28 February 2015



What is the first thing you usually spot when you look up in a public place, like a shopping complex, park, railway station, or any other public place? What is the thing that is common to all these places? It’s a simple camera fitted for security purposes, know as the Closed-circuit television (CCTV) to the common man. But is this security camera actually secure? That is a question that we need to ask ourselves, and the authorities fitting these cameras. How safe are these cameras? Are these authorised? What if these video feeds reach the wrong hands?

 A CC.. what?
ü Closed-circuit television (CCTV), also known as video surveillance, is the use of video cameras to transmit a signal to a specific place, on a limited set of monitors. It differs from broadcast television where the signal is openly transmitted; in CCTV the signal may employ point to point (P2P), point to multipoint, or mesh wireless links.
ü These systems evolved from a reel-to-reel media, to using magnetic tapes, to VCR systems, to digital multiplexing and finally- to it’s current form of CCTV; wow! That’s a lonnnggg journey!
ü CCTV has been presented to us as a technical solution to security problems. With the help of CCTV, its providers claim, we can more effectively prevent, detect, and/or prosecute crimes ranging from major terrorism to minor vandalism. Uses of CCTV:

  • ·        To prevent criminal activities
  • ·        Industrial processes taking place under conditions threatening humans
  • ·        Traffic monitoring
  • ·        Transport safety
  • ·        Control in retail
  • ·        Safety in schools

Sounds good! Where’s the problem?
Disguised as a means to secure areas, this poses a threat to all those who care about their privacy, which is, everyone on the face of this planet! This problem is the main reason behind CCTV being regulated against. Deployment of CCTV into public spaces, spaces where we do not expect a high degree of privacy in the conventional sense; they are accepted. Privacy may not be an issue here; it matters when discussing deployment of CCTV for surveillance of private spaces. They may be used by criminals to gain access to private information of others’. For example,

  • ·         planting small hidden cameras in ATMs to capture people’s PINs as they are entered,
  • ·         Hidden cameras in hotel rooms to capture private moments of individuals and blackmailing them,
  • ·         use in washrooms and trial rooms to capture people changing clothes and blackmailing individuals.
 These small scale criminal activities can be used to impact brand reputations and defaming companies leading to colossal damage.

What to do now?
A way to deal with problems of surveillance is to implement technical fixes like public key encryption for electronic communications.

 A person uses a computer to generate a message

Communicated through the telephone network to another computer

Surveillance of this message is possible by tapping into the network and deciphering the computer text.

Now add encryption: the sender uses a little program to turn their message into code, using their own private key and the receiver's public key.

 The receiver is able to decipher to message by using the receiver's private key and the sender's public key.
The receiver also knows that the message could only have come from the sender, for whom the key thus is an electronic signature. This method requires a fair bit of computing power but could be cheap if mass produced.

Where’s this headed?

Recently, the cloud video surveillance industry, which offers Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS), has been experiencing considerable growth with no end in sight. Hoping to evolve  in the name of “standoff biometrics” and “behavioural recognition” systems; fusion of several technologies including CCTV surveillance is what is the future of CCTV. 
In India, the use of CCTV hasn’t evolved enough to reach the latter stage of biometrics. Given the population of the country, employing individuals for security purposes is much easier than actually setting up cameras everywhere, and will provide employability, nevertheless we hope to see technology evolve.

14 February 2015


My inspirations behind research
I was going down the memory lane and was reminded of all the ‘SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT’ protests and campaigns that I took a part in , as a child, in schooldays; how cars were, and still are, a major contributor to polluting the environment.  If only there were some way to reduce this pollution and increase efficiency and reducing costs, will the world be a better place. I started my research on hybrid cars, and man I tell you, I love the speed with which technology is evolving! My concern for the environment as a kid was my main inspiration behind forcing my parents to switch to CNG from petrol and diesel (in whichever cars possible, ofcourse). And today, I can force them to buy a hybrid car instead, maybe (or maybe they could just kick me out of the house for being a nagging presence :P) Either ways, this is the technology all environmentalists have been waiting for, and something to provide relief to cars makers from nagging environmentalists too.

A Hybrid what?
A hybrid car is one that uses one or more power sources to move the vehicle; that means a hybrid will have a traditional internal-combustion engine and a fuel tank, as well as one or more electric motors and a battery pack. At the moment, that means combining a normal petrol or diesel engine with an electric motor. So the question at hand is, what are hybrid cars actually made up of? How do they function? The main components and functions of a hybrid car are:
1.     Motor-generator (or electric motor in layman terms) draws electricity from the battery and provides supplemental acceleration when operating as a motor; also performs the start stop function of the car. Hybrid-control software shuts the engine off while stopped at traffic signals and automatically restarts it again with the electric motor when the driver releases the brake pedal. Eliminating the fuel wasted of an idling gas engine causes overall mpg to climb significantly and tailpipe emissions to drop, especially in town.
2.     Regenerative braking:  Normal cars waste all of their excess momentum as heat in the brakes, while slowing down the car; a hybrid car absorbs this heat to recharge the battery with the help of the motor generator. However, conventional hydraulic brakes can’t be totally done with, because regenerative breaking is insufficient to stop a car quickly.

3.      Electric drive: Operating the vehicle on electric power alone is possible if the hybrid system has enough electrical capacity; but the maximum speed and distance over which electric-only operation can be sustained, varies from essentially zero to a handful of miles, and has everything to do with the weight and aerodynamics of the vehicle, the strength of the motor-generator and, more than anything else, the capacity of the battery.

Hybrid layouts
·        Series hybrids: This oldest hybrid type layout is being used by Diesel-electric locomotives and ships since the 20th century. Electric motors are large and powerful in this type of layout, needed to turn the drive wheels. But a series hybrid is not a "pure" electric vehicle; having a dedicated engine that burns fuel and expels emissions. The 2014 BMW i3 and the out-of-production 2012 Fisker Karma use series hybrid systems.
·        Parallel hybrids: The engine is responsible for propelling the vehicle; the electric motor provides an extra boost, and if it's large enough, it may be the car's only source of propulsion for short distances. These are the simplest and least costly type in current automotive use. In conventional parallel hybrids, such as the Civic Hybrid from Honda, regenerative braking is the sole source of recharging power for the battery.

·        Series-parallel hybrids: Hybrids that offer the largest gains in mpg, the highest electric-only speeds and the longest electric-only run times.  Conceptually, the engine and the electric motor feed into the transmission via separate paths, enabling fully independent propulsion via the engine or electricity. In a series-parallel hybrid vehicle, a computer monitors driving conditions and the state of the battery to decide which mode is most efficient at any given moment (it’s like the best of both worlds’ type situation). Series-parallel hardware is more expensive, but the payoff in efficiency is huge Ford's C-Max and Fusion hybrids and all Toyota and Lexus hybrids use series-parallel systems.

·        Plug-in hybrids: (can be based on any of the above layouts) Their distinguishing characteristic is that, the electric driving range could go beyond a mile or two possible with regular hybrids- due to a significantly enlarged battery- which could also be recharged while parked by plugging into an electrical outlet. Reserving fuel for longer trips, the plug-in hybrid can travel in an all-electric mode for most short distance trips; a feature that can boost fuel economy into 100 MPGe territory. Plug-in hybrids include the Ford Fusion Energi,  Toyota Prius and a version of the Honda Accord.

Things to remember!
·        In hybrids with enough battery capacity, the engine driven compressor of the air conditioner is replaced with the electrically driven compressor. The “Eco A/C” mode needs to be engaged, for lower cost hybrids which retain their engine driven compressors, to limit compressor function when car is stopped; else the engine can’t shut down at stoplights and their aren’t much of fuel savings.
India’s acceptance to hybrid
·        Government of India is chalking out a scheme to encourage sales of EVs (electric vehicles) and hybrid vehicles in India, which would involve a colossal investment of a few thousand Crores. The subsidy will be a proportion between the costs of fossil fuel required for running a car as against that of an electric or hybrid vehicle. The Department of Heavy Industry has suggested that owners of pure electric vehicles should get a maximum subsidy of 35 per cent, while customers who opt for hybrid vehicles that can run up to 15kms at one go should get benefit of 25 per cent.
·        The Government of Delhi is also contemplating offering a subsidy to those who wish to switch to electric cars by adding a special conversion kit in their car. For the ease of customers, government is also mulling the installation of public charging points.

·        However, the current hybrids available in the market, like the Toyota Camry (hybrid), are too expensive for the middle class; this weighs out the advantages of fuel savings.
Though we hope to see Hybrids on the Indian roads very soon!

2 February 2015


I always wondered what it would be like to drive by myself and; when I finally turned 18, I thought perhaps a chauffeur driven car was better in all the traffic. However, somewhere in the middle of this transition, I thought of , a car that could drive by itself!- because no one wants to sit in a car with a stinking chauffeur full of attitude! Clearly this era has seen technological marvels, setting new milestones for development such as the driverless trains and the auto-pilot facility in airplanes, why not just extend it to more commercially viable vehicles?

Crazy Brainstorming
·        One thing that was quite clear to me was that we needed a machine to behave human-like, something that could not only see everything located near it but also far away. This made it clear that long range and short range sensors with high accuracy must be required so as to enable a similar vision-like approach for the machine to substitute for the human vision, while driving. Not as much as an ‘eye for an eye’ as it is a sensor for an eye!
·        It is miraculous to think about the working of the human brain, as not only does it remember the routes but also keeps in mind the surroundings, thereby leading to the hand eye coordination which shifts the gears in the car and makes it possible to slow down or speed up accordingly. This cleared up the picture furthermore; we would then require long range and short range sensors to work simultaneously with a GPS device and automatic transmission for an autonomous car to form high precision maps of its surroundings and possible routes for the car to take up and also alter the speed of the car in accordance with the traffic and surroundings-like that used in aerial imagery by ATLIS.

To explore more about the feasibility of such a car, I started working my way through the internet and well, we know things just get serious when big names like Google, BMW and Volvo come into the picture.

 Technology used
The autonomous cars built so far used mainly the Velodyne LIDAR systems, to enhance the capabilities of the car. Velodyne LIDAR is based on the science that we studied back in high school - how cracks inside a mountain or buildings and monuments are detected; throwing in a beam of laser and the reflected light received by the equipment tells us how deep the crack is. In a similar manner Velodyne LIDAR placed on top of the autonomous car would allow the vehicle to generate a 3D map of the environment; but this is clearly not enough. The maps generated are thus combined with high definition inch-precision maps of the world and the maps generated by the GPS systems to enhance the capabilities of the autonomous car.

Big names on Auto Pilot
·        Google’s autonomous car- a two-seat, all-electric prototype that dispenses with the traditional steering wheel and accelerator and brake pedals in favor of just a start and stop button; with a tagline Making it safer, easier and more enjoyable to get around”. The car’s front end includes foam and a soft windshield to dampen the blow of any potential collision with soft-bodied objects- no more worries for cyclists and pedestrians about losing their lives by getting hit by this car.
·        With NASA and NISSAN working together to compete with Volvo and Google in this area of research and development, just made it clear that autonomous cars are the future. Nissan used NASA’s research on neutral body posture in low-gravity conditions to develop more comfortable car seats. But hardware and software for self-driving cars could prove to be some of the most transformative technologies to reach mainstream acceptance in the coming years. Not only does NASA aim to make autonomous cars commercially available, by collaborating with NISSAN, but also develop this technology to help the mars mission rovers for other future space exploration.
·         BMW also competes with these with its “ The ultimate driving machine! “ ; the question that arises is,  IS IT(the autonomous car) ACTUALLY THE ULTIMATE MACHINE OR IS MAN MOVING TOWARDS IT’S OWN DESTRUCTION?

Limitations/ Improvements required
But, as they say, a machine is a machine and every machine has its own limitations.
·         A human will know which obstacle on the road would actually cause a hurdle and which won’t, for example, a brick lying on the road or a rock of a small size which wouldn’t possibly cause a hurdle and the car could go over it and continue on the same path would appear as a hurdle to an autonomous car and the car might change its lane; similarly while travelling at high speeds, if a car can’t change its lane and a dead animal (road kill) is lying on the lane a human might not change the lane taking the situation into account, but the autonomous car might just stop to wait to change the lane.
·         Also, humans take weather conditions into account and if it’s raining or snowing , etc. according to the change in the weather we change the speed of the car to make sure an accident doesn’t take place, but an autonomous car in bad weather might not take into account such precision and an accident might just take place; although the LIDAR systems take rain into account however there is always a high risk of wrong precision mapping which might take place due to some technical inconsistency during systems synchronisation with one another.

Waiting for the future

With further technological advancements such limitations could be eliminated; coupled with similar technologically developed roadways using smart street lights and cars we could hope to achieve the dream of autonomous cars and much more civilized traffic. The cars would be able to communicate with each other making travelling less chaotic, and much more honest- coz then , well, no one will be able to bluff about being stuck in traffic as an excuse for arriving late at events or meetings!  With this technology- there will be lesser accidents due to drunk driving, fatigue and other various human tendencies due to which so many lives are lost every year; the roads would be far less congested and reduction of fuel consumption could take place.
 All in all it’s a win-win situation and we might even see autonomous cars on the road before we can possibly see human clones.