Welcome to Technology Tuesday! Every week The Job Shop Blog will bring you our 5 top science and technology news stories from around the web.
This week: The world’s smallest surgical robot is almost ready for deployment, Duplex AI might get into telemarketing, autonomous buses will start transporting passengers in Japan next year, lab made embryos might save the white rhino, and Blue Origin plans to colonize the moon by 2023.
THE WORLD’S SMALLEST SURGICAL ROBOT WILL BE IN OPERATING ROOMS SOON
MEET VERSIUS. By the end of 2018, surgeons in the United Kingdom could have a new assistant in the operating room: Versius, the world’s smallest surgical robot.
Created by CMR Surgical, the bot is essentially three robotic arms attached to a mobile unit about the size of a barstool, according to a recent report by The Guardian. A surgeon controls the bot from a control panel, guiding the arms as they carry out keyhole procedures (surgeries performed through tiny incisions in the body — much less invasive than open surgeries, which require much larger incisions).
NEXT-LEVEL ROBOCALLS. In May, Google debuted Duplex, an artificially intelligent assistant that can make mundane phone calls on behalf of a human. Now, Google is looking to partner with companies that want to use its human-sounding Duplex AI for tasks such as fielding customer service calls or telemarketing, according to a report by The Information.
WHO TO BELIEVE? According to The Information’s sources, at least one large insurance company has already expressed interest in using Duplex to handle customer service calls. Testing, they note, is still in the early stages, and the system is several months from going live.
BAIDU’S AUTONOMOUS BUSES WILL START TRANSPORTING PEOPLE NEXT YEAR
FROM CHINA, WITH LOVE. On Wednesday, Internet giant Baidu (the Google of China) announced a new partnership. Baidu has agreed to produce 10 of its self-driving Apolong buses for SB Drive, a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, according to a Bloomberg report. Chinese bus manufacturer King Long will handle the production of the autonomous buses, which could arrive in Japan as soon as early-2019. Company executives made the announcement at Baidu Create 2018, the company’s annual AI developer conference in Beijing.
MEET THE APALONG. Each 14-passenger Apolong bus is capable of Level 4 autonomy — that means they’re “fully autonomous” but aren’t designed to handle every possible driving scenario. The buses operate using Baidu’s Apollo autonomous driving system, the basis for Baidu’s partnerships with Ford, Honda, and other companies.
FIRST RHINO EMBRYOS PRODUCED IN A LAB COULD SAVE NEARLY EXTINCT SPECIES
SAVING A SUBSPECIES. In March, the last male northern white rhinoceros (NWR) died, leaving behind just two females of the subspecies. Without any way to procreate naturally, it may look like the subspecies is nearing extinction.
But some scientists have a way to make sure the NWR (well, its genes at least) doesn’t disappear forever. An international team of researchers has successfully created NWR hybrid embryos in the lab, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications.
A MEDICAL FIRST. To create these hybrid rhino embryos, the researchers first extracted eggs from female rhinos of a closely-related subspecies, the southern white rhinoceros (SWR). This was a risky procedure, since the ovaries are close to a “huge artery,” researcher Thomas Hildebrandt told the BBC, and puncturing it could kill the animal. Next, the researchers fertilized the eggs using sperm collected from now-deceased male NWRs while they were still alive.
LUNAR UPDATE. A.C. Charania, business development director for Blue Origin, says the private aerospace company plans to complete a lunar landing mission before 2023, which would eventually “enable human lunar return.” That is: send humans back to the Moon.
That’s an earlier, and more specific, timeframe than anyone at the company had specified up to this point — last year, the Washington Post reported that its Blue Moon project — which includes plans to colonize the Moon, as well as an Amazon-like Moon delivery service — was slated for the mid-2020s.