Showing posts with label Commerce Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Commerce Technology. Show all posts

October 14, 2017

U.S.House Rushes Vote For Puerto Rico's Help and Pvte Companies Help More

In the midst of one of its worst humanitarian crisis, the island of Puerto Rico was at the mercy of American aid funding until Sonnen and Tesla came in to help. On September 20, Maria, a Category 5 hurricane, wreaked havoc on a number of islands in the Caribbean, pummeling Puerto Rico so hard the island's entire energy grid was nearly destroyed. Over 3.4 million people were left without power. Hospitals are struggling to keep medications refrigerated despite not having power and water contamination has led to an outbreak of leptospirosis — a potentially fatal disease spread by animal urine.
 (Click on center image to magnify map) 
While many lives were at stake, the citizens of Puerto Rico had to wait for the US government to approve additional aid funding, which the US House of Representatives finally did on Thursday with a $36.5 billion (€30.9 billion) disaster aid package. The government's slow response to the island's crisis has differed vastly from the response to similar disasters in Texas and Florida, two other areas heavily affected during this hurricane season. 
In 2005, four days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans a $10.5 billion relief package was approved, and just weeks ago the US House of Representatives passed a $7.9-billion relief package for Texas ten days after Hurricane Harvey.
In contrast, it has taken more than two weeks for Congress to approve a relief package for Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, 90 percent of the island is without power and only 40 percent of the island has access to running water.
President Trump drew sharp criticism for a slow initial response and comments he made about the Puerto Rican budget. After praising the administration's response he was quick to add "I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack."
As American citizens by law, Puerto Ricans have every right to expect full federal support in disaster recovery. Puerto Rico has a unique status in national politics. As a "non-incorporated territory" of the United States, Puerto Rico is autonomous but not sovereign. While Puerto Ricans cannot vote in presidential elections they remain heavily affected by who is in office. 
With a poverty rate of around 45 percent, Puerto Rico has struggled since the mid-2000s. A combination of $74 billion in public debt, the continued mass exodus of Puerto Ricans fleeing to the mainland and severely outdated infrastructure had the territory in a fragile state even before Hurricane Maria.
Harry Franqui-Rivera, a researcher at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, notes that tension between Puerto Rico and the US is not new but clearly exacerbated by the current situation. "You have a combination of political issues," said Franqui-Rivera, "a president who is incompetent and uninterested in the day-to-day intricacies of government, and the logistical nightmare of providing relief to an island with 3.4 million US citizens which have gone through its worst catastrophe in recorded history."

 Sonnen is currently identifying locations for five micro-grids with plans to have 15 running by mid-December (click image to magnify)
Sonnen and Tesla to the rescue.
Luckily, the private sector has picked up where the American government dropped the ball. Sonnen, a German-based manufacturer of energy storage systems, stepped in a week after the hurricane with the resources to construct micro-grids that can operate without an initial grid connection. These grids can be installed relatively quickly and can help deliver electricity to emergency relief centers. 
Tesla is ramping up battery production in its own effort to build micro-grids, and in the meantime is sending hundreds of its residential batteries called Powerwalls, which store power from solar panels. When asked on Twitter if Tesla could help, Elon Musk responded: "The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit so it can be done for Puerto Rico too." This is an opportunity for both companies to improve their public image while inadvertently advertising their expertise in energy security. 
Ricardo Ramos, the chief executive of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said the main goal is to restore energy to hospitals. As he told the New York Times "I would love to have all the hospitals energized, but it's impossible to do that," he said. "There are hospitals in the mountainside, there are hospitals in the southeast, where the infrastructure is completely destroyed." While responding to the humanitarian crisis, companies like Sonnen and Tesla are also showcasing the flexibility and durability of their technology.
When asked why they were offering to help, Sonnen's US Senior Vice President Blake Richetta said, "This reflects the passion of the German people to take on a global leadership role, no matter how far from Germany, in helping humanity and the planet and, unlike others, we can actually help right now, not just talk about it."
For now, Trump is all talk. 
DW Business

A new package of U.S. disaster assistance sailed through the House of Representatives on Thursday, despite President Donald Trump expressing impatience with having to devote federal resources to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico's recovery.
The Republican-controlled House voted 353-69 to approve $36.5-billion in emergency relief for Puerto Rico and other areas hit by recent disasters. Senate approval is expected in coming weeks.

Trump and his aides on Thursday suggested that there would be a limit to how much help Puerto Rico could expect from Washington to solve some of its longer-term problems, although Trump is expected to sign the latest emergency package.

The White House on Thursday evening issued a statement saying the Trump administration was "pleased" that the House had approved the relief funds and pledged to work with Congress going forward to provide resources to recover and rebuild.

Puerto Rico has been grappling with a bankruptcy crisis and owes $72-billion to creditors. Devastation from hurricanes Irma and Maria was exacerbated by a dilapidated infrastructure, including a power grid largely destroyed by the storms.

In a morning tweet, Trump warned that the United States "cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!"
FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees disaster response in the United States.

Presidential aides later on Thursday provided assurances that Washington will not abandon Puerto Rico, a Caribbean U.S. territory with a population of 3.4 million.
All 69 votes against the aid package came from Trump's fellow Republicans. Congress is expected to consider additional aid in the coming weeks but the debate could grow more contentious.

July 31, 2017

Rushing The After Death Process and Dissolving The Body of The Dead

Special Edition

Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center is a long bungalow, surrounded by meadows and groves of slender trees. 
Described as “prairie-style”, the building was designed by a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright. 
The alkaline hydrolysis machine is located in the basement. It was installed five years ago at a cost - together with the viewing rooms - of about $750,000 (£580,000). 
“We could have done it for less,” says Jason Bradshaw, who manages the centre. 
Jason Bradshaw
Jason Bradshaw
“We just felt being that we were the first in this area - and one of the first in the country - we needed to put in that larger investment. 
“Because we have tour groups that come through all the time, we have hospices, we have church groups. We have people who just want to see it, because it’s so new.” 
He leads me down to the basement and into a circular room with a tinkling waterfall.  
The ochre-coloured wall contains a floor-to-ceiling window looking on to another room, with wooden sliding doors on the other side of the glass. 
Jason disappears, switches on the lights in the next room, and pulls open the doors. 
And there is the alkaline hydrolysis machine - a rectangular steel box, 6ft high, 4ft wide, and 10ft deep. 
It has a huge circular door covering almost its entire width, that wouldn’t look out of place on a bank vault or submarine. 
(In fact, the same doors are used on submarines, although the manufacturer points out a crucial difference - submarine hatches are designed to open from the inside too.) 
The industrial appearance of the machine jars with the sombre intensity of the viewing room. 
I wonder what sort of person would choose to watch their relative or friend being placed into this machine, which is known as a “tissue digester”. 
I watch Jason and his colleague, David Haroldsen, wheel a corpse through the door. 
The body is not identified to me and is completely covered by a black woollen cloth, which Jason and David, wearing blue surgical gloves, delicately tuck into the edges of a steel tray. 
Then they open the big door, raise the tray to the level of the black cavity inside the machine, and slide it in. 
On the side of the machine is a computer screen with four buttons labelled “unlock”, “test”, “cycle” and “lock”. 
Jason closes the door, presses the “lock” button, and with a pneumatic hiss and a whirr, the door locks shut. 
Then he presses the “cycle” button. The machine beeps twice, there is another hiss and it begins to fill with water. 
Jason, who has a degree in Biology and Chemistry, explains that the machine weighs each body and calculates how much water and potassium hydroxide to add. 
He says it’s roughly 65lb per 600lb of water. 
The powerfully alkaline solution, with a pH of about 14, is heated to 152C (306F), but because the digester is pressurised it does not boil. 

Alkaline hydrolysis is the natural process your body goes through if you’re buried. Here we’ve created ideal conditions for it to happen much, much faster.” 

In a cemetery this may take decades, depending on the conditions and the method of burial. 
In the alkaline hydrolysis machine it takes 90 minutes, though the ensuing rinse cycle takes at least as long again. 
After three to four hours, the door unlocks and the funeral director sees wet bones scattered across the metal tray, together with any medical implants the dead person had in their body. 
Metal hip and knee joints come out in perfect condition. 
The manufacturers of the tissue digester have even proposed that, when more machines are in service, they could be collected and donated to the developing world. 
By the end, all tissue has dissolved into the solution, which has drained into a separate tank, hidden from view. 
“It resembles either a tea or an ale,” says Jason. 
“You can actually see through it - and is really made up of salts and sugars. It has a bit of a soapy smell, which is not off-putting, but it is distinct.” 
The room in which the machine stands has a smell similar to a dry cleaner’s. 
The pH level of the effluent is tested, and if necessary adjusted. Then the liquid is released down the drain. 
It is a sterile mix of amino acids and peptides, with no human DNA. 
Nevertheless, this disposal of dissolved tissue as a waste by-product, and its progress through the water treatment system, is the part of alkaline hydrolysis that troubles people the most. 
Bradshaw’s dry the bones - either slowly, in a special cabinet - or quickly, in a tray placed inside a domestic tumble drier. 
“It works the best,” says David, with a shrug. 
Then they are put through a machine called a cremulator, which pulverises them into a coarse powder.  
This is exactly the same machine that is used after a regular cremation, and as with a regular cremation, the word “ashes” is a misnomer. 
The difference is that the resulting powder is finer and whiter, closely resembling flour - and there is about 30% more of it. 
So far, the Bradshaw’s tissue digester has processed about 1,100 bodies, roughly one every day. 
It was manufactured in the UK by a company called Resomation Ltd, which plans to install an identical machine in Sandwell, near Birmingham in the British midlands, at the end of this year. 
Sometimes families want to help operate the tissue digester, Jason says. 

We do have families that want to assist in placing the tray in - or to push the ‘cycle’ button to start the process itself. 

“And some people would look at that and say, ‘Why would you ever want to be involved with that?’ Other people would say: ‘That was the last thing I could do for my mum or my dad.’ 
“I’ve been here when we’ve had three siblings, all standing next to the machine, and together they have all pressed the button to start it. 
“And I kind of think of it like, if we’re standing at that cemetery and everybody’s going to take that first scoop of earth and place it into the grave - it’s sort of that moment of letting go.” 

Death’s footprint

Around the world, 150,000 people die every day, and the number is rising as the world’s population increases. 
Today there are 7.5 billion of us on Earth, but by the end of the century it’s thought there will be more than 11 billion. 
In some countries, space for graves is running out. In the UK, it is estimated that half of cemeteries will be full in the next 20 years. 
In parts of London, the council no longer offers a burial service, and the city has started re-using grave space, lowering bodies further into the ground and placing new ones on top. 
The use of land for burial - and the constant upkeep of that land - has an environmental impact. Burial also typically calls for natural resources. 
Campaigners say that in the US vaults for coffins use up more than 1.6m tons of concrete and 14,000 tons of steel every year. 
As for cremation, it has been estimated that a typical cremation has a footprint equivalent to about 320kg of carbon dioxide. 
Unless special measures are taken, dangerous toxins are released too, in particular mercury from dental fillings. This mercury returns to earth in rain and accumulates in the aquatic food chain. 
How does alkaline hydrolysis compare, from an environmental point of view? 
According to Dutch researcher Elisabeth Keijzer, who has carried out two studies for the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Research (work commissioned by a funeral chain, Yarden), it’s much better. 
Her two reports published in 2011 and 2014 make for fascinating if macabre reading. 
She breaks down burial, cremation and alkaline hydrolysis into dozens of steps, which she assesses against 18 environmental impact yardsticks - such as ozone depletion, marine eco-toxicity and climate change. 
In 17 of these categories alkaline hydrolysis comes out best. Cremation is worst in the most categories (10), but burial is deemed to have the highest overall environmental impact. 
Alkaline hydrolysis is found to result in the emission of seven times less CO2 than cremation. 
To summarise the results, Keijzer and her fellow researchers calculated a “shadow price” for each method - the lowest amount of money it would theoretically cost to either compensate for the environmental impact, or avert it. 
For burial, the net cost was 63.66 euros per body. For cremation, it was 48.47 euros. For alkaline hydrolysis, just 2.59 euros. 
By William Kremer - BBC World Hacks

April 6, 2016

Autonomous Driving Taxis to be Tested in Singapore

Photo: nuTonomy
As car companies large and small make steady but incremental progress towards the commercialization of autonomy in consumer vehicles, the big question is when we're going to finally see (and be able to benefit from) full, level 4 autonomy. The kind of autonomy where you don't have to pay attention at all, and your car simply takes you where you want to go. This is what's going to completely change transportation, turning time spent getting from where you are to where you want to be from a frustrating experience into a productive (or relaxing) one.
So far, we can buy cars that come equipped with autonomous braking, autonomous parking, and autonomous highway driving, but fully urban autonomy has only been demonstrated by a few, and not in a form that's ready for consumers to take advantage of. An MIT spinout called nuTonomy(which closed a $3.6M seed funding round in January) is ready to change everything by deploying a fully autonomous urban taxi service in downtown Singapore. Using your phone, you'll call a self-driving car to you, tell it your destination, and then sit back and let the car drive you there. This would be a massive advance for both autonomous cars and urban mobility, and we talked with nuTonomy co-founder and CEO Karl Iagnemma about how they're going to make it happen.
nuTonomy was launched in 2013, but the company was based on robotics research at MIT that goes back almost a decade. Karl Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli, nuTonomy's CEO and CTO, both directed mobility-focused robotics labs from MIT, and most recently, Frazzoli was part of an MIT experiment in Singapore which set up autonomous golf carts to ferry tourists around a park for a week. Singapore and MIT have been collaborating on research projects like these since 2007, and autonomy is one of the results of this partnership: part of nuTonomy's 25-member core team comes directly from the team that developed those autonomous golf carts. 

Although nuTonomy is developing automotive technology, it's essentially a software company. Software, while not always the most visible part of an autonomous driving system, is at this point arguably the most important (and most difficult). As companies like Google have demonstrated, we have the (very expensive) hardware that's necessary for autonomous urban vehicles, but the software that tells those vehicles what to do based on the data their sensors collect is still a work in progress. This is nuTonomy's secret sauce: They believe that their autonomous driving software is better than anyone else’s. So much better, in fact, that they're planning to launch a pilot of a fully autonomous taxi service in Singapore later this year.
When we say "fully autonomous," we're talking about Level 4 autonomy, or full self-driving automation. A Level 4 autonomous vehicle "is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip;" all you have to do is provide a destination and (possibly) open and shut the doors. Google's autonomous cars, in contrast, are currently at Level 3, with limited self-driving automation, where the driver is expected to be available for occasional control. It's a big step from Level 3 to Level 4, but the benefits are enormous: in addition to leaving the driving completely to the car, it also means that the car is capable of driving itself with no human inside, which is what makes a robotic taxi service possible.
For nuTonomy, as with most autonomous car companies, the progress towards full autonomy is incremental. Part of nuTonomy's business involves providing autonomous features to automotive OEMs and tier 1 manufacturers. For Jaguar Land Rover, for example, nuTonomy is working on a variety of autonomous features that will end up in dealerships in the coming years. "There's a real opportunity for companies like ours to be providers of this technology," nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma told IEEE Spectrum. "The reason for that is the technology in this area isn't primarily automotive technology—it's really being drawn from the robotics community, technology that's been developed in robotics research labs over the last 20 years. We come to this problem as natives."
The problem with incremental progression towards autonomy in personal vehicles, Iagnemma explains, is fundamentally one of cost: "you're not trying to sell a feature to a customer, who might only be willing to pay a couple thousand dollars, which really constrains your sensor and computer cost." Removing consumer ownership from the equation with a commercial vehicle, like a robotic taxi, completely changes things, however: "Now you're trading against the cost of a human driver, so you have a lot fewer constraints on your cost," Iagnemma says. "And it's very likely that the technology will reach the market earlier in the form of this autonomous mobility-on-demand system."
A mobility-on-demand system only really makes commercial sense in urban areas, and urban areas are the most challenging for autonomous vehicles because of the density and complexity of information that needs to be understood in order to make safe and productive decisions. "This is one of the core problems of autonomous vehicles," Iagnemma tells us, "and a problem that a lot of groups in our community are really struggling with." 
“We saw an opportunity to build on a lot of the work that myself and Emilio [Frazzoli] were doing at MIT over the past 15 years, and apply it to this problem. The result is that we feel that we have an approach to the planning and decision making problem that is state of the art and robust. It's not hand-engineered if-then statements in code, it's a rigorous algorithmic process that's translating specifications on how the car should behave into verifiable software. And that's something that's really been lacking in the industry.”
IEEE Spectrum: How is nuTonomy's approach to planning and decision making for autonomous vehicles unique?
Karl Iagnemma: What nuTonomy is focusing on as a company is this decision making problem: how will cars be smart enough to navigate in urban environments? And it's not sufficient to just be safe: being safe is the necessary condition. But for people who want to use the technology, you not only have to be safe, but you have to drive in some sense the way a human drives.
Sometimes, for example, human drivers actually break the rules of the road. They do it in a principled and safe way, but it's something you do almost every time you get behind the wheel of a car. So one of the really unique and differentiating things that we're doing is building into our decision-making engine the ability for cars to actually violate the rules of the road when it's necessary to do so, it in a safe and reliable manner. 
How do you teach your software to make decisions like these?
We use a fundamentally new approach to the problem called formal logic. Formal logic is a set of tools that can be used in applications where you have safety critical semi-autonomous or automated systems that have to have verifiable software and respond to very complex scenarios. 
Basically, we provide the car with a list of rules, like the rules of the road, and then also a list of preferences, like instructions about how humans drive. We rank-order these rules and preferences: there are rules you can't violate, like colliding with something, and there are things that you'd ideally like to do, if possible. And then we use algorithmic processes to translate these rules into logical structures that are verifiable, meaning that we're sure that the structures that come out of these rules exactly represent and adhere to the rules that we define.
This verifiability is a huge benefit, because when you take an alternative approach, which is to just manually hand-engineer a ruleset, it's very difficult to convince yourself that that ruleset exactly represents the rules you'd ideally like the car to follow, especially when the ruleset is large and the situations are complex.
All humans drive differently, and some humans are comfortable with decisions that would make other drivers uncomfortable. How will you handle this variability in your software?
In my opinion, there's something of a fallacy right now in the community where we say, "the car should drive like a human." What we gloss over is that humans tend to drive in different ways, but in essence, what we mean is that an autonomous car should drive like an average, reasonable, confident, safe driver.
When these cars actually get deployed is, I think there's going to be some segment of the population that's just not going to be comfortable with autonomous vehicles. They're not going to like the way the car drives because it's going to drive differently than how they would drive, and that may create some anxiety or mistrust of the automation. I think what we're going to evolve to, as a community, is the ability to customize the performance of the car. The car will remain safe, of course, it'll just drive more how you might personally drive. But we're not there yet.
At some point, autonomous vehicles will have to make what are commonly called "ethical" decisions in the interest of safety. How will your cars be programmed do this?
As of today, we don't have any procedure for what we would commonly think of as ethical decision making. I'm not aware of any other group that does either. I think the topic is a really important one. It's a question that's very important to pose, but it's going to take a while for us to converge to a technical solution for it. We'd love to be able to address that question today, but we just don't have the technology.
The other part of it, not that this is a bad thing, is that we're putting more of a burden on the autonomous car than we do on the human driver. Human drivers, when faced with emergency situations where they might have to make a difficult ethical decision, aren't always able to make a reasonable ethical decision in that short amount of time. What level of performance are we going to hold autonomous cars to? The answer is, quite probably, a higher level of performance than we would hold a human driver to, or most people won't accept the technology. That may be unfair, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's wrong. 
Even with its unique and sophisticated software, it's somewhat surprising that a company as young (and small) as nuTonomy could very well be the first company in the world to deploy a true Level 4 autonomous vehicle in commercial operation in an urban area. A substantial part of what is making this possible is the location: Singapore. Beyond MIT's existing academic partnership in Singapore, the government is very proactive about adopting autonomous vehicle technology, Iagnemma explains: "We see Singapore as one of the best markets in the world for this technology. They have a progressive approach towards appropriate legislation around autonomous vehicles, and then working with technology providers, car manufacturers, and other groups to insure that they'll be able to operate in a reasonable way."
The environment in the United States is very different, Iagnemma says. It's obviously a huge market for any vehicle manufacturer, but there's no consistent regulatory framework, and government agencies are frustrating to work with. Singapore, on the other hand, is small, nimble, and actively interested—providing both political and financial support. "Singapore is completely aligned behind this technology,” he says. “They want it to happen, and they're going to make sure it does."
This year, nuTonomy plans to launch a small scale pilot study of a fully autonomous on-demand mobility system in One North, a business park in Singapore near the national university. The pilot will (nuTonomy hopes) prove both the technology and the business case for a robotic taxi service in an area where it will have both practical relevance and commercial viability. nuTonomy has had test and development cars on the road in Singapore for several months now, and by the end of this year, one could take you for a ride.

February 12, 2015

Apple Computer, Apple iPhone Next Apple ieCar

Image: AP/Press Association Images 
LAST WEEK IT was reported that a mysterious Apple van was making its way around San Francisco.
After writing about how the van could be used for a self-driving car, we got an unsolicited email from an employee at Apple about “vehicle development” at the company.
This person said employees from electric car maker Tesla were ”jumping ship” to work at Apple.
“Apple’s latest project is too exciting to pass up,” the person said. “I think it will change the landscape and give Tesla a run for its money.”
Apple has about 50 employees who previously worked at Tesla, according to LinkedIn. Many of those hires were engineers who interned at Tesla.
Most of the engineers Apple has hired from Tesla specialize in mechanics, manufacturing, and robotics.
We can think of a couple of possibilities here. Apple may indeed be building some kind of vehicle, although this seems way outside the company’s core.
More likely, it’s working on new iPhone-to-car experiences that will be better than what Tesla offers in its own vehicles.
Apple has an initiative called CarPlay that lets you control certain a car’s entertainment and other systems with your smartphone. It was supposed to come out in 2014, but has been delayed, and has only just started to emerge on cars like the 2015 Hyundai Sonata.
Tesla Texas
Source: Paul Sancya/AP/Press Association Images
iPhone entry?
So perhaps this Apple employee is talking about things like using your iPhone to unlock and drive a CarPlay-partner car without needing a key — Tesla began offering this with its 6.0 system update last year.
Or perhaps a much deeper set of integrated experiences with navigation, audio, and other systems.
Whether or not Apple is working on a car of its own, the company seems to compete with Tesla for top talent.
Tesla has hired about 150 people from Apple so far, according to Bloomberg, and Apple has reportedly tried to appeal to potential Tesla hires with $250,000 signing bonuses and huge salary hikes.

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