Technology

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Israeli 5-minute battery charge aims to fire up electric cars

Technology|Business|: Herzliya, Israel: From flat battery to full charge in just five minutes - an Israeli start-up has developed technology it says could eliminate the "range anxiety" associated with electric cars. Ultra-fast recharge specialists StoreDot have developed a first-generation lithium-ion battery that can rival the filling time of a standard car at the pump. "We are changing the entire experience of the driver, the problem of 'range anxiety'... that you might get stuck on the highway without energy," StoreDot founder Doron Myersdorf said. The innovation could eliminate the hours required to recharge an electric car, he said. Hundreds of prototypes are being tested by manufacturers. His company, based in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, is backed by four key investors: German automobile manufacturer Daimler, the UK's British Petroleum and the electronic giants Samsung and TDK. Myersdorf, who set up the company in 2012, has tested the battery on phones, drones and scooters, before tackling the big prize of electric vehicles. 'Revolution' But Eric Esperance, an analyst at Roland Berger consulting firm, cautioned that while ultra-fast charging would be a "revolution", many stages remain. "We are still far off from the industrial automotive market," he told AFP. In 2019, the Nobel Chemistry Prize was awarded to John Goodenough of the US, Britain's Stanley Whittingham and Japan's Akira Yoshino for the invention of lithium-ion batteries. "This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and electric vehicles," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said on awarding the prize. Myersdorf said charging "speed was not part" of the original design that won the Nobel, so he worked on what was "considered impossible": a lithium-ion battery good to go in minutes. "We wanted to demonstrate that you can take a lithium-ion battery, replace some of its materials and then charge it in five minutes," he said. The engineer switched the original graphite in the battery's negative anode with silicon. "We are taking that amazing innovation of the lithium-ion battery and upgrading it to extreme fast charging capability," he said. Batteries are assembled in a laboratory equipped with large glass boxes, sealed to keep oxygen out. StoreDot chemists clad in goggles and white coats build 100 batteries a week, sent to companies for possible use in their products. 'Fossil fuel-free society' The team is already working on a second generation of batteries to cut costs. While the design cycle of a vehicle is "typically four to five years", they are looking to speed up the process. "We are working on taking this solution to the market in parallel, by designing the manufacturing facilities that would be able to mass produce this battery," Myersdorf said. The Nobel jury praised the lithium-ion battery for being able to "store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel-free society". As public opinion shifts towards prioritising the climate change crisis, manufacturers are gearing production towards less polluting vehicles. But the road is long. On the ground, charging stations would have to be adapted for the new generation batteries, costing between $1,500 and $10,000 depending on capacity. Electric cars are also still expensive, and in 2019 they represented only 2.6 percent of global sales, according to the International Energy Agency. For Myersdorf, the sooner the world switches to electric vehicles the better, pointing to the "huge impact on the planet". But recycling lithium-ion batteries remains a problem, with Esperance noting that each has a lifespan of between 3,000 and 3,500 charges. "We must set up a recycling system, as there is for lead-acid batteries," he said. "Today, this network is just being set up." Both the extraction and recycling of lithium pose ecological, political and economic challenges for technology to overcome.

GulfNews Technology

Google to stop targeting online ads based on browsing history

Technology|: Washington: American multinational technology company Google recently revealed that it's going to stop targeting online ads based on a user's browsing history. According to Mashable, the company also said that it won't be building any tools that can keep track of specific user data across products. Making the announcements on its Google Ads and Commerce blog, it said, "Keeping the internet open and accessible for everyone requires all of us to do more to protect privacy -- and that means an end to not only third-party cookies but also any technology used for tracking individual people as they browse the web." It further mentioned that "people shouldn't have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising. And advertisers don't need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising". The blog states that Google has announced this in order to get rid of support for third-party cookies, which is the reason why it has been working on the Privacy Sandbox for building innovations that protect user anonymity while also helping out advertisers and publishers. The company also said that once third-party cookies are phased out, it won't build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will the company use those in its products. As per Mashable, Google said that its products will be powered by privacy-preserving Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that prevent individual tracking but still deliver results.

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Drones vs hungry moths: Dutch use hi-tech to protect crops

Technology|Europe|: Monster, Netherlands: Dutch cress grower Rob Baan has enlisted high-tech helpers to tackle a pest in his greenhouses: palm-sized drones seek and destroy moths that produce caterpillars that can chew up his crops. "I have unique products where you don't get certification to spray chemicals and I don't want it,'' Baan said in an interview in a greenhouse bathed in the pink glow of LED lights that help his seedlings grow. His company, Koppert Cress, exports aromatic seedlings, plants and flowers to top-end restaurants around the world. A keen adopter of innovative technology in his greenhouses, Baan turned to PATS Indoor Drone Solutions, a startup that is developing autonomous drone systems as greenhouse sentinels, to add another layer of protection for his plants. The drones themselves are basic, but they are steered by smart technology aided by special cameras that scan the airspace in greenhouses. The drones instantly kill the moths by flying into them, destroying them in midair. "So it sees the moth flying by, it knows where the drone is ... and then it just directs the drone towards the moth,'' said PATS chief technical officer Kevin van Hecke. There weren't any moths around on a recent greenhouse visit by The Associated Press, but the company has released video shot in a controlled environment that shows how one bug is instantly pulverized by a drone rotor. The drones form part of an array of pest control systems in Baan's greenhouses that also includes other bugs, pheromone traps and bumblebees. The drone system is the brainchild of former students from the Technical University in Delft who thought up the idea after wondering if they might be able to use drones to kill mosquitos buzzing around their rooms at night. Baan says the drone control system is smart enough to distinguish between good and bad critters. "You don't want to kill a ladybug, because a ladybug is very helpful against aphids," he said. "So they should kill the bad ones, not the good ones. And the good ones are sometimes very expensive _ I pay at least 50 cents for one bumblebee, so I don't want them to kill my bumblebees.'' The young company is still working to perfect the technology. "It's still a development product, but we ... have very good results. We are targeting moths and we are taking out moths every night in an autonomous way without human intervention," said PATS CEO Bram Tijmons. "I think that's a good step forward.'' Baan also acknowledges that the system still needs refining. "I think they still need too many drones ... but it will be manageable, it will be less,'' he said. ``I think they can do this greenhouse in the future maybe with 50 small drones, and then it's very beneficial.''

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US agency probes Facebook for 'systemic' racial bias in hiring, promotions: Attorneys

Business|Media|: A US agency investigating Facebook Inc for racial bias in hiring and promotions has designated the probe as "systemic," attorneys for three job applicants and a manager who claim the company discriminated against them told Reuters on Friday. A "systemic" probe means the agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, suspects company policies may be contributing to widespread discrimination. The EEOC typically resolves disputes through mediation or allowing complainants to sue employers. But agency officials designate a few cases "systemic," enabling investigators to rope in specialists to analyze company data and potentially bring a broader lawsuit representing entire classes of workers. Facebook operations program manager Oscar Veneszee Jr. and two applicants denied jobs brought a charge last July to the EEOC, and a third rejected applicant joined the case in December. They have alleged Facebook discriminates against Black candidates and employees by relying on subjective evaluations and promoting problematic racial stereotypes. The designation of the EEOC's probe has not been previously reported. The EEOC has not brought allegations against Facebook. Its investigation, which may last months more, may not result in findings of wrongdoing. The agency declined to comment. Facebook spokesman Andy Stone declined to comment on the status of the probe or specific allegations but said that "it is essential to provide all employees with a respectful and safe working environment." "We take any allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate every case," he said. The EEOC brought in systemic investigators by last August and received detailed briefing papers from both sides over the last four months, said Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney at Gupta Wessler representing Veneszee and the job candidates. Employment law firms Mehri & Skalet and Katz Marshall & Banks also are helping the workers. The EEOC's Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Washington offices are involved, attorneys from the firms said. Facebook's counsel, Covington & Burling, did not respond to a request for comment. Increasing racial and gender diversity has been a persistent challenge for the nation's largest tech companies, which at times have blamed a shortage of qualified candidates from underrepresented groups. But tech workers have grown emboldened to publicly challenge that notion and allege in formal complaints that biased employment practices cause disparities. Romer-Friedman said he and his colleagues told the EEOC in a submission last month that one such Facebook policy is awarding employees bonuses of up to $5,000 when a candidate they refer is hired. Referred candidates tend to reflect the makeup of existing employees, disadvantaging Black professionals, he said. Facebook said about 3.9% of its US employees as of last June were Black. David Lopez, a former EEOC general counsel now teaching at Rutgers University, said that systemic investigations are significant because of the additional resources involved. When they result in allegations of wrongdoing, multimillion-dollar settlements sometimes follow, he said, citing recent cases against Dollar General Corp and Walmart Inc. In the year ended last September 30, 13 of the 93 EEOC merit lawsuits were systemic, according to agency data. Last December, the Justice Department accused Facebook of discriminating against US workers broadly, saying it gave hiring preference to temporary workers such as H-1B visa holders. Alphabet Inc's Google last month agreed to spend $3.8 million to settle US government allegations that it underpaid women and unfairly passed over women and Asians for job openings.

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More than 20,000 US organisations compromised through Microsoft flaw

Business|Technology|Americas|: Washington: More than 20,000 US organisations have been compromised through a back door installed via recently patched flaws in Microsoft Corp's email software, a person familiar with the US government's response said on Friday. The hacking has already reached more places than all of the tainted code downloaded from SolarWinds Corp, the company at the heart of another massive hacking spree uncovered in December. The latest hack has left channels for remote access spread among credit unions, town governments and small businesses, according to records from the US investigation. Tens of thousands of organisations in Asia and Europe are also affected, the records show. The hacks are continuing despite emergency patches issued by Microsoft on Tuesday. Microsoft, which had initially said the hacks consisted of "limited and targeted attacks," declined to comment on the scale of the problem on Friday but said it was working with government agencies and security companies to provide help to customers. It added, "impacted customers should contact our support teams for additional help and resources." One scan of connected devices showed only 10% of those vulnerable had installed the patches by Friday, though the number was rising. Because installing the patch does not get rid of the back doors, US officials are racing to figure out how to notify all the victims and guide them in their hunt. All of those affected appear to run Web versions of email client Outlook and host them on their own machines, instead of relying on cloud providers. That may have spared many of the biggest companies and federal government agencies, the records suggest. The federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the vulnerabilities found in Microsoft's widely used Exchange servers were "significant," and "could have far-reaching impacts." "We're concerned that there are a large number of victims," Psaki said. Microsoft and the person working with the US response blamed the initial wave of attacks on a Chinese government-backed actor. A Chinese government spokesman said the country was not behind the intrusions. What started as a controlled attack late last year against a few classic espionage targets grew last month to a widespread campaign. Security officials said that implied that unless China had changed tactics, a second group may have become involved. More attacks are expected from other hackers as the code used to take control of the mail servers spreads. The hackers have only used the back doors to re-enter and move around the infected networks in a small percentage of cases, probably less than 1 in 10, the person working with the government said. "A couple hundred guys are exploiting them as fast as they can," stealing data and installing other ways to return later, he said. The initial avenue of attack was discovered by prominent Taiwanese cyber researcher Cheng-Da Tsai, who said he reported the flaw to Microsoft in January. He said in a blog post that he was investigating whether the information leaked. He did not respond to requests for further comment.

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Twitter's Jack Dorsey auctions first ever tweet as digital memorabilia

Media|Business|: "just setting up my twttr" - the first ever tweet on the platform is up for sale after Twitter boss Jack Dorsey listed his famous post as a unique digital signature on a website for selling tweets as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The post, sent from Dorsey's account in March of 2006, received offers on Friday that went as high as $88,888.88 within minutes of the Twitter co-founder tweeting a link to the listing on 'Valuables by Cent' - a tweets marketplace. Old offers for the tweet suggest that it was put for sale in December, but the listing gained more attention after Dorsey's tweet on Friday. NFTs are digital files that serve as digital signatures to certify who owns photos, videos and other online media. Dorsey's 15-year old tweet is one of the most famous tweets ever on the platform and could attract bidders to pay a high price for the digital memorabilia. The highest bid for the tweet stood at $100,000 at 0125 GMT on Saturday. Launched three months ago, Valuables compares the buying of tweets with buying an autographed baseball card. "There is only one unique signed version of the tweet, and if the creator agrees to sell, you can own it forever." A tweet's buyer will get an autographed digital certificate, signed using cryptography, that will include metadata of the original tweet, according to the Valuables website. The tweet will continue to be available on the Twitter website.