Archive for Hardware

Facial Recognition In The Classroom

A school in Hangzhou, capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang, is reportedly using facial recognition software to monitor pupils and teachers.

Intelligent Classroom Behaviour Management System

The facial recognition software is part of what has been dubbed The “intelligent classroom behaviour management system”. The reason for the use of the system is reported to be to supervise both the students’ learning, and the teachers’ teaching.

How?

The system uses cameras to scan classrooms every 30 seconds. These cameras are part of a facial recognition system that is reported to be able to record students’ facial expressions, and categorize them into happy, angry, fearful, confused, or upset.

The system, which acts as a kind of ‘virtual teaching assistant’, is also believed to be able to record students’ actions such as writing, reading, raising a hand, and even sleeping at a desk.

The system also measures levels of attendance by using a database of pupils’ faces and names to check who is in the classroom.

As well as providing the school with added value monitoring of pupils, it may also prove to be a motivator for pupils to modify their behaviour to suit the rules of the school and the expectations of staff.

Teachers Watched Too

In addition to monitoring pupils, the system has also been designed to monitor the performance of teachers in order to provide pointers on how they could improve their classroom technique.

Safety, Security and Privacy

One other reason why these systems are reported to be increasing in popularity in China is to provide greater safety for pupils by recording and deterring violence and questionable practices at Chinese kindergartens.

In terms of privacy and security, the vice principal of the Hangzhou No.11 High School is reported to have said that the privacy of students is protected because the technology doesn’t save images from the classroom, and stores data on a local server rather than on the cloud. Some critics have, however, said that storing images on a local server does not necessarily make them more secure.

Inaccurate?

If the experiences of the facial recognition software that has been used by UK police forces is anything to go by, there may be questions about the accuracy of what the Chinese system records. For example, an investigation by campaign group Big Brother Watch, the UK’s information Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has recently said that the Police could face legal action if concerns over accuracy and privacy with facial recognition systems are not addressed.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There are several important aspects to this story. Many UK businesses already use their own internal CCTV systems as a softer way of monitoring and recording staff behaviour, and as a way to modify their behaviour i.e. simply by knowing their being watched. Employees could argue that this is intrusive to an extent, and that a more positive way of getting the right kind of behaviour should (also) have a system that rewards positive / good behaviour and good results.

Using intelligent facial recognition software could clearly have a place in many businesses for monitoring customers / service users e.g. in shops and venues. It could be used to enhance security. It could also, as in the school example, be used to monitor staff in any number of situations, particularly those where concentration is required and where positive signals need to be displayed to customers. These systems could arguably increase productivity, improve behaviour and reduce hostility / violence in the workplace, and provide a whole new level of information to management that could be used to add value.

However, it could be argued that using these kinds of systems in the workplace could make people feel as though ‘big brother’ is watching them, could lead to underlying stress, and could have big implications where privacy and security rights are concerned. It remains to be seen how these systems are justified, regulated and deployed in future, and how concerns over accuracy, cost-effectiveness, and personal privacy and security are dealt with.

AI Drones: Smaller and Smarter

Researchers from ETH Zurich, Switzerland and the University of Bologna have built the smallest completely autonomous quadrotor nano-drone that uses AI to fly itself, and doesn’t need human guidance.

Neural Network

The technology at the heart of the Crazyflie 2.0 Nano Quadcopter is the DroNet neural network. This is able to processes incoming images from a camera at 20 frames per second. From this, the nano-drone is able to work out how to steer, and calculate the probability of a collision, thereby giving it the ability to know when to stop.

Fully On-Board Computation

The fact that the drone needs no external sensing and computing because all computation is fully on-board thanks to the PULP (Parallel Ultra Low Power) platform, means that it is truly autonomous, and is, therefore, a real first in terms of how a small drone can be controlled.

The new autonomous version is an improvement on the first test version, which involved putting the DroNet neural network system in a larger commercial-off-the-shelf, Parrot Bebop 2.0 drone, and using radio contact with a laptop to control it.

Trained Using Images

Since AI requires training so that it can learn to become better at a task, the drone’s neural network was trained using thousands of images taken from bicycles and cars driving along different roads.

Only Horizontal Movement

One major drawback at the current time is that, because it was trained using images from a single plane, the drone can only move horizontally and cannot yet fly up or down.

Even Smaller

Technologies involved in making drones have evolved to such a degree that even a robot ‘fly’ has now been built.

As the successor to RoboBee, the so-called RoboFly it is so small (the size of a fly) that it can’t support the weight of a battery to power it. The power for flight is currently delivered by a laser being trained on an attached photovoltaic cell.

The tiny device has wings that are flapped by sending a series of pulses of power in rapid succession and then slowing the pulsing down as it gets near the top of the wave (with the whole process in reverse for the downward flap).

The RoboFly, developed by a team of researchers based in Australia, can only just take off and travel a very short distance at present. Future plans for RoboFly reportedly include improving the onboard telemetry so it can control itself, and making a steered laser that can follow the bug’s movements and continuously beam power in its direction.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Up until now, the main uses for drones have been specialist applications such as within the military, in construction (viewing and mapping sites), film and TV, leisure use, and even for delivery of parcels (Amazon tests). All of these involve the use of larger drones that are remotely controlled.

The ideas that a drone can be made in a miniature size, and / or can control itself using AI could open up many more new areas of opportunity for businesses and other organisations. Such drones could be used in confined spaces or in very specialised situations.

The idea of an AI drone has, however, led to some alarm being expressed by some commentators. Even though AI autonomy could help drones to e.g. to monitor environments, be used in spying, and develop swarm intelligence for military use, some have expressed worries that they could become better at delivering lethal payloads, and could pose other unforeseen security risks.

Wearable Tech Could Help Solve Murder

Police in Australia are reported to be using data recorded by a murder victim’s Apple smartwatch to help catch her killer.

Murder

The victim and owner of the smartwatch was Grandmother Myrna Nilsson, who was found dead in the laundry of her Valley View home in Adelaide’s north-east in September 2016.

The prime suspect in the murder case is daughter-in-law Caroline Dela Rose Nilsson, who was found gagged and distressed at the scene, and who told Police that her mother-in-law had been followed home by (and had argued at length with) a group of men in a car.

How Could The Watch Data Help?

The Apple watch contains sensors that can measure fitness signals such as heart rate. The watch can also track a person’s movements and, being a watch, it can link the other signals to the exact time.

It is believed that this data could indicate when the victim’s heart rate indicated a loss of consciousness as well as the actual time of death.

Contradiction

Reports about the case so far indicate that while the daughter-in-law’s testimony puts the time of death at around 10pm, and that her mother-in-law allegedly argued with the men for 20 minutes, the data from the watch is not consistent with this version of events.

Reports about evidence uncovered by the Prosecutor in the case, Carmen Matteo, show that watch data shows activity consistent with the victim being ambushed and attacked as she walked into her home just after 6:30pm. The watch is also reported to show activity and heart rate measurements consistent with her body going into shock and losing consciousness.

According to the Apple watch, the deceased must have been attacked at around 6:38pm and had died by 6:45pm, some 3 hours earlier than the time stated by the daughter-in-law.

Bail Denied

The strength and apparent reliability of the watch data has been enough to lead Magistrate Oliver Koehn to deny bail to Ms Nilsson.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Our phones and gadgets are now tracking devices, and can store or transmit a lot of data about us and our activities. In the right hands, as in this case and in situations where mobile phone signals have been used in legal cases, this information can be valuable for some very important reasons i.e. in the interest of justice for victims and their families.

In the wrong hands e.g. ‘sports wearables’ possibly leaking our login credentials and transmitting our activity tracking information in a non-secure way such as that identified back in February 2016 in Canadian research by Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, could make us more vulnerable to crime.

This story should also, therefore, be a reminder to manufacturers of wearable technology that security and privacy of the data stored and transmitted about us should always be a priority, and it is in the interest of the manufacturer and the customer that correct safeguards are taken. After all, as this case proves, you never quite know how useful the secure, uncorrupted data from a mobile or wearable device could turn out to be.

‘See In The Dark’ Phone Camera

Chinese electronics company Huawei is heading to the European market with a smartphone that uses a long exposure and AI to take photos in near-dark conditions without a flash.

How?

The revolutionary phone camera is able to gather enough light to take a photo in near dark conditions thanks to an exposure lasting up to six seconds. This means that 960 frames per second can be filmed at 720p “high-definition” resolution, thereby delivering a better final image.

The artificial intelligence element is then able to work on the image to remove any blurring and smearing so that the end result is a sharp photo, something that would not be achievable with most other phone cameras.

The Use Of AI

The AI part of the camera is essentially used to find the optimum frame for each item in a shot, take information from other frames to improve the definition of each object, and then merge all the information from those frames together in a single photo that appears brighter than the human eye would see it.

Three Lenses

One of the most noticeable features of the P20 Pro built-in camera is that it has three rear lenses, each offering the user different capabilities. For example:

  1. The main lens offers a high resolution (40 megapixels) and can use ‘light fusion’ to create 10MP photos that look good even in low-light conditions. ‘Light fusion’ is a way of combining four smaller pixels together to make a much larger pixel.
  2. The second lens can take better monochrome shots because it has a 20MP black-and-white sensor.
  3. The third lens has a hardware-stabilised 3x zoom lens, which can produce 5x shots when used with a software-based digital zoom, thereby comparing favourably to the 2x zoom of the Galaxy S9+ and iPhone X.

Two other key benefits of the phone are the composition suggestions that it makes to the user e.g. when to loosen or tighten a shot and the object-recognition which enables the camera to automatically adjust its settings to suit each subject, while not requiring a connection to the internet to do so.

Not In The U.S. Yet

One major challenge that Huawei has with the launch of the P20 Pro is that it is still having problems entering the US market because of suspected ties to the Chinese government. This is thought to have resulted in AT&T and Verizon pulling out of talks to sell its devices.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For many businesses, sending photos to potential customers and posting photos online e.g. website and social media is an essential part of their daily business. Lighting is not always perfect, cloudy days are common in the UK, and many services are delivered in dimmer conditions or in the evening. A phone with a camera that can make the most of these conditions could, therefore, be a useful business tool.

This story is also an example of how a company that doesn’t have the brand power of some of its bigger competitors e.g. Samsung or Apple, has gone the extra mile in terms of the product, and part of the challenge will be to get this message across.

For other phone manufacturers that sell in the European market, this product innovation and Huawei’s need and desire to throw everything at it to make up the sales volume expectation that it had in the US, is likely to have them worried.

Tech Tip – Prevent Travel Bag Laptop Battery Wake-Up

Sometimes your laptop can spring into life while still in your travel bag. This can drain the battery. Here’s how to prevent it from happening.

On a PC running Windows 10, change the behaviour of the system so that closing the lid causes the system to hibernate instead of sleeping. This means that the system won’t start-up until you instruct it to.

  1. Open Control Panel (or use the search box on the taskbar).
  2. Search for Power Options – this will open the dialog box.
  3. From the list of links on the left, click ‘Choose what closing the lid does’. Every modern laptop should have the option to define settings for ‘When I close the lid’.
  4. Change the behaviour under ‘On Battery to Hibernate’ and then save your changes.

Google Glass Released in the UK

Google Glass has gone on sale in the UK, with “creative” consumers and developers alike capable of getting their hands on the android-based technology if they’re willing to part with £1000. The UK release has led to further concerns regarding the privacy aspects of Glass.

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Google Glass’ privacy debate is still open for discussion, especially as there is little way of knowing exactly when someone might be taking a picture of you, or when your personal details might be stolen through the built-in camera, such as when you’re putting in a PIN of some sorts.

Also, there’s still confusion surrounding the legal implications of Google Glass, which has led to Google telling the first users of the product to maintain the same level of courtesy and standards they would when taking a picture with a camera or mobile phone.

Interestingly, in a poll connected to the privacy concerns of Google Glass in the US, 72% of Americans felt that there was a cause for concern when it came to feeling awkward or concerned about their privacy.

However, Google have stressed that Glass is still a prototype and that its valuation reflects the fact that it is meant for developers rather than consumers, so we could see changes to its privacy settings in the future.

This also means that the commercial value of the product will be significantly less than the £1000 you have to pay in the UK at this time.

Making the Most of Your New Mac Pro

If you’ve been lucky enough to get your hands on the irresistibly powerful Mac Pro since its release, you might be aware of its capabilities with third-party additions and various other upgrades.

Mac_Pro_2013_inside

It’s important to remember that upgrading a computer yourself can contribute towards hardware failure and file corruption if carried out incorrectly, so getting hold of business backup solutions can keep parts of your IT infrastructure protected. Here are some of the useful upgrades you can make to improve the efficiency of your Mac Pro in the office.

There are some excellent storage devices out there that can really enhance the storage capacity of your Mac Pro, as it is ultimately a machine that focuses on power rather than storage. The Buffalo DriveStation DDR has 3 TB storage capacities and is one of the fastest external drives on the market. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, the IoSafe Solo G3 is great for backing up files and also boasts 3 TB of storage.

You can upgrade the memory in this device to as much as 128GB of RAM as well as being able to enhance the CPU, though it ultimately comes down to your budget!

Considering upgrading your own hardware? Come and talk to us about IT equipment leasing, as you may find your business is better off leasing the latest capable equipment rather than spending big on an initial purchase. Get in touch to find out more.