More carmakers caught in headlights of VW engine-rigging scandal

More carmakers caught in headlights of VW engine-rigging scandal
Volkswagen has admitted it installed illegal software into 11 million 2.0 liter and 3.0 liter diesel engines worldwide (AFP Photo/Josh Edelson)

Volkswagen emissions scandal

Iran's 'catastrophic mistake': Speculation, pressure, then admission

Iran's 'catastrophic mistake': Speculation, pressure, then admission
Analsyts say it is irresponsible to link the crash of a Ukraine International Airline Boeing 737-800 to the 737 MAX accidents (AFP Photo/INA FASSBENDER)

Missing MH370 likely to have disintegrated mid-flight: experts

Missing MH370 likely to have disintegrated mid-flight: experts
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 commercial jet.

QZ8501 (AirAsia)

Leaders see horror of French Alps crash as probe gathers pace

"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy, Recalibration Lectures, God / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) - (Text version)

… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

VW: 1.8 million commercial vehicles affected by emissions cheat

VW's commercial vehicles unit has said 1.8 million commercial vehicles are affected by the software cheat. Germany's economy minister said a negative impact on Europe's largest economy can be avoided if VW acts fast.

Deutsche Welle, 29 Sep 2015

Guenther Scherelis, spokesperson for Volkswagen's (VW) commercial vehicles unit, on Tuesday confirmed a report by the German daily newspaper "Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung" (HAZ) that around 1.8 million of its vehicles are affected by emissions-rigging software.

Light commercial vehicles, including vans and pickups, were also included in the figure.

The announcement comes as VW's Spanish subsidiary SEAT said at least 700,000 of its vehicles contained the EA 189 diesel engine, which is said to be affected by the engine software.

SEAT and Volkswagen-Audi Spain on Tuesday suspended sales of all commercial vehicles fitted with the compromised engine, affecting around 3,320 vehicles in its stock.

At least 11 million diesel vehicles are said to contain the software, which activates emissions controls when it detects that it is being tested, subsequently shutting off controls when the car is back on the road.

Germany's Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) set an October 7 deadline for VW to put forth a technical action plan to ensure that the company's vehicles comply with national emissions standards.

On Tuesday, Europe's largest automaker said it "will inform customers and arrange the necessary appointments" in the coming weeks to refit the vehicles and bring them in line with emissions standards.

"We will present our technical solutions to the authorities in October," said the company's newly-appointed CEO, Matthias Mueller .

Playing down negative economic side-effects, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters on Tuesday that the scandal would not impact Germany's economy if VW acted swiftly and effectively.

"It's up to the politicians to try to ensure that the jobs of the company's 600,000 global employees…are not at risk," Gabriel said. 

The auto industry is the largest sector of the German economy, employing nearly 800,000 people between VW, Daimler and BMW.

ls/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

Related Article:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Diesel cars break emission limits in real-world tests: TNO

DutchNews, September 27, 2015

A 2013 report by Dutch research institute TNO showed that diesel car systems in the Netherlands were adapted to appear as if the vehicles were less polluting than they actually were, current affairs programme Nieuwsuur said on Sunday. 

The report, which did not name the manufacturers involved, said the nitrogen oxide emissions from ‘a number’ of diesel cars which officially met Euro 6 emission standards were higher than would have been expected in practical situations. 

The reports said that systems had been installed so that ‘they operated during functional driving conditions in a test but in real-world situations were (partly) switches off for economic reasons’, Nieuwsuur reported. 

The TNO research was carried out on behalf the transport ministry. A ministry spokesman told Nieuwsuur that the ministry was not aware of the deliberate manipulation of the emissions data. In addition, the ministry had not read into the report the claim that the systems had been adapted or switched off, the spokesman said. 

Real world

In a 2015 English-language summary of four reports into diesel car emissions, TNO stated: ‘almost all Euro 6 vehicles that were measured emitted significantly more NOx in real-world conditions on the road than during a type-approval test in the laboratory.’ 

The report continued: ‘It is striking that in real-world conditions the NOx emissions are more than eight times higher than the type-approval value.’ TNO is campaigning to have real-world conditions incorporated into official emissions tests, which are currently lab based. 

Two German newspapers said on Sunday Volkswagen’s own staff and one of its suppliers warned years ago about software designed to thwart emissions tests. Last week, Volkswagen acknowledged installing software in diesel engines designed to hide their true emissions of toxic gasses.

US government has expanded its investigation of pollution-skirting devices in
 diesel vehicles to other manufacturers after Volkswagen admitted it used them
to thwart environmental standards (AFP Photo/Thomas Samson)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

VW chief quits as cheating scandal snowballs

Yahoo – AFP, Odd Andersen with Simon Morgan in Frankfurt, 23 Sep 2015

Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn has headed the German
auto giant since 2007 (AFP Photo/Daniel Roland)

Wolfsburg (Germany) (AFP) - Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn resigned Wednesday over a pollution cheating scandal that has sparked a US criminal investigation and worldwide legal action with unfathomable financial consequences for the auto giant.

"I am shocked by the events of the past few days. Above all, I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group,"Winterkorn said in a statement issued by the carmaker.

"Volkswagen needs a fresh start -- also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation."

Volkswagen has admitted that as many
 as 11 million cars are equipped with 
software capable of fooling pollution
tests (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)
The stock market barely flinched at the news.

Following a two-day free fall that had axed 35 percent -- or 25 billion euros ($28 billion) -- off the company's market value on Monday and Tuesday, the shares had bounced back on Wednesday closing 5.19 percent higher at 111.50 euros after Winterkorn's announcement.

Even if the haemorrhage on the markets may have abated, Volkswagen, the world's largest auto manufacturer by sales in the first half of this year, still faces a growing tangle of legal threats after it admitted that as many as 11 million of its diesel cars worldwide are equipped with software capable of fooling official pollution tests.

In addition to investigations from France to South Korea, public prosecutors in Germany also said they were examining information and evaluating legal suits already filed against the company by a number of private individuals to decide whether to launch a full criminal inquiry against those responsible at VW.

Winterkorn 'takes responsiblity'

A day after Winterkorn had offered his "deepest apologies", the 68-year-old said he accepted his "responsibility for the irregularities that have been found in diesel engines".

But he also insisted: "I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part."

His widely predicted departure came after a meeting of the supervisory board's six-member steering committee in Wolfsburg.

A new chief executive is to be named Friday, and other personnel changes were expected, the board said.

According to the US authorities, VW has admitted that it equipped about 482,000 cars in the United States with sophisticated software that covertly turns off pollution controls when the car is being driven.

It turns them on only when it detects that the vehicle is undergoing an emissions test.

With the so-called "defeat device" deactivated, the car can spew pollutant gases into the air, including nitrogen oxide, in amounts as much as 40 times higher than emissions standards, said the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA, which announced the allegations Friday along with California state authorities, is conducting an investigation that could lead to fines amounting to a maximum of more than $18 billion.

The US Department of Justice has also launched a criminal inquiry led by its environment and natural resources division, a source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Volkswagen Golf at the company's assembly plant in Wolfsburg, central Germany
(AFP Photo/Tobias Schwarz)

The California Air Resources Board, too, is investigating Volkswagen's pollution violations.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he had launched his own probe of Volkswagen and would work on it with prosecutors from other states across the United States.

Billions in provisions

Private law firms are lining up to take on the German company, with a class action suit already being filed by a Seattle law firm.

VW has halted all diesel vehicles sales in the United States during the investigations.

The scale of the exposed deception expanded dramatically Tuesday when Volkswagen said that as many as 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide may have the same "anomalies."

The full impact on the reputation of Volkswagen, which was founded in 1930 to build an affordable family car, is hard to measure.

The scandal has already hit the share price of other car makers, buffeting international stock markets.

Volkswagen, whose parent company also owns brands including Audi, Skoda and Lamborghini, has set aside 6.5 billion euros in provisions for the third quarter to cover the potential costs of the revelations.

While the scandal has been restricted to Volkswagen so far, environmental protection groups, particularly in Germany, suspect other car makers may be using similar technology.

The European carmakers' association ACEA said that while it recognised the gravity of the affair, "there is no evidence to suggest that it's a problem across the whole industry."

And the German carmakers' federation VDA insisted that diesel engine technology itself was not in question.

A Volkswagen Golf TDI diesel car undergoes an emissions inspection at a garage
in Frankfurt, eastern Germany, on September 21, 2015 (AFP Photo/Patrick Pleul)

'Extremely troubling'

But the EPA has said it will screen for defeat devices in other manufacturers' diesel vehicles now on the road, although it declined to identify which brands would be tested.

German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said a special commission of inquiry had travelled to VW's headquarters on Wednesday.

France, Britain and other nations have called for a Europe-wide investigation.

South Korean officials summoned VW representatives for explanations on Tuesday, saying tests would be started by "no later than next month."

The United Nations has described the revelations as "extremely troubling."

The German company is likely to face tough questioning in the US House of Representatives' energy and commerce committee, which announced plans for a hearing in the coming weeks.

Related Articles:

Monday, September 21, 2015

Volkswagen CEO apologizes for cheating on US auto emissions tests

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has apologized for manipulating US diesel emissions tests. Fines and recalls loom on the horizon. But the biggest price to pay is VW's loss of face - and that of the German auto industry.

Deutsche Welle, 20 Sep 2015

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has been forced to apologize after the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the firm had been using software to trick regulators into thinking the carmaker was complying with clean air laws.

Fresh from presenting the Volkswagen Group's latest models to champagne and flashing lights at the Frankfurt International Motor Show earlier this week, Winterkorn on Sunday avoided directly admitting willful deception. But the EPA's evidence was presumably strong enough to merit an apology.

Long winter ahead?

"I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public," said Winterkorn in a statement. "We will cooperate fully with the responsible agencies, with transparency and urgency, to clearly, openly and completely establish all of the facts of this case."

He added that VW has also ordered an external investigation. And in the spirit of further damage control, the carmaker has pulled from YouTube its ads marketing the diesel-powered cars as being better for the environment.

VW is facing fines of up to $18
billion in the US
The technology used by VW in the EPA tests allowed its diesel cars to release fewer smog-causing pollutants during tests than in real-world driving conditions.

Environmental, consumer health hazards

Despite the apology, things are already looking grim for the carmaker. The EPA said VW installed the software in nearly half a million cars in models from the last seven years, including the Audi A3, VW Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat - and that the software may have hidden up to 40 times the acceptable level of harmful pollutants, causing both environmental and consumer health hazards.

VW is facing fines of up to $18 billion (15.9 billion euros). It will also have to fix the cars at its own expense. But the bigger cost of the EPA's discovery is to VW's image - and potentially that of the German car industry as a whole.

Daimler, which shares the German auto industry's Big Three label along with VW and BMW, commented sparingly on the issue.

"I know too little about the case to judge just how justified the accusations against Volkswagen are, and whether we can be a 100 percent certain of them in every way," said CEO Dieter Zetsche.

Coming clean

But a transparent approach to an impending crisis is key, said Stefan Bratzel, a professor specializing in innovation research at the Bergisch Gladbach University of Applied Sciences.

"This is obviously negative for the German car industry, but speculation has to be kept in check," Bratzel told DW. "Volkswagen and - if it comes to it - other German carmakers have to be proactive and transparent and say whether this was an isolated problem in the US, or whether this is a pattern."

Volkswagen will also eventually have to make clear who within the organizational structure is responsible, and just how high up they are.

"An administrator didn't just decide this on his own," said Bratzel. "Somebody would have signed off on this."

Trouble on the homefront

Calls for an investigation have already come in VW's native market. Germany's Green Party wants a probe to determine whether emissions test manipulation has also taken place in Germany.

"We will emphatically demand an investigation in parliament and examine whether German authorities have helped along illegal activities by deliberately looking the other way," said Bärbel Höhn, the chair of the Green Party's environmental committee.

All this comes at a time when the biggest threat to the German car industry was thought to be the Chinese economic slowdown. But as VW's shareholders are bound to learn when markets open on Monday, what's bad for the environment and for health will likely end up being bad for business.

(dpa, AP)

US government has expanded its investigation of pollution-skirting devices in
 diesel vehicles to other manufacturers after Volkswagen admitted it used them
to thwart environmental standards (AFP Photo/Thomas Samson)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Dutch company launches plan for recycled plastic roads

DutchNews, September 17, 2015

An artist's impression of how the plastic roads would work

Dutch company KWS Infra is developing a new sort of road made from recycled plastic. This, the company says, will not only cut down on plastic waste but reduce CO2 output from road building and usage, and make roads more sustainable and safer. Esther O’Toole reports. 

An estimated eight billion tons of plastic is floating around in the oceans and 55% of our plastic waste is still incinerated. Innovative Dutch companies have been busy looking at feasible ways of fishing the plastic out of the sea and shipping it to shore. Now KWS Infra, part of the VolkerWessels construction group and the biggest road builder in the Netherlands, has come up with a plan to turn that kind of plastic waste into roads. 

The roads themselves would be made from prefab sections prepared offsite from 100% recycled plastic and brought en masse to the building site, with road markings and guard rails already in place. Being light weight and easy to transport they could take months off construction times. 

The fabric is thought to be more durable than asphalt and needs little or no maintenance, being weather proof and impervious to weeds. The other major advantage is that they are hollow allowing space for piping, electric cables and – another hot topic for VolkerWessels – internet connections. 


VolkerWessels is now investing in multiple projects for urban renewal and connected city innovation, including placing internet receivers along roads, be they antennas and masts or embedded in street lights and wind turbines. Plastic roads fit into this picture perfectly. If the space inside the decking could also be used to house net connectors, losing reception in a tunnel would become a thing of the past. 

Driverless cars, cheap and affordable ones too, will be on the open market as early as next year. What benefits will be reaped from these innovative technologies when they begin to converge? With uninterrupted mobile internet connections along all main highways, a long commute could be set to become the most productive part of the day. 

No wonder then that VolkerWessels is not having trouble garnering interest for their projects. Rotterdam city council was the first to show interest in piloting the PlasticRoad, in early July. 


Since then the company has had interest from cities all over the world and are looking to finalise partnerships with plastics and recycling experts soon, spokesman Anne Koudstaal told The aim is to have a team in place by December and to run a feasibility pilot within three years.

‘We are feeling very positive about it,’ he said. ‘All the good reactions [to July’s announcement] are a huge boost for us and the idea. It makes it all seem so much more realisable.’ 

If all goes to plan, the roads themselves may in turn be recyclable. This would bring PlasticRoad completely in line with the ‘cradle to cradle’ notions of the circular economy being implemented by other innovative ideas such as The Ocean Clean Up Project and the Plastic Madonna art project. 

The Netherlands, despite being one of the smallest countries in the developed world by land mass, has one of the highest carbon footprints per capita; especially in relation to fossil fuel use and cement production. Cutting emissions related to road usage and building would seriously reduce that footprint. Especially when one considers that the road network in the country covers approximately 135,470 km and most of it is tarmacked.

Related Article:

An impression of how the system might look. Photo: Ocean Cleanup

Thursday, September 17, 2015

European carmakers race to catch up as Toyota shows off new Prius

Yahoo – AFP,  Tangi Quemener, 16 Sep 2015

The electric powered BMW i8 (R) and i3 are seen next to a charging point at the
 66th IAA auto show in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on September 15, 2015
 (Tangi Quemener)

The electric powered BMW i8 (R) and i3 are seen next to a charging point at the 66th IAA auto show in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on September 15, 2015 .

Frankfurt (AFP) - Facing tougher emission standards, European automakers are rushing to roll out hybrid cars, but they face an uphill battle to catch up with Toyota which popularised the technology 18 years ago.

The Japanese giant will be showing its latest Prius -- the fourth edition since 1997 -- at the IAA motor show in Frankfurt this week.

A Mercedes electric drive car is 
plugged for charging during the 66th
 IAA auto show in Frankfurt am Main, 
western Germany, on September 15,
2015 (AFP Photo/Daniel Roland)
Almost two decades ago, few expected the car with a complex technology combining a petrol engine with battery-powered generators to become a hit.

In fact, the concept is not new, and Porsche lays claim to the first petrol-electric car prototype built by its founder as early as 1900.

But it is the Japanese giant that has managed to popularise the technology, first with 17,600 units in 1998, before sales exploded with its more spacious second-generation Prius.

Today, the car has become a symbol of environmental responsibility and Toyota's rivals, including Honda, Nissan, General Motors and Ford, have jumped into the game.

However, Toyota has enjoyed a substantial lead, having already sold more than eight million hybrids.

The Prius is by far the top-selling new car in Japan, where the hybrid market makes up close to 40 percent of total sales.

By comparison, hybrids make up just three percent of the US market -- and the share is shrinking with dropping petrol prices.

The hybrid has also remained a largely marginal affair on the other side of the Atlantic.

But it is slowly "starting to find a market because the cost equation is starting to balance out for some consumers," said Francois Jaumain from PwC.

Notably, several European governments offer subsidies or lower tax rates for owners of hybrid or electric vehicles.

The Audi quattro electric drive concept SUV is presented at the 66th IAA
 auto show in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on September 15, 2015
(AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)

Toyota hopes to double its sales in Europe to 400,000 units by 2020, the Japanese group's executive vice president Didier Leroy told AFP.

German carmakers join race

Flavien Neuvy, who heads the Cetelem observatory on automobiles, added that consumers feel more confident about hybrids because, unlike with fully electric vehicles, drivers are less worried about being stranded at the side of the road given the petrol backup.

He believes that hybrid sales in Europe could rise to 10 percent of total volume.

Europe's latest emissions standard -- Euro 6 which took effect September 1 -- has also made hybrids more attractive as it will increase the cost of running cars powered by polluting diesel fuel.

In addition, car markets are required to meet the EU target of 95 g/km of CO2 emissions by 2020, giving them further incentives to find greener solutions.

According to a study by credit insurer Euler Hermes, Germany is currently trailing with average emissions of 130 g/km in 2014, dragged down by luxury energy guzzlers, while France has recorded 112 g/km.

The German auto industry is therefore pumping "massive investments into hybrid and electric technologies", the study said.

That is on full display at the Frankfurt show.

The new electric Porsche Mission E concept car is presented at the 66th IAA
 auto show in Frankfurt am Main, Western Germany, on September 14, 2015
 (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)

BMW is showcasing its new rechargeable hybrids, while rival Mercedes-Benz expects to launch 10 models by 2017.

Volkswagen already has one hybrid version of its best-selling Golf line.

Audi and Porsche too are in the race.

Absent for now, however, are the French makers.

PSA Peugeot Citroen, whose high-end diesel hybrids have so far failed to gain traction commercially, has indicated that it will launch hybrid gas-electric cars by the end of the decade.

Renault meanwhile is banking on electric cars.

It has so far not produced any hybrids although its chief executive Carlos Ghosn said he does not rule out the possibility that its recently presented Talisman line would one day be hybrid.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

All aboard the Vatican train for pope's summer castle

Yahoo – AFP, Jean-Louis De La Vaissiere, 14 Sep 2015

A steam locomotive prepares to depart from the Vatican's train station to the
pope's summer home of Castel Gandolfo (AFP Photo/Filippo Monteforte)

Castel Gandolfo (Italy) (AFP) - It was once used exclusively by popes, but the Vatican's train line can now be ridden by all from the Holy See to the papal summer palace.

Each Saturday, tourists can climb aboard for an express trip to Castel Gandolfo, a lavish estate Pope Francis has never used but wanted to share with the public in a gesture which will also boost the Church's coffers.

From San Pietro, to Trastevere and Ostiense, the train chugs through the Italian capital and its green suburbs, down past the Roman ruins on the Via Appia, before climbing through the Alban hills to the picturesque Lake Albano.

The crew of a steam locomotive prepare
 for its departure from the Vatican's train
 station to the pope's summer home of
 Castel Gandolfo (AFP Photo/Filippo
Some 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Rome, it pulls to a stop at the castle town, a former summer favourite with popes hoping to escape the heat of the capital, and still frequented occasionally by Francis's predecessor, Benedict XVI.

The villa and gardens, owned by the Holy See since 1596, expanded over the centuries to include other properties and now sprawl over 55 hectares (135 acres).

Inside the grounds, there are views down to the lake or glimpses of the sea beyond gardens decorated with sculptures. There are also orchards of apricot, peach and olive trees, and greenhouses of ornamental flowers.

The estate's gardens first opened to the public in 2014, with tours organised for groups and by reservation only.

But workaholic Francis, who does not take vacations and has only been to the summer palace twice, urged his Museum's director to go further, opening up the entire estate and setting up a new museum.

'Closed for centuries'

Visitors to the villa can stand where popes down the centuries stood to bless summer Sunday crowds -- the very window from which Benedict XVI said his last goodbyes before retiring from the papacy.

As well as a papal portrait gallery, visitors can pore over embellished vestments worn by the holders of Saint Peter's Chair down the ages, including elegant papal slippers of the type shunned by down-to-earth Francis.

For 40 euros ($45), tourists get the full package: they can skip the queue in the morning to see the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel in Rome, before walking through the Vatican's gardens to the train station.

Once at Castel Gandolfo, they hop on a special white tourist train which takes them around the papal villa, including past the pope's organic farm, which houses cows, free-range hens, cockerels and pontifical bees.

From the train's windows they get a glimpse at the makings of the papal menu: freshly laid eggs, milk, vegetables, fruit, honey and fat rounds of caciotta cheese from the farm often end up on the pope's table back in the Vatican.

Tourists can now take a train trip to Castel Gandolfo, a lavish estate Pope Francis
has never used but wanted to share with the public (AFP Photo/Filippo Monteforte)

Visitors can then wander around the town of Castel Gandolfo, a mediaeval borough listed among Italy's most beautiful, before getting the train back to the Vatican in the afternoon.

There is also a 16 euro option for those who want to skip the Vatican Museums and just do Castel Gandolfo.

Frugal Francis, who has shunned the Holy See's papal apartments for life in a Vatican hotel, has said he has no time to visit the estate -- a decision, however, which has seen local shopkeepers hit by a drop in tourism.

The Argentine hopes that by launching the new link with the summer palace it will revive the struggling businesses.

"Seeing as he's unable to spend time at Castel Gandolfo because of his numerous engagements, Francis wanted to make a generous gesture so that we can all visit a place which has been closed for so many centuries," Osvaldo Gianoli, director of the Castel Gandolfo villas, told AFP.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

One big step for man as astronaut controls robot from ISS

Yahoo – AFP, Jo Biddle, September 8, 2015

The blue-and-white Interact Centaur fibreglass robot, which cost less than 200,000
euros ($224,000) to build, has a camera on its head which allows the controller to
directly see the task it is performing (AFP Photo/Jo Biddle)

Noordwijk (Netherlands) (AFP) - European experts have pulled off a major advance that might one day help build new worlds in space after an astronaut in the International Space Station remotely guided a robot on Earth by feel.

Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen performed the breath-taking experiment in which he placed a peg into a very tight hole on Monday under the careful control of the European Space Agency.

While orbiting some 400 kilometres (250 miles) above Earth, Mogensen took control of the Interact Centaur rover which has a pair of arms for delicate, high-precision work.

The blue-and-white fibreglass robot, which cost less than 200,000 euros ($224,000) to build, also has a camera on its head which allows the controller to directly see the task it is performing.

But sight is not the most important sense in this project. It is touch.

In real-time, thanks to super swift signals bouncing off a dedicated complex system of satellites working in synchronisation, the astronaut manoeuvered the robot into place.

He then very slowly lowered a metal pin held by the robot into a tight hole in a task board with less than a sixth of a millimetre of wriggle room.

Using a joystick

For the first time -- thanks to force-feedback technology -- when the pin was not aligned correctly Mogensen felt it hit the sides of the hole via the joystick he was operating on the space station.

Cheers erupted when after several long nail-biting minutes the rover -- which slightly resembles Disney's WALL.E cartoon character -- dropped the pin successfully into place.

Scientists and engineers believe applications of this kind of tactile technology are huge -- allowing humans to guide robots in delicate tasks by feeling their way.

The technology will allow people "to project a human-like presence into the robots, to do human-like tasks on the surface" of a planet, Andre Schiele, head of ESA's Telerobotics and Haptics Laboratory, told AFP.

With space engineers hoping at some point to fly people to Mars, "we have to bring them back" which means before they first step foot on the planet "you would have to build an entire launch-platform on the planet."

Robots like the Centaur -- also affectionately dubbed the "blue bug" by some of its designers -- could be put in place first to do the building.

"There's going to be a need for a set-up, some building before a human even sets foot on the planet and for that we could send down robots and control them from a space station," said industrial designer Emiel den Exter.

The 18-month project was a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA)and students from Delft University of Technology.

"Even something like lacing your shoe is something you rely entirely on your tactile senses" for, Schiele told journalists gathered at the ESA headquarters in the Dutch town of Noordwijk.

Earthly uses

On Earth this cutting-edge technology known as haptics could also be used "everywhere where you basically don't want to send humans," said Schiele.

"Feeling" robots would have been useful to cap the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, or help seal the reactors at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant after the 2011 meltdown.

Professor Frans van der Helm, from Delft University's mechanical engineering unit, said one scheme was looking at using such robots to work in a massive nuclear fusion project in France.

Inside the costly, multipartner International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) -- if it is built -- "the heat will be about one million degrees," Van der Helm told AFP.

"So everything starts to deform" making it hard for robots to complete a task which they have been programmed for, he said.

In this case, telepresence technology would allow a human to feel their way through and fix a problem.

For 27-year-old Turkish student Doga Emirdag, who helped design the Centaur's exo-skeleton as part of his masters degree, Monday's demonstration was a big day.

"The robot as it is wouldn't go into space. But the technology being developed will go to space," he said with a broad smile.

Related Article:

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Netherlands, South Korea in Charge of Jakarta Sea Wall Study

Jakarta Globe, Dion Bisara, September 04, 2015

The Jakarta sea wall will create a huge reservoir in the north coast of Jakarta,
acting as a flood control system and a water source for the surrounding population.
(ID Photo/Zabur Karuru)

Jakarta. The Netherlands and South Korea have pledged a total of $19 million in grant funding to help Indonesia conduct a study for the second and third phase of its sea wall project off the coast of Jakarta.

South Korea is setting aside $9.5 million for research on undersea currents and soil structure for the project, dubbed National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD).

The Dutch, meanwhile, have allocated 8.5 million euros ($9.5 million) for a follow-up study, Indonesia's Public Works and Housing Ministry said in a statement released on Thursday.

Officials from the three countries signed a letter of intent for the joint study on Thursday.

The South Koreans are set to begin their part by the end of this month, said Lucky Eko Wuryanto, deputy for infrastructure at the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs.

The study is expected to reach conclusion by 2017, before the government has to decide whether to continue the sea wall project.

The second and third phase of the  massive endeavor will create a huge reservoir in the north coast of Jakarta, acting as a flood control system and water source for the surrounding population.

The Indonesian government, with help from the Netherlands, started construction to strengthen existing retaining walls on the coast last October as part of the first phase of NCICD.

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