ISRO to launch South Asia Satellite on May 5

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India plans to launch on May 5 the ‘South Asia Satellite’ that will benefit all the countries in the region, except Pakistan which is not a part of the project.

India plans to launch on May 5 the ‘South Asia Satellite’ that will benefit all the countries in the region, except Pakistan which is not a part of the project. “It’s going up in the first week of May,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman A S Kiran Kumar told PTI in a telephonic interview.

According to ISRO sources, the launch of this communication satellite (GSAT-9) is scheduled for May 5 on board the space agency’s rocket GSLV-09 from Sriharikota spaceport. Kiran Kumar said the satellite, with a lift-off mass of 2,195 kg, would carry 12 ku-band transponders. “Pakistan is not included in that. They did not want (to be part of the project),” he said. Sources said the satellite is designed for a mission life of more than 12 years.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made an announcement about this satellite during the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in 2014 calling it a “gift to India’s neighbours.””It (name) was changed to this (South Asia Satellite) because of that only (Pakistan not being part of it),” Kiran Kumar said. Earlier, it was named as ‘SAARC Satellite.’

“Basically, it (the satellite) is meant for providing communication and disaster support, connectivity among States (countries of South Asia region). It will provide a significant capability to each of these participating States in terms of DTH, certain VSAT capacity plus linking among the states for both disaster information transfer and also in terms of library type of things,” he said.

“So, there is a significant amount of inter-linking possible among the States (these countries),” Kiran Kumar said.According to ISRO officials, there is a potential for each participating country to use a dedicated transponder with a capacity of 36 to 54 Mhz for its own internal use. Each country would be responsible for content generation and its use, they said.

New camera may capture distant images without long lens

 SAVI system, SAVI prototype, Matrix Special effect, SAVI camera array, remove aberrations, SAVI's "synthetic aperture", computer programme replaces long lens, Science, Science news

Scientists develop a unique camera that can capture detailed images of distant objects without using a long lens, may lead to less bulky telescopes.

Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have developed a unique camera that can capture detailed images of distant objects without using a long lens, an advance that could lead to telescopes that are less bulky. The system known as SAVI – for “Synthetic Apertures for long-range, subdiffraction-limited Visible Imaging” – does not need a long lens to take a picture of a faraway object, researchers said.The prototype built by researchers reads a spot illuminated by a laser and captures the “speckle” pattern with a camera sensor.

Raw data from dozens of camera positions is fed to a computer programme that interprets it and constructs a high-resolution image.Researchers including those from Rice University in the US, built and tested the device that compares interference pat terns between multiple speckled images. Like the technique used to achieve the “Matrix” special effect, the images are taken from slightly different angles, but with one camera that is moved between shots instead of many fired in sequence. The prototype only works with coherent illumination sources such as lasers.

However, it is a step toward a SAVI camera array for use in visible light, researchers said. The speckles serve as reference beams and essentially replace one of the two beams used to create holograms, researchers said. When a laser illuminates a rough surface, the viewer sees grain-like speckles in the dot, as some of the returning light scattered from points on the surface has to go farther and throws the collective wave out of phase. The texture of a piece of paper – or even a fingerprint -is enough to cause the effect.

“Today, the technology can be applied only to coherent (laser) light,” said Ashok Veeraraghavan of Rice University.”That means you cannot apply these techniques to take pictures outdoors and improve resolution for sunlit images -as yet,” Veeraraghavan said.”With a traditional camera, the larger the physical size of the aperture, the better the resolution,” he said.

“If you want an aperture that is half a foot, you may need 30 glass surfaces to remove aberrations and create a focused spot. This makes your lens very big and bulky,” he added. SAVI’s “synthetic aperture” sidesteps the problem by replacing a long lens with a computer programme the resolves the speckle data into an image, researchers said.
“You can capture interference patterns from a fair distance,” Veeraraghavan said. The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

Poker AI Again Trounces Human Challengers – This Time From China

Alan Du’s never met a poker adversary with such a stone-cold demeanor. It’s the fifth day that the venture capitalist and World Series of Poker veteran has gone up against this opponent – and the losses are stacking up.

His rival is literally inhuman, Du conceded after repeatedly keying bets into a computer and eliciting nary a hint of emotion. That’s because he went up against “Lengpudashi:” an updated version of the Libratus artificial intelligence program that achieved a major milestone by besting four of the world’s best poker pros in January.

Housed within a supercomputing center near Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, its name, intended to resemble its English moniker, fittingly translates into “cold poker master.”

Du and five team members played 36,000 hands against the machine over the course of five days. On Monday, at a resort conference center on China’s Hainan island, the final point-based score was announced: the AI won by a landslide.

Poker is a popular game among venture capitalists because “every hand you play is like a venture, trying to assess risk and ROI,” said Du, a seed investor who became the first mainland Chinese to win a WSOP gold bracelet in Las Vegas last year. “We held ourselves very well when playing against this world-class opponent.”

Poker’s complex betting strategies and the element of bluffing make it particularly intriguing to AI researchers. A player also decides to bet, bluff or fold without ever seeing the opponent’s full hand – a different kind of challenge than games like chess or Go, in which all the pieces are clearly visible on a playing board.

Du had tried to prevail where the pros had fallen short by employing an understanding of AI. Unlike the players in the January match-up who drew upon years of professional experience, Du’s Chinese team, which included a former Oracle engineer and startup entrepreneurs, attempted to apply their knowledge of machine intelligence and game theory to counter the machine’s moves. It wasn’t enough.

The latest AI exhibition, organised by Sinovation Ventures and Hainan’s government, didn’t generate quite the same buzz as last year’s match-up between Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo and Korean master Lee Sedol in Seoul. Perhaps that’s because even casual observers are becoming accustomed to seeing AI software upstage humans.

Tuomas Sandholm, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, has been honing the research underlying Libratus since 2004, honing its ability to make decisions in situations with imperfect information. The point of training AI to win at games like chess, Go, and poker isn’t for the sake of games themselves, but because controlled environments help computers hone strategic decision-making. Those reasoning skills can then be applied to real-world problems such as business, finance, and cybersecurity, he said.

“People have a misunderstanding of what computers and people are each good at. People think that bluffing is very human – it turns out that’s not true,” said Noam Brown, Sandholm’s PhD student and a co-developer of Libratus. “A computer can learn from experience that if it has a weak hand and it bluffs, it can make more money.”

The AI didn’t learn to bluff from mimicking successful human poker players, but from game theory. “Its strategies were computed from just the rules of the game,” not from analysing historical data, Sandholm said.

Venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee, founder of Sinovation and an event organizer, said the rapid acceleration of AI technology over the past five years wasn’t possible before the advent of big data analysis. His fund has invested $120 million (roughly Rs. 775 crores) in AI-related companies in China – including facial recognition and loan-application startups – and he plans to devote a significant chunk of the money he’s currently raising to other AI ventures.

Also evident in the Hainan exhibition was the possibility of AI’s gradual democratisation. Brown said the computing power on display over the competition could be had for under $20,000 (roughly Rs. 12.9 lakhs).

“It’s surprisingly affordable,” he said. “Within 5 years, this could be running on smartphones.”

Pokemon Go Will Soon Get Co-Op Multiplayer; Update Brings Other New Features

Pokemon Go has struggled to remain relevant after becoming hugely successful last year but seems like Niantic, the game developer behind the app, is pulling up its socks to get some of its users back. Niantic has announced that the company will soon be adding “all new cooperative social gameplay experiences” to the augmented-reality mobile game going ahead. The company has also pushed out the version 0.61.0 update on Google Play and version 1.31.0 update on App Store respectively, with new features.

Apart from the mention of the upcoming co-op multiplayer element, Niantic also shared that the game is currently enjoying a user base of over 65 million monthly active users.

“Yesterday, Pokemon Go won the Best Mobile and Handheld Game at the British Academy of Film, Television and Arts Game Awards. We are surprised and grateful to be awarded this honour. We owe the continued momentum and recognition to the dedicated players exploring the world and creating adventures together in Pokemon Go. Each and every award Pokemon Go has won is a testament to the game’s awesome and supportive community,” the company said in a blog post.

Moving to the latest update to the game, it brings along support for traditional Chinese language, updates the Pokemon collection screen scroll bar, and carries various bug fixes, as per the change-log on Google Play.

We will have to wait for Niantic to provide additional details about the co-op element of the game but as the latest update doesn’t bring any remarkable improvement to the game, it seems unlikely that players will be returning to the game any time soon.

Microsoft’s Cortana comes to the top of your Android lock screen

No stranger to new platforms after hitting iOS and Android last year, Microsoft’s Cortana AI is coming to another atypical location: on top of your Android’s lock screen.

Cortana on Android has been updated to allow access to the Halo-inspired digital assistant and its feature over your smartphone’s lock screen — meaning information such as your schedule, reminders, and weather forecast can be pulled up in a snap without having to input an unlock code or fingerprint scan.

In addition to placement on top of the Android lock screen, Cortana is also getting a slight design tweak to make the service’s apps and widgets more streamlined on mobile devices.

While Cortana is mostly synonymous with Windows 10 PCs, Android and iOS devices aren’t the only branching-out points planned by the Microsoft-powered assistant.

BMW and Nissan both plan on bringing Cortana to their vehicles, providing drivers with some digital assistance from behind the steering wheel and also giving healthy competition to the likes of Apple’s long-standing Siri, Amazon’s ever-growing Alexa, and Samsung’s freshly announced Bixby.

Google, NIELIT Aim to Train 1 Lakh Android Developers in India

Google, NIELIT Aim to Train 1 Lakh Android Developers in India

The government-run IT institute NIELIT, in collaboration with Internet giant Google, will roll out courses to train 1 lakh students for Android application development for less than Rs. 5,000 per head.

“We will provide free of cost all course material for Android app development to NIELIT, which will then train hundred thousand students,” Google South East Asia and India Vice-President Rajan Anandan said in New Delhi while launching a series of IT initiatives with the Ministry of Electronics and IT.

Google India will equip the National Institute trainers with training modules and content. They in turn will do the outreach by leveraging the 10,000 NIELIT (National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology) centres across the country. Additionally, Google India will provide mobile training labs to reach artisan clusters across India.

“The Ministry of Electronics and IT intends to give impetus to the Prime Minister’s recent call for a ‘New India’. Collaboration with Google will be hugely beneficial in harnessing capabilities of technology for the India growth story,” MeitY Secretary Aruna Sundarajan said.

“We will soon send master trainers for training under Google for app development course. NIELIT should be able to roll out this course, maybe with a token amount of less than Rs. 5,000 per student. We are looking at making Indian youth more employable, fees are not a primary concern,” NIELIT DG Ashwini Kumar Sharma said.

Google and NIELIT will also run digital marketing training programme to train over 100,000 artisans per year across India to help them come online and tap into newer markets through improved visibility on Internet.

“Google will provide free of cost support for digital marketing course. NIELIT should be in position to start course for artisans by the end of May. We may charge a token amount for sustainability of the training for less than Rs. 1,500-2,000 per head,” Sharma said.

Google India and MeitY will undertake programme to enhance the government’s online presence, especially on mobile platforms, to enable citizen engagement and training and capacity building programmes on digital tools.

Google, MeitY and the Data Security Council of India (DSCI) will soon launch ‘Digital Payments Security Alliance’ with focus to create awareness on safe and secure practices and capacity building in digital payments.

Elgato Stream Deck Is a Control Centre for Pro-Livestreamers

Elgato Stream Deck Is a Control Centre for Pro-Livestreamers

Live streaming of video games has become big business in recent years, as anyone who frequents Twitch will tell you. The most popular broadcasters have followings in the order of millions, with some even taking it up as a full-time career. That seems to be the target market for Munich-based Elgato, which has announced Stream Deck, a programmable LCD control centre.

The Stream Deck has a total of 15 LCD keys spread across three rows, which can be configured to do a total of 210 actions – be it adjusting audio, welcoming/ thanking subscribers, displaying your Twitter username in the lower-third, or even bringing up memes on screen. It’s meant to liberate you from relying on keyboard shortcuts, and the daunting prospect of memorising dozens.

Of course, Elgato will provide you with companion software, so you can customise the functions available to you, as you please. You can create custom icons to truly personalise the Stream Deck. It will even allow you to create folders, so you can nest some common actions together.

The Stream Deck connects to your machine over USB, has dimensions of 118 x 84 x 21 mm, and weighs 190g. It’s compatible with both Windows 10 (64-bit), and macOS 10.11.

According to the website, it will be available in the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Spain. Currently, it’s up for pre-order in the US at $149.95, in Australia at AUD 199, in New Zealand at NZD 229.99, and Germany at EUR 149.95.

Elgato says the Stream Deck will start shipping by May, though the New Zealand retailer states a late April launch.

Malware turns PCs into eavesdropping devices

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have demonstrated malware that can turn computers into perpetual eavesdropping devices, even without a microphone.

In the new paper, “SPEAKE(a)R: Turn Speakers to Microphones for Fun and Profit,” the researchers explain and demonstrate how most PCs and laptops today are susceptible to this type of attack. Using SPEAKE(a)R, malware that can covertly transform headphones into a pair of microphones, they show how commonly used technology can be exploited.

“The fact that headphones, earphones and speakers are physically built like microphones and that an audio port’s role in the PC can be reprogrammed from output to input creates a vulnerability that can be abused by hackers,” says Prof. Yuval Elovici, director of the BGU Cyber Security Research Center (CSRC) and member of BGU’s Department of Information Systems Engineering.

“This is the reason people like Facebook Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg tape up their mic and webcam,” says Mordechai Guri, lead researcher and head of Research and Development at the CSRC. “You might tape the mic, but would be unlikely to tape the headphones or speakers.”

A typical computer chassis contains a number of audio jacks, either in the front panel, rear panel or both. Each jack is used either for input (line-in), or for output (line-out). The audio chipsets in modern motherboards and sound cards include an option for changing the function of an audio port with software -a type of audio port programming referred to as jack retasking or jack remapping.

Malware can stealthily reconfigure the headphone jack from a line-out jack to a microphone jack, making the connected headphones function as a pair of recording microphones and turning the computer into an eavesdropping device. This works even when the computer doesn’t have a connected microphone, as demonstrated in the SPEAKE(a)R video.

The BGU researchers studied several attack scenarios to evaluate the signal quality of simple off-the-shelf headphones. “We demonstrated is possible to acquire intelligible audio through earphones up to several meters away,” said Dr. Yosef Solewicz, an acoustic researcher at the BGU CSRC.

Potential software countermeasures include completely disabling audio hardware, using an HD audio driver to alert users when microphones are being accessed, and developing and enforcing a strict rejacking policy within the industry. Anti-malware and intrusion detection systems could also be developed to monitor and detect unauthorized speaker-to-mic retasking operations and block them.

Indigenous South American group has healthiest arteries of all populations yet studied, providing clues to healthy lifestyle

The Tsimane people — a forager-horticulturalist population of the Bolivian Amazon — have the lowest reported levels of vascular aging for any population, with coronary atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) being five times less common than in the US, according to a study published in The Lancet and being presented at the American College of Cardiology conference.

The researchers propose that the loss of subsistence diets and lifestyles in contemporary society could be classed as a new risk factor for heart disease. The main risk factors are age, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes.

“Our study shows that the Tsimane indigenous South Americans have the lowest prevalence of coronary atherosclerosis of any population yet studied,” said senior anthropology author, Professor Hillard Kaplan, University of New Mexico, USA. “Their lifestyle suggests that a diet low in saturated fats and high in non-processed fibre-rich carbohydrates, along with wild game and fish, not smoking and being active throughout the day could help prevent hardening in the arteries of the heart. The loss of subsistence diets and lifestyles could be classed as a new risk factor for vascular aging and we believe that components of this way of life could benefit contemporary sedentary populations.”

Although the Tsimane lifestyle is very different from that of contemporary society, certain elements of it are transferable and could help to reduce risk of heart disease.

While industrial populations are sedentary for more than half of their waking hours (54%), the Tsimane spend only 10% of their daytime being inactive. They live a subsistence lifestyle that involves hunting, gathering, fishing and farming, where men spend an average of 6-7 hours of their day being physically active and women spend 4-6 hours.

Their diet is largely carbohydrate-based (72%) and includes non-processed carbohydrates which are high in fibre such as rice, plantain, manioc, corn, nuts and fruits. Protein constitutes 14% of their diet and comes from animal meat. The diet is very low in fat with fat compromising only 14% of the diet — equivalent to an estimated 38 grams of fat each day, including 11g saturated fat and no trans fats. In addition, smoking was rare in the population.

In the observational study, the researchers visited 85 Tsimane villages between 2014 and 2015. They measured the participants’ risk of heart disease by taking CT scans of the hearts of 705 adults (aged 40-94 years old) to measure the extent of hardening of the coronary arteries, as well as measuring weight, age, heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and inflammation.

Based on their CT scan, almost nine in 10 of the Tsimane people (596 of 705 people, 85%) had no risk of heart disease, 89 (13%) had low risk and only 20 people (3%) had moderate or high risk. These findings also continued into old age, where almost two-thirds (65%, 31 of 48) of those aged over 75 years old had almost no risk and 8% (4 of 48) had moderate or high risk. These results are the lowest reported levels of vascular aging of any population recorded to date.

By comparison, a US study of 6814 people (aged 45 to 84) found that only 14% of Americans had a CT scan that suggested no risk of heart disease and half (50%) had a moderate or high risk — a five-fold higher prevalence than in the Tsimane population.

In the Tsimane population, heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose were also low, potentially as a result of their lifestyle. The researchers also note that the low risk of coronary atherosclerosis was identified despite there being elevated levels of inflammation in half of the Tsimane population (51%, 360 of 705 people).

“Conventional thinking is that inflammation increases the risk of heart disease,” said Professor Randall Thompson, cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, USA. “However, the inflammation common to the Tsimane was not associated with increased risk of heart disease, and may instead be the result of high rates of infections.”

Because the study is observational it cannot confirm how the Tsimane population is protected from vascular aging, or which part of their lifestyle (diet, physical activity or smoking) is most protective. The researchers suggest it is more likely to be a result of their lifestyle than genetics, because of a gradual increase in cholesterol levels coinciding with a rapidly changing lifestyle.

“Over the last five years, new roads and the introduction of motorised canoes have dramatically increased access to the nearby market town to buy sugar and cooking oil,” said Dr Ben Trumble, Arizona State University, USA. “This is ushering in major economic and nutritional changes for the Tsimane people.”

The researchers did not study whether coronary artery hardening in the Tsimane population impacted on their health, but note that deaths from heart attacks are very uncommon in the population so it is likely that their low levels of atherosclerosis and heart disease are associated. The researchers are investigating this in further research.

“This study suggests that coronary atherosclerosis could be avoided if people adopted some elements of the Tsimane lifestyle, such as keeping their LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar very low, not smoking and being physically active,” said senior cardiology author Dr Gregory S. Thomas, Long Beach Memorial Medical Centre, USA. “Most of the Tsimane are able to live their entire life without developing any coronary atherosclerosis. This has never been seen in any prior research. While difficult to achieve in the industrialized world, we can adopt some aspects of their lifestyle to potentially forestall a condition we thought would eventually effect almost all of us.”

Research spotlights early signs of disease using infrared light: New research

While more research is needed to confirm the findings published in the FASEB Journal, the use of FITR could herald a fast and easy way to spot early signs of infection, cancer, and difficult to diagnose neurological conditions.

The research led by Professors Peter Lay and Georges Grau used Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy to detect and characterize the release of sub-micron sized microvesicles.

Produced from the cell membranes of mammals, microvesicles play a role in cell communication and carry a “cargo” of RNA, DNA, proteins, lipids and other biomolecules that they use to dramatically change the biochemistry of other cells.

Microvesicles are involved in normal physiology but are released into the bloodstream at higher levels during the acute and early development phase of many diseases. They are also potent vectors and mediators of disease, so detecting changes in their number and biochemistry could be helpful for spotting mechanisms of early diseases development.

The researchers used FTIR to monitor microvesicle-biomolecular changes in white blood cells, known as monocytes, they stimulated with a component of deadly bacteria called lipopolysaccharide, comparing the changes to those in healthy, uninfected white blood cells.

Lipopolysaccahride from various bacteria can reach the blood and cause septic shock, a life-threatening complication of sepsis where the body’s infection-response can injure tissues and organs.

“We found a threefold increase in the number of microvesicles from white blood cells stimulated with lipopolysaccharide that points to a pathophysiological role for these microvesicles in bacterial infection and its subsequent immune response,” said study co-author Georges Grau at the University of Sydney’s Vascular Immunology Unit and Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases.

“We also saw clear biomolecular changes — more lipids and proteins — in microvesicles produced by white blood cells stimulated by lipopolysaccharides, compared to those produced by resting white blood cells.”

The researchers also discovered that most of the “cargo” of RNA, DNA, lipids and proteins released by the white blood cells were contained within these microvesicles.

“This is very important since there is an enormous research effort looking at circulating RNA, DNA and proteins in blood as diagnostics of diseases and our results indicate that they are mostly carried in these microvesicles,” said senior author, Professor Peter Lay at the University’s School of Chemistry and Vibrational Spectroscopy Core Facility.

“In many respects, the microvesicles released under bacterial stimulation during an infectious episode are like viruses whereby the altered lipid content and increases and proteins appear designed to invade and change the biochemistry of target cells by releasing their DNA and RNA.

“This use of FTIR spectroscopy to analyse microvesicles provides a new way characterize the biomolecular differences in this model of septic shock-induced white blood cell-microvesicle and could easily be applied to other models of microvesicle release, notably in a range of inflammatory diseases.”