Sri Lankan Students Win Gold For Smart Stick

Smart Walking Stick Designed by SL Students Wins at APICTA Awards in Taiwan

Walking to school one day, two bright young students from St. Anthony’s College, Kandy passed by a street musician playing beautiful music on a flute. They were then shocked to realize that the street musician was, in fact, blind. The blind man and his soulful music inspired them to create something that would help people who are visually handicapped and possibly deaf. This inspiration drove them to create a smart walking stick from scratch and of their very own design.

The smart walking stick uses a variety of systems and sensors to operate. A built-in tracking system can be used to find the walking stick if it happens to be misplaced and this combines with a messaging system that can alert a relative or caregiver to any anomalous behaviour with a location of the disabled person. We also understand that the disabled person themselves may trigger a call for help using the messaging system.

The most apparently useful technology that the smart walking stick features is an obstacle proximity detection and warning system. Using ultrasonic technology the walking stick is able to detect obstacles within 90cm of the disabled person and warn them about the obstacle using a system of vibrations. Another interesting feature is an LED indicator system that alerts persons in close proximity to the user of the walking stick that the user is visually impaired.

The two boys who designed and developed the smart walking stick are Gajindu Bandara and Gimhana Wijeyawardana from St. Anthony’s College, Kandy. Their creation competed against entries from all over the world and won the gold medal in the School Category at the Asia-Pacific ICT Alliance Awards (APICTA), which was held this year in Taipei, Taiwan. The duo has also won the Young Computer Scientist competition, which is organized by the Federation of IT Industry Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Education.

The smart walking stick is intended for use by people of all age groups and the duo who developed it are now working on making the device more power efficient and possibly installing solar panels to allow for continuous power. The power source and fitting the necessary electronics into the confined space was a major issue during development and was overcome by using the smallest programming boards and rechargeable batteries.

The two boys who developed the walking stick are optimistic about its future and feel that their product could become a commercially viable project. They are also working on other plans and are brimming with ambition and creativity. While the idea of a smart walking stick is not new and a number of massive companies have taken steps in this direction, those companies have been backed by massive funding and vast teams of professionals working on those projects. Yet here, we have two young boys, still in school with a shoe string budget having created a useful, working prototype.

What wonders will they achieve once they leave school and have more resources at their disposal? We are excited to see!

Share your thoughts and comments on this brave and brilliant achievement with us in the comments below!

Sri Lanka Arrives At Tech-Frontier

AI in Sri Lanka

Artificial Intelligence (AI), intelligence exhibited by machines is one of the major frontiers of technology in the world today and Sri Lanka is now amongst a handful of countries now at the leading edge of this brave new area of tech. This is all thanks to The Colombo Centre for Cognitive Computing (CogCom), which launched on the 2nd of March 2017 with the purpose of providing AI solutions to businesses and corporates in Sri Lanka and Asia-Pacific, by providing Artificial Intelligence Applications in the regional and global market.

CogCom is a developer of AI solutions that looks to focus on optimising human performance through smart machines and their team of AI Specialists build apps that help businesses across the world automate tasks and deliver great customer experiences. The apps that CogCom develops run on smart machines that are able to answer questions from anywhere and at any time in simple, natural language.

Despite launching its AI development services only recently, CogCom has had a presence in Sri Lanka as ‘Volume Technology Centre’ for many years now and with the rebranding and launch of CogCom they have also moved from their old offices at the World Trade Centre in Colombo to a brilliantly designed and truly awesome new facility at the Orion City IT Park. Visitors to the new offices were completely taken by the open spaces, glass-walled meeting rooms and collaborative working areas complete with comfy, colourful bean bags, wooden swings and a swanky artificial lawn. Some visitors quipped that they almost thought they were visiting Google’s headquarters in the US. The new environment is sure to be a catalyst in CogCom’s quest to create out of the box solutions.

CogCom is a wholly owned subsidiary of Volume Limited, UK, which is why they were known as Volume Technology Centre before rebranding as CogCom and deciding to introduce AI based solutions in Sri Lanka. Chris Sykes who is the CEO and Head of AI and Robotics at Volume in the UK made a special visit to Sri Lanka for the launch of CogCom and the opening of their delightful new offices. Also present was Volume’s Chief People Officer, Gemma Hood. Chris Sykes and CogCom’s General Manager, Asiri Fernando addressed the cheerful crowd and pledged to work towards the future of AI in Sri Lanka and the Asia-Pacific Region. CogCom also intends to work closely with the High Quality IT Schools and Universities in Sri Lanka to help develop an AI-Focused Curriculum to encourage emerging and aspiring professionals in the field.

Other notable persons present at the launch and opening were Krishan Fernando the Country General Manager for Sri Lanka at IBM-Watson, Jeevan Gnanam the Director/CEO at Orion City, Arunesh Peter the Director Projects at ICTA, Hiran Karunananda the Lead UX at CogCom and Ramesh Shanmuganathan the Chief Information Officer at the John Keells Group.

AI is among the frontiers of technology and at the very cutting edge. It’s one of the many routes that technology may take in the future. AI is today what the internet was in the early 90s, a brave new world where anything is theoretically possible and with the launch of CogCom, Sri Lanka now has its role cut out in this arena. Sri Lanka is a spring of talent, especially in the ICT sector and it will be exciting to see the ideas that the team at CogCom come up with to solve the problems of tomorrow, not to mention today.

Check out this cool video about Artificial Intelligence and tell us what you think about AI and CogCom in the comments below.

 

Is An Economical Revolution Upon Us?

A Look at SLASSCOM’s Tech Talk Event on the Blockchain

The delightful people over at SLASSCOM recently organized a Tech Talk Event, which was held at the Dialog Axiata Auditorium on the 31st of January 2017 and the topic of discussion was the Blockchain. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with road traffic blocks, although it might be a great idea for someone to organize a discussion on that topic too. To the uninitiated, ‘Blockchain’ probably sounds rather dull, but the truth is that it has the power to really change the way the global economic system works, for the better.

What exactly is Blockchain? It’s a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of records with each of these records called blocks and each block containing a time stamp along with a link to a previous block. Put simply, Blockchain is an open, distributed ledger that records transactions between parties efficiently, permanently and in a verifiable way. The technology has become such a hot topic because of its robust ability to prevent the data it stores from being modified. This ability gives Blockchain the power to revolutionize the way we store data about transactions.

The panel of experts at the SLASSCOM Tech Talk were Conrad Dias – Group CIO for LOLC, Jayamin Pelpola – Managing Partner of Alfiniti Ventures, Tharindu Dissanayake – Vice President of Millennium IT and Omega Silva – Software Architect at Virtusa Polaris.

Conrad Dias began the discussion by outlining the nature of Blockchain and its implications. Jayamin Pelpola then expounded on how best people could innovate around the distributed Blockchain. After that, Omega Silva went into detail about the Blockchain and how double spending problems are prevented and touched on how and why it’s almost impossible for Blockchain to be hacked. This was followed by a brilliant presentation by Tharindu Dissanayake on building decentralized applications using Blockchain based distributed networks like Ethereum. This was followed by a lively panel discussion.

Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies are all powered by Blockchain. The beauty of the Blockchain is that applications built for it are server-less, meaning that they can be run jointly on the client-side and within Blockchain based distributed networks. The client device then manages the front-end and user credentials, while the backend runs on a distributed network of computers that provide for the processing and storage requirements.

All of this makes Blockchain extremely secure and resilient to attack. Best of all, it’s a decentralized system, which makes manipulation exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. So particularly for currencies and things of value, this is especially useful. The system also calls for and demands high levels of credibility and provides users with a significant amount of control over their data, communications and credentials. The technology is so powerful that even financial giants like Visa are looking into adopting the technology.

While there is endless benefit to be had with the use of the Blockchain and crypto-currencies, there also are, inevitably, some concerns. Of particular concern is the ability to conduct cross-border transfers of value with almost complete anonymity, which has resulted in crypto-currencies becoming a haven for some rather unsavoury characters. Surely, everyone has heard of the Silk Road website. Still, we feel that with widespread adoption the system will self-regulate and resolve these problems on its own. What is a concern, though, is that if the Blockchain becomes the backbone of modern economic transactions in the future, it will also become the best target for those with malicious intent. While it now seems like the system is virtually ‘un-hackable’, history suggests that at some point, it is very likely to be compromised.

Nevertheless, for the foreseeable future there is nothing but benefit to be had from the technology and it’s great to see it being discussed and even being adopted in Sri Lanka at this early stage.

Checkout this video explaining more about the Blockchain and visit SLASSCOM’s YouTube channel to see footage from the event itself.

Do tell us what you think about Blockchain in the comments below.

Sri Lanka Launches First Live Streaming Platform

Live streaming is extremely popular these days with much of the action of the recently concluded US Presidential Election amongst other significant events seeing many viewers catch the action via a live stream rather than through more traditional methods. Even some daring private individuals have taken to live streaming in order to share their escapades with their followers and have their content catalogued and easily retrievable for the future. Now, Sri Lanka has got her first very own live sports streaming platform under the auspices of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President’s Initiatives Program.

The AFC’s partner, Empower Sports, sent its representatives to Colombo recently to oversee the implementation of the Online Live Streaming Platform. The representatives conducted a workshop for the Football Federation of Sri Lanka a day before the launch of the new platform and explained the workings of the platform, elaborating on streaming technology and the possibility of monetizing the platform. The implementation of similar platforms in countries like Bhutan and Jordan were used as case studies to illustrate the challenges that may need to be faced during the implementation of such platforms.

The new live streaming platform was launched on the 28th of January and first used to stream the second division match between Great Star (Beruwala) and Singing Fish (Jaffna) live from the City Football Ground Stadium, Colombo. Statistics reported that 1,281 people watched the match live on the platform that day.

While the platform is likely to be used only to stream live sports events, the launch of a Sri Lankan Live Streaming Platform is a great achievement and possibly heralds a vibrant future for such endeavours in Sri Lanka. The most important hurdle to cross will be how to make such ventures really profitable given the limited audience in Sri Lanka.

We feel though, that if a space is created in Sri Lanka, by Sri Lankans and with the correct incentives, we could see opportunities for events around the country to be streamed live on a single platform. Sri Lankans would be more connected with goings on in Sri Lanka, in real time than ever before. The ability to stream live on a centralized Sri Lankan platform would also give lesser known groups and individuals the ability to reach out to their target audiences.

It is reasonable to ask that, with the great platforms already available like YouTube and other social networks, whether it is of any real use to set up a platform of our own. The truth, we feel, is yes. Why? So that Sri Lankan made content can then be easily found and appreciated.

So, we hope that this new endeavour will develop into something great or at least encourage Sri Lankans to develop a great streaming platform to host the varied and vibrant content that Sri Lanka has to offer. After all, what is better than some great Sri Lankan flavour?

Tell us what you think about a Sri Lankan Online Streaming Platform! Start the discussion in the comments below.

 

Sri Lankan Behind World-Changing Discovery

Metallic Hydrogen – Wonder of the Future?

Sri Lanka is famous and infamous for many things but it’s not every day that a Sri Lankan is at the cutting edge of world altering discoveries and Dr Ranga Dias, a Sri Lankan Extreme Condensed Matter Physicist at Harvard University, is doing just that. He and his partner, Professor Isaac Silvera, have for the very first time in history, managed to create metallic hydrogen in the laboratory. It might not sound like much to the uninitiated but the achievement is akin to discovering the Holy Grail in the specialised science of extreme condensed matter physics and possibly one of the most significant achievements in science, this generation.

The possible positive industrial, commercial and military uses for metallic hydrogen are dizzying to imagine. Everything from supercomputing to magnetically levitated transportation could become easily achievable with metallic hydrogen. Used as a fuel source, metallic hydrogen could bring the greater dreams of mankind, such as deep space exploration, within easy reach. But let’s not get too dreamy eyed just yet.

The duo at Harvard didn’t discover metallic hydrogen out of the blue or on holiday, by accident. No, metallic hydrogen is a form of degenerate matter and a phase of elemental hydrogen that behaves like an electrical conductor. The existence of the phase was first predicted in 1935 and since then scientists have been trying to create and study it in the laboratory but none were successful until Dr Ranga Dias and Professor Isaac Silvera.

The small amount of metallic hydrogen that was created in the laboratory was done so at pressures which are difficult for ordinary people to conceive. Liquid hydrogen was placed in a diamond anvil cell and pressure was applied. Somewhere between 465 and 495 Giga-Pascals of pressure, metallic hydrogen was created. To better illustrate the extent of the pressure required, think of the centre of the earth, all of the earth exerting pressure on that spot due to the earth’s gravity. Ok? Well, this is much more than that, about 10,000 atmospheres of pressure.

Obviously, creating metallic hydrogen was no small task but there’s still more work to be done. They still have to prove their hypothesis that metallic hydrogen will remain stable at ordinary temperatures and pressures. If proven correct and metallic hydrogen is stable at room temperature, then the implications are astronomical, literally. As rocket fuel, metallic hydrogen would be 4 times more powerful than the best stuff we have today. Space travel and transportation in general would be revolutionized.

Proving that metallic hydrogen is stable at normal atmospheric temperatures and pressures would make this one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the age and the duo are working hard toward that end. Still, even if they aren’t able to prove its stability, the actual creation of metallic hydrogen in the laboratory is certainly one of the great scientific achievements of our time and is sure to, at the very least, lead to greater things. But we do sincerely hope it works out and that we can all blast off into space ourselves, soon.

Check out this cool video about metallic hydrogen from Harvard University, featuring the ‘Discovering Duo’ themselves.

Let us know what you think and what your metallic hydrogen dreams are in the comments below. ☺

Something Phishy’s Going On

New Phishing Attack Targeting Gmail Users – What to look for & How to avoid it.

Our Gmail accounts have become a sort of internet passport, allowing us to access numerous invaluable services from a single account, which means that nearly every other ‘account’ we have is linked to it. Our entire online identity is tied to our Google account and if anyone were to gain unrestricted, unauthorized access to it, we are all at risk of potentially irreversible damage. Scarily, this is exactly what’s happening right now. Hackers are peddling a brand new, skilfully crafted phishing attack that can dupe even advanced users. If you don’t know what phishing is, see here.

Hackers are targeting Gmail users indiscriminately, using cunningly crafted emails to obtain the user’s account login credentials. When you receive them, the phishing emails contain innocent looking attachments and may make reference to emails you have recently sent to or received from those contacts. Basically, it’ll look like someone you know is sending you something you expect to receive or are likely to receive from them.

The innocent looking attachment will open in a new browser tab, which takes you to a page that looks identical to the Google Sign-In page. Users are tricked into entering their Google account login credentials under the guise of re-logging into their accounts for security reasons or simply as a formality.

If you do enter your credentials and attempt to sign-in, the hackers will have full access to your Google account and they’ll waste no time taking control of it and your information. You’ll lose control of everything including Gmail, Drive, YouTube and all of Google’s other services and potentially allow hackers full access to your Android phone, if you use one. If that isn’t enough, your account will be used to send phishing emails to all of your contacts exposing them to the attack.

So how do you avoid it? First of all, be aware of this scam and treat anything that opens a new tab with some suspicion. Gmail will rarely require you to randomly sign-in and when it does so, it’ll usually do so in the active tab.

Here are other important things to look out for:

Check the address bar on your web browser and always look for the Green Padlock and for indication that the connection is secure and trusted.

In the case of the Gmail Phishing Scam the genuine URL should look something like this:

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox

The malicious URL may be very long and look like this:

data:text/html,https://accounts.google.com/ServiceLogin?

Finally, if you haven’t already enabled two-factor authentication for your Google account, you should do so immediately.

Today it’s become an oddity to find someone who doesn’t have a Gmail account. Android is, by far, the most popular mobile OS and that makes a lot of people very vulnerable. But you shouldn’t be. By simply being aware, you are ahead of everyone else. Spread the awareness and stay safe online.

Check out our previous post about online security for more information about how to stay safe online.

Have you been attacked or do you know someone who’s been attacked? Tell us in the comments.

It’s a bird, a jet… No! It’s a Three-Wheeler!

The Three Wheeler Age may be at an end.

The rise of the three-wheeler or tuk-tuk is a perfect example of the market economy at play. Not everyone can afford a private car, even fewer can afford the hassle of parking those cars and for the middle class in Sri Lanka taxis are often a tad too expensive and buses not entirely convenient. This creates a ripe demand for quick, efficient and above all, cheap transportation. It’s this ripe demand that three wheelers supply.

Despite their notoriety three-wheelers provide a crucial service in Sri Lanka with its limited road space and appalling mass transit system. Economically, they support a large portion of the population directly and indirectly as there are now over 1,000,000 tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka. With a population of a little over 20 million people, that means there’s a tuk-tuk for about every 20 of us.

But now that we have seen the glorious rise of the tuk-tuk, are we about to witness the end of the tuk-tuk era. Why? Well, essentially two reasons: increased regulation and decreased economic incentive.

The first tuk-tuks to install fare meters came up against the full force of the Three-Wheeler Mafia, the loose band of warring groups of tuk-tuk drivers that played by their own rules. Still, driven by the market, meters prevailed as travellers preferred metered tuk-tuks over the ‘open outcry’ variety. Slowly but surely most tuk-tuks installed meters but a handful still remain unmetered and ready to rip unsuspecting travellers off.

The government has recently introduced legislation (*standing ovation*) that will make meters mandatory along with basic safety precautions. This will make operating a three wheeler less than savoury for the unsavoury, non-metered tuk-tuks in the business, possibly encouraging them to leave altogether. Taxes on three wheelers have also risen in the recent past and it’s only reasonable to expect more increases in the future, aimed at curbing the number of active three-wheelers, which is now, putting it lightly, a bit problematic. 😉

Competition in the form of a limitless supply of three wheelers, ‘nano cabs’, and ride hailing apps like Uber make operating three wheelers less economically attractive than in the wild days of outright highway robbery :-P, encouraging less productive operators to close shop. The advent of these other forms of on-demand hired transportation has also made it abundantly clear that travellers have been taken for a good ride by three-wheelers because it’s now possible to get a ‘nano cab’ with air-conditioning, an enclosed cabin, seating for four people, increased comfort and better safety for the same per-km price of a roadside three-wheeler.

While we’re certain that we won’t see tuk-tuks vanish any time soon, with increased regulation, decreased economic incentive and supply now beginning to outstrip demand, it’s inevitable that we will see a period of decline for the three-wheeler at least in the near term. But what we really hope will happen, is that the pressures currently faced by the market for three-wheel hires will turn it into a diamond of sorts, launching a three-wheeler revolution, if you will, resulting in economy, safety, decency and ethics.

Whether the age of the three-wheeler is entering its twilight years or not may be up for debate but what isn’t up for debate is that their cowboy, wild-west days are at an end, as far as fares are concerned at least.

What do you think? Are three-wheelers on the way out or just out of control? Let us know in the comments. ☺