Tehran Bans Drones After Security Scares

The Iranian military has banned the unauthorized use of drones in the capital Tehran, after several security scares caused by unpiloted aircraft that are increasingly popular with hobbyists and filmmakers.

The general staff of the armed forces has issued an edict which means drones may only be used if they have been given permits from one of two government ministries or the state broadcaster, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander said on Monday.

“Flying private and personal quadcopters … is forbidden in Tehran,” Seyed Ali Reza Rabiei, operations commander at the Tharallah military base in Tehran, was quoted as saying by the Tasnim news site.

In December, Iranian security forces shot down a drone as it approached the Tehran offices of the president and the supreme leader. Media later reported the aircraft was being operated by a film crew shooting aerial footage for a documentary.

Last month, security forces shot at a quadcopter that entered a restricted zone in central Tehran which then flew off.

Alibaba Extends Bricks-and mortar Retail Push With Bailian Deal

Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd has formed a strategic partnership with retail conglomerate Bailian Group, extending a push into bricks-and-mortar retail as online growth slows.

The move comes on the heels of a recent purchase of a stake in retailer Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd as well as plans to take a controlling stake in Intime Retail Group Co Ltd and privatize it.

There are currently no plans for financial investment, an Alibaba spokesman said.

Shanghai-based Bailian Group is one of China’s largest retailers by sales, operating 4,700 outlets in 200 cities including supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies. Alibaba has an active user base of around 500 million.

Shares in Bailian Group’s subsidiaries surged on Monday, with Shanghai Bailian Group Co Ltd climbing by the 10 percent daily limit, Lianhua Supermarket Holdings Co Ltd jumping close to 10 percent and Shanghai Material Trading Co Ltd up 5 percent.

Bailian and Alibaba will initially cooperate on supply chain technology using Alibaba’s big data capabilities as well as integrating Alipay payments with Bailian Group’s existing membership program.

Toyota Unveils improved Prius

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

Lightweight Exoskeleton Lets Paraplegic Walk Again

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

Lightweight Exoskeleton Lets Paraplegic Walk Again

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

Chinese Industry’s Rapid Robotization

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

Chinese Industry’s Rapid Robotization

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

Google Makes Internet Balloon ‘Breakthrough’

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, says the company has made a “breakthrough” on its plans to offer Internet access to rural areas via connected balloons through an endeavor called Project Loon.

Initially, the idea was to have a steady stream of balloons circling the globe. When one went out of range in a certain area, another would arrive to maintain connectivity to those using the access provided by the balloons.

But now, the company says that through its “smart software,” it has now figured out a way to make the balloons loiter in one place over an extended period of time.

“Project Loon’s algorithms can now send small teams of balloons to form a cluster over a specific region where people need internet access,” the company wrote in an online post. “This is a shift from our original model for Loon in which we planned to create rings of balloons sailing around the globe, and balloons would take turns moving through a region to provide service.”

The company says the discovery was made during testing of balloons launched from Puerto Rico to “hang out” in Peruvian airspace. Some of the balloons lingered there for as long as three months, the company said.

The discovery should speed up the project and reduce costs.

“We’ll reduce the number of balloons we need and get greater value out of each one,” the company said in the post. “All of this helps reduce the costs of operating a Loon-powered network, which is good news for the telco partners we’ll work with around the world to make Loon a reality, and critical given that cost has been one key factor keeping reliable internet from people living in rural and remote regions.”

The Project Loon idea was sparked as a way to bring internet connectivity to the billions around the world who do not have access.

Rather than install traditional and expensive terrestrial wiring, the idea was to float huge, Internet-beaming balloons some 20 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. The balloons would then ride air currents to either remain in place or move to a new location.

Despite the breakthrough, Project Loon still must figure out how to increase the longevity of the balloons, which has maxed out at 190 days, according to the BBC.

Google has also explored the idea of providing internet to rural areas using solar-powered drones, but cancelled the notion due to technological hurdles and costs. Facebook is also looking to do something similar, but one of its drones crashed last summer.

Google Makes Internet Balloon ‘Breakthrough’

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, says the company has made a “breakthrough” on its plans to offer Internet access to rural areas via connected balloons through an endeavor called Project Loon.

Initially, the idea was to have a steady stream of balloons circling the globe. When one went out of range in a certain area, another would arrive to maintain connectivity to those using the access provided by the balloons.

But now, the company says that through its “smart software,” it has now figured out a way to make the balloons loiter in one place over an extended period of time.

“Project Loon’s algorithms can now send small teams of balloons to form a cluster over a specific region where people need internet access,” the company wrote in an online post. “This is a shift from our original model for Loon in which we planned to create rings of balloons sailing around the globe, and balloons would take turns moving through a region to provide service.”

The company says the discovery was made during testing of balloons launched from Puerto Rico to “hang out” in Peruvian airspace. Some of the balloons lingered there for as long as three months, the company said.

The discovery should speed up the project and reduce costs.

“We’ll reduce the number of balloons we need and get greater value out of each one,” the company said in the post. “All of this helps reduce the costs of operating a Loon-powered network, which is good news for the telco partners we’ll work with around the world to make Loon a reality, and critical given that cost has been one key factor keeping reliable internet from people living in rural and remote regions.”

The Project Loon idea was sparked as a way to bring internet connectivity to the billions around the world who do not have access.

Rather than install traditional and expensive terrestrial wiring, the idea was to float huge, Internet-beaming balloons some 20 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. The balloons would then ride air currents to either remain in place or move to a new location.

Despite the breakthrough, Project Loon still must figure out how to increase the longevity of the balloons, which has maxed out at 190 days, according to the BBC.

Google has also explored the idea of providing internet to rural areas using solar-powered drones, but cancelled the notion due to technological hurdles and costs. Facebook is also looking to do something similar, but one of its drones crashed last summer.

Zuckerberg’s Goal: Remake а World Facebook Helped Create

Mark Zuckerberg helped create the modern world by connecting nearly a quarter of its citizens to Facebook and giving them a platform to share, well, everything – baby pictures and Pepe memes, social updates and abusive bullying, helpful how-to videos and live-streamed violence.

Now he wants to remake it, too, in a way that counters isolationism, promotes global connections and addresses social ills – while also cementing Facebook’s central role as a builder of online “community” for its nearly 2 billion users.

 

The Facebook founder laid out his thoughts on Thursday in a sweeping 5,800-word manifesto that hews closer to utopian social guide than business plan. Are we, he asked in the document, “building the world we all want?”

 

In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Zuckerberg stressed that he wasn’t motivated by the recent U.S. election or any other particular event. Rather, he said, it’s the growing sentiment in many parts of the world that “connecting the world” – the founding idea behind Facebook – is no longer a good thing.

 

“Across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection,” Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in a Harvard dorm room in 2004, wrote on Thursday. So it falls to his company to “develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.”

 

Connecting in Facebook’s interest

 

Zuckerberg, 32, told the AP that he still strongly believes that more connectedness is the right direction for the world. But, he added, it’s “not enough if it’s good for some people but it’s doesn’t work for other people. We really have to bring everyone along.”

 

It’s hardly a surprise that Zuckerberg wants to find ways to bring more people together, especially on Facebook. After all, getting more people to come together on the social network more frequently would give Facebook more opportunities to sell the ads that generate most of its revenue, which totaled $27 billion last year. And bringing in more money probably would boost Facebook’s stock price to make Zuckerberg – already worth an estimated $56 billion – even richer.

 

And while the idea of unifying the world is laudable, some critics – backed by various studies – contend that Facebook makes some people feel lonelier and more isolated as they scroll through the mostly ebullient posts and photos shared on the social network. Facebook’s famous “like” button also makes it easy to engage in a form of “one-click” communication that can displace meaningful dialogue.

 

Facebook also has been lambasted as a polarizing force by circulating posts espousing similar viewpoints and interests among like-minded people, creating an “echo chamber” that can harden opinions and widen political and cultural chasms.

 

Community support

 

Today, most of Facebook’s 1.86 billion members – about 85 percent – live outside of the U.S. and Canada. The Menlo Park, California-based company has offices everywhere from Amsterdam to Jakarta, Indonesia, to Tel Aviv, Israel. (It is banned in China, the world’s most populous country, though some people get around the ban.) Naturally, Zuckerberg takes a global view of Facebook and sees potential that goes beyond borders, cities and nations.

 

Equally naturally, he sees the social network stepping up as more traditional cultural ties fray. People already use Facebook to connect with strangers who have the same rare disease, to post political diatribes, to share news links (and sometimes fake news links). Facebook has also pushed its users to register to vote, to donate to causes, to mark themselves safe after natural disasters, and to “go live.”  For many, it’s become a utility. Some 1.23 billion people use it daily.

 

“Our next focus will be developing the social infrastructure for community – for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all,” he wrote.

 

Long view

 

Zuckerberg has gotten Facebook to this position of global dominance – one that Myspace and Twitter, for instance, never even approached – partly thanks to his audacious, long-term view of the company and its place in the world.

 

Last fall, Zuckerberg and his wife, the doctor Priscilla Chan, unveiled the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a long-term effort aimed at eradicating all disease by the end of this century. Then, as now, Zuckerberg preferred to look far down the road to the potential of scientific and technological innovations that have not been perfected, or even invented yet.

 

That includes artificial intelligence, which in this case means software that’s capable of “thinking” enough like humans to start making the sorts of judgments that Facebook sometimes bobbles. Last September, for instance, the service briefly barred the famous Vietnam War-era photograph dubbed “Napalm Girl” because it featured a nude child, and only reversed its decision after users – including the prime minister of Norway – protested.

 

AI systems could also comb through the vast amount of material users post on Facebook to detect everything from bullying to the early signs of suicidal thinking to extremist recruiting. AI, Zuckerberg wrote, could “understand more quickly and accurately what is happening across our community.”

 

Speaking to the AP, Zuckerberg said he understands that we might not “solve all the issues that we want” in the short term.

 

“One of my favorite quotes is this Bill Gates quote, that `people overestimate what they can get done in two years and underestimate what they can get done in 10 years.’ And that’s an important mindset that I hope more people take today,” he said.