Technique to Teach Robots New Tricks Developed: Study

Technique to Teach Robots New Tricks Developed: Study

Using ideas from animal training, researchers have designed a computer programme that lets humans teach a virtual robot that looks like a computerised pooch how to do various tasks.

As robots become more pervasive in society, humans will want them to do chores like cleaning the house or cooking, researchers said.

However, to get a robot started on a task, people who are not computer programmers will have to give it instructions, they said.

“We want everyone to be able to programme, but that is probably not going to happen,” said Matthew Taylor from Washington State University (WSU).

“So we needed to provide a way for everyone to train robots – without programming,” said Taylor.

Researchers designed a computer programme that lets humans teach a virtual robot that looks like a computerised pooch.

For the study, researchers varied the speed at which their virtual dog reacted. As when somebody is teaching a new skill to a real animal, the slower movements let the user know that the virtual dog was unsure of how to behave.

The user could then provide clearer guidance to help the robot learn better, researchers said.

“At the beginning, the virtual dog moves slowly. But as it receives more feedback and becomes more confident in what to do, it speeds up,” said Bei Ping from WSU.

The user taught tasks by either reinforcing good behaviour or punishing incorrect behaviour. The more feedback the virtual dog received from the human, the more adept the robot became at predicting the correct course of action.

Researchers’ algorithm allowed the virtual dog to understand the tricky meanings behind a lack of feedback -called implicit feedback.

“When you are training a dog, you may withhold a treat when it does something wrong. So no feedback means it did something wrong,” said Taylor.

“On the other hand, when professors are grading tests, they may only mark wrong answers, so no feedback means you did something right,” he said.

New Method to Produce Random Numbers Can Boost Cyber-Security: Study

New Method to Produce Random Numbers Can Boost Cyber-Security: StudyComputer scientists, including an Indian-origin student at the University of Texas at Austin, have developed a new method for producing truly random numbers – a breakthrough that can be used to encrypt data and improvecyber-security.

The new method creates truly random numbers with less computational effort than other methods, which could facilitate significantly higher levels of security for everything from consumer credit card transactions to military communications.

This can also make electronic voting more secure, conduct statistically significant polls, and more accurately simulate complex systems such as the Earth’s climate.

“This is a problem I have come back to over and over again for more than 20 years. I’m thrilled to have solved it,” said computer science professor David Zuckerman.

Zuckerman and graduate student Eshan Chattopadhyay publicly released a draft paper describing their method for making random numbers in an online forum.

The new method takes two weakly random sequences of numbers and turns them into one sequence of truly random numbers.

Weakly random sequences, such as air temperatures and stock market prices sampled over time, harbour predictable patterns. Truly random sequences have nothing predictable about them, like a coin toss.

“When I heard about it, I couldn’t sleep,” said Yael Kalai, senior researcher working in cryptography at Microsoft Research New England. “I was so excited. I couldn’t believe it. I ran to the (online) archive to look at the paper. It’s really a masterpiece,” he added.

An important application for random numbers is in generating keys for data encryption that are hard for hackers to crack.

Data encryption is critical for making secure credit card purchases and bank transactions, keeping personal medical data private and shielding military communications from enemies.

“One common way that encryption is misused is by not using high-quality randomness. So in that sense, by making it easier to get high-quality randomness, our methods could improve security,” Zuckerman noted.

Zuckerman and Chattopadhyay will present their method at the annual Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in June.

COAI Seeks Clarification From Trai on Discriminatory Tariffs

COAI Seeks Clarification From Trai on Discriminatory TariffsThe telecom service providers’ association has written to the sector regulator seeking further clarification on prohibition of discriminatory tariffs for data services.

“…Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has introduced a new terminology Closed Electronic Communications (CECN) Networks. While Trai has prohibited telecom service providers to offer differential tariffs for data services on the basis of content, it has allowed the same over CECN network,” said the letter sent by the association to the regulator, a copy of which is available with the IANS.

The letter dated May 16, was written by Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) director general Rajan S. Mathews to Sudhir Gupta, Trai secretary.

“A transparent understanding with adequate illustrations and clarity is necessary on the concept of CECN enunciated in Trai’s regulation,” the letter stated.

COAI has requested the sector regulator to review its decision over CECN network.

“We earnestly request the Authority to review its decision over the CECN network and allow differential tariffs on the basis of content, irrespective of whether such content is provided through the closed network or open internet,” it added.

In a move seen as an endorsement of net neutrality, the telecom watchdog on February 8 said no to discriminatory pricing of data content services.

“No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content,” the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said in a much-awaited regulatory order.

“No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged to the consumer on the basis of content,” the watchdog said.

Vodafone Reports Annual Loss on Restructuring Costs, Tax Charges

Vodafone Reports Annual Loss on Restructuring Costs, Tax ChargesBritish telecoms giant Vodafone said Tuesday that it tumbled into a net loss last year, hit by a large tax charge in Luxembourg, restructuring costs and unfavourable currency moves.

Losses after taxation stood at GBP4.02 billion ($5.78 billion, EUR 5.10 billion or roughly Rs. 38,645 crores) in the year to the end of March, Vodafone said in a results statement.

That contrasted with a net profit of GBP5.76 billion in the previous 2014/2015 fiscal year.

Vodafone added that it took a vast GBP3.2-billion charge arising from the tax treatment of the revaluation of its investments in Luxembourg.

However, underlying profit – or earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) – grew 2.7 percent to GBP11.6 billion.

Revenues dipped 3.0 percent to GBP40.97 billion last year, but rose by 2.3 percent on an organic basis.

“This has been a year of strong execution for the group, returning to organic growth in both revenue and EBITDA for the first time since 2008,” said chief executive Vittorio Colao in the earnings release.

Growth was aided by emerging market operations in Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific (AMAP), and also by restructuring measures.

“We achieved the first quarter of positive revenue growth in Europe since December 2010 while growth in AMAP accelerated with strong performance in South Africa, Turkey and Egypt,” Colao said.

Indian-American Teen Wins Intel Young Scientist Award

Indian-American Teen Wins Intel Young Scientist AwardA 15-year-old Indian-American boy has won the prestigious ‘Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award’ for developing a low-cost electronically-aided knee brace that allows a person with a weakened leg to walk more naturally.

Syamantak Payra, a Texas resident, won the $50,000 (roughly Rs. 33 lakhs) award along with 17-year-old Kathy Liu. The award was given by Intel Corporation and the Society for Science and the Public (SSP) at the 2016 ‘Intel International Science and Engineering Fair’ in Arizona last week.

“Our top winners this year Syamantak and Kathy clearly demonstrate that age has no bearing on your ability to conduct research and come up with solutions to important problems,” said Maya Ajmera, SSP president and chief executive.

“We congratulate them not only for their success, but on their dedication and hard work. They and the rest of the Intel ISEF finalists are the rising stars of STEM and we look forward to watching them pursue their passions and in turn make the world a better place for future generations,” Ajmera said.

When Payra tested his prototype with two individuals partially disabled by polio, it almost immediately restored a more natural gait and increased mobility, according to a statement.

“Intel congratulates this year’s winners and hopes that their work will inspire other young innovators to apply their curiosity and ingenuity to today’s global challenges,” Intel Foundation president and Intel Corporation vice president of human resources and director of corporate affairs Rosalind Hudnell said in a statement.

This years Intel International Science and Engineering Fair featured more than 1,700 young scientists selected from 419 affiliate fairs held in 77 countries.

A team of students from India also attended the event.

Five Indian Americans also figured in the 22 “Best of Category” winners and each received a USD 5,000 prize.

These winners included Rajeev Jha (Hawaii) in the Behavioral and Social Sciences category, Marissa Sumathipala (Virginia) in the Cellular and Molecular Biology, Swetha Revanur (California) in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, Tiasha Joardar (Texas) in the Energy: Physical category and Prashant Godishala (Minnesota) in the Translational Medical Science.

Idea, Reliance Communications Roll Out Schemes for Prepaid Users

Idea, Reliance Communications Roll Out Schemes for Prepaid UsersAiming to give customers better services, two telecom service providers on Tuesday rolled out schemes that would help data users.

Reliance Communications launched DataLoan service for its pre-paid customers on its 3G and 2G networks, a company statement said in New Delhi.

Idea Cellular, meanwhile, has slashed its 4G and 3G data prices up to 50 percent for night surfing.

With the DataLoan service, customers with a low pre-paid data balance can simply dial a toll-free number and get an instant ‘DataLoan’ top up of 60 MB, the Reliance Communications statement said.

DataLoan would provide “greater convenience to our customers, assuring them of uninterrupted data services usage any time of day or night,” said Gurdeep Singh, chief executive, consumer business, Reliance Communications.

An Idea Cellular statement in New Delhi said that subscribers would now be able to avail of 1GB of night data at Rs. 125 for a month, enabling them to save upto 50 percent of their normal costs.

In addition, Idea has also launched the ‘Day and Night Twin pack’ which offers 30 percent discount starts from 500 MB per month and goes up to 40 GB, the release said.

Nasa Launches Near-Space Monitoring Balloon From New Zealand

Nasa Launches Near-Space Monitoring Balloon From New Zealand

Nasa successfully launched a super pressure balloon from New Zealand’s South Island Wanaka Airport Tuesday to conduct near-space scientific investigations.

The launch marks the fifth attempt to get the massive balloon airborne, with previous bids thwarted by bad weather, Nasa said in a release.

Long-duration balloon flights at constant altitudes play an important role in providing inexpensive access to the near-space environment for science and technology.

The 532,000 cubic metres (18.8 million cubic feet) balloon is expected to circumnavigate the globe about the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes once every one to three weeks, depending on wind speeds in the stratosphere, Nasa said. The aim is for it remain airborne for more than 100 days.

According to Nasa the balloon’s operational float altitude is 33.5 kms (20.8 miles) and it will be visible from the ground, particularly at sunrise and sunset, in the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes, such as Argentina and South Africa.

Nasa’s balloon experts at its Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility and Nasa’s Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, will control balloon flight operations throughout the mission.

The current record for a Nasa super pressure balloon flight is 54 days. Tuesday’s launch was the second super pressure balloon mission from Wanaka. The first launch occurred March 27, 2015, flying 32 days, 5 hours, and 51 minutes.

Canadian Astronaut David Saint-Jacques to Join ISS in 2018

Canadian Astronaut David Saint-Jacques to Join ISS in 2018Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will travel to the International Space Station (ISS) for a six-month mission in late 2018, Science Minister Navdeep Bains announced Monday.

Saint-Jacques is scheduled to take off aboard a RussianSoyuz rocket in November 2018 on what will be his first assignment in space.

The 46-year-old will start training for the mission this summer in Russia, Japan, the United States and Canada.

An astrophysicist and doctor-in-training, Saint-Jacques will become the ninth Canadian to go into space and seventh to work aboard the ISS.

During his mission, he will conduct a series of scientific experiments, robotics tasks and technology demonstrations, details of which will be announced later this year, the Canadian Space Agency said.

Canada said last year that it would send two astronauts into space by 2024, but did not specify which would go first. The second candidate, selected for the space program in 2009, is Jeremy Hansen.

The last Canadian in space, Chris Hadfield, commanded the ISS for five months in 2013, wowing people back on Earth with his guitar version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” recorded in microgravity, and photographs of the Pale Blue Dot from orbit.

The Canadian government renewed its commitment to space exploration in its latest budget, earmarking $294 million (roughly Rs. 1,961 crores) for the ISS over eight years.

ISS Completes 100,000th Orbit of Earth: Mission Control

ISS Completes 100,000th Orbit of Earth: Mission Control

The International Space Station, the space laboratory that showcases cooperation between Russia and the United States, on Monday orbited Earth for the 100,000th time, Russian mission control said.

“Today the ISS made its hundred thousandth orbit around Earth,” the mission control centre based in the Moscow region said in a statement.

Travelling at an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometres) and a speed of about 17,500 miles (28,000 kilometres) per hour, the space station circles the Earth once every 90 minutes.

Its “anniversary orbit” lasted from 7:35 am to 9:10 am Moscow time (0435 to 0610 GMT), mission control said.

The ISS has now travelled 2.6 billion miles “or about the distance of 10 round trips to Mars,” Nasa said on the station’s official Twitter feed.

“This is a significant milestone and is a tribute to this international partnership made up of theEuropean Space Agency, of Russia, Canada, Japan and the United States,” US flight engineer Jeff Williams said from the station in a video posted by Nasa.

Williams is on his third ISS mission and is currently on board the station with fellow Nasa astronaut Timothy Kopra, Britain’s Tim Peake and Russians Yury Malenchenko, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka.

Maxim Matyushin, the head of Russian mission control, also praised the ISS as a “vivid example of real and effective international cooperation” to “carry out really large breakthrough projects that are crucial for the whole of civilisation.”

The first section of the ISS station called Zarya or Dawn in Russian, was launched into space more than 17 years ago on November 20, 1998.

The first crew to inhabit the station – American astronaut Bill Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko arrived in 2000, since when it has been continually occupied.

From two modules, it has grown to 15 modules, occupying a space the size of a football pitch and represents around $100 billion in investment.

“Such a long lifespan of the ISS proves that mankind has the necessary technologies for constant presence in orbit, that we have the potential for further space exploration,” said Matyushin.

Since the shelving of the US shuttle programme, Russia has been solely responsible for ferrying astronauts to the ISS from its Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The station is usually occupied by six crew members while the Soyuz capsules used to transport the astronauts from Earth and back carry three people.

During its lifetime, 226 people have visited the ISS from 15 countries, Russian mission control said.

The ISS is expected to remain operational until 2024 after all the participating countries except the European Union agreed to continue financing it at least until then.

Nasa Deploys CubeSat to Study Sun’s Soft X-Rays

Nasa Deploys CubeSat to Study Sun's Soft X-RaysNasa has deployed a bread loaf-sized Miniature X-Ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS) CubeSat from an airlock on theInternational Space Station (ISS) to study the Sun’s soft x-rays that can affect our communications systems.

Soft X-rays can disrupt the Earth’s upper atmosphere and hamper radio and GPS signals travelling through the region.

The intensity of the soft X-ray emissions is continuously changing over a large range – with peak emission levels occurring during large eruptions on the Sun called solar flares.

MinXSS will operate for up to 12 months and the data will also help scientists understand the physics behind solar flares.

The soft X-rays carry information about the temperature, density and chemical composition of material in the Sun’s atmosphere, allowing scientists to trace how events like flares and other processes heat the surrounding material in the Sun’s atmosphere.

CubeSats are a new, low-cost tool for space science missions.

Instead of the traditional space science missions, CubeSats are designed to take narrowly targeted scientific observations, with only a few instruments.

For example, MinXSS uses a commercially purchased X-ray spectrometer for a detector and an extendable tape measure as a radio antenna.