Saturday, 7 February 2015

MIT-USAID Program Releases Pioneering Evaluation Of Solar Lanterns

Reports on Effectiveness of Solar Lanterns 

The CITE – Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation group, funded by the United States Agency for International Development – USAID has released its first report recently, evaluating the effectiveness of solar lanterns in Uganda, Africa.

The team of MIT faculty with students, set off for western Uganda to conduct CITE’s evaluation of solar lanterns and researchers conducted hundreds of survey with consumers, suppliers, manufacturers as well as non-profits in order to evaluate eleven locally available solar lantern models. In order to assess each product’s suitability, researches computed rating score ranging from 0 to 100 on the basis on how the product’s attributes and features perform.

Attributes include characteristics inherent to solar lanterns like brightness, time to charge and run time and features include less central characteristics like a lantern’s ability to charge a cell phone. Sanyal comments that the importance of cell phone charging was a surprising and noteworthy finding. The said device seems to appear like Nalgene water bottles which soaks up energy during the day and switches on at night.

 The analysis of the solar lantern market in Uganda, where one can purchase over a dozen various lanterns costing between $14.17 and $79.99 had a few surprises. According to MIT professor, Bishwapriya Sanyal, he stated that `what surprised them was that the market was flooded but no one knew which one really works’.

Charging – Placing on Roofs - Daytime

Researchers observed that the best intentions of the producers did not always sync with how products were utilised in the real world. The producers of the solar lanterns have intentions of placing them on roofs to be charged during the day though most of them would not leave them there fearing that they could be stolen. The features that users would be interested in is `would the solar charger also have a port to charge their cell phone and these observations would probably change the way manufacturers made their device, according to Sanyal. He points out one thing which stuck him was that consumers were concerned whether or not the solar lantern charged the cell phone and that they did not expect this feature to be so important and for some, connection would be more valuable than having light.

Need to be Nimble with Changing Market

CITE worked with USAID with the intention to select solar lanterns as product family for its first evaluation. Sanyal states that evaluating solar lanterns would enable CITE an opportunity to learn from USAID’ existing partnership with Solar Sister, which is a social enterprise distributing solar lantern in Uganda, a country with few people having access to light after dark.

This could be very beneficial to them. CITE researchers worked closely too with Jeffrey Asher a former technical director at Consumer Reports in order to learn from existing production evaluation model. Evaluation of products in laboratory at MIT or Consumer Reports is quite different from evaluating them in rural Uganda though both are important according to Asher a co-author of the CITE report.

He states that the greatest challenge of Consumer Reports’ has been evaluating products which are presently in the U.S. market and CITE has found that in developing countries, they need to be more nimble in keeping up with the changing market.

Friday, 6 February 2015

This App Tells You Which Friends Stress You Out, Make You Happy

The wearable tech products and a new breed of apps are making things much easier and simpler for the common people with varies innovations and advancements in its own sphere. A new app is making waves with its unique and decisive features and it proclaims to help in users determining which friends to keep and which one to avoid. The app is named pplkpr which translated into People Keeper and it aims to quantify the relationships based on the collections of data dealing with user’s social interactions.

This app has been developed by two developers namely Lauren McCarthy and Kyle McDonal in order to help the individuals to deal with the relationship issues and making vital decisions.

How This App Works

Pplkr works perfectly with any Bluetooth 4.0 enabled tracker and it also takes GPS and heart monitoring services under its shadow like those of Polar H7 chest band and the Zephyr HxM. Later it syncs up with the app and keeps recording the emotional feeling felt and absorbed by the user while interacting with friend and family members.

Whenever a call is received by the user pplkr or People Keeper simply syncs with the heart rate monitor and tracks the subtle changes in the emotional state of the said user. It notices the user when it detects a heightened motion and asks them whether they wish to know their feeling straightforward.

Benefits Of Using People Keeper

Developers has laid down various uses of this quirky yet beneficial app. This app can reveal which friends should be avoided by the user during the times of stress. It can also set to block or unfriend those people who make the user anxious or bored in certain cases. It will also message those who make them happy or keep them calm. And for those people who don’t have a heart rate monitor this app can let them add manual emotional readings.

App Usage In Real Scenarios

Wondering if it really has any real life usage or not. It does have real potential as the advertiser or people could use to generate and collect data which can be analysed to know how things impact users online as well as offline. However its bit difficult to get accurate data essentially based on social patterns and algorithms in real world scenarios.

Higher Level Of Decision Making Skills

This app collects various kinds of data and interprets it and sheds much needed light on the negative aspects of the user’s life. The makers of this app are euphoric about this pushing technology which is expected to more personal with time and it will help users in making vital healthy decisions.

McDonald had asserted that most of the decisions it makes is relatively the ones which user’s find troublesome while taking calls in real life. And when an app makes such decisions it just gives bountiful relief and even helps in soothing and relaxing the mind. However team is working on improving its dynamics through use of more complex and elegant algorithm which would facilitate making ‘better’ decisions even relating to day-to-day situations.

Amazon to Take On Google and Microsoft by Offering Corporate Email

A Wall Street Journal has reported that Amazon will be launching a corporate email and digital calendar service to cater the corporate clients. Amazon has forayed into different business like film and television industry after setting up the world’ largest e-commerce stores. Now Amazon has set its eyes on the corporate email service with its tentatively titled ‘WorkMail’ that is powered by Amazon’s loud based computing unit called Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Amazon’s ambition is pretty clear i.e. to go beyond the traditional cloud-computing back-end services to move in the prominent sphere of services line of business with its WorkMail. With new WorkMail Amazon is expected to give direct competition to the reigning champions of corporate mail service i.e. Microsoft and Google.

WorkMail Brings Highly Secure Business Mail Solutions

The Amazon’s WorkMail is even compatible with the existing email client software like Outlook and Exchange which are offered by Microsoft to provide email service to big corporate institutions.

WorkMail boasts of featuring a highly secure email service wherein encryption is employed for enhanced protection. WorkMail send the mails in an encrypted manner which gets decrypted by the company controlled key at the other end of service when it is received by designated person. Furthermore the emails are also stored on remote Amazon servers which are located in different geographical areas. Amazon had taken the pain of introducing these security measures to make its new email-service much more appealing globally mainly to the European customers post-NSA-revelations.

Amazon Introduces Competitive Pricing

Amazon has introduced its email-service WorkMail at a price of $4 per month which direct competition to its competitors Google which offers corporate mail at $5 per month and Microsoft also offers $5 per month for its Office 365 business mail. But Amazon though have its own downside wherein it is not offering any additional features to its customers like the access to the different kinds of office document production software suite like Google and Microsoft.

It should also be noted that most of high-profile start-ups in the Silicon Valley relies on the Amazon Web Services for its cloud computing needs due to ease of use and reputable security provided by the Amazon. These two aspects would be key in promoting the WorkMail among new and existing base of customers.

WorkMail would be made available at $4 plan which gives a 50GB inbox limit and by just $2 per month more users will add a 200GB WorkDocs file storage. Amazon is proving a preview for the use who are eager to sign up for an early look.

WorkMail Soon To be Launched

Amazon Web Services is branching out the business with a focus on providing solutions to the end-users. Therefore it has developed WorkMail that features a web-based client for access without any need of installing special software. Amazon is all set to launch it WorkMail in the second quarter of 2015 which a special deal for the customers. This deal simply promises to offers a seamless integration of its recently launched WorkDocs with the WorkMail.

Google and Uber May Become Rivals

After the problems faced due to drivers in Delhi Uber has begun plans on researching self driven cars which would not require any drivers. In fact any company that had to go through what Uber went through a couple of months ago would logically do this.

However, the real problem is that Google has already launched driver less cars long ago in 2010. It is postulated that such cars have already been given to its staff and might come up with an idea of enlarging the service as a business venture soon.

Logger Heads

Google in 2013 has invested around $250m in Uber, owing to its worldwide operation in more than 200 cities, however the Delhi controversy of drivers has brought a small decline in its operation. Uber at present announced its plans in self driving cars teaming up with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, which is actually expected to fund the Uber Advanced Technologies Center, according to its post in a blog.

Google with experience in the field also seems to have considerations on rolling out its own car- hailing service, if reports in Bloomberg are to be believed. An Unnamed source claiming to be close to Uber’s Board of Directors seems to hint about screenshots of app-based car rental service, which is already on roads for its staff.

Google’s Denial

However when Google has been asked for a response on this by BBC, they got a reply “think you'll find Uber and Lyft work quite well. We use them all the time."

This somehow sounds indistinct and does not give any clear cut idea whether Google would want to begin a new driver less cab service. Of course, Since the ground work is already over and Google has gained enough experience to run the show on its own its mulling over such an idea cannot be ruled out altogether.
However, speculations are still on stake because Google holds a fair share in Uber and going into business on its own might turn ruinous to Google too. Thus it is expected that Google would surely be testing the water before taking the plunge.

Uber’s Research Partner

Carnegie Mellon University which has partnered with Uber to assist in the research and technology aspect of this new venture has not left any stones unturned. They have proposed to develop newer technologies that would give proper safety while travelling and to look at maps also.

The University has enough learned and experienced faculty and staff who would surely be enthusiastic to assist such an endeavor. Research in the areas of mapping, safety while on the road and autonomy technology are planned to be conducted with combined effort of the University and National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC). Uber is very positive with the new project and is planning to take it ahead all the way.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Scientists Create 'Genetic Firewall' For New Forms of Life

Scientists to Create `Genetic Firewalls’

According to Harvard and Yale researchers, synthetic amino acids would someday enable scientists in creating `genetic firewalls’ which could prevent GMO crops or animals from escaping in the wild thus causing environmental damage. Recently scientists have come up with genetically engineered bacteria whose survival was based on lab-formulated amino acid and by `locking in’ this synthetic nutritional need, they consider that the bacteria would die quickly if they tend to escape from their carefully controlled environment to enter into the world.

A year later after creating organisms which used genetic code that was different from other living things, this team of scientists achieved another `synthetic biology’ milestone in creating bacteria which cannot survive without a specific manmade chemical and overcome a major hurdle to wider use of genetically modified organisms – GMOs. A report states what one scientist calls a `genetic firewall’ to obtain biocontainment which is a means of insuring that GMOs cannot survive outside a lab or other confined environment. Though two of the lab accomplished the bacteria, there seems to be no fundamental barrier in applying the technique to animals and plants.

Microbes Engineered from Mundane to Exotic

Biologist George Church of Harvard Medical School leading one of the studies, reported that `he thinks that they are moving in that direction’ and if the technique is successful, it could be utilised in microbes engineered for users from mundane to exotic like producing yogurt and cheese, in synthesizing industrial chemicals as well as biofuels, cleaning of toxic waste together with manufacturing of drugs.

For those applications, microbes have already been used and in some cases they contain genes from unrelated organism thereby making them genetically engineered or genetically modified, to overcome oil spills or produce insulin. Widespread usage of such GMOs constrained by concerns could escape into the wide resulting in much damage.

Church’s team in the year 2013 had reported that they had gone ahead of genetic engineering in order to create genomically recoded organisms where recoding means a bit of DNA codes for amino acid – a building block of proteins, which is different from a similar DNA code for every other living thing. Biologists, have revised the genetic spelling book. The altered bacteria which Church along with his team dubbed genomically recoded organisms or GROs is described in a pair of studies in the journal `Nature’

E. Coli Bacteria

The new studies team comprising of Church and a former colleague, Farren Isaacs, developed strains of E. coli bacteria which contained both DNA for manmade amino acid and the need for synthetic amino acids for survival. Since amino acids does not exist in nature, Isaacs presently at Yale University, was of the opinion that the resulting firewall means any GMO escaped from a lab manufacturing facility of agricultural field would not survive.

His team made 49 genetic changes to E. coli in order to make them dependent on the synthetic amino acid and as per his calculations, the odds of a microbe undoing the changes are astronomically high. Church states that by pairing genomic recoding with the firewall, biologist can create escape proof microbes wherein by incorporating novel amino acids could develop new form of drugs as well as polymers.