Technology

RSS FeedSubscribe to Technology feed Technology
science-technology

URL: https://www.voanews.com/archive/science-technology/latest/594/621.html

Updated: 2 hours 19 min ago

Bill Gates: Strides in Global Health at Risk if Rich Nations Pull Back

The world is making enormous strides in areas such as child mortality, HIV and extreme poverty, but if the U.S. and other countries pull back funding, that progress could slow, said Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft.   When it comes to HIV, for example, “if we had a 10 percent cut in the funding, we'd have 5 million more deaths by 2030,” said Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “What happens matters here.” On Wednesday, the Gates Foundation issued its first annual report card on 18 indicators of global health and well being. The report looks out to 2030 and projects what will happen on these key markers depending on factors such as global funding. Great progress The report, “Goalkeepers: The Stories Behind the Data,” which the Gates Foundation produced in partnership with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, shows great progress being made in key areas: · Six million fewer children under five die annually than did in 1990, thanks mostly to increased use of vaccines and better newborn care. · AIDS- related deaths have fallen by almost half since the peak in 2005. · Nine percent of the population is at the international poverty line compared to 35 percent in 1990, a trend mostly credited to gains made by people in China and India. During a telephone press conference, Gates attributed some of the success to world governments coming together to address problems, as well as medical innovations. Country success stories Gates called out several countries for their great strides on health issues: · Ethiopia - Maternal deaths have been cut more than half since 1990, due to efforts to encourage women to give birth in health facilities rather than at home. · Senegal - 15 percent of women use modern contraceptives compared to three percent in 1990. · Peru - Stunting (or low height) in children dropped to 18 percent, down from 39 percent in 1990. The 0.7 percent commitment In 1970, the U.N. created a target — governments would spend 0.7 percent of their annual gross domestic income in international aid. While the U.S. is the largest international aid contributor, it hasn’t reached the 0.7 mark. Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates are among countries that have met or exceeded the 0.7 target. Gates said he is concerned that some wealthy nations appear to be reconsidering their commitment to global humanitarian funding. “Are people looking out internationally?” he said. “And willing to continue to back these improvements?” Retrenchment on global aid? Gates specifically addressed the Trump administration’s proposed budget, which has “fairly substantial cuts, including to things like polio, HIV and malaria.” Congress doesn’t appear to be willing to accept those cuts, he noted, and would likely “maintain pretty close to the same level in most areas." The world's commitment to tackling health and poverty issues is as important as ever, Gates said, because there’s a shift in more children being born in poor countries. A child born in Angola has a 75 percent higher chance of dying before age five than one born in Finland, he said. “We’re saying that progress is not inevitable,” he said. “The counter trends are that if countries do not think about these global problems, and you get cuts, or if you have setbacks, in terms of pandemics and things like that, you can have reversals.”

Children Learn to Program Toy Robots

In this computerized age, some kids have the opportunity to play with robots. The Scottish company Robotical has developed an inexpensive toy robot that children can program to walk, dance and even play football (soccer).  But besides having fun, the idea is that children will use the toys to learn about robotics and computer programming in school.  VOA’s Deborah Block tells us more about it.

Apple's New iPhone X Not For Everyone

After months of anticipation – Apple unveiled its newest products Tuesday at its new Cupertino California Headquarters. Despite significant upgrades to its line of consumer products, the most hotly anticipated was the launch of Apples’ newest smartphone. But is it for you? Mil Arcega has more.

US Updates Self-driving Car Guidelines

The Trump administration is updating safety guidelines for self-driving cars in an attempt to clear barriers for automakers and tech companies who want to get test vehicles on the road. U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the new voluntary guidelines Tuesday during a visit to an autonomous vehicle testing facility at the University of Michigan. The new guidelines update policies issued last fall by the Obama administration, which were also largely voluntary. Under Obama, automakers were asked to follow a 15-point safety assessment before putting test vehicles on the road. The new guidelines reduce that to a 12-point voluntary assessment and no longer require automakers to consider ethical or privacy issues. The guidelines also make clear that the federal government, not states, determines whether autonomous vehicles are safe. That is the same guidance the Obama administration gave. Chao emphasized that the guidelines aren't meant to force automakers to use certain technology or meet stringent requirements; instead, they're designed to clarify what autonomous vehicle developers should be considering before they put test cars on the road. "This is a guidance document," Chao said. "We want to make sure those who are involved understand how important safety is. We also want to ensure that the innovation and the creativity of our country remain." Not a 'vision for safety' But critics say the voluntary nature of the guidelines gives the government no authority to prevent dangerous experimental vehicles. "This isn't a vision for safety," said John M. Simpson, head of privacy for a nonprofit progressive group called Consumer Watchdog. "It's a road map that allows manufacturers to do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want, turning our roads into private laboratories for robot cars with no regard for our safety." Regulators and lawmakers have been struggling to keep up with the pace of self-driving technology. They are wary of burdening automakers and tech companies with regulations that would slow innovation, but they need to ensure that the vehicles are safely deployed. There are no fully self-driving vehicles for sale, but autonomous cars with backup drivers are being tested in numerous states, including California, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Autonomous vehicle developers, including automakers and tech companies like Google and Uber, say autonomous vehicles could dramatically reduce crashes but complain that the patchwork of state laws passed in recent years could hamper their deployment. Early estimates indicate there were more than 40,000 traffic fatalities in the U.S. last year; the government says 94 percent of crashes involve human error. But safety advocates say that experimental cars could get on public roads too soon, and accidents could undermine public acceptance of the technology. Broad safety goals The new guidelines encourage companies to have processes in place for broad safety goals, such as making sure drivers are paying attention while using advanced assist systems. The systems are expected to detect and respond to people and objects both in and out of its travel path, "including pedestrians, bicyclists, animals and objects that could affect safe operation of the vehicle," the guidelines say. Chao said the guidelines will be updated again next year. "The technology in this field is accelerating at a much faster pace than I think many people expected," she said. "We want to make sure stakeholders who are developing this have the best information." Chao's appearance came at a time of increased government focus on highly automated cars.   Earlier Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board was debating whether Tesla Inc.'s partially self-driving Autopilot system shared the blame for the 2016 death of a driver in Florida. The board ultimately said the driver's inattention and a truck driver who made a left-hand turn in front of the Tesla were at fault for the crash, but it said automakers should incorporate safeguards that limit the use of automated vehicle control systems so drivers don't rely on them too much. Last week, the U.S. House voted to give the federal government the authority to exempt automakers from safety standards that don't apply to the technology. If a company can prove it can make a safe vehicle with no steering wheel, for example, the federal government could approve that. The bill permits the deployment of up to 25,000 vehicles in its first year and 100,000 annually after that. The Senate is now considering a similar bill.

Apple to Release Re-designed iPhone X on 10 Year Anniversary

Apple on Tuesday will unveil the new model of its popular iPhone, 10 years after then-CEO Steve Jobs showed the world the iPhone for the first time. Leaks of the iPhone’s design suggest it will feature a higher resolution display, wireless charging and facial recognition technology, among other improvements. The event Tuesday will take place at Apple’s “spaceship” office in California, though few actual details about the iPhone release are publicly available. Predictions for the new high-end model, likely to be called the iPhone X, put the price around the $900 point, with some estimates reaching above $1,000. The previous iPhone 7 Plus sold for a top base price of $769. Brian Blau, an Apple analyst at Gartner, told Reuters the steep price is driven by the need for more advanced parts, like 3D sensors and memory capacity. "Some of these components are just darned expensive,” he said. “There is just no doubt about that." Apple has sold more than 1.2 billion iPhones since it first released the phone a decade ago, but the company took a huge hit to its revenue last year as many customers did not buy an iPhone 7 because they saw it as too similar to the iPhone 6. With the release of its new phone, Apple hopes to recapture some of the early excitement surrounding its phones and convince critics the company is still on the cutting edge of tech innovation. Apple is also expected to introduce a big upgrade to its Apple Watch and a higher-definition model of its Apple TV system, which allows users to stream online content.

Survivors, Relatives, Volunteers Connect Online for Irma Aid

Worried relatives, generous volunteers, frantic neighbors, even medical providers are turning to social media now that Hurricane Irma wiped out electricity and cell service to communities across Florida, cutting off most contact with remote islands in the Keys. "We all sort of scattered around the country when we evacuated, so we're trying to stay in touch, by phone, by Facebook, however we can," said Suzanne Trottier, who left her Key West, Florida home for Virginia almost a week ago as the hurricane approached. "Unfortunately we've been really, really looking on Facebook a lot because I have people down there I haven't heard from," she said.   One of those posts Monday morning brought a bit of good cheer: a photo of a friend who had stayed behind, smiling, healthy and dry.   "Such great news" posted Trottier's husband Neil Renouf, adding a thumbs up.   But many questions remain about the situation on the Florida Keys. Irma's eye slammed into the island chain with potentially catastrophic 130 p.m. early Sunday morning, and more than 24 hours later, friends and family still couldn't contact people who were riding out the storm. Search and rescue teams were going door-to-door.   Facebook groups were still forming Monday to help from afar. Evacuees Of The Keys members shared school closure notices, videos of destruction, and many posts from friends and relatives searching for loved ones. Leah McNally of Fort Lauderdale, whose mother stayed behind at her home in Tavernier, on Key Largo, was relaying information onto Facebook that she heard through a walkie talkie app, Zello, which has been widely used during both Harvey and Irma.   "Everything is like a black hole right now but there are people in the keys who are relaying information," she said.   Zello was relaying calls for help, and a team of unofficial dispatchers ran rescue operations to hundreds of locations, warning boaters to stay out of the water due to alligators and snakes.   Facebook activated its Safety Check feature for people to let friends and family know they're safe. Facebook spokesman Eric Porterfield said that by Monday morning, there were already more than 600 posts asking for help, mostly fuel, shelter or a ride, although one woman with broken ribs sought medical advice.   There were also more than 2,000 postings offering help, including free housing, clothes and people with chainsaws volunteering for cleanup. Facebook community fundraisers had already been launched; a woman in France had already collected $12,000 for recovery supplies in St. Barts.   Social media has been a game-changer for Americans coping with natural disasters, Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson said.   "In the past, when power went out, the best anyone could do when a hurricane hit was turn on the battery-operated transistor radio," he said. This helped, but didn't provide detailed information about loved ones that pops up on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.   "As long as the phones are charged, you can find out almost instantly that people in the danger zone are doing OK," he said.   Thus phone charging has become an act of near desperation in some shelters as evacuees tried to plug in to generator power.   Some of the online contacts have been truly critical. DaVita Kidney Care, whose patients receive life-saving dialysis three times a week, for four hours per day, was using Twitter and Facebook, along with a blog to inform patients about open centers and hospitals.   "We hope that through our social media outreach patients know they can go to any dialysis center to get care," said spokeswoman Kate Stabrawa for the Denver-based company.   People engaging with Irma from well beyond the danger zone use social media "like huddling together during bad times," said public relations expert Richard Laermer, author of "Trendspotting."   "Social media makes people feel like they are doing something, as opposed to nothing," he said.

In Persian Gulf, Computer Hacking Now a Cross-Border Fear

State-sponsored hacks have become an increasing worry among countries across the Persian Gulf. They include suspected Iranian cyberattacks on Saudi Arabia to leaked emails causing consternation among nominally allied Arab nations. Defending against such attacks have become a major industry in Dubai, as the city-state home to the world's tallest building and the long-haul airline Emirates increasingly bills itself as an interconnected "smart city" where robots now deliver wedding certificates.   They fear a massive attack on the scale of what Saudi Arabia suffered through in 2012 with Shamoon, a computer virus that destroyed systems of the kingdom's state-run oil company.   This was the topic of an event Tuesday in Dubai organized by FireEye Inc., a cybersecurity firm headquartered in Milpitas, California. Emirati officials and businessmen attended the meeting.

US to Unveil Streamlined Autonomous Vehicle Guidelines

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will unveil on Tuesday streamlined safety guidelines for automakers that want to deploy self-driving vehicles, a person briefed on the matter said Monday, as members of Congress push their own proposals to remove regulatory barriers to the technology. The new Transportation Department policy is expected to offer the lighter regulatory touch that automakers have pushed for. For example, the Transportation Department is expected to state that automakers do not have to seek approval from regulators before putting self-driving vehicles on the road. Separately, the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday is expected to release findings that Tesla Inc.'s semi-autonomous Autopilot mode was a contributing factor in the May 2016 death of a motorist. That case has highlighted concerns about the design of systems that automate some, but not all, driving tasks. The new document is titled "A Vision for Safety" and will be less than half the length of the Obama administration guidelines released in September 2016 and will be less "burdensome," the person briefed on the announcement said. Chao is expected to make the announcement in Ann Arbor at a self-driving testing facility. The Transportation Department is releasing its voluntary safety standards at the same time a bipartisan coalition in Congress is moving forward on legislation also designed to speed commercialization of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking their deployment. On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on a measure to clear legal obstacles that could discourage automakers and technology companies from putting self-driving cars into broader use. The House measure would allow automakers to field up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year. Over three years, the cap would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually. Automakers would be required to provide regulators with safety assessments of their systems, but would not have to get federal approval to put autonomous cars on the road. A group of senators introduced a similar draft bill on Friday. In September 2016, the Obama administration proposed that automakers voluntarily submit details of self-driving vehicle systems in a 15-point "safety assessment"and urged states to defer to the federal government on most vehicle regulations. An auto trade group representing General Motors Co., Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Corp. and others, objected to the Obama administration proposal.

Apple May Test Bounds of iPhone Love with $1,000 Model

Apple is expected to sell its fanciest iPhone yet for $1,000, crossing into a new financial frontier that will test how much consumers are willing to pay for a device that's become an indispensable part of modern life.   The unveiling of a dramatically redesigned iPhone will likely be the marquee moment Tuesday when Apple hosts its first product event at its new spaceship-like headquarters in Cupertino, California. True to its secretive ways, Apple won't confirm that it will be introducing a new iPhone, though a financial forecast issued last month telegraphed something significant is in the pipeline.   In addition to several new features, a souped-up "anniversary" iPhone - coming a decade after Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs unveiled the first version - could also debut at an attention-getting $999 price tag, twice what the original iPhone cost. It would set a new price threshold for any smartphone intended to appeal to a mass market.   What $1,000 bucks will buy   Various leaks have indicated the new phone will feature a sharper display, a so-called OLED screen that will extend from edge to edge of the device, thus eliminating the exterior gap, or "bezel," that currently surrounds most phone screens.   It may also boast facial recognition technology for unlocking the phone and wireless charging. A better camera is a safe bet, too.   All those features have been available on other smartphones that sold for less than $1,000, but Apple's sense of design and marketing flair has a way of making them seem irresistible - and worth the extra expense.   "Apple always seems to take what others have done and do it even better," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies.   Why phones cost more, not less   Apple isn't the only company driving up smartphone prices. Market leader Samsung Electronics just rolled out its Galaxy Note 8 with a starting price of $930.   The trend reflects the increasing sophistication of smartphones, which have been evolving into status symbols akin to automobiles. In both cases, many consumers appear willing to pay a premium price for luxury models that take them where they want to go in style.   "Calling it a smartphone doesn't come close to how people use it, view it and embrace it in their lives," said Debby Ruth, senior vice president of the consumer research firm Magid. "It's an extension of themselves, it's their entry into the world, it's their connection to their friends."   From that perspective, it's easy to understand why some smartphones now cost more than many kinds of laptop computers, said technology analyst Patrick Moorhead.   "People now value their phones more than any other device and, in some cases, even more than food and sex," Moorhead said.   The luxury-good challenge   Longtime Apple expert Gene Munster, now managing partner at research and venture capital firm Loup Ventures, predicts 20 percent of the iPhones sold during the next year will be the new $1,000 model.   Wireless carriers eager to connect with Apple's generally affluent clientele are likely to either sell the iPhone at a discount or offer appealing subsidies that spread the cost of the device over two to three years to minimize the sticker shock, said analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research.   Even Munster's sales forecast holds true, it still shows most people either can't afford or aren't interested in paying that much for a smartphone.   That's one reason Apple also is expected to announce minor upgrades to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. That will make it easier for Apple to create several different pricing tiers, with the oldest model possibly becoming available for free with a wireless contract.   But the deluxe model virtually assures that the average price of the iPhone - now at $606 versus $561 three years ago - will keep climbing. That runs counter to the usual tech trajectory in which the price of electronics, whether televisions or computers, falls over time.   "The iPhone has always had a way of defying the law of physics," Munster said, "and I think it will do it in spades with this higher priced one." WATCH: Related video report by tech reporter George Putic

Apple to Unveil New iPhone

It’s been only 10 years since Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs presented the first iPhone. Since then, the competition with other companies has evolved into a giant battle of smartphones, each trying to outsmart and outperform the others. Samsung and LG already released their new phones for this year, so expectations for the iPhone 8 are high. VOA’s George Putic looks at what features the new version may bring.

Digital Photographs Can Steal Fingerprints

We know that fingerprints can be lifted off various surfaces. But now technology is available to steal fingerprints from a digital photograph. VOA's Deborah Block explains how.

Equifax Faces Lawsuits, Investigations After Major Data Breach

The U.S. credit monitoring company Equifax is facing a storm of criticism, lawsuits and investigations after a data breach that may have compromised personal data for about 143 million Americans. New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Friday that his office would formally investigate the data breach, saying that more than 8 million New Yorkers had been affected by the hack. "The Equifax breach has potentially exposed sensitive personal information of nearly everyone with a credit report, and my office intends to get to the bottom of how and why this massive hack occurred," Schneiderman said in a statement. Illinois' attorney general also opened an investigation into the data breach, and more states are likely to follow suit. Also Friday, U.S. Representative Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said he would call for congressional hearings on the Equifax breach. Two proposed class-action lawsuits, one filed in Portland, Oregon, and another in Atlanta, Georgia, alleged that Equifax had been negligent in protecting consumer data. Stock price slides Investors were also showing their displeasure about the hack by dropping their stock in the company. Equifax's share price fell more than 13 percent in trading Friday, to $123.32. The decline equates to more than $2 billion in lost market value. The Atlanta company said Thursday that the hackers had obtained names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses of more than 40 percent of the U.S. population. "Based on the company's investigation, the unauthorized access occurred from mid-May through July 2017," the company said in a statement. The company said credit card numbers were also compromised for 209,000 U.S. consumers, as were credit dispute accounts for 182,000 people. Equifax discovered the hack July 29 but waited until Thursday to warn consumers. Although other cyberattacks have been bigger than this one, such as a data breach at Yahoo last year that affected more than 500 million accounts, this one could be the most damaging because of the type of data collected. Equifax is one the largest credit-reporting companies in the United States.

Apple Embarks on Emmy Quest With Big Bet on Video Streaming

Television is one of the few screens that has Apple hasn't conquered, but that may soon change. The world's richest company appears ready to aim for its own Emmy-worthy programming along the lines of HBO's Game of Thrones and Netflix's Stranger Things. Apple lured longtime TV executives Jaime Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg away from Sony Corp. in June and has given them $1 billion to spend on original shows during the next year, according to a Wall Street Journal report quoting unnamed people. The programming would be available only on a subscription channel, most likely bundled with the company's existing Apple Music streaming service. Apple declined to comment. While $1 billion is a lot of money, it's a drop in the bucket for Apple and its $262 billion cash hoard. But it's still enough to vault Apple into the top tier of tech-industry outsiders producing their own slates of television shows. iTunes came first Hollywood has long shuddered at the thought of Apple training its sights on TV the way it once did on the music business. Almost 15 years ago, Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs convinced record labels to let the company sell digital music on its iTunes store for 99 cents a single, a deal the music industry was happy to take in the face of growing music piracy enabled by Napster. Over time, though, Apple's dominance in digital music chafed music executives, who saw the company siphoning off a chunk of their profits. Movies and television have proven much harder for Apple to crack. The company's interest in transforming television has been an open secret for years, but Hollywood has so far spurned Apple's efforts to make itself an indispensable digital middleman for video. In a way, Netflix beat Apple to the punch with its groundbreaking video streaming service. Launched in 2007, that service pioneered "binge watching" of entire TV seasons on any device with an internet connection. That gave new life to existing shows such as Breaking Bad, whose creator credits Netflix with its survival , and spawned the creation of other series tailor-made for bingeing. Netflix also helped unleash a crescendo of creativity in Hollywood. Follow-on rivals Amazon and Hulu also boast popular video streaming services, and mainstream broadcasters such as CBS and Walt Disney Co. — the owner of ABC and ESPN, among other networks — are also jumping in. Pressure to act All of that has increased the pressure on Apple to step up its game in TV — not least because the increasing popularity of streaming is hurting its business of renting and selling video from iTunes. Apple "doesn't want to be left behind," said Debby Ruth, senior vice president of consumer research firm Magid. "This is a way for them to put a stake in the ground." This year, the company released its first two original series, Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke, on its Apple Music service, which has 27 million subscribers. But neither show has generated much buzz or critical acclaim. The recent hiring of Erlicht and Van Amburg signaled Apple's intent to make bigger splash. The executives have helped orchestrate several TV hits, including AMC's Breaking Bad, and more recently branched out into video streaming with The Crown, which landed on Netflix last year and is up for 13 Emmy nominations in this Sunday's ceremony. Apple also has a not-so-secret weapon: hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads already in the hands of faithful fans. It could easily transform those into a marketing platform to lure users to its TV service. But the company has a steep hill to climb. Bigger players   Netflix has more than 100 million worldwide subscribers and a video library that will add 1,000 hours of original programming this year alone. And HBO has become the Emmys' pacesetter since branching into original programming 20 years ago. Both companies vastly outspend Apple's reported $1 billion production budget. HBO spends about $2 billion annually on its programming, which garnered 111 nominations in this year's Emmy Awards, more than any other network. Netflix, which boasts the second most Emmy nominations with 91, expects to spend $6 billion on programming this year. Apple is still experimenting in TV, said Gene Munster, a longtime Apple watcher and managing partner with the research and venture capital firm Loup Ventures. "In five years, I bet Apple will either be investing $10 billion a year in content or zero," said Munster. "It's going to be one or the other." Jobs' legacy Jobs discussed his ambitions to shake up TV with his biographer, Walter Issacson, shortly before his death in 2011. "He very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players and phones: Make them simple and elegant," Isaacson wrote. But no Apple television ever materialized. Instead, Apple has periodically upgraded its Apple TV, which isn't a television, just a video streaming player that connects to TVs. That device has been losing market share to other streaming players made by Roku, Amazon and Google, according to the research firm Park Associates. Building a successful programming lineup could give Apple more leverage to license shows from other Hollywood production houses. It might even embolden the company to finally release its own streaming TV set. Apple will presumably also want to emulate Netflix's ability to exploit usage data to determine what it thinks audiences want to watch. Netflix's data analysis has helped it attract 25.5 million more subscribers in the U.S. alone since the February 2013 debut of its first original series, House of Cards. But if Apple decides it needs a little more help in video streaming, Munster thinks there's in 1-in-3 chance that it will buy Netflix to instantly gain the cachet and expertise in TV programming that it craves.

Rwanda's Largest Solar Field Also Empowers Orphans

In Rwanda, less than 15 percent of the population has access to electricity. In rural areas, it can be as low as one percent. In order to increase Rwanda's energy capacity, a 17-hectare solar field with 28,000 panels was constructed in six months in 2014 by private power companies. It is East Africa's first large-scale commercial solar field, bringing in 8.5 megawatts of power at its peak — four percent of the country's total power capacity. The project has brought power to more than 15,000 homes. "We are living in the world and we have to contribute or to eradicate or eliminate polluting the atmosphere," said Twaha Twagirimana, plant supervisor for Scatec Solar, which operates the project. "We need energy, and we need clean energy." Twagirimana said this investment in solar power is a step toward reducing global warming. Rwanda's power grid relies heavily on diesel fuel, which is expensive and bad for the environment. According to Scatec Solar, the solar field reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 8,000 tons per year. Orphanage land Private homes aren't the only ones to benefit from the project. The solar panels are on land owned by the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. The choice of the site, about 60 kilometers from the capital, Kigali, was no accident. The rent paid for the land helps vulnerable children and young adults who were orphaned during or after Rwanda's 1994 genocide. About 500 young Rwandans live, study and play on the 144-acre residential community. Mediatilice Kaytitesi, the community's art center and theater coordinator, says she uses art to help youth cope with their losses. "It's something that can help open the mind of the kids," she said. "Some draw tears, which means they have the tears in their hearts, their wounds. You can see their expressions." Pascal Atismani Claudien lost his father in 2006 and his mother in 2010. He said he doesn't exactly know why they died — just that they were sick. "When I have a problem, I take a paper and a pencil and draw and that problem goes away. When I have stress, I draw or paint," said Claudien, who is starting his final year of high school at the village. "And when I am painting or drawing, I feel very happy." The Agahozo Shalom Youth Village was modeled after similar ones built for orphans in Israel after the Holocaust. In the Rwandan language of Kinyarwanda, Agahozo means "tears are dried." In Hebrew, Shalom means peace.  "The mission was really to help bring back all the children who have lost parents and siblings and everything in their lives, to try to recreate the next best family that these children should have had, had their parents been alive," explained Jean-Claude Nkulikiyimfura, the youth village's executive director. Claudien said he considers it more of a family than a school. "That's why we call each other brothers and sisters," he said. Learning engineering During his time at the school, Claudien visited the nearby solar panels and learned from the staff about how Rwanda's largest solar field is positively impacting the country. He, himself, is from a small village with limited access to electricity. About 50 students also received technical training at the solar field on engineering and solar technology to encourage them to work in green jobs in the future.  The construction of the nearly $24 million solar field employed more than 350 Rwandan workers. Gigawatt Global developed the project with early-stage funding from the U.S. government's Power Africa initiative. "Rwanda had the right leadership and the right conditions to be really the test case and the positive fruits of concept for the entire sub-Saharan Africa for commercial scale solar," said Yosef Abramowitz, the CEO and founder of Gigawatt Global. About 600 million Africans don't have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. Rwanda's government aspires to nearly triple its power capacity by the end of 2018, through renewable power sources like methane, hydro, mini-hydro, peat, thermal and more solar fields.  In 2016, Rwanda partnered with developer Ignite Power to provide rooftop solar to 250,000 houses by the end of next year. Users will pay about $5 per month for the solar power system in a rent-to-own model. Efforts like this will go toward the Rwandan government's goal of bringing power to 70 percent of households. Abramowitz said he's convinced "solar is the future of Africa." His firm wants to replicate this model throughout sub-Saharan Africa, increasing energy capacity while also benefiting the social good. "There's every reason in the world — economic, social and political — that solar should be the main generation source of energy on the continent," he said.

World's First Biodegradable Car Designed

There are smart cars, hybrid cars, electric cars, and now a biodegradable car. A group of technology students has built the first car with a biocomposite structure. VOA's Deborah Block tells us more about it.

BMW Gears Up to Mass Produce Electric Cars by 2020

Germany's BMW is gearing up to mass produce electric cars by 2020 and will to have 12 different models by 2025, it said on Thursday, as traditional manufacturers race to catch up with U.S. electric car pioneer Tesla. Car buyers shunned electric vehicles because of their high cost and limited operating range until Tesla unveiled the Model S in 2012, a car that cracked the 200 mile (322 km) range barrier on a single charge. Since then, big advances in battery technology and a global crackdown on pollution in the wake of Volkswagen's diesel scandal have raised pressure on carmakers to speed up development of zero-emission alternatives. BMW, which launched the i3 electric car in 2013, said it was now readying its factories to mass produce electric cars by 2020 if demand for battery driven vehicles takes off. "By 2025, we will offer 25 electrified vehicles — 12 will be fully-electric," Chief Executive Harald Krueger told journalists in Munich, adding the electric cars would have a range of up to 700 km (435 miles). It marks a significant foray by a major manufacturer into electrification. BMW, which includes the Mini and Rolls-Royce brands and sold 2.34 million cars last year, announced the move on the day smaller rival Jaguar said it would offer electric or hybrid variants of all its models by 2020. On Wednesday, Nissan unveiled a new version of its Leaf electric vehicle in its latest move to take on Tesla, the U.S. firm co-founded by Elon Musk that sold 83,922 vehicles last year. Rolls-Royce Traditional carmakers have been slow to embrace the electric vehicle market because it remains unprofitable, largely due to the cost of batteries which make up between 30 percent and 50 percent of the cost of an electric vehicle. A battery pack with 60 kWh capacity and 500 km range costs around $14,000 today, compared with a gasoline engine that costs around $5,000. Add to that the $2,000 for the electric motor and the inverter, and the gap is even wider. But capacity investments into the battery sector may bring down costs of electric vehicles to a "tipping point" when they reach parity with combustion-engine equivalents some time between 2020 and 2030, according to analysts at Barclays. With cities threatening to ban combustion-engine vehicles or to tax diesel cars more heavily, the total cost of ownership of electric cars could drop below their combustion-engine equivalents, and Europe could become a 100 percent pure battery electric vehicle market by 2035, according to analysts at ING. The Frankfurt motor show, starting next week, will be used by BMW to unveil a new four-door electric car positioned between the i3 city car and the i8 hybrid sportscar, Krueger said. "We will be increasing the share of electrified models across all brands and model series. And, yes, that also includes the Rolls-Royce brand and BMW M vehicles," he said. German rivals will also be showing electric cars, with Daimler's Mercedes-Benz brand unveiling the EQA, a concept mass market electric car, Volkswagen taking the wraps off the ID Crozz. Aside from vehicle cost, a key obstacle to making electric cars popular is the amount of time it takes to recharge, and a lack of charging stations. London needs to spend 10 billion euros ($12 billion) to get charging infrastructure to a level where retail buyers can practically own an electric car, consultancy AlixPartners has said. Almost none of that spending has been earmarked so far. ($1 = 0.8331 euros)

Poll: Two-thirds of Americans Get Their News from Social Media

A full 67 percent of Americans now report receiving at least a portion of their news from social media, according to a new poll released Thursday. The Pew Research poll showed a small increase since early 2016, when 62 percent of people said they relied on social media for some of their news. The overall change isn't particularly substantial, but among some demographics, social media use increased significantly. Among non-white U.S. adults, 74 percent now say they get news from social media, marking a 10-percent increase over last year when 64 percent said they did. Similarly, among those aged 50 or older, the percentage who said they receive news from social media rose by 10 percent from 2016 to 55 percent. While Facebook still dwarfs other social media sites in terms of news dissemination, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube made strong gains in the number of people using the sites for news over the course of the last year. "Looking at the population as a whole, Facebook by far still leads every other social media site as a source of news. This is largely due to Facebook's large user base, compared with other platforms, and the fact that most of its users get news on the site," the report reads. Twitter showed a 15-percent increase in the number of users who said that's where they get their news, from 59 percent in 2016 to 74 percent in 2017. The number of YouTube users who get news from the site rose from 21 percent in 2016 to 32 percent in 2017. Snapchat showed a 12-percent gain, from 17 percent in 2016 to 29 percent in 2017.

US Senator: Twitter Should Offer Analysis of Russian Activity

Twitter Inc should provide an analysis of recent Russian activity on its social media platform, similar to the one Facebook Inc provided, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee told reporters on Thursday. Speaking one day after Facebook said it had uncovered an operation likely based in Russia that bought thousands of U.S. ads with divisive messages, Senator Mark Warner said that finding was likely just the beginning, and that Twitter should also examine the issue.  

Dry Jordan Launches Project to Grow Crops From Seawater

Water-poor Jordan on Thursday launched a project using seawater to produce crops with clean energy.   Jordan's King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, which contributed most of the $3.7 million cost, inaugurated the facility in the kingdom's Red Sea port city of Aqaba.   Haakon told reporters he was "impressed by the way innovative ideas have been translated into a plant the size of four football fields.''   The facility, part of the Sahara Forest Project (SFP), produces "energy, freshwater and food and all this in an arid desert,'' he said.   The facility, surrounded by rocky desert, uses seawater to cool greenhouses. A solar-powered plant then desalinates the water for irrigation.   Inside the greenhouses, pesticide-free cucumbers flourish.   The project is set to produce 130 tons of vegetables a year and 10,000 liters of freshwater a day.   "This is just the start,'' said Joakim Hauge, head of SFP. He said the organization selected Jordan because it has the required abundance of sunlight and seawater.   Last month, a report by Stanford University suggested that Jordan, one of the world's driest countries, could face more severe droughts unless new technologies are applied in farming and other sectors.   "Future adaptation to extreme droughts in Jordan will be an immense challenge,'' said the report by the university's School of Earth Science. "The projected negative impacts of more severe droughts of greater duration calls for essential alternatives.''

Space Business Booming in Cape Canaveral

After the last space shuttle mission ended, in July 2011, the activity at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, seemed to be waning. NASA's next launch vehicle was still in the early stages of design, so launch activity was transferred to the Russian space center in Baikonur. But this opened new opportunities for the space center, and today it is booming with private business activity. VOA's George Putic reports.

Pages