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Makers of Sophia the robot plan mass rollout amid pandemic

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(Last Updated On: January 25, 2021)

Since being unveiled in 2016, Sophia – a humanoid robot – has gone viral and now the company behind her has a new vision: to mass-produce robots by the end of the year.

Hanson Robotics, based in Hong Kong, told Reuters that four models, including Sophia, would start rolling out of factories in the first half of 2021, just as researchers predict the Coronavirus pandemic will open new opportunities for the robotics industry.

“The world of COVID-19 is going to need more and more automation to keep people safe,” founder and chief executive David Hanson said, standing surrounded by robot heads in his lab.

Hanson believes robotic solutions to the pandemic are not limited to healthcare, but could assist customers in industries such as retail and airlines too, Reuters reported.

“Sophia and Hanson robots are unique by being so human-like,” he added. “That can be so useful during these times where people are terribly lonely and socially isolated.”

Hanson said he aims to sell “thousands” of robots in 2021, both large and small, without providing a specific number.

Social robotics professor Johan Hoorn, whose research has included work with Sophia, said that although the technology is still in relative infancy, the pandemic could accelerate a relationship between humans and robots, Reuters reported.

“I can infer the pandemic will actually help us get robots earlier in the market because people start to realise that there is no other way,” said Hoorn, of Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Hanson Robotics is launching a robot this year called Grace, developed for the healthcare sector.

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India launches Brazil satellite and 18 others into space

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(Last Updated On: February 28, 2021)

A Brazilian Earth observation satellite soared into space aboard an Indian rocket at about 4.30am local time along with 18 passenger satellites from the United States and India.

Space.com reported the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launch of the rocket took place at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India.

An ISRO Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) carried Amazonia-1 and 18 smaller satellites into space.

“The satellite is in very good health,” ISRO Chairman K. Sivan said after the launch. “The solar panels have deployed and it is functioning very nicely.”

Amazonia-1 is optimized to focus on the cloud-covered region of the Amazon forest, since it has infrared capabilities that allow it to look at the forest cover regardless of the weather.

Brazil plans to use the satellite for “alert deforestation” in the region, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said in an Amazonia 1 mission description.

The satellite is also Brazil’s first independently designed, built and operated satellite, which country officials hailed after it reached orbit.

“This satellite has a very important mission for Brazil,” said Marcos Pontes, Brazil’s minister for science, technology and innovation, who is also the country’s first astronaut (he flew to the International Space Station in 2006). “It represents a new era of the Brazilian industry for satellite development in Brazil.”

Deforestation is an ongoing concern not only for the region’s unique flora and fauna, which are irreplaceable once extinct, but also for health outcomes of human residents. Back in August 2019, smoke from wildfires in the Amazon transformed São Paulo’s normal daylight hours into a smog-filled afternoon of darkness, amid a larger state of emergency in the Brazilian state of Amazonas.

The 18 other satellites include a mix of Indian and American craft. The Indian-built satellites include Satish Dhawan SAT, which studies radiation, space weather and communications, the UNITYsat trio, for radio relay, and a technology demonstrator satellite called SindhuNetra.

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Facebook bans Myanmar military with immediate effect

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(Last Updated On: February 25, 2021)

Facebook on Thursday said it had banned the Myanmar military from using its Facebook and Instagram platforms with immediate effect, as weeks of mass demonstrations continue in the Southeast Asian country after the military seized power, Reuters reported.

“Events since the February 1 coup, including deadly violence, have precipitated a need for this ban,” Facebook said in a blog post.

“We believe the risks of allowing the Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) on Facebook and Instagram are too great.”

The army seized power this month after alleging fraud in a November 8 election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). The army then detained her and much of the party leadership, Reuters reported.

At least three protesters and one policeman have been killed in violence at rallies.

The U.S tech giant said it would also ban all “Tatmadaw-linked commercial entities” from advertising on its platforms.

Reuters reported that Facebook stated the decision to ban the Myanmar army came due to “exceptionally severe human rights abuses and the clear risk of future military-initiated violence in Myanmar”, as well as the army’s repeated history of violating Facebook’s rules, including since the coup.

Facebook said the ban covered the military and its sub-units, army controlled-media and the ministries of home affairs, defence and border affairs, which are under direct military control.

The military government could not immediately be reached for comment.

Facebook is widely used in Myanmar and has been one of the ways the junta has communicated with people, despite an official move to ban on the platform in the early days of the coup, Reuters reported.

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Facebook faces growing criticism after Australia news ban

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(Last Updated On: February 20, 2021)

Facebook is facing mounting criticism after it blocked news content in Australia amid a dispute with the government over a planned law which will reportedly force tech giants to pay for news content on their platforms.

According to BBC, Facebook says the legislation “fundamentally misunderstands” its relationship with publishers.

But politicians, publishers and rights groups in several countries have accused it of bullying, and raised concerns over access to information.

BBC states that under Facebook’s new rules, Australian users are blocked from viewing and sharing local and international news, while local publishers are restricted from sharing or posting any links on their pages.

However, reports soon emerged that several Australian government health and emergency pages were also blocked. BBC reported that Facebook later said this was a mistake and many of these pages are now back online.

But Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the social media company’s actions to “unfriend Australia” were “as arrogant as they were disappointing”.

He said he was in “regular contact with the leaders of other nations” over the issue and would not be “intimidated”.

BBC reported that Morrison has raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he sought to gain international support, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Other Australian officials have also criticised the move. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the ban on news information had a “huge community impact”. About 17 million Australians visit the social media site every month. It is the most important social platform for news in the country.

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan accused Facebook of “behaving like a North Korean dictator”, BBC reported.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch’s Australia director said Facebook was censoring the flow of information, calling it a “dangerous turn of events”.

A local campaigner with rights group Amnesty International said it was “extremely concerning that a private company is willing to control access to information that people rely on”.

The move also faced criticism outside Australia.

BBC reported that Julian Knight, the head of the British parliamentary committee overseeing the media industry, called Facebook’s action “bullying”.

“I think it’s staggeringly irresponsible – at a time when we are facing a plethora of fake news and disinformation in relation to the Covid vaccine,” he told the BBC.

“This is not just about Australia. This is Facebook putting a marker down, saying to the world that ‘if you do wish to limit our powers… we can remove what is for many people a utility’.”

Global publishers also reacted, with the company behind the Guardian newspaper saying it was “deeply concerned”.

The head of Germany’s BDZV news publishers’ association said it was “high time that governments all over the world limit the market power of the gatekeeper platforms”, BBC reported.

Many Australian users are also angry about their sudden loss of access to trusted and authoritative sources.

“It feels obviously very restrictive in what Facebook is going to allow people to do in the future, not only in Australia but around the world,” Peter Firth, in Sydney, told the BBC.

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