Science & Technology News

  • Shopping robots on the march in Ocado

    There is growing concern about the impact of automation on employment - or in crude terms - the threat that robots will eat our jobs.

    But if you want to see how important robotics and artificial intelligence can be to a business Ocado is a good place to start.

    "Without it we simply couldn't do what we do at this scale," the online retailer's chief technology officer Paul Clarke told me. With margins in the supermarket business wafer thin, continually bearing down on costs and waste has been vital.

    At its Hatfield distribution centre I got a glimpse of how far the process of automating the sorting of thousands of grocery orders has come. For now, you will struggle to spot a robot - unless you count a machine that inserts plastic shopping bags into crates - but software is doing a very complex job of sending the right goods in the right crates to the right human pickers.

    fruit picking robot handImage copyrightOCADOImage captionRoboticists at Ocado are working on a robotic hand, gentle enough to pick up fruit

    "This warehouse is crammed with machine learning and algorithms that are controlling all manner of operations that are invisible to the human eye," Mr Clarke explains.

    But in one corner of the warehouse is the robotics lab where the next stage of automating Ocado is under way. A group of some of the smartest robotic engineers from across Europe are at work on their latest project which could replace human pickers one day. It's a robotic hand sensitive enough to pick up a piece of fruit without damaging it.

    "The overall challenge is to develop robotic systems that can pick and pack the full range of items," explains head of robotics Alex Harvey.

    The robot warehouseImage copyrightOCADOImage captionThe robot warehouse contains crates containing various goods which the robots select

    The robot hand won't be ready to start work for a while but at Ocado's newest warehouse in Andover, Hampshire, a robotics project that the company believes is unequalled in its sophistication has already been deployed. Swarms of robots move across a grid, collaborating with each other to collect groceries stored beneath them and then bring them to a human picker.

    Showing me some video of the warehouse, Paul Clarke explains the technical challenge: "Controlling thousands of robots in real time has required not only building a very sophisticated AI-based air traffic control system but also we've had to evolve a new communications systems to talk to all those robots 10 times a second."

    But seeing all those swarming robots with not a human in sight sparks an obvious thought - what about the impact on jobs?

    Ocado says despite the onward march of automation its workforce has continued to grow. "We have no choice both as a company and as UK PLC but to invest in this technology," says Mr Clarke."We are a net employer of 12,000 people, none of whom would have a job at all if it weren't for our use of automation because this has been our differentiator as a business."

    Economists disagree on the scale of the threat to employment. An Oxford study which predicted that more than 40% of occupations could be threatened by automation over the next two decades is now seen by many as far too pessimistic.

    Robot and woman at a deskImage copyrightTHINKSTOCKImage captionWill human jobs change as robots take on some of the roles we currently fill?

    That is certainly the view of Laura Gardiner, of the Resolution Foundation, who points out that jobs are becoming more multi-faceted, so that even if one task is taken by a robot, there will still be others left for the humans.

    But she does accept that for certain categories of worker life may get harder: "It is right to be concerned about specific occupations - secretarial work, processing jobs in factories - moderately skilled jobs which used to pay quite well."

    What is clear is that in an evolving job market, some skills will become redundant, while others will be in higher demand. And the best advice? Train as a robotics engineer.

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  • CES 2017: The top trends in new TVs

    For many, many years, the message of CES for television owners boiled down to “here’s why your TV sucks.” But as picture quality has increased upwards, the amount of set suckage inflicted by keeping last year’s model has diminished. So what’s a TV vendor supposed to do to get you to retire a perfectly adequate high-definition TV for something newer and shinier, preferably with a healthy profit margin?

    CES 2017 has revealed one respectable sales pitch for Ultra High Definition, the successor to HDTV that debuted at the 2012 CES. But there are also a few reasons to wait yet another year before indulging in a new TV.

    UHD and HDR

    UHD, also known as 4K for its almost 4,000 pixels of horizontal resolution, offers a much finer picture than mere HDTV. But unless you get a screen larger than 55 inches or so, the additional detail will vanish when viewed from across the room.

    An upgrade to UHD called HDR, short for “high dynamic range,” provides a discernable difference even on smaller displays: a wider range of colors. The difference is obvious, especially with scenes like sunsets and sunrises that involve a large degree of contrast.

    HDR stopped being a niche variation of UHD at last year’s CES but still came at a price premium. At this year’s show, the HDR tax looks set to shrivel. Most vendors aren’t talking prices yet, but the Chinese vendor TCL — a leading supplier of TVs with built-in Roku media-player software — said it will sell a 50-inch UHD HDR set for $500.

    LG's TV W super-thin TV.
    LG’s new TV W, which stands for TV wallpaper, is barely more than a tenth of an inch thick. (image: Rob Pegoraro)

    Alas, this being the electronics industry, there isn’t just one flavor of HDR. One standard called HDR10 is the most common, but another, Dolby Vision, provides greater color fidelity. DirecTV is adopting a third, HLG, and Technicolor backs a fourth, Advanced HDR. LG plans to support all four, but many vendors will pick a subset of them.

    An effort launched at last year’s CES to cut through this format clutter by certifying TVs that pass a set of tests with a “UHD Premium” logo doesn’t seem to have advanced much, to judge from the absence of any such logos at Samsung, LG, TCL and Sony’s exhibits.

    OLED vs. LCD

    The other big change in TV technology over the past few years has been the rise of OLED (organic light emitting diode) screens, which are both exceedingly thin and capable of the same surpassing range of darks and lights that plasma sets provided.

    LG, the dominant OLED vendor, unveiled a 77-inch “TV W’ model—that’s “W” as in “wallpaper,” as the screen is only 2.57 mm thick, just over a tenth of an inch. It’s designed to be fastened directly to a wall, with a thin ribbon cable connecting it to a separate box that contains its circuitry and doubles as a soundbar speaker system.

    This thinness will also leave your wallet looking thin: With a smaller 65” version set to sell for $8,000, $10,000 for this one doesn’t seem out of sight.

    Historically, OLED screens have cost significantly more than conventional LCDs that, because they use LED backlighting, are often called “LED TVs.” That price gap has shrunk, but LCD has kept progressing. Samsung is pitching an upgrade to the technology called “QLED,” the Q standing for the “quantum dot” technology Samsung uses to increase the brightness and color range of these sets.

    Both OLED and QLED look fantastic here. A side-by-side comparison would be instructive, but we’re talking about increasingly marginal differences. And in the real world, you bring the TV home and you don’t mount it next to a competing model, and most of the time you’re happy with it as it is.

    Samsung QLED TV at CES 2017.
    Samsung says its QLED TVs will offer improved colors and brightness. (image: Rob Pegoraro)
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  • CES 2017: Faraday Future unveils super fast electric car

    Start-up Faraday Future has unveiled a self-driving electric car that it says can accelerate from zero to 60mph (97km/h) in 2.39 seconds.

    Faraday says the FF91 accelerates faster than Tesla's Model S or any other electric car in production.

    It was shown off at the CES tech show in Las Vegas.

    But Faraday Future has faced financial difficulties and one analyst said it had to challenge "scepticism" following last year's CES presentation.

    The FF91 was introduced via a live demo, in which it drove itself around a car park and backed into an empty space.

    Pre-recorded footage also showed the car accelerating from standstill to 60mph in 2.39 seconds.

    Tesla's fastest model did it in 2.5 seconds on the same track.

    Late in the presentation, however, there was an awkward moment when Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting tried to demonstrate the car's self-parking function on stage in front of the audience.

    This time, the vehicle remained stationary.

    Mr Jia is chief executive of LeEco - a Chinese video-on-demand and smartphone-maker - which has invested in Faraday.

    "OK, it seems like it's a little bit lazy tonight," said Faraday senior vice president Nick Sampson, as the car refused to respond. It eventually complied later when they made a second attempt.

    Jia Yueting and Nick Sampson on stageImage copyrightFARADAY FUTURE

    Faraday plans to release the FF91 in 2018. To pre-order, hopefuls will need to provide a refundable $5,000 (£4,080) deposit.

    The event came a year after the firm's first press conference, where it showed off a futuristic-looking concept vehicle. Several commentators criticised it at the timefor failing to give more detail about what it was actually working on.

    Car ID

    Prospective buyers were told they would be able to connect to the forthcoming car via a virtual "FFID" account.

    With this, Mr Sampson explained, it would be possible to share data - such as movies or route plans - to the car from personal computers, for example.

    Jia Yueting and Nick Sampson on stageImage copyrightFARADAY FUTURE

    Analysis: Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter, at CES in Las Vegas

    Tech launches are famed for their awkward exchanges on stage, but the dynamic between Faraday Future's Nick Sampson and LeEco boss Jia Yueting was on another level.

    Sampson is the company's figurehead at events like this, glitzy launches where big promises are made. Mr Jia holds the financial keys to keep the Faraday Future project going - the money from his China-based firm is bankrolling the efforts here (at least, we think it is - neither firm will discuss the nature of the deal).

    So when the newly-launched car failed to drive itself a few feet in front of the audience, Sampson was almost apologetic to Mr Jia. For the audience, it suddenly felt like we'd stumbled into a product pitch meeting and were watching Sampson pick up the pieces.

    In the unscientific poll I conducted shortly after the presentation, all felt the design of the FF91 fell short of Tesla's vehicles in the style-stakes. As I type this, Elon Musk is yet to offer any reaction to his newest competitor. I don't think he'll be losing any sleep. Experience has shown him that making the car is the easy bit - producing it on en masse is far more difficult.

    Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

    Faraday Future has lately been in the news for less celebratory reasons - its troubled finances.

    In November, it confirmed that work had stopped on a huge factory in Las Vegas intended to manufacture a car backed by investment from LeEco.

    A week earlier, the Bloomberg news agency had revealed that Mr Jia had written to LeEco's employees to say his firm's finances were under pressure.

    Faraday FutureImage copyrightAPImage captionFaraday Future has stopped work on its $1bn factory

    Ever since it unveiled a futuristic concept car at last year's CES, Faraday Future has been met with much scepticism, said Gartner automotive analyst Mike Ramsay.

    "This is a must impress situation," he added.

    "Even if everything had been going perfectly, it is very difficult to be a start-up carmaker, particularly when you are coming from a tech background."

    Having seen the presentation, Mr Ramsay commented that he was "not convinced" that the firm was yet a clear contender.

    "It still seems like it's more in the realm of fantasy than reality," he added.

    "For the car to have a 130 kWh battery pack, it would be very heavy, and very expensive - extremely expensive to have a battery that size."

    Faraday Future carImage copyrightFARADAY FUTURE

    On stage, Faraday executive Peter Savagian explained that the FF19 would be chargeable from various electrical standards.

    He added its range would extend to 482 miles (775km) when driven at 55mph.

    Many analysts expect interest in electric vehicles to continue to rise in coming years.

    "We estimate around one in 10 vehicles will be electric or hybrid by 2020, at around 8 million vehicles," said Simon Bryant at analysts Futuresource.

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  • When will our electricity come from the sea?

    If you've ever struggled to walk across the deck of a boat as it rolls in a choppy sea, or tried to stand up against breaking waves at the beach, you'll have felt the might of the ocean.

    It feels like there's a lot of power there too, so getting energy from the waves of the sea sounds as if it's got real potential. For World Service listener Michael McFarlane, it's a question that's been on his mind for years.

    "I live in Jamaica and we are never very far from the sea… Electricity generation [here] is mainly based on fossil fuels," he says.

    So why isn't the ocean powering Michael's home yet?

    In order to tackle this question for the World Service programme Crowdscience, first, there was a language problem to unpick.

    Deborah Greaves, Professor in Ocean Engineering and Director of the COAST Laboratory at the UK's Plymouth University explains: "We've tended to use "marine renewable energy" to describe wave and tidal energy…[it's] energy which can be extracted from the movement of the oceans in the marine environment."

    Large tidal power generators already exist in selected locations around the world - the La Rance River estuary plant in Brittany, France, opened in 1966, and the world's current largest tidal power station is at Sihwa Lake in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, costing 313.5 billion South Korean won (£212 million GBP or $263 million USD).

    Expense is one factor that currently limits the worldwide number of tidal power plants. Environmental concerns are another, as some places with particularly strong tides are also sensitive ecosystems, such as estuaries.

    And there's one more detail that's particularly relevant for listener Michael: As anyone who's been lucky enough to spend time on a beach in Jamaica knows, the tides there don't go in and out that much. It can be by as little as centimetres, compared with metres at a time in other locations around the world.

    Early development

    For our programme, this means we turn to wave power, which, as Prof Greaves tells us, is still in the early stages of development. "Wave energy on the other hand involves extracting the wave energy motion in a device, and there are a huge number of different approaches to how you can do this."

    Out at sea, water doesn't always move as predictably as in a tide. Ocean waves are whipped up by winds, and can be all over the place, interacting from all directions. It's this irregularity and difference which means that energy can be harvested in many ways, and there are thousands of patents registered for a whole variety of different approaches.

    Falmouth Bay test siteImage captionA test site in Falmouth Bay is helping wave energy device developers move their models forward

    You can get some idea from the devices' myriad of names, which include: The Limpet, the Frog, Mighty Whale, Wave Roller, Wave Dragon, the Oyster, and the Penguin. The latter bobs up and down in the sea like a real penguin does - although it looks a bit like a cartoon block of cheese - some names aren't totally representative.

    But, variety and excellent names aside, what has the most potential to generate our electricity - wave or tidal? "There's more potential for wave energy in terms of the resource because the tidal resource tends to be located in specific positions round the coastline.

    "So there's actually a greater potential for wave energy, but at the moment it's further off being commercially developed," says Deborah Greaves.

    At the Coastal Ocean and Sediment Transport laboratory at Plymouth University in the UK, Professor Greaves oversees new wave power devices being tested in their giant Ocean Wave Basin. Over 100 cars could be parked inside the 35m long, 15m wide and up to 3m deep tank - if it weren't full of water.

    Ocean simulator

    And at one end, there are 24 paddles that can be individually controlled to generate waves approaching 1m in height. This means that a variety of waves can be created - from the sort of waves that you might see at the beach, to a much more mixed-up surface with different sized and timed waves from many directions, which the COAST team call a sea state.

    As big as this sounds, this is only laboratory scale - it's not a patch on the open ocean, but it's where wave energy devices start out. Deborah explains: "We can only go up to a certain scale here...and so in order to really understand how your device is going to perform in the sea, and some of the additional challenges in installing it and getting it to survive in a marine environment.

    "All of those things we can't test but they can be tested at larger scale at a nursery site in the sea."

    FaB Test in Falmouth Bay is one such place. Heading out about a mile into the sea on a research vessel illustrated how this stage helps wave energy device developers move their models forward.

    Wave simulatorImage captionOver 100 cars could be parked inside the 3m deep Ocean Wave Basin tank

    "It enables us to make sure that we have access to the devices... At the same time, this area here is providing us with very rough and extreme conditions. We have seen waves close to 10m," said Prof Lars Johanning of Exeter University, casually leaning on one leg and maintaining impressive stability whilst the CrowdScience team clung on to the boat rails and their microphones.

    "In the real world as you've just experienced here... you've got waves from different directions, you've got a current, you've got wind, you've got salt water - so you've got corrosion," Prof Johanning explains.

    "It's a small thing that goes wrong quite often unfortunately but it stops you from going further. Or of course then, you address it."

    Prof Johanning tells us that the real challenge for wave energy devices is surviving extreme conditions. "You would like to have very nice looking waves from one direction if possible... very smooth and regular. That is not the real sea. The real sea is a bit different unfortunately so you have to overcome this. We can design for these conditions but we also have to make sure that it is cost effective."

    Once safely off the boat and back in the car, we set off from the nursery site towards what we were affectionately terming as 'big school' for wave energy devices (much to our contributors' amusement). Here, standing on a glorious and very windy beach, we met Stuart Herbert, Commercial Director of Wave Hub Ltd.

    Extension lead

    "Wave Hub you can think of as a large electrical extension lead. So we have a cable which is 25km long - very thick cable - and it goes underneath the sand we're standing on and heads out to the sea and ends up about 10 miles off [the town of] St Ives," said Stuart.

    Given the wind and wintry conditions, this was the closest we could get today - thankfully. Mr Herbert tells us: "[The conditions have been] as high as 15 metres in the last couple of years.

    "Bigger is better to a certain extent but these devices have to survive out there… This site has an excellent wave resource and a good place where we can connect to the National Grid… There's other places like Australia, Western Ireland, Portugal, France, Spain also have very good wave resource."

    So what does he think about listener Michael McFarlane's question: Could the energy of the sea provide us with all our electricity?

    "What a fantastic question! And Jamaica has a good wave resource." A promising start. But what's the timeline, and could it happen?

    "It has been estimated that there's more than twice as much wave energy out there than is required to power the whole world. However, capturing that wave energy, capturing this wild and unpredictable resource, is quite a challenge. It's going to take some time for these devices to get to a commercial stage where we can deploy them in multiple numbers all over the world.

    "Would we ever get to a stage where we can power the whole world from wave energy? I have to be absolutely honest with you and say that's really not going to happen. There have been some estimates made that it could be 15-20% in the UK."

    So, not all of our electricity then. But island communities could still make use of some wave power in the future, especially because, as Mr Herbert says, "A lot of island communities at the moment either have no power or get their power from expensive sources like diesel generators."

    Michael was far from wrong in thinking that the sea appears to offer this vast resource of free power. But the challenge is making devices that can harvest the most energy from those unpredictable waves, in a cost effective manner, and survive the relentless bruising and battering of the environment.

    As Stuart Herbert concludes: "Wind turbines have been around for at least 20 years... Wave energy is at least 10 years behind that. So 10 years from now I would imagine that we'll start seeing commercial arrays of wave energy devices producing really useful amounts of power."

    BBC CrowdScience, Wave Power first airs on the World Service at 1132 GMT on Saturday 24th December. Listen online and download the podcast.

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  • Arctic heatwave could break records

    Temperatures at the North Pole could be up to 20 degrees higher than average this Christmas Eve, in what scientists say is a record-breaking heatwave.

    Climate scientists say these unseasonably warm weather patterns in the Arctic region are directly linked to man-made climate change.

    Temperatures throughout November and December were 5C higher than average.

    It follows a summer during which Arctic sea ice reached the second-lowest extent ever recorded by satellites.

    Arctic sea-ice thicknessImage copyrightESA/CPOM/LEEDS UNIImage captionArctic sea ice extent is monitored and measured by satellite imaging

    Dr Friederike Otto, a senior researcher at Oxford's Environmental Change Institute told BBC News that in pre-industrial times "a heatwave like this would have been extremely rare - we would expect it to occur about every 1,000 years".

    Dr Otto added that scientists are "very confident" that the weather patterns were linked to anthropogenic climate change.

    "We have used several different climate modelling approaches and observations," she told BBC News.

    "And in all our methods, we find the same thing; we cannot model a heatwave like this without the anthropogenic signal."

    Temperatures are forecast to peak on Christmas Eve around the North Pole - at near-freezing.

    The warm air from the North Atlantic is forecast to flow all the way to the North Pole via Spitsbergen, giving rise to clouds that prevent heat from escaping.

    And, as Dr Otto explained to BBC News, the reduction in sea ice is contributing to this "feedback loop".

    "If the globe is warming, then the sea ice and ice on land [shrinks] then the darker water and land is exposed," she said.

    "Then the sunlight is absorbed rather than reflected as it would be by the ice."

    Forecasting models show that there is about a 2% chance of a heatwave event occurring every year.

    "But if temperatures continue to increase further as they are now," said Dr Otto, "we would expect a heatwave like this to occur every other year and that will be a huge stress on the ecosystem."

    Dr Thorsten Markus, chief of NASA's Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory, said the heatwave was "very, very unusual".

    "The eerie thing is that we saw something quite similar (temperatures at the North Pole of about 0C in December) almost exactly a year ago," he told BBC News.

    The freeze and thaw conditions are already making it difficult for reindeer to find food - as the moss they feed on is covered by hard ice, rather than soft, penetrable snow.

    Asked if the conditions on Christmas Eve were likely to affect Santa's all-important journey, Dr Markus said he was confident that his sled would cope with the conditions.

    He added: "Santa is most likely overdressed though. Maybe in the future we'll see him in a light jacket or plastic mac."

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  • This is the new interface Google is testing right now in Google Maps

    It’s relatively rare that an app or product that starts a sea change in any market remains a market leader for an extended period of time. Typically, early offerings give way to rival products that refine the initial offerings and add new features. In the case of Google Maps, however, Google managed to launch a revolution in personal mapping and navigation, and then maintain a clear lead in this crucial space in the years that followed. Today, Google Maps continues to drive the local search and personal navigation markets, due in large part to Google’s continuing efforts to add useful new features and enhancements to the app. And now, we’ve been treated to a sneak peek at yet another interesting change Google is testing for its market-leading Maps app.

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    Android news blog Android Police recently noticed a nifty change in the Google Maps navigation interface on Android, but quickly dismissed it as a limited beta feature. Google allows users to enter into a public beta program that gives them access to various features not available in public builds of Google Maps. Some of those features end up making their way to public Google Maps releases while others die on the vine, so there’s often no use in covering them.

    This particular new feature offers a very useful new interface tweak, and it ended up reaching the latest public Google Maps release — but only after the blogger who found it deleted the app and then reinstalled it. Here’s an image from Android Police:


    As you can see, a new “more” option appears on the ETA bar while the user is navigating. When tapped, it provides quick access to the following features:

    • Search along route
    • Alternate routes
    • Directions (in list form)
    • Settings

    Even more new options can be found within the alternate routes view:


    It appears as though Google is A/B testing the new feature, since other users — myself included — do not have access to the new options. It’s unclear when or even if this modified interface will be released more widely.

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  • The first photo from a new Earth-gazing satellite is insanely detailed

    A brand new satellite orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth's surface has just opened its eyes.

    DigitalGlobe released the first public photo taken by the company's Earth-gazing WorldView-4 satellite, and it's a beauty. 

    The new image, taken on Nov. 26 and unveiled last week, shows Tokyo, Japan's Yoyogi National Gymnasium, one of the sites of the 1964 Olympics. 

    SEE ALSO: The first photo of Earth from space was taken 70 years ago

    WorldView-4 is the latest advanced satellite in a fleet of five DigitalGlobe spacecraft designed to beam high-resolution images of various places on Earth back to people on the ground. 

    The details in the new photo are impressive, especially considering that the image was taken from 617 kilometers, or about 383 miles, above the planet. Cars and trucks can be seen on roads and in parking lots, and stretching shadows of soccer players fan out on pitches on the upper-left portion of the photo. 

    A close-up of part of the WorldView-4 image.
    View photos
    A close-up of part of the WorldView-4 image.


    The difference between WorldView-4's first photo and some of the early images taken by DigitalGlobe's Ikonos satellite, which launched in 1999 and took its last photo in 2014, are like night and day. 

    Black and white Ikonos images clearly show large-scale features of different areas, but the detail is lost, limiting the number of applications available to users of the data. 

    An Ikonos satellite image of RFK stadium in Washington D.C., 1999.
    View photos
    An Ikonos satellite image of RFK stadium in Washington D.C., 1999.

    Image: Image courtesy of digitalglobe

    WorldView-4's first image.
    View photos
    WorldView-4's first image.

    Image: image courtesy of Digitalglobe


    All in all, WorldView-4 will provide 680,000 square kilometers (a bit less than the size of Texas) of imagery to DigitalGlobe's database every day. 

    Clients like Google use those images to create maps, provide help to aid organizations after disasters, and other applications.

    DigitalGlobe isn't the only commercial company in the Earth imagery game. In fact, this is a rapidly expanding area, though DigitalGlobe stands out for its sizable government business with secretive organizations like the National Reconnaissance Office.

    Start-ups like Orbital Insight, Planet and Spire want to use small satellites and big data to analyze images quickly to track issues like deforestation and even track aircraft and provide insight about the weather. 

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  • China's Zhangjiajie glass bridge closes after two weeks

    A glass-bottomed bridge in China that was heralded as a record-breaker when it opened just 13 days ago has closed.

    Officials said the government was planning urgent maintenance work in the area and the bridge closed on Friday, with a re-opening time to be announced.

    But the US CNN network said a spokesman told them the bridge, spanning a canyon, was "overwhelmed by the volume of visitors".

    He said there had been no accidents and the bridge was not cracked or broken.

    The 430m-long bridge, which cost $3.4m (£2.6m) to build, connects two mountain cliffs in Zhangjiajie, Hunan province.

    It hangs 300m over a canyon said to have inspired the landscapes of the film Avatar.

    When it opened, it was said to be the highest and longest glass-bottomed bridge in the world.

    screenshot of Weibo post with Chinese charactersImage copyrightWEIBOImage captionThe park made the announcement on the Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo

    The bridge can accommodate 8,000 visitors a day but the spokesman told CNN that 10 times as many people wanted access daily.

    Officials at the park announced the closure in a post on the Chinese micro-blogging site, Weibo.

    They did not mention visitor numbers but said the government urgently needed to upgrade the area.

    The post said that tour groups who had planned to see the bridge over the weekend might have "discretionary admission".

    In response to the announcement, one social media user wrote: "I have booked everything and now you are saying you are closed... Are you kidding me?"

    The glass suspension bridge in Zhangjiajie, ChinaImage copyrightAPImage captionThe terrifying new glass bridge is in China's Hunan provinceA car filled with passengers drives across the bridgeImage copyrightAPImage captionWhen it opened, officials drove a car full of people across the bridge to show how safe the glass was

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  • Asian companies have world's worst cybersecurity says study

    Many Asian organisations are badly defended against cyber-attacks, a year-long investigation by US security company Mandiant indicates.

    The median time between a breach and its discovery was 520 days, it says. That is three times the global average.

    Asia was also 80% more likely to be targeted by hackers than other parts of the world, the report said.

    It said an average of 3.7GB in data had been stolen in each attack, which could be tens of thousands of documents.

    However, the bulk of the incidents were not made public because the region lacks breach disclosure laws.

    Grady Summers, the chief technology officer of Mandiant's parent company, FireEye, said the findings were "very concerning".

    "We knew responses to cyber-incidents here in Asia often lag those elsewhere, but we didn't know it was by this much," he told the BBC.

    ChartImage copyrightMANDIANT/FIREEYEImage captionThe days taken to discover a cyber-attack in 2015

    As part of the study, Mandiant hacked into one organisation's network with its permission to see how vulnerable it was.

    "Within three days we had the keys to the kingdom," Mr Summers said. "If an expert group of hackers can do the same in three days, imagine what can they do in 520 days."

    National threat

    Mandiant has published a global security report for the past six years, but this is the first time it has focused on Asia.

    The report is based on the company's investigations last year, each of which analyzed an average of 22,000 machines.

    Bays of equipment stand in the 4G area at an AT&T mobile telephone switching office on October 25, 2012 in Charlotte, North CarolinaImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

    Leaving breaches undiscovered or unreported for too long can ultimately compromise a country's economic competitiveness or national security, Mandiant warns.

    Hackers could take over key infrastructure such as power stations, whichhappened in the Ukraine, and potentially even transport systems in so-called smart cities.

    On a consumer level, personal information can be used for fraudulent purposes. More than 500 million digital identities were stolen or exposed last year, an earlierreport by security company Symantec suggests.

    "Threats to corporate data are now a critical business concern for nearly every company," said Richard Fenning, chief executive of Control Risks, another security company.

    "Hackers, whether malevolent teenagers or malicious states, are the leading disrupters of our age. [There's] no simple, single fix.

    "Technology can help, but we must also shift how we think about digital security and have nimble leadership when the near-inevitable breach occurs."

    State-sponsored attacks

    Mandiant suggests that the bulk of cyber-attacks in Asia are state-sponsored and target areas with heightened geopolitical tensions, such as the South China Sea.

    Governments, financial institutions, energy, education research, healthcare, aerospace and defence had "long been a favourite target" of hackers who look to either destroy or use the stolen material for extortion, it said.

    There had been a decrease in the number of attacks in the US and western Europe by Chinese hackers, Mr Summers added, because China seemed to be refocusing its efforts to other parts of Asia.

    'Not doing enough'

    Asian organisations were ill-equipped to defend their networks from attackers because "they frequently lack basic response processes and plans, threat intelligence, technology and expertise", Mr Summers said.

    "They're not doing enough," he said.

    "But they're starting to wake up to the reality of the threats.

    "In the US, we were going through this realisation 10 years ago, so we have a head start."

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  • Plenty of animals have big mouths filled with sharp teeth, but only one had a bite this powerful

    Imagine a great cavernous mouth, edged by hundreds of razor-sharp teeth. Powerful muscles work to rip flesh, crush bone and close the maw with terrific speed.

    Such terrifying jaws are familiar from monster movies, fromJaws to Godzilla. But back in the real world, which animal has the worst bite of them all?

    It is not just a matter of having a big mouth. The bowhead whale has the largest mouth of any animal, but it does not use it to bite. To really deliver a powerful bite, an animal needs a big mouth, lots of strong teeth, and powerful muscles.

    To find the worst bite, we have to search on land, underwater and back in the mists of time.


    A sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) (Credit: Brandon Cole/naturepl.com)

    A sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) (Credit: Brandon Cole/naturepl.com)


    The first thing to understand is that not every animal with teeth can bite. For instance, the common garden snail has thousands of teeth on its tongue-like radula. But it uses them to scrape, not gnash, so it cannot be said to bite.

    The largest living [animal] using its teeth for catching its prey and tearing pieces off it is the killer whale

    Similarly, the blue whale may be the biggest animal alive, but it does not have the biggest bite. There is a simple reason: it has no teeth. Instead it has plates of baleen, a net-like structure with which it filters food from enormous gulps of sea water.

    The sperm whale looks more promising, as it is the largest toothed predator on Earth. But it is another red herring. It only has teeth on its lower jaw and tends to swallow its squid diet whole.

    Oddities like these mean it is no simple task to find the biggest bite on Earth. According to Olivier Lambert of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, the best contender is not a whale – but it does prey on whales.


    An orca (Orcinus orca) or killer whale (Credit: Roland Seitre/naturepl.com)

    An orca (Orcinus orca) or killer whale (Credit: Roland Seitre/naturepl.com)


    "The largest living [animal] using its teeth for catching its prey and tearing pieces off it is the killer whale," he says.

    A lot of tests of bite force have been conducted from the safety of a desk

    Despite their name, killer whales are actually dolphins. They are also known as orcas and can grow to 31ft (9.5m) long. They have around 50 conical teeth, which they use to rip apart prey – from seals to grey whale calves.

    However, as any fan of nature documentaries can tell you, orcas usually hunt co-operatively to take down big prey. That means it could be a case of many mouths make light work, and their individual bites might not be especially powerful.

    So maybe we want a lone predator, in which case we should take a look at the world's biggest predatory fish, the great white shark. Famous for their 300 blade-like teeth, which are continually replaced, these sharks certainly have one of the most feared bites on Earth.

    But with a jaw made of flexible cartilage rather than solid bone, is it the most powerful bite? To find out, someone had to measure the force it exerts.


    A great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) (Credit: David Fleetham/naturepl.com)

    A great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) (Credit: David Fleetham/naturepl.com)


    Measuring the bite of a predator like a great white shark might sound like a guaranteed trip to Davy Jones's Locker. Evidently scientists agree, because a lot of tests of bite force have been conducted from the safety of a desk.

    In 2008, Stephen Wroe of the University of New England in Australia and his colleagues used computer simulations to estimate how powerful a great white shark's bite could be.

    The most powerful bite recorded from a living animal belongs to the saltwater crocodile

    For the largest sharks, the maximum bite force prediction was 18,216 Newtons. For comparison, our best bite with our second molars is estimated at a maximum of 1,317N.

    Previous techniques for simulating bite force had considered the jaw as a two-dimensional lever, but Wroe used a method that went much further.

    "3D finite element analysis has revolutionised predictions and analyses of bite force," says Wroe. "Just because an animal could hypothetically generate a particular force doesn't mean that it did. FEA allows us to predict stress and strain throughout the skull and jaws, as well as reaction forces, and thus allows us to predict overall mechanical behaviour."

    Still, nothing beats measuring the bite of an animal in the flesh. A few hardy researchers have conducted tests on real live animals.


    Saltwater crocodiles (Crocoylus porosus): bitey (Credit: Dave Watts/naturepl.com)

    Saltwater crocodiles (Crocoylus porosus): bitey (Credit: Dave Watts/naturepl.com)


    The most powerful bite recorded from a living animal belongs to the saltwater crocodile, according to a 2012 study byGregory Erickson of Florida State University in Tallahassee and colleagues.

    It is not the teeth or long jaws of crocodiles that give them a big bite, but the ferocious snap

    The team compared 23 crocodilian species, by persuading the reptiles to bite a metal sandwich on a pole. This "bite force transducer" measured how much pressure was applied across a pair of plates by the upper and lower jaw.

    Erickson's team caught and restrained the animals, then placed the transducer between their back teeth where the bite forces were greatest. This meant only the "jaw adductor" muscle forces were measured, without any twisting forces.

    The largest saltwater crocodiles delivered a crushing 16,414N, more than 3.5 times that of the previous record-holder, thespotted hyena. The crocodile's bite was slightly weaker than that of the great white shark – but the shark's bite was only simulated.


    A spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) (Credit: Constantinos Petrinos/naturepl.com)

    You still wouldn't want a spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) to bite you (Credit: Constantinos Petrinos/naturepl.com)


    It is not the teeth or long jaws of crocodiles that give them a big bite, but the ferocious snap, according to Laura Porro of the Royal Veterinary College in London, UK.

    There could be crocodiles out there with even stronger bites

    "We think their high bite force is largely due to enormous jaw-closing muscles, particularly a muscle called the pterygoideus," says Porro. "If you look at a photograph of a large croc, these are the big fleshy jowls hanging near the back corner of their mouths."

    This helps explain why the biggest crocodiles have such strong bites.

    "Their jaw-closing muscles show positive allometry," says Porro. "As the animal grows, these muscles grow relatively faster than expected. Adult crocodilians bite harder than juveniles [partly] because they are absolutely bigger in size, but also because their muscles are relatively larger."

    The crocs measured by Erickson's team were not the biggest specimens known, so there could be crocodiles out there with even stronger bites.


    A black piranha (Serrasalmus rhombeus) (Credit: Willem Kolvoort/naturepl.com)

    A black piranha (Serrasalmus rhombeus) (Credit: Willem Kolvoort/naturepl.com)


    At the other end of the scale, the diminutive South American fish known as piranhas have a reputation for biting sizeable chunks out of their prey.

    The shark bite researchers estimated the megashark's bite to be an "extraordinary" 108,514-182,201N

    However, in a 2012 study, researchers measured the bite force of the black piranha to be 320N. That is feeble compared to the great white shark, even when you factor in the size difference.

    That said, piranhas are not what they were. Around 9 million years ago, South America was home to giant piranhas called Megapiranha paranensisthat were up to 3ft (1m) long. The piranha researchers estimated that they had a bite force of 1,240-4,749N, and teeth that could crush bones.

    This finding underscores the general pattern that bigger animals have the most powerful bites. For this reason, the giant prehistoric ancestors of our crocs, sharks and whales are estimated to have had the biggest bites of all time.


    Illustration of a Megalodon (Credit: Ian Coleman (Wildlife Art Company)/naturepl.com)

    Illustration of a Megalodon (Credit: Ian Coleman (Wildlife Art Company)/naturepl.com)


    The whopping shark known as Carcharodon megalodon went extinct 2.6 million years ago. It may have grown to almost 66ft (20m) long, nearly 3.5 times the length of the biggest great white sharks.

    Around 9 million years ago, South America was home to giant piranhas

    The shark bite researchers estimated the megashark's bite to be an "extraordinary" 108,514-182,201N. That is enough to crush a small car.

    For now, that is the strongest bite that has been formally estimated. But it may not be the strongest of all.

    At the same time that C. megalodon prowled the seas, there was also a sperm whale called Livyatan melvillei. Named for the author of the ultimate whale tale, this huge whale lived in some of the same places as the mega-shark, and hunted the same prey.


    The jaws of a Livyatan melvillei (Credit: Endless Travel/Alamy)

    The jaws of a Livyatan melvillei (Credit: Endless Travel/Alamy)


    It was a whopper: its head alone was 9ft 10in (3m) long. Not only that, unlike modern sperm whales it had functional teeth in both jaws. Those teeth may be the largest of any animal: they were 14in (36cm) each.

    Very powerful bites can be reasonably expected for this animal

    "With such skull and teeth sizes,Livyatan melvillei is undoubtedly one of the biggest bites of all time, if not the biggest," says Olivier Lambert, who was part of the team that first described the giant sperm whale.

    So far, nobody has applied the finite element analysis technique used to model C. megalodon's bite force to L. melvillei.As a result, we cannot compare their estimated bite forces.

    However, "it would definitely [be] worth trying," says Lambert. "Considering the jaw, teeth and skull size and proportions, very powerful bites can be reasonably expected for this animal."

    So if you travel far enough back in time, there may be some fact to the fiction of Moby Dick.

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