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Robot Built for Japan’s Ageing Workforce Finds Coronavirus Role

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Mira Robotics developed its “Ugo” robot to reinforce greying Japan’s shrinking workforce, but as the coronavirus threat persists, the Japanese startup is offering its machine as a tool in the fight against the outbreak, the company’s CEO said.

“The coronavirus has created a need for robots because they can reduce direct contact between people,” Ken Matsui told Reuters at his company’s workshop in Kawasaki, near Tokyo. “We’ve had inquiries from overseas, including from Singapore and France.”

The latest feature of the remote-controlled or so-called avatar robot is a hand attachment that uses ultra-violet light to kill viruses on door handles.

An unprecedented population decline that is shrinking Japan’s workforce by more than half a million people a year as well as a reluctance to bring in foreign labour to fill vacant positions has spurred robot development in Japan.

The emergence of coronavirus-related demand could further that work.

Mira Robotics’ Ugo is a pair of height-adjustable robotic arms mounted on wheels, operated remotely through a wireless connection with a laptop and game controller. A range-measuring laser mounted on the base helps it navigate, while a panel at the top displays eyes to give it a friendlier appearance.

It takes around 30 minutes to learn how to use the robot, with each operator able to control as many as four machines, said Matsui. Ugo which costs around $1,000 (roughly Rs 75,500) a month to rent, can be deployed as a security guard, carry out equipment inspections and clean toilets and other areas in office buildings, he added.

Matsui’s two-year old startup so far has only one ugo operating at an office building in Tokyo.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Run Out of Milk? Robots on Call for Singapore Home Deliveries of Groceries

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By Reuters | Updated: 12 April 2021 

Hoping to capitalise on a surge in demand for home deliveries, a Singapore technology company has deployed a pair of robots to bring residents their groceries in one part of the city state.

Developed by OTSAW Digital and both named “Camello”, the robots’ services have been offered to 700 households in a one-year trial.

Users can book delivery slots for their milk and eggs, and an app notifies them when the robot is about to reach a pick-up point – usually the lobby of an apartment building.

The robots, which are equipped with 3D sensors, a camera and two compartments each able to carry up to 20kg (44 lb) of food or parcels ordered online, make four or five deliveries per day on weekdays and are on call for half day on Saturday.

They use ultraviolet light to disinfect themselves after every trip, said OTSAW Digital’s chief executive, Ling Ting Ming.

“Especially during this pandemic period, everybody is looking at contactless, humanless,” he told Reuters.

For the time being, staff accompany the robots on their rounds to ensure no problems arise.

Tashfique Haider, a 25-year-old student who has tried out the service, said it could be particularly helpful for the elderly so they wouldn’t have to carry goods home.

But a passerby worried the technology might be too much trouble for some.

“The younger customers will like it. I don’t think they (the older generation) will, because these are gadgets that younger people like,” said 36-year-old housewife Xue Ya Xin.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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NASA Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Ready for First Flight

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 10 April 2021

NASA helicopter placed on Mars could make its first flight over the Red Planet within two days after a successful initial test of its rotors, the US space agency said Friday. The current plan for the first-ever attempt at powered, controlled flight on another planet is for the four-pound (1.8kg) helicopter, dubbed the Ingenuity, to take off from Mars’ Jezero Crater on Sunday at 10:54pm US Eastern Time (8:24 am IST) and hover 10 feet (3 metres) above the surface for a half-minute, NASA said.

“The helicopter is good, it’s looking healthy,” said Tim Canham, Ingenuity operations lead, in a press conference. “Last night, we did our 50 RPM spin, where we spun the blades very slowly and carefully,” he said.

The plan for Sunday is to have it rise, flying only vertically, hover, and rotate for 30 seconds to take a picture of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars on February 18 with the helicopter attached to its underside.

Then the Ingenuity will be lowered back down onto the surface.

The flight will be autonomous, pre-programmed into the aircraft because of the 15 minutes it takes for signals to travel from Earth to Mars, and also due to the demanding environment of the distant planet.

“Mars is hard not only when you land, but when you try to take off from it and fly around, too,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager.

She explained that the planet has significantly less gravity than Earth, but less than one percent the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere at the surface.

The makes it necessary for the Ingenuity to be able to spin its rotor blades much faster than a helicopter on Earth in order to fly.

“Put those things together, and you have a vehicle that demands every input be right,” said Aung.

NASA captured the test of the rotors in a short video shot from the rover just a few meters away, showing what looks like a small drone.

Aung said a second test would be conducted today, with the rotors running at high speed.

“The only uncertainty remains the actual environment of Mars,” she said, mentioning possible winds.

NASA calls the unprecedented helicopter operation highly risky but says it could reap invaluable data about the conditions on Mars.

NASA plans up to five flights, each successively more difficult, in a period of a month.

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NASA’s Mars Ingenuity Helicopter Drops on Surface of Red Planet From Perseverance Rover

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 April 2021

NASA’s Ingenuity mini-helicopter has been dropped on the surface of Mars in preparation for its first flight, the US space agency said.

The ultra-light aircraft had been fixed to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18.

“#MarsHelicopter touchdown confirmed!” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted Saturday.

“Its 293 million mile (471 million kilometre) journey aboard @NASAPersevere ended with the final drop of 4 inches (10 centimetre) from the rover’s belly to the surface of Mars today. Next milestone? Survive the night.”

A photograph accompanying the tweet showed Perseverance had driven clear of the helicopter and its “airfield” after dropping to the surface.

Ingenuity had been feeding off the Perseverance’s power system but will now have to use its own battery to run a vital heater to protect its unshielded electrical components from freezing and cracking during the bitter Martian night.

“This heater keeps the interior at about 45 degrees F (7 degrees Celsius) through the bitter cold of the Martian night, where temperatures can drop to as low as -130F (-90 degrees Celsius),” Bob Balaram, Mars Helicopter Project chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote in an update on Friday.

“That comfortably protects key components such as the battery and some of the sensitive electronics from harm at very cold temperatures.”

Over the next couple of days, the Ingenuity team will check that the helicopter’s solar panels are working properly and recharging its battery before testing its motors and sensors ahead of its first flight, Balaram said.

Ingenuity is expected to make its first flight attempt no earlier than April 11, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted.

Ingenuity will be attempting to fly in an atmosphere that is one percent the density of Earth’s, which makes achieving lift harder – but will be assisted by gravity that is one-third of our planet’s.

The first flight will involve climbing at a rate of about three feet (one metre) per second to a height of 10 feet (three metres), hovering there for 30 seconds, then descending back to the surface.

Ingenuity will be taking high-resolution photography as it flies.

Up to five flights of gradual difficulty are planned over the month.

The four-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft cost NASA around $85 million (roughly Rs. 620 crore) to develop and is considered a proof of concept that could revolutionise space exploration.

Future aircraft could cover ground much quicker than rovers, and explore more rugged terrain.

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SpaceX First All-Civilian Spaceflight Crew Finalised

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By Reuters | Updated: 31 March 2021

A college science professor and an aerospace data analyst were named on Tuesday to round out a four-member crew for a SpaceX launch into orbit planned later this year billed as the first all-civilian spaceflight in history.

The two latest citizen astronauts were introduced at a news briefing livestreamed from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida by SpaceX human spaceflight chief Benji Reed and billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, who conceived the mission in part as a charity drive.

Isaacman, founder and CEO of e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments, is forking over an unspecified but presumably exorbitant sum to fellow billionaire and SpaceX owner Elon Musk to fly himself and three others into orbit aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

The flight, scheduled for no earlier than September 15, is expected to last three to four days from launch to splashdown.

“When this mission is complete, people are going to look at it and say this was the first time that everyday people could go to space,” Isaacman, 38, told reporters.

Dubbed Inspiration4, the mission is designed primarily to raise awareness and support for one of Isaacman’s favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer center. He has pledged $100 million (roughly Rs. 735 crore) personally to the institute.

Assuming the role of mission “commander,” Isaacman in February designated St. Jude physician’s assistant Haley Arceneaux, 29, a bone cancer survivor and onetime patient at the Tennessee-based hospital, as his first crewmate.

Announced on Tuesday, Chris Sembroski, 41, a Seattle-area aerospace industry employee and US Air Force veteran, was selected through a sweepstakes that drew 72,000 applicants and has raised $113 million (roughly Rs. 830 crore) in St. Jude donations.

Sian Proctor, 51, a geoscience professor at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona, and entrepreneur who was once a NASA astronaut candidate, was chosen separately through an online business contest run by Shift4 Payments.

All four will undergo extensive training modeled after the curriculum NASA astronauts use to prepare for SpaceX missions.

The Inspiration4 mission may mark a new era in spaceflight, but it is not the only all-civilian crewed rocket launch in the works.

British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic enterprise is developing a spaceplane to carry paying customers on suborbital excursions.

SpaceX plans a separate launch, possibly next year, of a retired NASA astronaut, a former Israeli fighter pilot and two other people in conjunction with Houston-based private spaceflight company Axiom Space.

Musk also intends to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon in 2023. Fees charged for those flights will help finance the development of Musk’s new, heavy-lift Starship rocket for missions to the moon and Mars.

Inspiration4 is about more than a billionaire’s joyride through space, organizers say, promising the crew will conduct a number of as-yet undetermined science experiments during its brief voyage.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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SpaceX Starship SN11 Rocket Fails to Land Safely After Test Launch

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By Reuters | Updated: 31 March 2021

An uncrewed SpaceX Starship prototype rocket failed to land safely on Tuesday after a test launch from Boca Chica, Texas, and engineers were investigating, SpaceX said.

“We do appear to have lost all the data from the vehicle,” SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said in a webcast video of the rocket’s flight test. “We’re going to have to find out from the team what happened.”

The webcast view was obscured by fog, making it difficult to see the vehicle’s landing. Debris from the spacecraft was found scattered five miles (eight km) away from its landing site.

—vid—

The Starship was one in a series of prototypes for the heavy-lift rocket being developed by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s private space company to carry humans and 100 tons of cargo on future missions to the Moon and Mars.

The complete Starship rocket, which will stand 394 feet (120 metres) tall with its super-heavy first-stage booster included, is SpaceX’s next-generation fully reusable launch vehicle – the center of Musk’s ambitions to make human space travel more affordable and routine.

A first orbital Starship flight is planned for year’s end. Musk, who also heads the electric carmaker Tesla, has said he intends to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon in the Starship in 2023.

Starships SN8 and SN9 previously exploded upon landing during their test runs. SN10 achieved an upright landing earlier this month, but then went up in flames about eight minutes after touchdown.

“Looks like engine 2 had issues on ascent & didn’t reach operating chamber pressure during landing burn, but, in theory, it wasn’t needed,” Musk tweeted on Tuesday, after SN11’s test flight. “Something significant happened shortly after landing burn start. Should know what it was once we can examine the bits later today.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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NASA Sued by US Company in Space Habitat Test Data Dispute

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By Associated Press | Updated: 30 March 2021

A space technology company in southern Nevada, US, is suing NASA, claiming the space agency owes it more than $1 million (roughly Rs. 7.3 crores) for work done during months of space station air performance tests last year. A NASA public affairs official did not immediately respond Monday to a message about the Bigelow Aerospace lawsuit filed Thursday in US District Court in Las Vegas.

In it, attorneys for Bigelow say the company completed promised work under a NASA contract, but the agency has withheld payment unless the company provides “extensive, recorded raw test data” collected during tests from December 2019 through August 2020.

The lawsuit acknowledges “issues” including a power surge, computer failures, and air conditioning malfunction affected data acquisition at times during leak tests of an expandable Bigelow B330 module.

The B330 is designed to provide a deep-space habitat for humans and cargo.

The legal filing said the issues did not prevent Bigelow Aerospace from completing tests showing that B330 pressure was maintained successfully.

Bigelow has a plant in North Las Vegas with a scenic view of the distant Las Vegas Strip.
It maintained it completed the contract as written and that NASA is entitled to the rest of the company data once it pays the $1 million (roughly Rs. 7.3 crores).

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