This shuttle bus will serve people with vision, hearing, and physical impairments and drive itself

This shuttle bus will serve people with vision, hearing, and physical impairments and drive itself

The current interior of the Olli bus. Manufacturer Local Motors and IBM are developing assistive technologies to add to the next generation of the vehicle.

It’s been 15 years since a degenerative eye disease forced Erich Manser to stop driving. Today, he commutes to his job as an accessibility consultant via commuter trains and city buses, but he has trouble locating empty seats sometimes and must ask strangers for guidance.
A step toward solving Manser’s predicament could arrive as soon as next year. Manser’s employer, IBM, and an independent carmaker called Local Motors are developing a self-driving, electric shuttle bus that combines artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and smartphone apps to serve people with vision, hearing, physical, and cognitive disabilities. The buses, dubbed “Olli,” are designed to transport people around neighborhoods at speeds below 35 miles per hour and will be sold to cities, counties, airports, companies, and universities. If the buses enter production in summer 2018, as planned, they could be among the earliest self-driving vehicles on U.S. roads.Since Olli is fully autonomous and does not have a human driver, it uses IBM’s AI-powered Watson technology to converse with passengers (via voice and text displayed on an iPad). Olli navigates using radar, lidar, and optical cameras from a company called Meridian Autonomous. Before deploying in a neighborhood, Meridian Autonomous constructs 3-D maps of the area that Local Motors says are accurate to the half-inch. A human fleet manager then determines the bus route. When Olli detects an emergency via its various sensors, it will stop, notify a (human) remote supervisor, and independently run through a checklist of possible problems. “If a passenger has a medical problem or [there’s a safety issue], Olli will call the authorities or drive itself to a hospital or police station,” says Gina O’Connell, a Local Motors general manager who is leading the project.

Local Motors and IBM started collaborating on Olli in early 2016 and produced a first iteration of the bus in June 2016. That vehicle is currently in trials in Germany and Switzerland. It is the next—second—generation of Olli that will include assistive technologies. That version, which the companies call “Accessible Olli,” will be manufactured starting in 2018, and will retain Watson as a tool for communicating with passengers and add additional Watson features.Local Motors and IBM are still testing technologies, but have already identified some capabilities they are likely to add. Future Ollis, for example, might direct visually impaired passengers to empty seats using machine vision to identify open spots, and audio cues and a mobile app to direct the passenger. Olli could also guide passengers via a special type of haptic feedback that uses ultrasound to project sensations through the air. An array of haptic sensors could be designed into every seat, and when people walk down the aisle they would feel a vibration on their hand or arm to alert them that they were at an empty seat, explains Drew LaHart, the program director for IBM’s accessibility division. For hearing-impaired people, the buses could employ machine vision and augmented reality to read and speak sign language via onboard screens or passengers’ smartphones. LaHart says that Olli could be trained to recognize sign language using machine learning and Watson’s image recognition capabilities. If the bus were equipped with AR technology, it might be able to respond via a hologram of a person signing.Machine vision could also enable Olli to recognize passengers waiting at bus stops who have walkers and wheelchairs. The bus would then activate an automated ramp to help them board and then deploy equipment that would secure their assistive devices, locking a wheelchair into place, for example.
Another potential Olli technology combines machine vision and sensors to detect when passengers leave items under their seats and issues alerts so the possessions can be retrieved, a feature meant to benefit people with age-related dementia and other cognitive disabilities.This would all be a significant improvement over the typical bus accommodations of today, which are limited to wheelchair ramps and lifts and audible and visual bus route updates. Local Motors, IBM, and the CTA Foundation, the charitable arm of the Consumer Technology Association, a trade group for the consumer electronics industry, and a partner in Accessible Olli, have spent the past three months soliciting ideas from disability rights organizations and retirement communities, among others. Manser, who works for IBM Accessibility, has organized a workshop with blindness organizations and public transit agencies and attended an MIT assistive technologies hackathon in March to explain the challenges he encounters on public transportation.Local Motors plans to keep soliciting public input for several more months. In July, it will devise an engineering plan for the new version of Olli, select suppliers, and calculate the cost of fabricating the bus. It aims to sell the vehicle for about $250,000 and will also offer a leasing-subscription service that would cost $10,000 to $12,000 a month and include hardware upgrades. Because Olli is mostly manufactured on-demand, through 3-D printing, its design can be tweaked quickly in response to user feedback, says O’Connell.The company expects public transportation operators will be its main customers and hopes that cities will buy the buses to fill in gaps in their regular transit systems and not just as paratransit vehicles for disabled people.For those with disabilities, though, Olli could be a big improvement over the current options.  Door-to-door paratransit service tends to be slow, has to be scheduled ahead of time, and is only available to people who qualify for it, says Henry Claypool, who is the policy director of the Community Living Policy Center at the University of California, San Francisco, and a wheelchair user. “It’s much more reliable to be able to get on and off a bus at the same place and have a predictable schedule, especially if the bus has this type of assistive technology,” he says.Olli offers a way to address important limitations of public bus and train systems as well, says Susan Henderson, the executive director of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates only that “key” train and subway stations be accessible, which means that people with wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters often have to travel several stops out of their way to get home or to a destination, says Henderson. “If I still had 10 blocks to go after getting off at my local station, having an Olli rolling around my neighborhood would make a big difference,” she says.

86-year-old sprays “Money for weapons kills” on national bank of switzerland

86-year-old sprays “Money for weapons kills” on national bank of switzerland

Die Nationalbank, Stiftungen und Pensionskassen sollen nicht mehr in Kriegsmaterialproduzenten investieren dürfen. Die Gruppe für eine Schweiz ohne Armee (GSoA) und die Jungen Grünen haben am Dienstag eine Volksinitiative mit diesem Anliegen lanciert.

Der im Bundesblatt publizierte Verfassungstext trägt den Titel «Für ein Verbot der Finanzierung von Kriegsmaterialproduzenten». Als Kriegsmaterialproduzenten gelten demnach Unternehmen, die mehr als 5 Prozent ihres Jahresumsatzes mit der Herstellung von Rüstungsgütern erzielen. Davon ausgenommen sind Geräte zur humanitären Entminung sowie Jagd- und Sportwaffen und die zugehörige Munition.

Verboten werden sollen die Gewährung von Darlehen und Krediten sowie der Kauf von Beteiligungen und entsprechenden Finanzprodukten. Zudem verpflichtet der Verfassungsartikel den Bund, sich für ein entsprechendes Verbot für Banken und Versicherungen einzusetzen.

Wird die Initiative angenommen, hat das Parlament vier Jahre Zeit, diese umzusetzen. Nach Ablauf der Frist muss der Bundesrat eine Umsetzungs-Verordnung erlassen. Neue Finanzierungen sind ab Annahme verboten, bestehende müssen innerhalb von vier Jahren abgestossen werden.

Die Initianten stellten ihr Anliegen anlässlich der Lancierung den Medien in Bern vor. Heute werde weltweit für fast 400 Milliarden Dollar Kriegsmaterial verkauft, sagte Luzian Franzini, Co-Präsident der Jungen Grünen, gemäss einer Medienmitteilung. Die Kriegsmaterialkonzerne profitierten ganz direkt von Kriegen und Konflikten.

Der Zürcher SP Nationalrat Angelo Barrile hob die Bedeutung des Schweizer Finanzplatzes hervor: Wenn die Schweiz aufhöre, in Kriegsmaterialkonzerne zu investieren, sei das ein starkes Zeichen, sagte er.

Die Sammelfrist für die Initiative läuft am 11. Oktober 2018 ab. Bis dahin müssen die Initianten 100’000 beglaubigte Unterschriften sammeln. (sda)

Israel postpones vote due to Britney Spears concert

Israel postpones vote due to Britney Spears concert

The singer is set to perform her first concert in Tel Aviv on July 3, the same day as the Israeli Labor Party’s primary election. Leave it to Britney to shake up international politics.

“We delayed the vote one day, to July 4. We couldn’t hire enough security for the election because of the Britney Spears concert on July 3. There would also be a lot of traffic and roadblocks that would make it hard for the vote to go ahead,” Labor Party spokesman Liron Zach said.

The primary election will decide who becomes chairman of the party. The elected official will then enter the running to be prime minister.

“We aren’t concerned about voters favoring Spears over the party. The two main concerns are security and traffic,” Zach said. The concert is being held at Yarkon Park, right across the street from the Tel Aviv exhibition grounds where polling is set to take place. This will be Britney’s first time performing in Israel, and her first world tour since 2011. The concert is part of her Asia tour that includes performances in Japan and the Philippines. While it’s unclear if party officials plan on attending the concert, it appears the rest of Tel Aviv wants a piece of Britney.

One state has passed a law to stop schools from shaming kids without lunch money

One state has passed a law to stop schools from shaming kids without lunch money

In some schools, a child short on funds is stamped on the arm to notify everyone of their lack of lunch money. In others, children are forced to clean cafeteria tables in front of their peers to pay the debt. Other schools require cafeteria workers to take a child’s hot food and throw it in the trash if he doesn’t have the money to pay for it.In what its supporters say is the first such legislation in the country, New Mexico has outlawed shaming children whose parents are behind on school lunch payments.On Thursday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights, which directs schools to work with parents to pay their debts or sign up for federal meal assistance and puts an end to practices meant to embarrass children. It applies to public, private and religious schools that receive federal subsidies for students’ breakfasts and lunches.The law’s passage is a victory for anti-hunger activists, who have long been critical of lunch-shaming practices that single out children with insufficient funds on their electronic swipe cards or who lack the necessary cash. These practices can include making the child wear a wrist band or requiring the child to perform chores in exchange for a meal.In some cases, cafeteria workers have been ordered to throw away the hot lunches of children who owed money, giving them alternatives like sandwiches, milk and fruit.“People on both sides of the aisle were genuinely horrified that schools were allowed to throw out children’s food or make them work to pay off debt,” said Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed, an anti-poverty group that spearheaded the law. “It sounds like some scene from ‘Little Orphan Annie,’ but it happens every day.”State Sen. Michael Padilla, a Democrat and the majority whip, said he introduced the bill because he grew up in foster homes and experienced shaming tactics as a child.“I made Mrs. Ortiz and Mrs. Jackson, our school lunch ladies, my best friends,” he said. “Thank goodness they took care of me, but I had to do other things like mop the floor in the cafeteria. It was really noticeable that I was one of the poor kids in the school.”New Mexico is not alone in dealing with school meal debt. According to the School Nutrition Association, more than three-quarters of school districts had uncollected debt on their books at the end of the last school year. In a survey by the association, districts reported median lunch debt of a few thousand dollars — but some were far higher, as much as $4.7 million.Once debt is deemed uncollectable, school nutrition departments must write it off, but they may not offset the loss with federal dollars. Instead, they must dip into other forms of revenue, such as profits from the sale of full-priced snacks and meals, or they must seek reimbursement elsewhere, usually from the district’s general fund.Most districts try to collect outstanding balances through automated calls, texts or emails, and they may also hire an outside collection agency. The New Mexico law will still allow schools to penalize students with steps such as withholding a student’s transcript or revoking older students’ parking passes.Lunch shaming can take a toll on the adults enlisted to carry it out as well as on children. A Pittsburgh-area cafeteria worker made national news when she quit her job rather than deny hot lunches to students.Some school employees reach into their own pockets to pay for meals. Sharon Schaefer, a former chef at a high school in Omaha, Nebraska, said one cashier asked to be removed from her position because of the school’s “no money, no meal” policy. “She had been secretly paying for students’ meals,” Schaefer said, “and couldn’t afford to keep it up.”Even those outside the cafeteria may be moved to help. Private individuals have sometimes paid off the entire outstanding balance at local schools, and in December, a single tweet inspired hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations around the country.“I don’t think the main intention of the school meal debt policies is to humiliate,” said Ramo of New Mexico Appleseed, who said the group worked closely with school nutrition departments in drafting the bill. “Mostly, school nutrition directors are trying to balance their budgets and they see this is a necessary but effective evil.”Nonetheless, she said, “We have to separate the child from a debt they have no power to pay.”In 2010, the Department of Agriculture was directed to examine the feasibility of establishing national standards for dealing with meal debt, but in its report to Congress last summer, the department concluded that the matter should remain under local control. Accordingly, it directed state agencies to establish a formal payment policy by July 1 or to allow districts to set their own policies by that date. Texas and California have also introduced anti-shaming legislation.In its official guidance, the Agriculture Department discourages the use of alternate meals and other stigmatizing practices. If an alternate meal is offered, the department suggests bringing it to the child’s classroom in a paper sack so it looks like a home-packed lunch, or offering the same cold meal on the lunch line so it’s available to all students.

South Dakota Man Gets $190 Fine for Snake Without Leash

South Dakota Man Gets $190 Fine for Snake Without Leash

South Dakota man gets $190 fine for snake without leash

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A man who was fined for allowing his pet snake to slither freely in a South Dakota park said an animal control officer suggested he use a leash to restrain the reptile.

Jerry Kimball said he initially thought the recommendation was a joke because it was April Fool’s Day when he was fined $190 and ticketed last week for “animals running at large,” told the Argus Leader ( ).

“He was literally asking me to put a rope around my snake,” Kimball said. “I was like, ‘Dude, no.’ I was dumbfounded.”

Kimball was approached by the officer after a woman complained that his Fire Bee Ball Python was roaming freely at Falls Park in Sioux Falls.

Animal Control Supervisor Julie DeJong said a city ordinance requires all pets to be leashed or restrained in public. She said pet snakes can be held or kept in a container to comply.

“If it’s in public and it’s not on a leash, it’s at large. The ordinance doesn’t really distinguish between animals,” she said.

DeJong added that snake lovers should be more sensitive to the aversion many people feel toward the animal. While non-venomous snakes are legal to own, not all park visitors will welcome a python in a park.

But Kimball said he considers it his mission to rid the public’s fear of snakes.

“That’s my purpose in life: To let people know that snakes aren’t killers,” he said. “What better way to give back than to help people understand these misunderstood creatures?”

Kimball said he plans to fight the ticket in court.

Kentucky Coal Mining Museum switches to solar power

Kentucky Coal Mining Museum switches to solar power

The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is switching to a new form of energy — solar power. 

The museum in Benham began installing the solar panels on Tuesday, WYMT reported. Brandon Robinson, the museum’s communications director, said the goal is to save money in the long run. 

“We believe that this project will help save at least $8,000 to $10,000 off the energy costs on this building alone,” Robinson told WYMT. 


The museum is owned by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. Robinson said the savings would go back to the school and its students. 

Robinson admitted the switch from coal to solar energy is “a little ironic,” but said the two power sources work “hand-in-hand.”


“And, of course, coal is still king around here,” Robinson said. 

The project is being funded through an outside foundation and will cost thousands of dollars, according to Robinson.

Twenty solar panels, the average needed to power a house, would cost between $17,000 and $20,000 to install, though the costs would be recouped from savings within five to seven years, according to WYMT.

Old Bailey’s first non-white judge was mistaken for defendant

Old Bailey’s first non-white judge was mistaken for defendant

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The Old Bailey’s first non-white circuit judge has said she was often mistaken for a witness or defendant when she started working as a lawyer.Anuja Ravindra Dhir began her career in the 1980s. She became a circuit judge at the Old Bailey in February.The 49-year-old said at first, most clients did not want to be represented by a young Asian Scottish female.She also said that, when she wanted to go to university in the 1970s, she was told to be a hairdresser instead.As well as being the first non-white circuit judge at the Old Bailey, Judge Dhir is the youngest.She said: “My daughter, it would never cross her mind being treated differently because she’s a female or because she’s not white, whereas in my generation we did.”We were surprised when people didn’t treat us differently. Not now, but when I came to the bar, I was not expecting to be treated like a white Oxbridge male at all.”‘Aim lower’At school in Dundee, Judge Dhir said she was steered towards a different career.”I wasn’t the cleverest person in my year at school,” she said.”I’m dyslexic so I find it difficult to read and write. And when I went to school in the 1970s in Scotland, women were not encouraged to aim high.”When I first said to a teacher at school I wanted to go to university when I was older, she told me that I should aim a little lower and suggested I try hairdressing instead.”Judge Dhir said when she was called to the bar in 1989, most barristers were male, white, from a public school, and with “some connection” to the profession. “Now that’s four differences already before we start,” she said.”Added to that, most clients did not want a young Asian Scottish female representing them so that made it harder for me to build a client base.”Mistaken identityJudge Dhir said she once had to produce her wig and gown before security allowed her into court.”I got used to turning up at courts and people saying to me ‘Witness? – no – Defendant? – no’ and looking rather surprised when I said I was the advocate,” she said.”I’m often asked if there is a glass ceiling. I think sometimes there are two ceilings – or no glass ceiling at all.”There is one glass ceiling that’s in our minds, that’s what we think we can achieve so perhaps we impose our glass ceiling and that has happened to me several times.”The Old Bailey houses 15 judges – 10 men and five women. Three out of six of the most recent intake of judges are women.

Anti-masturbation ‘bill’ will receive its first reading but has no hope of passing

Anti-masturbation ‘bill’ will receive its first reading but has no hope of passing

A US lawmaker who wants to highlight abortion issues has proposed new legislation that would see Texas men fined US$100 (NZ$144) if they masturbated without supervision

The House Bill 4260, otherwise known as the Man’s Right to Know Act, will receive its first reading in the state’s House of Representatives after being created by state representative Jessica Farrar.

The satirical bill to regulate “masturbatory emissions” was created to highlight the hoops women must jump through when they seek an abortion.

Read more:

* Abortion: A tragic response to lack of choice

* Hundreds of Kiwi women told their abortions were ‘not justified’

* Prime Minister Bill English won’t ‘liberalise’ abortion law

* Donald Trump, surrounded by men, signing anti-abortion executive order

“What I would like to see is this make people stop and think,” Farrar said when she first filed the bill in March.

“Maybe my colleagues aren’t capable of that, but the people who voted for them, or the people that didn’t vote at all, I hope that it changes their mind and helps them to decide what the priorities are.”

The tongue-in-cheek law, which Farrar admits has no hope of passing, would require men to wait 24 hours after an “initial health care consultation” to receive an elective vasectomy, colonoscopy or Viagra prescription.

The 24-hour waiting period mirrors a law passed in Texas in 2011, which forces women to have an ultrasound at least 24 hours before an abortion, according to Planned Parenthood.

Her bill would also require men seeking those procedures to receive a booklet of informational materials titled “A Man’s Right to Know.” It “must contain medical information related to the benefits and concerns of a man seeking a vasectomy, Viagra prescriptions or a colonoscopy.”

The “rules and procedures for the creation of and distribution” of the materials will “exactly follow the rules and procedures of the informational booklet entitled ‘A Woman’s Right to Know,’ ” the bill stated, referring to the booklet doctors are legally required to give women seeking an abortion, in accordance with a 2003 informed consent law.

That booklet has for years been derided by critics who claim it is “ideologically motivated and medically inaccurate,” Texas Public Radio reported in January.

In one section, for example, the booklet lists “Breast Cancer Risk” as a potential danger of abortion. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog gave this three Pinocchios.

“But research overwhelmingly shows that abortion is not associated with a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer,” the blog post said.

“Further, the citations in this booklet point to research from a disputed methodology to find such an association, or cite studies that explicitly say there is no association between abortion and protection against breast cancer.”

“Emissions outside of a woman’s vagina, or created outside of a health or medical facility, will be charged a US$100 civil penalty for each emission, and will be considered an act against an unborn child,” the four-page bill read.

Furthermore, emissions created in medical facilities “will be stored for the purposes of conception for a current or future wife.”

“A lot of people find the bill funny,” Farrar told the Houston Chronicle. “What’s not funny are the obstacles that Texas women face every day, that were placed there by legislatures making it very difficult for them to access health care.”

She fears the barriers to women’s health will only grow with the new administration, which is why she filed the bill this year.

“Especially with Trump as president, I think these folks are on fire now. They’re off the chain now,” Farrar said.

“If they can elect someone based on making racist remarks and derogatory remarks toward women and such, then we’ve just given them license to offend and license to be even worse than before.”

Since her initial election in 1994, Farrar has been particularly outspoken against laws affecting women’s health.

Recently, she argued against a bill by State Rep. Byron Cook, (Republican, Corsicana), that would require hospitals to bury or cremate fetal remains in case of a miscarriage or an abortion.

“Let me be clear: this bill has nothing to do with abortion procedures whatsoever. It has everything to do with ensuring the dignity of the deceased,” Cook said in defense of the bill. “We believe Texas can do better than this.”

“The fetal remains bill imposes state-sponsored moral beliefs on women, affecting their ability to make personal decisions with their doctor,” Farrar said via Twitter.

She also spoke out against a bill proposed by State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (Republican) that would charge both an abortion provider and the woman receiving the procedure with murder, the Texas Tribune reported.

Perhaps in retaliation, Tinderholt issued a fiery statement against Farrar’s bill to the newspaper, claiming she doesn’t understand her own body.

“I’m embarrassed for Rep. Farrar,” he said. “Her attempt to compare to the abortion issue shows a lack of a basic understanding of human biology. I would recommend that she consider taking a high school biology class from a local public or charter school before filing another bill on the matter.”

Others in Texas, though, seem to be fond of the bill. One Twitter user called it “legendary,” while another wrote that Farrar “expertly trolls” the Texas legislature.

Texas Tribune executive editor Ross Ramsey simply tweeted, “I’m pretty sure this is going to be a famous bill.”

Cheerleaders Accused of Prostitution in Horry County

Cheerleaders Accused of Prostitution in Horry County

Coastal Carolina University’s cheerleading team has been suspended indefinitely pending a conduct investigation, officials said.

Coastal officials refused to discuss the nature of the investigation or what specifically led the university to suspend the entire team.

Coastal Public Safety Director David Roper said he was not at liberty to comment on the situation and Coastal Vice President William M. Plate Jr. said there are currently no police reports pertaining to the conduct investigation.

The cheerleading section of the CCU Athletics website has been removed from the website, and now directs to the school’s main Spirit Team page.

The HTC Center confirmed that a cheerleading showcase scheduled for April 4 was removed from the center’s schedule for the week. The showcase was to be held ahead of the team’s scheduled appearance at a national competition in Florida. Competition officials said the team is still registered and paid in full, and they have not heard the team will not be coming.

An unnamed cheerleader who spoke to the Chronicle’s news partner WMBF told the television station that an investigator with the Coastal’s Department of Public Safety came to their practice on March 29. Team members were questioned by police and were allowed to leave after being told they did nothing wrong, according to the WMBF report.

Coastal cheerleaders declined to talk about the situation, but they issued a statement via Twitter:

“At this point in time, we no longer wish to be contacted about the current situation,” they wrote. “The false accusations have led to harassment on campus as well as through social media, and are beginning to negatively impact our daily lives as well as our studies. As a team we ask the community to support us through these tough times as we hope the situation will be cleared up shortly.”

Audra Scofield, the school’s former cheerleading coach who took a job at the University of Texas-San Antonio last year, expressed support for the cheerleaders on her Facebook page.

“It has been very difficult for me to not vocalize my personal opinions all over social media these past two days,” she wrote last week. “I spent three years of my life coaching this program and have some of my best memories with these young adults. I have a very heavy heart for this team and have felt almost every emotion possible. … I pray that these young women and men, students of Coastal Carolina receive the support they deserve from the community during this scandal.”

Scofield wrote that she was choosing her words carefully.

“Let’s be honest,” she wrote. “There is a reason this team has not had a paid coach on staff all year. Even without a certified cheer coach on staff they have still managed to cover ALL the athletic events, appearances, conference tournament, fundraising events and post season basketball tournament games. Not to mention they prepared themselves to attend nationals. Justice will be served ladies.”

Man Accidentally Shoots Himself at NRA Headquarters

Man Accidentally Shoots Himself at NRA Headquarters

A National Rifle Association employee accidentally shot himself while doing firearms training at the organization’s headquarters, according to police.The 46-year-old man’s pistol accidentally discharged Thursday afternoon as he holstered the gun in Fairfax County, Virginia, police said.The accidental shooting happened at the NRA’s National Firearms Museum at 11250 Waples Mill Road in Fairfax.The employee suffered a minor wound to his lower body and was taken to a hospital for treatment, police said.Officers worked with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and no charges are expected, according to police.News4 has reached out to the NRA for comment, but has not received an immediate response.Published 51 minutes ago | Updated 13 minutes ago