A robot that is usually used in car factories has been reprogrammed to test samples and carry out experiments in a lab during coronavirus lockdown, scientists reveal.
University of Liverpool researchers have been making the most of the £100,000 automated assistant to run experiments for them while they are working from home.
The robot is significantly more efficient, able to perform up to 700 experiments in a week – the same number a student might complete over the course of a PhD.
It is able to work autonomously by learning from its results and refining the experiments as it goes, making scientific discovery ‘a thousand times faster’.
While the robot is currently looking ways to speed up the reaction inside solar cells, the Liverpool team say it could be put to work in the fight against coronavirus.
University of Liverpool researchers have been making the most of the £100,000 automated assistant to run experiments for them while they are working from home
In fact the team have already been approached by researchers doing covid and even climate change studies about using a version of the self-learning robot.
Benjamin Burger, one of the developers of the robot, said he could see a future where a central AI brain controls a robot in every lab around the world.
The robotic scientists moves around the lab conducting a range of experiments that involves collecting samples and placing them in different types of equipment.
It is similar to the robotic arms used in car factories but this has more ‘artificial intelligence’ that lets it decide what to do next without input from humans.
‘So our vision is we might have robots like this all across the world connected by a centralised brain which can be anywhere. We haven’t done that yet – this is the first example – but that’s absolutely what we’d like to do,’ he told the BBC.
Using robotics, artificial intelligence and supercomputers in the pursuit of scientific discovery was the subject of a new report by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
They say new solutions should be ‘urgently embraced’ in order to keep science moving forward even if researchers are forced to socially distance due to COVID-19.
Burger said the robot ‘doesn’t get bored, doesn’t get tired’ and works around the clock without needed to take a holiday.
He said this frees up researchers to focus on innovation and new solutions as the robot can ‘go through thousands of samples’ without complaint.
In future these sorts of robots could also be used to undertake risky experiments that might currently be too dangerous to attempt for humans.
This is already starting to happen in space, with NASA developing technology that would allow robots to make repairs to the outside of the International Space Station.
Researchers have also developed a robot that can take nasal and throat swabs from suspected coronavirus patients to limit exposure for healthcare workers.
In future these sorts of robots could also be used to undertake risky experiments that might currently be too dangerous to attempt for humans
‘This is about human beings harnessing all of these digital technologies, so that they can go faster,’ Deidre Black from the Royal Society of Chemistry told the BBC.
They can then ‘discover and innovate faster and explore bigger and more complex problems, like decarbonisation, preventing and treating disease, and making our air cleaner,” she said.
Robotics and automation technology in the lab can work nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, according to Andy Cooper from the University of Liverpool.
He said they can carry out very large numbers of experiments, perhaps 700 in a week, whereas maybe a PhD student might carry out 700 experiments over the course of their entire PhD – which could take years.
‘I see these systems being used as tools by scientists,’ he explained.
‘The biggest opportunities are to find reactions, materials and technologies that we simply wouldn’t find without using these methods.’
WILL YOUR JOB BE TAKEN BY A ROBOT? PHYSICAL JOBS ARE AT THE GREATEST RISK
Physical jobs in predictable environments, including machine-operators and fast-food workers, are the most likely to be replaced by robots.
Management consultancy firm McKinsey, based in New York, focused on the amount of jobs that would be lost to automation, and what professions were most at risk.
The report said collecting and processing data are two other categories of activities that increasingly can be done better and faster with machines.
This could displace large amounts of labour – for instance, in mortgages, paralegal work, accounting, and back-office transaction processing.
Conversely, jobs in unpredictable environments are least are risk.
The report added: ‘Occupations such as gardeners, plumbers, or providers of child- and eldercare – will also generally see less automation by 2030, because they are technically difficult to automate and often command relatively lower wages, which makes automation a less attractive business proposition.’
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Jurassic sea creatures spent decades crossing the ocean on rafts
Jurassic sea creatures spent decades as ‘full-time ocean sailors’, crossing the sea on driftwood ‘rafts’, a study claims.
Analysis of these rafts show they could last for as long as 20 years – enough time for the creatures, called crinoids, to grow to maturity, scientists reveal.
The attractive marine animals, which resemble colourful sea lilies, consist of a series of plates connected together in branches with a stem.
For crinoids, rafts became popular locations for colonies, as the structures were high in the water and provided a safe haven to escape predators.
There have been around 6,000 species of crinoids, about 10 per cent of which are alive today, although they don’t tend to float on rafts.
Crinoids fossils dating back to the Jurassic period are common in Yorkshire and around the Dorset coast, including Lyme Regis, part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.
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Using a giant fossil specimen (bottom left) from Germany, researchers mapped the spatial position of crinoids (bottom right) in one of the largest and best-preserved Early Jurassic floating wood fossils (top)
‘Modern crinoids don’t typically take such journeys, but we’ve since discovered fossilised examples of groups of floating crinoids,’ wrote study author Dr Aaron W. Hunter from the University of Cambridge for The Conversation.
‘However it wasn’t clear whether these were really thriving colonies living on the driftwood or just short-term passengers.
WHAT ARE CRINOIDS?
Crinoids, a distant ancestor of today’s sea lilies.
Crinoids were abundant long ago, when they carpeted the sea floor.
These echinoderms were at their height during the Paleozoic era.
They could be found all over the world, creating forests on the floor of the shallow seas of this time period.
There were so many in places, that thick limestone beds were formed almost entirely from their body parts piled on top of each other.
‘Now my colleagues and I have shown that such rafts could last for as long as 20 years, plenty of time for crinoids to grow to maturity and become full-time ocean sailors.’
Human understanding of crinoids dates back to the 1830s, when English palaeontologist William Buckland – known for the discovery of the Megalosaurus – collected fossils with another pioneering palaeontologist, Mary Anning.
One of their discoveries was the remains of fossilised crinoids, which are close relatives of sea urchins and starfish.
The specimens from Lyme Regis in Dorset, dating back to the Jurassic period more than 180 million years ago, looked like polished brass because they had been fossilised with pyrite, better known as fool’s gold.
Buckland noticed that these crinoid fossils were attached to small pieces of driftwood, which had turned into coal.
‘He hypothesised that the crinoids had been attached to the driftwood while alive, and perhaps for their entire lives, possibly living suspended underneath it,’ Dr Hunter said.
‘Buckland’s idea was initially seen as fantastical and the scientific world remained sceptical, until, that is, the discovery in the 1960s of a truly spectacular group of fossils from Holzmaden, a village not far from Stuttgart, Germany.
‘In among marine reptiles, crocodiles and ammonites, were giant colonies consisting of complete logs covered with hundreds of perfectly preserved crinoids.’
Floating logs that ferried rich communities of sea creatures around the oceans were able to float for decades. The picture shows a reconstruction of marine life from the Jurassic period
In Jurassic times, Holzmaden had been a seabed that was uninhabitable due to low oxygen levels and the crinoids would ‘have clung for life’ to logs as there was no seabed for them to live on.
Scientists have been undecided as to whether the rafts, which feature preserved crinoid colonies, survived long enough for crinoids to grow to maturity, which can take up to 10 years.
Dr Hunter and his team studied the ancient wood rafts, taken from multiple German museums and collections, including Geoscience Centre of the University of Göttingen and the Geological Institute, University of Tübingen.
‘We established that the way to understand how long the colony could have lasted was to develop a “diffusion model”,’ Dr Hunter said.
‘This estimated how long it would take before the log would become saturated with water and fail.’
As the wood in crinoid raft fossils hasn’t been preserved well enough to reveal what species it is from, the raft in the model was represented with a composite of trees known to exist in the Jurassic period, such as conifers, cycads and ginkgo trees.
The analyses revealed that crinoid colonies could have existed for more than 10 years, even up to 20 years, before it started to break, exceeding the life expectancy of modern documented raft systems.
‘There is evidence from museum collections of fragments of wood with entire, fully grown crinoids attached to them that could only have resulted from this kind of collapse,’ Hunter said.
Reconstruction of the crinoid colony based on the a giant fossil specimen from Germany. It shows the crinoids on the right hand side of the long log that makes up the raft community
The crinoids preferred to attach themselves to one end of the log structure, just like a sea captain at the helm.
This pattern resembles that of other modern rafting species such as goose barnacles, which tend to inhabit the area at the back of a raft where there is least resistance.
Amazingly, this could help reveal to researchers the direction of travel of the colony across the ocean.
Other researchers had also proposed that any floating crinoid colony would have grown until the population became too heavy for the wood raft to support it, at which point the log would have sunk to the oxygen-free seafloor where the crinoids would then have become fossilised.
‘However, research on living crinoid populations off the coast of Japan revealed that the animals would be too lightweight, even in large mature colonies, to cause a log to become overburdened and sink,’ Dr Hunter said.
The study has been published in Royal Society Open Science.
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Arctic sea ice could completely VANISH by 2035
Arctic sea ice could be non-existent by 2035, a damning study warns.
Academics utilised a climate modelling tool created by the Met Office to find out how the Arctic responded during a period of warming 127,000 years ago.
These historical results were then use to create predictions of the future and reveal it is likely there will be no sea ice in the Arctic in 15 years’ time.
The culprit is strong springtime sunshine which creates pools of water known as ‘melt ponds’ that soak up heat from the sun and then contribute to warming.
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Arctic sea ice is rapidly in decline due to global warming and a study predicts it will be completely gone by 2035 (stock)
Arctic sea ice plays an essential role in the world’s ecosystems and its melting will not only contribute to surging sea levels but render many species homeless.
Polar bears, for example, are utterly reliant on Arctic sea ice to live as they use the ice to stalk and hunt prey.
A recent study found most polar bear populations are at risk of dying out by 2100 because of a loss of sea ice.
This timeline is likely to be accelerated should the new prediction of 2035 prove accurate.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey worked with the Met Office on the latest study.
The culprit fr the demise of sea ice is believed to be strong springtime sunshine which creates pools of water known as ‘melt ponds’ that soak up heat from the sun and then contribute to warming
They found that during the warm interglacial period around 127,000 years ago, intense springtime sunshine created pools of water as ice melted.
These meltwater pools cause more ice to melt as they do not reflect as much sunlight as intact ice.
Instead, more of the sun’s rays and energy are absorbed by the water, warming more ice, and contributing to a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification.
This was deemed to be a major factor in the sea ice melt more than 100,000 years ago, and a similar preponderance of meltwater pools has been spotted today in satellite imagery.
How ‘Arctic amplification’ causes severe polar warming
Scientists have long expected that shrinking Arctic sea ice cover will lead to strong warming of the Arctic air.
Sea ice helps to keep the Arctic atmosphere cold as its whiteness reflects much of the sun’s rays.
It also physically insulates the land beneath it.
With less sea ice more dark open water is exposed, which readily absorbs the Sun’s energy in summer, heating the ocean and leading to even more melt.
With less sea ice there is also less insulation, so that heat from the ocean escapes to warm the atmosphere in the autumn and winter.
This leads to a runaway train effect which results in soaring temperatures well above the global average.
September is the month where sea ice is always at its lowest level, following months of summer temperatures.
Satellite records show that it is shrinking by about 13 per cent every decade, with around half of all Arctic sea ice disappearing since the 1980s.
While almost all experts agree that Arctic sea ice will be gone by 2050, previous predictions have proved wildly inaccurate.
Some estimates incorrectly claimed that Arctic sea ice would already have vanished.
Joint lead author Dr Maria Vittoria Guarino, Earth System Modeller at British Antarctic Survey (BAS), says: ‘High temperatures in the Arctic have puzzled scientists for decades.
‘Unravelling this mystery was technically and scientifically challenging.
‘For the first time, we can begin to see how the Arctic became sea ice-free during the last interglacial.
‘The advances made in climate modelling means that we can create a more accurate simulation of the Earth’s past climate, which, in turn gives us greater confidence in model predictions for the future.’
Dr Louise Sime, the group head of the Palaeoclimate group and joint lead author at BAS, says: ‘We know the Arctic is undergoing significant changes as our planet warms.
‘By understanding what happened during Earth’s last warm period we are in a better position to understand what will happen in the future.
‘The prospect of loss of sea-ice by 2035 should really be focussing all our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as humanly feasible.’
The research has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
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Apple boss Tim Cook is tough leader ‘who leaves team in tears’
Despite his friendly, gentle demeanour, Apple’s chief executive officer Tim Cook has been described as a tough leader who has been known to ‘leave his staff in tears’.
A new profile of the billionaire Apple boss describes a man who leads his staff ‘through interrogation’, according to contacts cited by the Wall Street Journal.
Cook succeeded Apple co-founder Steve Jobs as CEO in 2011, six weeks before the latter’s death from cancer.
Since that time, Apple’s market value has soared from $348 billion to $1.9 trillion, but the ‘cautious and tactical’ leader has had to be ruthless behind the scenes.
Cook reached billionaire status earlier this month, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Middle managers today screen staff before meetings with Apple CEO Tim Cook (pictured) to make sure they’re well prepared
As the WSJ reports, in Apple’s headquarters, middle managers screen their staff before meetings with Cook ‘to make sure they’re knowledgeable’, while, first-timers are ‘advised not to speak’.
‘It’s about protecting your team and protecting him. You don’t waste his time,’ said one of the WSJ’s sources, described as ‘a longtime lieutenant’.
‘People have left crying.’
If Cook senses someone is insufficiently prepared, he loses patience, says ‘next’, and flips a page of the meeting agenda, this person said.
Apple CEO Tim Cook presents the keynote address during Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California on June 3, 2019
TIM COOK’S WORKING DAY
In a 2015 interview, Cook revealed his average working day – which still leaves little time for socialising.
He gets up at 3:45am every morning and begins to check his email, goes to the gym at 5am and to work at 6:30am, already fully briefed and with the day ahead planned out.
He goes to bed early: by 9:30pm or sometimes 10pm.
While Cook has created a more relaxed workplace than Jobs – who was known as an uncompromising boss with a fiery temper – Cook has been similarly demanding and detail-oriented.
The ‘humble workaholic’ has a ‘singular commitment’ to Apple who keeps his calendar clear of personal events, rising at 4am to review global sales data every day.
Any of his free time is dedicated to exercising in a gym away from Apple Park, the company’s 2.8 million square foot headquarters, to ensure privacy from staff.
Cook holds Friday night meetings with operations and finance staff – an event that’s been nicknamed ‘date night with Tim’ because it stretches hours into the evening.
Joe O’Sullivan, a former Apple operations executive, said Cook’s first meeting with staff the day he arrived in 1998 lasted 11 hours.
Fast forward to today and staff still face meetings with Cook with a good deal of trepidation.
Tim Cook (left) with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (right). Cook previously said ‘His spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple’
O’Sullivan said: ‘The first question is: “Joe, how many units did we produce today?” “It was 10,000.” “What was the yield?” “98 per cent.” Then he’d say: “OK, so 98 per cent, explain how the 2 per cent failed?” You’d think, “F***, I don’t know”.
‘It drives a level of detail so everyone becomes Cook-like.’
Chris Deaver, who spent four years in human resources working with Apple’s research and development operations, nicknamed Cook the ‘processor’, due to his tendency to carefully consider new information and act accordingly.
‘He likes to listen a lot. Time and patience are his favourite warriors.’
Cook was picked by Jobs to succeed him in part because the former operations chief ran a division ‘devoid of drama and focused on collaboration’.
Part of Apple’s recent success has been down to Cook creating his own leadership style rather than trying to emulate Jobs.
‘I knew what I needed to do was not to mimic him,’ Cook told ESPN in 2017.
‘I would fail miserably at that, and I think this is largely the case for many people who take a baton from someone larger than life.
‘You have to chart your own course – you have to be the best version of yourself.’
Cook, who is openly gay, has also aligned the company’s values towards acceptance, diversity and human rights since he took over.
Last week, Cook said he is ‘personally committed’ to improving the number of female and black leaders in Apple’s senior ranks.
Cook, left, reacts as President Donald Trump speaks during the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board’s first meeting in March 2019. Trump describes Cook as a friend
Cook has a good relationship with US President Donald Trump, who has called the CEO a ‘friend’.
In one televised meeting between the two, Trump called him ‘Tim Apple’ – a moment that quickly became viral.
The Apple boss later jokingly changed his name on Twitter to Tim followed by a picture of the Apple logo.
Cook reached billionaire status only last week as the Cupertino, California-based firm nears $2 trillion in value.
However, Cook isn’t even in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index’s top 500 and has nowhere near the personal wealth of the likes of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who is listed with a net work of $186 billion.
According to Bloomberg, the majority of Cook’s wealth has come from equity awards he’s received since joining Apple in 1998.
Cook has previously said that he plans to give most of his fortune away and has already gifted millions of dollars worth of Apple shares, Bloomberg said.
THE TRILLION DOLLAR RISE OF APPLE
The company’s journey to the summit of the technology industry has been a rocky one, having seen Jobs (pictured right in 1976) leave the firm in the mid-1980s after his pet project, the first Macintosh computer, struggled and he attempted to oust then chief executive John Sculley. Wozniak is pictured left
1976: Founders Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne created the company on April 1 1976 as they set about selling computer kits to hobbyists, each of which was built by Wozniak.
The first product was the Apple I.
1977: Apple released the Apple II in June, which was the first PC made for the mass market.
1981: Jobs became chairman.
1984: The Macintosh was introduced during an ad break for the Super Bowl and later officially unveiled during a launch event. It was discontinued a year later and Jobs left the firm.
1987: Apple released the Macintosh II, the first colour Mac.
1997: Apple announces it will acquire NeXT software in a $400 million deal that involves Jobs returning to Apple as interim CEO. He officially took the role in 2000.
2001: Apple introduced iTunes, OS X and the first-generation iPod.
The first iPod MP3 music player was released on October 23, 2001, at an event in Cupertino and was able to hold up to 1,000 songs.
Steve Jobs unveils Apple Computer Corporation’s new Macintosh February 6, 1984 in California.
The then Chief Executive Officer of Apple, Steve Jobs, with the iPhone
2007: Apple unveils the iPhone.
2010: The first iPad was unveiled.
2011: Jobs resigned in 2011 due to illness, handing the CEO title to Tim Cook. Job died in October from pancreatic cancer.
2014: Apple unveiled the Apple Watch. It also unveiled its first larger iPhones – the 6 and 6 Plus.
2015: After purchasing Beats from Dr Dre, Apple launched Apple Music to compete with Spotify and other music streaming services.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs speaks at an Apple event at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.
2016: Apple returned to its roots and announced the 4-inch iPhone SE. Meanwhile, the firm is embroiled in a legal battle with the FBI, involving the agency demanding access to the locked phone used by Syed Farook, who died in a shootout after carrying out a deadly December attack in San Bernardino, California with his wife. The court order was dropped on March 28 after the FBI said a third party was able to unlock the device.
2017: Apple introduces the iPhone X, which removes the home button to make way for a futuristic edge-to-edge screen design and a new FaceID system that uses advanced sensors and lasers to unlock phones with just the owner’s face.
2018: In a first for the company, Apple introduces new features in its latest operating system, iOS 12, that encourage users to manage and spend less time on their devices. The move was spawned by a strongly worded letter from shareholders that urged the firm to address the growing problem of smartphone addiction among kids and teenagers.
2019: In January, Apple reports its first decline in revenues and profits in a decade. CEO Tim Cook partly blamed steep declines in revenue from China.
2020: In March, Apple closes all its bricks and mortar retail stores outside of China in response to coronavirus.
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