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How to Make Drones Behave in Flight

Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, have become a staple of everyday life. As more take to the air, the issue of how to avoid collisions between drones and aircraft, and other drones, is becoming a serious problem. As VOA's George Putic reports, scientists are working on solutions.

New York Firm Makes New Oscars Using 3-D Technology

The original Oscar statue was hand carved by Los Angeles sculptor George Stanley.  For decades the statuettes have been made by a Chicago trophy company and gold-plated.  But last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided they wanted to return to the original bronze figure made using the lost wax process.  The Academy chose Polich Tallix as the foundry to cast the bronze figures. 3-D Scans Merge Previous Versions They started by scanning a classic Oscar from 1928 and the 2015 model and entering the information into a 3-D printer. "We have the three different versions,"  said Daniel Plonski, the 3-D artist and the head of production. "We have the classic statue, the recent 2015 version and the third version which we created." The new design is then 3-D printed in wax and a mold of that statue is made to make another wax figurine for each statuette.  Plonski says the 3-D printing makes the process much quicker, but just as faithful to the Art Deco original. “So before it required a great deal of hand-sculpting and carving," hei said.  "And now all of that can be done completely with a digital environment. Once we have our design created we can send it to our 3-D printer which produces the 3-D wax patterns.” Lost Wax-casting Process The new Oscar is then dipped in a ceramic slurry, and once it is cured, fired in an oven at 871 degrees Celsius.  Molten bronze is then poured into the ceramic mold and allowed to cool.  Production manager Paul Pisoni says the molds are not reused – that each Oscar is a brand new casting. "One mold is only good for one Oscar and then it gets cracked and destroyed so therefore we have to make one of these molds for every piece of metal that we cast in the foundry," he said. After some cleanup, the bronze statuettes are polished to a mirror finish and electroplated with 24 karat gold at another firm in Brooklyn, New York.  The base of each Oscar is also cast in bronze, and is given a smooth, black finish. Pisoni says since they don’t know who wins, they have to engrave a bronze plate with all the nominees’ names. And the Oscar Goes to... When the actual winner is announced, the correct plate is attached in the center of the base. The whole process takes about three months. The final product stands about 34 centimeters tall and weighs about 3.9 kilograms. And the gleaming statues will be on full display at Sunday’s ceremony in Los Angeles.

Constant Email, Text, Social Media Checks Lead to Stress

Nearly 90 percent of Americans say they “constantly or often” check their email, texts and social media accounts leading to increased stress, according to a report from the American Psychological Association (APA). Those who said they checked constantly showed, on average, higher stress levels than those who checked less often. Using a 10-point scale, where one is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress,” constant checkers reported a 5.3 stress level compared to 4.4 for those who were less glued to their smartphones. Working Americans who check their work email on days off reported a stress level of 6. “The emergence of mobile devices and social networks over the last decade has certainly changed the way Americans live and communicate on a daily basis,” said Lynn Bufka, PhD, APA’s associate executive director for practice research and policy. “Today, almost all American adults own at least one electronic device, with many being constantly connected to them. What these individuals don’t consider is that while technology helps us in many ways, being constantly connected can have a negative impact on both their physical and mental health.” The study found parents realized the stressful effects of constant checking on their children, with 94 percent of parents saying they try to manage their child’s usage and 58 percent reporting feeling as if their child is “attached” to their device. Moreover, 45 percent of parents said technology is making them feel disconnected from their families, 58 percent reported being worried about “the influence of social media on their child’s physical and mental health.” Constant checkers are also more negatively impacted by social media, the study found, citing 42 percent of constant checkers said discussing politics on social media caused them stress. That was compared with 33 percent in the “non constant checking” category. Perhaps one of the most telling findings was that 65 percent of Americans “somewhat or strongly agree” that unplugging at times or taking a “digital detox’ is important for mental health. Only 28 percent said they actually did take breaks from technology. “Taking a digital detox is one of the most helpful ways to manage stress related to technology use,” Bufka said. “Constant checkers could benefit from limiting their use of technology and presence on social media. Adults, and particularly parents, should strive to set a good example for children when it comes to a healthy relationship with technology.” The survey was conducted online between Aug. 5 and 31, 2016, among 3,511 adults 18 or older living in the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association.

Google to Help Publishers Find Malicious Comments on Articles

Alphabet Inc's Google and subsidiary Jigsaw launched on Thursday a new technology to help news organizations and online platforms identify abusive comments on their websites. The technology, called Perspective, will review comments and score them based on how similar they are to comments people said were "toxic" or likely to make them leave a conversation. It has been tested on the New York Times and the companies hope to extend it to other news organizations such as The Guardian and The Economist as well as websites. "News organizations want to encourage engagement and discussion around their content, but find that sorting through millions of comments to find those that are trolling or abusive takes a lot of money, labor, and time. As a result, many sites have shut down comments altogether," Jared Cohen, President of Jigsaw, which is part of Alphabet, wrote in a blog post. "But they tell us that isn’t the solution they want. We think technology can help." Perspective examined hundreds of thousands of comments that had been labelled as offensive by human reviewers to learn how to spot potentially abusive language. CJ Adams, Jigsaw Product Manager, said the company was open to rolling out the technology to all platforms, including larger ones such as Facebook and Twitter where trolling can be a major headache. The technology could in the future be expanded to trying to identify personal attacks or off-topic comments too, Cohen said. Perspective will not decide what to do with comments it finds are potentially abusive; rather publishers will be able to flag them to their moderators or develop tools to help commenters understand the impact of what they are writing. Cohen said a significant portion of abusive comments came from people who were "just having a bad day". The initiative against trolls follows efforts by Google and Facebook to combat fake news stories in France, Germany and the United States after they came under fire during the U.S. presidential vote when it became clear they had inadvertently fanned false news reports. The debate surrounding fake news has led to calls from politicians for social networks to be held more liable for the content posted on their platforms. The Perspective technology is still in its early stages and "far from perfect", Cohen said, adding he hoped it could be rolled out for languages other than English too.

Tech Breakthroughs Take Backseat in Upcoming Apple iPhone Launch

When Apple Inc launches its much-anticipated 10th anniversary iPhone this fall, it will offer an unwitting lesson in how much the smartphone industry it pioneered has matured. The new iPhone is expected to include new features such as high-resolution displays, wireless charging and 3-D sensors. Rather than representing major breakthroughs, however, most of the innovations have been available in competing phones for several years. Apple's relatively slow adoption of new features both reflects and reinforces the fact smartphone customers are holding onto their phones longer. Timothy Arcuri, an analyst at Cowen & Co, believes upwards of 40 percent of iPhones on the market are more than two years old, a historical high. That is a big reason why investors have driven Apple shares to an all-time high. There is pent-up demand for a new iPhone, even if it does not offer breakthrough technologies. It is not clear whether Apple deliberately held off on packing some of the new features into the current iPhone 7, which has been criticized for a lack of differentiation from its predecessor. Apple declined to comment on the upcoming product. Still, the development and roll-out of the anniversary iPhone suggest Apple's product strategy is driven less by technological innovation than by consumer upgrade cycles and Apple's own business and marketing needs. "When a market gets saturated, the growth is all about refresh," said Bob O'Donnell of Technalysis Research. "This is exactly what happened to PCs. It's exactly what happened to tablets. It's starting to happen to smartphones." Apple is close-mouthed about upcoming product features, but analysts and reports from Asian component suppliers and others indicate that high-resolution displays based on OLED technology - possibly with curved edges - are likely to be part of the anniversary phone. A radical new design is not expected, according to analysts. Some of the anticipated new technologies, notably wireless charging, remain messy. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd phones, for example, feature wireless charging but support two different sets of standards, one called Qi and the other AirFuel. Apple recently joined the group backing Qi. But there are still at least five different groups working on wireless charging technology within Apple, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. As to 3-D sensors, there is already one hiding in the iPhone 7. The front camera features what is known as a time-of-flight sensor, which helps it autofocus and is used in numerous phones including the Blackberry, according to TechInsights, a firm that examines the chips inside tech devices. That sensor could be upgraded to a higher-resolution version that could handle 3-D mapping for facial recognition, said Jim Morrison, vice president at TechInsights. Some analysts also speculate the company could remove the phone's home button, placing it and a fingerprint sensor beneath the front display glass, based on patents the company has filed. Slow growth Global smartphone sales were up only 2.3 percent to 1.47 billion units in 2016, according to IDC. Many carriers in the United States have stopped subsidizing phones, causing phone buyers to think harder about their next purchase. Apple will likely make a heavy marketing push around the phone's 10th anniversary.  "IPhone set the standard for mobile computing in its first decade and we are just getting started. The best is yet to come," Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said in a statement Jan. 8, the date the iPhone was announced by then-CEO Steve Jobs in 2007. In 2015, the last year it disclosed the figure, Apple spent $1.8 billion on advertising, up 50 percent from the year before and nearly four times the $467 million it spent in 2007 when it first released the iPhone. And the company continues to excel at selling higher-priced phones. Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri attributed the most recent quarter's record-setting 78.3 million iPhones sold to the iPhone 7 Plus, which for the first time included a new dual camera feature not found in other models. The iPhone 7 Plus tops out at $969 with memory upgrades and a jet black finish. O'Donnell of Technalysis Research believes that with the next iPhone, Apple might even introduce a $1,000-plus ultra-premium device for the real Apple-crazed folks out there who want to stand out."  

At Indian Observatory, Family Records Daily Life of the Sun

In the early morning darkness, Devendran P. walks up a hill to a solar observatory in India’s southern hill town of Kodaikanal, trudging the same path his father and grandfather walked in a century-old family tradition of studying the sun. Once inside, he pulls a rope to open shutters in the dome and positions a six-inch telescope used since 1899 to photograph the sun and preserve a daily record of its activity. “The sun, like stars, has a lifetime of 10 billion years,” Devendran told Reuters during a recent visit to the observatory in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu. “If you want to know about any small changes, you need to have a large amount of data.” Daily activity of the sun The observatory run by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics has a key role in providing a continuous stream of data on the sun and its influence on Earth and surrounding space, said R. Ramesh, a professor at the institute. “Some of the discoveries made, based on data obtained in the Kodaikanal observatory, are so fundamental to solar physics that they vastly improved techniques used at observatories even today,” Ramesh said. The Evershed effect of gas motion in sunspots, discovered in 1909 by the then director of the observatory, John Evershed, is one such example, he added. In the observatory library, shelves stretch to the ceiling, packed with volumes of handwritten records and thousands of film plates of the sun. Authorities have launched a project to digitize and preserve the data collected over the past century. Devendran’s grandfather, Parthasarathy, joined the observatory in 1900, a year after it relocated from Madras, the state capital, to Kodaikanal, situated more than 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) above sea level, offering ideal weather to study the sun. Like his father and grandfather, Devendran has no formal education in astronomy. His interest was piqued during a visit to the observatory when he was a child. He became a fulltime sunwatcher in 1986 and says the six-inch (15-cm) telescope has never failed his family. “It has never required any major overhaul, or change of parts, because we all take care of it,” he said. More than three decades of observation has made him feel close to the sun, despite its distance of more than 149 million kms (93 million miles) from Earth. It’s a feeling enhanced by the devout family’s worship of the Hindu sun god Surya, he said. “I feel more religious than other people, as I can see that there is a universal power which is controlling everything,” he said. His 23-year-old son, Rajesh, expects to carry on the family tradition, but with one difference. He has a master’s degree in physics. “I get amazed by what my father does here,” Rajesh said. “I think observing the sun is in my blood.” 

Google Ventures Into Ride-sharing Service

Ride-sharing giant Uber is getting some stiff competition from a former ally, Google. The search giant is reportedly adding a ride-sharing component to its popular Waze navigation application, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, unlike Uber and Lyft, Google "wants to persuade regular drivers using its navigation app to pick up people who are heading in the same direction," according to the report. According to the report, the new service will be rolled out in several U.S. and Latin American cities in the coming months. The company reportedly had successful trial runs of the service in San Francisco and Israel. "Can we get the average person on his way to work to pick someone up and drop them off once in a while? That’s the biggest challenge,” Waze CEO Noam Bardin told the newspaper. Waze rides are going to reportedly cost less than Uber and Lyft, the Journal reports, saying a ride from downtown Oakland to downtown San Francisco would be $4.50. That compares to $10.57 for UberPool and $12.40 for Lyft Line. The Journal reports Waze driver will also not be like Uber or Lyft, which has many drivers who work full time or more. With Waze, riders will pay only $0.54 per mile, which is the Internal Revenue Service’s reimbursement rates for business drivers. At least to start, Waze will not charge drivers, but could charge 15 percent later if the service catches on, the Journal reported. In 2013, Google’s venture capital arm invested $258 million in Uber.

SpaceX Aborts Approach to Space Station, Delivery Delayed

A navigation error forced SpaceX to delay its shipment to the International Space Station on Wednesday, following an otherwise flawless flight from NASA's historic moon pad.   SpaceX's supply ship, the Dragon, was less than a mile from the orbiting outpost when a problem cropped up in the GPS system. The approach was aborted, and the Dragon backed away. NASA said neither the station nor its six-person crew was in any danger.   Just a few hours earlier, Russia successfully launched a cargo ship from Kazakhstan, its first since a failed launch in December.   SpaceX launched the Dragon capsule Sunday from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, out of action since NASA's space shuttle program ended in 2011. It's the same spot where astronauts flew to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. SpaceX has a 20-year lease with NASA for 39A; besides launching station cargo from there, the company hopes to send up astronauts as early as next year.   Everything was going well with this latest SpaceX flight until the GPS issue. The Dragon's computers halted the rendezvous from just seven-tenths of a mile away. SpaceX said the problem is well understood and can be fixed before another delivery attempt Thursday. The Russian supplies should arrive Friday.   This was the first time that SpaceX had to abort a shipment at the last minute like this. The company, led by tech billionaire Elon Musk, has been making station deliveries since 2012.   The 250-mile-high station is home to two Americans, one Frenchman and three Russians.

Indian PM Urges Farsighted, Balanced US View on Work Visas

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged the United States to have a “balanced and farsighted” perspective on visas that enable thousands of skilled Indian professionals to work in the United States and sustain India’s booming $150 billion software industry. The Indian leader made his call for an open mind on work visas at a meeting with a 26-member bipartisan delegation of the U.S. Congress, which is on a weeklong visit to India. There have been growing fears in New Delhi that the Trump administration will revamp the H1-B visa program to protect jobs for American workers. Indian technology workers are the largest recipients of these visas, which allow foreign professionals to work in the United States. After meeting the U.S. delegation on Tuesday, Modi's office said in a statement that the prime minister wanted the two countries to work together on facilitating people-to-people linkages and “referred to the role of skilled Indian talent in enriching the American economy and society.” Deal maker Before meeting the prime minister, Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte declined to answer a question on visa restrictions, saying it was up to President Trump to reassess his policies on immigration. Goodlatte also said the U.S. president had been a businessman, “And he likes to do deals and he also wants to do deals with India and other countries around the world.” While New Delhi is optimistic that its growing partnership with the United States will continue under the Trump administration, there are concerns about how protectionism and restrictions on immigration will impact trade – particularly India’s software exports, two thirds of which go to the United States. Tech sector Indian technology companies have been thrown into uncertainty amid signals that there will be stricter curbs on H1-B visas to make immigration tougher. Three bills seeking to prioritize American workers have been introduced in the U.S. Congress -- one of them proposes to more than double the minimum salary for a foreign hire on an H1-B from $60,000 to $130,000. That could hit Indian companies hard, whose business model is based on the lower cost of hiring Indian engineers both at home and in the United States compared to those in Western countries. The industry body National Association for Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has delayed its growth forecast for the present year as it waits to gauge policy announcements in the United States. A NASSCOM delegation is in Washington to lobby the U.S. administration on the need to have a level playing field for Indian companies. Looking forward However, many analysts say Indian firms will have to face the reality that rules on hiring foreign professionals in the United States will get tougher. “Indian firms will have to act like global firms and hire where ever there is a match in demand and availability of talent. It will be long term sustainable but will also increase their cost structure,” said Pareekh Jain who heads research operations in India at the research firm Horses for Sources.

Supermarket Uses Lasers to Brand Fruits and Vegetables

A Swedish supermarket chain is offering shoppers some fruits and vegetables that are branded with their country of origin and code number, instead of being wrapped in plastic with that information. VOA's Faith Lapidus reports.

Let Your Phone Pay for Your Car's Fuel

Autonomous automobiles aren't taking over American highways yet, but automation is becoming a bigger part of the driving experience. A mobile phone app called Shell allows drivers to pay for a fill-up of gasoline from their in-car touchscreens. No debit or credit cards are involved, so the process will work for drivers who forgot their wallets. The downside? The app will take care of the payment, but somebody — in most states, the driver — still has to get out and manually insert the fuel pump nozzle into the car's gas tank. Here's how it works, assuming the user already has downloaded the Shell app and connected the mobile phone to the car's network. The car's touchscreen will guide the user to the nearest service station (a Shell station, of course, considering the app's name). After pulling up to the gas pump, the user enters a PIN code and the gas pump's number. Payment takes place through ApplePay or PayPal, and a receipt is displayed onscreen and sent by email. Then comes the hard part: Get out of the car, unlatch the fuel pump hose and insert it in the gas tank. A couple more caveats about the Shell app: The app works only on iPhones, not on other brands — although developers say they are working on a version for Android Pay. The app is available only to owners of certain brands and models of cars — the Jaguar F-PACE, XE and XF, plus Land Rovers — and it works only in Britain. Those two car manufacturers and the Shell company, which collaborated on the app, say it will be rolling out in other global markets later this year.

Green Fields And a Green Stadium

The environmental impact of building a modern sports stadium can be immense. Occupying a large plot of land, not to mention the impact of the massive amounts of concrete and steel, can create a giant carbon footprint. But a football club in England is building their new stadium the old fashioned, but highly sustainable way, with wood. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

AP, Other Media Ask Judge to Order Release of iPhone Records

The Associated Press and two other news organizations asked a judge Monday to force the federal government to reveal how much it paid for a tool to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California, shooters. The news organizations said in a court filing there was “no adequate justification” for the FBI to continue to withhold information on the cost of the tool or the identity of the vendor that sold it. They said their requests were narrowly tailored and, contrary to the arguments of the FBI and Justice Department, did not seek information that would jeopardize national security or be exploited by America's enemies. “While it is undisputed that the vendor developed the iPhone access tool, the government has identified no rational reason why knowing the vendor's identity is linked in any way to the substance of the tool, much less how such knowledge would reveal any information about the tool's application,” lawyers for the news organizations wrote in the filing to the U.S. District Court in Washington. The AP, Vice Media LLC and Gannett, the parent company of USA Today, sued the FBI in September. The news organizations sought to learn more about the mysterious transaction that cut short a legal dispute in which the government won a court order to force Apple Inc. to unlock the work phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who along with his wife killed 14 people in the December 2015 San Bernardino attack. Unidentified third party The FBI had maintained for weeks that only Apple could access the information on its phone, which was protected by encryption, but announced in March that it had ultimately broken or bypassed the company's digital locks with the help of an unidentified third party. The government has refused to say how it acquired the tool or how much it paid, though FBI Director James Comey dropped a hint in April when he said the cost was more than he would make for the duration of his job— roughly seven years. The Justice Department last month provided some heavily redacted records from the transaction, but withheld critical details that the AP was seeking. The government argued that the information it withheld, if released, could be seized upon by “hostile entities” that could develop their own “countermeasures” and interfere with the FBI's intelligence gathering. It also said that disclosure “would result in severe damage to the FBI's efforts to detect and apprehend violators of the United States' national security and criminal laws through these very activities and methods.” Purpose of FOIA But in their latest court filing, the news organizations said they never sought the sensitive information the FBI has said it wants to protect, such as how the tool worked. They said the government was improperly invoking national security exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act, which they say mandates the release of the information. “Release of this information goes to the very heart of FOIA's purpose, allowing the public to assess government activity — here, the decision to pay public funds to an outside entity in possession of a tool that can compromise the digital security of millions of Americans,” the lawyers wrote.

Tehran Bans Drones After Security Scares

The Iranian military has banned the unauthorized use of drones in the capital Tehran, after several security scares caused by unpiloted aircraft that are increasingly popular with hobbyists and filmmakers. The general staff of the armed forces has issued an edict which means drones may only be used if they have been given permits from one of two government ministries or the state broadcaster, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander said on Monday. "Flying private and personal quadcopters ... is forbidden in Tehran," Seyed Ali Reza Rabiei, operations commander at the Tharallah military base in Tehran, was quoted as saying by the Tasnim news site. In December, Iranian security forces shot down a drone as it approached the Tehran offices of the president and the supreme leader. Media later reported the aircraft was being operated by a film crew shooting aerial footage for a documentary. Last month, security forces shot at a quadcopter that entered a restricted zone in central Tehran which then flew off.

How to Fight Air Pollution

With electricity-powered transportation still in its infancy, many of the world’s megacities continue to fight the air pollution, mostly coming from cars’ exhaust pipes. Experts say the best tactic is to avoid the worst polluted zones and spend more time in cleaner air areas. Two startup companies are striving to help people find such places. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Making Ice Storms in a Lab

Water can be dangerous stuff for people when it freezes and falls from the sky, covering the ground with snow or ice. It is perhaps even more dangerous and can cause significant damage when it falls as rain and then freezes on the ground. And while most of us are smart enough to come in out of the cold, trees aren't so lucky, and scientists are trying to discover how they react when they're suddenly covered with ice. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Alibaba Extends Bricks-and mortar Retail Push With Bailian Deal

Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd has formed a strategic partnership with retail conglomerate Bailian Group, extending a push into bricks-and-mortar retail as online growth slows. The move comes on the heels of a recent purchase of a stake in retailer Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd as well as plans to take a controlling stake in Intime Retail Group Co Ltd and privatize it. There are currently no plans for financial investment, an Alibaba spokesman said. Shanghai-based Bailian Group is one of China's largest retailers by sales, operating 4,700 outlets in 200 cities including supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies. Alibaba has an active user base of around 500 million. Shares in Bailian Group's subsidiaries surged on Monday, with Shanghai Bailian Group Co Ltd climbing by the 10 percent daily limit, Lianhua Supermarket Holdings Co Ltd jumping close to 10 percent and Shanghai Material Trading Co Ltd up 5 percent. Bailian and Alibaba will initially cooperate on supply chain technology using Alibaba's big data capabilities as well as integrating Alipay payments with Bailian Group's existing membership program.

Toyota Unveils improved Prius

Twenty years ago Japanese carmaker Toyota unveiled the first version of its hybrid gas-electric car called Prius. By the beginning of 2017, counting all subsequent models, Prius became the best-selling hybrid car in the world with close to 4 million sold. Its latest model, with a battery-charging solar roof, was just unveiled in Japan. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Lightweight Exoskeleton Lets Paraplegic Walk Again

On her website, former acrobat Silke Pan has a quote that says: "You are stronger than you ever expected!" She's had to be. After working as a professional acrobat for years, she was sidelined in 2007 when a fall left her unable to use her legs. Now she is walking again, thanks to a new modular lightweight exoskeleton. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Chinese Industry's Rapid Robotization

Most experts agree that we are past the dawn of robotic age, and one of the countries strongly pushing to the forefront is China. As the cost of human labor in China is rising, factories are increasingly replacing production line workers with robots. VOA's George Putic reports.