Start-up aims for record-breaking 30 day flight with solar powered balloon


A concept image of the Zephyr Exalto balloon in flight (Credit: Zephyr Exalto)
A concept image of the Zephyr Exalto balloon in flight (Credit: Zephyr Exalto)

Four years ago, Vincent Farret d’Asties had a dream.

Working as an air traffic controller, he imagined a new, more peaceful and efficient mode of flight, unconstrained by expensive, environmentally-damaging fuel and time limits. Now, his company Zephyr Exalto is planning to realise that dream using nothing more than helium and the Sun; and in the process, break the world record for the longest fuel-free manned flight in the atmosphere.

The French start-up is exhibiting at the Paris Air Show after designing its new stratospheric balloon. The vessel will not use propane to create hot air, but will instead float upwards with helium and use power from the Sun to ascend and descend. The patented technique is still closely guarded, but in March the company joined the European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Centre, dedicated to innovative new ideas.

Zephyr Exalto plans for its balloon to reach 25km above the Earth, providing scientific companies with high-up atmospheric observations. Before the balloon is commercialised – and after planned testing in September – the company hopes to break a world record next year by flying for 30 days and nights without landing.

The idea comes directly from CEO d’Asties’ vision, and he plans to travel on the potentially record-breaking flight with pilot Amaury Jaorousse. He hopes the balloon will successfully complete his dream of limitless, fuel-free flight. “You can just drift along, spirited by the wind,” he tells Professional Engineering. “Something that is not like a machine, but works in a very efficient way.”

The balloon’s route will leave Europe, fly north over the Arctic and reach America before returning over the Atlantic. Its maximum altitude on the flight will be 9km.

The biggest challenge for balloon flights has always been successfully harnessing the wind, says d’Asties, making forecasts the most important technical aspect of the mission. “The best way to stay in the air for a long time is to know your environment, rather than using power and aggression over it,” he says. “There have been big improvements in the technology. New carbon can make the basket lighter, but the forecasting is the most important.”

If testing and the record-attempt go successfully, Zephyr Exalto aims to make the balloon commercially available for scientific projects. The company also intends to share as much of the flight as possible. “We will be lucky enough to share wonderful things with the world, and share the dream with schools, pupils and people – make them fly with us.”

Ten female engineers whose inventions changed the world

Ada Lovelace pioneered algorithms on the Analytical Engine

Ada Lovelace pioneered algorithms on the Analytical Engine

Today is International Women in Engineering Day, with a number of events running across the country and worldwide. We’ve highlighted ten women whose discoveries and inventions have changed the world.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was a member of the British aristocracy and the daughter of Lord Byron, but she’s also considered the first computer programmer. She was fascinated by the Difference Engine, a mechanical calculator invented by mathematician Charles Babbage, and when he started work on a more complex Analytical Engine, she became an important collaborator. Decades before the first computers, she worked out how to use the Analytical Engine to perform calculations – the first algorithms.

Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek discovered bulletproof fibre Kevlar by accident in the 1960s, while searching for something lightweight but strong for use in car tires. She was working as a chemist at DuPont factory in Delaware, where she carried out extensive research on polymers. Kevlar was five-times stronger than steel by weight, and is now used for bulletproof vests and mobile phone cases.

Tabitha Babbitt

Tabitha Babbitt lived in a religious Shaker community in Massachusetts in the 19th century, and she was struck by the wasted effort the men expended chopping wood. The tool of choice at the time was a two-man whipsaw, where half the effort of moving the saw back and forth was wasted. She developed a circular saw which could be connected to a water-powered machine to cut lumber.

Mary Anderson

On a chilly New York day in 1902, Mary Anderson was riding a tram car and noticed that the driver kept both panes of the double front window open so he could see through the sleet. Once she’d warmed up, and returned to her home in Alabama, she worked with a designer to develop a hand-operated device to clear the windscreen. It consisted of a lever inside the vehicle connected to a rubber blade outside. She patented her invention in 1903, but few car makers were interested until years later, when they became a standard feature. In 1917 another woman, Charlotte Bridgwood, patented the first automatic windscreen wiper.

Bette Nesmith Graham

The white correction fluid has fallen out of use in recent years – because of the advent of computers, not because we’ve stopped making mistakes, but it was a godsend in the early days of the typewriter. Back then, a mistake meant starting over, as Bette Nesmith Graham knew only too well. She was working as a secretary in a Texas bank, and had her moment of inspiration when watching painters cover their mistakes with an additional coat.

Graham mimicked their technique, and producing and perfecting this ‘liquid paper’ soon became her full time job. By 1967 she was selling a million bottles a year.

Alice Parker

There were systems for distributing heat around the home back in Roman times, but a forgotten African-American woman came up with the system that bears most similarity to modern central heating systems. Almost nothing is known about Alice Parker, bar the patent she was granted in 1919 which describes a technically complex and intricate gas-powered heating system for the home.

Hedy Lamarr

She was a global film star in the 1930s and 40s, but in her spare time Hedy Lamarr developed a technique called ‘frequency hopping’ which allowed the US military to control weapons and other devices remotely, without fear of them being jammed. The same technology forms the basis for all sorts of modern wireless communication, including WiFi.

Josephine Cochrane

In the 1870s, Josephine Cochrane started throwing lavish dinner parties using fine china that had been handed down through her family for a century. After one party, some of the dishes were chipped by a careless servant so she started searching for a safer alternative. The end result was the first commercially successful automatic dishwasher, which was pioneering because it used water pressure rather than manual scrubbers to clean the dishes.

Sarah Guppy

A serial inventor almost on par with Thomas Edison, Guppy is best known for her contributions to bridge-building. Her first patent was for a way of making safe piling for the foundations of bridges, and her work helped support Bristol’s famous Clifton suspension bridge. She was prolific – other patents included methods of keeping ships free of barnacles, a bed with built-in exercise equipment, and a tea and coffee urn that would cook eggs and keep toast warm.

Henrietta Vansittart

The daughter of inventor James Lowe, who’d pioneered screw propellers for steam ships, Vansittart carried on her father’s work after his death. She improved on it, with her propeller being trialled on the HMS Druid in 1869. It was eventually fitted on the ocean liner the Lusitania.

How close are we to a real Star Trek-style medical tricorder?

Bobbie Johnson/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Bobbie Johnson/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Does science inspire fiction or does it work the other way around? In the case of medical technology, the long-running TV and film series Star Trek has increasingly been inspiring researchers worldwide. Two teams were recently awarded the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize for developing handheld devices that can diagnose a range of diseases and check a patient’s vital signs without invasive tests – inspired by Star Trek’s medical “tricorder” device.

In the show, a doctor would use the tricorder and its detachable scanner to quickly gather data on a patient and instantly work out what was wrong with them. It could check organ functions and detect diseases and their causes, and also contained data on a range of alien lifeforms. But how close are we really to using such devices (assuming we don’t need them to diagnose aliens)?

The main aim of the two prizewinners is to integrate several technologies in one device. They haven’t created an all-in-one handheld machine but they do both represent significant steps forward.

The main winner, known as DxtER and created by US firm Basil Leaf Technologies, is actually an iPad app with artificial intelligence. It uses a number of non-invasive sensors that can be attached to the body to collect data about vital signs, body chemistry and biological functions. The runner-up technology from Taiwan’s Dynamical Biomarkers Group similarly connects a smartphone to several wireless handheld test modules that can analyse vital signs, blood and urine, and skin appearance.

The judges said both devices nearly met the benchmarks for accurately diagnosing 13 diseases including anaemia, lung disease, diabetes, pneumonia and urinary tract infection. These are the most successful efforts we’ve seen to bring so many functionalities into a single, user-friendly, portable diagnostic system.

Part of the success is due to the development of a variety of technologies that make up such all-in-one systems, although they still have some way to go. Probably the most advanced are mobile vital signs monitoring devices. For example, the ViSi Mobile System can remotely monitor all core vital signs including blood pressure, blood oxygen, heart rate and electrical activity, and skin temperature. It uses electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors attached to the chest and a pressure sensor in cuffs on the thumb and arm, both attached to a wearable wrist unit that feeds all the signals wirelessly to desktop or mobile device, with the same accuracy as conventional intensive care equipment.

All the various sensor data from a system such as this then needs to be turned into meaningful readings – and that requires specialist software. For example, the Airstrip Technologies software can pull in information from hundreds of different types and brands of patient monitors and other equipment, as well as medical records, scan results and even messaging apps, to display a full picture of patient’s changing condition in real time.

Portable imaging technologies are another element needed to assess a patient and present the relevant information. For example, there are already miniaturized USB-based ultrasound probes that can connect directly to a smartphone to provide instant ultrasound images. With the quality of mobile cameras and image processing capabilities continually improving, this technology is likely to get even better in the near future. This could mean instant X-ray scans or skin abnormality diagnosis using pattern recognition software.

Data and diagnosis

But vital signs information and images aren’t enough for a fully automated device that can tell you what’s actually wrong with a patient. The most mature technology we have in this area is for diabetes monitoring. Portable home blood glucose meters that can test a drop of blood on a paper can already be connected to mobile apps to allow diabetes sufferers to assess the severity of their condition.

Meanwhile, completely non-invasive methods for measuring glucose that don’t involve finger pricking to get a drop of blood are under development. These include analysing sweat or the interstitial fluid located a few micrometres below the skin’s surface (above the pain-causing nerves).

Lab on a chip. Shutterstock

A number of innovative companies around the world are focusing on using similar handheld systems to diagnose other diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis, bacterial infections and cardiovascular disease. These rely on the key enabling technology of microfluidics, which uses specially designed microchips to manipulate tiny amounts of liquid.

Commonly known as lab-on-a-chip technology, this allows you to reduce a complete clinical laboratory testing system to a device a few centimetres across. You can take a sample, prepare it for testing (for example by isolating bacteria in the blood) and identify and measure the microbe present.

The ConversationBut while there has been significant progress in the developing bits and pieces of a tricorder, there is still work to do putting them altogether in a genuinely handheld package. Various equipment needs to be miniaturised and we need more progress in portable computers so they can handle all the information and data required for a complete picture of a patient’s health condition. We also need more development of the more thorough diagnostic features, such as the lab-on-chip and portable imaging systems, and less invasive testing methods. We may not have a tricorder in our hands yet, but we are definitely getting closer.

Despina Moschou, Prize Fellow in Bioelectronics, University of Bath

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five things to look out for at the Paris Air Show

The 52nd International Paris Air Show starts on Monday (Credit: International Paris Air Show)

The 52nd International Paris Air Show starts on Monday (Credit: International Paris Air Show)

The world’s biggest and oldest air show has flown into view again, with excitement rising ahead of the official opening in just a few days.

The 52nd International Paris Air Show runs from Monday to Sunday next week, with the top names in the aerospace industry preparing to reveal their best breakthroughs and cutting-edge technology. But what are likely to be some of the hot topics and dominant themes at the show?

Here, we list five things you can expect to hear a lot more about next week.

pa 3d

3D printing and additive manufacturing

3D printing has been on the public radar for several years but is now starting to make significant progress into the world of aviation.

Aircraft engine parts from turbines to compressors are already being made in 3D printers, and at the show Boom Supersonic and Stratasys will be setting out their vision for a new supersonic airliner which could fly between New York and London in just over three hours using printed parts.

Drones could identify defective parts on aircraft using computer vision and automatically tell workers to start printing replacements, claims Accenture, which will outline its proposed “digital distribution solution” next week.

pa connected

Connected planes

With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), 2017 could be the year planes become more connected than ever before.

Honeywell Aerospace will claim connected aircraft could “change the future of flight,” taking advantage of big data and high-speed transfers to bring more information to pilots, operators and passengers. Engine maintenance will become predictive as IoT tools communicate potential mechanical issues directly to maintenance crews before planes are grounded, Honeywell says, using wireless and automatic communication and real-time analytics tools such as its Sentience platform.

Credit: Alvarez

Augmented and virtual realities

VR and AR companies have brought their headsets into more businesses and living rooms than ever before in the last year. Some exhibitors at the show will be using the technology to reveal their work in new ways, and show how it can be practically used.

Aerospace and defence company Dassault Systèmes says it will showcase “demonstrations and experiences that engage visitors in the virtual discovery of industry advances that ultimately impact how society works, travels and lives.” The demonstrations will include a simulated search and rescue mission featuring a drone that users can interact with.

Accenture will also demonstrate a “guided aircraft assembly” system using the Microsoft HoloLens, showing technicians step-by-step building instructions with 3D holograms.

pa space

“Diversification of space”

The European Space Agency will hold a series of talks at the show on “Space 4.0”. Its director general Jan Woerner defines it as an “era in which the space sector evolves from being the preserve of the governments of a few spacefaring nations to a new reality, with an increased number of diverse space actors around the world”.

The new players include both public and private operations at local and global levels, with everyone from academics to the public taking part, says Woerner. With companies such as SpaceX leading the way on technologies like reusable rockets, it is sure to be a popular topic at the show.

automation in line

Increased automation

Automation is already making aircraft design and manufacture more efficient, says Anand Parameswaran, senior vice president for aerospace and defense at Cyient. He predicts the technology will take centre stage in Paris as manufacturers envision using digital systems to increase automation and integration across all areas of their businesses.

How to Message Someone On WhatsApp Who Has Blocked You

message someone on WhatsApp who has blocked you

Learn how to message someone on WhatsApp who has blocked you with a simple WhatsApp trick that will help you to get a way to do communicate with a person that blocked you. So follow the below guide to proceed.

Nowadays WhatsApp is a very popular messenger which helps us to connect with your known ones but sometimes you may experience that someone has blocked you in your contact list. If someone has blocked you on WhatsApp then you cannot see his/her profile picture or status and even you cannot send a message. There may be a chance that you have something very important to tell to your closed one. Also if your girlfriend or boyfriend has blocked you on WhatsApp and you have to convey your message and feel sorry for him/her before the time passes away then this article is for you. In this article, we are going to share a trick with you which will help you send a message to someone who has blocked you. You can make a conversation with him/her as before. Some articles may suggest you to firstly delete your account and then reinstall your WhatsApp in order to get unblocked. But this is a lengthy process and in this process, you have to leave all of your existing groups. So we need a better idea than this which help us text someone who has blocked us. And here we are going to discuss the same a cool method that you must not used till now to have a chat with a person who had blocked you. So have a look on complete guide discussed below to proceed.

#1 Engage a third person.

To carry out your plan you need to engage a third person in this process. The third person can be any of your friend in your friend list. The third person plays a very crucial role in this process. And that third person should be on WhatsApp and if he/she is common friends of you and person that blocks you then you will have a good advantage.

#2 The third person will have to make a group.

The next step is also very simple to execute. The third person will have to make a group of you and the one who has blocked you. Now don’t worry you don’t have to make a conversation in the presence of the third person. The next step will clear your query. As this is the trick that is going to be very useful.

message someone on WhatsApp who has blocked you

#3 The third person leaves.

It will sound funny but yes the third person now will have to leave the group. He can leave the group by clicking on the group name. At the bottom, there will be a button showing “exit group“. The third person has to Click on this button and confirm yes on the warning box. As this is the medium that will be helping you in messaging that person using that group.

message someone on WhatsApp who has blocked you

And here it is. Your problem is solved. Since the third person has now left the group you have a clear space for conversation in the group chat. There is nothing to worry as this conversation will only be between you and the one who has blocked you. And now you can message that person through this group conversation. You can also say the bug of WhatsApp but you can now actually do WhatsApp messages to the person who blocked you and that too with a simple trick.

So, now you have a fair chance to say sorry or clear up your misunderstanding or you can convey some important message. The only problem arises if your closed one leaves the group. But we are pretty sure that you may have conveyed your message until now. In case he/she has left the group before you have messaged then we advise you to back out. We recommend that you should not keep following a person who doesn’t want to talk to you or listen to you. In such cases, this must be your last effort to sort out things. But we believe that things will come up good. You will have a good chat in the group and sort out things.

Hope you like the guide, and may this will be helpful you in any of case. Do share with others too. Leave a comment below if you have any related queries with this as techviral team will be always there to assist you with a complete tech team that can help you in any technical issues of any of the article in site.

Microsoft introduces standalone Modern Keyboard with fingerprint ID

Microsoft modern keyboard1 Microsoft has unveiled two new products – Modern Keyboard and Modern Mouse. The Modern Keyboard comes with a fingerprint ID that is built right into the keyboard, similar to Apple’s offering on the Macbook Pro. It had chiclet style keys, grey finish and looks similar to the Surface Keyboard .

The fingerprint sensor located between the Alt and Ctrl keys. Microsoft also offers Windows Hello tool which allows users to log in with facial, iris, or fingerprint recognition. The keyboard is made of a thin aluminium frame and weighs 413.5 grams. It uses a rechargeable battery and is compatible with Windows 8-10, Windows 10 Phone, Android and macOS, as long as the device supports Bluetooth 4.0 or higher. Microsoft claims up to 4 months of battery life on full charge. The Modern keyboard will be available shortly, priced at $129.99. In addition to the Modern Keyboard,

Microsoft has also announced Modern Mouse that supports Bluetooth 4.0 and claims to offer”exceptional precision”. The Modern Mouse will retail for $49.99.


‘Industroyer’ malware could hit power grids and factories worldwide after Kiev attack

Experts say power grids and factories are at risk (Credit: Thossapol/ iStock)

As the mercury plunged to -9°C, heaters and lights at homes across northern Kiev suddenly switched off.

In the freezing December night, neighbourhoods were left in the dark a few minutes before midnight and stayed without power until after 1am.

Almost exactly a year before, on 23 December 2015, roughly 225,000 people were hit by a power cut in the country. Both outages have now been blamed on cyberattacks, with Ukrainian officials pointing the finger at Russia.

This week, experts say they have identified the malware responsible for the attack on 17 December 2016. The ominously-titled “Industroyer” program was used, say researchers from security company ESET.

The name is all too fitting, say the team. The malware can control electricity substation switches and circuit breakers, but evades detection thanks to its authors’ “deep knowledge and understanding” of industrial control systems (ICS) and other features that keep it under the radar.

What makes Industroyer particularly threatening, however, is its ability to be transferred to a huge range of other systems. “The malware is capable of doing significant harm to electric power systems and could also be refitted to target other types of critical infrastructure,” says researcher Anton Cherepanov in a new report. Some think the 2016 attack was a test run, ahead of a wider deployment.

“Attackers could adapt the malware to any environment, which makes it extremely dangerous,” says Cherepanov. “Regardless of whether or not the recent attack on the Ukrainian power grid was a test, it should serve as a wake-up call for those responsible for security of critical systems around the world.”

‘Obvious’ risks

Industroyer’s adaptability has been called a “big leap forward” on previous malware such as Stuxnet, which targeted the Iranian nuclear power programme. The new program is highly customisable, meaning it can be changed to target particular hardware, and it exploits ageing ICS which have been hooked up to the internet worldwide – often without proper security in place.

“Since the industrial controls used in Ukraine are the same in other parts of Europe, the Middle East and Asia, we could see more of these attacks in the future. And while these attackers seem to be content to disrupt the system, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they could take things a step further and inflict damage to the systems themselves,” says Terry Ray from security company Imperva.

As well as power grids and water companies, which both use ICS heavily, large scale automation in sectors such as manufacturing, shipping, aerospace and others use the vulnerable systems. With widespread vulnerabilities and insufficient security patches, countries around the world are at risk of attack, Ross Brewer from automation company LogRhythm tells Professional Engineering.

“The risks are obvious, any critical national infrastructure is a target and we have people that are out there now that are motivated from an ideological perspective or a political standpoint,” he says. Attackers could work intelligently, targeting key vulnerabilities in grids or systems to achieve maximum impact, he adds.

A 2014 report claims an attack on just nine substations around the US could cut power for the entire nation, despite 55,000 transmission substations working around the country. A sabotage attack could potentially cut power for months, causing huge disruption.

‘Million things’ to protect

Although Industroyer is concerning, says Tenable “ethical hacker” Gavin Millard to PE, there are more fundamental issues that must be addressed. The program, and recently-used ransomware like WannaCry, exploits already-identified vulnerabilities.

Millard says he is “more worried about the ability for malware to be created that takes advantage of known flaws in critical national infrastructure and others around the globe. If you look at WannaCry, if you look at Industroyer, it is leveraging known issues to be able to break in, it is really the codification or the simplification of those attacks into a single binary.”

Security patches are not developed quickly enough and organisations do not install them promptly, adds Millard. Companies and governments must shift the focus on to “compensating controls,” monitoring users and traffic, he says. “You have got thousands, millions of things to protect and a hacker only really needs one thing to get in, so it is a really, really difficult battle.”

To keep people safe and networks running, organisations must look beyond obvious features such as firewalls and patches, and fundamentally overhaul their approach to security, says Brewer. “Organisations need to shift to monitoring for indications of compromise at the earliest stage, so more early monitoring and more rapid response,” he says.

With researchers suggesting the Kiev attack was simply a test, it is clear that organisations must act to protect themselves and others – sooner rather than later.

3D-printing could bring supersonic flight back to the skies

(Credit: Boom Supersonic)

A partnership between 3D printing company Stratasys and Boom Supersonic aims to make supersonic travel affordable and routine, 14 years after Concorde’s last flight.

The companies have signed a three-year agreement to help Boom build the world’s first commercially viable supersonic aircraft more quickly.

The Boom XB-1 aims to be ready for a demonstration flight by next year, will fly 2.6 times faster than any other aircraft on the market, and could cut a journey from New York to London from seven hours to just over three.

Boom is one of several aerospace companies exploring additive manufacturing, and it’s hoped that robust 3D-printed parts from Stratasys will accelerate their work. “Supersonic flight has existed for over 50 years, but the technology hasn’t existed to make it affordable for routine commercial travel,” said Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom. “Today’s significant advances in aerodynamics, engine design, additive manufacturing, and carbon fiber composite materials are transforming the industry at all levels. Additive manufacturing helps accelerate development of a new generation of aircraft.”

According to Neil Ashton, Senior Researcher at the University of Oxford’s eResearch Centre, Boom’s XB-1 will be more efficient than Concorde “thanks to lighter, cheaper composite materials and advances in aerodynamics and jet engines.”

That new generation of aircraft are likely to be smaller than the likes of Concorde, according to Tim Robinson, editor of Aerospace magazine. He told Professional Engineering that they could overcome one of the biggest issues with supersonic travel in the past. “Various people have been looking into the overland sonic booms,” he said. “There are now ways of reducing the noise profile over land which was the big thing that stopped Concorde from being as successful as it could have been.”

Techniques include using conventional engines during take-off, minimising the size and wright of the aircraft, or flying at very high altitudes. However, former Concorde pilot Jock Lowe told PE that there’s still a lot of work to be done in this area. “Personally I don’t think they’re anywhere near it yet,” he said. “We found that the secondary boom on Concorde which was one tenth of the normal boom – like a car door slamming at 50 yards – that was not acceptable. None of them have shown anything like getting the sonic boom minimised. I don’t think they’ve yet cracked supersonic over-flying of populated areas.”

Boom aren’t alone in seeking to revive supersonic flight. Airbus has plans for ‘Concorde Mark 2,’ which it says would cut the journey time between New York and London to just one hour. Meanwhile, a Boston-based start-up called Spike Aerospace is aiming to be airborne by  the early 2020s with a design that seeks to maintain speed by doing away with the cabin windows. The inside of the plane would be covered in curved electronic screens which could show films, or display the view outside.

However, although 3D printing could help bring down costs, there are other hurdles along the path to making supersonic flight commercially viable. “I think one of the key challenges is going to be the engines,” Robinson told PE. “If it’s kind of a niche market to begin with you’ve then got a challenge in convincing the engine manufacturers to invest a lot of money into turning one of their engines into a civil supersonic transport for what might be a quite small market.”

“Technology has obviously come on,” he continued. “There are more efficient engines these days, but the underlying physics of supersonic flight remain the same and that’s the challenge as well as obviously, ‘can you make it profitable’. I think it will be interesting to see what happens.”

Rush for Indian smart cities ‘ignoring poor and vulnerable’

Joseph Flaig

Poor people and minorities risk losing out during India's Smart City Mission, says the report (Credit: iStock)
Poor people and minorities risk losing out during India’s Smart City Mission, says the report (Credit: iStock)

An “unseemly rush” to create 100 Indian smart cities is forcing people from their homes and destroying communities, experts have said.

The comments came after a new report from the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) said people with low incomes, women and minorities risk being disadvantaged by their country’s mission for new smart cities. Forced evictions and threats of eviction because of developments have been reported in at least four areas, just two years into the large project, said the report’s authors.

Smart cities are generally described as urban developments which integrate Internet of Things (IoT) systems and other new technologies. According to Reuters, the Indian Smart Cities Mission aims to bring high-speed internet, consistent water and power, efficient public transport and “living standards comparable to Europe” to existing cities.

However, the report from the New Delhi-based campaigners said the $7.5billion plan lacks “a comprehensive vision for the future that omits the needs and aspirations of cities and their inhabitants, especially the majority”.

The project “dispenses utterly with the needs of the Indian people — when, that is, it isn’t simply bulldozering their communities under in the name of progress,” said London-based writer Adam Greenfield, author of Radical Technologies.

“What may seem like the height of contemporary city-making in the government’s presentations and renderings is little more than a pretext to uproot poor farmers and fisherpeople from the land, and replace their villages with gated enclaves and golf courses intended to serve the elite,” he said. “It’s an unconscionable use of technology, and anyone who works on this project bears some measure of responsibility for the destruction of communities and lifeways bound up in it.”

The report identifies seven major issues with the project, including a “disturbing” silence on the needs and rights of women, children, and marginalised groups. This raises questions over the mission’s ability to improve living conditions for everyone, the authors say. “No city can be considered ‘smart’ if it ignores the interests of poor, marginalised, and vulnerable groups and communities,” they add.

Other issues identified in the report include a high dependence on foreign or private sector investment and an “unrealistic reliance on technology” to solve serious societal problems.

“The premise of the smart city as a relevant model for India needs a fundamental re-evaluation, especially when profits seem to prevail over people and technology over human rights,” said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of the HLRN. “This is all the more urgent given the increasing levels of exclusion, impoverishment, unemployment, hunger, homelessness, forced evictions, and displacement of the urban poor in our cities.”

‘Minimising risks’

Smart cities also carry many risks to personal privacies, said expert Rob Kitchin from Maynooth University. Data collected from IoT devices, such as smart lamps or bins, can be collected and used to profile citizens. This can lead to predictive policing which often targets minorities, said Kitchin. 

More responsive and intelligently designed cities can bring many positives, but basic infrastructure needs must be addressed first and ethical concerns should always be considered, said Kitchin. “It is not necessarily being against the smart city, it is about being in favour of an ethical smart city,” he said. “It is not denying the technology has benefits, but it is about realising those benefits while minimising risk and potentially discriminatory aspects of it.”

Indian housing ministry spokesman A. A. Rao told Reuters there had been no forced evictions “to his knowledge”. “The mission provides the choice to those who live in squalor to live with dignity, in a more hospitable environment with basic infrastructure,” he added.

Bosch and Nokia are bringing 5G robots to the factory floor

The new generation of collaborative manufacturing robots have been freed from their cages, but they’re still tied down by wires and cables.

A collaboration between Nokia and Bosch seeks to change that, using 5G technology.

The companies have worked together to develop robots that can be controlled wirelessly over a 5G connection. A prototype of the technology, built into an industrial pick-and-place robot, was on show at the TechXLR8 exhibition in London today.

The advantage of using a 5G connection is that the response times are quicker, and you don’t get the peaks and troughs you would with Wi-Fi or current LTE networks.

The technology could also make robots safer. Currently, all robots are equipped with an emergency stop buttons to prevent them from harming nearby humans. But what if a human can’t reach the button when they need to?

On Nokia and Bosch’s prototype, instead of the controls for the robot being mounted on its body, they are placed on a handheld tablet that can display information about the machine, along with physical safety switches like the emergency stop button. This reduces duplication, because you don’t need to have multiple emergency stop buttons in different spots around the robot, and increases safety. “This is an immediate benefit,” Nikolaj Marchenko, a research engineer at Bosch, told Professional Engineering.

Going forward, the technology could pave the way for more adaptive and responsive collaborative bots. A previous project by Nokia and China Mobile used 5G to link small robots to a central server. They then worked together to balance a ball on a moving platform (see video above).

“In the future, you can see these robots being on mobile platforms,” said Marchenko. “The tasks will be more diverse. On production lines in future, they don’t need to built for years, you can change it every few days. Or it could be task-based. The robot could notice that there is a task that needs to be done on the other line, and it can just move over.”

Also in future, said Marchenko, a robot could even react in real time to orders, and position itself at a point in the factory where it’s most needed.