California Legalises Driver-Free Autonomous Vehicles

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has approved new rules that allow self-driving cars to operate on public roads in the state without a human behind the wheel. The regulations, which take effect on 2nd April, will allow major driverless car producers, including Waymo and Uber, to commence testing in the state.

Source: Ars Technica

Israel to Eliminate Major Fossil Fuels by 2030

Israel has unveiled a plan to end the use of coal, petrol and diesel fuel by 2030, making the country fully reliant on natural gas and renewable and alternative fuels within 12 years. The plan was unveiled by the Energy Ministry and will be now submitted as a master plan to the government for approval.

Voice Cloning AI Can Swap Accents, Genders

Baidu has unveiled an updated version of its voice cloning AI that can replicate a human voice with only a few seconds of audio and can modify a voice to change both gender and accent. The AI, Deep Voice, was unveiled last year, but had fewer capabilities and far longer training times, making this an impressive advance.

Source: The Next Web

Leading US Lawyers Lose to AI in Competition

A competition between a legal AI platform and professors from some of the US' top law schools saw the AI win by a significant margin. The AI, LawGeex, was able to review five non-disclosure agreements for legal issues in 26 seconds, as opposed to the humans' 92 minutes, with an accuracy rate of 95%, compared to the humans' 85%.

Source: Mashable

Global Seed Bank Hits One Million Crops

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is designed to store the world's most important seeds against natural disasters, climate change and other catastrophic incidents, has passed one million deposits. The addition of 70,000 crops took the number to 1,059,646, ensuring the bank fulfills its role of protecting the world's food supply.

Source: BBC

Bill Gates: Cryptocurrencies have Cause Deaths

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has expressed concern about cryptocurrencies, saying that the anonymity of the technology has resulted in deaths through the purchasing of dangerous drugs such as fentanyl. Making the comments on a Reddit AMA, Gates said the government’s ability identify terrorism funding and money laundering "is a good thing".

Source: The Guardian

If the decline of bees continues, researchers have a plan to unleash swarms of robot bees to pollinate crops

Bees are vital to most of the world’s food crops but their numbers have been declining in recent decades, so researchers at The University of Manchester are working towards a future where they are replaced by robot bees.

According to Greenpeace, the global economic benefit of pollination amounts to some €265bn, but bee populations have been in decline due to factors such as diseases and parasites, climate change and wider industrial and agricultural practices.

However, researchers at the University of Manchester have begun work on mechanical bees that could pollinate crops and flowers.

Image courtesy of The University of Manchester

“We’re aiming to create the world’s first robot bee that can fly unaided and unaccompanied,” said Dr Mostafa Nabawy, microsystems research theme leader at The University of Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering.

“Imagine if the current trend of a declining bee population continues, swarms of robot bees pollinating crops and flowers could become a reality. Whilst this may sound like something out of a transformers film this is our ultimate aim.”

In addition to robot bees, the researchers are also developing robot spiders that could be used in field such as engineering and manufacturing.

The robot spiders have been modelled on a specific species of jumping spider called Phidippus regius, which can jump up to six-times longer than its own body length from a standing start.

Image courtesy of The University of Manchester

Having analysed how real spiders make such leaps, the team has now begun developing prototype robots that can mimic these biomechanical movements.

“For our robotic spiders research we are looking at a specific species of jumping spider called Phidippus regius. We have trained it to jump different distances and heights, recording the spider’s every movement in extreme detail through high resolution cameras which can be slowed down,” said Nabawy.

“We are now using this bio-mechanical data to model robots that can perform with the same abilities. With this extensive dataset we have already started developing prototype robots that can mimic these biomechanical movements and jump several centimetres.”

The researchers’ work on robot bees has been released days after it was revealed that hoverflies may be spreading infections that are deadly to bees.