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MIT developed imaging technology that can see through fog

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Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have developed a new imaging system that can gauge the distance of objects obscured by fog so thick that humans can’t see through it.

The goal is to integrate the technology into self-driving cars so that even in bad weather, the vehicles can avoid obstacles.

The imaging-sensing system uses a time-of-flight camera, which fires short laser bursts toward an object. It then counts how long it takes for the light to bounce back. Fog typically scatters the laser light, making it difficult for autonomous vehicles. But the researchers developed an algorithm that finds patterns in the scattered light to reveal distance.

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Don’t expect Beijing to provide direct support to Evergrande, says S&P

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Outside the China Evergrande Group Royal Mansion residential development under construction in Beijing, China, on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021.

Gilles Sabrie | Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Chinese government is not likely to step in to give direct support to debt-ridden developer China Evergrande Group, according to S&P Global Ratings.

“We do not expect the government to provide any direct support to Evergrande,” said the S&P credit analysts in a Monday report. “We believe Beijing would only be compelled to step in if there is a far-reaching contagion causing multiple major developers to fail and posing systemic risks to the economy.”

“Evergrande failing alone would unlikely result in such a scenario,” they added.

Even in Evergrande’s home province, the developer is insignificant to Guangdong’s vast local economy — it is not too big to fail.

Fears over a potential contagion from Evergrande into the broader Chinese economy and beyond dragged down the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong by more than 3% on Monday. The sell-off continued across the globe.

Evergrande is the world’s most indebted developer and has racked up about $300 billion in debt. It is due to make a number of interest payments for its bonds starting Thursday. S&P said a “default is likely” on those payments.

“We believe the Chinese banking sector can digest an Evergrande default with no significant disruption, although we will be mindful of potential knock-on effects,” S&P said.

In Tuesday morning trade, shares of Evergrande in Hong Kong fell about 4% — its seventh straight session of declines, though far less than the over 10% decline on Monday.

Evergrande’s chairman tried to reassure markets on Tuesday, and said the firm will fulfill its responsibilities to property buyers, investors, partners and financial institutions, Reuters reported Tuesday citing local media.

‘Not too big to fail’

S&P analysts likened the Evergrande fallout to the case of Chinese bad debt manager Huarong, which sparked a market rout earlier this year when it failed to report earnings on time and its U.S. dollar-denominated bonds plunged.

“We don’t expect government actions to help Evergrande unless systemic stability is at risk,” S&P said. “A government bailout would undermine the campaign to instill greater financial discipline in the property sector.”

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Instead of a bailout, Beijing might facilitate negotiations negotiations and funding to ensure individual investors and homebuyers are “protected as much as possible,” the analysts said.

“The government is willing to help, but also wants events to take their course. Even in Evergrande’s home province, the developer is insignificant to Guangdong’s vast local economy — it is not too big to fail.”

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Wise launches investing feature

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The Wise logo displayed on a smartphone screen.

Pavlo Gonchar | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

LONDON — British financial technology firm Wise debuted an investments feature Tuesday that lets users invest in stocks through multiple currencies and spend their holdings.

The new feature, called Assets, allows customers to invest in BlackRock’s iShares World Equity Index Fund, which tracks a basket of 1,557 of the world’s biggest public companies. The fund’s holdings include Apple, Amazon and Alphabet.

Users will also be able to instantly spend up to 97% of the invested money in their accounts with a Wise debit card, or send funds overseas. The idea is that customers can hold their funds in stocks, but also still spend and send the money in real time.

“Holding money in various currencies can be hard to manage efficiently,” said Kristo Käärmann, Wise’s CEO and co-founder.

“Assets is seeking to solve that problem, by providing an opportunity for customers to earn a return on their money with us, in a host of different currencies, all in one place.”

Wise says it is holding back 3% of users’ invested cash as a “buffer” in case of any large market fluctuations, to prevent customers’ balances from dipping into negative territory.

The company is initially launching Assets for personal and business customers in the U.K. but plans to roll out the product in Europe at a later date.

Formerly known as TransferWise, Wise began life as a platform offering cheaper currency exchange. It has since expanded its range of products to include multi-currency accounts linked to a debit card.

Now, Wise is rolling out investment accounts after having secured authorization from U.K. regulators last year.

The company says its customers now hold a total of £4.3 billion ($5.9 billion) in their balances globally.

Retail investor boom

Wise’s investing feature is different to that of other fintech platforms like Robinhood and Revolut, which let users trade a variety of different stocks, often without paying commission fees.

With Assets, Wise users will get exposure to hundreds of stocks and can use their holdings to pay for goods or send money abroad in a number of different currencies.

Wise charges an annualized 0.55% service fee and a 0.15% fund fee on the value of a user’s assets, which is taken monthly in arrears.

The launch of Assets comes after a surge in retail investors participating in the stock market, as consumers searched for alternative ways to earn a return on their savings.

Earlier this year, amateur traders inspired by a Reddit forum flocked to GameStop, the video game retailer, helping to fuel wild swings in its stock price.

It’s the first major product update since Wise went public in London earlier this year. Rather than raising money in an initial public offering, the firm’s employees and investors sold their shares directly to the public.

The debut was viewed as a big win for the U.K., where the government is looking to reform London’s listing regime to make it more attractive for tech companies following Brexit.

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Covid is officially America’s deadliest pandemic as U.S. fatalities surpass 1918 flu estimates

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A woman and child walk through a field of white flags on the Mall near the Washington Monument in Washington, DC on September 16, 2021.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Covid-19 is officially the most deadly outbreak in recent American history, surpassing the estimated U.S. fatalities from the 1918 influenza pandemic, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Reported U.S. deaths due to Covid crossed 675,000 on Monday, and are rising at an average of more than 1,900 fatalities per day, Johns Hopkins data shows. The nation is currently experiencing yet another wave of new infections, fueled by the fast-spreading delta variant.

The 1918 flu – which came in three waves, occurring in the spring of 1918, the fall of 1918; and the winter and spring of 1919 – killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, according to the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention. It was considered America’s most lethal pandemic in recent history up until now.

“I think we are now pretty well done with historical comparisons,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a physician and medical historian at the University of Michigan. He added it is time to stop looking back to 1918 as a guide for how to act in the present and to start thinking forward from 2021.

A personal note is seen on a white flag at the ‘In America: Remember’ public art installation near the Washington Monument on September 18, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Robert Nickelsberg | Getty Images

“This is the pandemic I will be studying and teaching to the next generation of doctors and public-health students,” he said.

To be sure, a direct side-by-side comparison of raw numbers for each pandemic doesn’t provide all of the contexts, considering the vast technological, medical, social and cultural advances over the past century, Markel and other health experts say.

It’s important to consider population when talking about outbreaks or disasters, health experts and statisticians say.

In 1918, for example, the U.S. population was less than a third of today’s with an estimated 103 million people living in America just before the roaring 1920s. Today, there are nearly 330 million people living in the U.S. That means the 1918 flu killed about 1 in every 150 Americans, compared with 1 in 500 who have died from Covid so far.

The 1918 virus also tended to kill differently than Covid, experts say. With World War I, there was a massive movement of men across all of America and Europe. While the coronavirus can be especially severe for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, the 1918 virus was unusual in that it killed many young adults.

Globally, the 1918 flu killed more people, an estimated 20 million to 50 million, according to the World Health Organization. Covid has taken the lives of approximately 4.7 million people worldwide so far, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Members of the Red Cross Motor Corps, all wearing masks against the further spread of the influenza epidemic, carry a patient on a stretcher into their ambulance, Saint Louis, Missouri, October 1918.

PhotoQuest | Getty Images

Unlike today, there was no vaccine for the 1918 flu. There was also no CDC or national public health department. The Food and Drug Administration existed but consisted of a very small group of people. Additionally, there were no antibiotics, intensive care units, ventilators or IV fluids.

Scientists hadn’t even seen a virus under a microscope. They didn’t have the technology and they knew almost nothing of virology, which was considered a nascent science because viruses are physically smaller under a microscope and more difficult to identify than bacterial infections.

“Obviously, we have much better advantages now, 100 years later,” Dr. Paul Offit, who advises the FDA on Covid vaccines, said, adding he is “frustrated.”

The U.S. is worse off now than it was a year ago as a large portion of the nation’s population remains unvaccinated, he added.

“I can tell you that we see a lot of children hospitalized as well, who have high-risk conditions and the problem is not that they didn’t get their third dose. The problem is that they are unvaccinated,” said Offit, also director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Markel agreed that the U.S. has made advancements, saying, “the reality is we have no historical precedent for the moment we’re in now.”

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