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Friday, September 25, 2015

Collaboration over the 'Internet of Things'

by Mark Ollig

“Putting IoT to work.”

This was the theme for the first IOTSWC (Internet of Things Solutions World Congress) event, which took place recently in Barcelona, Spain.

Information technology leaders shared their knowledge and solutions with industry and businesses from around the world, during three days of conferences and presentations.

The spotlight was centered on the latest IoT (Internet of Things) technologies, which were discussed in talks given by 120 speakers.

The Internet is evolving into a massive network; in a few years’ time, it will be linked with billions of new IoT smart devices and sensors: the “Things” making up the Internet of Things.

In 1999, Neil Gross summed it up best when he said, “In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations.”

Providing these “sensations,” in my humble opinion, will be billions of IoT “gadgets,” which are small, electronic components with a computer program, and wireless connectivity to the Internet.

These IoT devices/sensors have the capability for receiving and transmitting data, monitoring and controlling an attached device, and storing information it acquires in a data server on the Internet or “inside the cloud.”

IoT devices/sensors have the potential to provide us with information about every device in our home.

These devices are being used in business, healthcare, industry, municipalities, education, government, and other settings.

Examples of common IoT devices include “smart outlets,” allowing remote control of electrical devices and appliances within a home or business via an app on a phone or computing device.

IoT remotely-controls “smart thermostats” and lighting fixtures in a home or business via the user’s remote commands.

There are even IoT “smart flower pots,” with sensors monitoring the condition of the soil and plant; they automatically water and provide nutrients to the plant per your settings.

You can remotely access this device (flower pot), and get reports about the plant’s condition, soil and room temperature, remaining water and nutrient resources, and more.

I wonder what my grandmother (who loved her plants and garden) would have thought of this.

Look for IoT smart devices to be commonly built into future electronic devices, house-hold appliances, cars, and yes, even our coffee and flower pots.

I foresee collections of IoT devices evolving into a massive “information gathering system-of-systems” operating over the Internet.

Of course, what happens if (when) these IoT devices are accessible by future AI (artificial intelligence) systems embedded within the Internet?

Do you recall the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and hearing the HAL 9000 AI computer saying; “I’m sorry Dave; I cannot do that.”

Once again, I digress.

Nearly 90 technology companies participated during the IOTSWC event.

Intel, IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, Vodafone, and Hewlett Packard, were just some of the more recognizable companies represented at this year’s event.

Approximately 83 breakout conferences took place discussing the pros and cons of deploying IoT technology for use by healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, business, commercial, and industrial facilities.

An IBM video showed the installation of over 1,000 wireless IoT sensor devices being placed in office rooms, and onto electronic and environmental systems inside an 11 story building, thus creating a “smart building.”

These pre-programmed IoT devices monitored each room’s temperature, lighting, and security; they could even determine the number of people in a given area.

This smart building’s IoT sensors also observed utility usage; such as the heating, venting, air-conditioning, and electrical systems.

The information being collected by was transmitted to a central database via the Internet. The data is then analyzed in order to make informed decisions for improving the operation of the various functions and environments inside the building.

IoT devices are being tested for monitoring and adjusting the processes within the machines and tools used in assembly factories.

The IOTSWC event showcased experimentation platforms where real-world situations using IoT technologies were presented.

Track and Trace was one of the featured showcases.

This showcase demonstrated how using IoT can improve manufacturing efficiency, along with maintaining the quality of the parts assembly operation during the construction of a passenger plane on the factory floor.

The power tools used in the factory were Wi-Fi enabled, and could be controlled via a smart IoT sensor/device receiving instructions being issued from a central database.

In one example, an IoT device, using the analytical software it accesses from the database, precisely measures and reports on the individual amount of pressure being exerted on each of the thousands of screws and bolts used to join specific parts of the plane.

Every IoT device coordinates its specific location, identity, and condition of the machine/tool it is connected to, with the database.

These devices receive the data needed for instructing the mechanical tools (such as riveting guns) on the correct amount of force/torque to be used for various rivets, and for tightening screws on a vertical stabilizer and an aircraft window.

If a mechanical tool does not function correctly, it could be quickly powered down in order to prevent accidents.

Interconnection of the power tools with the IoT devices was managed by National Instruments, while TechMahindra was responsible for the database software application programming.

Cisco coordinated the location identification feature for the IoT devices.

It was hoped the showcase presentations would fuel IoT research and development opportunities.

According to a March 2015 Dimensional Research global survey, 70 percent of IoT technology and business investors said they would make better, and more meaningful decisions by using IoT data collection.

Over 4,500 visitors from 53 countries attended this year’s IOTSWC, which is partnered with the Industrial Internet Consortium.

Visit The Internet of Things Solutions World Congress website at:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

AI and super-intelligent robots: A threat?

by Mark Ollig

“Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded,” said famed theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, while commenting about artificial intelligence (AI) with the BBC News last year.

He also gave this disturbing warning: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Hawking is one of the most intelligent individuals on this planet; so people take notice when he speaks.

Last week, BBC News science editor David Shukman, held an hour long Facebook/Twitter question and answer session on the subject of artificial intelligence.

Many online users had questions and comments concerning AI.

Shukman’s reply to one Facebook question said we should develop AI with “a proper conscience,” and should model an AI brain with that of a human, in order to make sure it has “an in-built sense of ethical behavior.”

One questioner submitted that AI robots could not only be more intelligent than people, but also “kinder” as well.

Shukman wondered whether “kindness” is a uniquely human trait.

Personally, I think kindness is for everyone, including artificially intelligent robots.

Another commented on how he remembered watching a documentary promoting the benefits to humanity of AI, and that he is still waiting to see those benefits.

Yours truly posted the following to Mr. Shukman:

“Whenever I think of robots uprising over humans, I recall the 1920’s play “Rossum’s Universal Robots” and the Star Trek original series episode “The Ultimate Computer,” where humans had confrontations with threatening advanced artificial intelligence. I read Stephen Hawking does not foresee a positive outcome of mixing AI and humans. Do you see these types of AI versus humans’ scenarios playing out, or will humans and intelligent robots learn to peacefully co-exist in the future?”

Shukman responded; “Really interesting to see this question in terms of culture and whether we’re programmed to react negatively to the ‘threat’ of new machines. It’s ironic how rapidly we actually adjust to new machines if we find them convenient.”

He then made an analogy: “Think of automated check-in at airports and check-out machines at supermarkets - they can drive us crazy but in a matter of years we’ve started to adjust. So co-existence is certainly an option.”

Shukman ended his message to me with; “What no one can tell is what happens if we cross a line and AI can start to improve itself and achieve superiority in brainpower.”

I agree.

When AI systems begin to write their own code to improve themselves on a continuous basis, how intelligent could an AI mechanism ultimately become?

Would they begin to act independently, and no longer need human intervention?

How will we respond if an AI robot, or other AI technology, begins to achieve self-awareness and starts to question human authority or reasoning?

We are closer to these situations than one might think.

On June 7, 2014, an AI program apparently passed the Turing Test (a test in which a machine engages in a natural conversation with a human who thinks they are talking with another person).

This test was first proposed by computer scientist Alan Turing in a 1950 article he wrote titled: “Computing Machines and Intelligence.”

During the Turing Test competition held at the Royals Society in London, a third of the judges were convinced they were having a conversation with 13-year-old Eugene Goostman, when in fact; they were conversing with an artificial intelligent software program known as a chatterbot.

The Eugene Goostman AI computer program was developed in St. Petersburg, Russia, by Eugene Demchenko, and Vladimir Veselov.

“Will a robot take your job?” is the title of a recent BBC News article which includes a program for querying the odds of whether AI automation will eventually replace your job position.

I typed in “writer” and the results showed a 33 percent chance of AI ultimately automating the jobs of “authors, writers, and translators.”

When I entered “housekeepers and related occupations” the results said there was a 94 percent chance this area would become automated by AI technology.

The website lists 365 job titles to choose from.

Find out about your job’s chances of becoming automated here:

Shukman sent me an interesting Massachusetts Institute of Technology video, featuring a discussion with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Musk talks about the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, traveling to Mars, and his thoughts on the “threatening dangers of artificial intelligence if not contained.”

This hour-long video can be seen at:

David Shukman can be followed on Twitter via: @davidshukmanbbc.

Will we end up creating super-intelligent robots and other AI technologies, which eventually rise up, organize, and take dominion over us, thus spelling doom and gloom for all humanity?

Or, will our future with AI be beneficial; whereby this intelligence acclimates to our best human traits, and assists us in improving the quality of life for all the people living in this world.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Apple's 'jumbo-sized' iPad Pro

by Mark Ollig

Another Labor Day has come and gone; school busses are carrying students to and from their learning destinations.

For many of us, this signals the official seasonal change.

With much regret, I’ve accepted the summer season, as we know it, has ended.

I’ve also noticed the cooler temperatures as we begin our seasonal transition into fall; which, although a beautiful time of year, seems to pass by too quickly.

Of course, I won’t even mention what comes after fall.

So, what’s the latest buzz in the tech world?

Why, it’s the recent Apple big event, of course.

Social media, such as Twitter was saturated with newly-created hashtags, and flooded with messages referencing news sources and individual opinions regarding Apple’s newest smart devices.

The venue for Apple’s presentation, held last Wednesday, was the Bill Graham (the late rock concert promotor) Civic Auditorium, in San Francisco, CA.

After taking the stage inside the 7,000-seat arena, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook gave the keynote address.

He announced new Apple products including the eagerly-awaited iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus models.

The iPhone 6S screen size is 4.7 inches, while the iPhone 6S Plus is a bit larger at 5.5 inches.

Both will have Apple’s famous high-definition, or “Retina HD” display screens.

Apple calls its new 3D Touch feature for recognizing hand/finger gestures within the iPhone’s software applications: “Next-generation Multi-Touch display with IPS (in-plane switching) technology and Taptic Engine.”

The Taptic Engine will provide a user with physical confirmation sensations or haptic feedback, when using different apps within the iPhone.

These iPhones can be ordered in silver, gold, space grey, or with the new rose gold aluminum finish.

They will be able to record 4K video, and both include Apple’s 12MP (mega pixel) iSight camera.

The cost of an iPhone 6S 16GB model, and the iPhone 6S Plus 16GB model, start at $199, and $299, respectively.

Both will be using Apple’s iOS 9 mobile device operating system, and their powerful 64-bit A9 processor chip.

You can compare Apple’s iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus models here:

I was very interested in their new “jumbo-sized” computing tablet called the Apple iPad Pro.

As I’ve grown older, my eyes seem to appreciate larger display screens.

Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller presented Apple’s new iPad Pro.

This new iPad contains a large 12.9-inch display screen with a resolution supporting 5.6 million pixels, which is the most of any previous Apple device.

It includes Apple’s 64-bit A9 processor, 10-hour battery, and a four-speaker audio system.

The iPad Pro weighs a little over 1.5 pounds.

The folks at Apple are pricing the iPad Pro from $799 for a 32GB Wi-Fi only model, to $1,079 for a 128GB Wi-Fi+ LTE/cellular data model.

The new “Apple Pencil” was also introduced.

It’s a stylus pen used for writing and drawing on the iPad Pro display screen.

At first, I was a bit skeptical.

While seeing the Apple Pencil (stylus), I recalled the words of the late CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs; “Oh a stylus! Who wants a stylus? You have to get them and put them away . . . and you lose them . . .Yuck!”

Instead of a stylus, Jobs said the human finger should be used as the pointing device to control functions on a display screen.

He said this while introducing the first iPhone during the 2007 MacWorld event.

However, after seeing a demonstration of the Apple Pencil being used on an iPad Pro, I now believe it will benefit graphic designers, artists, engineers, medical personal, and professionals using it during presentations.

Yours truly also thinks it would be a lot of fun for screen doodling.

The 2016 Apple Pencil will retail for $99. Sorry, Steve.

I’ve always felt that in order to give an iPad more of a “laptop-like” feel, a high-quality keyboard would be needed.

Apple’s answer is to offer users of the iPad Pro an optional $169 “Smart Keyboard.”

I was a bit disappointed; Apple’s Smart Keyboard reminds me of the flat, paper-thin Microsoft Surface keyboard.

This columnist is old-school; I learned how to type on a loud Smith-Corona (non-electric) typewriter in Mr. Knoll’s typewriting class.

Ink ribbons and whiteout correction tape were used in great quantity in that classroom.

“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Anyone remember typing that sentence hundreds of times?

I prefer the tactile-feedback of keys on a “real” keyboard.

Put me in front of an IBM 101 standard keyboard like I used in 1986, and I’m off and typing at blazing speeds.

I clearly recall; “Punch the keys for god’s sake!” shouted by Sean Connery’s character William Forrester, in the movie “Finding Forrester.”

Yes, that was a bit dramatic, wasn’t it? Gosh, I did love that movie, though.

But, I digress.

For me, the iPad Pro is merely a larger version of the iPhone.

They both essentially perform the same functions, although one drawback when using an iPhone (and most smartphones) is their smaller-sized screens.

What if a resourceful inventor would design a new smartphone display screen which could be expanded by being unfolded to double, or even quadruple in size?

Maybe it’s time for another Ollig patent?

Video presentations from this latest Apple event can be viewed on Apple’s YouTube channel:

Below is the IBM Model M keyboard.
(circa 1986)

Photo Credit: Raymangold22  via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

'We'll send it via drone delivery'

by Mark Ollig

A popular online ordering warehouse is currently testing a new method of delivering packages to its customers.
At an undisclosed base of operations in rural British Columbia, Canada, Amazon Prime Air is experimenting with air-delivery of packages – via drones.
Yes, drones: those much talked about, remotely-piloted aircraft which look like a futuristic helicopter.
How serious is Amazon about using drones to air-deliver packages directly to your house or business?
The vice president of Amazon Prime Air, at a recent NASA convention in California, floated the idea of assigning a specific band of airspace for commercial delivery drones.
Reserved airspace would be between 200 and 400 feet off the ground, and would include a 100 foot no-fly buffer-zone above this level, for safety.
The operation of an unpiloted drone falls under the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) classification: “sUAS” (small Unmanned Aerial System).
Sources say one aerial delivery drone Amazon is testing, can transport a package weighing a little over 5 pounds, and flies at just under 50 mph.
The weight of 5 pounds represents 86 percent of Amazon packages being delivered.
From what I am able to understand, the reason Amazon is performing its drone testing in Canada, is because the company had to wait too long for FAA approval here in the US.
They also found the current US regulations regarding drone flights too restricting.
The Canadian government, on the other hand, has given Amazon permission to test various types of drones.
Amazon plans on introducing a “30-minute Prime Air” parcel delivery service via aerial drones to customers in the US; pending significant changes to US drone regulations.
The US government’s FAA website has a page titled: “Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulations & Policies.”
This FAA web page is very lengthy, and details UAS outlines regarding usage of small unmanned aircraft systems; including flying drones.
This web page contains a “framework of regulations” which covers various codes and rules.
One FAA rule proposal recommends limiting non-recreational (commercial) drone flights during daylight hours.
There are also height restrictions, operator certification, and verbiage about a “visual observer.”
Aircraft registration, markings, operational limits, and visual-line-of-sight operations are also mentioned.
Last week, the FAA announced a new, unmanned aircraft operator smartphone software application (app) called: B4UFLY (before you fly).
This app is currently being beta-tested by 1,000 UAS users; including folks in the public, government, and industrial sectors.
Features of this app include showing the status of an in-flight aircraft’s location, interactive maps, special flight rule notifications, displaying any active temporary flight restrictions, such as over wildfires; and links to FAA UAS resources.
Pending results from the beta testing, the FAA plans on releasing the B4UFLY app (iOS and Android version) to the public by the end of this year.
A five-page Q&A about the FAA B4UFLY app can be read at:
I asked an office co-worker how he would feel about having an item ordered from Amazon attached to a drone, flown through the air, and delivered to his home.
“As long as it gets there safely and intact,” he said.
He paused, and then added; “How are they gonna get it up to the door?”
Bob makes a good point, and gave this writer pause to consider a couple of entertaining delivery scenarios.
How about having the delivery drone land on the roof of the customer’s home?
Envision a small, robotic “delivery-drone assistant” (who flew along), jumping off the drone, and taking the package down the chimney.
This roundly shaped, and programmed-to-be-jolly assistant (dressed in a red and white suit, featuring an artificial white beard on its face), then places the package on the living room floor and chants: “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Amazon Delivery!”
Or, the delivery drone could instead land on our driveway, and then alert us of its arrival by sending a text message to our smartphone.
Naturally, we will not be home; so, we would need to activate the app on our smartphone which remotely unlocks the front door to the house, and alerts anyone within of a visitor.
Inside the house, one of the floor-cleaning, artificially-intelligent robotic Roomba’s would amble on out to the driveway, receive the package from the drone, and electronically sign for it.
It would then say; “Thank you” to the delivery drone.
I imagine the drone would reply with the standard; “Have a nice day.”
Our Roomba would then quickly bring the package into the house.
Upon our arrival home, we will discover the questionable package contents were covertly ordered by the Roomba, who will, of course, deny everything.
We end up punishing the naughty Roomba by ordering it into the broom closet.
Seriously folks, I am intrigued by the idea of having small packages, or even our next pizza, sent special air-delivery to our front door, via drone.
However; we will need to wait, as it’s still early in the drone testing, and completion of the FAA commercial regulations.
For all we know, in 10 years, “drone deliveries” might end up becoming a common method of transporting items.
The FAA webpage: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulations & Policies is located at:
A website dedicated to sUAS, is chuck-full of drone-related news and information; you can check it out here:

To watch a video of the Amazon Prime Air drone in action, see Amazon's YouTube video at: