By Reuters | Updated: 1 December 2022
Elon Musk said on Wednesday a wireless device developed by his brain chip company Neuralink is expected to begin human clinical trials in six months.
The company is developing brain chip interfaces that it says could enable disabled patients to move and communicate again. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Austin, Texas, Neuralink has in recent years been conducting tests on animals as it seeks US regulatory approval to begin clinical trials in people.
“We want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device into a human but we’ve submitted I think most of our paperwork to the FDA and probably in about six months we should be able to upload Neuralink in a human,” Musk said during a much-awaited public update on the device.
The event was originally planned for October 31 but Musk postponed it just days before without giving a reason.
Neuralink’s last public presentation, more than a year ago, involved a monkey with a brain chip that played a computer game by thinking alone.
Musk is known for lofty goals such as colonizing Mars and saving humanity. His ambitions for Neuralink, which he launched in 2016, are of the same grand scale. He wants to develop a chip that would allow the brain to control complex electronic devices and eventually allow people with paralysis to regain motor function and treat brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s. He also talks about melding the brain with artificial intelligence.
Neuralink, however, is running behind schedule. Musk said in a 2019 presentation he was aiming to receive regulatory approval by the end of 2020. He then said at a conference in late 2021 that he hoped to start human trials this year.
Neuralink has repeatedly missed internal deadlines to gain US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to start human trials, current and former employees have said. Musk approached competitor Synchron earlier this year about a potential investment after he expressed frustration to Neuralink employees about their slow progress, Reuters reported in August.
Synchron crossed a major milestone in July by implanting its device in a patient in the United States for the first time. It received US regulatory clearance for human trials in 2021 and has completed studies in four people in Australia.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Astronomers Discover Milky Way Galaxy’s Most-Distant Stars
By Reuters | Updated: 13 January 2023
Astronomers have detected in the stellar halo that represents the Milky Way’s outer limits a group of stars more distant from Earth than any known within our own galaxy — almost halfway to a neighboring galaxy.
The researchers said these 208 stars inhabit the most remote reaches of the Milky Way’s halo, a spherical stellar cloud dominated by the mysterious invisible substance called dark matter that makes itself known only through its gravitational influence. The furthest of them is 1.08 million light years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).
These stars, spotted using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea mountain, are part of a category of stars called RR Lyrae that are relatively low mass and typically have low abundances of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. The most distant one appears to have a mass about 70 percent that of our sun. No other Milky Way stars have been confidently measured farther away than these.
The stars that populate the outskirts of the galactic halo can be viewed as stellar orphans, probably originating in smaller galaxies that later collided with the larger Milky Way.
“Our interpretation about the origin of these distant stars is that they are most likely born in the halos of dwarf galaxies and star clusters which were later merged – or more straightforwardly, cannibalised — by the Milky Way,” said Yuting Feng, an astronomy doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the study, presented this week at an American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.
“Their host galaxies have been gravitationally shredded and digested, but these stars are left at that large distance as debris of the merger event,” Feng added.
The Milky Way has grown over time through such calamities.
“The larger galaxy grows by eating smaller galaxies — by eating its own kind,” said study co-author Raja GuhaThakurta, UC Santa Cruz’s chair of astronomy and astrophysics.
Containing an inner and outer layer, the Milky Way’s halo is vastly larger than the galaxy’s main disk and central bulge that are teeming with stars. The galaxy, with a supermassive black hole at its center about 26,000 light years from Earth, contains perhaps 100 billion–400 billion stars including our sun, which resides in one of the four primary spiral arms that make up the Milky Way’s disk. The halo contains about 5 percent of the galaxy’s stars.
Dark matter, which dominates the halo, makes up most of the universe’s mass and is thought to be responsible for its basic structure, with its gravity influencing visible matter to come together and form stars and galaxies.
The halo’s remote outer edge is a poorly understood region of the galaxy. These newly identified stars are almost half the distance to the Milky Way’s neighboring Andromeda galaxy.
“We can see that the suburbs of the Andromeda halo and the Milky Way halo are really extended – and are almost ‘back-to-back,'” Feng said.
The search for life beyond the Earth focuses on rocky planets akin to Earth orbiting in what is called the “habitable zone” around stars. More than 5,000 planets beyond our solar system, called exoplanets, already have been discovered.
“We don’t know for sure, but each of these outer halo stars should be about as likely to have planets orbiting them as the sun and other sun-like stars in the Milky Way,” GuhaThakurta said.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Microsoft, ISRO Partner to Support Space Technology Startups in India: All Details
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 5 January 2023
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Microsoft on Thursday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to fuel the growth of space technology start-ups in India. The MoU seeks to empower space tech start-ups across the country with technology tools and platforms, go-to-market support and mentoring to help them scale and become enterprise-ready.
This collaboration has come at a time when Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella is in the city to take part in Microsoft Future Ready Technology Summit . The collaboration seeks to strengthen ISRO’s vision of harnessing the market potential of the most promising space tech innovators and entrepreneurs in India, Microsoft said in a release.
Through this tie-up, the space tech start-ups identified by ISRO will be onboarded onto the ‘Microsoft for Start-ups Founders Hub platform’, that supports start-ups at every stage of their journey from idea to unicorn, it said.
Noting that through the hub, space-tech start-up founders in India will have free access to the tech tools and resources they need to build and run their business, the release further said, this includes technical support to build and scale on Azure, best-in-class developer and productivity tools including GitHub Enterprise, Visual Studio Enterprise and Microsoft 365 and access to smart analytics with Power BI and Dynamics 365.
ISRO Chairman S Somanath said the space agency’s collaboration with Microsoft will greatly benefit space tech start-ups in their analysis and processing of vast amounts of satellite data for various applications, using cutting-edge methods like AI, Machine Learning and Deep Learning.
“The Microsoft for Start-ups Founders Hub is a useful platform for bringing together start-ups and providers of technology solutions to support the national space technology ecosystem. We are pleased to work together to assist and support entrepreneurs, to in-turn benefit the Indian economy as a whole,” he said.
Beyond access to technology, Microsoft will provide mentoring support to space tech entrepreneurs in areas ranging from space engineering to cloud technologies, product and design, fund-raising and sales and marketing.
In addition, founders will have access to Microsoft Learn for tailored start-up-centric training content and programmes to help them build connections with the industry and potential customers.
“Space tech start-ups in India are playing a significant role in advancing the country’s space capabilities with the power of technology. We are pleased to collaborate with ISRO to accelerate this transformation of what’s possible in space. Through our technology tools, platforms and mentorship opportunities, we are deeply committed to empowering space tech start-ups in the country to drive cutting-edge innovation and accelerate scientific discovery,” Microsoft India President Anant Maheshwari said.
Microsoft and ISRO will also jointly organise knowledge-sharing and thought leadership sessions for the start-ups with space industry experts. In addition, the collaboration will support founders with go-to-market strategies, technical support and opportunities to sell their solutions via Microsoft channels and marketplace, the release said.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX Raising $750 Million in Fresh Round of Funding at $137 Billion Valuation: Report
By Reuters | Updated: 3 January 2023 12:51 IST
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is raising $750 million (roughly Rs. 6,200 crore) in a new round of funding that values the rocket and satellite company at $137 billion (roughly Rs. 11,33,800 crore) from investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, CNBC reported late Monday.
Reuters had reported in November that SpaceX was in talks about an offering of mostly secondary shares that could value the company at up to $150 billion (roughly Rs. 12,41,800 crore), representing a 20 percent increase in valuation.
SpaceX, which counts Alphabet and Fidelity Investments among its investors, had raised about $1.68 billion (roughly Rs. 13,900 crore) through equity financing in June.
Spokespersons for SpaceX and Horowitz did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Horowitz was also a co-investor in Musk’s Twitter buyout deal worth $44 billion (roughly Rs.3,64,260).
SpaceX has launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Starlink, SpaceX’s growing network of thousands of internet satellites, is looking at generating major revenue with commercialised applications such as the rollout of high-speed internet on commercial airlines.
SpaceX competes with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s space venture Blue Origin and billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
Back in November, it was reported that SpaceX bought an advertising package on Twitter for its satellite internet service Starlink. Elon Musk, who owns the rocket company and the social media platform that is seeing an exodus of advertisers, said the ad package was purchased to test effectiveness of Twitter advertising in Australia and Spain.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
NASA Formally Retires Mars InSight Lander 4 Years After Its Arrival on Red Planet
By Reuters | Updated: 23 December 2022
NASA has formally retired its Mars InSight lander, the first robotic probe specially designed to study the deep interior of a distant world, four years after it arrived on the surface of the red planet, the US space agency announced on Wednesday.
Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles determined the mission was over when two consecutive attempts to re-establish radio contact with the lander failed, a sign that InSight’s solar-powered batteries had run out of energy.
NASA predicted in late October that the spacecraft would reach the end of its operational life in a matter of weeks due to increasingly heavy accumulations of dust on its solar panels, depleting the ability of its batteries to recharge.
JPL engineers will continue to listen for a signal from the lander, just in case, but hearing from InSight again is unlikely, NASA said. The three-legged stationary probe last communicated with Earth on December 15.
InSight landed on Mars in late November 2018 with instruments designed to detect planetary seismic rumblings never before measured anywhere but Earth, and its original two-year mission was later extended to four.
From its perch in a vast and relatively flat plain called Elysium Planitia just north of the planet’s equator, the lander has helped scientists gain new understanding of Mars’ internal structure.
Researchers said InSight’s data revealed the thickness of the planet’s outer crust, the size and density of its inner core and the structure of the mantle that lies in between.
One of InSight’s chief accomplishments was establishing that the red planet is, indeed, seismically active, recording more than 1,300 marsquakes. It also measured seismic waves generated by meteorite impacts.
“The seismic data alone from this discovery program mission offers tremendous insights not just into Mars but other rocky bodies, including Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s science mission directorate.
One such impact a year ago was found to have gouged boulder-sized chunks of water ice surprisingly close to Mars’ equator.
Even as InSight retires, a more recent robotic visitor to the red planet, NASA’s science rover Perseverance, continues to prepare a collection of Martian mineral samples for future analysis on Earth.
This week, Perseverance deposited the first of 10 sample tubes it was directed to leave at a surface collection site on Mars as a backup cache, in case the primary supply stored in the rover’s belly cannot for some reason be transferred as planned to a retrieval spacecraft in the future, NASA said.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Facial Recognition Technology Used by Police in Hyderabad to Enforce COVID-19 Policy
By Associated Press | Updated: 20 December 2022
After a pair of Islamist bombings rocked the south-central Indian city of Hyderabad in 2013, officials rushed to install 5,000 CCTV cameras to bolster security. Now there are nearly 700,000 in and around the metropolis.
The most striking symbol of the city’s rise as a surveillance hotspot is the gleaming new Command and Control Center in the posh Banjara Hills neighbourhood. The 20-story tower replaces a campus where swarms of officers already had access to 24-hour, real-time CCTV and cell phone tower data that geolocates reported crimes. The technology triggers any available camera in the area, pops up a mugshot database of criminals and can pair images with facial recognition software to scan CCTV footage for known criminals in the vicinity.
The Associated Press was given rare access to the operations earlier this year as part of an investigation into the proliferation of artificial intelligence tools used by law enforcement around the world.
Police Commissioner C V Anand said the new command centre, inaugurated in August, encourages using technologies across government departments, not just police. It cost $75 million (roughly Rs. 620 crore), according to Mahender Reddy, director general of the Telangana State Police.
Facial recognition and artificial intelligence have exploded in India in recent years, becoming key law enforcement tools for monitoring big gatherings.
Police aren’t just using technology to solve murders or catch armed robbers. Hyderabad was among the first local police forces in India to use a mobile application to dole out traffic fines and take pictures of people flaunting mask mandates. Officers also can use facial recognition software to scan pictures against a criminal database. Police officers have access to an app, called TSCOP, on their smartphones and tablets that includes facial recognition scanning capabilities. The app also connects almost all police officers in the city to a host of government and emergency services.
Anand said photos of traffic violators and mask-mandate offenders are kept only long enough to be sure they aren’t needed in court and are then expunged. He expressed surprise that any law-abiding citizen would object.
“If we need to control crime, we need to have surveillance,” he said.
But questions linger over the accuracy and a lawsuit has been filed challenging its legality. In January, a Hyderabad official scanned a female reporter’s face to show how the facial recognition app worked. Within seconds, it returned five potential matches to criminals in the statewide database. Three were men.
Hyderabad has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on patrol vehicles, CCTV cameras, facial recognition and geo-tracking applications and several hundred facial recognition cameras, among other technologies, Anand said. The investment has helped the state attract more private and foreign investment, he said, including Apple’s development centre, inaugurated in 2016; and a major Microsoft data centre announced in March.
“When these companies decide to invest in a city, they first look at the law-and-order situation,” Anand said.
He credited technology for a rapid decrease in crime. Mugging for jewellery, for example, plunged from 1,033 incidents per year to less than 50 a year after cameras and other technologies were deployed, he said.
Hyderabad’s trajectory is in line with the nation’s. The country’s National Crime Records Bureau is seeking to build what could be among the world’s largest facial recognition systems.
Building steadily on previous government efforts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have seized on the rise in surveillance technology since coming to power in 2014. His flagship Digital India campaign aims to overhaul the country’s digital infrastructure to govern using information technology.
The government has promoted smart policing through drones, AI-enabled CCTV cameras and facial recognition. It’s a blueprint that has garnered support across the political spectrum and seeped into states across India, said Apar Gupta, executive director of the New Delhi-based Internet Freedom Foundation.
“There is a lot of social and civic support for it too – people don’t always fully understand,” Gupta said. “They see technology and think this is the answer.”
NASA Completes Artemis I Moon Mission as Orion Capsule Returns to Earth Ahead of 2025 Lunar Landing
By Associated Press | Updated: 12 December 2022
NASA’s Orion capsule made a blisteringly fast return from the Moon Sunday, parachuting into the Pacific off Mexico to conclude a test flight that should clear the way for astronauts on the next lunar flyby.
The incoming capsule hit the atmosphere at Mach 32, or 32 times the speed of sound, and endured reentry temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) before splashing down west of Baja California near Guadalupe Island. A Navy ship quickly moved in to recover the spacecraft and its silent occupants — three test dummies rigged with vibration sensors and radiation monitors.
NASA hailed the descent and splashdown as close to perfect, as congratulations poured in from Washington..
“I’m overwhelmed,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said from Mission Control in Houston. “This is an extraordinary day… It’s historic because we are now going back into space — deep space — with a new generation.”
The space agency needed a successful splashdown to stay on track for the next Orion flight around the Moon, targeted for 2024 with four astronauts who will be revealed early next year. That would be followed by a two-person lunar landing as early as 2025 and, ultimately, a sustainable Moon base. The long-term plan would be to launch a Mars expedition by the late 2030s.
Astronauts last landed on the Moon 50 years ago. After touching down on December 11, 1972, Apollo 17′s Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent three days exploring the valley of Taurus-Littrow, the longest stay of the Apollo era. They were the last of the 12 Moonwalkers.
Orion was the first capsule to visit the Moon since then, launching on NASA’s new mega Moon rocket from Kennedy Space Center on November 16. It was the first flight of NASA’s new Artemis Moon program, named after Apollo’s mythological twin sister.
“From Tranquility Base to Taurus-Littrow to the tranquil waters of the Pacific, the latest chapter of NASA’s journey to the Moon comes to a close. Orion back on Earth,” announced Mission Control commentator Rob Navias.
While no one was on the $4 billion test flight, NASA managers were thrilled to pull off the dress rehearsal, especially after so many years of flight delays and busted budgets. Fuel leaks and hurricanes conspired for additional postponements in late summer and fall.
In an Apollo throwback, NASA held a splashdown party at Houston’s Johnson Space Center on Sunday, with employees and their families gathering to watch the broadcast of Orion’s homecoming. Next door, the visitor center threw a bash for the public.
Getting Orion back intact after the 25-day flight was NASA’s top objective. With a return speed of 25,000 mph (40,000 kph) — considerably faster than coming in from low-Earth orbit — the capsule used a new, advanced heat shield never tested before in spaceflight. To reduce the gravity or G loads, it dipped into the atmosphere and briefly skipped out, also helping to pinpoint the splashdown area.
All that unfolded in spectacular fashion, officials noted, allowing for Orion’s safe return.
“I don’t think any one of us could have imagined a mission this successful,” said mission manager Mike Sarafin.
Further inspections will be conducted once Orion is back at Kennedy by month’s end. If the capsule checks find nothing amiss, NASA will announce the first lunar crew amid considerable hoopla in early 2023, picking from among the 42 active U.S. astronauts stationed at Houston’s Johnson Space Center.
“People are anxious, we know that,” Vanessa Wyche, Johnson’s director, told reporters. Added Nelson: “The American people, just like (with) the original seven astronauts in the Mercury days, are going to want to know about these astronauts.”
The capsule splashed down more than 300 miles (482 kilometers) south of the original target zone. Forecasts calling for choppy seas and high wind off the Southern California coast prompted NASA to switch the location.
Orion logged 1.4 million miles (2.25 million kilometers) as it zoomed to the Moon and then entered a wide, swooping orbit for nearly a week before heading home.
It came within 80 miles (130 kilometers) of the Moon twice. At its farthest, the capsule was more than 268,000 miles (430,000 kilometers) from Earth.
Orion beamed back stunning photos of not only the gray, pitted Moon, but also the home planet. As a parting shot, the capsule revealed a crescent Earth — Earthrise — that left the mission team speechless.
Nottingham Trent University astronomer Daniel Brown said the flight’s many accomplishments illustrate NASA’s capability to put astronauts on the next Artemis Moonshot.
“This was the nail-biting end of an amazing and important journey for NASA’s Orion spacecraft,” Brown said in a statement from England.
The Moon has never been hotter. Just hours earlier Sunday, a spacecraft rocketed toward the Moon from Cape Canaveral. The lunar lander belongs to ispace, a Tokyo company intent on developing an economy up there. Two U.S. companies, meanwhile, have lunar landers launching early next year.
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