From baristas to inspectors: Singapore’s robot workforce plugs labor gaps

From baristas to inspectors: Singapore’s robot workforce plugs labor gaps
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Robot barista "Ella", designed by Crown Digital, makes a coffee autonomously after receiving orders. (REUTERS/Travis Teo)
From baristas to inspectors: Singapore’s robot workforce plugs labor gaps
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A view of a kiosk of the robot barista "Ella" in Singapore. Designed by Crown Digital, the robot makes coffee autonomously after receiving orders. (REUTERS/Travis Teo)
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Updated 30 May 2022

From baristas to inspectors: Singapore’s robot workforce plugs labor gaps

From baristas to inspectors: Singapore’s robot workforce plugs labor gaps
  • Singapore has 605 robots installed per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry

SINGAPORE: After struggling to find staff during the pandemic, businesses in Singapore have increasingly turned to deploying robots to help carry out a range of tasks, from surveying construction sites to scanning library bookshelves.
The city-state relies on foreign workers, but their number fell by 235,700 between December 2019 and September 2021, according to the manpower ministry, which notes how COVID-19 curbs have sped up “the pace of technology adoption and automation” by companies.
At a Singapore construction site, a four-legged robot called “Spot,” built by US company Boston Dynamics, scans sections of mud and gravel to check on work progress, with data fed back to construction company Gammon’s control room.
Gammon’s general manager, Michael O’Connell, said using Spot required only one human employee instead of the two previously needed to do the job manually.
“Replacing the need for manpower on-site with autonomous solutions is gaining real traction,” said O’Connell, who believes industry labor shortages made worse by the pandemic are here to stay.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s National Library has introduced two shelf-reading robots that can scan labels on 100,000 books, or about 30 percent of its collection, per day.
“Staff need not read the call numbers one by one on the shelf, and this reduces the routine and labor-intensive aspects,” said Lee Yee Fuang, assistant director at the National Library Board.
Singapore has 605 robots installed per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry, the second-highest number globally, after South Korea’s 932, according to a 2021 report by the International Federation of Robotics.
Robots are also being used for customer-facing tasks, with more than 30 metro stations set to have robots making coffee for commuters.
Keith Tan, chief executive of Crown Digital, which created the barista robot, said it was helping solve the “biggest pain-point” in food and beverage — finding staff — while also creating well-paid positions to help automate the sector.
However, some people trying the service still yearned for human interaction.
“We always want to have some kind of human touch,” said commuter Ashish Kumar, while sipping on a robot-brewed drink. 


US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’

US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’
Updated 27 January 2023

US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’

US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’
  • Gang identified as Hive among the world’s top five ransomware networks and has heavily targeted health care
  • Hive, working with German and other partners, was estimated to have victimized some 1,300 companies globally

WASHINGTON: The FBI and international partners have at least temporarily disrupted the network of a prolific ransomware gang they infiltrated last year, saving victims including hospitals and school districts a potential $130 million in ransom payments, Attorney General Merrick Garland and other US officials announced Thursday.
“Simply put, using lawful means we hacked the hackers,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a news conference.
Officials said the targeted syndicate, known as Hive, is among the world’s top five ransomware networks and has heavily targeted health care. The FBI quietly accessed its control panel in July and was able to obtain software keys it used with German and other partners to decrypt networks of some 1,300 victims globally, said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
How the takedown will affect Hive’s long-term operations is unclear. Officials announced no arrests but said, to pursue prosecutions, they were building a map of the administrators who manage the software and the affiliates who infect targets and negotiate with victims.
“I think anyone involved with Hive should be concerned because this investigation is ongoing,” Wray said.
On Wednesday night, FBI agents seized computer servers in Los Angeles used to support the network. Two Hive dark web sites were seized: one used for leaking data of non-paying victims, the other for negotiating extortion payments.
“Cybercrime is a constantly evolving threat, but as I have said before, the Justice Department will spare no resource to bring to justice anyone anywhere that targets the United States with a ransomware attack,” Garland said.

 

He said the infiltration, led by the FBI’s Tampa office, allowed agents in one instance to disrupt a Hive attack against a Texas school district, stopping it from making a $5 million payment.
It’s a big win for the Justice Department. Ransomware is the world’s biggest cybercrime headache with everything from Britain’s postal service and Ireland’s national health network to Costa Rica’s government crippled by Russian-speaking syndicates that enjoy Kremlin protection.
The criminals lock up, or encrypt, victims’ networks, steal sensitive data and demand large sums. Their extortion has evolve to where data is pilfered before ransomware is activated, then effectively held hostage. Pay up in cryptocurrency or it is released publicly.
As an example of a Hive sting, Garland said it kept one Midwestern hospital in 2021 from accepting new patients at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The online takedown notice, alternating in English and Russian, mentions Europol and German law enforcement partners. The German news agency dpa quoted prosecutors in Stuttgart as saying cyber specialists in the southwestern town of Esslingen were decisive in penetrating Hive’s criminal IT infrastructure after a local company was victimized.
In a statement, Europol said companies in more than 80 countries, including oil multinationals, have been compromised by Hive and that law enforcement from 13 countries was in on the infiltration.
A US government advisory last year said Hive ransomware actors victimized over 1,300 companies worldwide from June 2021 through November 2022, netting about $100 million in payments. Criminals using Hive’s ransomware-as-a-service tools targeted a wide range of businesses and critical infrastructure, including government, manufacturing and especially health care.
Though the FBI offered decryption keys to some 1,300 victims globally, Wray said only about 20 percent reported potential issues to law enforcement.
“Here, fortunately, we were still able to identify and help many victims who didn’t report. But that is not always the case,” Wray said. “When victims report attacks to us, we can help them and others, too.”
Victims sometimes quietly pay ransoms without notifying authorities — even if they’ve quickly restored networks — because the data stolen from them could be extremely damaging to them if leaked online. Identity theft is among the risks.
John Hultquist, the head of threat intelligence at the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, said the Hive disruption won’t cause a major drop in overall ransomware activity but is nonetheless “a blow to a dangerous group.”
“Unfortunately, the criminal marketplace at the heart of the ransomware problem ensures a Hive competitor will be standing by to offer a similar service in their absence, but they may think twice before allowing their ransomware to be used to target hospitals,” Hultquist said.
But analyst Brett Callow with the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft said the operation is apt to lessen ransomware crooks’ confidence in what has been a very high reward-low risk business. “The information collected may point to affiliates, launderers and others involved in the ransomware supply chain.”
Allan Liska, an analyst with Recorded Future, another cybersecurity outfit, predicted indictments, if not actual arrests, in the next few months.
There are few positive indicators in the global fight against ransomware, but here’s one: An analysis of cryptocurrency transactions by the firm Chainalysis found ransomware extortion payments were down last year. It tracked payments of at least $456.8 million, down from $765.6 million in 2021. While Chainalysis said the true totals are certainly much higher, payments were clearly down. That suggests more victims are refusing to pay.
The Biden administration got serious about ransomware at its highest levels two years ago after a series of high-profile attacks threatened critical infrastructure and global industry. In May 2021, for instance, hackers targeted the nation’s largest fuel pipeline, causing the operators to briefly shut it down and make a multimillion-dollar ransom payment, which the US government later largely recovered.
A global task force involving 37 nations began work this week. It is led by Australia, which has been particularly hard-hit by ransomware, including a major medical insurer and telecom. Conventional law enforcement measures such as arrests and prosecutions have done little to frustrate the criminals. Australia’s interior minister, Clare O’Neil, said in November that her government was going on the offense, using cyber-intelligence and police agents to ” find these people, hunt them down and debilitate them before they can attack our country.”
The FBI has obtained access to decryption keys before. It did so in the case of a major 2021 ransomware attack on Kaseya, a company whose software runs hundreds of websites. It took some heat, however, for waiting several weeks to help victims unlock afflicted networks.


Science, technology, investment hold key to ‘future-thinking’ UAE’s success

Sarah Al-Amiri (C) and Omar Sultan Al-Olama (L)
Sarah Al-Amiri (C) and Omar Sultan Al-Olama (L)
Updated 18 January 2023

Science, technology, investment hold key to ‘future-thinking’ UAE’s success

Sarah Al-Amiri (C) and Omar Sultan Al-Olama (L)
  • Al-Amiri said the secret behind the UAE’s recent successes had been its skill at harnessing and combining individual human potential and institutional, governmental potential
  • Al-Olama said that attracting global talent is key and that globalization should be welcomed, not shunned

DAVOS: The UAE is utilizing science and technology to “leapfrog” its way to becoming a global leader in various fields, including space travel and tackling climate change, Emirati ministers told a World Economic Forum panel in Davos on Wednesday.

Sarah Al-Amiri, the UAE minister for public education and future technology, and Omar Sultan Al-Olama, minister for artificial intelligence, discussed how, since its independence more than 50 years ago, the UAE has a proven record of design thinking in governance and what lessons it can teach the developing world.

Al-Amiri said the secret behind the UAE’s recent successes had been its skill at harnessing and combining individual human potential and institutional, governmental potential while instilling a sense of urgency among the population to achieve certain goals.

“What drove us? A real sense of urgency, knowing that science and technology is required and a fundamental part of the growth of the future of our economy and the future of our industrial sectors,” she said.

“We have a technology transformation program (in the UAE), developed with and embedded within our industrial strategy. How do you sustainably and effectively increase the impact of your economic sectors?

“We are working closely with key local players to do that, but also fostering more global partnerships so we can create the necessary relevance and impact.”

Al-Olama said that the spirit of advancement has been part of the psyche of Emiratis and the wider Gulf region for millennia.

“We see that there is a constant need to adapt, to reinvent ourselves, and to face all challenges and opportunities equally,” he said.

“With every single era, the people of the UAE choose an industry and they go all in into it. If you look at the (ancient) trade of pearls as an example, it became a key industry, but we did not focus on local markets, we wanted to become global players.

“Moving forward (to today), the UAE has taught 1 million people in the Arab world how to code, and as that program concluded last year, it has ended up creating tens of thousands of companies and business endeavors across the Arab world.”

Al-Olama said that attracting global talent is key and that globalization should be welcomed, not shunned, but added that should a globalized world collapse tomorrow and fall back into global blocs, the UAE would have the talent and “future thinking” required to face that challenge.

 


Robotic suit gives paralyzed children gift of walking

Robotic suit gives paralyzed children gift of walking
Updated 20 October 2022

Robotic suit gives paralyzed children gift of walking

Robotic suit gives paralyzed children gift of walking
  • David Zabala uses a wheelchair due to his neurological condition, which also left him deaf and reliant on sign language
  • The exoskeleton enabled children who use wheelchairs to walk during muscle rehabilitation therapy

MEXICO CITY: Wearing a robotic exoskeleton designed specially for children, an eight-year-old boy with cerebral palsy walked through a therapy room in Mexico City, smiling triumphantly at the once-unthinkable feat.
David Zabala uses a wheelchair due to his neurological condition, which also left him deaf and reliant on sign language.
But thanks to the Atlas 2030 exoskeleton, which won its creator a European Inventor Award this year, he was able to walk and stand in front of a mirror where he drew smiling faces with colored marker pens.
“He’s taking his first steps. That’s a joy for him,” said the boy’s mother, Guadalupe Cardoso, 41.
“At first it scared him and his hands were very tense, and now I see that he’s already holding the marker pen and starting to draw or (play with) the ball,” Cardoso added.
It makes the exhausting, near two-hour journey from their home in the south of Mexico City to the therapy center totally worth it, she said.
The exoskeleton was designed by Spanish professor Elena Garcia Armada to enable children who use wheelchairs to walk during muscle rehabilitation therapy.
The mechanical joints of the battery-powered titanium suit adapt intelligently to the motion of each child, according to the European Patent Office, which presented Garcia with the European Inventor Award.
Giving paralyzed children the opportunity to walk “not only extends their life expectancy and enhances their physical well-being, but also improves their self-esteem,” it said.

Mexico is the third country, after Spain and France, where the Atlas 2030 has been used to treat children.
The suit helps “to achieve in record time rehabilitation goals” that would take months to achieve with conventional therapies, said Guadalupe Maldonado, director of Mexico’s Association for People with Cerebral Palsy.
The benefits include muscle strengthening, improvement of the digestive and respiratory systems and — above all — a major mood boost, Maldonado said.
The private organization, founded in 1970, has already seen positive results two weeks after acquiring its first exoskeleton, she said.
A second device, worth around $250,000, is due to arrive in Mexico City next month.
The association’s initial goal is to offer rehabilitation to about 200 children with cerebral palsy.
“We want to continue working and empowering, so that more children in the city and the country have access to this type of rehabilitation... that radically changes their lives,” Maldonado said.
The sessions also give joy to the therapists, who carefully fit the exoskeleton using its special corset, cuff and shoes and celebrate the children’s progress with smiles and applause.
“It motivates us a lot as therapists that we will be able to achieve many things in the future,” said Arturo Palafox, 28.
 


Tesla CEO Elon Musk showcases humanoid robot at event

Tesla CEO Elon Musk showcases humanoid robot at event
Updated 01 October 2022

Tesla CEO Elon Musk showcases humanoid robot at event

Tesla CEO Elon Musk showcases humanoid robot at event
  • Musk says Optimus will be an “extremely capable robot,” unlike other humanoid robots that don’t have the intelligence to navigate the world by themselves

SAN FRANCISCO: Tesla CEO Elon Musk showcased his much-touted humanoid robot ‘Optimus’ at the electric vehicle maker’s “AI Day” event on Friday.
The billionaire has said a robot business will be worth more than its cars, hoping to expand beyond self-driving cars that have not yet become a reality despite his repeated promises.
A prototype of the robot walked on stage and waved to the seated audience. A video of the robot carrying a box, watering plants and moving metal bars in the automaker’s factory was shown.
“Our goal is to make a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk said at the event being held at a Tesla office in Palo Alto, California.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and prove it.”
Musk said currently humanoid robots are “missing a brain,” saying they don’t have the intelligence to navigate the world by themselves, and they are also very expensive and made in low volume.
By contrast, he said, the Optimus will be an “extremely capable robot,” to be made in very high volume, probably, ultimately millions of units and is expected to cost much less than a car, at under $20,000.
Musk is also expected to discuss Tesla’s long-delayed self-driving technology. In May, Musk said that the world’s most valuable car maker would be “worth basically zero” without achieving full self-driving capability, and it faces growing regulatory probes, as well as technological hurdles.
“There will be lots of technical detail & cool hardware demos,” Musk wrote on Twitter late on Wednesday, adding the event was aimed at recruiting engineers.

Tesla’s live demonstration record is mixed. Launches typically draw cheers, but in 2019 when Musk had an employee hurl a steel ball at the armored window of a new electric pickup truck, the glass cracked.
The key test for the robot is whether it can handle unexpected situations.
Musk announced Tesla’s plan for humanoid robots at its AI day in August last year and delayed this year’s event from August to have its robot prototype working, with a plan to start production possibly next year.

Tesla teased the unveiling of the bot on social media with an image of metallic robotic hands making a heart shape. But building human-like, versatile hands that can manipulate different objects is extremely challenging, said Heni Ben Amor, a robotics professor at Arizona State University.
Initially, Optimus, an allusion to the powerful and benevolent leader of the Autobots in the Transformers media franchise, would perform boring or dangerous jobs, including moving parts around Tesla factories or attaching a bolt to a car with a wrench, according to Musk.
“There’s so much about what people can do dexterously that’s very, very hard for robots. And that’s not going to change whether the robot is a robot arm or whether it’s in the shape of a humanoid,” Jonathan Hurst, chief technology officer at Agility Robotics, a humanoid robot firm, told Reuters.
Musk has said that in the future robots could be used in homes, making dinners, mowing the lawn and caring for the elderly, and even becoming a “buddy” for humans or a sex partner.
He is due at Friday’s event to give updates on Tesla’s much-delayed plan to launch self-driving cars, and on its high-speed computer, Dojo, which was unveiled last year and the company has said is integral to its development of self-driving technology.
Musk has said he expects Tesla will achieve full self-driving this year and mass produce a robotaxi with no steering wheel or pedal by 2024.
At an “Autonomy” event in 2019, Musk promised 1 million robotaxis by 2020 but has yet to deliver such a car. 


NASA spaceship fast approaching target in key test to redirect asteroids

NASA spaceship fast approaching target in key test to redirect asteroids
Updated 24 September 2022

NASA spaceship fast approaching target in key test to redirect asteroids

NASA spaceship fast approaching target in key test to redirect asteroids
  • Spaceship programmed to strike asteroid moonlet Dimorphos on Sept. 26 at roughly 23,000 kph
  • Dimorphos not a threat to Earth but the experiment is in preparation for an actual need 

WASHINGTON: Bet the dinosaurs wish they’d thought of this.
NASA on Monday will attempt a feat humanity has never before accomplished: deliberately smacking a spacecraft into an asteroid to slightly deflect its orbit, in a key test of our ability to stop cosmic objects from devastating life on Earth.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spaceship launched from California last November and is fast approaching its target, which it will strike at roughly 14,000 miles per hour (23,000 kph).
To be sure, neither the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, nor the big brother it orbits, called Didymos, pose any threat as the pair loop the Sun, passing some seven million miles from Earth at nearest approach.
But the experiment is one NASA has deemed important to carry out before an actual need is discovered.
“This is an exciting time, not only for the agency, but in space history and in the history of humankind quite frankly,” Lindley Johnson, a planetary defense officer for NASA told reporters in a briefing Thursday.
If all goes to plan, impact between the car-sized spacecraft, and the 530-foot (160 meters, or two Statues of Liberty) asteroid should take place at 7:14pm Eastern Time (2314 GMT), and can be followed on a NASA livestream.
By striking Dimorphos head on, NASA hopes to push it into a smaller orbit, shaving ten minutes off the time it takes to encircle Didymos, which is currently 11 hours and 55 minutes — a change that will be detected by ground telescopes in the days that follow.
The proof-of-concept experiment will make a reality what has before only been attempted in science fiction — notably films such as “Armageddon” and “Don’t Look Up.”

As the craft propels itself through space, flying autonomously for the mission’s final phase like a self-guided missile, its main camera system, called DRACO, will start to beam down the very first pictures of Dimorphos.
“It’s going to start off as a little point of light and then eventually it’s going to zoom and fill the whole entire field of view,” said Nancy Chabot of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which hosts mission control in a recent briefing.
“These images will continue until they don’t,” added the planetary scientist.
Minutes later, a toaster-sized satellite called LICIACube, which separated from DART a couple of weeks earlier, will make a close pass of the site to capture images of the collision and the ejecta — the pulverized rock thrown off by impact.
LICIACube’s picture will be sent back in the weeks and months that follow.
Also watching the event: an array of telescopes, both on Earth and in space — including the recently operational James Webb — which might be able to see a brightening cloud of dust.
Finally, a full picture of what the system looks like will be revealed when a European Space Agency mission four years down the line called Hera arrives to survey Dimorphos’s surface and measure its mass, which scientists can only guess at currently.

Very few of the billions of asteroids and comets in our solar system are considered potentially hazardous to our planet, and none in the next hundred or so years.
But “I guarantee to you that if you wait long enough, there will be an object,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s chief scientist.
We know that from the geological record — for example, the six-mile wide Chicxulub asteroid struck Earth 66 million years ago, plunging the world into a long winter that led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs along with 75 percent of species.
An asteroid the size of Dimorphos, by contrast, would only cause a regional impact, such as devastating a city, albeit with a greater force than any nuclear bomb in history.
Scientists are also hoping to glean valuable new information that can inform them about the nature of asteroids more generally.
How much momentum DART imparts on Dimorphos will depend on whether the asteroid is solid rock, or more like a “rubbish pile” of boulders bound by mutual gravity, a property that’s not yet known.
We also don’t know its actual shape: whether it’s more like a dog bone or a donut, but NASA engineers are confident DART’s SmartNav guidance system will hit its target.
If it misses, NASA will have another shot in two years’ time, with the spaceship containing just enough fuel for another pass.
But if it succeeds, then it’s a first step toward a world capable of defending itself from a future existential threat, said Chabot.