China’s first homemade polar icebreaker starts its maiden voyage

Xinhua (SHENZHEN): China’s first domestically made polar icebreaker Xuelong 2, or Snow Dragon 2, set off on its maiden voyage for the country’s 36th Antarctic expedition from Shenzhen on Tuesday afternoon.

Icebreaker Xuelong will also join the expedition, making it the first time that two polar icebreakers work together on China’s Antarctic expedition.

Xuelong 2 will sail to the Zhongshan Station before conducting research in the Cosmonauts Sea and China’s Great Wall Station. It is expected to return in late March 2020.

Xuelong will set sail from Shanghai on Oct. 22 to the Zhongshan Station and then conduct a series of surveys and engineering projects in the Ross Sea and Amundsen Sea. It is expected to return to Shanghai port in mid-April 2020.

The expedition consisting of 413 team members will conduct multidisciplinary observations on the sea, atmosphere, ice shelf and biology. They will also conduct preliminary construction work of China’s fifth research station on Inexpressible Island, according to Qin Weijia, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration.



Robot hand solves Rubik’s cube, but not the grand challenge

LONDON (BBC): A remarkable robot, capable of solving a Rubik’s cube single-handedly, has demonstrated just how far robotics has advanced - but at the same time, experts say, how far we still have to go.

OpenAI’s system used a computer simulation to teach the robot hand to solve the cube, running through routines that would take a single human some 10,000 years to complete.

Once taught, the robot was able to solve a cube that had been slightly modified to help the machine tell which way up it was being held.

Completion time varied, the research team said, but it generally took around four minutes to complete the task.

Using machine-learning and robotics to solve a Rubik’s cube has been achieved before. Notably, in March 2018, a machine developed by engineers at MIT managed to solve a cube in just 0.38 seconds. What’s significant with OpenAI’s effort is the use of a multi-purpose robot, in this case a human-hand-like design, rather than a machine specifically designed to handle a Rubik’s cube and nothing else.

“The ability to solve the Rubik’s cube in the real world, on a robot hand, is actually extremely difficult,” said Matthias Plappert, team leader for robotics at OpenAI, speaking to the BBC.