunction, probably through proteasome subunit phosphorylation. In vivo, this led to lower levels of aggregated tau and improvements in cognitive performance.



Nature Medicine - Tau-driven 26S proteasome impairment and cognitive dysfunction can be prevented early in disease by activating cAMP-PKA signaling

Stratospheric Solar Electric and Hybrid drones

Arcaspace has $80,000 and $140,000 stratospheric electric drones.

The Explorer is a stratospheric flying robot is the current top of the line unmanned aerial vehicle from Arcaspace. It has a flight ceiling of 60,000 ft (18,000 m) using solar cells and batteries or 13,000 ft (4,000 m) using hybrid propulsion with power generator and batteries, almost a day of endurance and the capability to be controlled via satellite or GSM communication over the Internet is far beyond any other civilian unmanned aerial vehicle can provide for this price range. The generous payload space and weight make it suitable for a wide range of applications. The high flight ceiling and great autonomy allows you to perform flights in near space conditions for long durations.

The software installed in the flight computers has artificial intelligence attributes. Not only it can hold a flight course and follow specific points, but it can also take decisions based on predetermined conditions. For instance, it prevents the pilot to enter a restricted area; in case the connection between AirStrato and the Interface is lost, the aircraft can call by itself the technical support at ARCA SPACE CORPORATION while maintaining a steady course; in case all contact both with its pilot and technical support at ARCA is lost, AirStrato will fly to a predetermined safe area and altitude and deploy the recovery parachute.

The autopilot can maintain the altitude and course or follow way-points inserted into the flight path. The autopilot is very friendly, way-points can be inserted, deleted, re-organized, or saved on the Interface ground station or in the aircraft computer. The autopilot can also control the on-board camera to target specific locations and film them for a pre-determined period of time.

All connections between the UAV and and the ground station use Transport Layer Security and are encrypted with the AES 256 standard, that is the best possible encryption for civilian applications. The UAV on-board computer features snapshot algorithm to prevent tampering with system and avionics files. The connection server has a demilitarized zone protection with double firewall and Intrusion Detection and Prevention systems to block hacker intrusion. Also several servers in different locations, in US and EU are available as redundancy that are ready to takeover the workload in case one ore more servers encounter denial of service attacks. All of these features provide you with the best security you can possibly have for a civilian remote controlled aircraft.

The Explorer is currently under tests and is available for pre-order at a 20% price reduction. Commercial production began in August 2015. After the commercial production will start, customers who pre-ordered will be able to purchase this model and future AirStrato models at a 10% price reduction for a period of one year.

The drones can be outfitted with high definition or 4K definition cameras. Cargo containers can be added to hold 100 pounds.







Dimensions

Wingspan
16 m     52.5 ft

Length 
7 m      23.1 ft

Height 
1.6 m     5.3 ft 

Wing area 
19.2 m2 206.7 ft2

Power plant 

Robbe 8085/10
45 Volts

Engine thrust at sea level 
6 x 20 kgf    6 x 44 lbf
 

Power source 

Solar cells 6 inch polycrystalline   6 inch polycrystalline
Installed power of solar cells      2,800 W     2,800 W

Power generator for hybrid version  5,100 W     5,100 W

Range 1800 km (1120 miles)





Arcaspace makes a true 12.5 mph battery powered hoverboard which uses 36 small electric fans

ARCA Space Corporation announced today that it has created ArcaBoard. For the first time in history, every person will be able to fly whenever they want, wherever they want. ArcaBoard represents the first revolutionary breakthrough in motion since the the bicycle, automobile and airplane.

ArcaBoard, an electric powered flying machine with 272 horsepower and 203,000 watts of installed power is the most powerful and lightest personal vehicle ever created. ArcaBoard represents total freedom of movement, total freedom of travel. ArcaBoard is a personal vehicle that can move in every possible direction including upwards. The retail price is $19,900 and is available for order now. Shipments will start April 15, 2016.





“ArcaBoard represents a revolution in motion. For the last 17 years we have developed aerospace technologies that looked to the sky. We took our knowledge and applied it to everyone’s dreams. Dreams of flying,” said Dumitru Popescu, CEO of ARCA Space Corporation.

ArcaBoard is built from composite materials, it has a length of 145x76x15 cm (57x30x6 inches) and a weight of 82 kg (180 lbs). This technology allows a person with a weight up to 110 kg (243 lbs) to be able to fly.

The vehicle is able to fly up to 30 cm (1 ft) and with speeds up to 20 km/h (12.5 mph) and the overall performance is limited by the onboard sensors. The maximum endurance is 6 minutes, but with the ArcaDock accessory the user can be back in action in 35 minutes.

About ARCA

ARCA Space is an aerospace company established in Las Cruces, New Mexico, whose main objective is the exploration of space.

ARCA Space achievements:
2004 - During the $10 million, Ansari X Prize Competition, ARCA launched the first rocket, Demonstrator 2B.
2006 - ARCA built the world's largest solar balloon that lifted into the stratosphere the crew capsule of Stabilo, a manned suborbital vehicle created after the end of Ansari X Prize Competition.
2007 - The Stabilo program continued, this time with an even larger solar balloon lifting the complete Stabilo vehicle into the stratosphere.
2008 - ARCA joined the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize Competition.
2010 - Helen rocket was launched at 120,000 ft, the event representing the first powered flight in the Google Lunar X Prize Competition. The rocket was transported into the stratosphere with the help of a helium balloon.
2012 - Haas rockets series was introduced, consisting of Haas 2B and 2C, a suborbital, respectively orbital rocket launchers.
2013 - The European Space Agency (ESA) awarded ARCA with a contract to test the parachutes system for the ExoMars spacecraft that will be launched to Mars in 2016.
2014 - AirStrato “The most amazing air robot in the world” a UAV performed the first flights.

Arcaspace drones are described here




Leiningen Versus The Ants With Molten Aluminum: How Much Molten Aluminum Would It Take To Exterminate 90% of All Fire Ants In The World?

A guest article by Joseph Friedlander

Warning: This article is a frank exercise in science fiction like paranoia revolving around boys' fiction tropes. In the style of if it were real, could we cope?  If you read it you may not like some of the gruesome details but you probably will learn a bit about ants.

"Alien Insectoid Species Colonizes Much Of Earth--BBC"  (I reworded that title slightly for sweeps week here on Next Big Future:) 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8127000/8127519.stm
A single mega-colony of ants has colonised much of the world, scientists have discovered.

More data on the supercolony

http://scribol.com/environment/the-ant-supercolony-that-stretches-6000km

 two super-colonies, with 33 populations consisting of millions of queens and billions of workers.

This of course is a benign species, aerating the soil, disposing of garbage, assisting man-- but what if it were not? What was the worst scenario involving ants ever?  If you had a book of short stories in grade or high school I am pretty sure this story was in it:

Outline of a classic 1930's adventure story-- Leiningen Versus The Ants
http://americanliterature.com/author/carl-stephenson/short-story/leiningen-versus-the-ants
Ten miles long, two miles wide--ants, nothing but ants! And every single one of them a fiend from hell; before you can spit three times they'll eat a full-grown buffalo to the bones...

The Classic Story on Wikipedia 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leiningen_Versus_the_Ants
The horror  story in picture only PDF form http://www.sd83.bc.ca/~hleask/English12/Unit%201%20Lesson%201%20Story.pdf

1959 Suspense radio play in mp3 form https://archive.org/download/SUSPENSE9/59-11-29LeiningenvstheAnts.mp3




https://youtu.be/OtF7Fg3PO8k
Is the threat real?  No. No. No. Unless you're insect sized (or bed ridden and can't move in which case there's a real horror movie waiting to happen  http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/9160/PDF)

Confirmation of this non-danger  and this all being a non-issue and more excerpts of the Leiningen Versus The Ants story  http://askentomologists.com/2015/07/01/is-there-any-truth-to-the-rumor-that-ants-eat-cows-people-and-crops/


But still--- We got to wondering-- suppose 1) a super aggressive variant of man eating fire ant appeared, (ideally of recombinant alien DNA origins)  like a horror movie plot and 2) displaced the benign and beneficial ants spread across most of the rest of the world.  
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasive_species

Could humanity cope now?  
This is frankly  a science fiction scenario and we are saving the friendly native ants from the invasive aggressor ants.  If you want to teach a 4th-6th grade science class, have them read this story (talk to the English teacher and coordinate things)  and then figure out what it would take to defend humanity.

Do we produce enough molten aluminum to pour down the gullet of say 90% of the ant nests in the world before they take over the last friendly 10% of ant nests and present us with a fait accompli of a fire ant dominated Earth?

A delusional movie plot? Of course! Never happen! But still-- could we cope? Are we man enough?  The question was--um--bugging me--so I thought to get it out of my mind by writing this post. 




Background briefing: Wikipedia on Ant Colonies https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant_colony
estimated millions of nests and billions of workers

Worldwide spread of ants http://io9.gizmodo.com/5880539/10-frightening-facts-you-probably-didnt-know-about-ants
 numbers exceeding 10,000 trillion, Pulitzer-prize winning book The Ants, researchers Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson estimate that there are upwards of 10,000,000,000,000,000 individual ants alive on Earth at any given time.


Smithsonian on estimated numbers of insects in the world possibly 1000 times more insects in general than ants
http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmnh/buginfo/bugnos.htm
From studies conducted by Terry Erwin of the Smithsonian Institution's Department of Entomology in Latin American forest canopies, the number of living species of insects has been estimated to be 30 million. Insects also probably have the largest biomass of the terrestrial animals. At any time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects alive.

Certain social insects have large numbers in their nests. An ant nest in Jamaica was calculated to include 630,000 individuals. A South American termite nest was found to have 3 million individuals. Locust swarms are said to hold up to one billion individuals.

Friedlander here for a second-- I recall one locust swarm in Ethiopia that was said to be 10 x 10 square miles (250 square kilometers) From anecdotal studies I find 10 or even 100 billion locusts in the largest historical swarms at least plausible. 

 Recent figures indicate that there are more than 200 million insects for each human on the planet! A recent article in The New York Times claimed that the world holds 300 pounds of insects for every pound of humans.

Based on the Smithsonian article, the highest detailed estimate of an ant colony was 630,000 individuals. That implies trillions of workers, not billions.  So we can estimate maybe a maximum of 30 times this supercolony being the ant-inhabitable part of the world (hard to imagine them thriving in tundra or ice) so 30 times 10 million nests is 300 million nests and at say a million per nest (being generous say by a factor of 1.5) that would be 300 million nests with 300 trillion ants in the world. Note the above estimate of 10,000 trillion (10 million billion)  ants and that divided by 650,000 implies really a peak of  15 billion ant nests in the world. 

 In real life you would NOT want to harm them but this is a worst case scenario so let's get to it!

If you knew a simple death-ant swarm as Carl Stephenson describes (no I don't think the threat is real) was coming you could flood it with water, molten lava, concrete, aluminum. 

 So. Bombs away!Or rather, Commence pour! Scientists have dug out large ant nests completely cast with plaster or concrete.  Concrete costs money, (say $160 a cubic meter)  and molten aluminum more. (say $6000 a cubic meter including handling, over $1 a kilo)

In this movie we see concrete being poured prior to careful undigging to reveal a huge ant nests' extent --The amazing aerial view is about 3 minutes in and remember this is not the biggest ant nest there is by any means.  I suspect their study was budget limited. I am pretty sure the biggest ant next complexes are at least on the kilometer scale (many in association)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFg21x2sj-M



The one sure way to take out an entire small nest for study (as well as making a fascinating parlor or museum display) is to pour molten aluminum down the anthole and let it cast into the earth then dig it out and pressure wash it, revealing the shape of the colony. Try not to think of the Disney perspective of the Jiminy Cricket style happy singing cartoon ant  
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_jHGQRvAts


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGJ2jMZ-gaI

 turned in a blazing moment of unpleasant discovery into a Terminator 2 style liquid metal cast form of himself.  The guy pouring the aluminum IS giving a little whistle, and he IS letting his conscience be his guide.  And no, the ant doesn't crouch in pain then stand erect in liquid metal form and wreck his vengeance with a liquid metal smile. (I can believe the nestmates of the former ant swarming on the legs of the guy pouring the cast)

Note the alien beauty of the pressure washed off ant nest cast in aluminum. I wonder if that is as deep as it goes or just where the aluminum flow encountered difficulties.


So: our above estimate of 15 billion ant nests in the world 650000 individuals per nets, 10,000 trillion individual ants. 10e16  crawling ants. Pleasant dreams, everyone... If 90% turn aggressive Leiningen style ants and we need to take out that many nests, how much aluminum is that?
1.5 billion ant nests
52 kg (114 lb) aluminium casting per nest
seventy-eight billion kg aluminum
78 million tons (about 3 years production)

But that is for a small nest--
The wikipedia article gave  this fact: the largest known ant supercolony was on the Ishikari coast of Hokkaidō, Japan. The colony was estimated to contain 306 million worker ants and one million queen ants living in 45,000 nests interconnected by underground passages over an area of 2.7 km2 (670 acres).

But that implies only 6800 ants per nest. The Jamaican colony had 100 times that number.
2.74 million square meters top area divided by 45000 colonies implies an ant hill every 61 square meters. Note that even simultaneous pours into 45000 colonies at once done perfectly coordinated would leave some alive in deep passages (a lot of ant rooms are higher than the level of the lowest sump)-- if they would be buried alive they probably could dig their way out.

Not happy with the numbers spread in individuals per colony but the important thing is the number of total ants and total nests.  but on paper, yes we could probably hold our own, assuming the hostile ants could not intelligently plan terminator like assassinations and counterstrikes but just try general raids on human settlements.

What this crazy exercise in paranoid imagination proves is what powerful tools language and communication are.  A single story can rouse generations of boys to paranoid imaginings, and if a real threat emerged, people would probably hold their own simply because we can communicate to send help and reinforcements where battle is joined and the ant world cannot message with and assist each other.

And what if a competitor species arose that could do just that?  Ah, but that is another article...

If you liked this article, please give it a quick review on ycombinator or StumbleUpon. Thanks

Large machines for Ocean floor mining will begin field tests in 2016

Nextbigfuture wrote about Nautilus Minerals several times since 2010. Nautilus Minerals is the first company to commercially explore the seafloor for massive sulphide systems, a potential source of high grade copper, gold, zinc and silver. Nautilus is developing a production system using existing technologies adapted from the offshore oil and gas industry, dredging and mining industries to enable the extraction of these high grade Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) systems on a commercial scale.

Nautilus’ copper-gold project, Solwara 1, is under development in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea.

Here is an update based on a presentation on August 2015

Assuming all goes well, robotic diggers will spend 30 months scouring the ocean floor of the Solwara 1 site, bringing up 2.5 million metric tons of ore containing metals worth more than US $1.5 billion at today’s prices. Next, the robots will likely set to work on one of Nautilus’s 18 other prospects in the Bismarck Sea or one of its 19 discoveries off the shores of the Polynesian archipelago of Tonga.

Ocean mining machines should start testing in 2016. Full ocean mining and production should begin in 2018.








Human Development Index 2015

The 2015 UN Human Development report reports major progress has been made over the last 25 years with 2 billion people lifted out of low human development levels. Between 1990 and 2014, the number of people living in countries with very high values of human development index more than doubled from 0.5 billion to 1.2 billion people, as 34 countries moved up to this category. Likewise, the number of people living in countries with low levels of human development fell by more than 60 percent from 3.2 billion to 1.2 billion as 19 countries moved up and out of the low human development category including Congo, Ghana and Namibia.

The HDI for developing countries grew by 1.2 percent annually between 2000 and 2010, but by only 0.7 percent annually for the period 2010-2014.

In 2015, 81 percent of households in developed countries have internet access, but only 34 percent in developing regions and 7 percent in the least developed countries have that access.

Many types of routine work, such as clerical jobs, are predicted to disappear or be replaced by computers, or have already disappeared, the report warns, while many more workers face other insecurities. According to the International Labour Organization, 61 percent of employed people in the world work without a contract, and only 27 percent of the world’s population is covered by comprehensive social protection.








December 23, 2015

Solar energy from discarded car batteries

MIT researchers have developed a simple procedure for making a promising type of solar cell using lead recovered from discarded lead-acid car batteries — a practice that could benefit both the environment and human health. As new lead-free car batteries come into use, old batteries would be sent to the solar industry rather than to landfills. And if production of this new, high-efficiency, low-cost solar cell takes off — as many experts think it will — manufacturers’ increased demand for lead could be met without additional lead mining and smelting. Laboratory experiments confirm that solar cells made with recycled lead work just as well as those made with high-purity, commercially available starting materials. Battery recycling could thus support production of these novel solar cells while researchers work to replace the lead with a more benign but equally effective material.

Much attention in the solar community is now focused on an emerging class of crystalline photovoltaic materials called perovskites. The reasons are clear: The starting ingredients are abundant and easily processed at low temperatures, and the fabricated solar cells can be thin, lightweight, and flexible — ideal for applying to windows, building facades, and more. And they promise to be highly efficient.



Recovering and processing materials

According to Belcher, recovering lead from a lead-acid battery and turning it into a perovskite solar cell involves “a very, very simple procedure” — so simple that she and her colleagues posted a video of exactly how to do it. (The sequence of steps is illustrated in the slideshow above.) The first step — getting the lead out of the car battery — might seem a simple proposition. Just remove the battery from the car, cut it open with a saw, and scrape the lead off the two electrodes. But opening a battery is extremely dangerous due to the sulfuric acid and toxic lead inside it.

A simple economic analysis shows that the proposed battery-to-solar-cell procedure could have a substantial impact. Assuming that the perovskite thin film is just half a micrometer thick, the researchers calculate that a single lead-acid car battery could supply enough lead for the fabrication of more than 700 square meters of perovskite solar cells. If the cells achieve 15 percent efficiency (a conservative assumption today), those solar cells would together provide enough electricity to power about 14 households in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or about 30 households in sunny Las Vegas, Nevada. Powering the whole United States would take about 12.2 million recycled car batteries, fabricated into 8,634 square kilometers of perovskite solar panels operating under conditions similar to those in Nevada.

Energy and Environmental Science - Environmentally responsible fabrication of efficient perovskite solar cells from recycled car batteries

MEMS Gas sensors made 100 times lower cost could be part of many new lower cost MEMS devices

Researchers have shown that a MEMS-based gas sensor manufactured with a desktop device performs at least as well as commercial sensors built at conventional production facilities.

In the other paper, they show that the central component of the desktop fabrication device can itself be built with a 3-D printer. Together, the papers suggest that a widely used type of MEMS gas sensor could be produced at one-hundredth the cost with no loss of quality.

The researchers’ fabrication device sidesteps many of the requirements that make conventional MEMS manufacture expensive. “The additive manufacturing we’re doing is based on low temperature and no vacuum,” says Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal research scientist in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories and senior author on both papers. “The highest temperature we’ve used is probably 60 degrees Celsius. In a chip, you probably need to grow oxide, which grows at around 1,000 degrees Celsius. And in many cases the reactors require these high vacuums to prevent contamination. We also make the devices very quickly. The devices we reported are made in a matter of hours from beginning to end.”

Researchers used electrospray emitters that had been built using conventional processes. However, in the December issue of the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems, Velásquez-García reported using an affordable, high-quality 3-D printer to produce plastic electrospray emitters whose size and performance match those of the emitters that yielded the gas sensors.

In addition to making electrospray devices more cost-effective, Velásquez-García says, 3-D printing also makes it easier to customize them for particular applications. “When we started designing them, we didn’t know anything,” Velásquez-García says. “But at the end of the week, we had maybe 15 generations of devices, where each design worked better than the previous versions.”

The advantages of electrospray are not so much in enabling existing MEMS devices to be made more cheaply as in enabling wholly new devices. Besides making small-market MEMS products cost-effective, electrospray could enable products incompatible with existing manufacturing techniques.


IEEE - SLA 3-D Printed Arrays of Miniaturized, Internally Fed, Polymer Electrospray Emitters

Nanotechnology Journal - Electrospray-printed nanostructured graphene oxide gas sensors

December 22, 2015

China has a variety of blinding laser guns which violate the 1998 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons

China has BBQ-905 Laser Dazzler Weapons. China has been updating its home-made blinding laser weapons in recent years to meet the needs of different combat operations. Blinding laser weapons are primarily used to blind its targets with laser in short distance, or interfere and damage the laser and night vision equipment, etc.

China has many different types of laser guns, including the BBQ-905 Laser Dazzler Weapon, the WJG-2002 Laser Gun, the PY132A Blinding Laser Weapon, and the PY131A Blinding Laser Weapon.

BBQ905 laser gun


WJG-2002 Laser Gun



A State Department official expressed concerns that the weapons appear to violate a provision of the United Nations 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. The convention includes a 1998 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons banning their use in combat.

Jack Daly, a retired naval intelligence officer who suffered eye injuries in 1997 from a laser that was fired at his helicopter by a Russian intelligence-gathering ship near Port Angeles, Washington, said he is concerned the Chinese laser arms could end up in the United States.

“The U.S. already has a problem with laser pointers being directed at in flight aircraft,” Daly said. “If these laser guns make their way here, we are very likely to see aircrews actually blinded during flight and possibly worse.”

Alphabet Google is to motivate and reward the best talent

Alphabet, Google’s newfangled conglomeration, arrived in August, but we will not see its first financial figures until January, when the company reports two sets of earnings — Google and the “other bets.” Each subsidiary will not break out its own performance, but the earnings reports will offer some view into their costs and output.

The Alphabet company structure provides each of the other bets with responsibility for its own profit and loss statement.
It empowers each Alphabet company to make business deals. Like the self driving car group to make a deal with Ford.
It also allows each Alphabet company to issue its own shares. This means that the self driving car group could issues its own shares and thus incentivize each company with shares in its own company. A self driving car group would need to dominate the entire world automotive industry to move the needle on overall Google shares. A new self driving car Alphabet company would get far more benefit from selling its first 10,000 robotic cars or 100,000 robotic cars. Each doubling would be huge for a new Alphabet google car company.

Keeping and motivating the best talent

As with many Alphabet companies, Google Capital can be interpreted as a vehicle for keeping a talented exec inside the Googleplex. In this case, it’s David Lawee, a 10-year Google vet who has run Capital since its inception and, from accounts of people who know him, takes it very seriously. He’s in demand in the Valley; Facebook has tried to poach him before, according to sources.


Google and Ford will announce a self driving car partnership at CES in January 2016

Ford and Google could be planning a joint venture to build autonomous cars, pairing the strengths of the two companies to get self-driving cars on the road faster.

Ford CEO Mark Fields will make the announcement in January at the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show, according to Yahoo Autos, citing three sources.

Ford officials would not confirm the details Monday, but the automaker has been making a series of announcements about ramping up its testing of autonomous cars. And the automaker has said more news is planned when Fields attends the CES next month.

In January, Chris Urmson, director of Self-Driving Cars for Google, said the Internet company's goal is to have driverless cars available on the market within five years.

He said hundreds of people were working on the project in both Detroit and California.

In September, Google hired former Ford and Hyundai executive John Krafcik as CEO of Google's Self-Driving Car Project and Google parent Alphabet is planning to make the project its own unit to compete in the car-sharing business.



December 21, 2015

Spacex has landed its first stage on land as we will start an age of reusable rockets

Soacex has returned to flight and landed its first stage on land

Spacex built a larger rocket with more fuel. By returning to its launch pad they burned more fuel than a parabolic landing. They will be able to make parabolic landings when their Texas launch facility is up and running.

The reusable rocket age will truly start with a relaunch in 2016 but the complete return of a first stage that requires minimal maintenance for relaunch is a huge step to lower cost space flight.


"@elonmusk: There and back again pic.twitter.com/Ll7wg2hL1G"












India plans for more energy and economic growth

India's PM Modi described targets and growth plans for India in the Economist.

India has ambitious target of 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022. W
They have commenced replacement of 770m incandescent bulbs with LED lighting by 2019.
Renewable and energy and LED bulbs will reduce their peak load by 20 gigawatts and greenhouse-gas emissions by 79 million tonnes of CO2 per year. We have to reconcile climate-change goals with the energy-access imperatives of the poor. They will put affordable, clean and renewable energy within reach of all Indians. India has time-honored traditions of conservation and respect for ecology that the world could usefully emulate.

They have launched initiatives to generate faster and more inclusive growth, aimed at realizing tangibly better lives for all Indians by 2022. This entails eliminating poverty within a democratic polity on a scale unparalleled in human history. And they will be doing so amid a sputtering global economy and threats such as cross-border terrorism.

Poor households are being brought into the financial system and their bank accounts seamlessly linked with biometric identification numbers and mobile-money platforms. Since August 2014 the poor have opened more than 190 million new bank accounts, with deposits of nearly $4 billion. Our revamped cooking-gas subsidy scheme, now the world’s largest cash-transfer program, has plugged subsidy leaks worth $2.5 billion.

To strengthen their banking system, we have moved decisively on non-performing loans. They are injecting capital into state-owned banks and have appointed new, dynamic heads, including some from the private sector. Our flagship programs are tapping into our demographic dividend by encouraging risk-taking and entrepreneurship among young people. Already, global investors have shown confidence. Net foreign direct investment is up and in 2016 economic growth will remain the highest among major economies.



UK laser weapon demonstrator

UK plans to build and test a tactical laser weapon prototype have taken a step forward with the release of an invitation to tender (ITT) to industry.

According to Dstl, the aim of the capability demonstrator "is to enhance the United Kingdom's understanding of the capability of laser-based weapon systems while demonstrating the ability of a high-power [LDEW] system to engage airborne and surface targets at operationally relevant ranges".

Few specifics of the LDEW CD project have been released to date. However, Dstl has confirmed that the project demonstrations will be required to establish five key metrics: the ability to detect, acquire, and track targets at range and in varying weather conditions with sufficient precision; the ability to generate and precisely control a high-energy laser; control of the irradiance of the laser; management of power and cooling demands while enabling operation of the laser over a prolonged period; and control requirements, particularly managing the risks such that the laser is safe to operate.



Elon Musk says robotic cars safer than human drivers will be ready in 2017

In October, Elon Musk said that fully autonomous cars are about 3 years away, a prediction he made several times in the past year or so. But just two months later Elon Musk updated his prediction to just 2 years. Elon Musk said the self driving cars will have lower probability of an accident than having a person drive.

For commercial availability, he predicts regulations could take between 1 to 5 years depending on the jurisdiction. But just like it is the case for Tesla’s current generation of Autopilot, the company will likely include the technology in all vehicles for it to be enabled via a software update once ready.

Musk also revealed that a “major announcement” is coming regarding a Tesla Autopilot update. We recently revealed that Tesla started testing the version 7.1 of its software, which will include UI improvements, a new self-parking feature, ‘Driver Mode’ and Autopilot restrictions. The CEO had previously mentioned that self-driving on private propriety, in order to allow the Model S to park itself in the garage for example, would be included in v7.1, but it wasn’t in the build released to testers. The announcement could possibly have something to do with this anticipated feature.

Elon Musk shares his predictions for the future, artificial intelligence, and space exploration with Steve Jurvetson at Stanford's Future Fest conference.

Overview:
00:00. Long introductions
06:15. Our current version of the future
09:56. Advices to younger self
12:34. Early days of the Internet
17:55. SpaceX and reigniting the Dream of Apollo
21:13. Grand vision and purposed driven companies
27:45. Looking at 2035 - Artificial Intelligence, etc
37:02. Learning from failures (SpaceX latest explosion)
43:08. Balancing form and functionality - fixing imperfections.
48:45. Colonising and governing Mars
56:50. Usefulness optimisation of the world



Star Wars the Force Awakens netted $247.9 million in its first three days domestically

Nitrogen doped porous carbon make supercapacitors with triple the energy capacity

New nitrogen based supercapacitors have triple the energy capacity of the best previous supercapacitors. They do not store as much energy as lithium-ion batteries, which achieve 70 to 250 watt-hours per kilogram. However, the researchers say their supercapacitor beats them on power. The nitrogen supercapacitor can crank out 26 kilowatts per kilogram, while lithium-ion batteries are only capable of 0.2 to 1 kilowatts per kilogram.

Their devices could store 41 watt-hours per kilogram, comparable to lead-acid batteries.

A bus could run for 25 kilometers before a 30 second recharge, instead of an 8 kilometers before recharging.

Currently there are electric buses like the Proterra. New supercapacitors would vastly increase the deployment of electric buses

Science - Nitrogen-doped mesoporous carbon of extraordinary capacitance for electrochemical energy storage

Carbon-based supercapacitors can provide high electrical power, but they do not have sufficient energy density to directly compete with batteries. We found that a nitrogen-doped ordered mesoporous few-layer carbon has a capacitance of 855 farads per gram in aqueous electrolytes and can be bipolarly charged or discharged at a fast, carbon-like speed. The improvement mostly stems from robust redox reactions at nitrogen-associated defects that transform inert graphene-like layered carbon into an electrochemically active substance without affecting its electric conductivity. These bipolar aqueous-electrolyte electrochemical cells offer power densities and lifetimes similar to those of carbon-based supercapacitors and can store a specific energy of 41 watt-hours per kilogram (19.5 watt-hours per liter).

Researchers fabricated a porous carbon material that was then doped with nitrogen. This raised the energy density of the carbon more than threefold—an increase that was retained in full capacitors, without losing their ability to deliver power quickly.



Oil at lowest level since July 2004

AAA put the average U.S. gas price at $1.998 per gallon on Monday, while fuel-price tracking service GasBuddy.com calculated the national average at $1.995 a gallon. That’s the lowest price by either measure since March 25, 2009.

Brent crude oil extended a slide on Monday to its lowest level in more than 11 years while investors dumped Spanish bonds and stocks after an inconclusive general election set the scene for potentially weeks of political stalemate. Brent hit a low of $36.05 a barrel. This is the lowest price since July 2004.

The euro was steady at US$1.0865. The USdollar rose 0.1 percent against the yen to 121.32 yen.

China's yuan was fixed higher for the first time in 11 sessions. Beijing will keep monetary and fiscal policies accommodative in 2016 to help support the slowing economy.



December 20, 2015

Baidu’s Deep-Learning System is better at English and Mandarin Speech Recognition than most people

China’s leading Internet-search company, Baidu, has developed a voice system that can recognize English and Mandarin speech better than people, in some cases.

The new system, called Deep Speech 2, is especially significant in how it relies entirely on machine learning for translation. Whereas older voice-recognition systems include many handcrafted components to aid audio processing and transcription, the Baidu system learned to recognize words from scratch, simply by listening to thousands of hours of transcribed audio.

The technology relies on a powerful technique known as deep learning, which involves training a very large multilayered virtual network of neurons to recognize patterns in vast quantities of data. The Baidu app for smartphones lets users search by voice, and also includes a voice-controlled personal assistant called Duer. Voice queries are more popular in China because it is more time-consuming to input text, and because some people do not know how to use Pinyin, the phonetic system for transcribing Mandarin using Latin characters.

“Historically, people viewed Chinese and English as two vastly different languages, and so there was a need to design very different features,” says Andrew Ng, a former Stanford professor and Google researcher, and now chief scientist for the Chinese company. “The learning algorithms are now so general that you can just learn.”

Deep learning has its roots in ideas first developed more than 50 years ago, but in the past few years new mathematical techniques, combined with greater computer power and huge quantities of training data, have led to remarkable progress, especially in tasks that require some sort of visual or auditory perception. The technique has already improved the performance of voice recognition and image processing, and large companies including Google, Facebook, and Baidu are applying it to the massive data sets they own.

In developing Deep Speech 2, Baidu also created new hardware architecture for deep learning that runs seven times faster than the previous version. Deep learning usually relies on graphics processors, because these are good for the intensive parallel computations involved.


Arxiv - Deep Speech 2: End-to-End Speech Recognition in English and Mandarin

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