Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

May 17, 2021

IBM’s Project CodeNet: Teaching AI to code

Filed under: Computer Software,Emerging Tech,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:58 PM

IBM recently launched a new program called Project CodeNet that is an opensource dataset that will be used to train AI to better understand code. The idea is to automate more of the engineering process by applying Artificial Intelligence to the problem. This is not the first project to do this and it won’t be the last. For some reason AI has become the cure all for all ‘ills’ in any part of life. It doesn’t matter if it is required or not but if there is a problem someone out there is trying to apply AI and Machine Learning to the problem.

This is not to say that Artificial Intelligence is not something that needs to be explored and developed. It has its uses but it doesn’t need to be applied everywhere. In one of my previous companies we interacted with a lot of companies who would pitch their products to us. In our last outing to a conference over 90% of the idea’s pitched had AI and/or Machine Learning involved. It got to the point where we started telling the companies that we knew what AI/ML was and ask them to just explain how they were using it in their product.

Coming back to Project CodeNet, it consists of over 14M code samples and over 500M lines of code in 55 different programming languages. The data set is high quality and curated. It contains samples from Open programming competitions with not just the code, it also contains the problem statements, sample input and output files along with details like code size, memory footprint and CPU run time. Having this curated dataset will allow developers to benchmark their software against a standard dataset and improve it over a period of time.

Potential use cases to come from the project include code search and cloud detection, automatic code correction, regression studies and prediction.

Press release: Kickstarting AI for Code: Introducing IBM’s Project CodeNet

– Suramya

May 16, 2021

Tiny, Wireless, Injectable Chips created to monitor body functions

Filed under: Emerging Tech,Science Related — Suramya @ 9:10 PM

Injectable chips have long been the boogyman for Anti-Vaxers as they think that people (like Bill Gates) are injecting them with tracking chips to track them and modify their behavior. However, till now this was mostly in the realm of Science Fiction as the smallest chips we had were still quite visible and difficult to power or inject (which is why they were implanted). Now, Researchers at Columbia Engineering have created the world’s smallest single chip system that is small enough that it is only visible under a microscope and is powered using Ultrasonic sound.

This is a great achievement because having injectable chips brings us closer to functioning nano-tech and these chips can be used to monitor physiological conditions, such as temperature, blood pressure, glucose levels, and respiration etc.

These devices could be used to monitor physiological conditions, such as temperature, blood pressure, glucose, and respiration for both diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. To date, conventional implanted electronics have been highly volume-inefficient — they generally require multiple chips, packaging, wires, and external transducers, and batteries are often needed for energy storage… Researchers at Columbia Engineering report that they have built what they say is the world’s smallest single-chip system, consuming a total volume of less than 0.1 mm cubed. The system is as small as a dust mite and visible only under a microscope…

“We wanted to see how far we could push the limits on how small a functioning chip we could make,” said the study’s leader Ken Shepard, Lau Family professor of electrical engineering and professor of biomedical engineering. “This is a new idea of ‘chip as system’ — this is a chip that alone, with nothing else, is a complete functioning electronic system. This should be revolutionary for developing wireless, miniaturized implantable medical devices that can sense different things, be used in clinical applications, and eventually approved for human use….”

The chip, which is the entire implantable/injectable mote with no additional packaging, was fabricated at the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company with additional process modifications performed in the Columbia Nano Initiative cleanroom and the City University of New York Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) Nanofabrication Facility. Shepard commented, “This is a nice example of ‘more than Moore’ technology—we introduced new materials onto standard complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor to provide new function. In this case, we added piezoelectric materials directly onto the integrated circuit to transducer acoustic energy to electrical energy….” The team’s goal is to develop chips that can be injected into the body with a hypodermic needle and then communicate back out of the body using ultrasound, providing information about something they measure locally.

The current devices measure body temperature, but there are many more possibilities the team is working on.

The only downside is that the anti-vaxers are going to use this as proof that the ‘Government’ is controlling their brains or tracking them. Never mind the fact that they can track you much more easily using the phone you carry everywhere or using the camera’s that are now almost everywhere.

The study was published online in Science Advances: Application of a sub–0.1-mm3 implantable mote for in vivo real-time wireless temperature sensing.

Thanks to Slashdot for the link.

– Suramya

May 2, 2021

Infinite Nature: Creating Perpetual Views of Natural Scenes from a Single Image

Filed under: Emerging Tech,Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:28 PM

Found this over at Hacker News , where researchers have created technologies that use existing video’s and images and extrapolate them into an infinite scrolling natural view that is very relaxing to watch and at times looks very tripy. The changes are slow so you don’t see how the image is changing but if you wait for a 20 seconds and compare that image with the first one you will see how it differs.

We introduce the problem of perpetual view generation—long-range generation of novel views corresponding to an arbitrarily long camera trajectory given a single image. This is a challenging problem that goes far beyond the capabilities of current view synthesis methods, which work for a limited range of viewpoints and quickly degenerate when presented with a large camera motion. Methods designed for video generation also have limited ability to produce long video sequences and are often agnostic to scene geometry. We take a hybrid approach that integrates both geometry and image synthesis in an iterative render, refine, and repeat framework, allowing for long-range generation that cover large distances after hundreds of frames. Our approach can be trained from a set of monocular video sequences without any manual annotation. We propose a dataset of aerial footage of natural coastal scenes, and compare our method with recent view synthesis and conditional video generation baselines, showing that it can generate plausible scenes for much longer time horizons over large camera trajectories compared to existing methods.

The full paper is available here Infinite Nature: Perpetual View Generation of Natural Scenes from a Single Image with a few sample generated videos. One of the examples is below:

This is a very impressive technology. I can see a lot of uses for it in video games to generate real estate for flight simulators to fly over or fight over. It can be used for VR world developments or just to relax people. It might also be possible to take footage from TV shows and extrapolate them to allow folks to explore it in VR. (After a lot more research is done on this as the tech is still experimental). We could also simulate alien worlds using pics taken by our probes to train astronauts and settlers realistically instead of relying on fake windows and isolated area’s.

Check the site out for more such videos. Looking forward to future technologies built up over this.

– Suramya

April 20, 2021

Converting old tires into graphene to reinforce concrete

Filed under: Emerging Tech — Suramya @ 7:42 PM

Waste tires are are a major pain to recycle and usually end up in landfills or being burned for fuel/heat. They are especially popular with the poor because they take a while to burn and thus give heat for a longer duration. Unfortunately, the process is also very polluting and the smoke from these fires is especially bad for the environment (and for the folks breathing it in). However, there are not many uses for these tires at scale that are not more polluting, but that changes now. Thanks to research by Rice researchers, we now have a way to convert waste rubber into turbostratic graphene, which can be employed to strengthen concrete.

Most conventional production processes for graphene are time-consuming, solvent-intensive, and energetically demanding. To circumvent these limitations for mass production, flash Joule heating (FJH) has been shown to be an effective method to synthesize graphene. Here, methods for optimizing production of graphene from rubber waste feedstocks are shown. Through careful control of system parameters, such as pulse voltage and pulse time, turbostratic flash graphene (tFG) can be produced from rubber waste. It is characterized by Raman spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction and thermogravimetric analysis. The resulting tFG can be easily exfoliated and dispersed into various solvents because of its turbostratic arrangement. Addition of tFG into Portland cement results in a significant increase in the compressive strength of the composite. From a materials perspective, FJH offers a facile and inexpensive method for producing high quality tFG from rubber waste materials, which would otherwise be disposed of in landfills or burned for fuel. FJH allows for upcycling of low-value rubber waste into high-value carbon nanomaterials for use as reinforcing additives.

The researchers estimate that the conversion process’s electricity would cost about $100 per ton of starting carbon. It is great that more people are focusing on alternate uses / conversion of these ‘unusable’ items to more useable stuff.

More details are available here: Flash graphene from rubber waste

– Suramya

March 29, 2021

New Liquid created that can store Solar Energy for Almost Two Decades

Filed under: Emerging Tech,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:14 AM

Solar power is one of the cheapest sources of power currently available, however the biggest problem we have with is that it is only available during the day and requires us to store the power in a battery which is not the most efficient way to store energy. Now, after over a year of development a group of Swedish scientists have created a liquid called norbornadiene that allows us to store solar power more efficiently than anything currently possible.

The solar thermal collector named MOST (Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage System) works in a circular manner. A pump cycles the solar thermal fuel through transparent tubes. When sunlight makes contact with the fuel, the bonds between its atoms are rearranged and it transforms into an energy-rich isomer. The sun’s energy is then captured between the isomers’ strong chemical bonds.

Incredibly, the energy stays trapped there even when the molecule cools down to room temperature. To put the trapped energy to use, the liquid flows through a catalyst (also developed by the research team) creating a reaction that warms the liquid by 113 °F (63 °C). This returns the molecule to its original form, releasing energy in the form of heat.

“When we come to extract the energy and use it, we get a warmth increase which is greater than we dared hope for,” the leader of the research team, Kasper Moth-Poulsen, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering said in the press release.

The fuel is super efficient and can store up to 250 watt-hours per 1 kg of fluid, this is approximately twice the energy capacity of the Tesla’s Powerwall batteries, so you can see how big a breakthrough this is.

The project has been granted 4.3 million Euros from the EU and will last 3.5 years to develop prototypes of the technology for large-scale applications.

More details of the project are available at: Interestingengineering.com.

– Suramya

October 15, 2020

Spinach can power up fuel cells in addition to Popeye

Filed under: Emerging Tech — Suramya @ 11:43 PM

A lot of us grew up with watching Popeye get a power boost from eating Spinach, now thanks to the research done at American University we found that spinach can also be used to give fuel cell’s a boost. Historically we have used platinum based catalysts in fuel cells but since platinum is very expensive & hard to obtain teams have been looking for alternatives. They found that due to the high Iron & nitrogen content of Spinach they were able to create a viable Catalyst.

To prepare the catalyst, you need to wash the leaves & pulverize into a juice followed by freeze drying the result. This frozen juice is ground into a powder, melamine and salts like sodium chloride & potassium chloride are added. After this the composite is pyrolyzed at 900 C a couple of times resulting in the catalyst. The results so far have been quite promising but there still needs to be a lot more research done to see if this is viable when done at a commercial scale. The biggest advantage of using Spinach is that it is a renewable & sustainable source of biomass.

Biomass-derived porous carbon materials are effective electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction reaction (ORR), with promising applications in low-temperature fuel cells and metal–air batteries. Herein, we developed a synthesis procedure that used spinach as a source of carbon, iron, and nitrogen for preparing porous carbon nanosheets and studied their ORR catalytic performance. These carbon sheets showed a very high ORR activity with a half-wave potential of +0.88 V in 0.1 M KOH, which is 20 mV more positive than that of commercial Pt/C catalysts. In addition, they showed a much better long-term stability than Pt/C and were insensitive to methanol. The remarkable ORR performance was attributed to the accessible high-density active sites that are primarily from Fe–Nx moieties. This work paves the way toward the use of metal-enriching plants as a source for preparing porous carbon materials for electrochemical energy conversion and storage applications.

The next step in the process is to create a fuel cell using this catalyst and the team is exploring collaboration options with other research groups.

Source: Spinach Gives Fuel Cells a Power Up

– Suramya

October 14, 2020

Walking around in a Cell using Virtual Reality

Filed under: Computer Hardware,Emerging Tech,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:59 PM

It’s hard to view 3D data on a 2D screen efficiently which is why Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR) have so many fans as they allow us to interact with data in 3D, making it more intuitive and easier to process (for some use cases). Now there is another application for VR that actually makes sense and is not just hype. Researchers at University of Cambridge & Lume VR Ltd have managed to convert super-high resolution microscopy data into a format that can be visualized in VR.

Till 2014 it was assumed that we could never obtain a better resolution than half the wavelength of light. The Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2014 managed to work around this limitation creating a new field called Super-resolution microscopy that allows us to obtain images at nanoscale. This enables us to see the individual molecules inside cells to track proteins involved in various diseases or watch fertilized eggs as they divide into embryos. Combining this with the technology from Lume VR allows us to visualize and interact with the biological data in real time.

Walking through the cells gives you a different perspective and since the data is near real time it allows us to literally watch the cell’s reaction to a particular stimuli. This will have massive implications for the Biomed/BioTech fields. Maybe we can use it to figure out why organ rejections happen or what causes Alzheimer’s.

“Data generated from super-resolution microscopy is extremely complex,” said Kitching. “For scientists, running analysis on this data can be very time-consuming. With vLUME, we have managed to vastly reduce that wait time allowing for more rapid testing and analysis.”

The team is mostly using vLUME with biological datasets, such as neurons, immune cells or cancer cells. For example, Lee’s group has been studying how antigen cells trigger an immune response in the body. “Through segmenting and viewing the data in vLUME, we’ve quickly been able to rule out certain hypotheses and propose new ones,” said Lee. This software allows researchers to explore, analyse, segment and share their data in new ways. All you need is a VR headset.”

Interestingly vLUME is available for download as an Open Source program from their Git repository. The program is free free-for-academic-use. Check it out if you are interested in how it works.

Source: New virtual reality software allows scientists to ‘walk’ inside cells

– Suramya

October 13, 2020

It is now possible to generate clean hydrogen by Microwaving plastic waste

Filed under: Emerging Tech,Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 2:33 PM

Plastic is a modern hazard and Plastic Pollution has a massive environmental impact. As of 2018, 380 million tonnes of plastic is being produced worldwide each year (source: Wikipedia). Since we all knew that plastic was bad a lot of effort was put in to get people to recycle plastics and single use plastics have been banned in a lot of places (In India they are banned as of 2019). However as per the recent report by NPR, recycling doesn’t keep plastic out of landfills as it is not economically viable at a large scale. It is simply cheaper to just bury the plastic than to clean it and recycle. Apparently this has been known for years now but the Big Oil companies kept it quite to protect their cash cow. So the hunt of what to do with the plastic continues and thanks to recent breakthroughs there just might be light at the end of this tunnel.

Apparently plastic has a high density of Hydrogen in it (something that I wasn’t aware of) and it is possible to extract this hydrogen to use as fuel for a greener future. The existing methods involve heating the plastic to ~750°C to decompose it into syngas (mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide) which are then separated in a second step. Unfortunately this process is energy intensive and difficult to make commercially viable.

Peter Edwards and his team at the University of Oxford decided to tackle this problem and found that if you broke the plastic into small pieces with a kitchen blender and mixed it with a catalyst of iron oxide and aluminium oxide, then microwaved it at 1000 watts then almost 97 percent of the gas in the plastic was released within seconds. To cherry on top is that the material left over after the process completed was almost exclusively carbon nanotubes which can be used in other projects and have vast applications.

The ubiquitous challenge of plastic waste has led to the modern descriptor plastisphere to represent the human-made plastic environment and ecosystem. Here we report a straightforward rapid method for the catalytic deconstruction of various plastic feedstocks into hydrogen and high-value carbons. We use microwaves together with abundant and inexpensive iron-based catalysts as microwave susceptors to initiate the catalytic deconstruction process. The one-step process typically takes 30–90 s to transform a sample of mechanically pulverized commercial plastic into hydrogen and (predominantly) multiwalled carbon nanotubes. A high hydrogen yield of 55.6 mmol g−1plastic is achieved, with over 97% of the theoretical mass of hydrogen being extracted from the deconstructed plastic. The approach is demonstrated on widely used, real-world plastic waste. This proof-of-concept advance highlights the potential of plastic waste itself as a valuable energy feedstock for the production of hydrogen and high-value carbon materials.

Their research was published in Nature Catalysis, DOI: 10.1038/s41929-020-00518-5 yesterday and is still in the early stages. But if this holds up at larger scale testing then it will allow us to significantly reduce the plastic waste that ends up in landfills and at the bottom of the ocean.

Source: New Scientist: Microwaving plastic waste can generate clean hydrogen

– Suramya

October 12, 2020

No Batteries or Electronics Required to power the Internet of Plastic Things

Filed under: Emerging Tech,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:48 PM

One of the problems we face when trying to create devices that connect to each other or have built in intelligence is how do we power such devices? The trade-off has always been between portability and connectivity. Now, thanks to the efforts of Researchers at the University of Washington, we have a technique for three-dimensionally (3D) printing plastic objects that can communicate with Wifi devices without batteries or electronics. Building on top of previous work in which another research team managed to transmit their data by either reflecting (1) or not reflecting (0) a Wi-Fi router’s signals. However the problem was that they needed multiple electronic components to work, which is something that’s not always feasible. The team published their paper back in 2017 and have been hard at work enhancing their technology since then. Now after years of effort they have managed to map the Wi-Fi backscatter technology to 3D geometry and create 3D CAD Models that can be printed using standard 3D Printers. This drastically reduces the cost of implementing this technology and opens the field for 3D printed devices for any and all projects.

Printed Wi-Fi. We present the First 3D printed design that can transmit data to commercial RF receivers including Wi-Fi. Since 3D printing conventional radios would require analog oscillators running at gigahertz frequencies, our design instead leverages Wi-Fi backscatter, which is a recent advance in low-power wireless communication where a device communicates information by modulating its reflection of an incident Wi-Fi signal. The device can toggle an electronic switch to either absorb or reflect an ambient signal to convey a sequence of 0 and 1 bits. The challenge however is that existing Wi-Fi backscatter systems [Kellogg et al. 2016] require multiple electronic components including RF switches that can toggle between reflective and non-reflective states, digital logic that controls the switch to encode the appropriate data as well as a power source/harvester that powers all these electronic components. Our key contribution is to apply Wi-Fi backscatter to 3D geometry and create easy to print wireless devices using commodity 3D printers.

To achieve this, we create non-electronic and printable analogues for each of these electronic components using plastic filaments and integrate them into a single computational design. Specifically,To print the backscatter hardware, we leverage composite plastic Filament materials with conductive properties, such as plastic with copper and graphene fillings. We characterize the RF properties of these filaments and use them to design fully 3D printable antennas and RF backscatter switches (see §3).

* In lieu of digital logic electronics, we encode bits with 3D printed plastic gears. Specifically, ‘0’ and ‘1’ bits are encoded by the presence and absence of tooth on the gear respectively. To backscatter a se-
quence of bits, the gear teeth are configured to toggle the backscatter switch between reflective and non-reflective states.

* We leverage the mechanical nature of many sensors and widgets to power our backscatter design. We present computational designs that use push buttons to harvest energy from user interaction as well as a combination of circular plastic springs to store energy. Finally, we design 3D printable sensors that directly power the backscatter system, through their sensing operation.

The team basically has managed to leverage mechanical motion to power their devices. e.g. pushing a mechanical button will use the mechanical motion to provide power for it to transfer data. Another really interesting side effect of their research will be to drastically reduce the electronic waste generated because these devices will no longer require batteries to operate.

Currently they have managed to power a detergent bottle that signals when it’s empty and automatically order’s refills among other things. I can envision it being used in smart clothing in the near future to power the data transmission or powering mechanical dials & switches for digital systems that don’t need to be wired into the system. In fact there there are multiple such usecases which will benefit from this technology. Sky is the limit for this tech. In fact it might even be feasiable to use this in space missions where every gram of weight needs to be managed and removing the need for heavy batteries will have an immediate impact on cost.

I will definitely be keeping an eye out for future breakthroughs in this area.

Source: IEEE Spectrum: Here Comes the Internet of Plastic Things, No Batteries or Electronics Required

– Suramya

September 25, 2020

Scientists find molecule to make bio-generated power more efficient.

Filed under: Emerging Tech — Suramya @ 10:06 AM

Producing Electricity is one of the great challenges of the modern world and We have been producing electricity by burning coal, using nuclear fission, Solar power, Wind Power etc etc for decades. However each of these have some drawback or other, and they are all not very portable. To power our portable devices & sensors we use batteries that are a big ecological issue as despite decades of effort most synthetic and molecular electronic materials remain bio-incompatible and nonbiodegradable. Plus the batteries only last for a limited time before needing to be replaced. Solar cells are good but don’t work at night plus we still need to store the power generated which brings us back to the battery problem.

Due to the above mentioned issues, we have been searching for new and improved ways to produce electricity that reduce the ecological impact of power generation. One of the ways explored is to use Microbial fuel cells powered by Bacteria, specifically Geobacter Colonies. Geobacter is a groundwater-dwelling genus of bacteria that lives in the soil beneath our feet and has the fascinating capability of producing electrons as waste much like how we humans generate CO2 while breathing. These electrons are then transmitted through what is essentially a giant snorkel of nanowire made out of a conductive material into the soil around the bacteria. In previous research, Nikhil Malvankar, an assistant professor at Yale University’s Microbial Science Institute in Connecticut and his colleagues found that when the Geobacter microbes are exposed to a small electrode in the lab they automatically assemble into interlinked piles of hundreds of individual microbes, capable of moving electrons through a single shared network. This substantially increases the amount of electricity produced by the microbes.

Now the question they had to answer was that how are the microbes able to transmit electrons through the interlinked piles efficiently so they set about using cutting-edge microscopy techniques to study the phenomenon. The first technique, called high-resolution atomic force microscopy, gathered information about the structure of the nanowires by touching their surface with an extremely sensitive mechanical probe and the second technique, called infrared nanospectroscopy used infrared light which was reflected off the nonowires to identify specific molecules. With these two methods, the researchers saw the “unique fingerprint” of each amino acid in the proteins that make up Geobacter’s nanowires.

During the study the team found that, when stimulated by an electric field Geobacter produced a previously unknown kind of nanowire made of a protein called OmcZ which is made of tiny, metallic building blocks called hemes. This new type of nanowire is over a 1,000 times more efficient in conducting electricity than the normal one. This new research has been published on Aug. 17 in the journal Nature Chemical Biology and it has paved the way to making the production of bio-electronics both cheaper and easier by increasing the power generated by the bacterial colony.

Once we figure out how to replicate this at scale then we will have the ability to generate sustainable power using just the microbes from beneath our feet.

Source: Scientists find ‘secret molecule’ that allows bacteria to exhale electricity

– Suramya

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