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Inside DJI's 'Robomasters' Robotics Competition
Posted on Thursday January 01, 1970

pacopico writes: Every year, DJI hosts a robotics competition called Robomasters. It draws in hundreds of engineering students from around the world for two weeks of all out robotics mayhem. The students build and then control robotic vehicles that blast away at each other with rubber bullets, while drones strafe from overhead. Bloomberg Businessweek did a short documentary on the competition and everything that goes with it, including a reality TV show, an anime series, and final battle attended by thousands of people at a stadium in Shenzhen. The Chinese teams usually do the best, and the winners get some money and sometimes a job offer at DJI -- all part of the country's quest to dominate the robotics industry in the years to come.

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Asteroid Strikes 'Increase Threefold Over Last 300 Million Years,' Survey Finds
Posted on Thursday January 01, 1970

According to a survey of asteroid craters at least 6.2 miles wide, the number of asteroids slamming into Earth has nearly tripled since the dinosaurs first roamed. "Researchers worked out the rate of asteroid strikes on the moon and the Earth and found that in the past 290 million years the number of collisions had increased dramatically," reports The Guardian. "Before that time, the planet suffered an asteroid strike about once every 3 million years, but since then the rate has risen to once nearly every 1 million years." From the report: The findings suggest that the dinosaurs may have been unfortunate in evolving 240 million years ago, just as the odds of being wiped out by a stray asteroid were ramping up. It was one of those impacts, on top of other factors, that did for the beasts 66 million years ago. Many scientists had assumed that asteroid strikes were a rare but constant threat in Earth's deep history, but the latest study challenges that belief. Writing in the journal Science, the researchers describe how they turned to the moon to examine the violent history of Earth. The Earth and moon are hit by asteroids with similar frequency, but impact craters on Earth are often erased or obscured by erosion and the shifting continents which churn up the crust. On the geologically inactive moon, impact craters are preserved almost indefinitely, making them easier to examine. Using images from Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the scientists studied the "rockiness" of the debris surrounding craters on the moon. Rocks thrown up by asteroid impacts are steadily ground down by the constant rain of micrometeorites that pours down on the moon. This means the state of the rocks around a crater can be used to date it. The dates revealed that the moon, and by extension the Earth, has suffered more intense asteroid bombardment in the past 290 million years than at any time in the previous billion. On Earth there are hardly any impact craters older than 650 million years, most likely because they were eroded when the planet became encased in ice in an event known as Snowball Earth.

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Researchers Created Artificial Cells That Can Communicate With Each Other
Posted on Thursday January 01, 1970

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Friedrich Simmel and Aurore Dupin, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), have for the first time created artificial cell assemblies that can communicate with each other. The cells, separated by fatty membranes, exchange small chemical signaling molecules to trigger more complex reactions, such as the production of RNA and other proteins. Scientists around the world are working on creating artificial, cell-like systems that mimic the behavior of living organisms. Friedrich Simmel and Aurore Dupin have created such artificial cell assemblies in a fixed spatial arrangement. The highlight is that the cells are able to communicate with each other. Gels or emulsion droplets encapsulated in thin fat or polymer membranes serve as the basic building blocks for the artificial cells. Inside these 10- to 100-micron units, chemical and biochemical reactions can proceed uninhibited. The research team used droplets enclosed by lipid membranes and assembled them into artificial multicellular structures called micro-tissues. The biochemical reaction solutions used in the droplets can produce RNA and proteins, giving the cells a of a kind of gene expression ability. Small signal molecules can be exchanged between cells via their membranes or protein channels built into the membranes. This allows them to couple with each other temporally and spatially. The systems thus become dynamic, as in real life. Chemical pulses thus propagate through the cell structures and pass on information. The signals can also act as triggers, allowing initially identical cells to develop differently. "Our system is the first example of a multicellular system in which artificial cells with gene expression have a fixed arrangement and are coupled via chemical signals. In this way, we achieved a form of spatial differentiation," says Friedrich Simmel, Professor of Physics of Synthetic Biosystems at Technical University of Munich.

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Google Faces Renewed Protests and Criticism Over China Search Project
Posted on Thursday January 01, 1970

On Friday, a coalition of Chinese, Tibetan, Uighur, and human rights groups organized demonstrations outside Google's offices in the U.S., U.K., Canada, India, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Sweden, Switzerland, and Denmark, protesting the company's plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China. The Intercept reports: Google designed the Chinese search engine, code-named Dragonfly, to blacklist information about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, in accordance with strict rules on censorship in China that are enforced by the country's authoritarian Communist Party government. In December, The Intercept revealed that an internal dispute had forced Google to shut down a data analysis system that it was using to develop the search engine. This had "effectively ended" the project, sources said, because the company's engineers no longer had the tools they needed to build it. But Google bosses have not publicly stated that they will cease development of Dragonfly. And the company's CEO Sundar Pichai has refused to rule out potentially launching the search engine some time in the future, though he has insisted that there are no current plans to do so. The organizers of Friday's protests -- which were timed to coincide with Internet Freedom Day -- said that they would continue to demonstrate "until Google executives confirm that Project Dragonfly has been canceled, once and for all." Google "should be connecting the world through the sharing of information, not facilitating human rights abuses by a repressive government determined to crush all forms of peaceful online dissent," said Gloria Montgomery, director at Tibet Society UK. "Google's directors must urgently take heed of calls from employees and tens of thousands of global citizens demanding that they immediately halt project Dragonfly. If they don't, Google risks irreversible damage to its reputation."

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Firmware Vulnerability In Popular Wi-Fi Chipset Affects Laptops, Smartphones, Routers, Gaming Devices
Posted on Thursday January 01, 1970

Embedi security researcher Denis Selianin has discovered a vulnerability affecting the firmware of a popular Wi-Fi chipset deployed in a wide range of devices, such as laptops, smartphones, gaming rigs, routers, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. According to Selianin, the vulnerability impacts ThreadX, a real-time operating system that is used as firmware for billions of devices. ZDNet reports: In a report published today, Selianin described how someone could exploit the ThreadX firmware installed on a Marvell Avastar 88W8897 wireless chipset to execute malicious code without any user interaction. The researcher chose this WiFi SoC (system-on-a-chip) because this is one of the most popular WiFi chipsets on the market, being deployed with devices such as Sony PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Surface laptops, Samsung Chromebooks, Samsung Galaxy J1 smartphones, and Valve SteamLink cast devices, just to name a few. "I've managed to identify ~4 total memory corruption issues in some parts of the firmware," said Selianin. "One of the discovered vulnerabilities was a special case of ThreadX block pool overflow. This vulnerability can be triggered without user interaction during the scanning for available networks." The researcher says the firmware function to scan for new WiFi networks launches automatically every five minutes, making exploitation trivial. All an attacker has to do is send malformed WiFi packets to any device with a Marvell Avastar WiFi chipset and wait until the function launches, to execute malicious code and take over the device. Selianin says he also "identified two methods of exploiting this technique, one that is specific to Marvell's own implementation of the ThreadX firmware, and one that is generic and can be applied to any ThreadX-based firmware, which, according to the ThreatX homepage, could impact as much as 6.2 billion devices," the report says. Patches are reportedly being worked on.

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