Chip labor: Robots replace waiters in China restaurant
The little robotic waiter wheels up to the table, raises its glass lid to reveal a steaming plate of local Shanghai-style crayfish and announces in low, mechanical tones, “Enjoy your meal.”
The futuristic restaurant concept is the latest initiative in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s push to modernize service and retail in a country where robotics and artificial intelligence are increasingly being integrated into commerce, phys.org wrote.
Raising efficiency and lowering labor costs are the objectives at Alibaba’s ‘Robot.He’ diners, where waiters have been replaced by robots about the size of microwave ovens, which roll around the dining room on table-high runways.
Cao Haitao, the Alibaba product manager who developed the concept, said, “In Shanghai, a waiter costs up to 10,000 yuan ($1,500) per month. That’s hundreds of thousands in cost every year. And two shifts of people are needed. But we don’t need two shifts for robots and they are on duty every day.”
The diners are attached to Alibaba’s new Hema chain of semi-automated supermarkets, where grocery shoppers fill their ‘carts’ on a mobile app and have the merchandise brought to them at checkout via conveyor tracks on the ceiling, or delivered straight to their homes.
Alibaba now has 57 Hema markets in 13 Chinese cities, all of which will eventually feature the robotic restaurants. Industry experts say they serve more as showcases of Alibaba’s tech prowess than a serious business model in a country where labor costs are relatively low.
But the restaurants also typify the rapid adoption of new technologies in a country where the government is increasingly using facial-recognition technology to police streets and identify law-breakers.
With digital payments via mobile phone already now rivalling cash for many purchases, growing numbers of pharmacies, bookstores and other retailers have dispensed with cashiers, allowing customers to order and pay for their desired merchandise, which is often handed over by a robot.
Alibaba’s e-commerce rival JD.com has announced plans to open 1,000
restaurants by 2020 in which food will be prepared and served by robots.
JD.com and others are also working to incorporate airborne drones into their delivery networks.
The movement could help companies reduce costs as growth rates in China’s e-commerce boom begin to plateau.
Jason Ding, a China retail expert with Bain and Company, said, “Before, everyone was all going for rapid expansion. Now the growth is gone and everyone has to focus on improving their operations.
“Operation is all about cutting costs and providing better service. So these automated machine technologies, in the right place, can play a role there.”
At Robot.He, customers book tables and order entrées via apps, and the diner’s novelty often draws long queues.
Ma Yiwen, 33, brought nearly a dozen colleagues with her.
“We are all foodies and we use our lunch time to try good food near our office. The idea of a robot delivering food to our table is very innovative so we wanted to see it ourselves,” she said.
The restaurant says automation helps keep costs down, an additional lure for 20-year-old customer Ma Shenpeng, who comes once a week.
“Normally for two to three people, a meal costs about 300-400 yuan, but here, all this table of food is just over 100 yuan,” he said.
Chinese AI advocates predict robots will someday perform a range of mundane duties as living standards rise, from delivery to sweeping floors and providing companionship, particularly as China’s labor force has shrunk due to the recently relaxed one-child population control policy.
But it’s a delicate issue for Chinese policy-makers due to the potential for human job losses, and the government is in the midst of a long-term push to develop the country’s services industry partly as a job creator, as manufacturing increasingly becomes mechanized.
Wang Hesheng, a robotics professor at Shanghai’s Jiaotong University, said the cost of robots remains too high for widespread consumer use and that many companies were merely jumping on the government’s high-tech bandwagon.
But robotics could spread if China labor costs continue to grow, he said.
“Maybe when labor costs rise higher and higher, robots will balance out with humans,” he said.
Genetic tool could help scientists identify the most resilient types of corals
A team at Stanford University has started using a genetic editing tool called CRISPR to identify the genes that make corals more heat-tolerant.
As the climate changes, warming oceans pose a huge threat to coral reefs, pri.org reported.
In 2016, nearly a third of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef died off. A quarter of all the fish species in the sea rely on corals for habitat, so die-offs aren’t just bad news for corals.
By using CRISPR, the team at Stanford University may be able to isolate which coral genes help them survive heat.
The research is not attempting to genetically engineer a ‘supercoral’, said lead scientist Phillip Cleves. Instead, he explained, “the best viable option for this concept of a supercoral is finding natural supercorals in the wild.”
“What I mean by a supercoral,” Cleves said, “is that maybe there are corals out on reefs that have a natural
resiliency to global climate change. We hope that using genetic tools like CRISPR to try to learn what genes are important for coral survival will allow us to eventually go through a reef and genetically scan individuals and find the corals that are more likely to survive. [Evolution] is doing the hard work of engineering supercorals for us, so it’s likely that those corals are out there. It’s our job to figure out which ones they are and then focus our conservations to make sure that they have the highest chance of survival.”
Cleves explained the process of coral die-offs this way: When ocean water temperatures rise above what corals normally experience in a region, the corals undergo a process called bleaching. Corals actually have algae that live inside of their tissue, and the algae create energy from photosynthesis and give that energy to corals as food. When water temperatures are too high, the corals expel these algae, which are critical for their survival in nutrient-poor waters.
“When the corals expel these algae and are unable able to repopulate new algae, they can starve to death and die,” Cleves said. “That’s what’s leading to this massive mortality.”
The genetic editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 is a kind of ‘genomic or genetic scissors’ scientists can use to cut DNA in certain places and replace it with precise types of mutations.
“So, if we’re interested in what gene X does, we can remove the function of gene X, or we can add more of gene X, to see what happens in the physiology of the animal,” Cleves explained.
“CRISPR has allowed us to explore gene function by editing the genomes of many, many types of organisms that were previously intractable for these types of genetic studies.”
Corals breed once a year by the full moon by releasing eggs and sperm into the water
column. So, in November 2016, about a week or so after the full moon, Cleves and his team collected some eggs and sperm and injected the eggs with CRISPR-Cas9 components to make specific changes in the DNA sequence.
“The experiments that we did were generally a proof of concept to show that this technology could be applied to corals,” Cleves said.
“But it was kind of a tour de force because we had to be there when the coral spawn naturally during this one week in November, induced by moonlight. So, it’s kind of romantic in that way.”
CRISPR has truly ushered in a kind of ‘Brave New World’, Cleves said. “We now can do experiments that we never could have even dreamed of doing. It’s been a gold standard in the coral field for decades to understand what genes give corals resiliency, and up until now we couldn’t ask those questions.”
Iran, India to launch 12 joint research projects
Iran and India agreed to launch 12 joint research projects, said the president of Iran’s Ferdowsi University of Mashhad.
Mohammad Kafi recalled that based on an earlier memoranda of understanding, the two countries agreed to promote academic cooperation by conducting 12 joint research projects in the fields of biotechnology and water management, Mehr News Agency reported.
He noted that the secretariat of Iran-India academic ties in Ferdowsi University of Mashhad received 73 research proposals during a call-up period of 45 days (between January 1 and February 15, 2018).
After exchanging these proposals with a related secretariat in India, the process of reviewing was started independently in both countries, Kafi added.
Finally, he continued, a joint committee was held in New Delhi in July and eight projects related to biotechnology and four projects related to water management were selected by the officials of the two countries.
Iranian universities which host the research projects are: Sharif University of Technology, Tarbiat Modarres University, University of Sistan-Baluchestan, University of Maragheh, University of Tabriz, Iran University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz University, Pasteur Institute of Iran, Iranian Research Organization for Science and Technology and National Institute of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Kafi said, adding that Ferdowsi University of Mashhad will coordinate, support and supervise projects’ implementation .
Rogue planet with unexplained aurora glow discovered drifting far beyond solar system
A planet over 12 times bigger than Jupiter has been found drifting alone through space around 20 light years away from Earth.
The rogue world is not attached to any star, and is the first object of its kind to be discovered using a radio telescope, independent.co.uk wrote.
Both its mass and the enormous strength of its magnetic field challenge what scientists know about the variety of astronomical objects found in the depths of space.
Dr. Melodie Kao, an astronomer at Arizona State University, said, “This object is right at the boundary between a planet and a brown dwarf, or ‘failed star’, and is giving us some surprises that can potentially help us understand magnetic processes on both stars and planets.”
Brown dwarves are difficult objects to categorize — they are both too huge to be considered planets and not big enough to be considered stars.
Originally detected in 2016 using the Very Large Array (VLA) telescope in New Mexico, the newly identified planet was initially considered a brown dwarf.
Much still remains unknown about these astronomical bodies — with the first one only observed in 1995 — and the scientists behind the discovery were trying to understand more about the magnetic fields and radio emissions of five brown dwarves.
However, when another team looked at the brown dwarf data they realized one of the objects, called SIMP J01365663+0933473, was far younger than the others.
Its age meant that instead of a ‘failed star’, they had found a free-floating planet.
The boundary often used to distinguish a massive gas giant plant from a brown dwarf is the ‘deuterium-burning limit’ — the mass below which the element deuterium stops being fused in the objects core.
This limit is around 13 Jupiter masses, so at 12.7 the newly identified planet was brushing up against it.
As this was being established, Kao had been conducting measurements of this distant object’s magnetic field — the first such measurements for a planetary mass object outside our solar system.
“When it was announced that SIMP J01365663+0933473 had a mass near the deuterium-burning limit, I had just finished analyzing its newest VLA data,” she said.
Similar to the aurora borealis or northern lights seen on Earth, this planet and some brown dwarves are known to have auroras of their own — despite lacking the solar winds that traditionally drive them.
It is the radio signature of these auroras that allowed the researchers to detect these distant objects in the first place, but it is still unclear how they are being formed.
However, the research team’s analysis showed the planet’s magnetic field is incredibly strong, around 200 times stronger than Jupiter’s, and this could help explain why it also has a strong aurora.
“This particular object is exciting because studying its magnetic dynamo mechanisms can give us new insights on how the same type of mechanisms can operate in extrasolar planets — planets beyond our solar system,” explained Kao.
“We think these mechanisms can work not only in brown dwarfs, but also in both gas giant and terrestrial planets,” she said.
Their research was published in The Astrophysical Journal.
The scientists said their study shows that auroral radio emissions can be used to discover more planets beyond our solar system, including more rogue ones not attached to stars.
Detecting fungal infection
A team of researchers from CSIR have developed an electrochemical
nanobiosensor that can efficiently diagnose invasive aspergillosis.