Tag Archives: china

Chinese Workers Face Competition From Robots


One of the defining narratives of modern China has been the migration of young workers — often girls in their late teenage years — from the countryside into sprawling cities for jobs in factories. Many found work at Foxconn, which employs nearly 1 million low-wage workers to hand-assemble electronic gadgets for Apple, Nintendo, Intel, Dell, Nokia, Microsoft, Samsung and Sony.

So it was a surprise when Terry Guo, the hard-charging, 61-year-old billionaire CEO of Foxconn, said last July that the Taiwan-based manufacturing giant would add up to 1 million industrial robots to its assembly lines inside of three years.

The aim: to automate assembly of electronic devices just as companies in Japan, South Korea and the United States previously automated much of the production of automobiles.

Foxconn, one of China’s largest private employers, has long played an outsize role in China’s labor story. It has used cheap labor to attract multinational clients but now faces international scrutiny over low pay and what some see as inhumane working conditions.

“Automation is the beginning of the end of the factory girl, and that’s a good thing,” says David Wolf, a Beijing-based strategic communications and IT analyst. Wolf, who has visited many Chinese factory floors, predicts an eventual labor shift similar to “the decline of seamstresses or the secretarial pool in America.”

Since the announcement, Guo hasn’t offered more details, keeping observers guessing about whether Foxconn’s plans are real. (Through its public-relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, Foxconn declined to describe its progress.) Trade groups also haven’t seen the huge orders for industrial robots that Foxconn would need, although some experts believe the company may be developing its own robots in house.

“Guo has good reasons for not waving his flag about this too much,” says Wolf. Keeping quiet could give Foxconn a jump on competitors. What’s more, with the Chinese economy slowing down, “it is politically inadvisable to talk too much about replacing people with robots,” he says.

China’s leaders see employment as essential to maintaining a harmonious society. The imperative of creating jobs often trumps that of efficiency. For instance, Wang Mengshu, deputy chief engineer at China Railway Tunnel Group, says that labor-saving equipment isn’t always used even when it’s available. “If all the new tunnels were built with the advanced equipment, that would trim the need for the employment of about six million migrant workers,” he says. “In certain fields we don’t want to have fast development in China, in order to solve the national employment problem.”

About 300,000 Chinese workers currently live in dormitories at Foxconn’s Longhua factory complex, where Apple products are assembled. Most spend their days seated beside a conveyer belt, wearing white gowns, face masks and hairnets so that stray hairs and specks of dust won’t interfere as they perform simple but precise tasks, again and again.

Each worker focuses on a single action, like putting stickers on the front of an iPhone or packing a finished product into a box. As managers told ABC’s Nightline — which aired a rare look inside the factory in February — it takes five days and 325 steps to assemble an iPad.

Such highly structured and predictable tasks are well suited to automation, says Jamie Wang, a Taipei-based analyst for the research firm Gartner. Industrial robots, typically equipped with a movable arm, use lasers or pressure sensors to know when to start and finish a job. A robot can be operated 160 hours a week. Even assuming competition from nimble-fingered humans putting in 12-hour shifts, a single robot might replace two workers, and possibly as many as four.

Wang stresses that Foxconn can’t replace human workers right away because automating assembly lines would require rejiggering its entire manufacturing process. Larger changes in China also won’t occur overnight. Smaller Chinese factories can’t afford to invest in robotics, and factory wages are still relatively low — about $315 to $400 per month in the Pearl River Delta, according to Liu Kaiming, director of a Shenzhen-based labor organization called the Institute of Contemporary Observation.

Despite that, Foxconn isn’t the only Chinese manufacturer betting on robots. The International Federation of Robotics, based in Frankfurt, tracked a 50% jump in purchases of advanced industrial robots by Chinese manufacturers in 2011, to 22,600 units, and now predicts that China will surpass Japan as the world’s largest market in two years. It’s obvious, Wolf says, that industrial robotics “is about to get very hot in China.”

Image courtesy of iStock, loonger

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/17/industrial-robots-china-workers/

Chinese Astronauts Beam Science Lesson From Space


There’s a lot to learn from living in space, but only so many get to have the experience firsthand. In order to share what they’ve seen with curious students, the three Chinese astronauts currently in orbit have delivered a lesson from space to students and countrymen on Earth.

The Shenzhou 10 astronauts (or “taikonauts”) beamed down China’s first live space science lesson video to 330 elementary and middle school children in Beijing from their position onboard the nation’s Tiangong 1 space module. More than 60 million students and teachers also watched the televised broadcast from around China, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua.

Nie Haisheng and Wang Yaping — the second Chinese woman to fly to space — demonstrated the high points of weightlessness during the lecture while Zhang Xiaoguang photographed the lesson, which was broadcast live on China’s state-run CCTV news channel.

“In a weightless environment, we are very skillful marshal artists,” Wang said after Nie floated around the lab in various positions.

Wang showed the students how water behaves in space, creating a bubble of liquid to demonstrate the properties of surface tension while in microgravity.

“Okay everybody, this is where magic happens,” Wang said as she held up a bubble of water trapped within a metal ring.

Wang engaged the students by asking questions throughout the nearly hourlong lecture. Students discussed how they weigh themselves on Earth before the taikonaut demonstrated how the space flyers weigh objects in microgravity.

The astronauts also took questions from their student audience.

“Do you enjoy any view that’s different from what you can see on the Earth?” one student asked Wang. “Do the stars twinkle, and do you see the UFOs?”

“From the window, we can see the beautiful Earth and the sun, the moon and the stars, but we haven’t seen the UFO,” Wang said. “As we are now in outer space without the atmosphere, we can see the stars shining brightly, but they do not twinkle.”
China’s Shenzhou 10 crew launched into orbit on June 11 for a 15-day stint in space. Tiangong 1 is expected to remain in service for another three months, after which it will be deorbited or destroyed, experts have said.

This trip marks China’s fifth manned spaceflight. China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei, launched into orbit in 2003, making China the third nation to launch astronauts into space using its own vehicles after Russia and the United States.

The Tiangong 1 space lab has been orbiting Earth since September 2011 and is considered China’s first step on the way toward building a large space laboratory by about 2020.

Mashable composite, images via iStockphoto, inhauscreative and courtesy of Flickr, nist6ss

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/21/lesson-from-space/

China’s Video Sites Ordered to Censor Content


If you run a video website in China, you will now be charged with a daunting task: watch all your content and censor out any questionable content before posting.

China’s new online video censorship rules came this week via the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), China’s official broadcast regulation bureau. SARFT made the pre-screening policy known through a statement released to Chinese press that was later reported on by The Register.

Chinese video websites can be held legally liable if they fail to comply with the self-screening and censorship policy.

SARFT claims that the target of the new rules is content which depicts “violence, pornography and some swearing,” adding that the pre-screening policy is a response to pressure from Chinese citizens to “protect young people’s physical and mental health in accordance with the law.”

However, a spokesperson from popular Chinese video site Youku told the BBC that if content is “anti-[Communist] party and anti-society,” it will “definitely… not pass,” a condition which may alarm Internet freedom advocates around the world.

The Chinese government is known for aggressively censoring online content.

Its “Great Firewall of China” blocks Chinese citizens from accessing many foreign websites — including the popular video-sharing platform YouTube.

On top of that, it has a team of hundreds of official censors who actively crawl the Chinese web looking for content the government deems questionable. Those censors often play a game of digital cat-and-mouse with Chinese Internet users, most recently when users were looking for information about Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.

Foreign companies employ a variety of methods to do business in China. Google China, which has a fractious relationship with the Chinese government, houses its servers in Hong Kong, which has a high degree of autonomy from mainland China. The New York Times, which recently opened a Chinese-language platform, also hosts its content outside mainland China.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/11/china-censorship-video/

Microsoft May Be Making a Smartphone for China


The latest reports from Asia have resurrected a popular rumor: that Microsoft is planning to launch its own Windows Phone smartphone and initially sell it in China, where smartphone use is exploding. However, with a delicate ecosystem of hardware partners to balance, and huge competition in China, it could be an uphill task for the software giant.

Ever since Microsoft announced its landmark Windows Phone agreement with Nokia, there have been mutterings that the company is thinking about producing its own smartphone. Earlier this month came the clearest sign yet, when the Wall Street Journal quoted officials at Microsoft parts suppliers in Asia as saying that testing had already begun.

Add to this the recent launch of the Microsoft Surface tablet—which showcases the touch-screen capabilities of Windows 8 and RT operating systems—and CEO Steve Ballmer’s recent speculation that the Redmond, Washington–based firm would “obviously” make more hardware, and the case becomes even more compelling.

China is likely to be a key battleground for smartphone makers. IDC recently pegged it as the world’s largest smartphone market, and, unlike the U.S. market, it is still growing. Canalys stats put Q2 shipments at 27% of the world’s total, ahead of the U.S. at 16%. China and Asia have for some years also led in smartphone production—which accounts for Microsoft’s reported testing of the new phone with Asian suppliers.

A low-cost, high-spec smartphone from Microsoft could be popular in China. But the success of such a device will likely depend on how well the American giant partners with local firms to tailor a device for the domestic market.

Microsoft has already failed with a previous smartphone launch, the ill-fated Kin, and its only hardware success to date has been Xbox. Nonetheless, Ovum analyst Tony Cripps argues that it’s quite possible Microsoft is taking the same strategy with the smartphone that it took with its recently launched Surface tablet. “While there were risks involved, Microsoft created Surface, and it made sense to do so. Why not do it again?” he says. “It’s about staying relevant.”

However, IDC analyst Melissa Chau cautions that Redmond could find its options limited by the need to avoid upsetting existing hardware partners, just as Google’s options with its Android-based Motorola phones have been limited. Partners including Acer were somewhat hostile to its Surface launch, and Microsoft cannot afford to alienate the Windows Phone partner ecosystem.

Chau argues that Microsoft‘s testing of the device might be aimed not at a product release but at showing partners the direction it envisions for Windows Phone devices. It’s also possible the device could be kept in reserve as a ”Plan B” in case Nokia’s hardware offerings fail to capture the popular imagination and drive the platform forward, she says.

In any case, Microsoft’s biggest problem is Android. IDC’s preliminary Q3 stats put Android shipments for the period at a record-breaking 136 million units, 75% of all smartphones. Apple’s iOS came in second with 26 million units (14.9%), and Windows Phone shipments totalled 3.6 million units and just 2% of the market. It’s still early days for Microsoft, but with HTC and Samsung both more committed to Android than Windows Phone, only Nokia is left to blaze the trail. Android also has a 77% share of China’s smartphone market, according to Beijing-based analyst Analysys International.

Chau explains that China has the “fastest adoption of high-end specs at cheaper prices.” The most popular devices are slick quad core devices with screen sizes around the 13 cm mark. In the past six months alone, we’ve seen the launch of Huawei’s 11 cm Honor II, at 1,888 yuan ($305); the Xiaomi Phone 2 at 1,999 yuan ($310); ZTE’s U950 at 999 yuan ($160); and Meizu’s MX 4-core, which now retails at 2,399 yuan ($380). “They’re not innovating, but there’s an appetite for this type of hardware we don’t see in other countries,” she explains.

Local handset makers—both big brands and the huge number of smaller, low-margin “white box” producers—are also targeting the sub-1,000 yuan ($160) market with gusto, aware that the huge installed base of feature-phone users in countries like China and India will soon be looking to upgrade to a smartphone.

Canalys reckons that by 2015 almost half of Chinese smartphones will be handsets under $200. The Lenovo A65 recently came down from around 1,000 yuan ($160) in Q4 2011 to around 700 yuan ($112) in the first quarter of this year, for example.

What these handsets and more high-end devices have in common, in China at least, is that the user interface and services preloaded onto them are localized for the Chinese market. When it comes to Web services, the Chinese government’s rigorous approach to online censorship has meant that some sites Western users take for granted, like Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube, are virtually pointless to have on a smartphone.

Chinese users need Youku instead of YouTube, Sina Weibo instead of Twitter, RenRen instead of Facebook and Taobao instead of eBay—and Baidu, not Google, is favored by around 80% of the search market, even on Android devices.

Some Chinese handset makers, Web companies, and mobile operators have gone a step further and built their own mobile operating systems, although success has been limited so far. Baidu (with its Yi platform), e-commerce giant Alibaba (Aliyun), Xiaomi (MIUI), and others hope that their operating systems will drive more users to their services and “build fences and drive stakes into the ground” in the country’s fast-growing mobile market, according to a recent IDC report.

Although big names including Motorola, Huawei, HTC and Samsung have plants in countries such as Vietnam, India and Malaysia, and while Foxconn recently unveiled plans for a huge factory in Indonesia, the majority of smartphone production remains in China. Most of the big Taiwanese companies, including Foxconn, Pegatron, Wistron and Compal, have plants producing for most of the world’s biggest tech brands, including Apple, HP, Samsung, Dell, Nokia and, of course, Microsoft.

Thanks to government subsidies, low wages, good infrastructure and, most important, a centralized supply chain, China remains the No. 1 location for smartphone manufacturing, with the focus having spread from the historical center of the tech world, in the Pearl River Delta around Shenzhen, to new hubs in Chengdu, Chongqing, Henan province, and elsewhere as more local governments offer financial incentives.

In the end, whatever Microsoft’s plans are in the smartphone space, it and every other Western tech giant needs to get used to a new reality—if you want to succeed in the 21st-century global smartphone market, you need to pivot towards Asia.

Image courtesy of Flickr, okalkavan

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/13/microsoft-smartphone-china/

Aghast Over Beijing’s Pollution? Look at Pittsburgh 60 Years Ago


The photographs and measurements coming out of Beijing these days are horrifying. You can see the brown clouds from space, and Chinese media have even been talking up the problem.

I’ve heard from some Americans saying, “Why don’t they do something about this? How can they live like this?” Etcetera. To an early 21st century American, particularly one living in northern California or a relatively pollution-free Washington, DC, it seems crazy to live with such bad air.

But it was not always so.

As America became an industrial power during the 19th century, Pittsburgh emerged as the seat of metalworking, iron and then steel. This was a city powered by coal. Soot and smoke covered the city. There was no blue sky. Travelers from around the world visited Pittsburgh to see the wonder of American capitalism. The stories they tell are like — exactly, like — the ones you hear today about China. (This is a story that I covered in some detail in my book.)

A wry southerner observed, “If a sheet of white paper lie upon your desk for half an hour you may write on it with your finger’s end through the thin stratum of coal dust that has settled upon it during that interval.”

Another traveler recounted, “Every body who has heard of Pittsburgh knows that it is the city of perpetual smoke, and looks as if it were built above the descent to ‘the bottomless pit,'” that is to say, hell. And yet, this dirty power also happened to make a lot of people a lot of money. It was said, “He whose hands are the most sooty handles the most money, and it is reasonable to infer is the richer man.”

Everyone knew that the smoke covering their homes and clothes and trees was bad. But it made a certain group of people a lot of money. And so they fought pollution controls. And those people had friends.

So, while the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (granted, a less august institution back then) declared the health hazards of smoke and wondered aloud whether corporations should be allowed to produce what it called such “evil,” a Pittsburgh doctor maintained that soot and smoke “only go throat-deep” and said that fire and smoke “correct atmospheric impurities.”

The politics of how this works are pretty simple. The smoke and the soot are something we recognize now as an externality. A cost of doing business that the business doesn’t have to pay because they can dump it on society. Chinese citizens and activists and assorted air-breathers will have to get the polluting companies to internalize these costs. The polluting companies don’t want to internalize that cost. Here’s Chicago’s smoke inspector (yes htere was such a title and in this case, he was named F.U. Adams) in 1896 laying out the rhetorical positions of the two camps:

Viewed from the standpoint of the Smoke Inspector, the 1,600,000 people of Chicago are divided into two classes—First, those who create a smoke nuisance; Second, those who are compelled to tolerate a smoke nuisance. One class has radical champions who maintain that smoke is an irrepressible necessity; a concomitant of the commercial and manufacturing supremacy of Chicago; that smoke not only is not unhealthy, but that it is an actual disinfectant, and that the low death rate of the city can be largely attributed to the prevalence of smoke; that the smoke ordinance and its enforcement are aimed at the interests of the Illinois coal operators; that the advocates of smoke abatement are visionary sentimentalists, and in a general way they are emphatically opposed to any agitation on the subject.

The other side has partisans no less radical, and equally emphatic in voicing the story of their wrongs. They declare that the enforcement of the smoke ordinance is a farce; they demand that soft coal be excluded from the city; they insist that its consumption entails an annual damage greater than the difference in cost between soft and hard coal; they declare that the smoke nuisance is a positive menace to the health of citizens, that it has resulted in an alarming increase in throat, lung and eye diseases; they point to ruined carpets, paintings, fabrics, the soot-besmeared facades of buildings and to a smoke-beclouded sky, and demand that the Smoke Inspector do his plain duty under the law.

It is impossible to reconcile the radical partisans of these two classes. It is fortunate that not many of our citizens are so radical on either side of this most important question. There exists a growing contingent, around which is crystallizing a sentiment that it is practical and possible to abate the smoke nuisance without endangering the stupendous interests involved. The most intelligent and active members of this contingent are drawn from the ranks of those formerly largely responsible for the smoke nuisance. They now oppose smoke for the same reason that they once defended it.

They have made the discovery that it is cheaper to abate a smoke nuisance than to maintain one. And by reason of this discovery the smoke nuisance in Chicago will be a relic of the past before the close of the present century.

Ah, you beautiful visionary sentimentalists! My asthma thanks you. But man, F.U. Adams was optimistic. Change takes a long time. Pittsburgh, for its part, did not enact smoke controls until 1946! Yes, 1946! And they didn’t really get a handle on the smoke problem until well into the 1950s. That’s, oh, 120 years after all those travelers decried the place as hell with the lid off. I mean, this is what Pittsburgh looked like at noon, the lights all on because so little sunlight could penetrate the pollution:

This is what passed for fresh air.

Until finally, one day, after a century of agitation, activists got smoke control measures passed. The sky started to clear.

The fundamental struggle of any kind of pollution control is trying to get the polluters to internalize the costs of their pollution. Because if they don’t, the rest of us have to pay more. We — i.e. all of society — subsidize their businesses through increased health care costs, declining values of certain kinds of housing, toxic land or water or air. And the only reason they get away with it is that tracing the line of causality back to them — even when the air looks as disgusting as it does in these photographs — is just that difficult. They hide their roles in the complexity of the system.

So, next time you see one of the photos of Beijing’s pollution and say, “Geez! The Chinese should do something about this!” Just know that it took American activists over a century to win the precise same battle, and that they’re losing a similar one over climate change right this minute.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at The Atlantic

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/01/16/beijing-pollution-pittsburgh/

China to Launch First Space-Based Quantum Communications Experiment


The “Chinese Quantum Science Satellite” will launch in 2016 and aim to make China the first space-faring nation with quantum communication capability.

The ability to send perfectly secure messages from one location on the planet to another has obvious and immediate appeal to governments, the military and various commercial organizations such as banks. This capability is already possible over short distances thanks to the magic of quantum cryptography, which guarantees the security of messages — at least in theory.

For the moment, however, quantum cryptography works only over distances of 100 km or so. That’s how far it is possible to send the single photons that carry quantum messages through an optical fiber or through the atmosphere.

Last year, we watched as European and Chinese physicists battled to claim the distance record for this technology with the Europeans finally triumphing by setting up a quantum channel over 143 kilometers through the atmosphere.

That distance is a good fraction of the way into space. And the reason that’s important is that it’s a stepping stone to sending quantum messages to orbiting satellites which can then route the messages to almost anywhere else on the planet.

Today, the Chinese claim another small victory in this quantum space race. Jian-Wei Pan at the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai and his fellow researchers say they’ve bounced single photons off an orbiting satellite and detected them back on Earth. That’s significant because it simulates a satellite sending single photons from orbit to the surface, crossing off another proof-of-principle milestone in their quantum checklist.

The experiment is simple in principle. These guys have two telescopes in a binocular formation which they pointed at a satellite orbiting at an altitude of 400 kilometers. This satellite is covered with reflectors capable of bouncing a laser beam from Earth back to its original location.

Image courtesy of “Experimental Single-Photon Transmission from Satellite to Earth”

They used one of the telescopes to send pulses of light towards the satellite and the other, with a diameter of 60 cm, to look for the reflection.

Of course, the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs a very high percentage of the photons transmitted from the ground. So Pan and his team produced each pulse with just enough photons so that, on average, just one would reach the satellite and be reflected back to Earth. The idea was to simulate the satellite itself sending single photons to the surface.

Each pulse began its journey from Earth with about 1 billion photons and, on average, just one started the return journey. Obviously, many of the returning photons would also be absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere. So the pulse was repeated many millions of times per second.

Pan and his team say that they were able to detect the returning photons at a rate of about 600 per second. “These results are suf?cient to set up an unconditionally secure QKD link between satellite and earth, technically,” they add in the paper that accompanies their research.

That’s a significant stepping stone. “Our results represent a crucial step towards the ?nal implementation of high-speed QKD between the satellite and the ground stations, which will also serve as a test bed for secure intercontinental quantum communication,” the team says.

However, this experiment raises something of a puzzle. The researchers say they used a German satellite called CHAMP for their experiment. The satellite launched in 2000, and its mission was to make a precise gravity map of the Earth by bouncing lasers off it.

What’s curious about the Chinese announcement is that CHAMP deorbited in 2010. So a question worth asking is when the team did this work. Clearly, the team has been sitting on this result for some time.

Why publish it now? The answer may be a small but significant detail revealed in the final paragraph of the paper. Here Pan and his colleagues announce that they plan to launch the first quantum science experiment into space. The spacecraft is called the Chinese Quantum Science Satellite and it is scheduled for launch in 2016.

A quick Google search shows that the official Chinese news agency, Xinhau, revealed in March that its scientists were planning a quantum information and technology space experiment. But the announcement did not give the name of the satellite and appears to have had little if any coverage in the west.

‘We hope to establish a quantum communication network from Beijing to Vienna,” according to Pan, a plan that will presumably require significant co-operation from their arch-competitors in Europe.

Last year, European scientists themselves proposed sending a quantum communications experiment to the International Space Station, an idea that could be beat the Chinese at their own game and would be relatively cheap and quick. But whether this plan has gained traction isn’t clear.

What is abundantly clear is that the quantum space race is rapidly hotting up. But the embarrassing truth for American science is that the U.S. isn’t yet a player in the quantum space race (at least not publicly). Perhaps that’s something that should change.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/11/china-quantum-communications/

China Plans To Land The First Probe On The Far Side Of The Moon By 2018

Earthlings have been sending probes to explore the Moon since 1959.But in those 57 years, the far side of our satellitehas remained untouched by human footsteps and probes alike. Now, China hopes to change that.

According to Chinese state mediaXinhua News Agency, China aims to go to the farside of the Moon by 2018, as reported byReuters. Change-4 an unmanned probe named after a mythological Chinese goddess of the Moon will explore and survey the geology of the uncharted lunar lands.

This side of the Moon, which never faces Earth, has been seen in imagery taken from spacecrafts. The first-everphotographs were taken in 1959, when the Soviet Union deployed their Luna 3 spacecraft.

We havent been to the far side of the Moon yet as crucial communication signals to and from Earth are essentially blocked out.This means thatin order for a probe to be in contact with Earth, a satellite or spacecraft would also have to be launched into lunar orbit so that signals can be relayed.However, it is precisely for that reason that Chinawants to build a basethere, as being sheltered from the constant stream of Earths radio interface could give a radio telescope a clearer view of the universe.

President Xi Jinping has made space exploration a top priority for China,hoping to use the space program as a demonstration of their increasing economic and technological prowess. As of yet, their missions have been accused of merely mimickingprevious missions by the Russians and Americans. However, if Change-4 is a success, China will cement its place as a major new player in the space explorationgame.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/china-aims-visit-far-side-moon-2018

GIFs Reveal 25 Years Of Glacier Flow In One Second

You probably associate GIFs with Reddit and obscure pop culture references. However, thishilarious and mesmerizing mediumis now being used by geographers to document the movement of glaciers.

These GIFS are from a recent study by the University of Zurich looking at the dynamics of glacier flows in the Karakoram mountain range in Asia. Over a span of 25 years, the study used three different satellites, operated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA, to document the shifting movement and advances of glaciers. Glacier changesduring that time period were then compressed into one second.

The Skamri region. Image credit: Frank Paul, University of Zurich

The study looked at the areas of Baltoro, Panmah, Skamri-Sarpo Laggo, and Shaksgam; four regions known for their surgeglaciers. The study is believed to be the most expansive, in terms of both time and size, visual documentation of glacier movements ever.

The images reveal that the Karakoram glaciers are either stable oradvancing. This is an optimistic boost for glaciologists, who have seen many of the Earths glaciers struggling to cope with increasing temperatures.

Frank Paul, who lead the study, toldphys.org: “From a scientific point of view, the key motivation for this research was to understand the highly variable behaviour of the glaciers in the Karakoram. We have known about this for over 50 years, but still have a very limited scientific understanding of what is going on there. The animations are a very practical way to get a better overview and follow the changes through time.”

Baltoro region. Image credit: Frank Paul, University of Zurich

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/gifs-reveal-hidden-lives-glaciers-0

Chinese Hackers Access Advanced U.S. Weapons Systems


In their latest and perhaps most staggering espionage feat, Chinese hackers reportedly breached the designs of more than two dozen advanced U.S. weapons systems.

This treasure trove of military technology could potentially give China a crucial advantage in an hypothetical conflict or, at the very least, boost the regime’s old-fashioned military.

The compromised systems include advanced combat aircrafts like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, or the F/A-18 fighter jet; missile defense systems, and information related to drones, satellite communications and electronic warfare.

The revelation comes from the confidential portion of a report prepared by the Defense Science Board for the Department of Defense and obtained by the Washington Post.

The public PDF version of the report, “Resilient Military Systems and the Advanced Cyber Threat,” didn’t refer to the stolen designs, but simply warned of the increasing threat posed by lax cybersecurity. The confidential portion obtained by the Post, however, listed all the compromised weapons systems and technologies.

This part of the report wasn’t too specific in explaining the method and timing of the breach, making it unclear whether the hackers accessed Pentagon servers or stole designs from the defense contractors.

Furthermore, the report didn’t directly implicate Chinese hackers. The accusation came from “senior military and industry officials with knowledge of the breaches,” who spoke with the Post and explained that this intrusion was part of a Chinese espionage campaign against the U.S.

A Pentagon spokesman told the Post that the Department of Defense has “growing concerns about the global threat to economic and national security from persistent cyber-intrusions aimed at the theft of intellectual property, trade secrets and commercial data, which threatens the competitive edge of U.S. businesses like those in the Defense Industrial Base.”

Experts consulted by the Post were surprised by the extensive list of compromised technologies.

“That’s staggering,” said Mark Stokes, the executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank focused on Asia security issues. “These are all very critical weapons systems, critical to our national security. When I hear this in totality, it’s breathtaking.”

Knowing the inner workings of critical missile defense systems, the experts explained, could allow the Chinese military to design weapons able to circumvent them.

An anonymous senior military official said that this breach “is billions of dollars of combat advantage for China. They’ve just saved themselves 25 years of research and development. It’s nuts.”

This breach is the latest in a string of alleged Chinese cyberattacks targeting a wide variety of U.S. victims. In the beginning of May, amidst accusations from American officials, China once again denied any involvement in cyber espionage campaigns targeting U.S. military designs.

In an unrelated attack reported by Australia’s ABC Four Corners, hackers linked to China stole the blueprints for the headquarters of the Australia Security Intelligence Organization, the country’s spy agency.

Image courtesy of U.S. Air Force photo/Randy Gon

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/05/28/chinese-hackers-weapons-systems/

‘Abnormality’ Snags China Moon Rover on Lunar Science Mission


Image: CASC/China Ministry of Defense

China’s Jade Rabbit moon rover may have stubbed its lucky foot.

The state-run Xinhua news agency reported Saturday that China’s Yutu moon rover (the name means Jade Rabbit) “has experienced a mechanical control abnormality, and scientists are organizing repairs.”

It is not clear how serious the abnormality, but the news agency said the moon rover’s malfunction occurred due to the “complicated lunar surface environment,” citing the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND).

The issue with the solar-powered rover robot emerged as it entered its second hibernation period on the moon Jan. 25 as the lunar night fell, according to SASTIND officials. Earlier on Jan. 24 the Chang’e 3 lander also went into its own scheduled hibernation.

Surviving the Long, Lunar Night

The Chang’e 3 moon mission survived its first chilly and lengthy lunar night in early January.

A single “day” on the moon lasts about 28 Earth days, meaning the lunar daytime is nearly two Earth weeks long. During that 14-day/14-night cycle, temperatures on the moon are very hot in the daytime, about 212 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, the lunar surface gets extremely cold, a bitter minus 280 degrees F.

Hardware survival on the moon is considered a major triumph, with the lander and rover using novel thermal technology, solar panels and so-called “nuclear batteries.”

The Chang’e 3 mission landed on the moon Dec. 14 Beijing time, making China only the third country in the world to achieve such a moon feat after the former Soviet Union and the United States. The lander and its rover set down on Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) just east of an over 1,475-foot diameter impact crater.

The mobile Yutu rover is designed to operate for at least three months, while its stationary lander is expected to work for one year. Both the instrumented lander and the six-wheeled Yutu rover are being controlled from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC).

Early Lunar Science Look

After awaking from its first hibernation period, the Yutu moon rover completed its first “taste test” of lunar soil using its sensor-mounted robot arm.

“Accuracy control of the mechanical arm at a distance of 380,000 kilometers has been realized in the probe, marking China’s breakthrough in controlling a mechanical arm with high precision on the lunar surface,” said Wu Fenglei, deputy director of the system design department at the BACC, according to Xinhua.

An early look at how the Chang’e 3 mission is behaving has also been released by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The Chang’e 3 lander is equipped with four instruments: an optical telescope, an extreme ultraviolet camera, a landing camera, and a topography camera. The Yutu rover, meanwhile, carries four instruments of its own: a ground penetrating radar, a particle excitation X-ray spectrometer, an infrared imaging spectrometer, as well as panoramic camera.

According to CAS, the scientific goals of China’s first robotic lunar landing are divided into a trio of assignments: investigating the surface of the moon, observing the sky and monitoring the Earth.

Except for the particle excitation X-ray spectrometer and the infrared imaging spectrometer, the other instruments were powered on shortly after the Chang’e 3 lander’s touchdown. Science data from the moon-based equipment were received by two ground stations, one in Beijing and the other in Kunming, situated in Southwest China.

Earthrise From the Moon

Between Dec. 14 and 26, the rover and lander spent their first lunar day on the lunar surface. Eight sets of scientific instruments were powered on and tested.

“In the test phase, all of the instruments worked as well as expected. Large amounts of science data had been received,” according to the preliminary science document, translated and provided to SPACE.com by Yong-Chun Zheng of the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC).

For example, a view of Earthrise on the moon was captured on Dec. 23 by the lander’s topography camera. Also, the lander-mounted optical telescope observed three different patches of the sky in the near ultraviolet band on Dec. 16, taking in 23 stars located in the constellation Draco. Imagery of the Earth’s plasmasphere was taken Dec. 16 by the lander’s extreme ultraviolet camera.

Meanwhile, the nearly 310 lbs. Yutu rover was busy too, making use of a belly-mounted Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). The subsurface structure of the landing site was profiled at different depths, using two GPR observation channels.

Data collected by the rover’s particle X-ray device has helped scientists identify 11 types of chemical elements on the moon, such as magnesium, aluminum, calcium and yttrium.

Moon Science and Politics

Just as the moon is Earth’s partner in gravitational embrace, the gravity well of politics and science is always near at hand.

Gregory Kulacki, Senior Analyst & China Project Manager of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program in Cambridge, Mass., said it would be refreshing if the news coverage of the Chinese moon program focused more on science than on politics.

“While many U.S. observers seem to believe China’s primary motivation is to make a political statement, the Chinese scientists and engineers who conceived, designed and implemented the Chang’e program want to be recognized for the contributions they may be able to make toward our understanding of the moon,” Kulacki told SPACE.com.

Kulacki said that while there are those that never hesitate to warn Americans that China may send people to the moon — as if that were somehow a threat to the United States — China has made it very clear that they would like to make such an effort together with international partners, rather than being forced to go alone.

“If the United States continues to rebuff Chinese efforts to reach out on space cooperation, the day may come when China organizes its own international effort for a human lunar mission with partners in Brazil, India, Japan and South Korea,” Kulacki said. “The Chinese have already indicated that China’s national space station, expected to be completed in the early years of the next decade, will be open to scientists and astronauts from other countries.”

Picture Perfect

“This is the first time that China has attempted a landing on another planetary body and it was picture perfect,” said Jack Burns, Director of the Lunar University Network for Astrophysics Research (LUNAR) at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He underscored how open and confident China was in broadcasting the Chang’e 3’s landing and deployment of the Yutu rover on live TV.

“These are firsts and I hope this bodes well for the future. I do hope this opens opportunities now for real collaborations with the west. For China’s previous orbiting missions of the moon, there was little or no sharing of data at conferences or in publications that I’m aware of. Chang’e-3 is potentially a start of a new openness,” Burns said.

As for future collaboration, as China’s rover examines lunar samples, “there are lots of opportunities for collaborations,” Burns concluded.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/01/27/china-yutu-moon-rover/