As the year kickstarts, students and teachers at IIT Bombay put forth the popular, 3-day tech extravaganza – IIT TechFest 2013. Unlike last year, wherein Robotics stole the show, the IIT Bombay Techfest this year showed us the changing times and how smartphones, tablets and apps are the future of technology, at least the near future. In fact, robots controlled using mobiles made their presence felt. We also got glimpses of augmented reality and heard some solid tech-talks from Jocelyn Goldfein, Director of Engineering, Facebook and Michael Tiemann , Vice President, Red Hat. Not surprisingly, the Aakash tablet was also displayed at the Techfest, wherein volunteers presented and demoed some dedicated apps that will be ported onto the Aakash 2. Read on to know what caught our attention at the IIT Techfest 2013.
Jocelyn Goldfein, Director of Engineering, Facebook, with students at IIT Bombay
The biggest highlight of the Day 1 at IIT Bombay was the lecture by Jocelyn Goldfein. Over the years, we have seen Facebook evolve and change. It has undergone a complete makeover with the Timeline feature and if you look at the feeds, the format of feeds has evolved dramatically in the last few years. As consumers, we aren't very adaptable to changes quickly, but Jocelyn explained how much this change was required and how well it is benefitting users in viewing feeds in the best possible way for them. In fact, she thinks news Feeds are Facebook’s most misunderstood product, and citing the story how News feeds was developed, she explains, “The first big idea was to form clusters of data, then the second was to make it look like a newspaper, after which the ‘Boulder Feed’ was finalised post a lot of rough work, as we see it today.” Jocelyn also explained how Newsfeeds had to clear a few criteria and one of them being the Zuckerberg’s Law which states: “I would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before.”
When asked about what are the changes in Facebook after the IPO, this is what she had to say, “We feel responsible like any other public company. We have made quite a few changes post the IPO. We want to accomplish change in the world and we see Facebook as popular vehicle of change. So we are bringing in really important functionality features for our users. And nothing but change will be constant for Facebook.” On being asked about the possibility of Facebook going downhill like MySpace, Jocelyn was quick to point out that MySpace was responsible for it’s own debacle and that Facebook’s commitment to constantly evolve will keep it relevant. She said, “No, I don't think so because the key is to keep evolving and creating something new. In fact Facebook didn't kill MindSpace, it is just that they stopped innovating. If you were to read some interviews of the founder of MySpace, then you will find that he admits that Facebook didn’t kill them, but they killed themselves. There was no reason why we could kill it while there were other social sites that co-existed with Facebook like Twitter and LinkedIn.”
Michael Tiemann, Vice President, Red Hat, taking about open source and cloud computing
Another imminent personality we met at the Techfest was Michael Tiemann, Vice President of Red Hat. Michael explained how open source plays a vital role in cloud computing. He put forth two hypotheses and their counter arguments. According to the first hypothesis, microeconomics of cloud makes microeconomics of open source insignificant and therefore irrelevant. In argument he says, “The game is fixed and only the players and tokens will change. Cloud platform replaces OS, cloud app replaces traditional apps, cloud protocols and modules will replace software and APIs and libraries.”
He also believes that open source changes the rules in cloud. However, one of the biggest concerns with cloud computing is security and we asked him how are they going to tackle it. Michael said, “With respect to security, the open source community has a very strong track record, having a foundation of security. The work that Red Hat began with U.S. National Security Agency back in 2004 to create a basic level of security remains one of the highest in the industry. And tools that have been built over the years to protect the kernel from malicious attack and other kinds of attack, have added to an enviable security record. Now, you are right that protecting security in cloud is vital, but the virtualisation model that Red Hat has developed with track record that we have and plus the transparency of the software, anybody can make any promises about what’s inside of a black box. We tell everybody how it works, show them the inside of a box and we don't push people to trust us. We allow people to look at the source code and make their own decision.”
When asked about the measures taken by the rest of the industry to ensure security in cloud, he laments that not enough is being done. He says, “I think that the industry has always done the least they can possibly do. It constantly takes a disaster like leakage of data or other embarrassment to keep them on track. And I am afraid that we are still in the early days where there is embarrassment after embarrassment. But someday, businesses will recognise that the importance of investment in security is like an investment for future.”
Alongside these addresses, the IIT B campus was abuzz with activities. What we noticed was the increasing presence of mobile applications – be it to control robots, utility apps and even apps to bring about social change. We visited the other events as well as the exhibition areas and here are the few things that caught our attention.
Apps for Aakash 2
A host of apps were demoed for Aakash 2 such as ProxiMITY, which brings lectures on your tablet screens; Clicker, which is tool for gathering information quickly from a class of students; the Robo app, which is used to control a robot using the Aakash 2 tablet, and more. Aakash 2 has also been made a platform for students to practice programming like C, C++ and SciLab. Watch out the space for a detailed explanation of all the apps for Aakash 2 – demonstrated by Rajesh Kushalkar at the IIT Techfest this year– in our upcoming feature.
Augmented reality to shed those extra kilos
Amongst the concepts displayed at the IDC enclosure (Industrial Design Center), we spotted a pair of goggles. The descriptor said that these were augmented reality-based goggles designed to encourage its user to workout with visuals and sound feedback, created virtually. Eager to test, we asked a volunteer to allow us to use them but were disappointed to learn that it was still a concept. The concept is being developed by Purba Joshi, and these goggles will add as a motivational tool for those looking to lose weight. The goggles are proposed to have a camera on the front, right in the middle, which will display live view with augmented or manipulated visuals. It will also feature Bluetooth connectivity that will help users synchronise the goggles with their mobile phones.
Shedding weight and augmented reality
Airburr – Flying robot
This robot can take a flight! Now, flying robots really need to be tough as they could crash and bump into things. However, this robot from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s Laboratory for Intelligence systems has an active recovery system with four legs that spring the robot upright. Its rotors have been protected with a cage like structure so that nothing snaps if the robot crashes. This robot can be used as a future application for surveillance in dangerous areas or even as a spy bot. Airburr was just one amongst the many flying robots on display, but what set it apart was its design and form.
EyeNetra – Providing eye care to all
A particular booth that attracted a lot of eyeballs, quite literally, was that of ‘EyeNetra’. A portable eye diagnostic device developed by Professor Ramesh Raskar and a team of others, belonging to the prestigious MIT Lab, it aims to provide eye care advice to the needy. The testing device connects with the Netra G app and uses several angles to check the vision and measure nearsightedness, farsightedness to recommend the accurate prescription for eyeglasses. The app makes it possible to store the data for every individual, which can be accessed later to keep a track of when the person needs to undergo the next eye test. The thorough testing process takes about fifteen minutes. We had the IIT volunteer who was assigned to take us around the exhibition, get his eye tested. The results weren’t that accurate, which we were told was because they didn’t do the elaborate test to save time.
Sighted... Eyenetra app
HIRO – A Robot that can think
SOINN put on display its robot called HIRO that can learn, think and act. Built at the Hasegawa Lab, Tokyo, by Osamu Hasegawa who will be addressing IITians about robotics at the TechFest this year, HIRO can make calculated guesses. H SOINN or Self-Organising Incremental Neural Network has created this technology for autonomous mental development of its robots. Some key aspects are incremental learning without any prior knowledge and strong noise immunity. Osamu demonstrated HIRO, who could calculate and pour objects from one glass into another.
HIRO, always willing to learn
Andy – A mobile or a surveillance robot
This isn't a metal-built robot but your phone sitting on wheels, which can go around places with commands given by another phone. The creator of this surveillance phone robot, christened Andy, has developed an app, which also goes by the name Andy, to control the robot. This is just a prototype and the bot needs to be in a Wi-Fi zone. The camera of the phone is used for surveillance.
Andy on surveillance
Planting virtual trees
Tugging at our green conscious was an initiative called ‘One Man One Tree’ that was a part of the exhibition. It involved a physical structure created to emulate a 3-D forest of light and motion sensors, which on detecting the presence of a person, starts the process of a tree being planted virtually. A ball of light that acted as a seed is planted and then you witness a virtual tree of light taking shape. And for every virtual tree planted, a real tree is planted in a reforestation project in India. This installation of interactive art is the work of artist duo Mestaoui Naziha and Yacine Ait Kaci who run numerous such projects under the name ‘Electronic Shadow’.
For a noble cause
What’s the connection between Mayawati, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and a 3D scanner? Well, the process of statute installation spree that was undertaken in Ambedkar Park in Lucknow was expedited thanks to a 3D scanner that was used to accurately scan the statue created and then quickly get accurate prototype for the rest of the statues. At the exhibition was the company, 3D Scanning India, who provided the technology for the same. On display was a 3D scanner from German company Steinbichler COMET LƎD that features the innovative blue light technology that packs in extremely compact high-performance 3D sensor to provide highly precise 3D data of the object and picks even the minutest detail – be it a small scratch or a tiny human hair. In the picture above, you can see the 3D scanner at work and the results being displayed on the screen.
The 3D scanner at the Exhibition
Children's Technology Workshop
The Children's Technology Workshop had put on display some projects built by children. Based in Vile Parle, Mumbai, the institute organises technology workshops for children. They conduct workshops for different age groups like 9 to 10, 11 to 12 and 14+. They introduce children to simple machines, basic programming, lego physics and so on. The robots you see in the image above have been all built by children. Click here to know the courses they offer.
Dance with me
This is a dancing robot controlled using an app. The app has been created by a duo at eYantra who showed us the Android app called JustDance that is used for controlling the robot. Though the future applications of this robot are surveillance, monitoring and going into terrain areas where human reach is impossible, right now it is happy to be dancing its way. You can choose music (see the screenshot showing the .wav files) and also select the beats, like Kick_beat, Oeriod_best, and the robot follows your order to the tee. eYantra had also showcased a robot that was being controlled by Aakash tablet.
Motivational and interactive
This motivational and interactive app has been named NeverGive up and aims at helping college students maintain a fit lifestyle. The app concept displayed provides on-going sustainable motivation and also piques in to provide motivation on the go. The app may mean simple to many, but it is often that students need that extra push on not to give up on any activity that they have undertaken. We think this app is just right for them.
Information system for bus station
The aim of this app is to bring to commuters important information that is usually limited only to bus officials, which includes bus routes, distance, ticket fare, bus schedules and so on—in real time. The concept looks into information gaps in present scenario and finds solution to link these passengers to bus depots and bus conductors and create a common platform for all. For densely networked city like Mumbai, this app could do wonders.
Unique combo... mobile and agriculture
Sarv Samridhi, which means prosperity for all, is a proposed system of a project to design a low cost, location based diagnostic tool that detects symptoms of malfunction like pests, diseases and deficiencies and other concerns of the farming community. Sarv Samridhi aims at a cost effective and scalable design that should be accurate and easily available. This will keep farmers connected and help them rate vendors. The image above shows the prototype and the probable user interface.
Just a prototype yet... we would like to see it go live
Lastly, Nao robot, which was quite a hit last year, made it’s presence felt this year as well and made quite a statement as it performed to the popular Gangnam style. However, when we went to meet Nao, the robot was resting. At the exhibition, we also saw Keio Xlab from Japan display a walking tree, which is a botanical robot that uses branches from a tree as legs and still manage to walk. The IIT Techfest kept the competitive spirit high with an array of competitions like Solar Express and Robowars. On the entertainment front, the Techfest has also introduced the Silent disco this year.