Science Decoded

Vernal Window

With spring around the corner, temperatures start to rise, ice melts away, and the world around us starts to blossom. Scientists refer to this transition from winter to the growing season as the “vernal window”, and a new study led by the University of New Hampshire, U.S., shows this window may be getting longer.

“Historically, the transition into spring is comparatively shorter than other seasons,” says Alexandra Contosta, a research assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Earth Systems Research Center. “You have snow melting and lots of water moving through aquatic systems, nutrients flushing through that water, soils warming up, and buds breaking on trees. Something striking happens after a very cold winter or when there’s been a lot of snow. Things seem to wake up all together, which is why spring seems to happen so quickly and can feel so dramatic.”

However, research shows that the extent of snow cover over the Northern Hemisphere has declined significantly in the past 30 years. Climate change is altering the timing and duration of the vernal window.

The future of driving

Toyota_Concept_i

The Concept-i is Toyota’s vision of a switchable autonomous car in 2030. Its talking point is Yui – an artificial intelligence system that is designed to ‘build a relationship’ with passengers. It doesn’t just sound far out, it is. Yui learns user preferences, pays attention to emotions and can communicate through light, sound and even touch (vibrations, that is)! The circular display on the dashboard is home for Yui.

Bosch technology

Auto component major Bosch’s advanced voice-control technology understands more words than any present system, allowing passengers to control in-car functions in natural spoken words. Also nearing production is the concept’s haptic feedback touchscreen. The system uses tiny vibrations to make buttons displayed on the screen feel ‘real’.

Honda NeuV

Privately-owned cars sit idle for 96 percent of the time. Honda’s NeuV (short for New Electric Urban Vehicle) concept allows owners to literally cash in on this idle time. The autonomous vehicle will, for a fee, make itself available to others who require transport and can even sell energy back to the electric grid.

Faraday Future

Tesla finally has a rival. Electric carmaker Faraday Future’s first production model, the FF91, was the biggest auto unveil at CES. The four-door SUV’s drivetrain makes the equivalent of 1,050hp and helps propel it from 0-100kph in all of 2.39sec! FF91 deliveries will commence in 2018.

BMW Holo Active

Think of BMW’s HoloActive Touch system as a touchscreen you don’t actually touch. The system uses reflections to project a hologram-like free-floating screen in the region of the centre console. A camera detects the driver’s hand movement and position of the fingertip on the virtual control surface to activate the relevant function.

Hyundai Mobility

Hyundai’s Mobility Vision takes the concept of a car as a living space to the next level. The car ‘docks’ with a house and effectively integrates with it for multiple uses. The car could share air-conditioning duties, provide auxiliary power supply and even feature ‘smart’ seats that could extend into the room to provide additional seating.

Top math award goes to Yves Meyer

The theory of wavelets he helped develop finds wide applications today

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has awarded the Abel Prize for 2017 to mathematician Yves Meyer of the Ecole normale superieure Paris-Saclay, France, for his “pivotal role in the development of mathematical theory of wavelets.” The theory of wavelets that he started and made fundamental contributions to finds wide-ranging applications from image processing to fluid dynamics.

Mathematician Shobha Madan, visiting professor at IISER Mohali, recalls how in the 1980s Meyer and his students were working on the “Calderon programme.” “Meyers recognised the connection with wavelets and then there was a boom in work in this area. I heard him lecture on this in 1984, in Ecole Polytechnique, and he was so enthusiastic, like a child, giving examples of how it came to him,” she says.

In an e-mail, Terence Tao, University of California, Los Angeles, described Meyer’s work thus: “One can use wavelets to efficiently break up many types of digital data (e.g. sound files, image files, or video files) into a small number of simple pieces, which one can then process for many further applications (e.g. image compression, fingerprint identification, solving physical equations such as the Navier-Stokes equations of fluid mechanics, or Einstein’s equations of general relativity)…”

Prizes in mathematics have often celebrated work in “pure mathematics” while this one talks about the ensuing applications as well. “The Abel prize has been in existence for about 14 years. In most of the previous years, the prize was awarded largely for very deep work in theoretical (or “pure”) mathematics, without much emphasis on how applicable the work would be outside of mathematics. This year’s award is notable for recognizing both Meyer’s contributions to pure mathematics (for instance, in solving some major open problems in harmonic analysis) and to applied mathematics,” says Professor Tao.

Google previews Android O

A new developer preview reveals that Google is working to upgrade user experience by better managing battery consumption, notifications, and customising the user interface.

The Google I/O may be due in May, but the tech giant has already teased developers with a preview of the latest iteration of its Android OS, with a focus on improved battery life and other upgrades. And it’s called O.

Speculation is rife online already as to whether the featured sweetmeat nickname will be Oreo, Orange Taffy, Oatmeal Cookie, Ontbijtkoek (a spiced cake from Holland), Obbattu (a sweetened flatbread from Andhra Pradesh), or some other dessert item yet unheralded.

 

The logo for Android’s latest iteration was revealed on Google’s developers blog on Tuesday.

VP of Engineering David Burke on Tuesday posted an update on Google’s Android Developers blog, sharing an overview of Android O. The major upgrades this time include…

Background limits

… which ensure that an app automatically goes inactive or reduces the breadth of its background tasks — and, therefore, its drain on the device’s battery and RAM — when the user is not using it actively. Background location limits help manage how often apps can detect the device’s location. Limits on “implicit broadcasts” ensure that background apps do not kick in as often whenever the phone is charging. Then, there are…

Notification channels

… which would allow developers to segregate between different kinds of notifications — news, text messages — to give the user better control over the chaotic barrage that can ensue because you are subscribed to hundreds of apps. Notifications could also be grouped by type, making them easier to browse through. There’s more in…

Autofill APIs

… which do the work of password managers that retain and suggest information we key in repetitively, like usernames and passwords, personal data, etc. Now, with platform support, users would be able to install an app, like any other, to manage their mundane information.

Picture-in-Picture display

… will let users multitask with their device — like answering a phone call while watching a video, or booking an Uber — a feature previously available only on Android TV. A new app overlay window would replace annoying system alert windows.

Adaptive icons

… can help further personalise the user’s experience of his device by modifying the look and feel of the icons based on the mask or layout selected.

Android updates percolate comparitively less among users than iOS’s. According to CNET, only 2.8% of Android users had adopted Nougat, while nearly 80% of Apple users had the latest iOS 10.

iPhone 6s named best Selling smartphone of 2016

iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were both among the most-shipped models in 2016.

Apple’s iPhone 6s has topped the list of best—selling smartphones in 2016, according to financial services company IHS Markit.

According to a press release on IHS’ website on Wednesday, the new iPhone 7 was the best-seller in the fourth quarter alone, followed by iPhone 7 Plus.

“Apple again has demonstrated that its new iPhones integrate enough innovations and new features to drive sales and remain successful in the market. The company is also capable of selling older devices for an extended period of time,” the statement added.

The year-old iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were both among the most—shipped models in 2016.

Meanwhile, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and S7 ranked fifth and ninth, respectively, outperforming S6 and S6 Edge in terms of sales.

With the recall of the Note 7, S7 and S7 Edge became the best flagships in the premium line—up of Samsung.

Samsung has claimed five spots out of the top 10 most-shipped smartphones in 2016.

One of the models of Chinese manufacturer OPPO has also been listed among the top ten ranking.

OPPO registered a growth of 109 per cent in smartphone shipments in 2016 to become the fourth largest smartphone maker in terms of unit shipment.

Montblanc’s first Android-powered smartwatch

Montblanc is not the first luxury brand to try and bridge the worlds of traditional craftsmanship and smart technology, but it is one of the few to experiment and systematically push new innovations to cater to the niche. The German brand has finally made a foray into the high-end smart wearable market. Meet the Montblanc Summit, the brand’s first smartwatch.

Staying relevant

Back in 2015, the company had released a smart wearable named E-Strap. It was a small digital device attached to the strap of a traditional Montblanc watch. It might have been the company’s first dabble in the world of smart wearable technology, but it wasn’t a proper smartwatch. The Montblanc Summit, on the other hand, is a full-fledged smartwatch which has been developed with the help of Google.

“Nothing compares to the sensation of traditional fine Swiss watchmaking but in a fast-moving world, being able to access all kinds of information digitally has become essential,” explains Jerome Lambert, CEO, Montblanc International.

“Montblanc Summit bridges these two worlds with a simple and highly functional product that gives its owners the freedom to have it all.”

For the design, Montblanc used its award-winning 1858 collection as the main inspiration to give the Summit smartwatch a vintage look. The use of high-quality steel, titanium cases, and contemporary straps will make you forget that it’s not a traditional watch with mechanical movement. The 46mm case comes in a choice of four different materials and styles. Each timepiece is fitted with a pusher in the design of the iconic crown from the 1858 collection. The watch has a 1.39” large AMOLED display, which is covered by a curved sapphire glass, a world-first in smartwatches.

Tech specs

The Montblanc Summit runs on the all-new Android Wear 2.0 operating system for smartwatches. Augmenting it is Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor that helps the timepiece work seamlessly, while maximising the battery life. The watch also features a microphone to enjoy the power of Google Assistant and numerous sensors like the heart-rate monitor, gyroscope, digital compass, barometer, and an ambient light sensor.

The digital timepiece comes with a choice of eight different straps. However, an online configurator will also be available and will offer more than 300 different Montblanc wearable combinations, enabling the buyer to personalise their watch according to their needs. That’s not all. Montblanc is offering its customers the possibility of designing their own unique personalised dial, which can be created with the help of the company’s Creative Director, and a host of designers and engineers.

New Wi-Fi system to offer super-fast connectivity

The wireless network is based on harmless infrared rays

Scientists have developed a new wireless Internet based on infrared rays that is reportedly 100 times faster than existing Wi-Fi networks.

The wireless network developed by researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands not only has a huge capacity — more than 40 Gigabits per second (Gbit/s) — but does away with the need to share Wi-Fi as every device gets its own ray of light.

The wireless data comes from a few central ‘light antennas’, which can be mounted on the ceiling, that are able to precisely direct the rays of light supplied by an optical fibre.

The antennas contain a pair of gratings that radiate light rays of different wavelengths at different angles (‘passive diffraction gratings’).

Changing the light wavelengths also changes the direction of the ray of light. A safe infrared wavelength is used that does not reach the retina in the eye.

If a user is walking about and a smartphone or tablet moves out of the light antenna’s direction, then another light antenna takes over, researchers said.

Tracks precise location

The network tracks the precise location of every wireless device using its radio signal transmitted in the return direction, they said.

Different devices are assigned different wavelengths by the same light antenna and so do not have to share capacity.

Current Wi-Fi uses radio signals with a frequency of 2.5 or five gigahertz. The new system uses infrared light with wavelengths of 1,500 nanometres and higher. Researchers managed to achieve a speed of 42.8 Gbit/s over a distance of 2.5 metres. The team said that even with the best Wi-Fi systems currenly available, users would not get more than 300 Megabit/s in total, which is some hundred times less than the speed per ray of light achieved by the new system.

The system has so far used the light rays only to download; uploads are still done using radio signals since in most applications much less capacity is needed for uploading.

Solar-powered skin for prosthetic limbs

It offers a better sense of touch, temperature and texture, say researchers

Amputees with prosthetic limbs may soon get a better sense of touch, temperature and texture, thanks to the energy-saving power of the sun, British researchers said on Thursday.

While prosthetics are usually fully powered using batteries, a new prototype from University of Glasgow researchers opens up the possibility for solar-powered skin, which would include better sense capabilities than current technology.

Ravinder Dahiya, a research fellow at the university, said the technology involves installing a thin layer of pure carbon around a prosthetic arm, hand or leg.

This allows light to pass through it and be easily used as solar energy, the researchers said. The sun can provide up to 15 times more energy than is usually needed to power a prosthetic limb, Mr. Dahiya told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. This extra and renewable energy can be used to power sensors that increase sense and feeling in a limb, so much so that the prosthetic can feel pressure, temperature and texture like natural skin.

The technology could also increase the functionality of robots, allowing them to have a better understanding of what they touch.

Panasonic to launch intelligent smartphones

In a bid to provide great experiences to consumers, Panasonic India is set to launch two smart intelligence-based smartphones on March 27 in the country.

The company on Friday sent out media invite for the event that reads “a new conversation around smartphones intelligence is about to begin, #ArboIsHere.”

“Arbo” will be a smart intelligence-based feature. Whether it is a digital assistant or an artificial robot is not yet clear.

Earlier this month, the company launched two new smartphones in its Eluga series — Eluga Pulse X and Eluga Pulse — at Rs. 10,990 and Rs. 9,690, respectively.

The devices come with 4G/VoLTE connectivity and pack a powerful 1.25 GHz quad core processor with a 3GB RAM for Eluga Pulse X and 2GB RAM for Eluga Pulse.

Rolodex

Organise contacts, scan and store information directly off business cards and make sure you never forget anyone’s birthday with this app

We know how smartphones, despite having made great leaps in technology, can still be a bit annoying when it comes to basic productivity. For instance, when you get a call from an unknown number and want to store it in your contacts list, there are at least two or more steps involved: click, choose either ‘create new/add to existing’, enter first name/last name and so on. How about you just, with one touch, edit the name right then and there? That is just one of the several useful features offered by Rolo, an Android-only app that claims to make your contacts management a breeze.

Developed by Chennai-based Netmine Mobile Innovations Private Limited, Rolo currently has a 4.4-star rating (from 400-plus users) on Play Store. One of the first ‘cleanups’ the app does after installation is merging duplicate contacts and providing suggestions for ones that look similar. The decluttering algorithm is indeed impressive.