Dec 15, 2021 Episode 77
As part of our holiday specials, we look back at the best technology news on Newsy Pooloozi this year!
OPENING STING – LEELA: “New, new, newsy – Newsy Pooloozi!”
LEELA: Hello and welcome to The Happy Holidays series of the Newsy Pooloozi. I’m your host Leela Sivasankar Prickitt and this is…
MAMA: Hello, hello – I’m Lyndee Prickitt. Her mom and producer of this podcast – the world pool of news. Get it – not whirlpool, but WORLD pool. Cos, you know, we’re a world news podcast.
LEELA: I like it. So as the year is coming to a close and a lot of us are caught up in cooking, shopping, packing and traveling – we’re taking the opportunity to reflect on the last 12 months of Newsy Pooloozi.
MAMA: Ah-huh. Last week we gave you the best animal stories featured on Newsy Pooloozi over the past year. But we still have the best in technology news
LEELA: And the best of our “BIG NEWS STORIES.”
MAMA: And, of course, our personal favorite
LEELA: Everyone’s favorite – let’s face it! Yes, we’re talking – the best of our Oddballs. The weird and wacky stories spit out of our dear old Lucky Dip machine.
MAMA: With a bit of Christmas cheer in the middle of all that!
LEELA: This week – it’s tech news.
MAMA: From our mega specials on EV cars and “clean wings”
LEELA: – To artificial intelligence giving a helping hand to the art world in more ways than one.
TECH STING – LEELA/MAMA: “It’s time for…. Technology News, technology news, tech news!”
LEELA: Oh, OK. Should we get our seatbelts on and rev up the engine?
MAMA: Yes, ma’am. Wait. No revving up with this engine… rather a pity for podcast makers, but that’s the whole point of this story being so cool and important.
LEELA: We are talking about, of course, clean cars – or electric vehicles, which are on the point of being mass produced and…
MAMA: And mass consumed! So basically when new technology comes out it’s really expensive.
LEELA: And usually really big – like the first computers and phones. The first computers were as big as a room and now – your phone is pretty much a computer.
MAMA: I know, that’s so true. Same with electric cars and – more importantly – the battery that makes the engine run.
LEELA: But now…
MAMA: Sales of electric vehicles all over the world rose by 43% last year. Now that’s still a fraction – 4.2% to be precise – of total car sales. But experts in this field, from the people at Bloomberg New Energy to McKinsey consultancy, predict that…
LEELA: Electric cars will become cheaper to own than gas-guzzling cars in the next 3-5 years!
MAMA: And, the shining example of this is Norway, which has just become the first country in the world to see people buying more electric cars than those powered by petrol.
LEELA: And for more on this, let’s cut across to Annika Dolven Misra, who’s half Norwegian and beaming with pride!
ANNIKA: Thanks, Leela!
When Norwegians set their minds to something – they make it happen.
Our electric car journey (get it, car “journey”?!) started a super long time ago, in the 1990s.
First, it was environmental activists who pestered the government.
Then it was the government that made electric cars tax-free.
And increased taxes on polluting cars.
That meant electric vehicles – or EVs, as we like to call them! – were no longer super expensive to buy.
So more people did just that – started to buy EVs.
Then guess what?
More and more charging points started to spring up, so it became easier to own and operate them.
And – yep, you know where this is going – even more people started to buy them!
So EV makers could make a lot more at one time and – presto – that makes it cheaper to produce and the price comes down.
And then in 2020, for the first time anywhere in history, more than half of the cars bought in Norway – 54 percent to be exact – were EVs.
LEELA: Thanks a lot, Annika! But Mama, I have a question.
MAMA: Fire away.
LEELA: If these cars are just plugged into a socket… Isn’t that using energy too?
MAMA: Yes… You’re so right. Energy from your local electricity grid that’s usually powered by fossil fuel like coal, which isn’t exactly clean…
LEELA: Uh oh.
MAMA: And… Also, the batteries are made using a lot of rare earth materials that are precious and limited.
LEELA: so, not sustainable then, huh?
MAMA: Mmmm… And then there is the energy used when the cars and batteries are manufactured or made.
LEELA: Uhhh… then what’s the point?
MAMA: Well, it’s the math., EVs are cleaner to run – at the point of driving –, but really it’s all about the complete story! In one column you have the traditional internal combustion vehicle (ICEV) and in the other column the EV… And well, when you add up all the energy costs from the beginning of a vehicle’s life to its end… EVs still come out cleaner. And the best thing is – they’re improving all the time.
LEELA: With better technology?
MAMA: Yes, not only is grid energy cleaning up in a lot of places, but the EVs are improving all the time. For instance, one of the major barriers to buying EVs is the cost and running time of the battery. But an Israeli startup is now mass-producing batteries that can take an EV 100 miles after being charged for just five minutes. And… They’re already finding ways to recycle the battery components. And – get what one clever company in India is doing for its fleet of electric two-wheelers?
LEELA: Is this the company with the great name? E-Bike-go-go?
MAMA: Close! Just one go. EBikeGo. They’ve designed – get this – solar batteries for their fleet of scooters, which they rent out to delivery drivers all over India.
LEELA: You mean they don’t have to plug it into the dirty grid?
MAMA: Nope. Solar panels on the top of their garages will charge the batteries. Then when the drivers come in to ‘refuel’
LEELA: wink, wink – “refuel” so to speak!
MAMA: Quite, they’ll just take out the dead battery and pop in a charged one.
LEELA: So if this works – in the future there might not be fueling stations but battery exchange stations.
MAMA: Maybe so.
LEELA: Sounds pretty clean to me!
MAMA: Yes, maybe it’s something that the Nuro in America will do.
LEELA: Oh, that cute little driverless EV?!
MAMA: Yeah that’s the one. Which just got permission to launch in the US.
LEELA: Wahoo! For this, let’s jump across the Atlantic to our tech reporter – and fellow podcaster in his own right – Ari Kelly.
ARI: Thanks, Leela.
Yep, just a few weeks ago Nuro got his driving license!
Well, it got the first ever “Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Permit” to be precise.
From the state of California.
And, by the way, “autonomous vehicle” is a fancy way of saying “self-driving car.”
Getting the permit means the company can actually launch its driverless delivery service in California.
Nuro’s latest batch of electric vehicles – called R2 – will be able to bring food, drinks, even prescription medicines and other products straight from the shop to the customer’s door.
The slow speed R2 has a front-end that absorbs energy and can collapse inward – to better protect those outside of the vehicle in case of a, you know, an accident!
Nuro has spent the last two years testing its vehicles in California, Texas and Arizona.
But with this deployment permit, the company can move out of the testing lane and begin making autonomous deliveries for real.
At least in Silicon Valley to begin with.
LEELA: Thanks, Ari. Ari also hosts his own podcast called At Your Level, which you should also check out. And that’s a wrap on our EV special.
SFX OF BELL AND WHISTLE
MAMA: So we talked at the beginning of the year about how electric vehicles were about to have their moment… with more and more people buying EVs than ever before.
LEELA: In an effort to drive around in a cleaner way.
SFX TESLA EV
MAMA: That’s right. But what can we do about traveling across the world
LEELA: As in flying.
SFX OF PLANE
MAMA: In a cleaner way. Air travel is fast and convenient
LEELA: Beats going by boat. If you’re traveling from India to England or… England to America anyway!
MAMA: Sure is… but it’s not good for the environment. Especially with more and more of us taking to the skies.
LEELA: So why don’t airlines look at using electric batteries, like the EVs use?
MAMA: Well, they are. But there are drawbacks. See, right now the batteries are heaaaaaavy. An EV battery weighs roughly half a ton. That’s the weight of a piano.
And that’s to run a single car. Imagine how much a small plane would need Leela, never mind a big passenger plane.
LEELA: It wouldn’t even be able to get off the ground!
MAMA: Right. So developers are looking at other methods and fuels. Like hydrogen.
MAMA: And where do we find hydrogen… but in water!
MAMA: Right – two hydrogen atoms bonded to an one oxygen atom is what makes a water molecule.
LEELA: Wait. You mean water can power planes?!?!?
MAMA: Yes… And not just water, but the sun too!
LEELA: The sun?! Well, I guess – come to think about it – there’s a lot of solar power up in the sky.
MAMA: That’s right. And, according to our aviation correspondent, Maya Bull, some clever folks even used solar power to take a flight around the world.
LEELA: Whoaaaa. Tell us more, Maya!
MAYA: Almost five years ago the “Solar Impulse 2” went around the world.
It was a single-seater plane, with massively long wings covered in solar panels.
It was the sun’s energy that was powering it to fly!
Then in 2019 the world’s first fully-electric six-passenger plane took off in Canada.
Another company, Zero Avia, took to the skies here in England, in a similar battery-electric aircraft last year.
But as you said, if you want to fly for a long time and in a bigger plane that can take a lot of passengers, right now the batteries are just too heavy for that.
So the same company, Zero Avia, designed and recently flew 19 miles in a six-seater plane powered by water!
Well, the hydrogen part of water – the H in H2O.
Hydrogen has lots going for it, doesn’t it Leela?
LEELA: Yes, ma’am. I’ve been consulting my encyclopedia and here’s what I’ve found:
Hydrogen is very abundant (that means hydrogen is found almost everywhere on earth.
It’s also one of the lightest elements in the world.
And, that means it can pack three times the energy of fossil fuels without emitting any dirty greenhouse gasses.
It just emits water vapor.
How cool is that?
But it’s not all pie in the sky…
Hydrogen is really hard to extract, or pull, out from water and… it’s pretty hard to store too.
MAYA: That’s right, Leela.
It’s being used for more than just planes.
Over in Europe, in Austria, they’ve developed a hydrogen train and here in the U.K., in London, we have hydrogen buses.
In fact, the British government is such a fan of hydrogen fuel, it’s giving Zero Avia over three million dollars to develop bigger hydrogen-powered planes in England.
At the end of this year the company hopes to test the technology on a flight that will go over 300 miles.
Wow or what?!
LEELA: Thanks a lot for that report, Maya!
MAMA: That’s not all folks! Aviation innovations are happening right here in India too.
LEELA: Why am I not surprised?
MAMA: Even less surprising is it’s a start-up associated with the highly acclaimed IIT, the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras.
LEELA: Home of the super smart people!
MAMA: Indeed. So we’ve established that planes using electric batteries can’t go too far or be too big right, but what if that’s an advantage?
LEELA: Oh… Like in crowded places… Like India!
MAMA: Yes, like getting from an airport on the outskirts of a city into downtown. Here to tell us more about this is…
LEELA: Yuvraj Sahni, who’s ready to take off!
YUVRAJ: That’s right, Leela. But the question is…
Will it be a plane?
Or will it be a drone?
Actually, it’s a little bit of both!
The ePlane Company from Madras, India, is developing an aircraft that will hit the “sweet-spot” between floating like a drone and flying like a plane.
They’re developing a two-seater e-plane which will have both: wings and rotors*.
The rotors, like a helicopter uses, will be used just for take-offs and landings from rooftops or parking lots.
While the wings will be used for flying fast.
But the aircraft will only be for short flights – going from one side of a crowded city… to the other.
It’s still in development.
But a small prototype is set for a trial flight in the next few months.
So keep your eyes to the sky!
LEELA: Thanks a lot, Yuvraj. Wonder when we’ll be able to take one of the flying-car taxis.
MAMA: Well, we reported a few weeks ago that America gave the green light for flying cars, but India has yet to do so. So watch this space.
LEELA: You mean, watch the skies!
MAMA: Ha – yes!
SFX OF BELL AND WHISTLE
MAMA: So we usually think of AI, or artificial intelligence, as a tool to help solve 21st century problems, right? Things that require the super-smart technology for science, medicine and industry.
LEELA: Yeah – and, of course as we’ve reported a few times, AI has helped us better understand what our animals may be thinking.
MAMA: Yes, that’s true. But we don’t really think of AI and art – do we?
LEELA: No ma’am.
MAMA: And yet…
ACE STING – LEELA/MAMA: “Now it’s the ace part of our podcast: Arts, Culture and Entertainment. Darling.”
MAMA: Yes, this is an art meets tech story. Because artificial intelligence is helping correct an issue with one of Rembrandt’s paintings.
LEELA: Uh, who’s Rembrandt, anyway?
MAMA: Ahh, Rembrandt was a premiere Dutch artist who painted portraits, landscapes and historical scenes. But his most famous painting is “The Night Watch” – have a look.
LEELA: Huh – they’re all old fashioned looking.
MAMA: Well, it was painted some 380 years ago! But actually it caused an uproar when he painted it.
MAMA: Because of the “snapshot” effect he used. See, most paintings were of important people looking, well, important. And if it was a group – they all had to look equally important.
LEELA: Oh, of course!
MAMA: But Rembrandt had enough of that – he wanted to capture a moment in time, in this case a group of soldiers about to march off – rather than focusing on the prominence of each person. But you’ll never guess what happened to the painting?
LEELA: It was stolen!
MAMA: Luckily, no. But when it was moved into Amsterdam’s city hall, some 80 years after it was painted, it didn’t fit between the two grand doors where it was supposed to hang.
LEELA: Too big?
MAMA: Exactly. So guess what they did?
SFX OF SCISSORS
LEELA: No way! that just bad
MAMA: Sadly, yes way – it was trimmed.
LEELA: But you’re not supposed to do that to someone’s hard work!
MAMA: I know! But luckily it’s been restored thanks to AI, as our correspondent Nick Von Hindenburg who used to live in Amsterdam and has seen this painting many times – is about to tell us.
LEELA: Well then take it away, Nick!
NICK: Thanks, you guys.
Yeah, I used to live just two blocks from The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and have seen Rembrandt’s The Night Watch many times.
To be honest I never knew this famous painting had been trimmed until recently.
But the fact that it’s been repainted – and by a computer, at that – is the talk of the town!
While the “cut” pieces have been never found, luckily Rembrandt was so famous, that a smaller version of the painting was copied by a contemporary artist in 1649.
This allowed a true restoration of the original work to be recreated, almost 400 years later!
How does AI figure into the picture, you ask?
Well, the senior scientists at the museum fed a high-resolution scan of the original painting and the copy in a computer.
Artificial intelligence then helped figure out what the missing edges of the original painting would have looked like if actually painted by Rembrandt’s hand.
Then, rather than hire a painter, the missing edges were created by a computer – pixel-by-pixel.
The images were then printed and are now mounted at the sides of the original masterpiece.
Cool or what?
I can’t wait to go see for myself!
LEELA: Hey, thanks a lot, Nick. I wish I could see it too!
SFX OF BELL AND WHISTLE
MAMA: So y’all might remember a few weeks ago we did a story about an unlikely partnership between art and AI.
LEELA: As in artificial intelligence.
MAMA: Exactly. Do you remember the story?
LEELA: You mean when AI was used to paint the lost bit of a canvas by the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt that had been cut off – yes, as in snip-snip-cut – some 400 years ago?
MAMA: That’s the one.
LEELA: Alright. So, what is it this time, a Picasso?
MAMA: Nope. Not a painting but this…
SFX OF BEETHOVEN’S 5TH
LEELA: Oh, no, not Beethoven’s Fifth! hide under the table lock the door close the
MAMA: No, not Beethoven’s Fifth. And I must say Leela knows this piece of music well, because bizarrely her school has chosen to use the first “dahn-dahn-dahn-daaaahn” to precede their lock-down drills, thus instilling a sense of terror in all the students towards Beethoven’s famous fifth symphony. But don’t get me started…
LEELA: Yeah, I’m OK if AI doesn’t help create any more traumatic sounds.
MAMA: Ah, not traumatic at all. As our correspondent, Nick Van Hindenburg – who brought us the last AI-meets-art story – is about to tell us.
NICK: Thanks, you guys.
Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born in Germany over 250 years ago, is still one of the most famous musicians in the world.
His music is, no doubt, played every day somewhere around the world.
Even if you think you don’t know his music, you’ve probably heard it – his melodies are often used in movies, TV shows, and even cartoons.
Some are soft and tender, but many are famously dramatic.
In fact, given his loud music and notorious non-conformist personality – Beethoven is often considered the original “punk rocker.”
The German composer is famous for his nine symphonies, which are long, complicated pieces of classical music.
Well, before he died, he began sketching musical passages of a new symphony.
But he never finished it.
Ten years ago, computer scientists, musicians and historians started using artificial intelligence to finish Beethoven’s 10th Symphony.
They fed all of his music into computers and let them do the hard work of “deep learning” his musical style – to try and figure out how the musician might have finished his last work.
And this is what they came up with.
SFX OF THE AI 10TH SYMPHONY
The reception has been mixed.
Some say “bingo,” while others have said it’s just “so-so.”
And a few of us think the original punk rocker might be turning in his grave.
In Washington, DC, I’m Nick Von Hindenburg, reporting for Newsy Pooloozi
LEELA: Thanks, Nick.
MAMA: Yeah, I prefer my punk with guitars and a lot of “Oi! Oi! Ois!”
LEELA: I really hope you’re joking.
SFX OF BELL AND WHISTLE
LEELA: And that’s a wrap on this week’s tech-special on Newsy Pooloozi!
Next week it’s…
LEELA: We have a VERY special Christmas “around the world” episode we’re planning for you.
MAMA: Wanna know how the Fins celebrate – being soooo close to the North Pole and all? Or what they do in Asia or down under in Australia?
LEELA: And, ever heard of Spain’s pooping yuletide log? No, no lie. A log that poops. Presents that is.
MAMA: It’s a yuletide log after all.
LEELA: Have no idea what we’re talking about? Well, you better tune in next week then!
Don’t worry – we’ll turn the heater on. So, see you next week in the happy, splashy giant Newsy Pooloozi!