Engineers developing advanced robotic systems that will become surgeon’s right hand

Electrical engineering professor Michael Yip directs the Advanced Robotics and Controls Laboratory. Credit: University of California – San Diego

In the operating room of the future, robots will be an integral part of the surgical team, working alongside human surgeons to make surgeries safer, faster, more precise and more automated. In the lab of electrical engineering professor Michael Yip at the University of California San Diego, engineers are developing advanced robotic systems that could make this vision a reality.

From intelligent algorithms that can enable robots to lend a helping hand during surgery, to “smart” endoscopes that can autonomously maneuver through sensitive nooks and crannies inside the body, the robotics technologies in Yip’s lab are all inspired by a common goal: to augment the capabilities of surgeons.

The goal is not to replace human surgeons, but to better assist and enable them to do much more, Yip said. Human surgeons, he explained, are still needed to make decisions that can’t be left to a robot, such as what treatment is best for the patient, or how a surgical procedure should be performed.

Meanwhile, robots will be made to perform tasks that humans cannot. For example, flexible and dexterous robots armed with high-power computing and sub-millimeter precision will be able to perform minimally invasive surgery, control complex instruments and navigate through spaces in the body that a human surgeon can’t access. These robots could perform other advanced tasks, like creating real-time 3-D maps inside the body as they self-navigate, and incorporating all available medical data—including imaging information—into the operating room.

This vision illustrates the idea of “Shared Autonomy,” the theme of the most recent UC San Diego Contextual Robotics Institute Forum that was held in October. In an age of increasing automation, researchers in the Institute, such as Yip, are focused on developing robotic systems that can interact well in a human world and benefit society.

Engineers developing advanced robotic systems that will become surgeon's right hand
Da Vinci Surgical System. Credit: University of California – San Diego

Here’s a sample of some of the projects in Yip’s Advanced Robotics and Controls Laboratory (ARCLab):

Automated surgical assistant: da Vinci robot

The da Vinci Surgical System is a robotic surgical system designed to perform minimally invasive surgery. The system, developed by the company Intuitive Surgical, is remotely controlled by a surgeon from a console. The system is equipped with four robotic arms, but a surgeon is able to control only two of them at a time. Yip’s ARCLab currently has a full da Vinci Surgical System dedicated for research in shared autonomy.

Yip’s team aims to put the other two arms to work. To do this, they are creating software and hardware that will enable these arms to function autonomously. A goal is to have these robotic arms assist the primary surgeon with routine surgical tasks (suction, irrigation or pulling tissue back) that are tedious and are currently performed by additional human surgeons.

“This would reduce the number of surgeons in the operating room, which would reduce the overall cost of the surgery,” said Nikhil Das, an electrical engineering Ph.D. student in Yip’s lab. It would also free up surgeons who normally do these tasks to see other patients, he added.

Engineers developing advanced robotic systems that will become surgeon's right hand
Left to right: Naman Gupta and Nikhil Das. Credit: University of California – San Diego

Das develops motion planning algorithms that will enable the auxiliary arms to move without hitting obstacles, such as the surgeon-controlled manipulator arms. He is working on this project with undergraduate student Naman Gupta, who is visiting from Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India. Gupta implements these algorithms in a simulated da Vinci system’s robotic arm and is in the process of validating his approach before moving it onto the ARCLab’s da Vinci system.

Other students in the ARCLab are incorporating haptics into the system so that surgeons operating the robotic arms can recover the textures and sensations of feeling the tissues, a critical sensation missing in current systems.

“We’re trying to close the gap between the surgeon and the robot,” Das said.

Steerable catheters

To reach truly small scales, the ARCLab is developing its own robotic catheters. These catheters are meter-long, millimeter-diameter flexible robots that can access the deepest parts of the body from atraumatic locations such as the leg. With 8 wires that are individually controlled by 8 different motors, Yip’s lab can shape and steer the robot catheters in more complex configurations and navigate far more effectively than surgeons could do manually.

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One goal is to automate the catheter and incorporate haptic controls so that the operator can receive feedback from the motors. “That’s what makes our catheter different from the steerable catheters in industry,” said Aaron Gunn, a mechanical engineering undergraduate working on this project.

Artificial muscles

For robots to move with more agility and speed, they’ll need human-like muscles. To that end, postdoctoral researcher Jun Zhang and bioengineering undergraduate Taylor West are making artificial muscle fibers that can quickly contract and relax while holding weight.

The muscle fibers are made of silver-coated nylon threads that are spun into a tightly coiled structure. When voltage is applied to the fibers, they heat up and contract. As they cool, they relax back to their original length. By braiding multiple coiled fibers together, researchers can create a stronger muscle that can lift a heavier load.

The artificial muscles that Zhang and West built can achieve up to 20 percent contraction while lifting a one kilogram load (see video below). For comparison, existing artificial muscles can achieve 5 percent contraction at best. They also contract slower and are made of expensive metal nanomaterials. “Ours are much cheaper because we use regular sewing thread,” West said.

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esearchers aim to use these artificial muscles to build life-like robotic arms, prosthetics, orthotics and robotic augmentation devices for people with poor muscle function. “And we can make devices that are lightweight and smaller using these artificial muscles,” Zhang said.

West, whose father served in the military, has a soft spot for wounded veterans and aspires to become a prosthetics engineer. These interests drew her to the ARCLab. “My hope is that this research will produce technology that will help people and is affordable,” West said.

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Passengers take mobile measure of comfort for railway companies

Scientists at the University of Birmingham have developed a smartphone app that allows passengers to measure ride comfort themselves using their smartphones.

Information collected by the app would give railway companies instant feedback from passengers about bumps, bangs and vibration on their trains.

The study is the first to use artificial neural networks to map data gathered from smartphones in order to evaluate ride quality. It reveals that accelerometers found in modern smartphones are good enough to be used in measuring ride comfort.

Dr Sakdirat Kaewunruen, Senior Lecturer in Railway and Civil Engineering, said: “Making passengers feel comfortable aboard their trains is something many railway companies strive to do. With the advent of smartphones, passengers can potentially measure the ride comfort themselves.

“Our research opens the door for many opportunities, allowing passengers to provide instant feedback on the comfort of their journey and equipping railway companies with information they can use to further improve ride comfort for passengers.

“There is also potential for this technology to be used to detect track faults and indicate which sections of track are in need of maintenance, possibly saving on maintenance costs and improving the safety of the railway.”

The study was published in Frontiers in Built Environment. Researchers used a specially designed smartphone app to record vibration data from a train running on a test track, comparing the information gathered to a reference accelerometer.

Researchers discovered that the technology used in modern smartphones is more than good enough to measure ride comfort aboard trains. They noted that mobile technology develops at a high rate and future smartphones would have higher quality accelerometers than those used in the experiment.

Vibrations in trains can be caused by welding and rolling defects, rail joints, poor track alignments, and various defects or roughness in the track or wheel surfaces. The types of vibrations experienced on board trains are different from the ones experienced in road vehicles.

Adam Azzoug said: “The greatest challenge in using this type of technology is to persuade passengers themselves to implement it in their daily lives, but there are a number of ways around this issue.

“For example, rail companies might make it easier for passengers to use the app by linking it to Wi-Fi access on their trains or allowing passengers to give feedback on subjective causes of discomfort in trains such as smells and temperature.”

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More information:
Adam Azzoug et al, RideComfort: A Development of Crowdsourcing Smartphones in Measuring Train Ride Quality, Frontiers in Built Environment (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fbuil.2017.00003

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How machine learning is changing crime-solving tactics

Credit: Public Domain

Modern forensic DNA analyses are crucial to crime scene investigations; however the interpretation of the DNA profiles can be complex. Two researchers from the Forensics and National Security Sciences Institute (FNSSI) have turned to computer technology to assist complicated profile interpretation, specifically when it comes to samples containing DNA from multiple people.

“There is a massive amount of data that is not being considered, simply due to our limited capability as human beings,” says Michael Marciano, FNSSI research assistant professor, explaining why they’re counting on computers to make data-driven predictions.

Marciano and Jonathan Adelman, FNSSI research assistant professor, have developed a new method to predict the number of people contributing to mixed DNA samples, the results of which are published online in Forensic Science International: Genetics ahead of the journal’s March issue.

Additionally, the duo’s method, dubbed Probabilistic Assessment for Contributor Estimate (PACE), is patent pending. The SU-owned intellectual property is newly licensed to NicheVision, a forensic software company based in Akron, Ohio.

In order to “deconvolute” or separate a mixed DNA sample into individuals’ genetic information, current technology requires the analyst to identify how many people contributed to the sample. Marciano likens the challenge of predicating contributor numbers to looking at a jar of colored candies, where two or three colors may be easy to spot, but more colors may be hidden in the center of the jar.

To predict the number of individuals included in a mixed sample, Marciano, a trained molecular biologist with a background in forensic DNA analysis, teamed up with Adelman, a computer scientist and statistician. Together, they applied an established computer science method called machine learning to the problem of untangling mixed DNA samples.

Machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, uses existing data to train computers how to solve problems on their own with new data. The method works best with complex problems and in cases with a lot of example data for the training phase, making machine learning a great match for the DNA analysis challenge, Adelman says.

While machine learning has been used extensively in other fields, from stock market trading to spam filtering, Adelman and Marciano say they’ve never seen it applied to forensics science. To arrive at this novel application took “two people with different backgrounds and a white board,” Marciano says.

After training their algorithms on massive amounts of data from the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Onondaga County Center for Forensics Sciences, PACE’s prediction powers were put to the test identifying the number of people included in mixed samples with known numbers of contributors—and it passed with flying colors.

As detailed in their upcoming journal article, PACE improved prediction accuracy of three- or four-person mixed samples by 6 percent and 20 percent, respectively, over current methods. What’s more, PACE is able to accurately classify the samples in a matter of seconds, as compared to the up to nine hours required for current methods.

PACE represents a major leap forward in DNA analysis, Adelman says. “Incremental improvements happen in technology development all the time, but this could completely change how the problem of ‘deconvoluting’ mixed samples is solved,” he says. “It looks like disruptive technology.”

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More information:
Michael A. Marciano et al. PACE: Probabilistic Assessment for Contributor Estimation— A machine learning-based assessment of the number of contributors in DNA mixtures, Forensic Science International: Genetics (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.fsigen.2016.11.006

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The school with the largest solar facade in the world

Credit: EPFL Pilippe Vollichard

he Copenhagen International School’s new building is covered by 12,000 colored solar panels based on a technology developed at EPFL. It is one of the largest building-integrated solar power plants in Denmark.

The 12,000 colored solar panels really make the Copenhagen International School’s new building stand out. They completely cover the building and will provide it with 300 MWh of electricity per year, meeting over half of the school’s energy needs. The panels are a distinctive sea green, yet no pigments were used to make them. The color comes from a process of light interference developed over a number of years in EPFL labs.

Light interference is one way of producing color. It’s a similar effect to that seen in soap bubbles, on the wings of some butterflies and in a layer of oil on the surface of water: “The iris effect creates a colorful rainbow on a very thin layer. We used the same principle and adapted for glass,” said Jean-Louis Scartezzini, the head of the Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory (LESO-PB).

This sounds easy on paper. In reality, controlling the light reflected by the solar panels so that they produce only one color without reducing energy efficiency was a real challenge.

12 years of research

The school with the largest solar facade in the world
Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

The researchers’ aim was to be able to define the color of their solar panels – such as brick red, royal blue, golden yellow or sea green – by ensuring that only certain wavelengths are reflected. This required a series of digital simulations and a special manufacturing process, and it took 12 years to get from the first sample to the first colored solar facade. The researchers developed special filters, which they applied to the glass panels in nanometric layers. The filter design determines which wavelengths of light will be reflected as visible color. The rest of the sunlight is absorbed by the solar panel and converted into energy.

Andreas Schüler, who has led this project from the start, notes the challenge in achieving stable colors: “We have a free hand in developing our filters – we can achieve specific refraction indexes by combining different oxides. We work layer by layer, using between three and 13 layers in any given filter design. We have to find the right composition and thickness of layers so that they reflect the desired wavelengths while at the same time meeting the solar power requirements.”

By tinting the solar and thermal panels, the researchers are able to hide their unsightly components. The panels thus become architectural features in their own right.

The school with the largest solar facade in the world
Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

A spin-off, patents and projects

This technology is covered by two patents, and the colored solar panels are now being mass produced. They are made in one large size – 3 x 6 meters, 4 mm thick – and then cut to the architects’ specs.

“Making evenly colored samples was difficult,” notes Schüler. “A discrepancy of only 5 nanometers would affect the color. We thus had to achieve nanometric precision at a scale of a square meter.” Another problem was the size of the machines, which have to be at least 100 meters long in order to apply the layers of the filter. “We looked for partners in Europe, but companies here weren’t willing to take the chance. It turned out that Emirates Glass had the factory, the machines and the desire to take on this project,” said Nicolas Jolissaint, an engineer at SwissINSO, an EPFL spin-off. The two companies set up a joint venture, Emirates Insolaire, which provided the colored panels to cover the Copenhagen International School.

This building was described by Mother Nature Network as one of “5 solar-powered buildings that will forever change architecture.”

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Mexican activists suffer spyware hack attempt

An internet watchdog group said Saturday that a spyware hacking attempt targeted activists who campaigned against soft drinks and junk foods, and purportedly used Israeli-produced software sold to governments.

The Citizen Lab based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs said the attack targeted public health advocates Alejandro Calvillo and Luis Encarnacion, and public health researcher Simon Barquera.

Mexico passed a soda tax several years ago and Calvillo has campaigned for sugar warnings on food products.

The report implicated software produced by Israel’s NSO Group. The Pegasus spyware gives hackers free reign to eavesdrop on calls, harvest messages, activate cameras and drain a phone’s trove of personal data.

The report said “NSO’s government surveillance tool may have been misused on behalf of special commercial interests, not for fighting crime or terrorism.”

NSO said Saturday its programs are intended only “for the investigation and prevention of criminal activities and terrorism” and doubted its products were involved.

Calvillo said he suspected the Mexican government or the soft drink and snacks industry.

“Whether the industry did it or the government did it, we don’t know,” said Calvillo, who was a leading force behind a special per-liter tax on sugary soft drinks established in 2014.

Calvillo said the hacking attempt arrived in the form of a message from an unknown number last year, and contained a link to a purported news story.

Calvillo said it was both a hacking attempt and a threat: when he clicked on the link, it led him to a page for a funeral home chain.

Mexico has some of the world’s highest obesity, diabetes and soda-consumption rates.

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Aviation takes baby steps toward sustainable fuels

An Airbus A321 aircraft using Biojet A-1 Total/Amyris, a biofuel produced from an innovative sugar-processing technology, seen at Le Bourget airport near Paris

The air transportation sector is turning slowly toward sustainable fuels as part of the global fight against climate change.

But adoption has been delayed due to a lack of incentives and low oil prices.

“It’s very urgent to develop these alternative fuels,” said Michel Wachenheim of the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations (ICCAIA).

“There is no reason to be satisfied with the situation.”

Despite an expected increase in airline traffic, the aviation industry is the first commercial sector to commit itself to limiting carbon emissions within 20 years, through a binding mechanism.

But to achieve that goal, the industry must look at a variety of options.

Even partially replacing jet fuel with sustainable biofuels can make an impact. That is one of the four options favored by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which convened a panel of experts on Wednesday and Thursday in Montreal to address the dilemma.

Lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft, optimized flight plans, or turning off jet engines while on the tarmac also would help to cut emissions.

But meeting the 20-year commitment will require widespread adoption of alternative fuels that produce less carbon emissions over their life cycle than jet fuel produced from petroleum.

The ultimate goal is to make a fuel-equivalent to jet fuel, but those processes still are under development or at an early stage of industrial production.

Hydro-treated oils, a process of converting gases into hydrocarbons, or fermentation processes such as the one being done by biotech Amyris with French oil firm Total, produce sustainable biofuels, according to the experts gathered at the ICAO.

Starches and sugars

These fuels are made from biomass such as starches, sugars, oils and lignocellulose—in other words, plants. The use of seaweed is still in the research stage.

Nate Brown, in charge of the US Federal Aviation Administration’s alternative jet fuel initiative, said more work needs to be done before reaching large-scale production.

In addition to coming up with alternative fuels with “equivalent safety-performance,” the costs must be comparable to that of conventional fuel, he said.

A reliable supply is crucial for airlines, and proven environmental benefits also are key, he said.

With prices for conventional fuel remaining low over the past three years, due to low crude oil prices, energy companies do not have an incentive to invest billions of dollars in new technologies.

But even so, this year 25 airlines will operate more than 5,000 flights using jet fuel mixed with sustainable alternative fuels—up to 50 percent in the case of hydro-treated oils—on a trial basis.

Industry officials say there also will to be a need for stronger political will world wide to encourage the use of alternative fuels.

Gerard Ostheimer a scientist with Sustainable Energy For All (Se4all), launched by the United Nations, a higher price per tonne of carbon could be one of the levers that would push development of these biofuels.

In addition, “We must put in place policies that reward (using) fuels with reduced carbon intensity.”

At their last triennial assembly, the 191 ICAO member states adopted a global mechanism for offsetting emissions from international aviation and the objective by 2035 of, at worst, maintaining emissions at 2019 or 2020 levels.

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Researchers simulate global potential of electricity generated using hydropower

TU Delft researchers have completed a detailed account of the global potential of hydropower. The results of their research were published in the scientific journal PLOS One on Wednesday, 8 February 2017.

The Delft researchers used a model combining various geographical information systems to create a simulation of the global potential of electricity generated using hydropower. All of the world’s rivers with a discharge exceeding 100 litres/s were replicated, resulting in an extremely extensive database containing a network of rivers.

Additional data was used to chart the gradients of these rivers, with the aim of determining suitable locations for hydroelectric power stations. The research offers insight into the spatial distribution of hydropower and the amount of energy that the approach could theoretically generate in a specific area.

Replacement of fossil fuels

Hydropower could potentially replace a significant part of the contribution currently made by fossil fuels to energy production. This study is the first of its kind to present a detailed evaluation of the potential contribution of hydropower at each location, based on the slope and discharge of all of the world’s rivers. Hydropower represents a total theoretical contribution of approximately 52 PWh/year, distributed amongst 11.8 million locations. This amounts to 33% of the annual global energy requirement; hydroelectric power stations currently account for 3% of this annual energy requirement.

This detailed data will enable local authorities and companies to identify suitable locations for the construction of hydroelectric power stations, particularly locations at which smaller power stations could perform well.

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More information:
Olivier A. C. Hoes et al. Systematic high-resolution assessment of global hydropower potential, PLOS ONE (2017). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171844

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Tech firms must do more against ‘fake news’: Apple boss

Apple CEO Tim Cook pictured during a visit to the shopfitting company Dula that delivers tables for Apple stores worldwide in Vreden, western Germany, on February 7, 2017

Technology firms must up their game in tackling “fake news”, Apple chief executive Tim Cook said Saturday, calling for a major public information campaign.

“All of us technology companies need to create some tools that help diminish the volume of fake news,” the US tech giant boss told the Daily Telegraph in an interview.

“We must try to squeeze this without stepping on freedom of speech and of the press, but we must also help the reader.

“Too many of us are just in the complain category right now and haven’t figured out what to do.”

But Cook, who met British Prime Minister Theresa May at Downing Street on Thursday, said governments should also introduce a public information campaign.

“We need the modern version of a public-service announcement campaign. It can be done quickly if there is a will,” he said.

He added: “We are going through this period of time right here where unfortunately some of the people that are winning are the people that spend their time trying to get the most clicks, not tell the most truth.

“It’s killing people’s minds in a way.”

Fake news—fabricated reports designed to promote a particular agenda—came to prominence during last year’s US presidential election campaign.

Facebook in particular has come under pressure for failing to take action, and last month modified its system for showing trending topics.

The change is designed to ensure that trends reflect real world events being covered by multiple news outlets.

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EU at pains to punish VW over ‘dieselgate’ scandal

The “dieselgate” scandal blew open when Volkswagen admitted installing software in 11 million cars worldwide that reduced emissions of harmful nitrogen oxides when it detected the vehicle was undergoing tests

A year and a half after the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” scandal erupted, the European Union is struggling to punish the Germany-based auto giant for emissions cheating and ensure customers are compensated.

In the United States, where authorities first exposed the wrongdoing, VW has already committed to pay $23 billion to aggrieved customers to settle lawsuits in addition to repairing the vehicles.

The Dieselgate scandal blew open when Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 that it installed software devices in 11 million diesel-engine cars worldwide that reduced emissions of harmful nitrogen oxides when it detected the vehicle was undergoing tests.

The EU lacks the authority to fight VW. Day-to-day regulation of the auto sector, including approving new car models for the road, remains under the authority of national governments.

Other barriers include a political reluctance in car-making countries to punish an industry that has put such a high percentage of diesel-powered vehicles on European roads.

Manufacturing diesel cars helps employ millions of workers across Europe—either directly or indirectly.

According to EU data, the auto industry employs a total 12 million people in Europe and accounts for 4.0 percent of the bloc’s gross domestic product.

‘No shift of attitude’

“We have spoken a great deal on the issue,” lamented Julie Poliscanova, an activist with Transport & Environment, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation.

“But if you look for detail and concrete actions, unfortunately Europe has not made much progress,” she added.

Indeed, the European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation bloc, appears helpless against Volkswagen even after more than eight million of its incriminating vehicles made it to European roads.

Vera Jourova, the commissioner for consumer affairs, has been pleading with the German automaker to offer compensation to its European customers, but so far without success.

In many EU nations, consumers have no recourse to US-style class-action lawsuits and face weaker rules on defeat devices.

The strength of the Americans is “they have rules and they enforce them,” according to Christine Revault D’Allonnes, a socialist member of the European Parliament who serves on a committee investigating emissions from diesel engines.

The final version of a report from the committee will be voted in the parliament in April.

Volkswagen emissions scandal
The “dieselgate” scandal blew open when Volkswagen admitted installing software in 11 million cars worldwide that reduced emissions of harmful nitrogen oxides when it detected the vehicle was undergoing tests

A draft denounces the “bad management” of the commission and the member states which allowed automakers to justify a long list of exceptions and loopholes when being checked for pollutants.

But as far back as 2013, the commission’s research unit noted discrepancies in emission testing results depending on whether they were done on laboratory simulators or on the road.

While the EU acknowledged that this indicated the possible use of illegal defeat devices, Brussels did nothing.

After the scandal, the EU executive proposed new procedures closer in line with real world driving, which are to be launched in September this year.

But EU officials are despairing over the failure to make headway with a proposal to centralise car-type approvals in Europe.

“I see no shift of attitude in the industry, but (neither from) member state authorities for that matter,” industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said this past week.

In December the Commission launched legal action against authorities in seven EU countries, including Germany and Luxembourg, for failing to crack down on emissions cheating.

29 million polluters

The Commission is also pushing to obtain powers of imposing penalties and monitoring both the industry and national authorities who carry out tests.

“The idea that diesel is clean seems to have disappeared from public discourse,” Poliscanova said.

Karima Delli, a Greens party member of the European parliament, welcomed the fact that Paris prosecutors have opened a probe into Renault over possible emissions cheating because the consequences cause harm to the general population.

“Will there be condemnation for automakers who not only harm the environment but also people? That’s revolutionary,” she said.

Researchers at NGO T&E estimated at 29 million the number of polluting vehicles on EU roads, contributing to 72,000 premature deaths a year linked to azote dioxyde.

In 2016, based on figures from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, the share of diesel in western Europe has declined slightly from 51.6 percent to 49.5 percent for new registrations.

The ACEA president said European buyers had largely overlooked the scandal.

In fact, the large-scale presence of diesel on European roads certainly makes “much more difficult politically to have a European response,” Poliscanova said.

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Tesla chief in public feud with auto workers union

A feud between Elon Musk and the United Auto Workers revved up on Friday as the group denied his accusation they planted a mole to unionize Tesla employees

A feud between Elon Musk and the United Automobile Workers revved up on Friday as the group denied his accusation they planted a mole to unionize Tesla employees.

The UAW statement was the latest twist in a saga triggered by an online post by a man who claimed to work at Tesla’s plant in California for four years and decried conditions faced by employees there.

Tesla co-founder and chief Musk was quoted at gadget review website Gizmodo this week as calling the accusations “morally outrageous” and saying it was his understanding the man was paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union.

In a brief statement Friday, the UAW said the man “is not and has not been paid by the UAW” and called on Musk to apologize for spreading “fake news” about him.

The UAW confirmed that the post’s author, who identified himself as Jose Moran, and others at Tesla have approached the union.

Moran contended that many Tesla workers put in more than 40 hours weekly of hard, manual labor, some of it “excessive mandatory overtime.”

Machinery is not ergonomically designed to minimize risk of injuries, he maintained.

“I often feel like I am working for a company of the future under working conditions of the past,” Moran said in a post at

He also argued for a raise in pay, citing the high cost of living in the Silicon Valley area and contending that Tesla plant workers make a few dollars less hourly than peers in the automotive industry.

“In a company of our size, an ‘open-door policy’ simply isn’t a solution,” Moran said.

“We need better organization in the plant, and I, along with many of my coworkers, believe we can achieve that by coming together and forming a union.”

Musk rejected Moran’s claims about working conditions, according to Gizmodo.

In an email response to an AFP inquiry, Tesla said that as the largest manufacturing employer in California it has created thousands of jobs and “this is not the first time we have been the target of a professional union organizing effort such as this.”

Tesla added that it has a history of engaging directly with employees about their concerns and will continue to do so “because it is the right thing to do.”

The company’s site in the northern California city of Fremont is the only car factory in the US where workers are not organized into unions.

The company making the software-infused electric cars, however, is also considered a member of a Silicon Valley technology world—where skilled workers are not typically organized.

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