Intel Announces Project Alloy ‘Merged Reality’ Headset; Microsoft to Release Holographic Display Support for Windows 10

idf_intel_blog.jpgIntel CEO Brian Krzanich announced what the company is calling “merged reality” experiences during the opening keynote of the 2016 Intel Developers’ Forum event in San Francisco Tuesday. Merged reality envisions an immersive world that users can walk around and interact with as if they are physically present and participating in the scene, as delivered by a fully self-contained headset developed under the name “Project Alloy”.

A video demonstration showed one possible experience: an interactive first-person experience of walking into a party, interacting with guests, pausing the action, exploring 360-degree views, and moving people around such that the course of events and the virtual guests’ behaviour changed because of those actions. A more modest live demonstration showed a volunteer moving around a room and manipulating physical objects such as a switch and a lathe.

The Project Alloy headset does not need to be tethered to a PC, allowing users the freedom of walking around and moving on all six axes. If a user gets too close to a real-world object such as a wall or another person, it will pop into the scene, allowing him or her to avoid it. Users manipulate objects in the virtual world directly, negating the need for hand-held controllers. External sensing hardware is partially or fully replaced with Intel RealSense 3D cameras within the headset.



Intel’s Alloy hardware and open APIs will be made available in 2017, allowing other companies to create their own products and experiences around this platform.


Krzanich also invited Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group, Microsoft, on stage to talk about how the two companies are collaborating. Microsoft refers to such experiences as “mixed reality”, and is working on a set of specifications so that everyday Windows 10 PCs can be used with head-mounted displays such as Microsoft’s own HoloLens.

Microsoft is working towards releasing v1.0 of the spec in December this year, and will release an update for Windows 10 in 2017 which will introduce the Windows Holographic Shell, an interface for head-mounted displays which will enable users to visualise 2D and 3D Universal Windows applications at the same time. Microsoft had announced Windows Holographic at Computex this year, promising that it would run on a wide range of devices. Partners already on board at the time included Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, HTC, Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and MSI.


Krzanich and Myerson showed a video demonstration of the Windows Holographic Shell running on an Intel NUC PC as proof that it is able to deliver a smooth 90fps experience using Intel’s integrated graphics hardware. The combination of Windows Holographic Shell and the open-source Project Alloy hardware should allow developers to create their own experiences next year.

Other announcements made by Krzanich during his keynote included partnerships with BMW on autonomous vehicles and GE on big data sensing for smart cities; the new Intel Joule platform for IoT devices; the Euclid developer kit with integrated RealSense for robotics researchers and makers; and Aero Platform drone developer kits in the form of a regular integrated circuit board as well as an actual drone.

China’s Launch of First Quantum Satellite Major Step in Space Race

China's Launch of First Quantum Satellite Major Step in Space Race China’s launch of the first quantum satellite Tuesday will push forward efforts to develop the ability to send communications that can’t be penetrated by hackers, experts said.

The satellite launched into space from the Jiuquan launch base in northwestern China’s Gobi desert will allow Chinese researchers to transmit test messages between Beijing and northwestern China as well as other locations around the world.

If the tests are successful, China will take a major step toward building a worldwide network that can send messages that can’t be wiretapped or cracked through conventional methods.

“It moves the challenge for an eavesdropper to a different domain,” said Alexander Ling, principal investigator at the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore. “Lots of people around the world think having secure communications at a quantum level is important. The Europeans, the Americans had the lead, but now the Chinese are showing the way forward.”

Quantum communications use subatomic particles to securely communicate between two points. A hacker trying to crack the message changes its form in a way that would alert the sender and cause the message to be altered or deleted.

Researchers around the world have successfully sent quantum messages by land. But a true satellite-based network would make it possible to send quickly encrypted messages in an instant around the world and open the door to other possible uses of the technology.

 Cyber-security has been a major focus in recent years for China, which has pushed regulations aimed at limiting technology imported from the US in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread surveillance by the US through the use of American hardware.

China has in turn been repeatedly accused by the US of hacking into computer systems to steal commercial secrets and information that could harm American national security. China has rejected claims that it runs a state-sponsored hacking program and says that it is among the leading victims ofcybercrime.

Quantum messaging could become a major defense against hackers and have applications ranging from military and government communications to online shopping.

The biggest challenge, Ling said, is being able to orient the satellite with pinpoint accuracy to a location on Earth where it can send and receive data without being affected by any disturbances in Earth’s atmosphere. The results of China’s tests will be closely watched by other research teams, he said.

“It’s very difficult to point the satellite accurately,” Ling said. “You’re trying to send a beam of light from a satellite that’s 500 kilometers (310 miles) above you.”

Hoi Fung Chau, a professor and quantum communications researcher at Hong Kong University, said that it was too soon to say if the tests will succeed, but added he expected quantum messages by satellite to become the global standard eventually.

“The theory is already there, the technology is almost there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

The launch is a major triumph for China, which has spent years researching quantum technology and developing the satellite and other uses for it. China has previously announced the construction of a quantum link between Beijing and Shanghai that would be used by government agencies and banks.

Pan Jianwei, chief scientist on the satellite project, was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying the launch proved China was no longer a follower in information technology, but “one of the leaders guiding future IT achievements.”


Nasa Mulls Russia’s Idea to Cut Staff at International Space Station

Nasa Mulls Russia's Idea to Cut Staff at International Space Station

Nasa is weighing a Moscow proposal to cut the number of Russian cosmonauts at the International Space Station from three to two, particularly its potential risk to the crew, an official said Monday.

Typically, six crew members live at the orbiting outpost, a hallmark of global cooperation that is meant to stay in operation until at least 2024.

Asked during a news conference about media reports that Russia was considering reducing its staff there to two, Nasa’s Kenneth Todd said the ISS partners – which include Canada, Japan and theEuropean Space Agency – are aware of the proposal.

“They are exploring the option of going down to two crew on the Russian segment,” said Todd,International Space Station Operations Integration manager.

“They have made that known to the partnership.”

Russian media reports have quoted a Roscosmos official as saying the proposal comes as Russia is sending fewer cargo ships to the ISS, and could be a cost-cutting measure.

Meanwhile, the United States is ramping up its supply missions to the orbiting lab, with US astronauts preparing a spacewalk Friday to install a commercial docking adaptor at the ISS so that more private spaceships can park at the research lab in the years to come.

Todd said the ISS partners are aware that Russia has committed to the ISS program at least through 2024.

“There is no doubt they are keeping that in mind as they work through whatever challenges they have with their system,” Todd said.

“We will look at it, as we do with all these kinds of things. We will trade it against whatever risk that might put into the program,” he said.

“First and foremost, the risk to our crew on board and the station itself.”

Next, Todd said the international partners will see “what we can do as a partnership to try to either accommodate it, or help them realize why that is a bad thing.”

For now, he cautioned that “it is strictly a proposal they have put on the table and we will look at it.”

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

From two modules, the space station has grown to 15 modules, occupying a space the size of an American football field and representing around $100 billion (roughly Rs. 6,69,155 crores) in investment.

Since 2000, the station has been continuously occupied by a rotating staff of astronauts who typically stay for six months at a time before returning to Earth.

Researchers Develop Stretchable, Wearable Touchscreens

Researchers Develop Stretchable, Wearable Touchscreens

Researchers have developed a wearable touch screen panel that is highly stretchable and can be used to write words and play electronic games.

The thin flexible ionic touchpad that is highly transparent, can be placed on one’s arm to play video games, draw, write words as well as to play the piano, the study said.

The touchpad is made of hydrogel, a network of hydrophilic polymers that are soft and very stretchable, unlike the hard materials such as carbon nanotubes and metal nanowires earlier explored for the stretchy touchpads.

Moreover, the touchpad was still able to operate when it was stretched to more than 1,000 per cent of its normal area.

However, the resistance was found to increase slightly after 100 cycles, which may be due to water evaporation in the gel, said Chong-Chan Kim from the Seoul National University in South Korea, in a paper published in the journal Science.

For the stretchy touchpad, the team used a polyacrylamide hydrogel containing lithium chloride salts, which act as conductor and help retain water in the hydrogel.

Electrodes on the ends of the hydrogel panel apply similar voltages, which creates a uniform electrostatic field across the system.

When a finger touches the panel, it closes the circuit within the hydrogel, allowing current to flow from both ends of the strip to the touch point.

At each corner of the strip, meters that capture current detect the electrical signals.

Because human-computer interactions are increasingly important, touch panels may require stretchability and biocompatibility in order to allow integration with the human body, the researchers said.

The team also developed a controller board to facilitate communication between the ionic touch panel and a computer.

Flooded Canyons Found on Saturn’s Moon Titan

Flooded Canyons Found on Saturn's Moon Titan: Nasa

US space agency Nasa on Wednesday said its Cassini spacecraft has found deep, steep-sided canyons on Saturn’s largest moon Titan that are flooded with liquid hydrocarbons.

“The finding represents the first direct evidence of the presence of liquid-filled channels on Titan, as well as the first observation of canyons hundreds of meters deep,” Xinhua quoted Nasa as saying.

The discovery, published in the US journal Geophysical Research Letters, was based on data collected from a close flyby Cassini made over Titan in May 2013, during which the spacecraft’s radar instrument focused on channels that branch out from the moon’ s second largest hydrocarbon sea Ligeia Mare.

Previously, the branching channels appear dark in radar images, much like Titan’s methane-rich seas, but it was not clear if the dark material was liquid or merely saturated sediment, which at Titan’s frigid temperatures would be made of ice, not rock.

So during the 2013 pass, the Cassini spacecraft pinged the surface of Titan with microwaves, and the returned signals indicated the surface of the channels is extremely smooth, meaning they are currently liquid filled.

 The Cassini observations also revealed that the channels – in particular, a network of them named Vid Flumina – are narrow canyons, generally a bit less than a kilometre wide, with slopes steeper than 40 degrees.

The canyons also are quite deep with those measured 790 to 1, 870 feet (240 to 570 meters) from top to bottom, Nasa said.

The presence of such deep cuts in the landscape might be the result of uplift of the terrain, or changes in sea level, or perhaps both.

“It is likely that a combination of these forces contributed to the formation of the deep canyons, but at present it is not clear to what degree each was involved,” said Valerio Poggiali of the University of Rome, a Cassini radar team associate and lead author of the study.

“What is clear is that any description of Titan’s geological evolution needs to be able to explain how the canyons got there,” Poggiali added.

Maharashtra Government to Deploy Drones to Monitor Traffic

Maharashtra Government to Deploy Drones to Monitor Traffic

Maharashtra government is considering the use of drones to monitor, identify and control vehicles breaking traffic rules.

Minister of State for Home (Urban) Deepak Kesarkar said initially, drones would be put in place on a pilot basis on the Mumbai-Pune expressway.

A meeting was held between officials of the Home department and Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation earlier this week at the Mantralaya in Mumbai, which was attended by Kesarkar and PWD (undertakings) minister Eknath Shinde.

Kesarkar said Mumbai-Pune expressway has become a “death trap” with a large number of road casualties reported lately.

“Incidents of road accidents have increased due to indiscipline and rash driving. We do not have control over rash driving as the length of the express way is long and there is insufficient police staff for surveillance,” Kesarkar said.

He said while there is a need to control vehicular traffic, doing so by using a CCTV camera has its own limitations. Thus, the idea of using drones has been mooted.

“The drones will be used at load line of the ‘ghat’ on expressway where setting up of CCTV cameras is not possible,” he said.

“Mostly heavy loaded trucks jump lanes to overtake other big vehicles. This causes a traffic jam. The drones would click photos of such instances and the the Transport department will take action against errant drivers,” he added.

The minister said that even small vehicles would not be spared if found violating lane discipline.

He said the site of using drones has not been decided as yet but the MSRDC would submit its report suggesting requirement within the next 15 days.

“Initially, four to five drone will be hired from private companies for the expressway. Depending upon the result, the Home department is considering to use drones across Mumbai,” he said.

Along with CCTVs, usage of drones in the island city would take the burden of traffic police riddled with various woes, Kesarkar said.

Nasa Selects Six Firms to Develop Habitats for Mars Mission

Nasa Selects Six Firms to Develop Habitats for Mars Mission

Nasa has selected six US companies to help develop prototypes and concepts of deep space habitats for future manned missions to Mars.

Habitation systems provide a safe place for humans to live as we move beyond Earth on our journey to Mars, Nasa said.

“Nasa is on an ambitious expansion of human spaceflight, including the journey to Mars, and we’re utilising the innovation, skill and knowledge of the both the government and private sectors,” said Jason Crusan, director of Nasa’s Advanced Exploration Systems.

“The next human exploration capabilities needed beyond the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule are deep space, long duration habitation and in-space propulsion,” said Crusan.

“We are now adding focus and specifics on the deep space habitats where humans will live and work independently for months or years at a time, without cargo supply deliveries from Earth,” he said.

The selected companies are Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems and NanoRacks.

 The six partners will have up to about 24 months to develop ground prototypes and conduct concept studies for deep space habitats.

Nasa has estimated that the combined total of all the awards, covering work in 2016 and 2017, will be about $65 million.

Selected partners are required to contribute at least 30 percent of the cost of the overall proposed effort.

The ground prototypes will be used for three primary purposes: supporting integrated systems testing, human factors and operations testing, and to help define overall system functionality.

These are important activities as they help define the design standards, common interfaces, and requirements while reducing risks for the final flight systems that will come after this phase.

The selections are part of a phased approach that will catalyse commercial investment in low-Earth orbit and lead to an operational deep space habitation capability for missions in the area of space near the moon, which will serve as the proving ground for Mars during the 2020s.

These missions will demonstrate human, robotic and spacecraft operations in a true deep space environment that is still relatively close to Earth and validate technologies for the longer journey to Mars.

The activities of these awards will inform the acquisition and deployment approach for the next phase of flight systems for deep space including important aspects, such as standards and interfaces, module configurations, and options for deployment.