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Autonomous Cars—Redefining Moving Around

In this age of innovations, one of the emerging technologies that will have a huge impact on society is the advent of the autonomous car. An autonomous car is a self-sufficient car that can navigate and manage an entire trip on its own without any input from humans.

Although phrases like ‘self-driving’, ‘automated’, and ‘driverless’ are used interchangeably, the distinction lies in their level of automation. The difference between automatic and autonomous lies in the degree of human intervention. According to SAE convention, level 5 automated cars can be called autonomous or driverless, whereas cars at level 4 or below are only self-driving. A fully autonomous car would decide on destination, routes, and even control and manage the lanes whereas a self-driving car would simply follow given instructions regarding the destination and route.

Google’s self driving car Waymo

Many top auto-makers are taking major steps towards the development of self-driving cars. Google’s self-driving car, Waymo, has attracted a lot of attention. It comes equipped with a laser range finder, LIDAR, which is a rotating rooftop camera, and for near vision, a front camera. It also has a radar mounted on the bumper and ultrasonic sensors on both rear wheels. Not lagging behind the competition, car giants Tesla and Ford are also launching their respective products on this front. Uber has launched self-driving cars and hybrid Ford Fusions around Steel City, Pittsburgh. It has sought co-operation from local officials and law enforcement concerning their testing in the city, keeping the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers as its top priority. Major progress is taking place in the direction of fully autonomous cars.

Uber’s self-driving cabs in the city of Pittsburgh

The impact of self-driving cars is spread across multiple spheres. Socially, it can have a very high impact on people’s lives. For people with special needs, it can open up a whole new pool of opportunities in the direction of independence. For the elderly, it can mean accessibility to the outside world for those who are otherwise cooped in their homes. It provides a new sense of security when the safety of women is concerned. For fuel economy, automation would mean a lowered carbon emission level and increased fuel savings. With no human intervention, driving would be more consistent. There will be smooth lane switching, parallel parking, speed will be controlled, and traffic management will become smoother.

Inside of a self-driving car

On the flip side, there are problems that can crop up with this technology, as well. With regard to implementation, the major issue is that the technologies used in these vehicles are extremely costly, at least as of now. Even though reports claim that Google’s investment in Waymo has cut down the high-end LIDAR price to $7500, it is still a hefty price tag for a single component. Unfortunately, there’s no way that the middle class will be able to afford these anytime soon.

With the self-driving technology relying heavily on software, there is always a risk of malicious hackers breaking the security wall and gaining access to the car. In a world where the Internet is all-pervasive, nothing is absolutely safe, including this technology. The issue of unemployment certainly relates itself to the topic as it will cost jobs. Experts are concerned about an increase in cyber-attacks due to dissatisfied people who would lose their jobs.

Manufacturing of a self-driving car by GM

Self-driving cars also raise some very important ethical questions. One of the biggest is ‘what if there comes a situation where casualties cannot be avoided?’ For instance, a situation might arise when an autonomous car may have to make a decision between hitting a person who is walking on the footpath and crashing into another car full of passengers. Will it choose the greater good, or will it endanger more lives in order to save one? Also, if the car is programmed to sacrifice the occupant during an inevitable crash, would anyone invest in it?

Another topic that needs to be addressed is accountability. Between the manufacturers and consumers, who will be held responsible for it? Insurance companies can take advantage of any loopholes, making the lives of common people difficult.

Amidst all these debates, arguments, and counter-arguments, this technology is growing slowly and steadily, battling new challenges every day. As artificial intelligence is slowly spreading its branches, this particular field has given it a new direction. While it certainly will take its time to gain a strong foothold, this might just revolutionise transportation in the years to come.




Augmented Reality—The Next Big Idea

Kshitij Varshney | IE-E&C

Imagine bubbles floating before your eyes, filled with new information about things you see on the street. Science fiction? No. What we are dealing with in the twenty-first century is Augmented Reality and, one day, it will be as routine as browsing the World Wide Web.

Technology is like our mood; it changes even before we realise it. Video games have been entertaining us for nearly 30 years – we have grown up seeing this technology develop. Graphics generated then are nothing compared to what we see now and are pushing the barriers of photorealism. One such technology which manipulates real-time scenarios is ‘Augmented Reality’. Simply put, it enhances the real-world environment by the addition of virtual images generated by a computer. Haven’t television networks been doing that with graphics for decades? You may have come across this question multiple times. The truth is, augmented reality is more advanced than any technology we have seen on television. This technology blurs the line between reality and computer-generated environments by enhancing what we see, hear, feel, and smell.

Courtesy: IE-E&C

From an algorithmic standpoint, the field is divided into two major areas:

  1. Marker-based: The computer processes artificial markers in the real world environment (For example: Barcodes, QR codes)
  2. Positional-based: It is based on where you are located and the objects of interest that are relative to you. The computer then superimposes its images on top of the real-world images gathered. The computer doesn’t need to do much image processing; except for superimposing the generated image on top of the camera image.

The type of ‘reality’ you are most likely to encounter uses a wide range of sensors, computer components, and display devices to create the illusion of virtual objects in the real world. Thanks to the popularity of smartphones having all the necessary components, they are the primary and most commercial example of how augmented reality can be used.

Pokemon Go is one application of Augmented Reality and Geo-fencing for satisfactory game-play. Geo-fencing is essentially a feature that uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to define geographical boundaries.

The Online Sensation- Pokemon | Courtesy: IE-E&C

The device looks for a target and the Augmented Reality application recognises it via the camera, processes the image and augments it with pictures and sound. For example, you may see a movie poster spring to life and play a trailer for the film. Now, as long as you look at the poster through the ‘window’ of the display, you can see the augmented version of a real scenario. By using smart algorithms, the device can keep the augmented elements aligned with the image of the real world.

Using a smartphone or tablet computer as a ‘magic window’ into the augmented world is one way we can relay this digital information to our eyes. But, there are many other ways to achieve this. Digital imagery can be directly projected onto physical objects. This is known as projection mapping and can be used for a striking effect. For example, the Dyadic Mano-a-Mano uses projectors and Microsoft Kinect sensors to provide the user with 3D digital imagery projected directly onto the environment. The user doesn’t need to wear equipment or use any device.

Augmented Reality in Everyday Life | Courtesy: IE-E&C

The two fields having maximum commercial development are education and gaming. The two biggest mainstream video game consoles- the X-box and Playstation, have included augmented reality capabilities for the last two generations. When you face both the camera and the screen, these implementations are more like augmented reality mirrors. You can see yourself ‘in’ the game and can interact with game characters that seem to be in the same room as you. Identifying the potential for augmented reality in education is simple. It is implemented in fields such as medicine where students can benefit from live 3D models. It is possible to use existing learning material (such as pages from a textbook) as targets for augmented reality.

Bringing a Textbook to Life | Courtesy: IE-E&C

When viewed through the lens of a smartphone, you can see the picture of an engine animate in an engineering book or a working 3D model of a beating heart that you can rotate by hand. In medicine, augmented reality can project information directly onto the body of a patient. For example, the ‘Vein Viewer System’ projects a real-time image of infra-red scans directly onto the patient’s skin. This allows the clinician to ‘see’ the veins directly. The uses in the military are also quite clear since soldiers wearing heads-up displays (HUDs) can see information tagged onto objects in the real world. Radar information, orders, or any other relevant sensor data can be obtained from devices on the network.

Mobile phones, especially the iPhone, use augmented reality applications which allow you to view computer-generated images that have been superimposed over the real world ones. An example of this is an application which helps you to find a restaurant; it does so by displaying restaurant signs/logos as you move in a particular direction.

Augmented reality is likely to worm its way into our daily lives. Nothing is stopping you from experiencing an augmented reality for yourself today. Just hop onto your smart phone’s App Store and search for ‘AR’ applications. Once wearable computers become more familiar, it won’t be strange to see people interacting and reacting to things that don’t really exist. The way we work with computing devices and think about the divide between digital and analogue reality are likely to change fundamentally, forever.




Get Fit – Wearable Technology in Fitness

Tejaswi Kumar | IE – E&C

Wearable Tech gear, which was always an inevitability in our distant future, has come to us sooner than we expected. Assisting human beings by increasing the convenience of performing day to day tasks, this form of technology is becoming a significant part of people’s lives. In a world where people spend most of their time sitting in front of screens, lethargy is not hard to come by. In this plague of fast foods, entertainment, and comfort, fitness takes a back seat. Needless to say, with the loss of fitness, surfeits of diseases creep in and harm the body. A technological solution to this growing challenge is Fitness Trackers.

Fitness bands are older than most of their wearable counterparts. The first wearable fitness trackers date all the way back to 1921 where they were used to measure pulse rate and blood pressure. Nearly a century later, we now have modern fitness bands which can differentiate between a mild jog and a wild sprint in addition to monitoring sleep. These fitness bands are a highly accurate alternative to fitness apps which utilize the smart phone’s inbuilt technology.

How do these bands actually work? How does a small wearable device track all our activities with such accuracy?

Fit-bits available today

At the heart of these fitness bands, are sensors that help track our daily activities.

Accelerometer
Most of today’s bands are fitted with a 3-axis Accelerometer. It consists of three -5g to +5g accelerometers mounted on one small block and can be used for a wide variety of experiments, both inside and outside the lab. In a fitness band, its function is to track the linear movement of the user in a 3-D space.

Gyroscope

Additionally, some of these are also fitted with a Gyroscope, which is a spinning disc wherein the axis of rotation has the freedom to take up any orientation of its own. According to the conservation of angular momentum, the orientation of the axis is unaffected by the tilting when it is rotated. This is the main reason for gyroscopes being used to track angular movement and orientation in space.

Altimeter
An altimeter or an altitude meter is used for keeping track of the altitude of an object above sea level. This measurement of altitude is known as altimetry. The determination of the altitude is done based on the measurement of atmospheric pressure. As the altitude increases, the atmospheric pressure decreases. The major components of the altimeter include Case, Aneroid and Mechanical Linkage Assembly (which is essentially a balloon made of very thin metal), dial and pointer assembly (which contains the readout information for the user), barometric dial and setting assembly. In fitness bands, it keeps a track on the number of stairs you have climbed or the height of the hill you just hiked.

Heart-rate Monitoring

The light sensor used for tracking heart rate.

This characteristic of the human body is measured by shining a light into the blood vessels present in the wrist. Every beat of the heart pumps blood through the body. The sensor works on this principle: if the light reflected is less, then there is a higher blood volume implying a quicker heart rate. Many fitness bands offer features – such as counting repetitions, tracking sleep, GPS, and tracking workout types – by deploying a combination of the sensors mentioned above. Some bands are also waterproof in order to track swimming as an exercise. Greater the number of sensors present in your tracker, the more accurate is its data. These sensors work in coordination with each other to enhance the tracker’s abilities.

The tracker supporting applications serve as icing on the cake with well displayed tracking data, competitive challenges, fantastic workout tips, and the ability to record intake of calories with a comprehensive food database. By connecting to the mobile app, some fitness bands support music control, call/SMS notifications, and silent vibrating alarms.




Digital Jewellery

Tejas Umesh | IE – E&C

Mobile computing is beginning to overcome barriers that otherwise tether us to our desks. In the next age of computing, it is predicted that wearable technology will defeat desktops and laptops. Researchers are looking to change the perception of jewellery being merely ornamental by producing iconic fashion jewellery with embedded intelligence i.e. digital jewellery.

Digital jewellery, a predictably unknown concept at this time, solves inconveniences such as identity and security badges. They may also contain personal information like passwords and bank-account information. According to howstuffworks.com, “The manufacturers place millions of transistors on a microchip which can be used to make minute devices that store tons of data.” Digital jewellery has the potential to be an all-in-one replacement for the many things we keep safely tucked away – credit cards, health insurance, and loose cash. It may so happen that in the future, cell-phones won’t retain its form at all. Instead of a single piece of hardware, it will be broken into various components and sold as digital jewellery. Each piece of jewellery will contain a part of the cell phone and together, the digital jewellery-cell phone will function as a regular one. This will also provide a model for creating separate modules.

One such example is IBM’s prototype wherein the components of the cell phone including a microphone, touch pad, and battery (among other things) will each be a wireless piece of digital jewellery and work together. It’s quite possible that Bluetooth connections will be predominant while newer and advanced connections may be developed to be used by this promising industrial product.

The segregated parts of IBM’s computerized-jewellery phone include earrings, necklaces, rings, and bracelets. Users will talk into the necklace’s embedded microphone, and the speakers attached to the earrings will be the phone’s receiver as claimed by IBM. They have also added that the bracelet will have a VGA display relaying real-time information to the user. Equipped with LED’s that flash to indicate an incoming call or a notification alert, the ring can be programmed to flash different colors to identify a particular caller and indicate the importance of the alert as well.

In the coming years, the mouse and the monitor could disappear almost entirely with companies like IBM and Charmed Technology working on prototypes to shrink the mouse to the size of a ring. IBM has claimed to be developing a mouse-ring that will use the company’s TrackPoint technology. One might probably be familiar with TrackPoint as the little button in the keyboard of many laptops. On top of this ring sits a little black ball that users will operate to move the cursor. This TrackPoint ring will be valuable when monitors shrink to the size of a watch (or even smaller).

Displays will no longer be restricted to desktops or wall-screens. Instead, one can wear the display like they do with a pair of sunglasses or a bracelet. Researchers are overcoming several obstacles facing these new wearable displays, the most important of which is the readability of information on these tiny devices. “The technical aspects of these devices consist of a screen, most likely comprising a 7-16 segment, dot matrix LED’s or other technologies such as electro-luminescent material. The display fits on the face of the device, which is enclosed in materials like plastic, metal, crystal etc.” External switches and buttons exist, and a micro-controller on a PCB with resistors as well as capacitors form the internal hardware of the device.

Charmed Technology is already marketing a modern eyepiece display as it has claimed. The company says that the device could be ready for the mainstream market within the next few years. They also said, “The Communicator can be used as an MP3 player, video player, and a cell phone as well. It runs on the company’s Linux-based Nanix operating system.”

While this technology hordes vast potential, only time will tell if it can successfully break into the market. The idea behind digital jewellery is to increase convenience in connectivity and always be accessible at any point in time. We are moving towards a generation of computers that are even more easily portable and miniaturized.