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A Silicon Valley Job Fair Caters to New Immigrants and Refugees

More than a million college-educated immigrants in the U.S. are in low skilled jobs, according to estimates. But they have trouble finding work in their professions, including in the U.S. tech industry, which desperately needs skilled workers. A special technology industry job fair this week in San Francisco brought together refugees and new immigrants with potential employers. VOA's Michelle Quinn reports.

Digital World Provides Benefits and Risks for Children

The U.N. Children’s Fund says the explosion of digital technology and growing internet access holds both benefits and risks for children.  UNICEF’s annual State of the World’s Children report explores ways to protect children from the potential harm of the expanding digital world.  The U.N. children’s fund reports one in three internet users around the world is a child.  Despite this huge and growing online presence, UNICEF says little is known about the impact of digital technology on children’s wellbeing and little is being done to protect them from the perils of the digital world. UNICEF Director of Data Research and Policy Laurence Chandy tells VOA the internet can be a game changer for children. “We sincerely believe that especially for kids in places where opportunities are few or for children who are disabled living in remote places ... it is completely intuitive that the internet has enormous potential and is already helping children access opportunity that just was not conceivable not long ago," said Chandy.  At the same time, he says the internet poses many risks.  These include the misuse of children’s private information, access to harmful content and cyberbullying.  Chandy says criminal digital networks make children vulnerable to some of the worst forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and online child sexual abuse. He says safeguarding children’s privacy on the internet is an issue of major concern. “We really emphasize the importance of putting in place safeguards to prevent children’s personal data from falling in wrong peoples’ hands and protecting their identities," said Chandy. "This is an issue which is only going to grow in importance.”  While the risks are great, Chandy criticizes businesses and regulators for doing little to reduce the dangers.     The report finds millions of children still are missing out on the benefits offered by the internet.  It notes around one-third of the world’s youth, most in developing countries, are not online.  It calls for these inequities to be addressed.  It says children everywhere must be given the opportunity to participate in an increasingly digital economy.     

North Dakota: The Silicon Valley of Drones

North Dakota’s vast flatlands have long been known for fertile fields of canola seeds, grazing cattle, and oil drilling. But in recent years, those wide open spaces have also become the U.S. proving ground for commercial drone research and testing. VOA’s Lin Yang and Beibei Su recently visited Grand Forks, the Silicon Valley of drones.

Satellite Technology Helps Protect Ocean Wildlife

Scientists around the world are increasingly using satellite technology to study life on earth. Small, inexpensive transponders attached to animals track their movement and interaction with humans, helping scientists and activists protect endangered species. Oceana, an international organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of the world’s oceans, teamed with shark researchers to study the fishing industry’s impact on one shark species. VOA’s George Putic reports.

First Black Astronaut Honored on 50th Anniversary of Death

AP Photo NY560, NY561, NY562 America's first black astronaut, Air Force Maj. Robert Lawrence Jr., finally got full honors Friday on the 50th anniversary of his death. Several hundred people gathered at Kennedy Space Center to commemorate Lawrence, who almost certainly would have gone on to fly in space had he not died in a plane crash on Dec. 8, 1967. The crowd included NASA dignitaries, astronauts, fellow Omega Psi Phi fraternity members, schoolchildren, and relatives of Lawrence and other astronauts who have died in the line of duty. Lawrence was part of a classified military space program in the 1960s called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, meant to spy on the Soviet Union. He died when his F-104 Starfighter crashed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He was 32. Astronauts at Friday's two-hour ceremony said Lawrence would have gone on to fly NASA's space shuttles and that, after his death, he inspired all the African-American astronauts who followed him.   Like Lawrence, Robert Crippen was part of the Air Force’s program. It was canceled in 1969 without a single manned spaceflight, prompting Crippen and other astronauts to move on to NASA. Crippen was pilot of the first space shuttle flight in 1981. With a doctoral degree in physical chemistry — a rarity among test pilots — Lawrence was “definitely on the fast track,” Crippen said. He graduated from high school at age 16 and college at 20. “He had a great future ahead of him if he had not been lost 50 years ago today,” Crippen said. Lawrence paved the way for Guy Bluford, who became the first African-American in space in 1983, Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space in 1992, and Charles Bolden Jr., a space shuttle commander who became NASA's first black administrator in 2009. Next year, the International Space Station is getting its first African-American resident: NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps. Another former African-American astronaut, Winston Scott, said his own shuttle rides into orbit would not have happened if not for a trailblazers like Lawrence. In tribute to Lawrence, a jazz lover, Scott and his jazz band serenaded the crowd with “Fly Me to the Moon” and other tunes. Lawrence’s sister, Barbara, a retired educator, said he considered himself the luckiest man in the world for being able to combine the two things he loved most: chemistry and flying. Lawrence’s name was etched into the Astronauts Memorial Foundation’s Space Mirror at Kennedy for the 30th anniversary of his death in 1997, following a long bureaucratic struggle. It took years for the Air Force to recognize Lawrence as an astronaut, given he'd never flown as high as the 1960s-required altitude of 50 miles. The Space Mirror Memorial bears the names of two other African-Americans: Ronald McNair, who died aboard space shuttle Challenger in 1986, and Michael Anderson, who died on shuttle Columbia in 2003. Marsalis Walton, 11, who drove from Tampa with his father, Sam, came away inspired. He dreams of becoming an astronaut. “It feels good that everyone has a chance to do anything,” the boy said.

UN Calls on Social Media Giants to Control Platforms Used to Lure African Migrants

The U.N. migration agency called on social media giants Friday to make it harder for people smugglers to use their platforms to lure West African migrants to Libya where they can face detention, torture, slavery or death. The smugglers often use Facebook to reach would-be migrants with false promises of jobs in Europe, International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Leonard Doyle said. When migrants are tortured, video is also sometimes sent back to their families over WhatsApp, as a means of extortion, he said. "We really ... ask social media companies to step up and behave in a responsible way when people are being lured to deaths, to their torture," Doyle told a Geneva news briefing. There were no immediate replies from Facebook or WhatsApp to requests by Reuters for comment. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Europe since 2014, and 3,091 have died en route this year alone, many after passing through Libya. This year, 165,000 migrants have entered Europe, about 100,000 fewer than all of last year, but the influx has presented a political problem for European countries. Who 'polices' pages? IOM has been in discussions with social media providers about its concerns, Doyle said, adding: "And so far to very little effect. What they say is, 'Please tell us the pages and we will shut them down.' "It is not our job to police Facebook's pages. Facebook should police its own pages," he said. Africa represents a big and expanding market for social media, but many people are unemployed and vulnerable, he said. "Facebook is pushing out, seeking market share across West Africa and pushing out so-called free basics, which allows ... a 'dumb phone' to get access to Facebook. So you are one click from the smuggler, one click from the lies," he said. Social media companies are "giving a turbocharged communications channel to criminals, to smugglers, to traffickers, to exploiters," he added. Images broadcast by CNN last month appeared to show migrants being auctioned off as slaves by Libyan traffickers. This sparked anger in Europe and Africa and highlighted the risks migrants face. Doyle called for social media companies to invest in civic-minded media outreach and noted that on Google, pop-up windows appear if a user is looking at pornography images, to warn of danger or criminality. The IOM has helped 13,000 migrants to return voluntarily to Nigeria, Guinea and other countries from Libya this year. It provides them with transport and pocket money and documents their often harrowing testimonies. Doyle said it was currently repatriating 4,000 migrants to Niger. Switzerland said Friday that it was willing to take in up to 80 refugees in Libya in need of protection, among 5,000 who the U.N. refugee agency says are in a precarious position.

Net Neutrality Advocates Speak Up as FCC Set to Strike Down Rules

Net neutrality is a simple concept but a dense and often technical issue that has been argued over for years in tech and telecom circles. Now everyday folks are talking about it. That's because the Federal Communications Commission has scheduled a vote next week to gut Obama-era rules meant to stop broadband companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from exercising more control over what people watch and see on the internet. The protests aren't likely to stop the agency's vote on Thursday, but activists hope the outcry will push Congress to intervene and will show support for stricter regulation down the road. Net neutrality has been a hot button before, thanks to assists from Silicon Valley and TV host John Oliver speaking out about what they see as threats to the internet. More Hollywood celebrities have been joining the cry against the agency's direction. "Long live cute dog videos on YouTube! #RIPinternet. Share what you loved about The Internet," actor Mark Ruffalo tweeted as he urged people to push Congress to intervene. Big-time Hollywood producer Shonda Rhimes tweeted a link to a story about saving net-neutrality on her lifestyle website. Net-neutrality rules bar cable and phone companies from favoring certain websites and apps — such as their own services — and give the FCC more oversight over privacy and the activities of telecom companies. Supporters worry that repealing them would hurt startups and other companies that couldn't afford to pay a broadband company for faster access to customers. Critics of the rules say that they hurt investment in internet infrastructure and represent too much government involvement in business. Phone and cable companies say the rules aren't necessary because they already support an open internet. While libertarian and conservative think tanks and telecom trade groups have spoken up against net neutrality, everyday people have been vocal in protesting the rules' repeal. Since the FCC announced just before Thanksgiving that it was planning to gut the rules, there have been about 750,000 calls to Congress made through Battle for the Net, a website run by groups that advocate for net neutrality. By contrast, there were fewer than 30,000 calls in the first two weeks of November. While Congress doesn't need to approve FCC decisions, it can overrule the agency by passing a law. Net neutrality also has triggered discussions all over social media, even in groups that typically do not discuss tech policy. In one Facebook group about leggings seller LuLaRoe, one woman's lament about the repeal triggered more than 270 responses. They included questions about what net neutrality was, links to explanations and statements of support. The discussion sprawled into the next day. Meanwhile, net-neutrality supporters protested outside 700 Verizon stores Thursday, said Tim Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press, an advocacy group involved in Battle for the Net. In midtown Manhattan, some 350 people came to chant slogans and wave signs. "Access to a free and fair internet is necessary for a functioning democracy," said Lauren Gruber, a writer for a branding agency who joined the New York protest. If the net-neutrality rules are repealed, she said, "it's just another showcase of oligarchy upon America." Most people don't follow what federal agencies like the FCC are doing, even though decisions can have a lot of impact on people's lives, said Beth Leech, political science professor at Rutgers University. Having celebrities speak out can help spark people's interest, she said. "Protests that draw average people out into the streets across the country are relatively rare," she said. "It's the rarity that gives them some of their power." The liberal organization MoveOn is urging Americans to speak up for net neutrality. Democratic senators have called for a delay in next Thursday's vote, while Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel urged backers to "make a ruckus." Some Democrats are hoping that the gutting of Obama-era net neutrality rules will become a campaign rallying cry in 2018 and beyond. "Net neutrality has the potential to motivate young and progressive voters to turn out," said Tyler Law, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which tries to get Democrats elected to the House. "There will be a political price to pay for those who are on the wrong side of this issue, because net neutrality's time as a campaign issue has arrived," Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a longtime net neutrality supporter, said on a call with reporters Wednesday. Republican campaign officials didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. The FCC's commenting system has logged 23 million comments, compared with roughly 4 million for the last blockbuster issue — when the agency approved the net-neutrality rules in 2015. An August study by a data firm backed by the telecom industry found that 60 percent of the comments made this year supported keeping the 2015 rules. But the commenting system has been messy. The FCC says millions of comments used temporary email accounts from fakemailgenerator.com, hundreds of thousands of comments came from one address in Russia and many comments were duplicates. Some net-neutrality supporters have become intensely personal in their advocacy. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his staff have called out ugly and racist tweets and death threats. Pai also said activists came to his home to post signs that referenced his children. One man was charged in November with threatening to kill U.S. Rep. John Katko and his family if the New York Republican didn't support net neutrality.

Ford to Test New Self-driving Vehicle Technology in 2018

Ford Motor Co will begin testing its latest self-driving vehicle technology next year in at least one city but has not changed its plan to begin commercial production until 2021, the company said. The automaker said on Thursday that it would test self-driving prototypes in various pilot programs with partners such as Lyft, the ride services company in which rival General Motors owns a minority stake, and Domino's Pizza. However, Ford has still not decided whether to operate its own on-demand transportation service. New business models In a blog post, Jim Farley, president of global markets, said Ford also would test new business models that involve its self-driving vehicles, including the movement of people and goods. GM unveiled plans last week to introduce its own on-demand ride-sharing service in several U.S. cities in 2019, using self-driving versions of the battery-powered Chevrolet Bolt. Ford is shifting production of a future battery electric vehicle to Mexico to free up capacity at its Flat Rock, Michigan, plant to build the self-driving vehicles in 2021, according to spokesman Alan Hall. The electric vehicle, whose more-advanced battery system will enable a driving range of more than 300 miles, will go into production in 2020 at Ford's Cuatitlan plant, which suppliers say will also build a new hybrid crossover vehicle around the same time. Adding 850 jobs At the Flat Rock plant, Ford is boosting investment to $900 million from $700 million and adding 850 jobs. Both the 2020 electric and the 2021 self-driving vehicles will draw on the next-generation Ford Focus for some of their underbody structure and components while using different propulsion systems. Unlike the full electric vehicle from Cuatitlan, the self-driving vehicle from Flat Rock will use a hybrid system with a gasoline engine and an electric motor, Hall said.  

Report: Ethiopia Targeted Dissidents, Journalists With International Spyware Attacks 

Since 2016, the Ethiopian government has targeted dissidents and journalists in nearly two dozen countries with spyware provided by an Israeli software company, according to a new report from Citizen Lab, a research and development group at the University of Toronto. Once their computers are infected, victims of the attack can be monitored covertly whenever they browse the web, the report says. Based on an in-depth analysis of the methods used to trick victims into installing the software, Citizen Lab concluded that “agencies of the Ethiopian government” deployed the spyware to target individuals critical of their policies.  More than 40 devices in 20 countries were infected, according to Citizen Lab’s research. It’s unknown how many individuals might have been targeted. ​Full access Citizen Lab’s report found that attackers used email to target dissidents, outspoken critics and perceived enemies by impersonating legitimate websites and software companies. In some cases, they sent messages about events related to Ethiopian politics, with links purporting to show related videos.  Those links led to web pages that prompted victims to update their Flash Players or download “Adobe PdfWriter,” fictitious software that, in fact, led to CutePDF Writer, a tool to create PDF files. The attackers embedded the spyware in bona fide programs by exploiting security vulnerabilities, creating the impression that recipients were installing legitimate software and coaxing them to provide the administrator-level permissions needed to activate the surveillance. Once installed, the spyware spread to additional files tied to web browsers, making the software difficult to remove and nearly always active. Any activity on an infected computer can be monitored, and information from web searches, emails and Skype contact lists can be extracted. A remote operator can take screenshots and record audio and video from a connected webcam. Based on information provided by WiFi networks, attackers can also track the physical location of the infected device. “Once the government has that information, they can do things like hijacking your email account,” said Bill Marczak, a senior research fellow at Citizen Lab and lead author of the new report. “So, they’ll sign into your email account and then use your account to target your friends and basically expand the number of targets they have,” Marczak told VOA. Eritrean, Ethiopian dissidents among those targeted In October 2016, the Ethiopian government declared a nearly year-long state of emergency following months of protests that spread across the country. Those protests — and a subsequent government crackdown that resulted in more than 800 deaths, according to a 2016 report by Amnesty International — were monitored by diaspora media groups, including the Oromia Media Network.  OMN's executive director, Jawar Mohammed, was a confirmed target of the recently uncovered spyware attack.  “The pattern seems to be that they were very interested in what these Oromo activists and journalists were saying, how they were working, and perhaps even whom they were talking to back in Ethiopia,” Marczak said. The Citizen Lab report also found seven infections in Ethiopia’s neighbor and longtime rival, Eritrea, most of whom were targets with ties to Eritrean government agencies and businesses. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor since 2013 that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists.  Ethiopia previously used Remote Control System spyware from HackingTeam, an Italian company, to target journalists based in the United States, Citizen Lab said. It said Ethiopia also targeted dissidents using FinSpy spyware by FinFisher, a company based in Munich, Germany. Citizen Lab’s analysis produced an unusual level of detail about the program due to the discovery of a publicly available log file with in-depth data about both the attackers and targets. After analyzing that file, Citizen Lab concluded “that the spyware’s operators are inside Ethiopia, and that victims also include various Eritrean companies and government agencies.” Since the Israel-based spyware manufacturer was only authorized to sell their software to intelligence and law enforcement agencies, Citizen Lab concluded that the Ethiopian government was behind the attacks. Israeli security firm The group behind the spyware, Cyberbit, is a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, a $3 billion company that trades on the NASDAQ. Cyberbit describes itself as “a team of cybersecurity experts, who know firsthand what it means to protect high-risk organizations and manage complex incidents.” The spyware used in the attacks uncovered by Citizen Lab is called PC Surveillance System (PSS). Cyberbit no longer lists PSS on its website, but marketing materials from 2015 describe the software as “a comprehensive solution for monitoring and extracting information from remote PCs.”  Key features touted by Cyberbit include covert operation, the ability to bypass encryption and the ability to target devices anywhere in the world. Cyberbit marketed the product to intelligence organizations and law enforcement agencies. Citizen Lab also determined that Cyberbit representatives contacted Zambia's Financial Intelligence Center and potential clients in Rwanda and Nigeria. Spying with impunity Citizen Lab and Human Rights Watch both have raised concerns about the ease with which governments can acquire sophisticated surveillance tools to target dissidents with impunity. According to Marczak, it’s legal to produce and sell spyware to governments and law enforcement organizations, but Cyberbit would have required approval from the Israeli government to export the software to Ethiopia. Missing in the process, Marczak said, is careful consideration of the impact on human rights. In their report, researchers with Citizen Lab concluded that, “The fact that PSS wound up in the hands of Ethiopian government agencies, which for many years have demonstrably misused spyware to target civil society, raises urgent questions around Cyberbit’s corporate social responsibility and due diligence efforts, and the effectiveness of Israel's export controls in preventing human rights abuses.” The use of spyware by governments to monitor people around the world also occupies a murky legal space. In 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit filed by an American citizen born in Ethiopia. The plaintiff claimed the Ethiopian government used spyware to monitor his activities for months, but the court dismissed the case because the law allegedly broken did not apply to foreign states.

Bitcoin Worth Millions Stolen Days Before US Exchange Opens

A bitcoin mining company in Slovenia has been hacked for the possible theft of tens of millions of dollars, just days before the virtual currency, which hit a record above $15,000 on Thursday, is due to start trading on major U.S. exchanges. NiceHash, a company that mines bitcoins on behalf of customers, said it is investigating a security breach and will stop operating for 24 hours while it verifies how many bitcoins were taken. Research company Coindesk said that a wallet address referred to by NiceHash users indicates that about 4,700 bitcoins had been stolen. At Thursday's record price of about $15,000, that puts the value at over $70 million. There was no immediate response from NiceHash to an emailed request for more details. “The incident has been reported to the relevant authorities and law enforcement and we are cooperating with them as a matter of urgency,” it said. The statement urged users to change their online passwords. Slovenian police are investigating the case together with authorities in other states, spokesman Bostjan Lindav said, without providing details.   The hack will put a spotlight on the security of bitcoin just as the trading community prepares for the currency to start trading on two established U.S. exchanges. Futures for bitcoin will start trading on the Chicago Board Options Exchange on Sunday evening and on crosstown rival CME Group's platforms later in the month. That has increased the sense among some investors that bitcoin is gaining in mainstream legitimacy after several countries, like China, tried to stifle the virtual currency.   As a result, the price of bitcoin has jumped in the past year, particularly so in recent weeks. On Thursday it surged to over $15,000, up $1,300 in less than a day, according to Coindesk. At the start of the year, one bitcoin was worth less than $1,000.   Bitcoin is the world's most popular virtual currency. Such currencies are not tied to a bank or government and allow users to spend money anonymously. They are basically lines of computer code that are digitally signed each time they are traded.   A debate is raging on the merits of such currencies. Some say they serve merely to facilitate money laundering and illicit, anonymous payments. Others say they can be helpful methods of payment, such as in crisis situations where national currencies have collapsed. Miners of bitcoins and other virtual currencies help keep the systems honest by having their computers keep a global running tally of transactions. That prevents cheaters from spending the same digital coin twice.   Online security is a vital concern for such dealings. In Japan, following the failure of a bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox, new laws were enacted to regulate bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Mt. Gox shut down in February 2014, saying it lost about 850,000 bitcoins, possibly to hackers. Ali Zerdin in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Carlo Piovano in London contributed to this story.

New Apps, Gadgets on Display at this Year's TechCrunch Berlin

Those apps on your phone are expected to earn their developers about $77 billion this year.  Some entrepreneurs who are looking to grab a bit of that market were showing off their products in Germany this week. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Driverless Buses Take to Some Roads in California

Michaell and Clint Dupin had been eyeing the bus for several months. Clint even sat in his car to watch the shuttle go around and around in its test laps – without a driver. They finally took their first step onto the bus while it was parked, and took some selfies. An "operator" handed Michaell a pamphlet and showed her the emergency stop button. "What keeps someone pushing it just for fun? Like kids?" Michaell asks.    Nonplussed, she says she'd definitely take a ride. "I would trust high-tech more than I’d trust some drivers on the street."   Their wonder is understandable, since the Dupins recently moved to San Ramon, California, from Detroit, Michigan. "It's smart enough to go and to stop and to find its location," Clint observes. "That is pretty incredible." He says he is thrilled to see autonomous vehicles because the competition "encourages growth" with the American automakers in Detroit. $250,000 driverless bus "Ding." The bell rings and a different driverless shuttle bus passes the Dupins, driving along a test loop around Bishop Ranch in San Ramon, California. The 236-hectare office park is less than an hour away from  from Silicon Valley and about the same distance from San Francisco. It houses 600 buses. Alex Mehran Sr., chairman and CEO of Sunset Development Company, suggested the buses can more efficiently pick up commuters at the train station (BART) or at the entrance of Bishop Ranch and deliver them to each employer's office. Workers currently use a public express bus, which loses its "express" label when it makes so many stops. Within 10 years, Mehran hopes to buy 20 of the buses at $250,000 each. By that time, he imagines a worker would order the bus through a smart phone app "and it would be programmed on how to get to the destination." Driving with sensors Electric motors drive the shuttles about 16 kilometers per hour on a battery that lasts about 15 hours. A Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensor on the roof detects objects in a 200-meter radius. Additional sensors are placed at all four corners of the vehicle and there are windshield wipers for the front and back cameras, which means the shuttle can detect anything that moves in front or near it. But the sensors will be placed differently in future shuttles, as operators found the shuttle occasionally stopped when it sensed a blade of grass or the shadow of a tree. Organizers are careful to point out they prefer the term "autonomous" vehicle to driverless, since the shuttles still require some human interaction, even if that doesn't mean driving. Mehran refers to those jobs when he's asked about criticism that the shuttles will displace human bus drivers. "I’m hopeful that the driver who is no longer driving one of our buses is manning our command center," he countered. 'Legislating out' the driver Getting the driverless buses to this point took a year from the day the buses arrived in this country from the French manufacturer. The first step was changing the long-term mindset of what constitutes a vehicle. A California Senate bill called for a steering wheel, brake pedal and driver (or at least one person inside for monitoring) before the shuttles could be tested. So, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority worked with former California assembly member Susan Bonilla to craft a new law covering these shuttles.  CCTA Director Randy Iwasaki said, "We had to legislate out a driver, steering wheel and a brake pedal. So, it’s changing the way this vehicle is looked at and the whole industry." The law passed. While awaiting other regulatory approvals, the buses went through initial testing at the Concord, California, GoMentum Station, one of 10 proving grounds for testing autonomous vehicles in the United States. The 2,700-kilogram bus was too heavy to be regulated as a golf cart, but too light to come under the rules for buses. So the country's pre-eminent vehicle safety organization – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – approved a waiver to allow testing on public streets.   One hurdle is left in the testing -- approval by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. After that final testing stage, the public can ride the buses. 'Cute and friendly' The French company EasyMile makes the shuttles in a joint venture between French companies Ligier Group and Robosoft. The bus is small and bright red and resembles half of a cable car.  Mehran says they wanted to make it "cute and friendly." It allows for six seated and six standing passengers. The bus lowers a ramp for wheelchairs. EasyMile is looking to partner with an American company to make modifications in the next generation of shuttles. Passenger testing feedback suggests wheelchair ties, straps hanging from the ceiling for standing passengers, and more cushy seats for the American riders.

Driverless Buses Take to Some Roads in California

Imagine the day you board a bus and it starts moving. It obeys all traffic signs and stops at signal lights. All without a driver. That’s the future, happening right now at a business park in Northern California. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes us on what’s probably your first ride on a driverless shuttle bus.

Apple CEO Hopeful Banned Apps Will Return to China Store

Apple's chief executive said Wednesday he's optimistic some apps that fell afoul of China's tight internet laws will eventually be restored after being removed earlier this year. Speaking at a business forum in southern China, CEO Tim Cook also dismissed criticism of his appearance days earlier at an internet conference promoting Beijing's vison of a censored internet. Cook's high-profile appearance Sunday at the government-organized World Internet Conference drew comments from activists and U.S. politicians who say Apple should do more to push back against Chinese internet restrictions. He said he believed strongly in freedoms but also thought that foreign companies need to play by local rules where they operate. When asked about Chinese government policies requiring removal of apps, including ones from operators of virtual private networks that can get around the country's internet filters, he said, "My hope over time is that some of these things, the couple things that have been pulled, come back." "I have great hope on that and great optimism," he added. Cook said he didn't care about being criticized for working with China, because he believes change is more likely when companies participate rather than opting to "stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be."

Flourishing Esports Eye Olympic Games Link for Extra Boost

Booming esports do not need the Olympics to maintain their explosive growth, but a link with the world's biggest multisports event would validate gaming worldwide and give the Games a much-needed younger audience, industry leaders say. Esports, the competitive side of electronic gaming, have an estimated 250 million players, more than several of the traditional Olympic sports federations combined. The market is also worth about $1 billion dollars a year and growing, with lucrative tournaments springing up across the world and professional teams competing for huge prize money in front of millions of mainly young viewers online. "This will be the biggest sport in the world within 20 years," said Logitech CEO Bracken Darrell, whose company has been making computer and gaming equipment for decades and is now riding the wave of esports. Logitech's gaming division has enjoyed 25 to 35 percent growth annually in the past four years alone, Darrell told Reuters. "What has happened surprises us as much as it does everyone. Esports will probably be as big or bigger than football. The earlier the Olympics gets in the mix, the better." Tournaments around the world are packing arenas, with the Beijing's Birds Nest stadium, host of the 2008 Olympics, filling up for last month's League of Legends World Championship final, which also attracted 60 million viewers online. Traditional sports team owners from every major league are buying into esports, eager to tap into the growing market. Olympic recognition The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last month recognized esports as a sport, the first clear indication to the growing industry that it wants to link up. With the IOC's traditional audience aging and several Olympic sports past their international sell-by date, it is desperate to attract younger people even if it means breaking with tradition. "Esports are showing strong growth, especially within the youth demographic across different countries, and can provide a platform for engagement with the Olympic movement," the IOC said last month. Global audiences are expected to reach 385.5 million this year, according to research firm Newzoo, and as events multiply and interest grows, it looks like a one-way street for the IOC. "We consider esports as entertainment with competitive and sports characteristics," Jan Pommer, director of team and federation relations at the Electronic Sports League (ESL), a worldwide leader in organizing esports competitions, told Reuters. "We fully recognize, though, the reservations of the traditional sports world. Esports competitors train like traditional athletes, they are very fit, they have their own nutritionists and psychologists. Esports has all the characteristics of traditional sports." Growth guaranteed The lucrative young market has also attracted a multitude of other investors, such as NBA player Jonas Jerebko of the Utah Jazz, who recently acquired esports team Renegades.  "I did some research and checked out how many people watch esports and how big they are getting," Jerebko told Reuters. "How much prize money, how many sponsors were getting involved. "There won't be less esports — it's going to continue to grow. Many of the traditional sports are losing athletes, the interest for the Olympics has probably declined with the existing sports, so they're trying to win back this new audience." The benefits for the Olympics are clear, with a potential new stream of revenue through sponsorship, broadcast rights and marketing as well as a rejuvenation of their fan base. It is not only the IOC, though, that emerges a winner in such a possible alliance, with esports shaking off its still somewhat amateur image, Darrell said. "There is still a bit of a what-are-they-doing-in-the-basement feel to gaming," he said. "[An Olympic association] would help validate where the whole industry has got to quietly." ESL's Pommer said esports did not necessarily need to be part of the main Olympics. "We can build bridges. We do not demand, the industry does not demand, anything from traditional sports. What we would like is a dialogue. "In a way it could be like the International Paralympic Committee, which has an extended role to the Olympics. Esports could play a similar role," he said. "The wide majority of the esports community would be happy with it. It would help us in terms of social acceptance if it were part of the Olympic family."

'Smart Bags' May Not Fly If Battery Cannot Be Removed

"Smart suitcases" may be able to charge mobile phones or be easily found if misplaced, but unless their battery can be removed they risk being sent packing by the world's airlines. Global airlines body IATA said it could issue industry-wide standards on the new luggage soon, after some U.S. airlines issued their own restrictions on smart bags, whose manufacturers include companies such as BlueSmart, Raden or Away. These contain GPS tracking and can charge devices, weigh themselves or be locked remotely using mobile phones, but they are powered by lithium ion batteries, which the aviation industry regards as a fire risk, especially in the cargo hold. "We expect guidance to be issued potentially this week," Nick Careen, IATA senior vice president of airport, passenger, cargo and security, told a media briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, when asked about restrictions placed by some airlines. U.S.-based carriers American Airlines, Delta and Alaska Airlines all said last week that as of Jan. 15, 2018, they would require the battery to be removed before allowing the bags on board. Careen gave no details of any potential industry-wide standards, but said he expected others could quickly follow the example of the U.S. carriers. Away and Raden say on their websites that batteries in their bags can be easily removed. Concerns over the risk of a lithium ion battery fire were highlighted during the electronics ban temporarily imposed earlier this year on some flights to the United States.

YouTube Says Over 10,000 Workers Will Help Curb Shady Videos

YouTube says it's hiring more people to help curb videos that violate its policies. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki says "some bad actors are exploiting" the Google-owned service to "mislead, manipulate, harass or even harm." She says Google will have more than 10,000 workers address the problem by next year, though her blog post Monday doesn't say how many the company already has. Wojcicki says YouTube will also use technology to flag "problematic" videos or comments that show hate speech or harm to children. It's already used to remove violent extremist videos. YouTube is also taking steps to try to reassure advertisers that their ads won't run next to gross videos. There have been reports of creepy videos aimed at children and pedophiles posting comments on children's videos in recent weeks.

Ireland to Start Collecting $15 Billion in Tax From Apple

Ireland has struck a deal with Apple to collect up to 13 billion euros ($15 billion) in back taxes and hold it in an escrow account pending an appeal before the Court of Justice of the European Union. The government said in a statement Monday that an agreement had been reached "in relation to the framework of the principles that will govern the escrow arrangements." The European Commission had ordered Ireland to collect the money after concluding that two Irish tax rulings allowed Apple to pay less tax than other businesses — thus giving them an unfair advantage. The Commission ordered Ireland to collect back taxes for the years 2003-2014, which it estimated to be as much 13 billion euros plus interest. Ireland disagreed with the Commission's analysis and appealed the decision. Apple said in a statement that it remains confident the court will overturn the commission's decision once it has reviewed the evidence. "The Commission's case against Ireland has never been about how much Apple pays in taxes, it's about which government gets the money," Apple said in a statement. "The United States government and the Irish government both agree we've paid our taxes according to the law."

International Police Operation Shuts Down 'Andromeda' Malware System

A joint operation involving Germany, the United States and Belarus has taken down a malware system known as "Andromeda" or "Gamarue" that infected more than 2 million computers globally, Europol said on Tuesday. Andromeda is best described as a "botnet," or group of computers that have been infected with a virus that allows hackers to control them remotely without the knowledge of their owners. The police operation, which involved help from Microsoft, was significant both for the number of infected computers and because Andromeda had been used over a number of years to distribute new viruses, said Europol spokesman Jan Op Gen Oorth. "Andromeda was one of the oldest malwares on the market," added the spokesman for Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency. Authorities in Belarus said they had arrested a man on suspicion of selling malicious software and also providing technical support services. It did not identify the suspect. Officers had seized equipment from his offices in Gomel, the second city in Berlaus, and he was cooperating with the investigation, the country's Investigative Committee said. Op Gen Oorth said the individual is suspected of being "a ringleader" of a criminal network surrounding Andromeda. German authorities, working with Microsoft, had taken control of the bulk of the network, so that information sent from infected computers was rerouted to safe police servers instead, a process known as "sinkholing." Information was sent to the sinkhole from more than 2 million unique internet addresses in the first 48 hours after the operation began on November 29, Europol said. Owners of infected computers are unlikely to even know or take action. More than 55 percent of computers found to be infected in a previous operation a year ago are still infected, Europol said. Information about the operation has been gradually released by Europol, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Belarus's Investigative Committee over the past two days. Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Keith Weir.

Breeding Cleaner Cattle Could Slow Climate Change

As greenhouse gases go, methane is one of the worst. Pound for pound, it is much more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. And a good portion of it is emitted by domesticated cattle. Scientists have been working for some time on ways to cut that methane production as a way to help reduce global warming. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

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