Category Archives: Science

The automated home is a mess?

That’s the bad news. The good news: it’s getting better, fast.

Automated home

We’ve been promised the smart home for decades and always been disappointed, but we’re told that this time is different.

The smart home – a home where even the humblest appliance, plug socket or light bulb is connected to everything else and controllable through apps – is absolute, positively, definitely ready for prime time.

But is it? This year’s CES may have been packed with smart home devices, but behind the home hub hype, there’s a mess of incompatible standards, security worries and the odd manufacturer behaving badly.

Why standards matter

Let’s start with the language these machines speak. Standards are those languages: gadgets can only communicate with each other if they understand what you’re saying. In smart homes, those languages are standards such as Apple’s HomeKit, Google’s Weave and Samsung’s SmartThings, and unfortunately, those standards aren’t compatible with one another.

Let’s say you’ve got an iPhone and you want to control your smart home with Siri. None of the major smart thermostats currently on sale in the UK – Heat Genius, Hive, Honeywell Eco home, Nest, To and Heat Miser – are compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, so Siri can’t control them.

Belkin WeMo smart switches aren’t HomeKit-compatible either, and neither is the first generation of Philips’ Hue smart lighting system (the second generation, launched in late 2015, does have HomeKit).

It’s a similar story with other standards. Google’s Nest thermostat runs a version of its Weave software, although Nest Weave isn’t the same as the Google Weave that’s been published for others – so future Weave products may not work with Nest, even though they apparently share the same language.

 

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The automated home is a mess | TechRadar

Amazon’s Echo requires Amazon-specific apps. And there are tons of smart home products from other manufacturers who use their own proprietary technologies and software too.

Kevin Meagher is vice president of business development for ROC-Connect, which works with some of the world’s largest telecommunication firms, device manufacturers, utility firms and retailers to create smart home products and services. “I think the problem is not technology, but business models,” he told techradar.

“Many businesses don’t want compatibility; they want to sell as many of their own proprietary branded products and services as possible… it is simpler to deploy point to point – single device, single app – in this early market.”

That’s where the incompatibilities come from. Remember the early days of the internet, when the likes of AOL, CompuServe and The Microsoft Network offered competing walled gardens that didn’t want you to go anywhere else?

The smart home has its own walled gardens, and like the internet ones they’ll have to go. As Meagher says, “the market has already started to recognise that consumers will not want to stand on the doorstep opening the door with one app, controlling the heating with another and so on.”

Getting smarter

In addition to multiple standards, there are multiple ways for devices to connect to one another. Wi-Fi is currently ubiquitous, but it’s too complex and power-hungry for smaller devices.

To date smaller smart home devices have used low power mesh networking based on a different wireless standard, 802.15.4.

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The big names here are ZigBee (which powers the likes of Hue) and ZWave (which is used by firms such as ADT). ZWave is proprietary – to use it, devices need to include Sigma’s radio chips – but ZigBee is more open and more flexible.

ZigBee became even more attractive this year, when at CES 2016 the ZigBee Alliance announced a partnership with Thread. Thread aims to create a standard protocol – like the internet’s TCP/IP – for smart home devices, and its members include Google, ARM, Samsung and Qualcomm. Thread, like ZigBee, is based on 802.15.4.

The thread is all about the connection; the software sits on top of it and could be Google’s Weave, ZigBee’s software or anybody else’s. It’s like web browsers: whether you use Chrome or Firefox, you’re talking TCP/IP.

Google’s backing gives Thread a lot of weight – with Android on phones, the Brillo operating system on simpler devices, Thread communications and Weave tying everything together, it’s a compelling system for device manufacturers – but there’s another standard emerging, called HaLow.

That’s the Wi-Fi Alliance’s name for the 802.11ah standard, which uses lower frequencies than traditional Wi-Fi for longer range and lower power consumption.

Remember when Bluetooth LE sparked a boom in connected devices for smartphones? The Wi-Fi Alliance is hoping that HaLow is the milkshake that brings all the boys to the yard, where the boys are smart devices and the yard is your router.

Meagher explains that manufacturers are working on what he calls “curated technologies”, where the smart home systems use whatever technology they like best but plug into the key ecosystems such as Weave or HomeKit.

 

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“The good news for consumers is that if they buy into any of the ecosystems using curated technology, the devices are usually compatible across all platforms so the only expense to move between service providers might be a new hub,” he says.

That hub might be a brand new router – routers that offer Thread or HaLow support alongside the normal Wi-Fi channels are on the horizon – or it might be a dongle that plugs into an older router to enable specific smart home technologies.

Hub-aaagh hub-aaagh

Updating your smart home with a new hub sounds like a great idea, and it’s how Philips brought HomeKit compatibility to its ZigBee-based Hue lights: the new hub made your existing bulbs HomeKit compatible.

Unfortunately, the upgrade also showed the dark side of smart home systems when a firmware update removed compatibility for cheaper third party bulbs. Philips said it was due to security and performance concerns, but the internet thought something more sinister was going on.

For Meagher, shutting out other products is a move that can only hurt. “The more difficult they make it for customers to scale Philips products and force them to interoperate with other platforms, the less they will ultimately sell. Like a lot of manufacturers, they need to decide whether they are a service provider or a device supplier.

 

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Philips has since promised to reverse the update, and its “Friends of Hue” programme will certify non-Philips bulbs as safe to use with Hue systems. Google has a similar programme, Works With Nest, which turned the closed Nest system into a home automation hub for third-party devices.

One of our own concerns is of backing the wrong horse by choosing the wrong platform – which could be an expensive mistake. Meagher recommends “those with the most labels” detailing the smart home standards they support; ultimately, “devices with open APIs using the mainstream technologies will win the day.”

Samsung agrees: speaking at the Samsung European Forum, Rory O’Neill said that he wanted to see the industry “breaking down any barriers to entry and keeping things simple… we have to use common standards so things will work together.”

We’re some way from smart home systems where we can control absolutely everything with a single word to Siri, Cortana, Alexa or Google Now, and the likelihood of a single home automation standard rising to encompass everything seems rather unlikely.

However, manufacturers are increasingly aware that compatibility matters, and there’s every chance that devices will emerge that support Apple’s HomeKit, Google’s Weave and the wider Thread simultaneously.

Courtesy: techradar

World’s Fastest Quantum Random Number Generator Unveiled in China

Quantum cryptography can only become successful if somebody can generate quantum random numbers at the rate of tens of billions per second. Now Chinese physicists say they’ve done it.

Privacy is one of society’s most valued qualities. The ability to send private messages and to carry out financial transactions without fear of being monitored lies at the heart of many government, military, and commercial activities.

One technology that allows this to be done perfectly is quantum cryptography, and it requires a powerful source of random numbers.

But there’s a problem. Random numbers are surprisingly hard to generate in large quantities. One of the best sources is the quantum world which is fundamentally random. But the best commercially available quantum random number generators produce them only at a rate of a million per second, far short of the many tens of billions per second that many applications require.

Today, that looks to have changed thanks to the work of You-Qi Nie at the Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences in China and a few pals who say they have built a quantum random number generator capable of producing 68 billion of them per second. They say the technique should remove an important barrier preventing governments, the military, and the rest of us from benefiting from perfect security.

Random numbers have to be unpredictable and irreproducible, and this rules out generating them using ordinary algorithmic processes, which tend to be both predictable and reproducible. Computer scientists have long known that programs claiming to produce random numbers usually turn out to do nothing of the sort.

Instead, physicists have turned to natural processes to produce random numbers. For example, turbulence is thought to be entirely random so measuring that turbulent effects that the atmosphere has on a laser beam is one method of producing random numbers, albeit a rather slow one and one that could easily be biased by environmental factors.

That’s why physicists prefer to use quantum processes to generate random numbers. These are thought to be random in principle and fundamental in nature which is important because it means there cannot be some underlying physical process that might introduce predictability.

Physicists have tried lots of ways to produce quantum random numbers. One of the most popular is to send a stream of photons through a beam splitter, which transmits or reflects them with a 50 percent probability. Simply counting the photons that are reflected or transmitted produces a random sequence of 0s and 1s.

That’s exactly how the world’s only commercially available quantum random number generator works. But its speed is limited to about one megabit per second. That’s because single photon detectors cannot count any faster than this.

Recently, physicists have begun to mess about with a new technique.  This arises from the two different ways photons are generated inside lasers. The first is by stimulated emission, which is a predictable process producing photons that all have the same phase. The second is spontaneous emission, an entirely random quantum process. These photons are usually treated as noise and are in any case swamped when the laser is operating at full tilt.

However, spontaneous emission becomes significant when the laser operates at its threshold level, before stimulated emission really takes hold. If it is possible to measure these photons, then it may be possible to exploit their random nature.

You-Qi and co have done exactly that. These guys have created a highly sensitive interferometer that converts fluctuations in the phase of photons into intensity changes. That’s important because intensity changes can be easily measured using conventional photodetectors that work at much higher rates than single photon detectors.

That has allowed the team to measure these random changes and digitize them at a rate of 80 Gbps. This data stream then has to be cleaned up in various ways to remove any biases introduced by the measurement process.

But after this, the team is still able to produce random numbers at the rate of 68 Gbps.

There’s no way of guaranteeing that any sequence of numbers is perfectly random but there are a set of standard tests that can spot certain kinds of patterns, if they are present. You-Qi and co say their random number sequences pass all these tests with flying colors.

The end result is the fastest quantum random number generator ever produced by some margin.

That’s impressive work that should prepare the ground for some mainstream applications using quantum cryptography. “Our demonstration shows that high-speed quantum random number generators are ready for practical usage, say You-Qi and co. “Our quantum random number generator could be a practical approach for some specific applications such as QKD systems with a clock rate of over 10 GHz.”

In other words, many organizations that need a practical system that offers secrecy guaranteed by the laws of quantum physics may not have much longer to wait.

Solar Impulse: Global flight completes first leg

The solar-powered aircraft, Solar Impulse 2 , which aims to fly around the globe without a drop of fuel, made a historic night landing in Ahmedabad in Gujarat late on Tuesday.

The aircraft successfully landed in the western state of Gujarat at 11:25 pm local time (1755 GMT) to complete its first major sea leg and to finish its second leg in a little less than 16 hours after taking off from the Omani capital Muscat.

View image on Twitter

After the plane landed at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad, members in the control room applauded Pilot Bertrand Piccard, who was at the controls on the 1,465 kilometre (910 mile) journey over the Arabian Sea.

According to the Swiss embassy, the Solar Impulse will be in Ahmedabad for four days during which “several events are planned on the theme of renewable energy and sustainable development”.

Capable of flying over oceans for several days and nights in a row, Si2 will travel 35,000 km around the world in 25 days over the course of roughly five months. It will pass over the Arabian Sea, India, Myanmar, China and the Pacific Ocean.

The aircraft is also likely to hover above the river Ganga in Varanasi to spread the message of cleanliness and clean energy.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday congratulated the the team behind the Si2 project and wished them every success in their historic attempt.

“We take inspiration from their example and efforts to harness the power of multilateralism to address climate change and to inspire the world to achieve sustainable development through …sustainable energy and renewable energy,” he said.

“With their daring and determination, we can all fly into a new sustainable future,” he added.

The Si2 is an airborne laboratory and the largest aircraft of its kind ever built, with a weight equivalent to that of a small car.

With a wing covered by more than 17,000 solar cells, the plane can fly up to an altitude of 8,500 metres at speeds ranging from 50 to 100 km per hour.

After travelling around the globe, Si2 is expected to arrive back in Abu Dhabi in late July or early August.

Source: Zee news

Google’s Vint Cerf warns of ‘digital Dark Age’

Vint Cerf, a “father of the internet”, says he is worried that all the images and documents we have been saving on computers will eventually be lost.

Currently a Google vice-president, he believes this could occur as hardware and software become obsolete.

He fears that future generations will have little or no record of the 21st Century as we enter what he describes as a “digital Dark Age”.

He arrived at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science stylishly dressed in a three-piece suit. This iconic figure, who helped define how data packets move around the net, is possibly the only Google employee who wears a tie.

I felt obliged to thank him for the internet, and he bowed graciously. “One is glad to be of service,” he said humbly.

His focus now is to resolve a new problem that threatens to eradicate our history.

Our life, our memories, our most cherished family photographs increasingly exist as bits of information – on our hard drives or in “the cloud”. But as technology moves on, they risk being lost in the wake of an accelerating digital revolution.

“I worry a great deal about that,” Mr Cerf told me. “You and I are experiencing things like this. Old formats of documents that we’ve created or presentations may not be readable by the latest version of the software because backwards compatibility is not always guaranteed.

“And so what can happen over time is that even if we accumulate vast archives of digital content, we may not actually know what it is.”

‘Digital vellum’

Vint Cerf is promoting an idea to preserve every piece of software and hardware so that it never becomes obsolete – just like what happens in a museum – but in digital form, in servers in the cloud.

If his idea works, the memories we hold so dear could be accessible for generations to come.

“The solution is to take an X-ray snapshot of the content and the application and the operating system together, with a description of the machine that it runs on, and preserve that for long periods of time. And that digital snapshot will recreate the past in the future.”

Computers

A company would have to provide the service, and I suggested to Mr Cerf that few companies have lasted for hundreds of years. So how could we guarantee that both our personal memories and all human history would be safeguarded in the long run?

“Plainly not,” Vint Cerf laughed. “But I think it is amusing to imagine that it is the year 3000 and you’ve done a Google search. The X-ray snapshot we are trying to capture should be transportable from one place to another. So, I should be able to move it from the Google cloud to some other cloud, or move it into a machine I have.

“The key here is when you move those bits from one place to another, that you still know how to unpack them to correctly interpret the different parts. That is all achievable if we standardise the descriptions.

“And that’s the key issue here – how do I ensure in the distant future that the standards are still known, and I can still interpret this carefully constructed X-ray snapshot?”

The concept of what Mr Cerf refers to as “digital vellum” has been demonstrated at Carnegie Mellon University.

Source: BBC News

Cyber crime sees 40 per cent increase in India !!

Going by the latest statistics released by the Home Ministry, 62,189 cyber crime incidents happened in 2014. This number too is just restricted till June. 71,780 cases of cyber fraud were reported in 2013 and 22,060 were reported in the year before . This increase translates to a 40 per cent increase in the rate of crimes of this nature.

Publication of obscene content, hacking, credit card and bank fraud are just some of the examples of cyber crime. Other acts included in this are scanning, phishing, spamming as well as code and website intrusion.

A Home Ministry official has confirmed that cyber crime grew in India by 40 per cent, according to a report in PTI. The report also states that due to it being a rapidly growing economy, India will be vulnerable to such attacks on a local as well as international scale, more than ever before.

The report goes on to state that cyber attacks seem to be coming from a wide range of countries such as Europe, Brazil, US, China, Pakistan, Turkey, Algeria, and UAE. Attackers usually masquerade themselves so it becomes difficult to point out the source of the attack.

Home minister, Rajnath Singh recently said in Parliament that due to a growing risk of indoctrination of the youth on the internet by terror outfits such as ISIS, increased cyber-monitoring is the need of the hour.

Source: Indiatoday

India to Provide Software, Mirrors for Largest-Ever Telescope!!

India will provide software, vital mirrors and control systems to build the “largest-ever” telescope as part of a global project involving the United States, Canada, China and Japan.

India to Provide Software, Mirrors for Largest-Ever Telescope

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will be located just below the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, at an elevation of 4,050 – half the size of Mt Everest. This is one of the astronomy sites, which witnesses a large number of clear nights and stable atmosphere.

It will be the world’s largest optical-infrared advanced ground-based observatory that will operate in optical and mid-infrared wavelengths.

It will be also be equipped with the latest innovations in precision control, phased array of mirror segmented mirror, made up of 492 individual hexagonal segments, each 1.44 m in size. Precisely aligned, these segments will work as a single reflective surface of 30 m diameter.

India’s role will be primarily of creating control systems and software that keep the mirrors aligned and collects the data. India will contribute around 92 polished mirrors.

Source: NDTV

Spider-style sensor detects vibrations

By copying the design of an organ found in spiders’ legs, engineers in South Korea have built a sensor that can detect miniscule vibrations.

wandering spider

It works because the vibrations open and close cracks in a very thin layer of platinum, changing its conductivity.

A similar slit-based system is found inside the joints of some spiders.

The team reports in the journal Nature that when they stick their sensor to the neck or wrist, it can read out what someone says – or their pulse.

The organ in the spiders’ legs that detects these incredibly faint vibrations is made up of a series of slits. It is called the “lyriform organ” because the slits vary in length, like the strings of a lyre.

“We tried to mimic the cracked shape of the organ,” Prof Choi said.

To do so, they placed a very thin layer of the metal platinum on top of a flexible polymer, and bent it.

They had to use just the right thickness of platinum, and bend it in just the right way, to get a pattern of parallel cracks that would act as a vibration sensor.

“Initially we failed many times,” said Prof Choi.

“It took several months… but finally we worked out how ultra-high sensitivity could be derived from a controlled crack formation.”

Source: BBC News

Mars rover uncovers stronger potential for life

In the search for environments where life might have started on Mars, the Curiosity rover has found the standing water, the energy and the key elements with the right atomic charges.

Anevenly-layered rock in a pattern typical of a lake-floor sedimentary deposit on the planet Mars is seen in this photo dated December 9, 2014. This discovery bolsters evidence that the planet is suitable for microbial life, scientists said onMonday.Reuters File Photo.

As a result, scientists have concluded that at least some of the planet must have been habitable long ago. But the period when all conditions were right was counted in hundreds to thousands of years, a very small opening by origin-of-life standards.

That has now changed. John P Grotzinger of Caltech, the project scientist for the mission, reported on Monday that the rover’s yearlong trek to Mount Sharp provided strong new evidence that Gale Crater had large lakes, rivers and deltas, on and off, for millions to tens of millions of years.

Moreover, the team concluded, numerous deltalike and lakelike formations detected by orbiting satellites are almost certainly the dried remains of substantial ancient lakes and deltas. None of this proves that life existed on the planet, but the case for an early Mars that was ripe and ready for life, has grown stronger.

“As a science team, Mars is looking very attractive to us as a habitable planet,” Grotzinger said in an interview.

“Not just sections of Gale Crater and not just a handful of locations, but at different times around the globe.”

Source: deccanherald.com