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US researchers invent first battery-free cellphone

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San Francisco, July 8: University of Washington researchers have invented a cellphone that requires no batteries — a major leap forward in moving beyond chargers, cords and dying phones. Instead, the phone harvests the few microwatts of power it requires from either ambient radio signals or light.

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The team also made Skype calls using its battery-free phone, demonstrating that the prototype made of commercial, off-the-shelf components can receive and transmit speech and communicate with a base station.

Detailed in a paper published in the Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies, the battery-free cellphone marks a major leap forward in moving beyond chargers, cords and dying phones, Xinhua news agency reported.

The team of computer scientists and electrical engineers eliminated a power-hungry step in cellular transmissions, namely converting analog signals that convey sound into digital data that a phone can understand, which consumes so much energy that it’s been impossible to design a phone that can rely on ambient power sources.

Instead, the new technology takes advantage of tiny vibrations in a phone’s microphone or speaker that occur when a person is talking into a phone or listening to a call.

An antenna connected to those components converts that motion into changes in standard analog radio signal emitted by a cellular base station. The process essentially encodes speech patterns in reflected radio signals in a way that uses almost no power.

To transmit speech, the phone uses vibrations from the device’s microphone to encode speech patterns in the reflected signals.

To receive speech, it converts encoded radio signals into sound vibrations that that are picked up by the phone’s speaker.

In the prototype device, the user presses a button to switch between the “transmitting” and “listening” modes.

Using off-the-shelf components on a printed circuit board, the UW team demonstrated that the prototype can perform basic phone functions, transmitting speech and data and receiving user input via buttons.

“We’ve built what we believe is the first functioning cellphone that consumes almost zero power,” said co-author Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the UW.

“To achieve the really, really low power consumption that you need to run a phone by harvesting energy from the environment, we had to fundamentally rethink how these devices are designed.”

However, the phone does require a small amount of energy to perform some operations. The prototype has a power budget of 3.5 microwatts.

The researchers demonstrated how to harvest this small amount of energy from two different sources. The phone prototype can operate on power gathered from ambient radio signals transmitted by a base station up to 9.45 meters away.

And using power harvested from ambient light with a tiny solar cell, roughly the size of a grain of rice, the device was able to communicate with a base station that was 15.24 meters away.

Next, according to a news release from UW this week, the research team plans to focus on improving the battery-free phone’s operating range and encrypting conversations to make them secure.  The team is also working to stream video over a battery-free cellphone and add a visual display feature to the phone using low-power E-ink screens.

WeForNews Bureau

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Is Alexa recording your bedroom talk?

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Photo Credit- (Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint)

New Delhi, Feb 19: At a time when digital assistants in smart devices at home or office are talking to us like never before, some users have begun to worry: Is Alexa or Google Home listening and recording personal conversations beyond the “wake” word?

There are multiple triggers to such concerns, the latest one being a person in Germany using Amazon’s voice assistant who received 1,700 audio files from a person he never met.

A woman in the US state of Oregon was in shock last year when the Amazon Echo device at her Portland home recorded a private conversation and then shared it with one of her husband’s employees in Seattle.

Amazon later clarified that Alexa mistakenly heard a series of commands and sent the recording as a voice message to one of the husband’s employees.

The threat is very much real, with more and more Indians being hooked to the always-on and Internet-connected smart home devices.

In a latest Forrester report titled “Secure The Rise Of Intelligent Agents”, Amy DeMartine and Jennifer Wise argue that currently, introductory versions of intelligent agents include Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant and Siri. However, security is not part of the equation, and unless security pros get involved, the implications are more worrisome for businesses than normal human beings.

“Alexa doesn’t currently authenticate or authorise individuals who access it, leaving a company’s Alexa skills unprotected from anyone who can remember another user’s commands,” reads the report.

“A hacker has already developed a method to install malware on a pre-2017 Amazon Echo that streams the microphone to any remote computer, accesses the owner’s Amazon account, and installs ransomware,” the Forrester report added.

Apple logs and stores Siri queries but they are not associated with an Apple ID or email address, and the company deletes the association between queries and their numerical codes after six months.

Amazon and Google devices, however, save query histories until the customer deletes them, and Microsoft Cortana users must manage their own data retention preferences in the Cloud and on their devices.

According to Puneesh Kumar, Country Manager for Alexa Experiences and Devices, Amazon India, the threat of Alexa recording all your conversations is not real as the company has created layers of privacy protections in all of its Echo device.

“It includes a mute button involving a hardware press that electrically disconnects the microphones and cameras, clear visual indicators when utterances are being captured and streamed, as well as the ability to see and delete voice recording history for their devices,” Kumar told IANS.

Echo speakers use on-device keyword spotting to detect the “wake” word and only the “wake” word. When the “wake” word is detected, the light ring around the top of the device turns blue to indicate that Alexa is streaming audio to the Cloud.

“At any time, you can turn the microphone off by pushing the microphone button on the top of the device and this creates an electrical disconnect to the mic, which will turn on a red ring to visually indicate that the device is muted,” informed Kumar.

According to Amazon, the voice utterances spoken to the device may be used in order to deliver and improve its services.

The users, if needed, can delete specific voice recordings associated with their accounts by going to History in Settings in the Alexa App, drilling down for a specific entry, and then tapping the delete button. You can also delete all voice recordings associated with your account for each of your Alexa-enabled products.

IANS

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Can begin 5G trial within a month of Indian govt’s approval: Huawei

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New Delhi, Feb 19: Amid reports speculating that Huawei may not get the government’s approval for 5G trial in India, CEO Jay Chen on Tuesday said the Chinese tech major can start 5G trial within a month of nod from the government.

“All of my engagements with the government have been positive so far. We are fully prepared. We can start the 5G trial within one month of getting approval from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT),” Chen told news agency IANS on the sidelines of a media workshop on 5G in the national capital.

Chen further stated “We are in talks with all the major telecom operators in India including Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and the state-run BSNL for 5G roll-out in India”.

Huawei is leading the 5G race globally with its huge investments in R&D but the tech giant is witnessing the heat from some Western countries, especially the US which alleges that Huawei 5G network could pose a national security threat.

Refuting the allegations as mere “politics”, Chen said that no country has been able to give any proof of wrongdoing on Huawei’s part.

“It would not be logical to exclude Huawei from the 5G trial in India as it would mean losing the benefits of innovative technologies that we can bring to the 5G ecosystem in the country,” Chen pointed.

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Facebook accused of leaking sensitive health data of users

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San Francisco, Feb 19: Social networking giant Facebook has been accused of revealing sensitive health data of users in its groups.

“Facebook has marketed this product as a Personal Health Record and it then leaked the health data that those patients uploaded to the public,” a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) noted on Monday.

According to the Verge report, the issue was first noticed in July, when members of a women’s group with a gene mutation discovered how easily the names and email addresses of members could have been downloaded in bulk, either manually or through a Chrome extension.

During that time, Facebook reportedly claimed to have made changes to “Groups” that stopped the practice and emphasised on the option for join “Secret Groups” – that are, although difficult to join, but have a more limited discoverability.

However, the complaint pointed that public sharing of privately posted personal health information is in violation of the law, which is a major problem with Facebook’s privacy implementation methods.

The complaint further added “Facebook has ignored our requests to fix the specific issues we have identified to the company, and denies publicly that any problem exists. All of this represents unfair, deceptive and misleading interactions between Facebook and its users in violation of the FTC act”.

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