Alibaba’s Robot Warehouse

Here is a short video from Business Insider UK about Alibaba’s robotic warehouse.

Who is Alibaba?  According to Wikipedia:

With operations in over 200 countries and territories, Alibaba is the world’s largest retailer and e-commerce company, one of the largest Internet and AI companies, one of the biggest venture capital firms, and one of the biggest investment corporations in the world. The company hosts the largest B2B (Alibaba.com), C2C (Taobao), and B2C (Tmall) marketplaces in the world. Its online sales and profits surpassed all US retailers (including Walmart, Amazon and eBay) combined since 2015. It has been expanding into the media industry, with revenues rising by triple percentage points year on year.

The robots, which can lift up to 500 kg, pick up densely packed bins and bring them to human pickers who place the products in boxes for shipment to customers.  The robots are controlled over Wi-Fi.  They say that after the 60 robots were placed into service, throughput in the warehouse has been tripled and human labour reduced by 70%.

Amazon has been running a robotics challenge to try to eliminate the human pickers.  This is a video summarising the  2017 challenge in Nagoya, Japan.

Here is a video from the MIT team from the 2017 competition.

The Roaring Twenties are 314 days away.

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You shall have no other gods

The world takes offense at God.   The Pagans hated the idea that their gods have no real power.   The Muslims and the Mormons are counterfeits of God.   Buddhists say that “God” is not a real person, but a spiritual amalgam.   Atheists are angry at the God they don’t believe in.

Communists, being Atheists, are angry at God.   So the latest outrage from China comes as no surprise.   The First Commandment is outlawed.   It started recently in just one church that we know of, but the Party statements indicate that this is a nationwide China policy:

One of the officials explained, however, that Chinese President Xi Jinping “opposes the statement,” referring to the first commandment.

“Who dares not to cooperate? If anyone doesn’t agree, they are fighting against the country,” the official warned. “This is a national policy. You should have a clear understanding of the situation. Don’t go against the government.”

The church was forced to take down the Ten Commandments sign that day.

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Chang’e 4 (嫦娥四号) Lands on the Far Side of the Moon

Chang'e 4 landing site on the far side of the MoonAt 02:26 UTC on 2019-01-03, the Chinese Chang’e 4 (嫦娥四号) soft lander and rover touched down in the Von Kármán crater on the far side of the Moon.  This is the first soft landing on the far side of the Moon, which is never visible from the Earth.  Here is a video including animation of the landing and actual images captured during the descent and of the surface after landing.

The lander carries a rover and a number of experiments.  It was originally built as a back-up to the Chang’e 3 lander and rover which landed on the near side of the Moon on December 14th, 2013, becoming the first spacecraft to soft land on the Moon since the Soviet Luna 24 in 1976.

The major challenge in exploring the far side of the Moon is communicating with Earth.  You can’t transmit radio signals through the Moon, so the only way to provide a direct communications link is to place a relay satellite in a “halo orbit” around the Earth-Moon Lagrangian point 2 (L2).  On 2018-05-20, the Queqiao (鹊桥) satellite was launched into such an orbit (the first such relay established at the Moon).  It was only after this relay was checked out that Chang’e 4 was launched on 2018-12-07.

The landing site at 177.6° E, 45.5° S on the floor of Von Kármán crater, is a relatively flat and uncratered area, relatively easy to get into compared to the rugged highlands of much of the Moon’s far side.  Here is a synthetic image of the landing site from Earth and Moon Viewer, seen from 500 km above the Moon, with an “x” indicating the reported touchdown point.

Chang'e landing site

Here is an image of the Moon’s far side returned by the lander.

Image of the Moon's far side from Chang'e 4

Colour in this image should be taken cum grano salis.  The Moon is a pretty uniform dark grey colour, although the shade may appear different depending upon the Sun angle.  This picture was taken right after landing, and the camera’s white balance may not have yet been calibrated.

In addition to cameras on the lander and rover (which has not yet been deployed), there are instruments to study the solar wind and its interaction with the lunar surface, the composition of the surface, and a ground penetrating radar to explore the sub-surface.  The lander carries a sealed “biosphere” with seeds of potatoes, Arabidopsis, and silkworm eggs, with a camera to monitor growth.  One hopes that the silkworm experiment will end better than the introduction of the gypsy moth into North America in 1868.

You may hear reports in the legacy media that Chang’e 4 landed “near the Moon’s south pole”—this is nonsense. Von Kármán crater is at latitude 45.5° S, half way between the equator and south pole; it is no closer to the lunar south pole than Portland, Oregon is to Earth’s north pole.  The confusion is due to the landing site being within the South Pole-Aitken basin, an enormous (2500 km diameter) impact crater on the lunar far side.  Because the basin is so huge, it extends from the south pole to half way to the equator.

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Fred Reed on China

Fred Reed (click link for his biography) recently spent two weeks in China, visiting Chengdu and its environs.  He has posted three essays about his experiences and impressions on his blog, Fred on Everything.  They’re well worth the time to read.

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