Solutions drive growth in smart cities, not technology

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Smart city is the new buzzword and everyone is trying to decipher what it means to be smart. While this has become a talking point across India and abroad, there is actually not much clarity as to what it means to be a smart city.

Ever so often, it is considered to be a city with technological innovations and solutions. In fact, what a smart city should be about is attaining a high quality of life for all residents, especially the most vulnerable. Technology, then, becomes the means to the end, rather than the end itself. Thus, we should define and understand smart cities as those which are innovating for solutions to improve quality of life.

Defined like this, a smart city won’t be synonymous to the cities with smart light poles or CCTV cameras. Rather, these innovations will be seen as contributors to improving the safety and people’s access to the street. If a smart city is concerned with innovating to improve safety and inclusion, the light pole and the camera will be seen as part of the solution, rather than the solution itself.

The Indian government launched the Smart Cities Mission in 2016, with the aim of including 100 cities in the mission as a model for other cities to eventually adopt. The official smart city document states that there is no single definition of a smart city, but it does use the terms sustainability and inclusion. These are important elements and need to be understood to give smartness a wider connotation.

Sustainability, in the context of cities, refers to building systems that can respond continuously to needs and problems, while inclusion accepts that a diverse set of residents need to be catered to in the process of city development. The 100 cities were chosen in four rounds and the projects implemented are estimated to eventually impact the lives of nearly a 100 crore people.

Cities had to compete to be part of the mission and while Gurugram participated in the competition, it did not eventually get chosen as one of the 100 cities. While this means that the city will not get earmarked funds from the Centre for developing smart solutions, Gurugram can still work towards finding smart and innovative solutions to address key urban challenges. The areas identified under the mission include e-governance, waste management, energy management, urban mobility and other issues. It is clear that Gurugram has great challenges in each of these areas as it has grown in a largely unplanned and haphazard manner.

While the private sector has played an important role in addressing civic and urban problems in the city, many of these core issues of waste management, mobility or energy management are issues of governance and which need strategic responses from the city government.

The Municipal Corporation in Gurugram (MCG) is fairly new body set up in 2008, the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) has been set up only last year. Governance mechanisms in the city are in the process of being developed need to be made much more robust and participatory.

A few months ago the GMDA facilitated a workshop to get citizen input into the liveability index. Building such an index will provide a good roadmap and indicators to plan projects and innovations in the city. As Gurugram aspires to become a smart city, it needs to be able to be smart and innovative in order to help its resident achieve a better quality of life, rather than smartness as a goal in itself.


After CBSE introduces artificial intelligence paper, schools include to curriculum, hire faculty

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An ‘intelligent traffic light’ system, which promises to reduce commute time, an automated walking stick for the visually impaired, and an ‘Alexa’ type machine, which acts as a counsellor robot for students, are some of the projects that the bright young minds of the city have created. These are not projects of graduation students but a sample of work that students in city schools have created through scratch programming and machine learning — a branch of artificial intelligence. While some schools in the city are already encouraging students to warm up to newer ways of technology, others will soon be joining the bandwagon by introducing AI as an elective subject.

While several schools in the city have been using AI and technology specifically for students’ projects, others have plans of incorporating AI as a new addition to the timetable. This comes after the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) recently decided to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) as a skill subject for students of classes 8, 9, and 10 — a move that is aimed at making students well-versed in newer technology.

Suncity School, Sector 54, will be putting in place a three-tier AI course for students of classes 8, 9, and 10. “We are in the process of incorporating AI in our curriculum for the upcoming academic session. Categorisation of the syllabus, and review of books for the same is currently underway. While students of class 8 will be introduced to the basic level of AI, classes 9 and 10 will be familiarized with subsequently higher levels,” said Deepa Gandhi, head, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) department, Suncity School.

Gandhi added that AI was a huge draw among students, and the school was expecting many of them to opt for it. “AI is in demand these days. Most students find it interesting. So far, students had been making projects through coding and other applications. With AI as a new subject in the timetable, they’ll be encouraged to explore the field in greater depth,” added Gandhi.

While some schools already have ICT teachers who will be teaching AI to students, other schools said that they’d be opening vacancies for specialists once the syllabus is finalised. Schools are currently in the process of the finalising the syllabus with the help of IT experts and teachers.

Students in Heritage Xperiential Learning School, Sector 62, are already using AI as part of the school’s Maker-Centered pedagogy. The school has adopted a comprehensive digital literacy curriculum, which is mapped from classes 1 to 12 on data sciences, AI and machine learning. Students from class 6 onwards are allowed to program their own AI machines. “We believe that by giving students a chance to design with AI tools, they will develop a strong understanding of how AI products such as Alexa are programmed and the process of machine learning,” said Noora Noushad, design and technology head of the school.

Using the concepts of machine learning, students of the school have developed projects such as an automated walking stick for the blind that works as a proximity detector for the visually impaired.

Shiv Nadar School has also been involving students in AI. The school introduces students to programming and machine learning from class 7 onwards. “We start focusing on technology-based learning and machine learning from class 7, and by the time the student is in a higher class, he/she is given a project to work on that will benefit society. Our students have designed an intelligent traffic light system using Machine learning, which is a branch of artificial intelligence,” said Mark Nelson, head, IT department Shiv Nadar School.

Nelson, however, added that mere introduction of AI wasn’t enough. “While the CBSE initiative is welcome, it is equally important to have a context in place. CBSE and schools need to offer a context in which AI can be used. AI can be connected to history, social science, and even biology. This understanding needs to be developed,” added Nelson.


How bad is Washington at technology?

‘I am a professional at technology,” President Trump told a pool of reporters on Thursday.

Suppress, if you can (for I cannot), the memory of Trump’s recent battle royale with an umbrella, and this claim still strains belief — even by Trumpian standards.

For one thing, I do not claim to be a professional at technology and can still confidently tell you I would never be mistaken for one by referring to myself as a “professional at technology.”

For another, [gestures broadly at Washington]. They don’t have those there.


Apple AirPower Wireless Charger Misses 2018 Release Window

Apple AirPower Wireless Charger Misses 2018 Release Windowharger, AirPower, which was supposed to let iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods owners wirelessly charge all three devices at the same time, missed its release window in 2018, yet again.

Apple had announced a product at its September 2017 iPhone event called “AirPower”. Apple had said it would launch in 2018, but it never did. It’s a rare miss for Apple, which typically has a good track record of following through on product announcements, CNBC reported late on Monday.

The AirPower is rumoured to have faced internal development challenges due to which the Cupertino-based giant could not bring the product to market as smoothly as expected.

“During each of its events this year (2018) – one in March where it announced new iPads, its developer conference in June, the annual iPhone event in September and a Mac event in October – Apple failed to mention AirPower or its status,” the report added.

The tech giant also stopped mentioning AirPower in its website after the September 2018 launch of the latest iPhone models.

Famed Apple writer John Gruber, at that time, suggested that the AirPower was facing overheating problems and may have been “scrubbed” that means AirPower was getting too hot while trying to charge three devices at the same time, the CNBC report added.

The iPhone-maker has also remained tight-lipped about the pricing of the product.

At the end of last year, famed Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo seemed confident that the product could be released in the first quarter, according to 9to5Mac.


China’s Didi Launches Credit, Crowdfunding Services in Diversification Push

China's Didi Launches Credit, Crowdfunding Services in Diversification Push

China’s Didi Chuxing has launched a suite of financial products, including crowdfunding and lending, as it continues to diversify outside the ride-hailing business following a year of safety scandals.

The move comes on the heels of a company-wide reorganisation announced in December, which was aimed at improving safety on its platform as well as operating efficiency.

The new products were tested in 10 cities and have now been introduced nationwide, the firm said on Wednesday. They include wealth management, credit and lending and crowd-funding for critical illnesses, all aimed at short-term, temporary workers.

The products bring Didi into competition with investor Alibaba Group Holding and technology peer Tencent Holdings.

They also come as rivals including other Alibaba-backed firms have been making a renewed push in a ride-hailing market dominated by Didi, aiming to tap unmet demand brought about by regulatory change.

Didi itself is facing new rules and increased scrutiny from authorities after a series of high-profile safety incidents, including the murders of two female Didi passengers in separate cases.

As part of a subsequent national audit of ride-hailing firms, the Ministry of Transport said Didi was “out-of-control”, and pledged to tighten driver recruitment standards.

The firm is already short of drivers in major cities, since regulations in 2017 curbed the number of eligible applicants.

Didi, whose backers include US peer Uber Technologies, Apple, and Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp, is reshuffling its domestic business as it expands globally with new services in South America and Australia.


Google Wins US Approval for Radar-Based Hand Motion Sensor

Google Wins US Approval for Radar-Based Hand Motion Sensor

Alphabet’s Google unit won approval from US regulators to deploy a radar-based motion sensing device known as Project Soli.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said in an order late on Monday that it would grant Google a waiver to operate the Soli sensors at higher power levels than currently allowed. The FCC said the sensors can also be operated aboard aircraft.

The FCC said the decision “will serve the public interest by providing for innovative device control features using touchless hand gesture technology.”

A Google spokeswoman did not immediately comment on Tuesday, citing the New Year’s Day holiday.

The FCC said the Soli sensor captures motion in a three-dimensional space using a radar beam to enable touchless control of functions or features that can benefit users with mobility or speech impairments.

Google says the sensor can allow users to press an invisible button between the thumb and index fingers or a virtual dial that turns by rubbing a thumb against the index finger.

The company says that “even though these controls are virtual, the interactions feel physical and responsive” as feedback is generated by the haptic sensation of fingers touching.

Google says the virtual tools can approximate the precision of natural human hand motion and the sensor can be embedded in wearables, phones, computers and vehicles.

In March, Google asked the FCC to allow its short-range interactive motion-sensing Soli radar to operate in the 57- to 64-GHz frequency band at power levels consistent with European Telecommunications Standards Institute standards.

Facebook raised concerns with the FCC that the Soli sensors operating in the spectrum band at higher power levels might have issues coexisting with other technologies.

After discussions, Google and Facebook jointly told the FCC in September that they agreed the sensors could operate at higher than currently allowed power levels without interference but at lower levels than previously proposed by Google.

Facebook told the FCC in September that it expected a “variety of use cases to develop with respect to new radar devices, including Soli.”

The Soli devices can be operated aboard aircraft but must still comply with Federal Aviation Administration rules governing portable electronic devices.


Huawei Y9 (2019) India Launch Teased by Amazon, Registrations Begin

Huawei Y9 (2019) India Launch Teased by Amazon, Registrations Begin

Huawei Y9 (2019) was announced in October this year, but didn’t announce the pricing and availability back then. Two months later, the smartphone has been teased on Amazon India, confirming its arrival in the market soon. The e-commerce giant is taking registrations of interest, and has made the ‘Notify Me’ button live. The key highlights of the Huawei Y9 (2019) smartphone include 6.5-inch display with a notch, dual rear and front cameras, Kirin 710 SoC, 4,000mAh battery, GPU Turbo, and Fingerprint 4.0 identification technology.

Huawei Y9 (2019) price, availability, design

Huawei Y9 (2019) price in India is not yet known, but the smartphone will fall in the budget category, given its specifications. Availability has also not been announced as of yet, but registrations for those who want notifications about the smartphone have started on Amazon India.

The smartphone is seen sporting a display notch up front to house two front camera sensors, and there’s little to no bezel on all the other sides. The back houses the dual camera setup again aligned vertically, a rear fingerprint scanner, and is seen sporting gradient finished rear panel.

Huawei Y9 (2019) specifications

The dual-SIM Huawei Y9 (2019) runs on EMUI 8.2 based on Android 8.1 Oreo. It sports a 6.5-inch (1080×2340 pixels) FullView Display with a 3D curved design, and a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. It is powered by the Kirin 710 processor and comes with AI Power 7.0. it comes in 3GB RAM + 64GB storage and 4GB RAM + 64GB storage models. There’s no clarity on which variant will come to India.

In terms of optics, the smartphone features a dual rear camera setup with a 13-megapixel main sensor with f/1.8 aperture and a 2-megapixel depth sensor with f/2.4 aperture. The rear setup supports LED flash, HDR, and PDAF. It also sports a dual camera setup at the front, with 16-megapixel main sensor with f/1.0 aperture and another 2-megapixel sensor with f/2.4 aperture. Both the camera setups are claimed to come with some AI-based features.

The Huawei Y9 (2019) comes with Fingerprint 4.0 identification technology that is claimed to unlock the smartphone in 0.3 seconds. The upgraded fingerprint technology also includes fingerprint navigation that enables users to manage all the notifications with one key. It packs a 4,000mAh battery, and connectivity options include Bluetooth, Micro USB, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi Hot Spot, and GPS / AGPS / Glonass. Sensors on board include fingerprint sensor, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, digital compass, gravity sensor, and gyroscope.


Black Mirror Season 5 Delayed Because of Bandersnatch

Black Mirror Season 5 Delayed Because of Bandersnatch

The buzz created by Black Mirror’s year-end special episode, Bandersnatch was huge. The ability to choose the fate of the protagonist ‘Stefan’, by making active decisions throughout the episode was quite groundbreaking for a mainstream TV show. But it seems like that was just a one-off, since the season 5 of Black Mirror is no where close to release. The funny part is that Bandersnatch is to blame for this. Moreover the series seems to be headed in a more optimistic direction in the coming season.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the series executive producer and co-creator Annabel Jones has confirmed that the ‘enormous’ effort and creative time that went into the production of Bandersnatch ended up pushing back the fifth season of Black Mirror.

No confirmation has been given by either Black Mirror’s producers or Netflix about when exactly in 2019 we’ll get to see the next season of the series. In the past the series has been released close to a year apart with Season 3 releasing in October 2016 and Season 4 in December 2017. Though Bandersnatch does follow this timeline, it’s uncertain how long we’ll have to wait for the rest of the season. It’s also unclear how many episodes will be there in the coming season, since Black Mirror had moved from a 3-episode season to a 6-episode season in 2017.

  • You Can Play Bandersnatch Game ‘Nohzdyve’, With a Bit of Work

Moreover, when Black Mirror returns it may have a bit of a change in attitude. New York Times quoted series co-producer Charlie Brooker admitting “We’re doing more optimistic episodes and stories, rather than just dystopian and negative ones,”. Considering the paranoia around technology these days, this may just be refreshing.

It’s also worth noting that though Bandersnatch has implemented interactivity extremely well, it was not the first Netflix show to do so. That would be ‘Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale’.