With more than 100 languages and the ambition to connect even its smallest villages by air, India has become a testing ground for a new software being developed by Honeywell International Inc. that aims to make it easier to understand pilots speaking English with strong local accents.
The conglomerate is, at the behest of the government, developing software that will decipher accents and automatically transcribe what’s said for air traffic controllers. The move will enhance safety at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push to add smaller airports to the world’s fastest-growing major market has increased the demand for pilots who could be speaking in a thick accent, thanks to more than 6,000-old dialects spoken across the country.
“One of the biggest problems in India has been that we Indians don’t understand each other’s English because of the dialects,” Neelu Khatri, president of Honeywell’s aerospace business in the South Asian nation, said in an interview in New Delhi. “This, we thought, works very well for the regional connectivity scheme, because you have regional pilots coming in, people don’t know what he said and what he understood.”
Miscommunication between air traffic controllers and pilots is a safety threat globally. A fatal 1996 crash between a Saudi Boeing 747 and the Kazakh Ilyushin-76 near New Delhi, which killed 349, was primarily blamed on a language barrier, involving pilots whose first language wasn’t English.
While the project is first being implemented in India, Honeywell sees scope to expand the offering to other parts of the world, Khatri said, without giving further details. The company’s engineering prowess in India allows it to customize products that cater to local needs, rather than push solutions from its global portfolio.
“It’s a real-time problem and therefore these kind of problems don’t have ready-made solutions,” she said. “We just try to put our people who can understand the problem and then try to create something.”
The Morris Plains, New Jersey-based firm employs more than 3,000 aeronautical engineers in India, with centers in southern Indian cities of Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Madurai. It is working on the transcription project with state-run Airports Authority of India, Khatri said. A spokesman for AAI, which manages about 125 airports, said he wasn’t aware of the development.
Air traffic in India is surging, helped by an increasing middle-class with enough disposable income to fly for the first time. Adding to that traffic is the so-called regional connectivity scheme, abbreviated in Hindi as Udan, under which the government subsidizes some airline losses if they fly to remote areas while capping airfares on those routes.
The rural connectivity program has already seen success with new flights to dozens of unused or under-utilized airports. Before it began, only one in every six of India’s 450 airports or airstrips was in regular commercial use.
India is projected to be the third-largest aviation market by 2020 and the world’s largest by 2030, according to the India Brand Equity Foundation, a trust established by the commerce ministry. “Just wait for the Udan scheme to be completely successful,” Vikas Chadha, president of Honeywell India, said in the same interview. “I can sense three years down the line, even smallest of the cities will be connected, and air force stations will be connected.”
Amazon Echo Input Goes on Sale in India, Brings Alexa to Your Dumb Speaker for Rs. 2,999
Back in September 2018, Amazon added a suite of new products to its Echo line of devices and among them was the Echo Input, which was scheduled to launch in early 2019 in India. It seems as if Amazon has kept good on its promise as the Echo Input is finally on sale in India, at a price of Rs. 2,999. The device adds Alexa support to any of your existing speakers at home, either through a wired or Bluetooth connection. This lets you stream music from Amazon Prime Music, Saavn and TuneIn and starting today, Hungama and Gaana music streaming services too, with simple voice commands. Apart from Amazon, the Echo Input will also be available from offline retailers such as Croma, Vijay Sales and others.
To recall, the Amazon Echo Input was first introduced in September last year, and at around the same time, US-based e-commerce giant had announced it would be made available in India early next year – that time has come. Amazon had not detailed the Amazon Echo Input price in India back in September, and this is the first we’ve learned of it.
Amazon Echo Input launch offers
Amazon has tied up with some speaker manufacturers to bundle the Echo Input with certain products. The JBL Go 2 speaker bundle gets you a flat Rs. 1,499 discount where as you can get the Echo Input for free if you buy the newly launched Ultimate Ears Boom 3 or the Bose SoundLink Revolve. You can check out the offers on right side of the page, just below the ‘Buy Now’ button.
Amazon Echo Input specifications
The Echo Input measures just 12.5mm in thickness and looks a bit like a hockey puck. There are two buttons on the top for switching the microphone off and triggering Alexa, respectively. You also get a four-microphone array on the Input which is said to recognise your voice across a room, even with music playing. There’s a single LED light on the top and a 3.5mm headphone socket and a Micro-USB port on the side for connectivity and power.
It also features dual-band 802.11 Wi-Fiac for connecting the device to you home Wi-Fi. Setting up the Echo Input requires the Alexa app, which is available on both Android and iOS. The Echo Input ships with a 5W power adapter, Micro-USB cable, auxiliary cable and a quick start guide.
Novel technology cleans water using bacteria
Researchers, led by one of Indian-origin, have developed a new technology that can clean water twice as fast as commercially available ultrafiltration membranes, an advance that brings hope for countries like India where clean drinking water is a big issue.
According to a team from the Washington University in St. Louis, more than one in 10 people in the world lack basic drinking water access, and by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.
The team led by Srikanth Singamaneni, Professor at the varsity, developed an ultrafiltration membrane using graphene oxide and bacterial nanocellulose that they found to be highly efficient, long-lasting and environment-friendly.
The membrane technology purifies water while preventing biofouling, or build up of bacteria and other harmful micro-organisms that reduce the flow of water.
For the study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, they used bacteria to build such filtering membranes.
The Gluconacetobacter hansenii bacteria is a sugary substance that forms cellulose nanofibres when in water.
The team then incorporated graphene oxide (GO) flakes into the bacterial nanocellulose while it was growing, essentially trapping GO in the membrane to make it stable and durable.
They exposed the membrane to E. coli bacteria, then shone light on the membrane’s surface.
After being irradiated with light for just three minutes, the E. coli bacteria died. The team determined that the membrane quickly heated to above the 70 degrees Celsius required to deteriorate the cell walls of E. coli bacteria.
While the bacteria are killed, the researchers had a pristine membrane with a high quality of nanocellulose fibres that was able to filter water twice as fast as commercially available ultrafiltration membranes under a high operating pressure.
When they did the same experiment on a membrane made from bacterial nanocellulose without the reduced GO, the E. coli bacteria stayed alive.
While the researchers acknowledge that implementing this process in conventional reverse osmosis systems is taxing, they propose a spiral-wound module system, similar to a roll of towels.
It could be equipped with LEDs or a type of nanogenerator that harnesses mechanical energy from the fluid flow to produce light and heat, which would reduce the overall cost.
If the technique were to be scaled up to a large size, it could benefit many developing countries where clean water is scarce, the researchers noted.
Google loon balloon web service taps board to lift business
Loon, the balloon-borne rural internet service from Google parent Alphabet Inc, has recruited three wireless-industry leaders to help the company’s yearslong effort to get the business off the ground. Wireless pioneer and Nextel Partners Inc co-founder Craig McCaw, former Verizon Communications Inc executive Marni Walden, and Ian Small, a former Telefonica SA executive, will serve as Loon’s new three-member advisory board. They’ll help the fledgeling company sign on partners and expand to new areas.
Loon started as a project inside Google’s X research arm to deliver internet access to rural areas. As of last year, it planned to offer service in Kenya. Using antennas held aloft by large balloons 12 miles (20 kilometres) above Earth, well beyond the paths of aeroplanes, Loon can beam coverage over a wide area and relay the signals to ground stations operated by wireless carriers.
When first conceived, Loon was considered a potential threat to wireless carriers, but in recent years the company has wooed established providers as partners. Other companies including Facebook Inc have been working on ways to get more people connected to the internet. Instead of balloons, Facebook has tested solar-powered drones and satellites.
“We quickly realized that as a business with the mission of connecting people everywhere, our path to success is to partner with those who have significant experience connecting people every day,” Loon Chief Executive Officer Alastair Westgarth said in a blog post.