Tech Talk

• IN ONE of the world’s more unusual diplomatic encounters, Ethiopia’s new prime minister has met with a humanoid robot.

The chief of staff for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has shared online a photo of Monday’s meeting with Sophia, who has gained global attention for using facial and speech recognition to help engage in conversation.

The robot, made in Hong Kong by Hanson Robotics, is fitted with software in part developed by Ethiopians and has been programmed to speak the country’s official language, Amharic, as well as English.

“We need to maximise the benefit of this technology and also prepare to deal with its downsides,” the prime minister said.

The robot came to the East African country for an information technology expo.

• Triggering a massive cloud of vapour and a roar, officials on Monday test fired a rocket engine designed to be part of a reusable spacecraft that can launch into space repeatedly with a quick turnaround time.

The AR-22 engine will power an experimental spacecraft — called the Phantom Express — that’s a collaboration between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Engineers are currently testing the engine over a ten-day period by firing it up for 100 seconds and then doing it again 24 hours later. Monday’s was the sixth of what is anticipated to be ten test fires.

Tom Martin from Aerojet Rocketdyne said Monday’s test at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi was “awesome” to see although a bit “boring” because everything went exactly as planned.

“The action starts when the engine shuts down. The whole idea is, ‘How do we get this engine ready to go in 24 hours?’” he said. “Nothing went wrong. The data is exactly what we expected. The engine did exactly what we were expecting it to.”

The goal is to create a new type of spacecraft that can launch into low Earth orbit on short-notice — days instead of months or years — and cost less than traditional space programmes.

The spacecraft would be unmanned and roughly about the size of a business jet. It would take off vertically and once it reaches a certain altitude a second stage would be released that could then deploy a satellite to orbit.

The first stage would glide back to earth and land horizontally on a runway like an airplane. It would then be able to quickly launch again for another flight. The craft could carry payloads between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds, said Steve Johnston, from Boeing.


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