Here comes a cellphone that works without batteries

Jul 6, 2017 0

Washington–In a major leap ahead to life beyond chargers, cords and dying phones, researchers, including one of Indian-origin, have invented a cellphone that works without batteries.

Instead, the phone harvests the few microwatts of power it requires from either ambient radio signals or light.

The team also made Skype calls using its battery-free phone, demonstrating that the prototype made of commercial, off-the-shelf components can receive and transmit speech and communicate with a base station, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

Shyam Gollakota

“We’ve built what we believe is the first functioning cellphone that consumes almost zero power,” said study co-author Shyam Gollakota, Associate Professor at the University of Washington.

“To achieve the really, really low power consumption that you need to run a phone by harvesting energy from the environment, we had to fundamentally rethink how these devices are designed,” Gollakota added.

The researchers explained that the battery-free cellphone takes advantage of tiny vibrations in a phone’s microphone or speaker that occur when a person is talking into a phone or listening to a call.

An antenna connected to those components converts that motion into changes in standard analog radio signal emitted by a cellular base station.

This process essentially encodes speech patterns in reflected radio signals in a way that uses almost no power.

To transmit speech, the phone uses vibrations from the device’s microphone to encode speech patterns in the reflected signals.

To receive speech, it converts encoded radio signals into sound vibrations that that are picked up by the phone’s speaker.

The team designed a custom base station to transmit and receive the radio signals.

In the prototype device, the user presses a button to switch between these two “transmitting” and “listening” modes.

Using off-the-shelf components on a printed circuit board, the team demonstrated that the prototype can perform basic phone functions — transmitting speech and data and receiving user input via buttons.

Using Skype, researchers were able to receive incoming calls, dial out and place callers on hold with the battery-free phone, the study said.

“The cellphone is the device we depend on most today. So if there were one device you’d want to be able to use without batteries, it is the cellphone,” said Joshua Smith, Professor at University of Washington.

“The proof of concept we’ve developed is exciting today, and we think it could impact everyday devices in the future,” Smith added. (IANS)

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India leads when it comes to customer retention via technology

Jul 3, 2017 0

New Delhi–With innovation being the key instrument in guiding businesses, customer retention is the top priority for Asian companies with India leading the trend, a new research revealed on Monday.

According to “Innovation: All Eyes on Asia”, a report by US-based cloud computing firm Salesforce, 70 per cent of Asian companies have customer retention as their key priority for the next 12 to 24 months and 53 per cent are likely to adopt new innovation to achieve this goal.

Companies in India (90 per cent), Indonesia (83 per cent), Vietnam (85 per cent), Philippines (84 per cent) and Thailand (84 per cent) showed willingness to adopt a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

While the companies rank enterprise apps (83 per cent), CRM, Cloud-computing (82 per cent) and AI as top innovation priorities, 93 per cent of Indian companies are likely to invest in these to boost customer retention, followed by Singapore (88 per cent), Philippines (88 per cent) and Malaysia (82 per cent).

Asia with 77 per cent is being viewed as the region to lead innovation globally in the next five years, with America at a close second (64 per cent).

Japan, Korea and China are the top three Asian countries seen to be driving the trajectory.

However, cost, complexity of technology and lack of talent are the three key hurdles that are holding Asian companies back from adopting innovation, the report added.

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Apple app developers, many of them Indians, earned over $70 billion

Jun 1, 2017 0

Cupertino, Calif.–The global developer community, including many from India, has earned over $70 billion since the App Store’s launch in 2008, Apple announced on Thursday.

“$70 billion earned by developers is simply mind-blowing. We are amazed at all of the great new apps our developers create and can’t wait to see them again next week at our Worldwide Developers’ Conference,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, in a statement.

In January, Apple announced that its app developers earned over $20 billion in 2016 — up over 40 per cent from 2015 and according to sources, a sizable chunk of those app developers were from India.

App developers from India are now creating amazing apps for its platform.

Philip Schiller

Apple last year revealed plans for an iOS app design and development facility in Bengaluru. Across India, Apple supports over 640,000 iOS app developer jobs and other positions related to the iOS ecosystem.

According to the company, since the release of iOS 10 last fall, iPhone and iPad users have also experienced new engaging and creative ways to connect.

From Pokémon GO and Super Mario Run to other standout launches such as CancerAid, SPACE by THIX, Zones for Training with Exercise Intensity, Vanido, Ace Tennis and Havenly, customers discovered and experienced new apps and games every day on the App Store.

The App Store developers from around the world create apps for customers in 155 countries that improve lives, rethink industries and shape culture. In the past 12 months alone, downloads from the App Store have grown over 70 per cent.

Gaming and Entertainment are top-grossing categories, and Lifestyle apps, as well as Health and Fitness, have experienced over 70 per cent growth in the past year.

The Photo and Video category is also among the fastest-growing at nearly 90 per cent growth.

With the subscription business model now available to developers across all 25 app categories, the App Store’s active paid subscriptions are up 58 per cent year-over-year.

“Customers are enjoying subscriptions across a wide variety of services including long time favourites such as Netflix and Hulu, as well as newcomers like Tastemade, the modern, mobile-first cooking network, and photo editing apps like Over and Enlight,” Apple said in a statement.

“People everywhere love apps and our customers are downloading them in record numbers,” added Schiller. (IANS)

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Ransomware threat: Get patched, find a firewall or upgrade fast

May 15, 2017 0

By Nishant Arora

New Delhi– It was coming. On March 14 this year, Microsoft released a security update which addressed the vulnerability in the 16-year-old Windows XP operating system that the hackers behind the massive ransomware attack exploited and created havoc in 150 countries.

The vulnerability in the Microsoft Windows software — exploited by “WannaCrypt” — crippled computers from hospitals in Britain to police stations in India, with hackers demanding hundreds of dollars from the users for them to regain control over their data.

Once Microsoft released the patch for the vulnerability — exploited by hacker group “Shadow Brokers” after stealing a software from the US National Security Agency (NSA) — some Window XP users installed the update called “Microsoft Security Bulletin MS17-010” on their desktops and laptops.

But several didn’t.

There are nearly 150 million computers running Windows XP operation system globally. Those who didn’t pay heed to the Windows XP patch are the ones who have fallen prey to the world’s biggest ransomware attack.

Microsoft which had discontiued security updates to its out-of-date software, has also provided a security update for all customers using Windows 8 and Windows Server 2003, anticipating further attacks on these earlier platforms being used by millions.

According to the company, “customers who are running supported versions of the operating system (Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012, Windows 10, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2016) will have received the security update MS17-010 in March.

“If customers have automatic updates enabled or have installed the update, they are protected. For other customers, we encourage them to install the update as soon as possible,” said Phillip Misner, Principal Security Group Manager, Microsoft Security Response Centre, in a statement.

Meanwhile, “WannaCrypt” locked up machines, encrypted files and demanded approximately $600 in Bitcoin for a recovery key.

According to global cyber security firms, paying heed to updates can only save your data from being put to ransom.

“Install the official patch from Microsoft that closes the vulnerability used in the attack. Ensure that security solutions are switched on all nodes of the network. If Kaspersky Lab’s solution is used, ensure that it includes the ‘System Watcher’, a behavioural proactive detection component and that it is switched on,” Altaf Halde, Managing Director of Kaspersky Lab (South Asia), told IANS.

“Run the ‘Critical Area Scan’ task in Kaspersky Lab’s solution to detect possible infection as soon as possible (otherwise it will be detected automatically, if not switched off, within 24 hours),” he added.

According to Subhendu Sahu, Acting Country Manager for India, FireEye, the ransomware poses high risks to organisations using potentially vulnerable Windows machines.

“We can certainly expect follow-on attacks. Organisations seeking to take risk management steps related to this campaign should install the latest Windows patches. They should also use the indicators of compromise which are associated with this activity. FireEye has also taken steps to help secure its customers,” Sahu told IANS.

As investigators were working to track down those responsible for the ransomware attack, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said the governments should treat this attack as a “wake-up call”.

The news led software security providers to ramp up anti-malware software.

“Upon learning of these incidents, McAfee quickly began working to analyse samples of the ransomware and develop mitigation guidance and detection updates for its customers. McAfee has subsequently provided DAT (that contain data in text or binary format) updates to all its customers and provided them and the public further analysis on the attacks,” Ian Yip, Chief Technology Officer, Asia Pacific, McAfee, told IANS.

If you are a home Windows XP user, patch immediately follow up with an upgrade. If you are running a vulnerable system and cannot install the patch for some reason, try doing the following:

“Disable SMBv1 (a server component) with the steps documented at ‘Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 2696547’ and as recommended previously. Consider adding a rule on your router or firewall to block incoming Server Message Block (SMB) traffic on port 445,” said a report in the technology website Engadget.

“This is big and set to get bigger. We haven’t seen anything like this since Conficker in 2008,” Amit Nath, Head of Asia Pacific-Corporate Business at cyber security firm F-Secure Corporation, told IANS.

The Conficker worm infected millions of computers including government, business and home computers in over 190 countries.

Always make sure your files are backed up.

“That way, if they become compromised in a ransomware attack, you can wipe your disk drive clean and restore the data from the backup. Using Cloud storage with anti-virus scanning abilities to share files will help users to mitigate any possible threats,” suggested Anand Ramamoorthy, Managing Director, South Asia, McAfee.

Remember this: “WannaCrypt” probably won’t work across the internet for PCs behind a firewall or router.

“But if a server is connected directly to the internet or a PC is on the same network as an infected computer, it can spread quickly — which is exactly what has happened,” the Engadget report added. (IANS)

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Indian-origin engineer designs camera prototype that ditches long lens for distant images

Apr 16, 2017 0

New York– A team led by an Indian-origin engineer has built a camera prototype that can capture a detailed micron-resolution image from a distance and does that without using a long lens.

The prototype built and tested by engineers at Rice and Northwestern universities uses a laser and techniques borrowed from holography, microscopy and “Matrix”-style bullet time.

It reads a spot illuminated by a laser and captures the “speckle” pattern with a camera sensor.

Raw data from dozens of camera positions is fed to a computer programme that interprets it and constructs a high-resolution image.

Ashok Veeraraghavan

The system known as SAVI — “Synthetic Apertures for long-range, subdiffraction-limited Visible Imaging” — only works with coherent illumination sources such as lasers.

“Today, the technology can be applied only to coherent (laser) light,” said Ashok Veeraraghavan, a Rice University Assistant Professor of electrical and computer engineering, in a statement.

“That means you cannot apply these techniques to take pictures outdoors and improve resolution for sunlit images — as yet. Our hope is that one day, maybe a decade from now, we will have that ability,” he added.

The technology is the subject of an open-access paper in Science Advances.

Labs led by Veeraraghavan tested the device that compares interference patterns between multiple speckled images.

Veeraraghavan explained the speckles serve as reference beams and essentially replace one of the two beams used to create holograms.

When a laser illuminates a rough surface, the viewer sees grain-like speckles in the dot. That’s because some of the returning light scattered from points on the surface has farther to go and throws the collective wave out of phase.

SAVI’s “synthetic aperture” sidesteps the problem by replacing a long lens with a computer programme that resolves the speckle data into an image.

“You can capture interference patterns from a fair distance. How far depends on how strong the laser is and how far away you can illuminate,” Veeraraghavan added. (IANS)

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Toward printable, sensor-laden “skin” for robots: New 3-D-printed device mimics the goldbug beetle

Mar 23, 2017 0

By Larry Hardesty

MIT News

CAMBRIDGE, MA– In this age of smartphones and tablet computers, touch-sensitive surfaces are everywhere. They’re also brittle, as people with cracked phone screens everywhere can attest.

Subramanian Sundaram (Photo: MIT)

Covering a robot — or an airplane or a bridge — with sensors will require a technology that is both flexible and cost-effective to manufacture in bulk. A team of researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory thinks that 3-D printing could be the answer.

In an attempt to demonstrate the feasibility of flexible, printable electronics that combine sensors and processing circuitry and can act on their environments, the researchers have designed and built a device that responds to mechanical stresses by changing the color of a spot on its surface.

The device was inspired by the golden tortoise beetle, or “goldbug,” an insect whose exterior usually appears golden but turns reddish orange if the insect is poked or prodded — that is, mechanically stressed.

MIT Printable Gold

“In nature, networks of sensors and interconnects are called sensorimotor pathways,” says Subramanian Sundaram, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), who led the project. “We were trying to see whether we could replicate sensorimotor pathways inside a 3-D-printed object. So we considered the simplest organism we could find.”

The researchers present their new design in the latest issue of the journal Advanced Materials Technologies. Sundaram is the first author on the paper, and the senior authors are Sundaram’s advisor, Wojciech Matusik, an associate professor of EECS; and Marc Baldo, a professor of EECS and director of the Research Laboratory of Electronics. Joining them on the paper are Pitchaya Sitthi-Amorn, a former postdoc in Matusik’s lab; Ziwen Jiang, an undergraduate EECS student; and David Kim, a technical assistant in Matusik’s Computational Fabrication Group.

Bottom up

Printable electronics, in which flexible circuitry is deposited on some type of plastic substrate, has been a major area of research for decades. But Sundaram says that the ability to print the substrate itself greatly increases the range of devices the technique can yield.

Researchers have designed and built a device that responds to mechanical stresses by changing the color of a spot on its surface.

For one thing, the choice of substrate limits the types of materials that can be deposited on top of it. Because a printed substrate could consist of many materials, interlocked in intricate but regular patterns, it broadens the range of functional materials that printable electronics can use.

Printed substrates also open the possibility of devices that, although printed as flat sheets, can fold themselves up into more complex, three-dimensional shapes. Printable robots that spontaneously self-assemble when heated, for instance, are a topic of ongoing research at the CSAIL Distributed Robotics Laboratory, led by Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.

“We believe that only if you’re able to print the underlying substrate can you begin to think about printing a more complex shape,” Sundaram says.

Selective signaling

The MIT researchers’ new device is approximately T-shaped, but with a wide, squat base and an elongated crossbar. The crossbar is made from an elastic plastic, with a strip of silver running its length; in the researchers’ experiments, electrodes were connected to the crossbar’s ends. The base of the T is made from a more rigid plastic. It includes two printed transistors and what the researchers call a “pixel,” a circle of semiconducting polymer whose color changes when the crossbars stretch, modifying the electrical resistance of the silver strip.

In fact, the transistors and the pixel are made from the same material; the transistors also change color slightly when the crossbars stretch. The effect is more dramatic in the pixel, however, because the transistors amplify the electrical signal from the crossbar. Demonstrating working transistors was essential, Sundaram says, because large, dense sensor arrays require some capacity for onboard signal processing.

“You wouldn’t want to connect all the sensors to your main computer, because then you would have tons of data coming in,” he says. “You want to be able to make clever connections and to select just the relevant signals.”

To build the device, the researchers used the MultiFab, a custom 3-D printer developed by Matusik’s group. The MultiFab already included two different “print heads,” one for emitting hot materials and one for cool, and an array of ultraviolet light-emitting diodes. Using ultraviolet radiation to “cure” fluids deposited by the print heads produces the device’s substrate.

Sundaram added a copper-and-ceramic heater, which was necessary to deposit the semiconducting plastic: The plastic is suspended in a fluid that’s sprayed onto the device surface, and the heater evaporates the fluid, leaving behind a layer of plastic only 200 nanometers thick.

Fluid boundaries

A transistor consists of semiconductor channel on top of which sits a “gate,” a metal wire that, when charged, generates an electric field that switches the semiconductor between its electrically conductive and nonconductive states. In a standard transistor, there’s an insulator between the gate and the semiconductor, to prevent the gate current from leaking into the semiconductor channel.

The transistors in the MIT researchers’ device instead separate the gate and the semiconductor with a layer of water containing a potassium salt. Charging the gate drives potassium ions into the semiconductor, changing its conductivity.

The layer of saltwater lowers the device’s operational voltage, so that it can be powered with an ordinary 1.5-volt battery. But it does render the device less durable. “I think we can probably get it to work stably for two months, maybe,” Sundaram says. “One option is to replace that liquid with something between a solid and a liquid, like a hydrogel, perhaps. But that’s something we would work on later. This is an initial demonstration.”

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Penned by Ashish Shrivastava, Apple publishes its first paper on artificial intelligence

Dec 27, 2016 0

New York–Breaking with its tradition of keeping research topics a secret, Apple has come out in the open, publishing its first artificial intelligence (AI) research paper that focuses on advanced image recognition.

Apple’s first public research paper on AI was penned by vision expert Ashish Shrivastava and a team of engineers including Tomas Pfister, Oncel Tuzel, Wenda Wang, Russ Webb and Apple Director of Artificial Intelligence Research Josh Susskind, appleinsider.com reported on Tuesday.

Ashish Shrivastava

Shrivastava holds a PhD in computer vision from the University of Maryland.

Titled ‘Learning from Simulated and Unsupervised Images through Adversarial Training’, the paper describes techniques of training computer vision algorithms to recognise objects using synthetic, or computer generated, images.

However, learning from synthetic images may not achieve the desired performance owing to a gap between synthetic and real image distributions.

To reduce this gap, Apple has proposed Simulated plus Unsupervised (S+U) learning, where the task is to learn a model to improve the realism of a simulator’s output using unlabeled real data while preserving the annotation information from the simulator.

The company has developed a method for S+U learning that uses an adversarial network similar to Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), but with synthetic images as inputs instead of random vectors.

The improved realism enables the training of better machine-learning models on large datasets without any data collection or human annotation effort.

Moreover, since machine learning models can be sensitive to artifacts in the synthetic data, S+U learning should generate images without artifacts.

“Apple’s first public research paper was penned by vision expert Ashish Shrivastava and a team of engineers including Tomas Pfister, Oncel Tuzel, Wenda Wang, Russ Webb and Apple Director of Artificial Intelligence Research Josh Susskind,” the report added.

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StonehamBank Becomes Leader Bank’s First Customer of Its Rent-Collection Technology Zrent

Dec 19, 2016 0

ARLINGTON, MA—ZRent , a division of Arlington, MA-based  Leader Bank, announced that  StonehamBank  has subscribed to its proprietary technology that allows financial institutions to provide online rent collection services to their landlord and small business customers.

This new partnership will allow StonehamBank customers to take full advantage of ZRent services, enabling landlords and tenants to fully automate the rental payment process, ZRent said in a statement.

Jay Tuli

“We are very excited to enter into this partnership with StonehamBank. We look forward to bringing all the benefits of ZRent to their customers,” said Jay Tuli, the Senior Vice President of Retail Banking at Leader Bank. “We hope that ZRent can continue to help automate rent payments for community banks and their customers.”

ZRent works by automatically deducting rent payments from the tenant’s bank account and depositing them directly into the landlord’s account. Tenants can set and forget their monthly payments, and landlords will no longer have the hassle of collecting checks and making the trip to the bank.

ZRent also provides peace of mind for the landlords, who will now receive one complete payment for each unit on the same day every month. ZRent is free of charge for any landlord that banks with one of the participating institutions, currently StonehamBank and Leader Bank.

“We are committed to offering innovative services to our customers, ZRent is another great example of services we provide to our customers evolving needs,” said Edward Doherty, Jr., Executive Vice President of StonehamBank. “ZRent offers a simple and convenient solution that provides real value to our customers looking to efficiently manage their rent collection.”

With assets over $1 billion, Leader Bank is a nationally chartered bank founded in 2002 with seven full-service branches in Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Burlington and Cambridge. Leader Bank offers a full range of personal and business banking products including free personal and business checking accounts, commercial and residential lending products, home equity lines of credit, deposit products with highly competitive rates and free online banking and bill payment services.

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Kerala-based researcher bypasses Apple’s iPad activation lock

Dec 2, 2016 0

New York– Hemanth Joseph, a Kerala-based security researcher, has identified a bug running in iOS 10.1 version of Apple’s operating system that allowed him to bypass the activation lock on an iPad.

The activation lock in Apple’s iPhone or iPad is hard for someone other than owner of the device to hack and set it up as a new device.

Joseph bypassed activation lock in a locked iPad by discovering a weakness in the device setup process running iOS 10.1, Forbes reported on Friday.

When Joseph was asked to select a Wi-Fi network, he chose ‘other network’ and selected WPA2-enterprise as the type of network to connect to, that gave him three input fields to fill — name, username and password.

Upon testing, he came to know that there is no character restriction in those fields and he typed thousands of characters than iOS can handle, expecting that it would cause the software to crash.

This caused the iPad to freeze and then he locked it by closing Apple’s magnetic Smart Cover over the screen. After opening the cover, the device was at the same screen, but as few seconds passed by, it crashed to iOS home screen.

This made Joseph bypassed the activation lock and to have full access to the iPad.

The bug discovered by Joseph was reportedly fixed in an iOS update last month.

According to Joseph’s website, he is currently working as information security researcher at the firm Slash Secure and also serving as commander at Kerala Police Cyberdome.

He is founder of India’s first open security community for students called 0SecCon (www.0SecCon.com).

Joseph has been listed Google’s Hall of fame and received a bounty of $7500 for reporting a critical vulnerability in Google Cloud Platform.

Earlier, researchers at US-based Vulnerability Lab discovered the iOS 10.1.1 bug. Like Joseph, the team began by overloading the Wi-Fi setup fields and employed a smart cover. Just like in Joseph’s iPad scenario, the home screen appeared for an instant and then it’s gone.(IANS)

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Buy or sell foreign currency online with this app

Nov 8, 2016 0

New Delhi– Domestic online foreign exchange solutions CurrencyKart on Tuesday launched its mobile forex booking app for instant forex requirements, including buying or selling foreign currency.

The app answers queries about foreign exchanges through a personalised chat option.

It also shows inter bank rates (IBR) where one can compare the current forex rates.

“The app enables consumers to buy or sell foreign currency online through our portal and get it home-delivered,” said Nishima Aggarwal, Co-founder, Chief Performance Officer, CurrencyKart, in a statement.

All the dealers registered with CurrencyKart have verified RBI licences.

The app is currently available on Apple iOS and Google Play Store.

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