May 19, 2020
How Blockchain is Driving New Opportunities in the Industrial Sector?
Blockchain technology was introduced in the year 2008 by an unknown group of people. This technology was first outlined in 1991 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta. The idea behind the technology was to create a system where document timestamps could not be tampered with. The technology suddenly came under the limelight as the backbone behind Bitcoin. This was when Bitcoin prices suddenly soared in 2017. Since then researchers, bankers, industrialists have been exploring all possible avenues to find new use cases.  While some may say that the Blockchain was just a craze and is fading away, there is a whole other portion of the population that says otherwise. Many have been looking for ways Blockchain can be used to optimize business processes, reduce operational costs and enhance security.  Even though Blockchain may have its drawbacks like most other technologies, it surely is a fantastic technology. It has opened numerous opportunities for almost every business. The deeper you dig, the more and more use cases surface. What is Blockchain? For those who might need a bit of revision, Blockchain is a digital, open, immutable ledger that records transactions between two parties chronologically. It consists of a constantly growing list of records called blocks that are linked using cryptography.  The value is exchanged over the internet without an intermediary and any particular block cannot be changed without affecting the previous blocks. Any data once created cannot be deleted. Since Blockchain came into the limelight in 2017, industry experts have been trying to identify ways in which they can capitalize on the Blockchain technology. It can be used to increase efficiency, transparency, security and reduce costs in their respective fields.  Right from banking, infrastructure, transport, digital, supply chain, cloud storage to cloud computing, Blockchain has found its use in many more industries.Regardless of the size, every organization is readily adopting this technology. If you haven’t entered this race yet, it’s time to get in touch with a software technology partner. Still not sure if you can implement blockchain within your industry? It’s best to continue reading. Blockchain Industry Applications 1. Supply Chain Management The industrial sector which comprises construction and manufacturing can utilize this technology for numerous purposes. As the supply chain forms an important part of the sector, use cases can be plenty. It can be used to increase accountability, traceability and even reduce the mileage frauds that are committed by reporting longer delivery routes than the actual. Using Blockchain record-keeping solutions, all supply chain stakeholders can store and share all documents like bills, contracts, etc. securely and maintain transparency among all players.  This not only improves the security but also reduces the efforts and time that goes into the documentation.  These documents can be accessed by all the players involved in the process like shippers, freight forwarders, ports, ocean carriers. Paired with IoT and AI, Blockchain can be used to track shipments, containers, and all forms of certifications associated with products. It thereby provides a digital passport for every product which in turn indicates its authenticity and prevents the sale of fake goods. Since there are several players in the supply chain, each player can access the Blockchain to extract information relevant to them using different software solutions. This includes the buyer who can scan a code and access the information on the Blockchain to check every step of the production process. Luxury goods manufacturers see vast scope in this arena as the technology can be used to track the history of ownership and also verify claims of authenticity by tracking the procedure. An additional use that Blockchain finds in supply chain management is temperature-controlled transportation and tamper-proof storing. Are you thinking about implementing blockchain in the supply chain of your organization? Check out the list of blockchain enterprise solutions we provide. 2. Manufacturing By improving supplier order accuracy, shipment traceability, product quality, and delivery schedules, manufacturers will be able to produce and deliver more and in turn, sell more.  Since all the data is cryptographically stored, anyone outside the system cannot change anything in it. All the data is visible to everyone in the network. One of the most important uses of Blockchain in manufacturing is “smart contracts”. Smart contracts eliminate the intermediaries and facilitate immediate payments. 3. 3-D printing  Blockchain can also be used with 3-D printing to allow customers to decide when and where they want to produce something. This can be done by combining both the technologies to enable a point-of-use and time-of-use supply chain. As several designers work together on a particular design file from different locations, having a blockchain database reduces the confusion and acts as a cloud.   3-D printing also requires highly powered computers in factories for calculations. The load is usually on one computer. Blockchain allows one to break down the calculations in a chain over several other computers thus reducing the load and speeding up the process through numerous other systems.  The security factor of blockchains allows secure sharing of sensitive data including the necessary printing parameters. Blockchain can be used to securely transfer the data to a verified 3D printer exactly where they are needed. This will save inventory, imports, and logistic costs.  After production, the parts can be authenticated helping customers verify whether the products were counterfeited. This can be especially beneficial in manufacturing military equipment, airplanes, etc. These arenas not only require large parts and spare parts but require all the parts to be genuine. 4. Real Estate This disruptive technology is also finding its use in construction by automating contractual processes and paperwork underpinning complex projects.  Real estate companies in Amsterdam are applying Blockchain to real estate projects in the city’s harbor. This is being done to set up a Blockchain-enabled project management system. It will also make the building development life cycle more efficient.  The emphasis is on recording transactions at binding moments where accuracy and audit trails are crucial.  A California based Blockchain firm is demonstrating the idea of making all the information about a project available to the owner in a Blockchain ledger. This would also be one of the deliverables of the project.  Any refurbishments to the building can also be documented. The whole repository can be transferred to new owners if the property goes up for sale. The use of Blockchain in the industrial sector looks very lucrative. Further study of the sector can reveal many more use cases. But when it comes to implementation of these opportunities, a thorough evaluation needs to be done.  It must be determined whether implementing blockchain technology will actually be beneficial to the organization and the sector. Otherwise, it might just be a costly investment with very low returns. Are you also planning to introduce blockchain technology to your business? Share your requirements with us at contactus@tipstat.com and learn how we can help.
May 11, 2020
How to Manage Remote Teams? (A List of Productivity Tools)
Remote teams, virtual teams, or work from home have become buzzwords these days especially during this pandemic of Covid-19. Even before, in this global economy, geographically dispersed remote teams were quite prevalent. This could be attributed to the numerous benefits that working remotely offers to the employers as well as the employees. For employers, having a remote team could mean lower investment in real estate, access to a larger talent pool, lower absenteeism, lower salaries, and saving on equipment amongst other benefits. Whereas for employees, working remotely provides flexibility, increased savings, greater freedom, and an increased sense of wellness. Employers can either have their teams in a different country or they could have their employees working from the comfort of their homes. Whichever they choose, having virtual teams comes with some inherent challenges. Some of the challenges while working remotely: Physical distance creates social distance, causing a feeling of isolation. Employees in different locations may not be familiar with each other, creating a feeling of hostility.Different time zones make working together on a project cumbersome.Language and cultural barriers make communication difficult.Struggling to track employee performance.Addressing the virtual teams jointly.Conflict resolution from a distance. Numerous companies have come up with quite innovative solutions to these problems and effectively manage remote teams. It still completely depends on how the managers implement these solutions to benefit their employees.  We have always been placed well in terms of remote work even before the pandemic occurred. We make use of a lot of the G Suite services to integrate the work that our team members do. Since most of these applications are easy to use, flow of work and communication do not get disrupted. We use different tools for different tasks, for example, Bitbucket is used for code management and repositories, Pipedrive for sales CRM and open-source project management software like KanBoard. We utilize Google hangouts extensively for all conversations that do not need to be documented. Google Drive is another tool that our team uses to share documents and access them from their desired location. Regardless of the tools we use or will use in the future to manage the productivity of our employees, we do not believe in using the “number of hours spent on work” as a performance yardstick. We do not encourage the use of time tracking tools and allow teams to complete tasks at their own pace within deadlines. That’s how we build trust with our employees and deliver innovative software solutions to businesses. Let us have a look at some other tools that companies around the globe are using to enhance productivity and manage remote teams. For each type of challenge, there are numerous solutions and tools available. 1. Project Management Tools Whether working remotely or from a co-located office space, every employee is a part of a team assigned to a specific project. While several departments work together to complete a single project, virtual teams may find it difficult to collaborate. Project management tools like Basecamp, Trello, Jira, Instagantt, Airtable, and ProofHub provide a one-stop solution for managing such projects from one spot. Right from Kanban boards, custom workflows, scheduling, task management, Gantt charts, managing documents and files to assigning work within the team, these project management applications make work much simpler. 2. Team Collaboration Tools Working remotely means that almost all communication happens over mail. This can overwhelm one unless his or her skills in organizing are on point. Often important messages get buried under loads of messages. The project management tools mentioned above can help you organize your work messages automatically. Along with them, using tools like Slack and Troop Messenger helps employees communicate easily by bringing all communication to one place. While Zoom is quite known for video conferences and calls, some other applications like Nextiva, Whereby (formerly appear.in), Uberconference allow employees to text, video call, attend video conferences, and share screens. Zappy is another solution that even allows you to record screens which may be required for several purposes. 3. Time Converter Tools Scheduling becomes a problem when time zones of remote employees are different. Employees often receive replies to their messages the next day due to the time difference. This causes a lot of delays and a broken flow of work. Tools like World Time Buddy, timezone.io, and 10 to 8 remedy this by mapping all the time zones employees are in. They also help you organize meetings at a time convenient for all. 4. Cloud Storage Tools Often the same bit of data needs to be accessible by multiple team members. Sending it to and fro becomes tedious and painstaking. To address this, employees can just upload the files to clouds like Dropbox, Google Drive and allow access to the respective members. Life becomes much simpler. 5. Note-Taking Apps The best note-taking apps out there have always been Evernote and Microsoft One Note. Another application named MindMeister allows people to visualize, present, and share their thoughts in the form of mind maps via the cloud. These can come handy during team meetings and also while working on a task. 6. To-Do-List Managers While almost all of us use the Memo app and sticky notes to create to-do-lists, Todoist is the best task planner according to The Verge. While project management solutions also offer this feature, there are some more apps like TickTick and Google Tasks. These apps let you organize your tasks, integrate them with your calendar, and also collaborate common tasks with teammates. 7. Remote Desktop Accessing Tools In some organizations, before making the shift to remote work (suddenly due to the pandemic) work had to be done only on office computer systems due to which all the work stayed in the office. Such offices needed to bring work home to employees. This has been facilitated by some software systems like Microsoft Remote Desktop Client, TeamViewer, Chrome remote desktop, and Apple Desktop. Employees can securely access all their files, resources, and apps from a remote PC. 8. Security and Encryption Tools Data is the most expensive asset for almost every organization. Having virtual teams means that all the data travels over the internet making it susceptible to breaches. There are some common sense security practices that every organization must practise like installing antivirus applications or multi-factor authentication where users are verified using options like fingerprints or SMS code verification. Opting for a VPN is also a good option to consider while sharing data over a public network. Apart from these, there are some other tools that could make managing the security of data much simpler. 1Password and LastPass are password managers that act as digital vaults to store sensitive information like passwords, software licenses, and other credentials. BackBlaze is a low-cost cloud backup and storage service that lets you safely back up your work online. You can also compress your files using the powerful 7Zip application to safely send them over the internet. You can sign and send your document securely to another team member using Adobe Sign. 9. Employee Motivation Tools Employee morale may suffer even when the teams are virtual and people may not get credit for their work as well. Some apps like WooBoard allow you to create custom employee recognition programs. Chimp or Champ is another app that collects employee responses anonymously to check the happiness meter and team’s feelings. iDoneThis is an application that allows managers to see who is responsible for which piece of work. 10. Productivity Enhancement Tools All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Employers and managers need to ensure that their team is not overworked or is working healthily. Take A Break, Please is an app that forces users to take a break after certain durations. As humorous as it sounds, there exists an app called Bartender to help employees organize their menu bar options to keep it tidy and organized. As music also improves productivity, some apps allow users to play music in the background. While there is no common consensus on which is the best app out there, Spotify and Gaana are some common choices. Disconnecting from work and so many apps is also one of the most important steps to ensure employees don’t burn out. Surprisingly, there is an app for that as well! While some can disconnect just by turning off their laptops, some can make use of the app called Headspace which helps you practice mindfulness and meditation. Apart from using these tools and applications, there are some common guidelines that employers need to follow on “How to manage remote teams?” Be precise and set clear expectations for your employees.Keep in touch on a periodic but regular basis.Create a communication strategy.Know the language and the culture of your remote employees.Trust your team even though you need to have policies and regulations in place.Recruit people who blend into your organization’s culture and values.Connect employee goals with the organization.Leverage technology. No system works in isolation. No size fits all. Managers need to carefully analyze their organization, its culture, objectives, employee needs and combine all of the tools and tips mentioned above to come up with a mix that suits them the best to manage remote teams, whether their team works from home or in a different country.
Apr 30, 2020
Scientists at Intel Create a Neuromorphic Chip that can Smell
While humans are competing with machines trying to become as efficient as them, it looks like computers are becoming more and more like humans. With Intel’s latest invention, computers will now be able to even smell just as human beings do. This development has been possible due to the joint efforts of a senior research scientist at Intel’s Lab, Nabil Imam, and olfactory neurologists at Cornell University. Together, they have mimicked the sense of smell on Intel’s neuromorphic computing chip called Loihi. Intel developed Loihi in November 2017 in order to emulate the neural structure and operation of the human brain i.e. neuromorphic computing. Loihi fulfilled the functional requirements that were needed to implement SNN. It had a 128-core design whose architecture was suited for  Spiking Neural Network (SNN) algorithms. SNN was basically the way in which computational building blocks were arranged to emulate neural circuits.  The chip has about 130,000 silicon neurons and 130 million synapses connected. In contrast to older forms of AI, SNN algorithms require low maintenance and much lesser training. The SNN algorithms facilitate continuous learning in unstructured environments, high performance and less power consumption. These qualities get passed on to Loihi automatically. You must still be thinking, “but, how can a machine smell?”. In order to understand it better, let us first look at how the brain identifies different smells. When we inhale air, it generally contains different odor molecules. These molecules bind themselves to the receptors in the nose called olfactory receptors. The receptors which extend into the olfactory bulb, immediately send signals to the brain’s olfactory system. An interconnected group of neurons in the brain then generates electrical pulses thereby leading to a sense of smell.  How Does the Neuromorphic Chip Work? Scientists at Cornell University have studied the olfactory system in mammals as well as animals when they smell different odors. They measured the electrical pulses generated in their brains during the process. The scientists derived a mathematical algorithm based on the neural circuit diagrams and electrical activity. This algorithm was then configured on Intel’s neuromorphic chip. Even though neuromorphic computing is a relatively newer field of AI, owing to SNN, it requires much lesser training. In the older forms of AI, the systems had to be trained repeatedly. The previous data would get disturbed if something new was fed into the system. However, the key to this new system is its neuromorphic structure which represents the neural circuitry in mammals. It facilitates continuous learning based on the stimuli it receives in unstructured environments.  The neuromorphic AI system learns about a particular smell and never has to be reminded again. Just like a human brain, it adds newer smells to its memory once and for all without disturbing the previously learned smells. While human brains can associate memories with different odors or even cross-reference different ones, Intel’s project has a long way to go. The scientists placed 72 chemical sensors in a wind tunnel and exposed them to 10 different odors. Another traditional AI system was also tested alongside to compare both. The responses of the sensors to the smells were sent to Loihi. The silicon circuitry in the chip then mimicked the neural circuitry in the brain that leads to the sense of smell. The neuromorphic chip identified the smells 92 percent of the times whereas the traditional system was accurate 52 percent times. This newer AI was also able to identify a particular aroma even when it had been mixed with other odors. Like every other invention, this relatively newer AI also has its shortcomings. Even though the system can identify previously learned smells, it may often get confused with smells that fall under the same category, like oranges from Brazil or oranges for India. Scope of Neuromorphic Computing in the Future In spite of the system being at a relatively new prototype stage, it can be developed further to be used in several areas. It can be used to smell explosives or weapons at the airport security, identify a gas leak in factories, and can even tell you which gas it is. It can tell factory owners when a particular emission level has been crossed.  “Your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at home use sensors to detect odors but they cannot distinguish between them; they beep when they detect harmful molecules in the air but are unable to categorize them in intelligent ways,” says Imam. This advancement in neuromorphic computing can also be used to improve the medical diagnosis of diseases that can be identified through smell. Some diseases like cancer or Parkinson’s disease may be diagnosed in their early stages. Symptoms of these diseases sometimes emit a peculiar odor and can sometimes be detected by people with a heightened sense of smell. This can be replaced with AI. Nabil Imam says that he is now planning on expanding the underlying concept to approach real-world problems. According to him, “Understanding how the brain’s neural circuits solve these complex computational problems will provide important clues for designing efficient and robust machine intelligence.”
Apr 24, 2020
How is Machine Learning Improving our Social Media Experience?
Are you on Instagram? If yes, have you followed Lil Miquela yet? If not, then you could just probably check out her page. The reason you are being asked to do so is that Lil Miquela is no human being. She is a virtual influencer created using AI by Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou. Not only she dresses like a human, but she also has a personality like one and behaves like one too. She even supports Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ causes, and reproductive rights. She is even talking about the COVID-19 these days! Lil Miquela is just one of the creations of AI. There are lots of misconceptions behind what Artificial Intelligence is, which needs to be cleared first. AI is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of machines that are intelligent enough to act like humans. Often people use the terms Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence interchangeably but in fact, Machine Learning is a subset of AI. It is a branch of AI that is based on the idea that after basic human programming, systems can learn from the large amounts of data that is available, identify patterns and make decisions. Some people often say that they haven’t come across AI yet and often equate AI and ML with robots. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Each one of us interacts with some or the other form of AI and ML every day. For this discussion let us focus on ML today. In our daily lives, we come across different forms of ML every time we interact with navigation systems like Google maps which not only show you the way but even predict traffic for you, virtual assistants like Siri that converse with you, chatbots on different websites that help you with your queries and so many more. Almost every one of us is present on some form of social media and most of us would have missed the obvious instances where we interact with ML on regularly. You can even find machine learning in social media. Social media is used by millions of users every day and millions of posts and pictures are uploaded daily. Monitoring this kind of data is an impossible task and there isn’t enough manpower to do so. Businesses are trying their best to leverage the power of social media and are trying to track, analyze, and reach their customers through social media. Without technologies backed by Data Science like Machine Learning, data analytics, and business intelligence, it is impossible to handle the oceans of data that are available so easily today. You name the social media platform and you will see that each of them has implemented ML to make the user experience better and also to serve their business goals better. Facebook has implemented ML in several functions to make the platform a much more user-friendly one than earlier. Facebook has employed ML to tackle the enormous problem of fake news and hate speech on its platform. With people working from home due to the pandemic of COVID-19, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have all moved to machine learning to remove any form of harmful content. The one problem that machine learning faces is the power to reason like humans. So, even though social media giants have employed ML for content moderation, none of the content gets removed unless verified by humans. This means that there is still room for error while employing AI and ML. On Facebook, ML can analyze the content of videos, caption them, and even translate posts in different languages so that people all over the world can access the platform more freely. When users upload photos they are automatically prompted to tag their friends and it happens precisely due to the face recognition technology. This, however, presents a privacy threat for the future. If Facebook can identify faces of people based on some pictures uploaded on the platform, soon it will possible to point your camera at someone and identify them on Facebook. Facebook also allows users to convert panoramic pictures into 360-degree photos. Machine learning enables Twitter to drive engagement and show the most relevant tweets in the users feeds at the top which was in reverse chronological order earlier. This is done using algorithms that score thousands of posts for each user. It has also deployed ML to fight against harmful content and at the beginning of 2017, Twitter used AI to shut down nearly 300,000 accounts that were identified as terrorist accounts. The platform even uses ML to crop images to make them appear more appealing and it also uses the technology to identify the content of the videos, thereby categorizing them enabling a much easier search. The other social media platform that is extensively used by people as well as businesses, Instagram is not behind in the use of AI and ML to optimize the user experience and make it a much secure platform. To be able to correctly recommend relevant stories and posts, it uses “word embedding” to study which words are more likely to appear next to each other and thereby recommend posts based on similar accounts rather than based on content previously watched. The algorithm even takes into account which posts the user does not like to see and tailors the users’ “Explore” tab accordingly. Businesses leverage Instagram’s use of ML to identify potential influencers and ensure they reach the relevant target groups. Using ML, Pinterest identifies the subject of images, studies the visual patterns and matches them to other images. Studying the pins that users have saved, the platform recommends similar images to them. Youtube does the same by analyzing what a particular video is about and recommends similar videos based on the metadata associated with every video. Machine learning is on the way of revolutionizing social networking app development. The most common function we can see though is content moderation. The algorithms behind each application need to written once, post which the systems learn from the large amounts of data that they are fed. The question that arises now is that “how can ML revolutionize social media applications?” It is evident from the uses mentioned above that ML can be used not only for the benefit of people but it can be used for destruction as well. Invasion of privacy is one of the major concerns, in turn reducing their safety and security. Since ML is extensively used for content moderation, it could probably be used to somehow track those malicious conversations happening somewhere on the internet. Already used for blocking trolls, the technology could be used to make the conversations on posts healthier and prevent plagiarism of original posts. Child pornography or removal of content posted without consent could be another application. Using face recognition to identify faces that may have been recorded on surveillance systems for breaking the law can also help catch those who are absconding. Social media in some form or the other is one vast place where everyone is present. Leveraging the power of ML to either optimize the experience to solve problems would require the same amount of effort required to cause destruction. The decision and choice lie with those writing the algorithms behind the scenes and making it happen.
Apr 20, 2020
Apple and Google Come Together to Create a Contact Tracing App During the COVID 19 Pandemic
At a time when governments, health professionals, scientists and the common man all over the world have come together in this battle against Coronavirus, the two biggest rivals from Silicon Valley have come together too. In an unusual move, the two rivals, Apple and Google announced that they would launch an app together in the mid of May. This app would facilitate contact tracing during this pandemic.  The new technology that was outlined in white papers published by Apple and Google. It relies on low energy Bluetooth signals to allow phones to communicate with one another. This particular system uses a version of the BLE Beacon system that has been developed and modified over the years. The system works as a two-way code swap between phones. Phases of the Project This project will be rolled out in two phases and will be an opt-in only project. The governments will not be able to mandate the use of this technology. In the first phase, those who want to opt into the program will have to download an app.  These apps would be made available by the public health authorities from Apple and Google app stores. Once you opt-in, your phone will periodically send out a small, unique and anonymous piece of code called keys. It simultaneously scan for beacons coming from nearby devices.  Public health authorities will incorporate the contract tracing API into their apps made available by Apple and Google. However, this would be effective only when most of the population downloads the app. When Singapore launched its contact tracing app called TraceTogether, it saw only 12% adoption which defies the entire purpose. To address this, the companies have brought in phase 2 wherein, it will bake the contact tracing feature into the software of the phone so that people will not even have to download an app. If a person comes in contact with another person infected with the virus, they will be notified.  The system will send a prompt to download an app suggested by the public health authority. Since not all devices are supported by software updates, Google will distribute this update through Google Play Services instead.  Apple believes that it would be able to address most devices as about 77% percent of its devices introduced in the last four years were running on iOS 13, Apple’s latest software. Concerns Regarding the App Now, like any other development, this project doesn’t come without drawbacks or concerns. The concern that tops the list is a threat to privacy. Apple and Google, however, say that the app has been built keeping in mind concerns regarding privacy. The keys that are broadcasted from each device are just a string of numbers with no identifiable information.  When people test positive, their identities are not revealed, only the devices that were nearby are notified. The keys do not store any location information. They also keep changing every 15 minutes making it impossible to track devices for extended periods. Since the key matching process happens locally, there is no centralized server.  This makes the possibility of a breach even more difficult. Being an opt-in project only in both the phases, the companies can also disable the beacon broadcasting system when it is no longer needed. No external party apart from the two companies, public health authorities and the government will have access to any of the information pertaining to the app. Another concern that arises is, how will the companies prevent cases of fake positives? There may be instances where people can claim to be infected even when they aren’t to simply create panic. The companies are trying to route the process through the public health authorities.  Accordingly, anybody who tested positive would be given a code by their health provider. Only when one provides the authentic code will the system begin notifying its contacts. A drawback that this app poses is that even though it can trace contacts it is incapable of testing the duration of exposure to the infected person and also the proximity. Barriers like walls, backpacks or poor signals can also interfere with the signals broadcasted. Even though human beings are the best and fastest at contact tracing, this app might complement their efforts. It can help by identifying the unknown contacts that might have been exposed to an infected person like a passerby.  But, the disclaimer here is that the passerby must have downloaded the app as well. How beneficial will this app be when almost every country has moved past contact tracing to the next three steps? These are the steps that are the most crucial in the fight against Coronavirus that is testing, social distancing and isolating. Similar Efforts by Different Countries These efforts by the Apple-Google duo and Singapore are however not the only digital efforts in this battle. Another similar project led by MIT called Private Automated Contact Tracing or PACT uses a similar approach as Apple and Google.  India also has an app called Aarogya Setu to facilitate contact tracing. Hong Kong fastened digital bracelets to travelers arriving at its airports to contact trace and keep a track of movement during the quarantine. The nonprofit Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing project also uses a similar technology like Apple and Google to trace contacts of those infected. With several such measures being adopted simultaneously all over the world to combat the spread of this deadly Coronavirus, by the end of it all, the world will be better prepared to deal with anything even remotely similar to this pandemic that is shaking faiths all over.
Apr 15, 2020
The Internet of Things (IoT)- Past, Present, and Future
Most of us today own something that is “smart”. It may be a smartwatch, a smart refrigerator, TV or even Amazon’s Alexa. What makes these devices smart is that they connect to the internet and can be used to monitor functions, collect data or control the device remotely. Most businesses around the globe are using IoT in some way or other. If you have not made any digital transformations to your business in the past, it may be the best time to begin with the Internet of Things solutions. But if you are wondering about how this technology is making the world a better and a more “convenient” place, let’s get started from the beginning. Internet of Things History The term Internet of Things (IoT) was coined in the year 1999 by Kevin Ashton but it did not gain popularity until 2010. This was when Kevin worked in Procter & Gamble’s supply chain optimization. In order to attract the senior management’s attention towards a technology called RFID, he leveraged the popularity of the word “Internet.” Internet was trending at the time and Kevin thus named his presentation “Internet of Things”.  Even though he did gain some attention, the response was not what he had quite expected. Ashton believed that RFID was a prerequisite of IoT. However, the concept of IoT was first visible as early as the 1980s and 1990s. In the early 1980s, a Coca Cola Machine at Carnegie Mellon University was connected by local programmers over the internet. It allowed users to check whether a chilled drink was available in the machine before visiting.  In 1990, John Romkey invented a toaster that could be turned on and off over the internet. The concept of IoT started getting popular in 2010 when the information was leaked that Google’s StreetView service had not only taken 360-degree pictures but had also stored tons of data of people’s wifi networks.  This was seen as an attempt to index the physical world. In the same year, the Chinese government expressed its intentions to make the Internet of Things a strategic priority in its five-year plan.  In 2011, Gartner included IoT in their list of ‘new emerging phenomena’.  In 2012, tech-based magazines such as Fast Company, Wired, and Forbes started using the word “Internet of Things” more commonly. The theme of the biggest Internet conference LeWeb that year also was IoT. In 2013, IDC published a report stating that the IoT market would be an $8.9 trillion market by 2020.  The term became further popular amongst the masses when Google purchased Nest for $3.2 billion. Around the same time, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was held under the theme of IoT.  Ever since, this technology has just seen an upward trend and a faster growth than any other technology invented around the same time. Current Scenario Today, anything and everything can be connected to the internet, right from your phone refrigerator, television, car or even a pacemaker and so much more.  This makes it possible to send, receive and collect information which in turn makes the devices intelligent. Along with homes and offices, IoT is being implemented in industries, streets and beyond.  Based on its application, IoT gets several names like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Machine to Machine (M2M), ubicomp, invasive or pervasive computing. Nowadays, using smart door lockers, Bluetooth trackers, bike locks, home retrofit, kitchens and other smart home apps make home management easier. Also, it enhances the security of homes, making the older people independent. Applications of Internet of Things Apps and devices like Amazon dash, Hiku scan grocery lists collaborate with third party delivery agents to restock your pantry. In fact, IoT has made it possible to count eggs in your refrigerator and find out their health at the comfort of sitting anywhere around the globe. Wondering how is it possible? Well, you only have to use the smart egg tray connected with an app called egg minder. And all the details will be available on your smartphone.Genican, a commercial IoT device is attached to trash cans, monitoring the stuff you have thrown and telling you what you need to restock.IoT enabled monitors and alarms that sense natural gases, carbon monoxide, pollen, temperatures & humidity can detect their high levels and inform admins through the devices to prevent any mishap. IoT even facilitates healthier living through devices like smart glasses that help you monitor your drinking behavior and the number of calories that you consume per drink. Inventions like Wi-Fi controlled cookers let you multitask in some other corner of the house. You can turn off the cooker remotely and will even be alerted if you forget that something is cooking.  The list of applications of IoT is endless. Not only is it limited to commercial use but it also finds its use in industries and enterprises. IoT Applications in Industries & Enterprises Bosch offers a range of hardware and software for multisensory devices and an asset management offering that monitors and analyzes energy usage on an electrical network. Cambium Network provides radios with networking capabilities that connect devices across long distances back to their data centers. Dell has launched IoT connected bundles that give partners market-ready solutions. Dublin based Eaton uses IoT along with analytics to predict the failure of power components and connected lighting products. This helps in increasing operational efficiencies. Intel is creating new ways for partners and customers to create IoT solutions through development tools like OpenVINO and programs like IoT market-ready solutions.  Apart from smart wearables, smart home applications, and software solutions, IoT is also being used extensively to make cities smart.  How are Smart Cities Using IoT? One example of the Internet of Things is located in the city of Palo Alto in San Francisco. The city uses IoT to store information about parking spaces on the cloud that can be accessed by numerous applications. Drivers can check the status of a particular location and proceed rather than going round and round looking for an empty spot.A smart greenhouse with embedded devices, enabling farmers to control the temperatures and environmental parameters pairs agriculture with technology thus enabling better yields by utilizing less energy, at low cost.Another popular IoT application is smart grids which uses the information about behaviors of electricity suppliers. It stores the data automatically to improve the economics of electricity. Thus, preventing wastage and enabling better utilization. Car manufacturers are coming up with many IoT backed solutions to make the driving experience smoother, safer and more technologically advanced. Smart supply chains have been introduced providing detailed visibility of products in transit, tracking of shipments, and better inventory control. All of this is possible due to the mechanism that backs IoT.  A complete IoT system is an integration of sensors, connectivity, data processing, and a user interface. The sensors collect data from the environment and send it to the cloud where it gets processed and is sent to the user interface.  Since billions of internet-enabled devices get connected in a huge network, the data from all these devices need to be scalable. Technology standards are fragmented which makes it difficult to move towards a vision of a completely connected interoperable society.  With an increasing number of devices getting connected to the internet daily, the amount of data in the clouds is increasing exponentially. This, in turn, creates a risk to the security of the data.  Over the past couple of years, attacks on data have become more sophisticated and have increased in number. This can be owed to the lack of security of the data stored on the clouds which can be easily accessed if one can gain access to the IoT device.  For example, pacemaker data can be hampered by accessing the data on the cloud and thereby threatening a patient’s life. This can contrarily pose major risks to smart security systems that may have been enabled to secure homes.  Default credentials that come along with the IoT devices from the manufacturer are sometimes not changed giving hackers a free pass into user devices.  Cybercriminals have become so advanced these days that they can even lock out owners from using their own devices. If these threats can be contained, global IoT spending is estimated to push past $1 trillion by 2022 which can be attributed to the ever-increasing relevance of IoT solutions. Future of Internet of Things (IoT) Due to the availability of so much data, in the upcoming years, AI and Big Data will dominate even IoT. Blockchain technology solutions are being used by consumers, financial and government institutions to make their transactions secure.Likewise, IoT security in the upcoming future can also be enhanced by amalgamating Blockchain with IoT.  Edge computing will gain more importance concerning IoT as it will facilitate the reduction of traffic to the cloud. Data will first get transferred to a local device closer to the IoT device, processed and then passed on to the cloud. In the future, it is possible that companies will use all of the technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, IoT and data analytics solutions together to overcome the security concerns. As IoT keeps expanding it will be used more extensively in healthcare and retail.  Predictive analytics will boost up by intimating the user interface about the status of the machinery or equipment. IoT trends dependent on the mobile systems will grow and turn into managing the IoT ecosystem. The present and the future of IoT is very bright. The only disclaimer that it comes with the security concerns need to be addressed. Or else data being the most valuable possession, a system unable to keep it safe won’t survive very long.
Apr 13, 2020
Technology Comes to the Rescue in this Battle against Coronavirus
The one current common topic of discussion that has disturbed the entire globe is calling for measures beyond simple medical care.  The pandemic of the Coronavirus that originated from China has till date spread to more than 200 countries and is rapidly infecting people like a forest wildfire.  Healthcare professionals, medical supplies, isolation wards, quarantine facilities, intensive care units have all reached their peaks and most are getting exhausted and infected. To fight the pandemic, scientists in China, Hong Kong, and other countries are using technology for the right purposes to battle the coronavirus outbreak. Robots are being deployed for an array of purposes and their orders have increased by over 400% in the last one month as compared to the whole of 2019. The only way that the spread of the virus can be curbed is by eliminating human contact and contact with those already infected.  These infected people need to be treated without spreading the infection further and the best solution is to use robots that do not have an immune system but can be programmed to do different tasks. A robotics company named UVD has sent hundreds of robots to battle against the virus. These robots are disinfection robots that emit powerful ultraviolet light that can decontaminate surfaces of hospitals after mapping the environment.  These robots are guided by lidar and have an attendee monitoring it using a remote control. Each of these robots can disinfect about ten rooms and can run for 2.5 hours on a single charge. Robots are performing multiple functions like delivering food or medical supplies to those in isolation wards. Some robots are also being used for contact-less delivery of items that have been ordered online.  Not only can the robots communicate with the isolated patients and sometimes even entertain them with their antiques, but these robots are also able to acquire vital patient information and in turn help the doctors treat the patients without themselves falling sick.  Food delivery companies like Ele.me used robots to deliver meals to some individuals in a hotel who were suspected to be sick due to the coronavirus and had been quarantined. Robots have also been used to cook and serve meals at certain restaurants and hospitals.  One particular robot was able to cook 100 pots of rice per hour. Since almost everyone except healthcare professionals has to stay at home, one of the main concerns of Chinese companies was that the production would be hampered. This was again addressed by employing robots along the production and assembly lines.  Robots are also moving around in several cities in China loaded with sanitizing liquids for the public. In Hong Kong, subways are being disinfected using robots shaped like mini-fridges on wheels loaded with hydrogen peroxide. Another major aide in this battle has been flying robots a.k.a drones. Drones have been deployed not only for delivery of food and medical supplies to hard-hit areas and remote areas to save time but thermal sensing is being used to measure the body temperature of people in public spaces thus alerting anyone with high body temperature.  These drones also spot people out in the open without masks and call them out on speakers. Certain announcements are being made by flying these drones over large areas and reaching large numbers of people.  Drones are also being used to spray disinfectants over large areas in short periods. Drones are also flying with QR code placards that can be scanned to register health information. Samples are being flown using drones for faster diagnosis and to prevent contamination during transfer. With Covid-19 taxing all healthcare professionals in every country and with the number of suspected patients increasing every day, the need for more professionals to be able to reach more people has called for telemedicine as well.  Telemedicine supported by robots is being used by professionals to communicate with more number of patients remotely, thus saving time and allowing doctors to be safe.  With panic spreading everywhere, having more number of professionals available online who could be reached from homes would free up space for those who require professional care. Earlier in March, a hospital staffed by robots was opened in the Hongshan Sports center in Wuhan, China where the pandemic began.  All medical services in the facility were carried out by robots and other IoT based devices. Patients entering this establishment were screened by connected thermostats to alert staff about people with fevers.  Patients were given smart bracelets and rings that synced with CloudMinds’ AI platform so that their vitals would automatically get monitored. Another technology being used by China to curb the spread of the coronavirus is through a smartphone app deployed in Hangzhou. This app provides a color code to the users from green, yellow and red based on the person’s medical and travel history.  It is mandatory for every individual to download the app and have a code based on which they may be suspects or may need to be quarantined. To visit any public place, a person must have a green code. Not just robotics, artificial intelligence has also found a way to be used during this crisis. A lot of organizations are developing dashboards using Big Data that are being continuously monitored for viruses.  Advanced face recognition and infrared temperature detection techniques have been installed which can identify faces and measure temperatures even if people are masked. Smartphone apps are being used to monitor the movements of people and determine if they might have been exposed to the virus through someone. Where there is a lot of serious work going on round the clock to curb the coronavirus outbreak, it is not very assuring to see people taking this period as a time off from work and an ideal time to go on vacations. So, while the heroes are fighting this pandemic, it’s our duty to stay & work from home to help the world make a better place to live.
Mar 3, 2020
NASA Enters into an Agreement with Axiom Space to Create a Commercial Habitat in Earth’s Lower Orbit
After a few years, you could probably plan your next holiday to space which would, of course, be a very expensive one at 55 million dollars. You would stay at the commercial habitat attached to the ISS, that will be built by the Axiom Space Station and there will be a long waiting period as the flight would take place just 2–3 times a year. However, tourism is not the main purpose of this new development. Last year NASA started accepting bid applications from private companies that wanted to use the International Space Station’s resources and the microgravity environment to run different experiments and test new technologies in the earth’s lower orbit. In the process, the four-year-old, Houston based startup, Axiom Space won the bid and will be attaching a commercial habitation module to the International Space Station as early as 2024. Axiom plans to launch three large modules and an Earth observatory window that will attach to the Space Station’s Harmony node to form the Axiom segment. These three modules will serve as a crew habitat, research and manufacturing facility plus the window. This development is a critical step for NASA to meet its long term needs for scientific research and technology demonstrations as well as astronaut training. This platform could also be used for several experimentation manufacturing purposes like zero-G additive manufacturing, fiber optic fabrication, protein crystal production for pharmaceutical applications, or other industrial applications of the sorts that space entrepreneurs have talked about for years. The team led by Axiom also includes Boeing, Thales Alenia Space Italy, Intuitive Machines and Maxar Technologies. The price and terms between NASA and Axiom are yet to be negotiated. However, the contract would have a five-year base performance period and a two-year option for extension. Initially, the Axiom segment would be attached to the ISS and receive its power and other requirements from the station. But once the Space Station retires, the Axiom Segment will be programmed to detach itself from the station and become a free-flying commercial space station called the Axiom Station. This would act as a complex for living and working in space which will have the hardware to power itself and will also have cooling capabilities. Specific details about the cost, the timeline or the partnership agreement have not yet been released and are yet to be worked out. However, this partnership marks the beginning of the creation of a sustainable American-led LEO settlement in the Low Earth Orbit. The partnership that has been issued under Appendix I of NASA NextSTEP-2 public-private partnership program will utilize the expertise of Axiom Space and hopes to stimulate the commercial development of space exploration capabilities. NASA has initiated this development as it sees the potential in space exploration and it also does not want to be the only customer of the space station’s facilities where so much more can be achieved by correctly utilizing those facilities. Also, Axiom isn’t the only company that has been working on creating a commercial habitat in space. Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace and Texas-based Nanoracks are amongst the others that have their habitation plans. This could just be the beginning. Maybe, some issues like overpopulation on the earth could also be solved if space researchers could eventually build a sustainable habitat for humans to live in.
Feb 18, 2020
Robots Can Now Sweat to Cool Themselves Down
Did you know that one time you broke into a sweat right before your presentation due to nervousness, your body was trying to cool down because it became too hot? Were you aware that when this sweat evaporates, the temperature of your skin falls? Some of us might know this while some might not. Well, this unique ability of human beings to cool off through perspiration has provided an answer to the researchers at Cornell University in the field of soft robotics. When machines or robots heat up, they either stop working to cool down or they break down. This doesn’t just break the flow of work but also leads to loss of productive time and maintenance costs. In rigid systems, this unwanted heat can be dissipated through heat sinks, external fans or by running cold water internally through tubes like in cars. However, when it comes to soft robots that are made to replicate some human-like activities, the systems need to flex and need a solution that is more efficient than an external cooling device. This is where the biological function of perspiration comes into the picture. Researchers have developed a soft robotic hand that can sweat to cool itself down when it reaches or detects high temperatures. The hand has finger-like structures that are comprised of two layers of hydrogels. The first layer is stiffer than the second outer layer which is made of pores that are about 0.20 millimeters wide. You could imagine the first layer to be similar to a balloon that shrinks when the temperature rises above 30 degrees Celsius and oozes out the water. The pores in the outer layer simultaneously expand and the water is secreted on to the surface of the robotic hand. 3D printing is used to give the fingers a wider surface area so that this “sweat” evaporates faster, thereby cooling the robot faster. When compared to a human, such robots can cool down six times faster. These soft robots can also cool other objects by gripping them and drawing the heat onto their surface. The hot surface then cools down with the help of this sweating mechanism. This invention, however, is at a very basic stage and has a long way to go. Certain drawbacks are yet to be worked on like the fact that the secretion of water reduces the grip of the bot and may cause items to slip. Another concern is that, as humans keep rehydrating themselves, currently there is no method to replenish the bot’s water store. However, by modifying this invention, robots may be able to slide instead of walk, clean themselves by secreting fluids or even digest and absorb nutrients without the need for a human attendee to help them with the same. With the passing time, robots are becoming more and more self-sufficient, slowly eliminating the need for human assistance. Scientists believe that if robots could cool themselves automatically like humans they would soon be able to survive extreme environments like humans. So, the next time, when you visit a robot operated hotel and shake hands with the robot concierge, you need to be aware that the sweaty palms are not a mark on the robot’s personal hygiene but an indication of its long working hours. After all, our robots are turning into humans.
Feb 1, 2020
IBM’s AI Backed Project Debater can Debate and Reason Better than Humans
Have you ever been a part of a debate, where a speaker ended up contradicting himself or made a superficial argument such that his entire stance got diluted? Or have you sat amidst the audience of a debate and wanted so badly to point out some obvious facts that the speaker missed which could otherwise strengthen the argument? Humans err and apparently the fact that we err is what makes us human. How contradicting is that considering that we are the most evolved species on the planet? If computers had a life, I guess they would soon overtake humans in this race and be the most evolved ones out there. Earlier computers that were used just for crunching some numbers have crossed another milestone. The world is at a stage where there are zillions of facts, opinions, and arguments about the things that matter the most. In many areas, there is a dire need to make policy changes or come to a common consensus to implement any solution. But the immensity of information available and the constraints of a human mind make it impossible to compile all of it to come to a conclusion. This is where the machine, computers, backed by AI may come handy. Computers use AI to perform a technique called argument mining which allows it to process large amounts of information from various different sources and come to a conclusion. Most of it is used to process legal cases where based on several sections and data available, a claim may be refuted or accepted. However, IBM has been attempting to use this technology to solve such problems through its project called Project Debater. Project Debater is the first AI-powered, computational argumentation tool that can absorb massive amounts of information and perspectives to arrive at persuasive and meaningful conclusions. When the project was first introduced in 2016, it was incapable of even making an elementary level argument. Over the years, the program has evolved under the leadership of Noam Slonim, the engineer who leads Project Debater at IBM, and in 2019 it reached a stage where the system squared off against a world champion debater Harish Natarajan. However, Project Debater lost to Natarajan as he came out to be more persuasive just like humans naturally are. Human beings can be very persuasive and use a lot of background knowledge to make arguments. This can be very difficult to implement using AI. However, in the past 18 months, new machine learning models from the likes of Google and OpenAI have been made available which have not only improved the comprehension abilities of Project Debater but the software has become so sophisticated that it can effortlessly weed out obscene or racist language that has been deliberately fed to the system to tamper with the output. Using this software, the system can predict correct meanings of phrases and compose human-like paragraphs of text that could help in making meaningful arguments. Until now, the Project Debater has been introduced and tested through debates. The way the Project Debater works is that it listens to a long human speech using its listening comprehension. It then prepares for a rebuttal by modeling human dilemmas and forms principled arguments made by humans in various debates and all other information that it has been fed. It then uses data-driven speech writing and delivery, or the ability to automatically generate a whole speech, reminiscent of an opinion article to deliver its rebuttal persuasively. To train the system, millions of articles and thousands of statements have been fed into it. The statements have been rated for their persuasiveness to help the system understand what makes an argument persuasive to human listeners. A major challenge that Project Debater faced was to identify which information backed a claim and which did not. Recently, the neural networks of the system were tweaked and the resulting network helped it classify which statement backed the claim and which neither supported nor undermined it. What about these sentences helps Project Debater classify the sentences are still unclear but it serves the purpose. IBM hopes to be able to help the government better understand the views of its citizens like it did in Switzerland, by collecting opinions from people about whether the government should invest in autonomous vehicles. If this system can be rolled out successfully, a lot of our time that gets wasted reading fake news, superficial opinions and pointless debates can be used to implement the much-required policy changes all around the world.