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Los Angeles, There's a New Self-Driving Car Company in Town: Meet Motional

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Motional has announced it wants to more than double its number of employees in the state, and most of them will work in Los Angeles as human operators for self-driving cars that will learn, inch-by-inch, mile-by-mile, how to drive themselves. Until Motional gets the required permits from the California DMV, the self-driving car fleet will have to always have human drivers behind the wheel and ready to step in at a moment's notice. Motional is already testing vehicles in Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Singapore. Initially, the vehicles will map the roads, and self-driving tests will be conducted once that stage is completed. The first stage will focus on the Santa Monica area, where Motional has set up an office and an operations facility. Furthermore, Motional will hire people for its new research and development office in San Francisco, so those interested in career opportunities in this field should check out the company's website.


Hyundai's Motional will start testing its robotaxi in Los Angeles this month

Engadget

Motional, a joint autonomous vehicle venture between Aptiv and Hyundai, is expanding its operations in California. The company plans to start public road mapping and testing of its robotaxi in Los Angeles this month. Motional is currently testing the AV in Boston, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas (including driverless tests) and Singapore. The company and partner Lyft plan to start a robotaxi service in several US markets in 2023. Extensive road mapping and testing are essential precursors for that to happen.


Podcast: Trying to smash sexism in the video game world

Los Angeles Times

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sounds like a bureaucratic borefest, but it's actually pretty important. It files lawsuits against companies and landlords accused of discrimination. Today we talk about California's lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. The Santa Monica company made $8 billion last year on the strength of classic video game titles like "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft." But the state argues the company let fester a "pervasive frat boy workplace culture" that led to sexual harassment against women.



'Sound Shapes' creator Jessica Mak is making a game with Annapurna Interactive

Engadget

The last time Jessica Mak released a game was in 2012 when they worked with Sony's Santa Monica Studio to create Sound Shapes. The game went on to become one of the PlayStation Vita's standout gems, in part thanks to an unforgettable soundtrack that featured contributions from Shaw-Han Liem of I Am Robot and Proud fame, Indie Game: The Movie composer Jim Guthrie and Beck. After nearly a decade since the release of Sound Shapes, Mak is working with Annapurna Interactive on a new project, the publisher announced on Thursday during its developer showcase. The game doesn't have an official name or release date yet, but Mak shared some details about the project. Like Everyday Shooter and Sound Shapes, music will play a central part in the experience, and part of the reason Mak took a break from making games was to become a better musician."The


News at a glance

Science

SCI COMMUN### Astronomy The Hubble Space Telescope ended a monthlong hiatus on 16 July when operators successfully switched a failed control system to backup devices. The trouble started on 13 June when Hubble's payload computer, which controls its instruments, halted, and the main spacecraft computer put all the astronomical instruments in safe mode. Operators were unable to restart the payload computer, and switching memory modules—which they initially thought were at fault—didn't wake the telescope. They tested and ruled out problems in other devices before zeroing in on a power control unit. NASA called in retired staff to help devise a fix for the 31-year-old telescope, which involved remotely switching to a spare power control unit and other backup hardware for managing the instruments and their data. The agency practiced and checked the repair on the ground for 2 weeks before executing it. After powering up all the hardware, Hubble returned to work on 17 July, and has already beamed back new images. NASA says it expects Hubble to continue for many years. ### Conservation A new automated alert system can help veterinarians get a jump on investigating disease outbreaks and disasters afflicting wildlife. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, and colleagues used a machine learning algorithm to scan case reports of sick and dead wildlife submitted to a database by wildlife clinics and rehabilitation centers in the United States and other countries. The researchers used data from 3081 reports filed from California to train the algorithm to detect patterns of species suffering common symptoms. The software is designed to identify unusual events in one of 12 clinical categories, such as mass starvation or an oil spill. The algorithm assigned the correct category to 83% of cases examined, including ones from an outbreak of neurological disease in California brown pelicans (above) and red-throated loons, the research team reported last week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B . The system could help wildlife officials more quickly detect developing problems and confirm specific causes. ### Public health Reflecting another toll of the coronavirus pandemic, 23 million children missed routine vaccinations in 2020, the most since 2009 and 19% more than in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF said last week. As many as 17 million didn't receive any childhood vaccine at all. The pandemic led to closures or cutbacks at vaccination clinics and lockdowns that prevented parents and their children from reaching them, the groups reported. In addition, 57 mass vaccination campaigns for non–COVID-19 diseases in 66 countries were postponed. Childhood vaccination rates decreased across all WHO regions, with the Southeast Asian and eastern Mediterranean regions particularly affected. In India, more than 3 million children missed a first dose of the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine, more than double the number in 2019. “We [are] leaving children at risk from devastating but preventable diseases like measles, polio, or meningitis,” says WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. ### Climate policy As part of the run-up to the U.N. climate summit in November, the European Union and China announced last week plans to follow through on commitments to curb their carbon emissions. The European proposal, which must be approved by the bloc's member states, would steeply increase the price of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions; eliminate new gas-powered cars by 2035; require 38% of all energy to come from renewables by 2030, up from a previous goal of 32%; and impose tariffs on goods from countries that have not acted on climate change. (Democratic lawmakers in the United States proposed a similar tariff this week.) Meanwhile, China on 16 July launched a carbon trading scheme for power plants that instantly created the world's largest carbon market, triple the European Union's in size. China's plan incentivizes plants to lower CO2 emissions by allowing more efficient facilities to sell some of their reductions to less efficient ones. Although some observers call the plan weak because it covers a relatively small portion of China's emissions, it could be expanded to eventually incorporate three-fourths of the country's emissions from all sources. ### Public health When temperatures soar, workers and their employers need to take heed: Hot weather led to 20,000 more injuries annually in California between 2001 and 2018, according to a novel analysis of 11 million workers compensation claims. Economist Jisung Park at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues classified work-related injuries by ZIP code and looked up local temperatures on the day each was recorded. They found increases of between 5% and 15% in claims, depending on the temperature and occupation, compared with those filed on a typical cooler day, defined as a temperature of 16°C. Few were attributed directly to heat, but the injuries connected to higher temperatures—such as falls and mishandling equipment—may have resulted because the heat made workers woozy, the researchers reported to Congress last week and in a preprint on the SSRN server. But mitigation may be possible: Heat-related injury claims declined after 2005, when California began to require shade, water, and breaks for outdoor workers—in industries such as construction, utilities, and farming—whenever temperature exceeded 35°C. ### Research integrity Both the United Kingdom and the United States last week announced new high-level bodies to provide guidance on research integrity—but both lack the powers that many whistleblowers say are critical, such as independently investigating complaints of wrongdoing and pulling grant funding from institutions that fail to conduct misconduct probes properly. The umbrella funding body UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) launched the Committee on Research Integrity, which plans to operate for 3 years and accelerate existing projects in this area. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) unveiled the Strategic Council for Research Excellence, Integrity, and Trust, which will have members from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. Unlike UKRI, NASEM does not fund researchers, so it cannot set policies on how to handle misconduct allegations. But it could promote integrity in other ways—for instance by pushing for a central repository for researchers to report their financial conflicts of interest, says Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences and an ex officio member of the new panel. ### Microbiology Sifting through DNA in the mud of her backyard, a geomicrobiologist discovered what may be the longest known extrachromosomal sequence, which includes genes from a variety of microbes—prompting her son to propose naming it after Star Trek 's Borg, cybernetic aliens that assimilate humans. Jill Banfield of the University of California, Berkeley, was searching for viruses that infect archaea, a type of microbe often found in places devoid of oxygen. The 1-million-base-pair strand of DNA contains genes known to help archaea metabolize methane, suggesting the fragment might exist inside the microbes but outside their normal chromosome, the research team wrote in a preprint posted on 10 July on the bioRxiv server. Scanning a public microbial DNA database, the authors identified 23 possible Borgs, with many of the same characteristics, in other U.S. locations. The Borgs' role remains murky, but they may provide another example of DNA that can hop between an organism's chromosomes or between organisms, helping species adapt to changes in their environment.


Caltech: New Algorithm Helps Autonomous Vehicles Find Themselves, Summer Or Winter

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"The rule of thumb is that both images--the one from the satellite and the one from the autonomous vehicle--have to have identical content for current techniques to work. The differences that they can handle are about what can be accomplished with an Instagram filter that changes an image's hues," says Anthony Fragoso (MS '14, PhD '18), lecturer and staff scientist, and lead author of the Science Robotics paper. "In real systems, however, things change drastically based on season because the images no longer contain the same objects and cannot be directly compared." The process--developed by Chung and Fragoso in collaboration with graduate student Connor Lee (BS '17, MS '19) and undergraduate student Austin McCoy--uses what is known as "self-supervised learning." While most computer-vision strategies rely on human annotators who carefully curate large data sets to teach an algorithm how to recognize what it is seeing, this one instead lets the algorithm teach itself.


L.A. County sees another sharp rise in coronavirus cases as mask rules set to take effect

Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County recorded more than 1,900 new coronavirus cases Friday, another major jump, as a mandatory mask restriction for inside public places takes effect Saturday night. Over the last week, L.A. County has reported an average of more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases a day -- a tally that, though merely a fraction of the sky-high counts seen during previous surges, is still six times as high as what the county was seeing in mid-June. Daily case numbers have jumped: 1,537 new cases were reported Thursday, and 1,902 more were added Friday. COVID-19 hospitalizations also doubled over that same time period, from 223 on June 15 to 462 on Thursday. More than 8,000 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized countywide during the darkest days of the winter wave.


Can a piece of software look after your elderly parent?

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Kellye Franklin recalls the devastation when her now 81-year-old father, a loyal air force veteran, tried to make his own breakfast one morning. Seven boxes of open cereal on the living room floor with milk poured directly into every one of them. He would later be diagnosed with moderate to severe dementia. Yet Franklin, 39, who is her dad's only child and his primary caregiver, does not worry about that repeating now. In late 2019, she had motion sensors that are connected to an artificial intelligence (AI) system installed in the two-floor townhome she and her dad share in Inglewood, in Los Angeles county.


This L.A. start-up is building tiny injectable robots to attack tumors

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Doctors take a microscopic craft loaded with cancer-killing chemicals, inject it into the human body, and drive it to a malignant tumor to deliver its payload before making a quick exit. For most of the 55 years since "Fantastic Voyage" shrank Raquel Welch and company down to the size of a cell to zap a blood clot out of a scientist's brain, that scenario has been pure science fiction. But Bionaut Labs, a remote-control medical microrobot start-up, intends to be the first company to make it a clinical reality. Backed by $20 million in venture capital funding and building off recent advances in robotics and precision manufacturing, the Culver City company is developing a device the size of a breadcrumb that doctors can insert into the spine or skull and magnetically steer to a target to deliver a precise dose of drugs. The plan is to move to clinical trials by 2023.