All posts in the computer category

Anand Mahindra offers to fund desi social network; gets rave response

Published March 28, 2018 by lagmen

Facebook is currently facing a lot of heat, after Cambridge Analytica scandal. Many have deleted their profile from the social media site, including the likes of Elon Musk. The latest India twist to the story is that Anand Mahindra, the Chairman of Mahindra Group, has suggested fellow Indians to bring out their own social media site ideas or suggestions, and he is willing to help them with the seed capital.

Mahindra tweeted, “Beginning to wonder if it’s time to consider having our own social networking company that is very widely owned & professionally managed & willingly regulated. Any relevant Indian start-ups out there? If any young teams have such plans I’d like to see if I can assist with seed capital.

Amid his tweet on Monday, Mahindra was surprised to the hundreds of reactions, then he tweeted, “Thank you all for the flood of responses, suggestions & proposals. Please copy your tweets to my colleague @j_bindra who will work with me on this exploration. If nothing else, it should be fun…”

Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister of IT, responded enthusiastically to Mahindra’s initiative.

Mahindra was surprised to see how many have responded with their ideas and suggestions. He quickly asked Jaspreet Bindra, SVP of Digital Transformation at Mahindra, who suggested a blockchain-enabled social network which could be a great idea.

After getting huge response Mahindra again tweeted on Wednesday, ”To say I’m overwhelmed by the responses to my call for social network startup proposals would be an understatement! @j_bindra & I have our work cut out for us.. The good thing is that it’s clear there’s an explosion in entrepreneurial energies in this country. Let the games begin!”

Mahindra is known for his inspirational and humorous presence in the micro-blogging site.


India plans to build over 1,000 digital villages

Published January 31, 2017 by lagmen

india rural computer internet

India took another step toward a digital economy with the government’s announcement that it would provide free wi-fi to 1,050 villages in the next six months as part of its Digital Village initiative, CNN reported. Cell phone users will get access to the internet via wi-fi hotspots mounted on towers.

The Digital Villages initiative will initially cost over Rs420 crore ($62 million) and, along with basic internet access, will provide avenues for interactive telemedicine and educational sessions. “The project is a public-private partnership, and will be driven through the common service centres (CSCs),” Aruna Sundararajan, secretary at the ministry of electronics and information technology, told The Economic Times.

“We’ll be partnering with different service providers to do it,” Sundararajan said. Common service centres are used by rural residents for a variety of digital services, such as filling out online forms or making digital payments.

The draw of cashless transactions accelerated the country’s efforts to become a digital economy following prime minister Narendra Modi’s move to demonetise India’s two most-used high-denomination bills—Rs500 and Rs1,000. The northern state of Haryana recently connected 100 villages with wi-fi, and in the south, Karnataka converted Sherewad into a digital village. The Assam government has promised a Rs5-lakh ($7,373) reward to the first village in the state to go completely cashless by March 31.

India has more internet users than any other country outside the US, yet relative to its population availability remains low. Nearly two-thirds of its 1.3 billion people don’t have an internet connection.

In 2011, authorities introduced the National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN) project, rechristened BharatNet in 2015, to provide broadband connectivity to 250,000 gram panchayats (local village governments) through fibre optic connections by the end of 2016. However, laying down cables has proved difficult—out of the 61,000 villages served so far, only 7,000 are said to have a working connection.

Wi-fi hotspots may work as an alternative technology. If successful, the plan will be expanded to other parts of the country.

Google and Facebook have already made inroads when it comes to wi-fi connectivity in India. Google is bringing wi-fi to 400 train stations across the country. Menlo Park, California-based Facebook, which faced a backlash for its now-ousted service in India, has introduced Express Wi-Fi. This allows customers to purchase low-cost data packages from their local internet service provider to access fast internet via local hotspots

Soon, robots will be used to deliver goods

Published January 30, 2017 by lagmen
The robots of the future will be coming soon, rolling along at a lumbering pace with those goods you just ordered.

The six-wheeled, knee-high robots from startup Starship Technologies are part of a new wave of automated systems taking aim at the “last mile” delivery of goods to consumers.

Starship is launching a pilot project of robotic deliveries of parcels, groceries and prepared foods in early February in the US capital Washington, with a similar test taking place in Redwood City, California.

The startup, created by two of the founders of Skype, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, has already begun testing in several European cities as part of an effort to bring new efficiencies to local delivery.

The goal is to enable delivery within a radius of two miles (three kilometers) within 15-30 minutes of an order, for $1 or less, with the autonomous robots traveling on sidewalks and alerting consumers of their arrival via smartphone app.

Starship spokesman Henry Harris-Burland said the founders were looking to “disrupt” an industry which had seen little efficiency improvement from new technology.

Startups get ready to take on Income Tax department

“We’re trying to solve real social and economic problems,” Harris-Burland said during a demonstration of the delivery bots in Washington.

“This will take cars and vans off the road. We can also provide deliveries to the elderly and handicapped who have difficulty getting around.”

The company, which has its business office in London, engineering in Estonia and some 90 employees, announced in January it had raised $17.2 million, led by Daimler AG with other investors as it moves to expand its testing and partnerships.

While the Starship robots roll at a modest pace of around four miles (six kilometers) per hour, Harris-Burland said they offer a more efficient and economical delivery model than drones, which are being tested by online retail giant Amazon and others.

The rolling robots are far less expensive to build and operate than drones and face fewer regulatory issues.

He said drones might be better-suited to remote and rural areas, while the Starship bots are designed for cities and suburbs, where they can roll along on sidewalks.

“We don’t see these as competing with drones, we see it as complementary,” Harris-Burland said.

The Starship robots, which look like high-tech plastic picnic coolers, can carry about 20 pounds (nine kilograms) of goods, suited to three to four grocery bags. They do not offer heating or chilled compartments because rapid deliveries would not need them, according to Harris-Burland.

They will not have the capacity to leave items on doorsteps, he said, because “customers will get delivery within 30 minutes, when they are home” and collect the goods at the door.

Mapping sidewalks

Starship has agreements for testing with the delivery firm Postmates in Washington and DoorDash in California, as it works toward a commercial model with other partners and retailers.

When the pilot begins in February, consumers will be able to order pizza, toothpaste, milk or eggs through the services which may use humans or robots.

Starship is not the only robotic delivery startup looking to disrupt the sector.

California-based startup Dispatch has raised $2 million in venture funding to begin testing of its rolling robots. Another California firm, Savioke, has agreed to provide delivery bots to hotels and apartment complexes.

tarship says one of its strong points is its “visual localization” technology that allows for real-time mapping using nine cameras on each robot to help navigate along sidewalks and circumvent obstacles, people and pets.

“We can see every crosswalk, every traffic light, every pothole,” Harris-Burland said.

“A lot of companies have mapped roads but no one has mapped sidewalks.”

The navigation is done by artificial intelligence, and the bots are “99% autonomous,” according to the spokesman.

 “We want a human being able to oversee the robot’s journey and to intervene whenever there is a problem,” he said.

Harris-Burland said the company’s tests so far in Europe have shown the system works, with no problems related to theft or vandalism.

The lids of the devices are locked until the customer opens it with a smartphone. If anyone tries to steal it, an alarm will sound, and if it is hijacked the company can track it “to the nearest inch,” he said.

Intel pursues Moore’s Law with plan to make first 7-nm chips this year

Published January 30, 2017 by lagmen
Intel pursues Moore's Law with plan to make first 7-nm chips this year

The company will establish a 7-nm pilot plant this year as it tries to keep Moore’s Law alive.

Intel’s next big Moore’s Law advance will be a 7-nm pilot plant it is establishing this year to explore the upcoming manufacturing process.

The chipmaker announced it was establishing the pilot plant during an earnings call on Thursday.

For decades, Moore’s Law has been the guiding light for Intel to make teenier, faster, and more power-efficient chips. The effort has helped PC makers continuously shrink laptops and mobile devices while adding longer battery life.

Intel is trying to hang onto the long-standing observation as a way to push its chip technology forward. However, some experts argue Moore’s Law is expiring as it becomes physically impossible to cram more features on smaller chips.

The pilot plant will test and iron out kinks in manufacturing 7-nm chips. Intel hasn’t said when it’ll start shipping 7-nm chips in volume, but it won’t be in the next two to three years.

“The pilot line is about figuring out how to make billions of chips,” said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

The pilot plant has limited production, but it sets the stage for Intel to invest billions in larger factories to make smaller 7-nm chips.

“Once they have the process locked down, it’s replicated in the other plants,” McCarron said.

Intel’s latest chips, based on Kaby Lake, are made using the 14-nanometer process, and the company is now moving to 10-nm with its upcoming Cannonlake chip, which was shown in a PC at CES earlier this month. The 7-nm chips will come after the 10-nm process.

Cannonlake chips will ship in small volumes by year-end, and their availability will expand next year, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said during the earnings call.

Moore’s Law has also helped Intel roll out new chips on a yearly basis like clockwork. Intel first interpreted Moore’s Law as a way to double the number of transistors in chips every 18 to 24 months, which doubles performance.

But that interpretation didn’t work on the 14-nm process, where it became a challenge to cram more transistors in smaller geometries. Intel dealt with embarrassing product delays and had to move away from its decades-old schedule of advancing the manufacturing process every two years.

Intel also broke away from its history of making two new chip technologies with each manufacturing cycle. It made three new chip technologies — Broadwell, Skylake, and Kaby Lake — with the 14-nm process.

The chipmaker now isn’t worried about doubling the transistor count with every new chip generation. Instead, Intel is now interpreting Moore’s Law more in line with the economics related to cost-per-transistor, which would drop with scaling. That’s an important part of Moore’s Law.

Intel last year said it was trying to get back to a two-year manufacturing cycle with the 7-nm process, but with smarter chip designs.

The 7-nm process could bring radical design changes to chips, which will be much smaller and power efficient. Intel’s planning on using exotic III-V materials like gallium-nitride for faster chips that could bring laptops longer battery life.

Intel is looking at the 7-nm process to alleviate some of the challenges it faces on the 14-nm and 10-nm processors. The company has hinted it would introduce EUV (extreme ultraviolet) tools in the manufacturing process. EUV will help etch finer features on chips, but its implementation has been delayed multiple times.

The pilot factory will help validate all those features, and then allow Intel to order equipment for the new factories, McCarron said.

Competitors like Globalfoundries and Samsung are getting a head-start on the 7-nm process. Globalfoundries has said it will start making 7-nm chips by 2018, and ARM has released tools for the design of 7-nm chips. It’s not clear if Globalfoundries will do 7-nm test runs or start making chips in large volumes.

Samsung and Globalfoundries have just started making 10-nm chips like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835, which will appear in smartphones soon.

Globalfoundries is a close partner with IBM, which produced the first 7-nm chips last year.

Apple to build 200MW solar farm to power data center

Published January 27, 2017 by lagmen
Apple to build 200MW solar farm to power data center

Apple is working toward 100% renewable energy use

Apple announced today a joint venture with Nevada Energy (NV Energy) to build out 200MW of photovoltaic solar capacity to power its data center in Reno, Nevada.

The solar farm is Apple’s largest solar project to date and is expected to be live by early 2019.

Apple’s data center is located at the Reno Technology Park; the company has also submitted plans to build another data center campus adjacent to its existing one.

Apple has steadily been working toward a goal of 100% renewable energy over the past several years. It already uses 100% renewable energy for its data center in North Carolina; some of it comes from a biofuels plant and the rest from solar farms.

In 2015, Apple announced all of its U.S. facilities — and 87% of its operations worldwide — were powered by renewable energy. In Singapore, for example, the company is powering its manufacturing facilities with 32MW of solar panels that are located atop more than 800 rooftops. In China, the company is adding 170MW of solar power to supplement power used to manufacture iPhones and other products there.

Also in 2015, Apple announced it was investing $848 million in a solar farm to power its California operations, including its new Cupertino campus, along with retail stores and a data center in Fremont. The deal pushed Apple past Walmart as the largest corporate user of solar power. The 2015 solar project represented 130MW of solar power through a 25-year purchasing agreement from the California Flats Solar Project.

apple solar power Apple
Apple built a 50MW solar power plant on 300 acres in Florence, Ariz., which is used to power its Mesa data center.

Last September, Apple joined the global renewable energy initiative RE100, an organization committed to helping companies and municipalities reach 100% renewable energy.

“Investing in innovative clean energy sources is vital to Apple’s commitment to reaching, and maintaining, 100% renewable energy across all our operations,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives, stated in a news release. “Our partnership with NV Energy helps assure our customers their iMessages, FaceTime video chats and Siri inquiries are powered by clean energy, and supports efforts to offer the choice of green energy to Nevada residents and businesses.”

In the coming weeks, NV Energy will file an application with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada to enter into a power purchase agreement for the new solar power plant.

The project will bring NV Energy’s total to more than 529MW of new solar capacity under construction in Nevada, or under review for approval.

“Apple will also dedicate up to 5MW of power to NV Energy’s future subscription solar program for residential and commercial customers,” the company stated.


Driverless cars in the UK

Published January 27, 2017 by lagmen

Nissan to trial driverless cars in London in 2017, Amazon patents a lane assignment system

Self-driving cars might still seem the thing of science fiction for many, but the field is quickly advancing and new government initiatives mean that streets in the UK could soon be graced by these autonomous automobiles. In this feature we look at how the story has unfolded so far, and what the future holds for driverless cars. See also: Driverless cars should get more reliable with Nvidia’s Tegra X1

Update 19 January: Nissan has announced that it’s waiting for final approval from an undisclosed London Council to put some real driverless cars into action. The trials, which are due to start shortly, will use a modified version of Nissan’s LEAF electric car. They won’t be open to members of the public to try out, but will be for government officials and technical experts. There will also be a driver on board at all times. Importantly, this is the first time a driverless car will be on European roads in a ‘live’ environment as previous autonomous vehicle trials have been conducted in the US and China.

Also, Amazon has been granted a patent for ‘lane assignments’ for autonomous vehicles. It isn’t developing a driverless vehicle as such, but is clearly working towards a fleet of driverless delivery lorries. These may not deliver goods to your doorstep, instead moving products between its warehouses. The patent concerns a network that can communicate with driverless vehicles and inform them of the direction of traffic flow in a reversible lane. Clearly it would be a disaster if an autonomous delivery lorry was unaware of which way it should be driving along a particular road at a certain time.

It appears that at least some of the team working on Prime Air – Amazon’s drone deliveries – is involved in this new road management system, which also seeks to ensure the self-driving trucks are using the most appropriate lane to minimise traffic slow downs. So hopefully this would mean no more slow-motion lorry ‘races’ as drivers try to overtake one another.

Driverless cars in the UK: Google and the self-driving car

It’s fair to say that the majority of research in this area has been conducted in the US, with Google leading the field. The internet giant’s Self-Driving Car Project has clocked up well over a million miles, with a fleet of modified Lexus SUVs and bespoke prototype vehicles traversing the tarmac of certain streets in California, Texas, and Washington.

As of yet, these remain limited test areas, and it will still be a few years before you’ll be able to walk into a dealership and order your own robotic chauffeur. So far safety records have been mostly excellent – a Google driverless car hit a bus in California in February and, while there were no casualties and this was the first time a driverless car had caused a smash, it isn’t the first reported incident.

In mid-May 2016 it was reported that Google had patented a new sticky layer that will cover the surface of the front of the driverless car. Rather than catching bugs, this sticky substance is designed to catch pedestrians – but only when the car and pedestrian’s paths are accidentally crossed. By adhering the passenger to the front of the car, Google hopes to prevent them coming into any further trouble, such as being flung into a nearby passing bus. It will also help to constrain the movement of the pedestrian and bring both the pedestrian and the car to a more gradual stop.

In December 2016, Google announced the renaming of its driverless car project to Waymo changing it from a research project to business enterprise that will need to turn a profit. Although no new details were revealed, the mission is to bring the technology and product to market.

“We’ll continue to have access of infrastructure and resources Alphabet provides, but we also have this feeling of being a venture-backed startup,” said John Krafcik, formerly CEO of Google Cars.

“We are all in on fully driverless solutions, that’s what we’re all about.” He said adding that driver assist technologies, which can ask humans to take control, don’t interest Waymo. However, the car might still need a steering wheels and pedals.

However, with many predicting this part of the automotive industry to be the next big thing, investment and political interest continues to grow at pace. Other companies such as Volvo, Audi, Land Rover and Bosch have already begun their own research, even Apple has been hard at work on a driverless vehicle which it now appears to have abandoned.

Ford has just announced at the end of 2016 that it will start testing its driverless technology at its Dunton Technical Centre in Essex, and also at its facilities in Aachen and Cologne in Germany. All have been test locations for Ford’s driver assist technologies, so it makes sense it will develop autonomous vehicles there too.

Volvo, announced back in April that it planned to take 100 self-driving cars to China, where everyday people would put them to the test in real-life conditions. China is fast-tracking plans to get self-driving vehicles on the road, with a new Intel Labs startup taking on the task, along with the existing efforts of Baidu and Yutong, reports Gizmodo.

See also: Why you shouldn’t buy an electric car

Driverless cars in the UK: Government investment signals a real future

For the last few years the UK government has been slowly increasing its financial commitment towards self-driving car research. In 2013 the UK Treasury’s Autumn statement contained an allocation of £10 million to the sector, supporting projects that were already underway. This has now increased to £20 million, as recently confirmed by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin. While these amounts are nothing compared to the funds Google has at its disposal, it does signal the seriousness with which the area is being taken, and has enabled many projects in the British Isles to continue developing these important technologies. The past couple of years has already seen a number of road-going tests taking place around the country, and these could increase in frequency as production costs diminish and the software matures.

One of the major obstacles in the way of self-driving automation is that of legislation. The law can often be slow to catch up with technological progress, and when the safety of lives are involved it can be even more cautious. It’s significant then that the UK government has been praised by Google for its progressive approach to this often painful area. Ministers are reported to have met with representatives from the Californian company a number of times over the past two years, and in 2015 the Department of Transport published an official code of practice for testing self-driving cars on public roads. February this year also saw the current Deputy Mayor for Transport, Isabel Dedring, announce that discussions were taking place with Google about making London a trial city to test out the company’s driverless vehicles.

Related stories:

Google’s self-driving cars of tomorrow face the mean streets of today
French self-driving car goes for a trip around Paris
Google triples self-driving fleet in four months

Driverless Cars in the UK: Self-Driving cars on British roads

If Google does decide to bring its vehicles to London, then it may well encounter a few other intelligent cars out and about. MOVE UK is a three year initiative which began in April 2016, and will test out new self-driving software on the roads around Greenwich. The project has backing and involvement from Jaguar Land Rover, Bosch, the Transport Research Laboratory, Direct Line, The Floow, and the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The aim of the project is to refine the way a driverless car sees its environment and reacts the various situations. We assume this will include driving up to roundabouts while being bamboozled by swarms of Deliveroo riders coming from all directions, if it wants to have any hope of authenticity.

Trials in the cars – which are based on the Ultra Pods that run on rails at Heathrow – took place between June and August, with the aim of finding out how people feel about travelling in driverless cars.

Another project in Coventry will see 40 miles of road fitted with communications technologies to aid self-driving vehicles, while in Milton Keynes the LUTZ Pathfinder project has already been testing three driverless Pods on the roads, with plans to extend this to forty that will be split between Milton Keynes and Coventry.

Bloomberg reported in August 2016 that Uber, the popular app based taxi service in major cities around the world, is to deploy a fleet of driverless cars in the US city of Pittsburgh. While this is a small preliminary trial, with drivers manning the front seat in case of mishaps, it points towards a major push for driverless cars to become a reality over a fantasy.

Driverless cars in the UK: Why is it a good thing?

It might seem an odd thing, especially when you’re trusting your life to some software and sensors travelling at speed, but safety is a major selling point when it comes to driverless cars. While road accidents in the UK did fall slightly in 2015, there were still a reported 1,780 deaths and 23,700 people seriously injured. So far there have been very few reported accidents involving driverless vehicles, and in the cases that have been reported it seems that most of them are the fault of a collision with a normal car, and that the blame lay with the human involved.

Of course it’s still early days, and many of these driverless vehicles have been tested in reasonably peaceful locations rather than the angry, unpredictable environment of a large city at rush hour. That’s why the announced projects are so important. If the technology can adapt to an everyday driving scenario, and show itself to be less prone to road rage, careless driving, or speeding, then lives could well be saved in the process. There are still many miles to go and obstacles to overcome, but with the likes of Toyota, Audi, and Tesla saying they intend to release driverless- or driver-assisted cars in the next five years, it seems we won’t have too long to wait. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is confident that this is the future, and posed the question of whether in a few years time governments will be debating banning manually driven cars all together.

Driverless trucks in the UK

It’s not just self-driving cars that will soon be on our roads; the Guardian reports how a convoy of self-driving trucks just made its first European cross-border trip. More than a dozen semi-automated smart trucks made by six of Europe’s largest manufacturers arrived in Rotterdam from places such as Sweden and Germany on 6 April, it said. These trucks were driven in ‘platoons’, connected wirelessly, where the first truck determines the route and speed. However, a human was still required to be onboard.


Trump’s trade TPP move a setback for cloud computing

Published January 27, 2017 by lagmen
With President Trump’s move to walk away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, administration is ‘starting from zero’ on digital trade policy.

WASHINGTON — On the heels of the news that President Trump has removed the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade deal that he blasted as a candidate, experts warned of the fallout for cloud-computing companies that have been advocating for policies to break down digital trade barriers that restrict the flow of data traffic across international boundaries.

Here at the annual State of the Net tech policy conference, the news was met with disappointment by a panel of experts, who said that the provisions of the TPP governing the activities of tech companies would have been an important step toward establishing international norms for trade in the digital age.

“Basically, it was the first [step] in terms of important international agreements that began to set a legal foundation for digital trade,” said Claude Barfield, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “And now with the TPP being gone that has now been swept away. So the Trump administration is starting from zero, as it were, in terms of digital trade rules with whatever else it does.”

Awaiting ‘real action on trade’

Trump’s executive order canceling U.S. involvement in the TPP was hardly a surprise. As a candidate, Trump had railed against the deal and other trade agreements, and the TPP faced dim prospects of winning approval in the Senate.

[ Related: Cross-border data restrictions threaten global economic growth ]

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a terse statement in response to Trump’s executive order pulling out of the deal:

“TPP was dead long before President Trump took office,” Schumer said. “We await real action on trade.”

What that action will look like, in the digital environment, remains an open question. But for many tech companies that have long complained about protectionist policies in foreign markets that favor local companies or impose burdensome compliance requirements on U.S. firms, some elements of the TPP were appealing.

Barfield pointed to provisions in the TPP that restricted signatories from imposing cross-border data blocks, a critical priority for cloud service providers with global ambitions. The agreement also sought to eliminate tariffs on digital goods and dispense with localization requirements that could be used to compel service providers to set up a physical operation within a country as a condition for doing business in that market.

[Related: Tech CEOs warn of threats to cloud, big data economy ]

Susan Lund, an economist and partner at McKinsey & Company who is bullish on the digital economy, noted some of the barriers that linger and continue to hinder trade, such as uneven standards and expectations for consumer privacy and cybersecurity protections, and content blocking and other forms of censorship.

Nevertheless, Lund points to the sharp rise in economic value associated with digital trade, where electronic delivery of products and services increasingly is seen as a central pillar of nations’ economies.

“It’s now worth as much to countries as cross-border trade in goods. And that means that the next era of trade policy needs to take into account things that might stop the free flow of data, things we call data protectionism,” she said. “Without a doubt, digital trade is the next frontier and it’s what’s driving global economic growth.”