In today’s Bulldog wrapup of science and technology news:
- A Japanese scientist wins Nobel medicine prize
- Earthquake warning for San Andreas
- Toyota’s $400 robot friend
- California law advances auto-driving car testing
- Japanese scientist wins Nobel medicine prize
Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering the mechanisms of autophagy.
The Karolinska Institute said autophagy is a “fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components.”
It is the 107th award in that category since the first Nobel Prizes were handed out in 1905.
- VIDEO: Watch a replay of the awards announcement at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtJXnDDUOa8
The prize committee often awards discoveries that were made decades ago, to make sure that they’re still relevant.
Last year’s prize was shared by three scientists who developed treatments for malaria and tropical diseases.
The announcements continue with physics on Tuesday and chemistry on Wednesday and the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. The economics and literature awards will be announced next week.
Each prize is worth 8 million kronor ($930,000).
- Heightened earthquake alert issued for Southern California
Southern California residents should remain on heightened alert until Tuesday for the increased possibility of a major earthquake, officials said.
The warning by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services follows a series of small temblors deep under the Salton Sea, which is located on the 800-mile-long San Andreas fault, the Orange County Register reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/2deTAxO).
Such warnings are typically issued once or twice a year, said Kelly Huston, the deputy director of crisis communications for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
The latest alert was issued after 142 temblors hit starting Monday near Bombay Beach at the southern end of the fault. Those quakes ranged from a magnitude of 1.4 to 4.3, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
Scientists estimate the probability of a quake with a magnitude of 7.0 or higher on the southern San Andreas fault being triggered is as high as 1 in 100 and as low as 1 in 3,000. The average chance for such an earthquake striking on any given week is 1 in 6,000. That heightened probability will last through Tuesday.
- Toyota’s tiny robot sells for under $400, talks, can’t drive
The new robot from Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. can’t do much but chatter in a high-pitched voice.
The 39,800-yen ($390), 10-centimeter (4-inch) -tall, doll-like Kirobo Mini — whose name comes from “kibo,” or “hope,” and “robot” — supposedly has the smarts of a 5-year-old.
Fuminori Kataoka, general manager in charge of the project, says its value is emotional, going from home to car to the outdoors as a faithful companion, although the owner must do all the walking and driving.
Preorders start later this year. Shipments are set for next year. No overseas sales are planned so far. The company said it planned a gradual rollout, initially limited to Tokyo and Aichi prefecture in central Japan, near company headquarters, to get feedback from consumers.
It comes equipped with a camera, microphone and Bluetooth, and connects to a smartphone, which needs to be installed with a special software application. It turns its head toward a voice, although sometimes that function fails as its voice recognition is far from perfect.
“Toyota has been making cars that have a lot of valuable uses. But this time we’re just pushing emotional value,” Kataoka said.
During an interview with The Associated Press, the robot turned its head to the reporter and then to Kataoka when he replied. But the first time Kataoka asked the robot for its name, it replied by asking what kind of car he had. It got it right the second time. Kataoka just laughed.
The robot is not equipped with face recognition technology, and so it cannot recognize different people. The idea is one Kiribo Mini per person, according to Toyota.
- California OKs self-driving vehicles without human backup
A new California law allows self-driving vehicles to be tested on public roads with no human backup.
The San Jose Mercury News reports (http://bayareane.ws/2dBBS6Y ) that under the bill signed into law Thursday by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, vehicles without steering wheels, brake pedals or accelerators can be tested at two Bay Area sites. The vehicleswill be limited to speeds of less than 35 mph.
The trials will take place at Contra Costa Transportation Authority’s autonomous-vehicle testing site on a former naval facility and at a business park that contains public roads.
Officials say Google and Apple have expressed interest in using the former naval site. The business park project will involve 12-person worker-transport shuttles.