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Although unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were originally developed for military, the civilian versions emerged over the past decade have created a thriving new industry. Commercial UAVs are widely used for jobs ranging from inspecting power lines, buildings, and crops, to aerial photography, transporting medical supplies and even delivering pizzas. According to a German research firm, the value of this market is expected to exceed $42bn by 2025 from $23bn in 2020. A gradual relaxation of regulations may accelerate this growth. For example, American Robotics became the first operator approved by America’s Federal Aviation Administration to fly automated UAVs at specific sites without any pilots or observers being present in January. Its drones help to survey farmland in rural areas. The company also develops products for buildings and other infrastructures. Similarly in Britain, the Civil Aviation Authority authorised a firm called ‘’ to carry out routine flights in April. In China, Antwork Technology received the first licence granted by the Civil Aviation Administration for urban UAV trials in 2019, and their products are used to deliver groceries and blood samples during pandemic. There are more inspiring cases in Europe and America, which brings more exciting potential for the industry.

Matterport is an American spatial data company that allows users to capture, upload and create digital scans of real-world environments and share them online through its 3D camera and interactive viewing platform. Facebook AI Research (FAIR) and Matterport announced the collaboration to make the largest-ever dataset of 3D indoor spaces available exclusively for academic, non-commercial uses. The collaboration and 3D dataset have the potential to change the landscape of embodied AI and computer vision. Researchers can use the dataset to train embodied agents, such as home robots and AI assistants, at scale. FAIR leverages its new Habitat 2.0 training system to simulate the interactivity between robots and 3D objects instead of simply interpreting objects and surfaces. For instance, if a robot’s task is to pick up a fork from table and place it in the sink, previously these movements would just be assumed since we could nott actually simulate it effectively. In the new Habitat system, the fork is physically simulated, as the table, the sink and so on. That makes it more computationally intense, but also way more useful. Matterport has assembled an enormous collection of 3D-scanned buildings. The diversified dataset they share helps researchers to improve their algorithm more efficiently.

On May 22, China’s first Mars rover Zhurong, named after the Chinese god of fire, drove down the ramp of its landing capsule and roamed the surface of Mars. Unlike the American probes which have a plutonium-based nuclear power generator to provide them with abundant energy, Zhurong is solar-powered, and this limits the Chinese mission to around 90 days. Zhurong is a bit heftier than the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that NASA landed on Mars in 2004, but only about one-fourth the mass of the two currently operating NASA Mars rovers, Curiosity and Perseverance. Although this is primarily a technical demonstration, it also has a real scientific component, including analysing and mapping the Martian surface and geology, looking for water ice and studying the climate and surface environment. The Chinese space agency has highlighted the international collaboration on this mission, including contributions from the European Space Agency, Argentina, France and Austria. After America and China, the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos Space Corporation are planning to jointly land a rover on Mars in 2022.

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