Top Stories for the Week of March 21, 2018

  • From Category5 Technology TV S11E25
  • March 21, 2018
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Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday March 21, 2018

Thanks to robots and automation in the US - AFRICA is at risk.

Within less than two decades it will be cheaper to operate robots in US-based factories than to hire workers in Africa, a new report warns.

Falling automation costs are predicted to cause job losses as manufacturers return to richer economies. Though some analysts say poorer countries could be less impacted by this trend, the Overseas Development Institute suggests otherwise. Its report, however, does add that African nations do have time to prepare for the change.

Karishma Banga, a senior research officer at ODI says, "African countries must not shy away from manufacturing, but instead prepare by increasing access to internet, investing in technical skills and promoting technological innovation."

Dirk Willem te Velde, director of the Supporting Economic Transformation programme at ODI, said in a statement, "Currently the cost of operating robots in furniture manufacturing is still higher than labour, but this will not be the case within 15 years."

Their report found that in furniture manufacturing, the cost of operating robots and 3D printers in the US will be cheaper than Kenyan wages by 2034.

And in Ethiopia, ODI predicts that robotic automation will be cheaper than Ethiopian workers between 2038 and 2042.

This gives the continent between one to two decades to build up its capabilities in sectors that are less at risk of automation, "such as food and beverages, garments, metals," the report writes.

It advises African nations to expand access to broadband and develop locals' technical skills through vocational training, technology hubs, and a bigger focus on STEM subjects in African educational bodies.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

US cities are starting to crack down on commercial crypto-mining due to the heavy load it puts on their power grid.

US cities are starting to crack down on commercial crypto-mining due to the heavy load it puts on their power grid.

A city in upstate New York has become the first in America to effectively ban any new commercial-grade cryptocurrency miners from powering up.

Mayor Colin Read and the city council of Plattsburgh this month signed off on a measure to place an 18-month moratorium on any new industrial-scale, crypto-coin crafting operations within city limits. Alt-cash mining companies typically require a permit to operate within Plattsburgh; now no more applications will be approved for a full year and a half.

Located on the banks of Lake Champlain near the border with Canada, Plattsburgh has a population of 19,000 people, and is a hotspot for boating and bass fishing. Its proximity to the lake also means Plattsburgh is able to enjoy low-cost hydroelectric power, making it extremely attractive to large-scale crypto-mining operations. As Reg readers know, alt-coin crafting rigs can be tremendous power hogs.

So when those mining operations came to town, the normally cheap power became more expensive (due to the soaring demand), and residents saw their electric bills climb by an average of $10 apiece in January alone. Just two of the registered miners accounted for around 10 to 15 percent of the city's entire power consumption.

Now, to slow down the power slurp, Plattsburgh has decided to block any new operations until at least the Fall of 2019. Existing crypto-coin mining outfits will be allowed to stay for the time being.

Those who violate the new law will be subject to fines of up to $1,000 per day.

The city notes that, during the moratorium, it will look into whether a long-term zoning and power law on cryptocoin mining is needed.

Meanwhile, New York state has ruled that "high-density load customers," or crypto-miners if you read between the lines, face rising electricity bills due to the pressure they place on electric supply grids.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

An autonomous flying taxi is coming to New Zealand.

A new air taxi service financially backed by Google cofounder, Larry Page, is set to take off in New Zealand, thanks to an agreement announced last week.

Page's Kitty Hawk company, the developer of a new autonomous flying machine called "Cora," will begin testing the service in rural Canterbury, a region in the South Island.

The electric air taxi can carry two passengers. It is designed to take off like a helicopter, and it uses proprietary software to fly like a regular fixed-wing aircraft; with the help of some human supervision.

Zephyr Airworks (Kitty Hawk's New Zealand affiliate), has been working with government officials on plans to test the new service as part of a program meant to encourage science and innovation in the country.

Despite the high interest in development, the business case for fully autonomous air taxis is not as strong as one might think, suggested Steven Polzin. (Polzin is the director of mobility policy research at the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research).

He says, "For passenger air travel, particularly commercial air travel, the labor cost associated with pilots is relatively modest in the context of total cost of providing the trip, which dampens the motivations to go to full automation."


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

3D printed homes for the less fortunate.

In Texas, tucked behind a house for the wealthy, there may lie some hope for the significantly less fortunate.

More than a billion people in the world go to sleep each night without reliable shelter.

But a pair of companies working on solving that believes their model of quickly 3D-printing a one-story house could not only provide a roof over the head, but a genuinely great place to live.

It's a proof-of-concept built by Icon, a construction firm, and New Story, a non-profit that sets up housing in the developing world. The 380-square foot dwelling required about $10,000 (£7,000) of concrete, and took 48 hours.

Eventually the goal is to build a 650 sq ft version and to bring the cost down significantly by using a mixture of economies of scale (i.e. buy concrete in bulk) and improvements to the 3D-printing machine. The goal build time is between 12 and 24 hours.

Later this year, the project will head to El Salvador to build some test homes, with the view to begin work on a community of 100 houses in 2019.

"If it does work it could literally change how shelter is created," said Brett Hagler, chief executive and co-founder of New Story.

"It's irresponsible for us not to try it."

Like small-scale 3D-printing, the system works by slowly adding material, layer-by-layer. In this case, that material is mortar, similar to concrete. The height and width of the house is constrained by size of an an enormous metal frame, which operates autonomously once given its instructions.

With the machine, they can print up to 11 feet tall.

The robot follows blueprints created using typical CAD software. This means homeowners would have the ability to create their own designs on site, or pick one from a library of possible configurations.

Hagler believed the machines will be operated by local construction workers, and it is hoped the lower cost of each unit would in turn mean more demand for more houses to be built.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash


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