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How bees and drones team up to find landmines

Among the virtues of bees you may not be aware of is their knack for detecting bombs.

Thanks to the fact that they can pick up the scent of explosives with their antennae, researchers in countries such as Croatia have spent years perfecting how to use bees as landmine locators. But there’s a problem. As the insects whizz merrily about a mine-contaminated area, it’s extremely difficult for humans to keep track of where they go, not least because chasing bees across a minefield is not a great idea.

That’s where the drones come in. A team from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia have come up with a way of using drones to monitor the bees while they work. The unmanned aerial vehicles fly around, capturing footage of the insects, which is later analysed by computers to reveal where landmines may be hidden in the ground.

Landmines buried during wars that happened decades ago continue to present a deadly threat in many parts of the world. Many thousands were planted during the Balkans war of the 1990s and many persist today. There are an estimated 80,000 landmines in Bosnia and Herzegovina and a further 30,000 or so in Croatia. Clearing the devices is seen as a long-term, arduous project with no easy solutions. But technological innovations could still make a difference.

A “danger of death” sign is seen at a minefield in a woodland in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina on November 20, 2017. “We wanted to try to exclude humans from potential danger… and try to use drones,” says Vladimir Risojević from the University of Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Previously, another team of fellow researchers had honed a method for training bees in landmine detection. They achieved this by getting the bees to associate the smell of TNT with food – a sugar solution.

In the field, the trained bees tend to cluster near to places where mines are buried, in the hope of finding food. Such efforts have been active for many years but Prof Risojević says he and his team realised that computers could help by automatically analysing footage of the mine-seeking bees, in order to plot their activity and more easily locate the mines.

Even this proved tricky.

“It’s very difficult for human observers to find these flying bees in this video footage let alone computer vision systems,” he says. “There were moments when I thought that we are outright crazy for trying to do that but I am pleasantly surprised with the results that we obtained.” The team began with drone-captured footage of an outdoor area, onto which they superimposed “synthetic bees” – fuzzy grey blobs zooming about the scene.

When they managed to get the synthetic bees to look indistinguishable from footage of real bees, the team turned to a machine-learning algorithm, and trained it to accurately detect and follow the blobs on screen.

In tests described in a recently published paper, the algorithm proved more than 80% accurate at tracking these digital bees.

The researchers then took to a minefield, a safe one with real but defused mines buried in undisclosed locations at the Croatia Mine Action Center, to see how the system performed under authentic conditions.

Motorway fly-tippers escorted back to rubbish they dumped

Three men were seen leaving bags of rubbish on a grass verge between junctions 12 and 13 of the M6 in Staffordshire (Picture: @CMPG / Twitter)

A group of motorway fly-tippers who were caught on camera dumping their rubbish were escorted back to the scene – and ordered to pick it all up. Traffic cops pulled over three men on the M6 on Sunday and escorted them back five miles in the opposite direction to clear up the waste they had left at the side of the road. CCTV operators from Highways England alerted the police after seeing them leaving bags of rubbish on a grass verge between junctions 12 and 13 in Staffordshire. Officers from the Central Motorway Police Group officers then intercepted the vehicle between junctions 14 and 15 – and took them back to the scene. Pictures posted on Twitter show the trio bending down to scoop up the rubbish after being ordered to do so. Social media users praised the officers for delivering ‘instant karma’ to the fly-tippers. Carl Brindley said: ‘Instant karma right there – serves you right lads. Show us their faces next time.’ Jim Sanbrooke commented: ‘Hahaha, what a bunch of tools. Got everything they deserved, I hope they were fined as well.’ Ann Williamson wrote: ‘Brilliant! Should have got them to pick up everyone else’s rubbish whilst they were there.’

Nick Williams added: ‘Absolute class, guess it wasn’t a clean getaway for them.’ A Staffordshire Police spokesperson said: ‘We were alerted by Highways England on Sunday that their cameras had picked up an incident of littering in an Emergency Refuge Area. ‘Two of the three occupants of a Volkswagen Passat were spotted dropping fast food wrappers, plastic bottles and other rubbish on the side of the M6 northbound between Junction 12 and Junction 13. ‘No commercial waste or hazardous substances were left. ‘Officers attended and intercepted the vehicle still travelling northbound between Junction 14 and 15 and stopped it at Stafford Services. ‘They turned the vehicle around at Junction 15 and made the vehicle return to the scene and pick up their rubbish again as part of a community resolution.

‘Their details were passed onto Environmental Health for monitoring.’ Highways England network operations manager for the Midlands, James Hawkes, said: ‘We spotted this blatant and reckless abuse of one of our designated emergency areas on our CCTV system and quickly passed it to the police. ‘We continue to work closely with our police colleagues who enforce issues like this. Emergency areas are there for just that, an emergency. ‘They’re not there for people who fly-tip, which is highly irresponsible and illegal.’ – metro.co.uk

UK’s biggest banks warn customers of scam texts targeting thousands

Customers are being warned to look out for the text scam (Picture: CTIS/Getty)

Thousands of online banking customers are being targeted in a large-scale text message scam aiming to steal cash and personal details. The messages – claiming to be from Barclays, Halifax, HSBC and Lloyds – ask account holders to verify suspicious transactions. The texts are framed as security messages requesting confirmation of a payment made from an unrecognised digital device. In another version, the recipient is asked to tap a link to confirm payment to a named person. All of the messages contain links that request sensitive information such as online banking details and full names, putting the person at risk of theft and fraud. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), which raised the alert, said it has considerable evidence the scam is widespread.

The scam is affecting customers with Barclays, Halifax, HSBC and Lloyds (Picture: CTIS) Lead Officer Katherine Hart said: ‘I am witnessing so many reports of this scam; indeed, I have received multiple versions of it on my phone. The public is very vulnerable to this type of fraud, especially when more people rely on online payments. ‘Fraudsters change the form and methods of their scams to match shifting consumer behaviour. The surge in online shopping and payments means that the public must be more vigilant when making online payments and receiving messages claiming to be from their bank.’ Ms Hart said recipients of such texts should contact their bank directly, adding that suspicious messages can also be forwarded to 7726, which is a free reporting service ran by Ofcom. ‘We must protect ourselves and others from these scams but also provide vital intelligence to authorities,’ she said. It follows warnings of a Royal Mail scam which sees messages being sent claiming a parcel is awaiting delivery – but a charge must be paid first. Emmeline Hartley, 28, told Metro.co.uk how she was tricked into sending all of her money to fraudsters after entering her details on what she believed was the Royal Mail website.

The Birmingham-based student spent the ‘rest of the day sobbing’ on hold to her bank Barclays, who said she’d fallen victim to a highly common ‘safe account scam’. She still does not know if she will get all of her money back. Fraudsters are taking advantage of the surge in online payments amid the pandemic to hack into people’s accounts. Commenting on the latest scam, spokesperson for HSBC told The Sun: ‘We would encourage customers to keep abreast of the latest scams to help protect themselves from these unscrupulous criminals. ‘They can do this on a dedicated page on our website that they can easily bookmark and revisit.‘ Jim Winters, head of fraud at Barclays, added: ‘As fraudsters and their techniques become increasingly sophisticated, it’s more important than ever to stay vigilant to the threat of scams. ‘Do not click on any link or open an attachment on any e-mail or text you receive which you weren’t expecting.” ‘Also do not rely on the caller display on your phone or text messages claiming to be from your bank or another organisation – fraudsters can change their number so it looks like a real company is calling. ‘If you’re in doubt, hang up and call them on a number you have verified and can trust.’ – metro.co.uk

Coronavirus: UK PM’s warning as England lockdown eases

 Here are five things you need to know about the coronavirus outbreak this Monday evening.

1. Being cautious is the way to get the results we want, says PM

A cautious approach as lockdown eases in England is the “way to get the results that we want”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said. Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, he said a “wave is still rising across the Channel and it’s inevitable, as we advance on this roadmap, that there will be more infections and unavoidably more hospitalisations, and sadly more deaths”. But he said there is nothing in the data “right now” that means the roadmap to unlock cannot proceed as planned. Mr Johnson announced a deal to produce up to 60m doses of the Novavax vaccine entirely in the UK, including at a factory in Barnard Castle, County Durham – the jab is not yet approved.

2. Secret filming exposes contamination risk at test results lab

Secret filming at one of the biggest UK Covid testing labs has found evidence of potential contamination, discarded tests and pressure to hit targets. A BBC reporter working as a lab technician, filmed staff cutting corners and processing samples in a way that could cause contamination. This means some people who had taken a test via NHS Test and Trace may have received no result or a wrong result. Read the full investigation by BBC Panorama.

3. Jabs for households of adults with weak immune systems

People living in the same household as adults with weakened immune systems should be offered a Covid vaccine, the UK’s vaccine committee has said. It will help to stop the spread of the virus to vulnerable people in the same house, after recent evidence suggested they may not respond as well as others to a vaccine. Household contacts of those with blood cancer or HIV are included, but children under 16 are not.

4. Ethnic vaccine gap ‘not due to area or education’

Where people live, how poor that area is and their level of education explains only a fraction of the difference in Covid vaccination rates between ethnic groups, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found. It highlighted higher vaccination hesitancy among some ethnic groups. White people were the most, and people of black African ethnicity the least, likely to have had a jab, the ONS added.

5. ‘We cut our wedding guest list from 180 to six’

The first weddings in England since the latest lockdown have taken place. After months under stay-at-home orders, small ceremonies can now go ahead with up to six people. Jess Warren-Basham and Jonny Cope from Hampshire told BBC News they were thrilled to finally tie the knot in glorious sunshine on Monday – even if it meant cutting down the number of people invited.

Safaricom on Friday officially launched its stand-alone 5G network

5G network: What you need to know

After a series of tests in the past one year, Safaricom on Friday officially launched its stand-alone 5G network, making Kenya the first nation in Eastern Africa to adopt the technology regarded as a key enabler of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The launch has touched off a buzz both online and offline as Kenyans seek to understand how the new technology will affect the way they communicate and live. The Nation’s 4IR Journalist Faustine Ngila responds to some of your burning questions

Is my 4G smartphone now obsolete?

Not really. Your 4G smartphone remains relevant for the next several years. Kenya is still in the very early stages of 5G adoption and Safaricom is currently undertaking 5G trials to best understand the network and optimise it for mass usage in the coming months. At the moment, only two 5G base stations have been launched, one in Westlands, Nairobi, and the other in Kisumu. Less than 200 devices had connected to the 5G network at the time we published this story yesterday.

Do I need a new 5G SIM card?

No. You’ll not need to change your SIM card. Safaricom will not be issuing new 5G SIM cards. Safaricom’s first plan is to use 5G routers as an alternative to the Home Fibre 4G service. A router is a device that acts as a wireless access point.

Huawei also has portable 5G routers, which cost between Sh7,000 and Sh16,000, but those will need a Safaricom SIM card. That means you will be able to access 5G speeds via Wi-Fi connection to a 5G router.

How can my 4G smartphone switch to 5G?

Your phone needs a compatible 5G processor or chip to access the network. A chip, also known as chipset, is a component that controls everything going on in your smartphone and ensures it functions correctly. It’s the brain of your smartphone. But the chips in most 4G smartphones used in Kenya, called MediaTek Helio P70, do not allow 5G access. Common 5G chips are Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888, Samsung’s Exynos 2100 and Huawei’s Kirin made by HiSilicon. However, such chips are only found in expensive smartphones at the moment, made by Huawei, Samsung and Nokia.

When will 5G become a reality to most Kenyans?

Safaricom is confident that, by 2025, a substantial percentage of Kenyans will be enjoying the network’s benefits. In the next four years, the price of 5G enabled smartphones is expected to reduce to affordable amounts. Safaricom targets 150 5G base stations, which will switch on the network in nine towns by April 2022.

How fast is this 5G internet?

Safaricom said it will start with a speed of 700 Megabits per second (Mbps) and later upgrade to 1,000Mbps. At this speed, it is estimated you could download a two-hour movie in less than five seconds on 5G, versus the current six minutes on 4G.

Please note that it will be faster for fixed users, such as homes, 5G sites and offices than on your smartphone. But as 5G adoption gains ground in the coming years, if you’re using a smartphone powered by the Samsung Exynos 2100 5G chip, expect downlink speeds of up to 3,000Mbps and an uplink speed of 422 Mbps. For Qualcomm processors, the speed will be 2,500Mbps for downlink and 316 Mpbs uplink.

By 2025, however, downlink speed could rise to 7.5 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and an uplink speed of 3Gbps for both chips. That means instant downloads and the exchange of heavy files in real-time. Despite continued criticism by the US, where allegations of Huawei using 5G for cyber espionage have been rife, the Kenyan government says it has verified that the technology is secure.

“Most of the allegations are just political posturing,” ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru told Nation. “We’ve been working with these partners for a long time.” Acting Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) Director-General Mercy Wanjau said the technology had passed through the necessary quality and safety tests.

“I want to assure Kenyans that the technology is safe as the 5G standards have been developed through rigorous processes at the international telecommunications union and other relevant UN and global standards setting agencies in partnership with the industry,” she said.

Which other countries in Africa are adopting 5G?

As at February 2020, there were 24 operators in 18 African countries evaluating, testing, trialling or rolling out 5G, according to a survey done by Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA). It did not reveal the operators, but Nation can confirm that South Africa is leading the race, where three operators in the country — Vodacom, MTN and Rain—have deployed pre-commercial or commercial networks.

MTN has tested 5G in Nigeria and Uganda and Gabon Telecom has tested it in Gabon. Madagascar’s Telma launched the country’s first commercial 5G network last July. As at January 2021, the GSA recorded 144 commercial 5G networks present worldwide. More than 413 operators in 131 countries are also investing in 5G pilot projects. – nation.co.ke

Suez Canal finally unblocked as huge container ship set free

The Ever Given cargo ship is finally on the move up the Suez Canal (Picture: AFP/Getty)

 

The giant cargo ship holding up billions of pounds of trade on the Suez Canal is finally free and on the move. Tug boats managed to refloat the Ever Given vessel away from the crucial waterway’s sandy bank, where it had been firmly lodged since last Tuesday. The cargo ship could be heard blaring its horns as it was pulled toward the Great Bitter Lake, in the middle of the canal, where it will undergo inspections. Satellite data from MarineTraffic.com confirmed the ship was moving away from the shoreline toward the centre of the artery.

The incident was dubbed the second ‘Suez Crisis’ as $9 billion (£6.5 billion) in global trade was held up every day, straining supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic. It remains unclear when canal traffic will return to normal, although data firm Refinitiv estimates it could take more than 10 days to clear the backlog of ships. At least 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, were left waiting to pass through for nearly a week. Dozens were forced into taking the lengthy alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip – a detour costing hundreds of thousands of pounds in fuel and other costs.

It’s believed high winds caused the cargo ship to suddenly turn sideways some 3.7 miles north of the canal’s southern mouth, near the city of Suez, where the canal becomes a narrow single lane. Teams of dredgers and diggers were sent in to vacuum up sand and mud from the Ever Given’s enormous bow, while 10 tug boats pushed and pulled the vessel for five days. Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo being shipping from East to West. Around 10% of the world’s trade flows through the waterway and it remains one of Egypt’s top foreign currency earners. – metro.co.uk

Taste and smell gone forever? The anguish of Covid survivors

Elizabeth Medina, a 38-year-old school guidance counselor, smells her hand after using hand sanitizer during an interview with AFP outside NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital on March 22, 2021 in New York City.

 

New York,

Three days after testing positive for Covid-19, “everything tasted like cardboard,” recalls 38-year-old Elizabeth Medina, who lost her sense of taste and smell at the start of the pandemic. A year later, she fears she will never get them back.

Medina consulted ear, nose and throat doctors and neurologists, tried various nasal sprays, and is part of a group of patients undergoing experimental treatment that uses fish oil.

To try to stimulate her senses, she puts copious amounts of spices on everything she eats, pours aromatic herbs into her tea and regularly sniffs a bracelet soaked in essential oils.

But her attempts have been in vain. Medina, a guidance counselor at a New York school, says she has lost many everyday pleasures she once enjoyed, including eating and cooking. She says she has cried every day for months.

Medina is one of a growing number of people with lasting anosmia — a poorly understood disorder that has become an underestimated consequence for many in the pandemic.

Most Covid-19 sufferers who lose the ability to taste or smell recover “within three or four weeks,” according to Valentina Parma, a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia.

But 10 to 15 per cent lose the senses for months, said Parma. She chairs the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research (GCCR), which was formed at the start of the pandemic to study the problem. Sensory loss is estimated to affect more than two million Americans and 10 million people worldwide, according to the expert.

Taste and smell are often seen as less essential than sight and hearing, and their loss is often considered as less serious than other effects of “Long Covid”; but they are a key part of socialization, says Parma, noting that “we pick mates based on smells.”

Their disappearance, moreover, is frequently compounded not just by nutritional problems but by anxiety and even depression, Parma added. Like other “anosmics,” Medina found solace and solidarity in a support group organized by a hospital near her home.

Such groups have flourished on social networks. The c, formed as a charity in Britain in 2019, has seen its members on various platforms soar from 1,500 to more than 45,000 since the pandemic began, according to founder Chrissi Kelly.

On the organization’s main Facebook page, the question that haunts Medina repeatedly comes up: “Will I ever regain my sense of taste and smell?” At this stage, said Parma, “it is quite difficult to predict how things will evolve.”

But there is one good indicator that anosmics are on their way to recovery: developing parosmia, when people’s smells of familiar things are distorted, like smelling garbage while sniffing coffee.

Presently there is no known cure, and the only treatment recommended without reservation is to smell four different scents twice a day. According to Parma, this works in 30 percent of cases, but only after three to six months of practice.

Faced with this uncertainty, it’s perhaps no surprise that the likes of AbScent’s Kelly, who lost her taste and smell after a bout of sinusitis in 2012, and Katie Boateng, an American who lost the senses in 2009, have become near-celebrities.

They share their experiences, and push the medical community to intensify research and recognize the seriousness of their symptoms. In 2018, Katie Boateng created the Smell Podcast, a mine of information and advice for her companions in misfortune.

Leah Holzel
Leah Holzel, a food editor, smells aromatic spices during an interview with AFP on March 22, 2021 in New York City. Holzel, who had lost her sense of smell from 2016 to 2019, now coaches people who have lost their sense of smell due to Covid-19.

Daily exercises

She is now part of a patient advocacy group that helps guide GCCR’s research. Although Boateng has given up hope of being cured herself, “I am still very hopeful that we can lead to research that can cure people in the future,” she said.

While waiting for a medical breakthrough, many continue to perform their daily sniffing exercises, sometimes with the help of a coach, like Leah Holzel.

The food expert, who had lost her sense of smell from 2016 to 2019, has helped six people recover from anosmia since the start of the pandemic.

Many sufferers also cling to messages about improvements or healings that appear regularly on social networks, enjoying the camaraderie that the groups provide.

“It’s almost exactly a year after I first lost my smell and taste and I’m pretty much okay now,” Dominika Uhrakova, who lives in Southampton, England, wrote on AbScent’s Facebook page.

“Hang in there, don’t lose hope and I’m wishing you all best of luck,” the 26-year-old added. – Angela Weiss – AFP

Lorry driver ‘tried to smuggle 17 migrants out of UK’

The alleged stowaways were discovered in the back of a truck bound for mainland Europe

A lorry driver has been charged with trying to smuggle 17 migrants out of the UK. Hakan Zengin, 36, from Turkey, was arrested after the stowaways were discovered in the back of his truck bound for mainland Europe, police said. He was stopped at the M25’s junction with the A3 in Surrey on March 21. Police added the migrants were concealed in the lorry’s trailer and were sitting on pallets that had been laid across the load to make their journey more comfortable. They were all arrested on suspicion of immigration offences and are being dealt with by the immigration authorities. Zengin appeared before Wimbledon Magistrates on Tuesday where he was remanded in custody until his next scheduled appearance at Kingston Crown Court in April.

 

A spokesperson for the National Crime Agency (NCA) said: ‘Smuggling migrants out of the UK is more common than you’d think, with people smuggling working both ways. ‘There are multiple reasons why they’d be leaving the UK. ‘Some have been wanted for serious criminality and are fleeing the jurisdiction. ‘Some are subject to deportation and do not want to be deported to their home country and are fleeing to Europe. ‘Some are in the UK illegally, have no travel documents and cannot leave to visit family or sort out affairs in their home country. ‘They are generally found without any legitimate travel documents when encountered in the lorries.’ – metro.co.uk

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