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Indian Hindustani music app developer wins Apple design award

Apple on Friday announced Apple Design Award winners which included six new award categories. Among the 12 app and game developers who won the award this year was Indian developer Sandeep Ranade who developed the NaadSadhana app, an app for Hindustani classical music. Ranade won the award under the innovation category, which provides a state-of-the-art experience through the novel use of Apple technologies that set them apart in their genre.

Apple describes NaadSadhana as an “all-in-one, studio-quality music app that helps musicians of all genres and any expertise perform and publish their music without boundaries.”

The company notes that after first finding its tune as an app for practicing Indian classical singing, NaadSadhana has expanded to support seven different genres of music. These include Hindustani classical, Semi-Classical, Devotional, Light / Bollywood, Carnatic, Western and Fusion.

NaadSadhana, with the help of artificial intelligence and Core ML, listens as a singer improvises a vocal line, and provides instant feedback on the accuracy of notes, and generates a backing track to match, in real-time. NaadSadhana started as an app for Hindustani classical music, but assists musicians of all genres who find it useful for its intuitive interface and powerful accompaniment features.

“This year’s Apple Design Award winners have redefined what we’ve come to expect from a great app experience, and we congratulate them on a well-deserved win,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations. “The work of these developers embodies the essential role apps and games play in our everyday lives, and serve as perfect examples of our six new award categories.”

Other apps to win the Apple Design Awards were from Inclusivity, delight and fun, interaction, social impact, visuals and graphics. 

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A ‘Third Eye’ for smartphone addicts

A South Korean industrial designer has come up with a satirical solution for “smartphone zombies” who can’t take their eyes away from their screen long enough to stop themselves walking into a wall or other obstacle.

Paeng Min-wook, 28, has developed a robotic eyeball he has dubbed “The Third Eye”, which obsessive mobile phone users can strap to their foreheads so they can browse injury-free on the go.

The device opens its translucent eyelid whenever it senses the user’s head has been lowered to look at a smartphone. When the user comes within one to two metres of an obstacle, the device beeps to warn of the impending danger.

“This is the look of future mankind with three eyes,” Paeng, a postgraduate in innovation design engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London, told Reuters as he demonstrated use of The Third Eye around Seoul.

“As we cannot take our eyes off from smartphones, the extra eye will be needed in future.”

Paeng’s invention uses a gyro sensor to measure the oblique angle of the user’s neck and an ultrasonic sensor to calculate the distance between the robotic eye and any obstacles. Both sensors are linked to an open-source single-board microcontroller, with battery pack.

Paeng’s demonstration of the device in Seoul this week garnered attention from passersby.

“I thought he looked like an alien with an eye on his forehead,” Seoul resident Lee Ok-jo said. “These days many young people can get into accidents while using their mobile phone. This would be good for them.”

Paeng said The Third Eye was meant as a warning, not a real solution for smartphone addicts who won’t pay attention to where they are going.

“By presenting this satirical solution, I hope people would recognize the severity of their gadget addiction and look back at themselves,” he said.


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US agrees to remove Xiaomi from blacklist

San Francisco: The Joe Biden administration has agreed to remove Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi from the blacklist imposed by the earlier Donald Trump administration that designated it as a “Communist Chinese military company” and barred the firm from doing business with the US firms.

Xiaomi was added to a US military list of alleged Chinese military companies in January this year. The Chinese conglomerate had filed a lawsuit against the ban.

On Tuesday, the US Department of Defence agreed to remove Xiaomi from the blacklist. The news led to over 6.5 per cent rise in Xiaomi shares.

“The Parties have agreed upon a path forward that would resolve this litigation without the need for contested briefing,” read the court filing.

In March, a US court temporarily halted the ban on Xiaomi, saying the company was likely to win a full reversal and would “suffer irreparable harm in the form of serious reputational and unrecoverable economic injuries.”

Xiaomi and the US Department of Defence will now work on a “joint proposed order” on or before May 20 to be submitted to the court.

Xiaomi had earlier reiterated that it is “a widely held, publicly traded, independently managed corporation that offers consumer electronics products solely for civilian and commercial use”.

“We are committed to working with our global partners to let everyone in the world enjoy a better life through innovative technology,” a company spokesperson had said in a statement.

“The company confirms that it is not owned, controlled or affiliated with the Chinese military, and is not a ‘Communist Chinese Military Company’ defined under the NDAA. The company will take appropriate course of actions to protect the interests of the Company and its shareholders”.

In July 2020, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated Chinese telecom companies, Huawei and ZTE, as national security risks to America’s communications networks.

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Indian teen names NASA’s first Mars helicopter

Washington, DC: NASA’s first Mars helicopter has a name now and the credit goes to 17-year-old Indian-origin girl Vaneeza Rupani.

Rupani, a high school junior from Northport, Alabama, earned the honor of naming the helicopter after she submitted her essay into NASA’s “Name the Rover” contest.

Destined to become the first aircraft to attempt powered flight on another planet, NASA’s Mars Helicopter officially named: Ingenuity, as suggested by Rupani.

While NASA announced in March that its next rover would be named Perseverance based on seventh-grader Alexander Mather’s essay, the agency decided to also choose a name for the helicopter that will accompany the rover to Mars.

“Our Mars helicopter has a new name! Meet: Ingenuity. Student Vaneeza Rupani came up with the name during our “name the rover” contest. Ingenuity will ride to the Red Planet with @NASAPersevere to attempt the first powered flight on another world,” NASA tweeted.

Rupani’s entry was among 28,000 essays submitted by K-12 students from every US state and territory, according to NASA, which made the announcement on Wednesday.

“The ingenuity and brilliance of people working hard to overcome the challenges of interplanetary travel are what allow us all to experience the wonders of space exploration,” Rupani wrote in her essay, according to a news release by NASA.

“Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things, and it allows us to expand our horizons to the edges of the universe,” it said.

Rupani has been interested in space science since she was a young child, according to her mother Nausheen Rupani.

“On their way to school every day, she and her dad would pretend they were in a spaceship. They would imagine seeing planets (buildings), stars (traffic lights), etc. on their way and give them names,” Nausheen Rupani told NASA.

To have her submission selected was more than exciting, the teenager said.

“(I thought) ingenuity would be a good name for the helicopter because that is exactly what it took to design this machine,” she told NASA. “The helicopter is an incredible project, and I am thrilled to have a part in its journey.”

Ingenuity and Perseverance are scheduled to launch in July and land next February at Mars’ Jezero Crater, the site of a lake that existed 3.5 billion years ago. (PTI)

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India plans to develop ”desi” version of ZOOM

The Indian government is planning to bankroll the development of a ”desi” video-conferencing mobile application, which will initially cater to the Central and state government entities.

Significantly, the development comes at a time when the Centre has red-flagged Zoom app over security concerns. As per plans, under the Digital India program, the Centre has called upon India-based developers to create a tool with primary function of video-conferencing.

This solution from the concept stage will be scrutinized for various aspects, including data security features. The selected application will get a contract for use by Central and state government entities for video-conferencing purposes for a period of four years.

The developers will also be free to market their product to entities outside the government organizations.

According to the IT Ministry, the selected solution will receive Rs 1 crore in the first year and an additional support at the rate of Rs 10 lakh per year for the next three years towards operation and maintenance of the application.

Lately, travel restrictions imposed due to the lockdown measure has made these applications quite popular. Presently, the majority of non-essential service sector manpower is working from home. Many business establishments are heavily reliant on these applications to coordinate their workforce and conduct meetings.

At present, major IT players, including Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex, have developed such applications which differ in features but offer the commonality of allowing for video-conferencing using mobile phones.

Incidentally, the Cyber Coordination Centre (CCC) of the Ministry of Home Affairs in an advisory issued on April 12 mentioned that “secure use of Zoom meeting platform is for private individuals and not for use of government offices or official purposes”.

The government said that the CERT-In had been informed on February 6 and March 30 this year, clarifying that “Zoom is not a safe platform

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Intel develops chip that sniffs out hazardous chemicals

San Francisco: Intel has developed a unique chip that can recognize hazardous chemicals in the presence of significant noise and object occlusion.

Called Loihi, the Intel’s neuromorphic research chip learnt each odor with just a single sample, without disrupting its memory of previously learned scents, the company announced on Tuesday.

The chip demonstrated superior recognition accuracy compared with conventional state-of-the-art methods, including a deep-learning solution that required 3,000 times more training samples per class to reach the same level of classification accuracy.

“We are developing neural algorithms on Loihi that mimic what happens in your brain when you smell something,” said -Nabil Imam, senior research scientist in Intel’s Neuromorphic Computing Lab.

“This work is a prime example of contemporary research at the crossroads of neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence and demonstrates Loihi’s potential to provide important sensing capabilities that could benefit various industries,” he added.

Using a neural algorithm derived from the architecture and dynamics of the brain’s olfactory circuits, researchers from Intel and Cornell University trained Loihi chip to learn and recognize the scents of 10 hazardous chemicals.

To do so, the team used a dataset consisting of the activity of 72 chemical sensors in response to these smells and configured the circuit diagram of biological olfaction on Loihi.

The chip quickly learned the neural representation of each of the smells and recognized each odour, even when significantly occluded, demonstrating a promising future for the intersection of neuroscience and artificial intelligence, according to a joint paper published in Nature Machine Intelligence.

Imam sees the potential of robots equipped with neuromorphic chips for environmental monitoring and hazardous materials detection, or for quality control chores in factories.

They could be used for medical diagnoses where some diseases emit particular odours.

Another example has neuromorphic-equipped robots better identifying hazardous substances in airport security lines.

“My next step is to generalize this approach to a wider range of problems – from sensory scene analysis (understanding the relationships between objects you observe) to abstract problems like planning and decision-making,” said Imam.

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Seattle residents can vote via smartphones

San Francisco: Smartphones have made voting easier, as King County in the US state of Washington, where Seattle is located, implements mobile voting in their board of supervisors’ election.

This is the first-time mobile voting is available to all eligible registered voters. Previous pilots in other jurisdiction were limited to overseas and military voters and/or voters with disabilities.

For this election which began on Wednesday and continues till February 11, all 1.2 million registered voters residing in King Conservation District’s (KCD) service area are eligible to vote on their mobile phones and other electronic devices using the Democracy Live platform in the upcoming election.

The pilot is a collaboration between KCD, King County Elections, electronic balloting developer Democracy Live, mobile-voting nonprofit Tusk Philanthropies, Tusk Philanthropies, and the National Cybersecurity Centre.

“We are proud to partner with King Conservation District as they pilot this mobile voting technology,” Julie Wise, King County Director of Elections, said in a statement.

“It will be easier than ever for voters to access their Conservation District ballot and cast their vote,” Wise added.

Eligible voters can participate in the election by opting in to vote electronically on their smartphones, laptops or even at their local library, Tusk Philanthropies said on Wednesday.

Participating voters can log into the secure Democracy Live portal on their smart devices using their name and date of birth to access and mark their ballot.

Once the voter has made all their selections, they get the opportunity to review their ballot to ensure it was marked correctly.

Upon confirming their selections, voters will submit their signature to verify their submission before electronically returning their ballot.

Voters also get the option to print and return their marked ballots via local drop boxes throughout the county, or to mail in their ballot.

Ballots will be verified and tabulated by King County Elections.

“The more people vote, the more the government reflects the will of the people,” said Bradley Tusk, CEO and Founder of Tusk Philanthropies.

“That’s why today’s announcement is so historic: 1.2 million people can now vote securely on their phones. It’s the biggest innovation in democracy in years and we are extremely grateful to King Conservation District and King County Elections for making it happen,” Tusk said.

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SpaceX launches 60 more satellites, trying to tone them down

SpaceX launched 60 more mini internet satellites late Monday, this time testing a dark coating to appease stargazers.

It’s a “first step” compromise between SpaceX and astronomers fearful of having dark skies spoiled by hundreds and, eventually, thousands of bright satellites circling overhead.

The Falcon 9 rocket blasted into a cold, clear night sky, recycled by SpaceX for its fourth flight. As the first-stage booster flew to a vertical landing on an ocean platform, the Starlink satellites continued hurtling toward orbit to join 120 similar spacecraft launched last year.

Flight controllers applauded, and the launch commentator described the booster’s fourth touchdown as “awesome.” An hour later, all 60 satellites were free of their upper stage and making their own way in orbit. “It’s a beautiful sight,” the commentator observed.

His Starlink fleet now numbering 180, SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk plans to ultimately launch thousands of these compact flat-panel satellites to provide global internet service. Each spacecraft is just 575 pounds (260 kilograms).

After the first Starlink batch of 60 was launched in May and the second in November, astronomers complained how the bright satellite chain was hampering their observations. In response, SpaceX came up with a darkening treatment to lessen reflectivity. The coating is being tested on one of the newly launched satellites.

Jeff Hall, director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, said the Starlinks have been just an occasional problem — so far — but noted the risk to stargazing will grow as the constellation expands and other companies launch their own fleets. He heads the American Astronomical Society’s committee on light pollution, space debris, and radio interference, and is working with SpaceX on the issue. The matter is on the agenda, in fact, at the society’s conference in Hawaii this week. “Anything that darkens the satellites is a step in the right direction,” Hall said in an email Monday. He said it’s too soon to know whether the dark coating will work, “but it definitely is just a first step and not enough to mitigate the issues astronomy will experience with the Starlinks.”

The Starlinks are initially placed in a relatively low orbit of 180 miles (290 kilometers), easily visible as a long, strung-out cluster parading through the night sky. Over a few months, krypton-powered thrusters raise the satellites to a 340-mile (550-kilometer) orbit.

The higher the orbit, the less visible the satellites are from the ground, according to SpaceX. Even so, SpaceX said it’s supplying astronomy groups with the satellite coordinates in advance, so they can avoid the bright flyover times.

Already established in launching satellites for others and making space station deliveries for NASA, SpaceX is among several companies looking to provide high-speed, reliable internet service around the world, especially in places where it’s hard to get or too expensive. Others include Jeff Bezos’ Amazon and OneWeb.

SpaceX may start service later this year in the northern US and Canada, then expand to the world’s most populated areas after 24 launches.

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Google brings audio streaming, download quality controls to YouTube Music

San Francisco, Sep 23: Google is now rolling out audio streaming and download quality controls for YouTube Music on the Android operating system (OS), the media reported.

The latest controls come with newer options in the Settings and Downloads’ menu — low, normal, high and always high — that would allow users to choose the quality of audio and video content on the platform, keeping in mind their requirements and data constraints.

Beyond an audiophile’s desire for the highest quality sound, adding this setting helps users better manage their data plans when streaming, as well as device storage when queuing songs for offline playback, 9To5Google reported on Saturday.

The search engine officially announced audio streaming and download quality controls along with the promise to adopt a more consistent update cycle for YouTube Music earlier in August and confirmed these features last month.

Users must have the latest version of the YouTube Music app on Android to be able to get access to these features, the report added.

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