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Hyperloop: Engineering the future of transportation

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By: Manoj Mathew

Next year will mark 150 years since the last spike was driven into the final railroad tie connecting the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S.

On May 10, 1869, supervisors and crew members from three railroad companies gathered a mile above sea level at Promontory Summit in Utah to watch Leland Stanford, the president of Central Pacific Railroad, drive the ceremonial 17.6 karat “Golden Spike.”

Private enterprise spurred the railroad’s development. The government supported it. And as travel time dropped from East to West and back again, the intended increase in commerce followed. As raw materials and finished goods could be transported much more quickly, industrialization of the West picked up speed.

What’s Good for Transportation Is Good for Commerce

Commerce constantly strives to access new markets faster, moving more goods and more people, more cheaply. That drives investment in improved transportation – safer, faster and more economical. Technological advancements in AI, robotics and faster machine-to-machine connectivity allow asset-intensive environments to optimize their performance, take decisive action more quickly, collaborate among themselves and collectively learn.

Take the automotive industry. Carmakers are already reimagining the concept of transportation using perceptual computing (machines that interact with their surroundings using five senses) and pervasive computing (embedded micro controllers to make machines ”smart”) to speed travel, promote safety, improve fuel economy and achieve sustainability.

Related: Connecting Physical and Digital Worlds to Power the Industrial IoT

As the world’s population grows, however, and more people can afford to buy automobiles and other forms of transport, infrastructure and the global environment are coming under intense pressure. Clearly, our planet would struggle if every inhabitant owned an automobile.

Redefining Transportation

Today, digital innovation has purpose beyond commerce: to tie people together without more gridlock; to reduce energy emissions (since even electricity generation burns fossil fuels); to get people from place to place faster, more safely and economically; and to develop innovative products that improve the customer experience — and their lives.

To meet these dictates for transportation systems, no development looks as revolutionary as Hyperloop, a low-pressure tube in which passenger pods travel at a rate near the speed of sound. The transportation system is designed to be underground or supported on pillars above the ground to lessen accidents and natural disaster risks. And Hyperloop proposes to cut rail and automobile travel times between cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., by five or six times.

Certainly, Hyperloop faces engineering challenges. Not the least of these is the effect on the human body of rapid acceleration and deceleration while having to negotiate curves, peaks and troughs. Other practical challenges include energy, efficiency and sustainability. But these are technical challenges that engineers are addressing, including alternative fuel sources such as solar panels, lighter materials, and combining magnetic levitation (maglev) with propulsion systems that convert higher air pressure at the front of the pod into a propellant that supercharges pod performance.

Download: Connecting Physical and Digital Worlds to Power the Industrial IoT

Early Hyperloop experimentation is arousing interest from California to the Netherlands, and from China to Mumbai. As for the practicality of transporting people safely, a development team at the Delft University of Technology recently revealed its ATLAS 01 Hyperloop pod, a half-size prototype of its design for a vehicle to carry passengers inside the Hyperloop tube. TU Delft’s graduate-level engineering team began development of its current entry in September 2017, after the first Hyperloop pod design competition was completed earlier that year. In that earlier Hyperloop competition, which evaluated the best pod design, the TU Delft Hyperloop team won first place overall.

Meeting the Hyperloop Challenge

The recent public reveal of TU Delft’s Hyperloop pod, ATLAS 2.0, comes in advance of a SpaceX Hyperloop competition that will take place July 22, inside a half-size test Hyperloop built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX at its headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. The team whose model achieves the highest speed wins the competition. This is a tough challenge, as the pod must accelerate, achieve top speed, brake and then come to a full stop in a single kilometer, the total length of the test loop.

Cognizant Digital Business is supporting the TU Delft team as a Prime Partner in the development of its prototype. Its Hyperloop pod’s control system depends on an enormous array of sensors and sophisticated algorithms. Our Connected Products team is helping the team refine and test model-based simulations of the interplay of sensors, the environment and the vehicle. These models of the physical environment — so-called digital twins — allow scenario-testing of the pod itself, with the goal of making it “fail-safe.” (Watch this video to see how.)

Download: Connecting Physical and Digital Worlds to Power the Industrial IoT

This parallels Cognizant’s work in the similarly promising realm of connected cars, rail, airlines, even bicycles. We are providing the TU Delft team with advice and technical support to help ensure the reliability and safety of its designs. The team writes specifications for ways to reduce risk; then they write the software. We test it for them, against our own hardware and software. As with all our work, we’re seeking to bridge the digital and the physical worlds to create real-world solutions.

A New Legacy

The legacy of “the Golden Spike” was easier movement across the country, greater market access and larger profits. Now, technological innovation is leading us forward again, to a future of transportation enabled by digital thinking and technologies built around sensorization, AI, hardware and software design, and human-centered product innovation and engineering.

Humans will continue their quest to realize cheaper, faster, more sustainable modes of transportation. Other mega-programs, like Big Falcon’s effort to provide point-to-point space travel (New York to Shanghai in 30 minutes), are already underway. For now, Hyperloop offers the promise of a Golden Spike in innovation in the 21st century – one that drives connections and commerce that benefit us all. We’re thrilled to be participating in the SpaceX competition. The world will be watching.

Raj Ravindranathan, Head of EMEA Cognizant Connected Products, contributed to this blog.

This article originally appeared on the Digitally Cognizant Blog

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Robot delivery: Bots will be bringing parcels to your home

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Ford, FedEx and Amazon are each at an advanced stage with autonomous robot delivery vehicles, designed to bring packages to the doors of businesses and homes. Several successful pilots have been completed.

Each robot looks different but the objective is similar — getting a package to a customer using an autonomous machine. The aim of these new robot delivery tools is to boost efficiency and eliminate the need to pay people to carry out the final part of the delivery process.

Ford / Agility Robotics

Ford, more commonly associated with cars and trucks, is partnering with legged locomotion specialist Agility Robotics to assess how self-driving car deliveries can be improved. The project objective is to ensure self-driving vehicles can accomplish something that’s been very difficult to accomplish: carrying out the last step of the delivery, from the car to the recipient’s front door.

The two companies hope the answer is a two-legged robot called “Digit”.

Digit has been designed to approximate the look and walk of a human. The robot is constructed from lightweight material and it is capable of lifting packages that weigh up to 40 pounds. In tests, Digit has been shown to be capable of going up and down stairs and to negotiate uneven terrain, thanks to the use of LiDAR and stereo cameras.

FedEx

The courier delivery services company FedEx is developing an autonomous delivery robot designed to assist retailers make same-day and last-mile deliveries to their customers. The device is called the FedEx SameDay Bot, and the aim is to deliver packages by bot directly to customers’ homes or businesses the same day. The device has been developed in collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp., run by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway.

The FedEx device is the most adventurous of the three, in that it will cross roads and is destined to cover longer distances. The interaction with roads is supported by machine-learning algorithms to help the robot to detect and avoid obstacles, plot a safe path, and to follow road and safety rules.

Amazon Scout

Amazon’s autonomous delivery robots are about to begin rolling out on California sidewalks. Amazon Scout will begin with delivering packages to the company’s Prime customers residing in Southern California. The new Amazon device will work during daylight hours, providing small and medium-sized packages to customers. The Amazon Scout is a six-wheeled electric-powered vehicle around the size of a small cooler. In terms of movement, the Scout rolls along sidewalks at what’s described as a walking pace.

Amazon began testing out the Scout in January 2019, running a pilot program using six machines to deliver packages in Snohomish County, Washington. Vice president of Amazon Scout Sean Scott said: “We developed Amazon Scout at our research and development lab in Seattle, ensuring the devices can safely and efficiently navigate around pets, pedestrians and anything else in their path.”

Following the success of the pilot — where the Scout autonomously navigated the various obstacles commonly found in residential neighborhoods like trashcans, skateboards, lawn chairs, the occasional snow blower and more — the device is ready for a wider launch.

The wider launch will feature a small number of Amazon Scout devices, delivering Monday through Friday, during daylight hours in the Irvine area of California, according to Smart2Zero. Customers will order items as they would normally, but in some cases their Amazon packages will be delivered by an Amazon Scout. To make sure things go smoothly, each Scout will initially be accompanied by a human “Amazon Scout Ambassador.”

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Amazon adds fear detection and age ranges to its facial-recognition tech as the Border Patrol looks to award a $950 million contract

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  • Amazon Web Services has added several new features to its facial-recognition technology, Rekognition.
  • This includes expanded age-recognition capabilities and the new ability to recognize fear.
  • Rekognition is a controversial technology and has been the subject of much criticism and protests — from both inside and outside Amazon.
  • These new features drew some flack from commenters on Twitter.
  • Meanwhile, the US Customers and Border Patrol is looking for quotes on a sweeping new border protection system that includes more facial-recognition tech.

Amazon Web Services has expanded the capabilities of its controversial facial-recognition technology called Rekognition.

It now better detects more age ranges and it can also detect fear, the company announced in a blog post on Monday.

The company explained (emphasis ours):

“Today, we are launching accuracy and functionality improvements to our face analysis features. Face analysis generates metadata about detected faces in the form of gender, age range, emotions, attributes such as ‘Smile’, face pose, face image quality and face landmarks. With this release, we have further improved the accuracy of gender identification. In addition, we have improved accuracy for emotion detection (for all 7 emotions: ‘Happy’, ‘Sad’, ‘Angry’, ‘Surprised’, ‘Disgusted’, ‘Calm’ and ‘Confused’) and added a new emotion: ‘Fear’.Lastly, we have improved age range estimation accuracy; you also get narrower age ranges across most age groups.”

Earlier this month AWS also announced that Rekognition can now detect violent content such as blood, wounds, weapons, self-injury, corpses, as well as sexually explicit content.

But it was the news of more age ranges and fear detection that was met with comments on Twitter.

Just last month several protesters interrupted Amazon AWS CTO Werner Vogels during a keynote speech at an AWS conference in New York.

They were protesting AWS’s work with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the family separation policy at the Southern Border. Amazon hasn’t acknowledged whether ICE uses its Rekognition technology, but the company did meet with ICE officials to pitch its facial-recognition tech, among other AWS services, as revealed by emails between Amazon and various government officials obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations.

Amazon’s Rekognition has come under fire from a wide range of groups who want the company to stop selling it to law enforcement agencies. In April, AI experts penned an open letter to Amazon about it. Civil rights group have protested it. 100 Amazon employees sent a letter to management last year asking the company to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement. Another 500 signed a letter this year asking Amazon to stop working with ICE altogether.

“AWS comes under fire for Rekognition sales to the federal government, who in turn is building concentration camps for children, and AWS’s response is to improve ‘age range estimation’ and ‘fear detection’ in the service? Are you f– KIDDING ME?!” tweeted Corey Quinn from the Duckbill Group, a consultant that helps companies manage their AWS bill. Quinn also hosts theScreaming in the Cloud podcast.

Another developer tweeted, “In 25 years we’re going to be talking about how AWS handled this situation in the same way we talk about how IBM enabled the holocaust. Every engineer and ML researcher who worked on this should be ashamed of themselves.”

The CBP is looking to buy more facial-recognition tech

Meanwhile, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a sister agency to ICE, has put out a new request for quotes on a sweeping new border-security system that includes expanded use of facial-recognition technology.

“Integration of facial recognition technologies is intended throughout all passenger applications,” the RFQ documents say.

The CBP already uses facial recognition at various airports, such as in Mexico City, where it matches passenger’s faces with photos taken from their passports or other government documents, it says.

And the CBP uses other biometric information, such as taking fingerprints of people at the border if it suspects that they are entering the country illegally, it says.

“CBP’s future vision for biometric exit is to build the technology nationwide using cloud computing,” the agency wrote in a 2017 article about the use of facial recognition and finger-print tech.

This new contract for new border security technologies is expected to begin in early 2020 and could be worth $950 million over its lifespan, according to the RFQ documents.

This article was originally published on Business Insider. Copyright 2019.

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IBM launches ‘Trust Your Supplier’ blockchain initiative

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IBM and Chainyard have announced a new blockchain network called Trust Your Supplier, which is a blockchain-based platform that simplifies supply chain management and improves supplier qualification, validation, onboarding and life cycle information management.

IBM sees the new blockchain-based network as critical to the continued growth and advancement of the global supply chain industry. The technology provides a digital passport for supplier identity on the blockchain. This will enable suppliers to share information with any permissioned buyer on the network to make qualifying, validating and managing new suppliers easier and less time-consuming.

The Trust Your Supplier platform is being pioneered by several leading companies, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, GlaxoSmithKline, Lenovo, Nokia, Schneider Electric and Vodafone. Each of these founding participants is in the process of onboarding their suppliers. These are leading companies across industries like technology, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and food and beverage.

By eliminating manual, time-consuming processes, the Trust Your Supplier technology aims to help reduce the risk of fraud and errors by establishing a connected environment among global suppliers. With more than 18,500 global suppliers, IBM itself will begin using and onboarding 4,000 of its North American suppliers to the Trust Your Supplier network. This is expected to be completed during quarter 3 of 2019.

Convening a network of leading companies with shared challenges and goals, Trust Your Supplier has been designed to assist companies working across multiple industries to design and implement more efficient processes to solve a common problem in relation to the supply chain.

Representing one of the first companies to take up the service, Sanjay Mehta, Vice President Procurement, Nokia, states: “Working with IBM and Chainyard on this blockchain initiative represents a great opportunity for Nokia to further enhance our suppliers’ experience and optimize the onboarding process (process of integrating a new supplier into an organization’s network). Using the latest technology to address a classical challenge will be of benefit for everyone, and further increase the speed of using innovative solutions.”

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