Self-Driving Cars Vulnerable to Cyber-Attack, Warn Experts

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Hackers pose a real danger to self-driving vehicles, US experts are warning, and carmakers and insurers are starting to factor in the risk.

Expected on the road by 2020 or even sooner, driverless cars should have a wide range of cutting-edge technologies such as electronic sensors — a group of cameras, radar, sonar and LiDAR (light detection and ranging) — commanded remotely using software that senses road widths, identifies signs and even roadblocks.

But like connected vehicles and their onboard multimedia systems, these new self-driving technology elements — which were meant to make the cars safe and reliable, could end up leaving them vulnerable to hacker strikes, according to US security firms Mission Secure Inc (MSi) and Perrone Robotics Inc.

A hacker recently boasted of having entered the electronic systems of the US jet he was traveling on, and of having changed its trajectory. He claimed he did so using the in-flight Wi-Fi system.

The two security companies, working with the University of Virginia and the Pentagon, have run tests that have shown they believe it is possible to hack into and disrupt the multi-sensor system.

One trial was to change how the car responded when it encountered an obstacle.

“One attack scenario forces the car to accelerate, rather than brake, even though the obstacle avoidance system (using LiDAR) detects an object in front of the car. Rather than slowing down, the car hits the object … at high speed, causing damage to the car and potential threat to the life and safety of the passengers in the car under attack and in the car being struck,” according to the report available on MSi’s website.

“If an attack were carried out successfully, automobile manufacturers have no means of quickly gathering information for forensic analysis or to rapidly deploy additional protections to cars in response to new and evolving attacks,” the report warns.

According to these experts, hackers penetrate the system through wireless connections.

MSi and Perrone Robotics, which are working on a system to counter cyber-attacks, believe the situation poses “significant challenges and risks for the automotive industry, as well as to public safety.”

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Most of the carmakers gearing up their own autonomous car projects did not reply to update requests from AFP.

But sources close to the industry say the chance of the system being hacked has been factored in throughout the manufacturing process.

Internet giant Google, for example, is believed to have a team of top programmers tasked with trying to hack into the software in their own self-driving prototype car, which is expected to get on-road testing within the next few months. Google declined to comment for this story.

US insurers are concerned about safety, and whether the new technologies can cut the risk of accidents happening.

This could force them to rethink their contracts and to recalculate premiums.

At first, premiums could rise because the price of self-driving cars will be high due to the cost of embedded technologies and repairs, insurer Nationwide told AFP.

But this could be partially offset by the wider use of vehicles decked out with accident-preventing technologies.

For State Farm, another US insurer, the big picture is what counts.

“As connected and automated vehicle technology reduces or eliminates some risks that drivers face today, new risks are likely to emerge. We are focused on the big picture — how can we adapt to these changes and continue to deliver value to our customers,” the company said in an email to AFP.

According to a source with a major US insurer, who requested anonymity, one of the key related issues down the road will be establishing boundaries, and responsiblities based on what carmakers say the car can or cannot do autonomously.

Google last month announced its self-driving prototype cars were ready to leave the test track and hit public roads in California, in a big step forward for its autonomous automobile program.

Windows 10 Launch Date Revealed by Microsoft

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Microsoft on Monday announced that Windows 10 would hit the market on July 29, nearly three years after the company launched Windows 8. Windows 10 will initially be available for laptops and PCs and Microsoft hasn’t yet announced when smartphones and tablets will get the upgrade. The company hasn’t yet announced pricing details for Windows 10, although the final retail price has been tipped.

In a blog post, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of Operating Systems Terry Myerson wrote, “Today, I’m excited to share the availability date for Windows 10. In fact, I thought I’d let Cortana, the world’s most personal digital assistant, share the news. You can ask Cortana for the answer!” He also wrote that four million people have been testing Windows 10 through Microsoft’s Windows Insider programme. Windows 10 will be available as a free upgrade to all users of Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1, Microsoft notes.

To get Windows 10 on launch day, Microsoft suggests that you reserve a copy. The company says the reservation process, for both upgrades and purchases, is simple. An update notification will pop up in the system tray of eligible computers and user can click the notification to complete the reservation process. Alternatively users can reserve a copy by visiting this page. Should you purchase a PC or laptop running Windows 8.1 between now and July 29, the device will be eligible for a free update to Windows 10. Microsoft said many retail stores will be able to update these computers to Windows 10 for free.

Microsoft has said it has been working to ensure that all your apps from previous versions of Windows work smoothly on Windows 10. Myerson wrote, “The Windows 10 upgrade is designed to be compatible with your current Windows device and applications. We are hard at work to make this upgrade process a great experience.”

With Windows 10 Microsoft has tried to create on operating system that works across devices. It brings back the classic start menu last seen in Windows 7 and adds a host of new features such as integration with Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant software. Internet Explorer, the default browser that shipped with Windows, has been replaced by Microsoft Edge in Windows 10. Another interesting feature is Windows Continuum, which “enables today’s best laptops and 2-in-1 devices to elegantly transform from one form factor to the other, enabling smooth transitions of your tablet into a PC, and back”

Inbox by Gmail Updated With New Features, Now Available Without Invite

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On day one of Google I/O 2015 on Thursday, the tech major announced that its standalone email client based on Gmail – Inbox by Gmail – is now open to all for download. This means that users don’t have to wait for an invite anymore, which was pretty easy to come by anyway.

Google has also added a good amount of updates to Inbox by Gmail, quite expectedly. A new Trip Bundles feature clubs all the emails about a trip into a single bundle. For example, if you have planned for a trip to say Goa and have multiple bookings in the form of flight, hotel and cab – all the emails detailing this information will be put together in one easy to access bundle. The icing on the cake, however, is that Inbox by Gmail will pull up the most important information first based on the time of booking. So, flight booking will be succeeded by hotel in this case.

The new smart reminders feature for Inbox by Gmail will prompt you to set a reminder automatically when someone commissions you to do a task in an email. Reminders will now also sync between Google Keep, the company’s note-taking app, and Inbox by Gmail.

Additionally, with this update for Inbox by Gmail, Google allows developers to embed deep links to apps into emails. This essentially means that links will open the app directly instead of a web page. This also negates the need to log in again. Google states that the launch partners for this feature includes Hotels Tonight and Eat24 apps.

The Inbox by Gmail update also includes the ability to undo sending an email within the first 10 seconds of hitting the send button. Google also adds custom email signatures for Inbox, and also gives users the power to change Inbox’s swipe gesture from marking emails as done to deleting them by default in settings. Both signatures and delete features were recently promised to be delivered in an upcoming update by the firm.

Talking to TechCrunch about the focus on the Gmail app, Shalini Agarwal, Senior Product Manager for Inbox, Google, said, “We think about Gmail and Inbox differently. Gmail is our best-in-class email product and we want to keep it that way”

Google has also opened up Inbox for Google for Work, its enterprise software solution, users. They will be enrolled in an early adopter program provided the IT admin allows access.The updated Inbox by Gmail app is available to download for Android and iOS via Google Play and the App Store.

Google Aims to Patent Child Toy That Pays Attention

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Google has filed a patent for toys that pay attention to who is in a room and can interact with other media devices.

The US Patent and Trademark Office shared diagrams Thursday depicting what resembled rabbit and bear toys with microphones in their ears, cameras in their eyes, speakers in their mouths and motors in their necks.

The envisioned devices were described as being able to listen for someone, turn a head to make “eye contact,” hear what they say and respond with pre-recorded phrases.

The toys would be able to wirelessly communicate using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or other means with cloud-based computers or manage other media devices, perhaps turning on songs or movies at children’s commands.

Patent paperwork proposes that such a toy-like device could serve as an “intelligent remote control” that makes managing home entertainment or automation systems simple.

“The anthropomorphic device may be a doll or a toy that resembles a human, an animal, a mythical creature or an inanimate object,” the published patent said.

The toys could also be imbued with face and voice recognition, making the devices able to recognize who they were “looking at,” paperwork showed.

The Google patent listed Richard Wayne DeVaul and Daniel Aminzade as inventors. The application for the patent was filed in February of 2012.

Intex to Preload nanu Free-Calling App on Upcoming Smartphones

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A Singapore-based mobile application company has entered into a partnership with Indian smartphone maker Intex Technologies to make a free calling app named ‘nanu’available to the Indian market.

Intex would be launching its two smartphone models, embedded with ‘nanu’ software in July, Gentay Communications Pte Ltd, said in a statement on Saturday.

The free-callling app nanu, which subsidises cost through targeted advertising on ring tones of diallers is designed to operate in 2G areas, opening up to a market of millions of rural folks, said Martin Nygate, CEO of Gentay Communications, the parent company of ‘nanu’.

He said nanu was already downloaded by 1.5 million subscribers in India, out of the 2.2 million subscribers globally.

“India is our biggest market and as such we have teamed up with Intex to launch it through two new smartphones which will be on the market in July,” Nygate told PTI.

Unlike conventional voice calling apps, nanu provides all calls for free, including calls to non-nanu users on landlines and mobiles anywhere in the world.

It can also be used on any network including 2G, allowing nanu to provide high quality calls from locations where other apps do not work, Nygate said.

“Having nanu embedded in smartphones means millions of people in rural and developing areas will now have access to free calls by just inserting SIM card in their newly purchased phones,” he said.

“Smartphones have become an increasingly competitive sector, especially in India where cost performance is vital. You need to provide customers with something more than just a gadget,” said Sanjay Kumar Kalirona Business Head of Mobiles, Intex Technologies (India) Ltd.

“We believe that embedding nanu will not only prove to be a big attraction but will also revolutionise the market. The new phones with nanu will help Intex further differentiate ourselves from our closest competitors,” said Kalirona.

Nygate said that nanu has software designed to promote advertisements on the ring tones as the dialler make a call.

“It is a unique and dedicated on the ear advertisement that gives nanu an advantage in promoting media,” he said.

With SWYO, Stream PC Games to Your Mobile, Tablet, or PC

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Streaming games is something that many companies including Sony, Steam, and Nvidia have been working on. So far at least, success in this field has been limited.

Two independent companies that raised a lot of attention in this field were Gaikai and OnLive, both of which promised to allow you to stream games running on their servers across the Internet, so you could play a high-end game on a netbook, for example. Today, neither Gaikai nor OnLive exist. Sony acquired Gaikai in 2012, and it is likely using the same technology for its PlayStation Now service. OnLive, which launched complete with special hardware, went bankrupt. Sony also acquired the “important parts” of OnLive in 2015, but announced no plan to continue the service in it’s “current form,” suggesting that OnLive’s technology would likely be used to add to PlayStation Now.

Steam and Nvidia, on the other hand, focused on letting you stream the games you own. The catch is that this works with only select hardware, and also requires the kind of PC setup that many people won’t have. There are also now some Android apps that make use of the same graphics cards to allow you to play PC games on your phone or tablet, working with game controllers such as the Xbox 360 controller or the PS3 controller. If you’re a gamer who’s keeping up with the latest developments, this isn’t much of an obstacle – but if you’re a couple of years out of date, and just want to stream an older game like Portal, your options are limited.

A new Kickstarter project called SWYO, made by a team of Indian and German developers, wants to address this gap. SevenRE, the company behind SWYO, says it has created a client which will allow you to stream games from your PC to another PC or mobile phone running a browser or an app. It’s not quite the same idea as OnLive or Gaikai – you still need to have a PC that is powerful enough to run the game in the first place.

Another cool feature, as explained in the Kickstarter video, is that SWYO can be used to let a remote player control your local game – this could be used to remotely do local co-op for a game that doesn’t support online multiplayer, or you could pass the controls for a tough segment of a game over to a friend.

Pratip Chakraborty, the CEO of SevenRE, chatted with NDTV Gadgets over email to clear up some questions about SWYO.

swyo_mobile.jpg“We’re a two year old technology consulting startup, and we’ve been building out the Stream What You Own (SWYO) prototype for the last one year,” he explains. “We have a working proof of concept now, and we’re now trying to raise funds for full time development on the project.”

Chakraborty tells us that SWYO can be used to stream not just your games, but also music and movies to the app on your phone if you want. Your PC can also be set up to power on remotely, so you don’t even need to keep it running; just install SWYO, and then when you want to watch something, or play a game, simply press a button in the app.

“In a nutshell, SWYO aims to create a personal cloud solution, that’s not bound to hardware or a local network,” Chakraborty adds. “And we wanted to make sure you can do it either via the browser, or on your phone.”

According to Chakraborty, the big advantage of SWYO is that you don’t need to install a client to play games – it’s a browser-based solution means that isn’t tied down to any specific operating system, and you can play games from a Windows, Mac or Linux computer without worrying about how installing any software.

“You could just go to a friends’ house and then play games that are installed at [your] home,” says Chakraborty. You don’t need additional hardware over and above the standard requirements of your games, he claims.

“We support both hardware encoding using AMD’s Media SDK, and Nvidia’s GameStream, as well as CPU encoding,” explains Chakraborty. “If your computer can run the game without maxing out the CPU, then you can stream it and play via SWYO.” And if things aren’t working smoothly, then just dial down the graphics settings a touch and you’ll see the game run fine.

There’s no demo to try out now, but SevenRE promises that the latency is low enough not to affect gaming. The prototype seems to work smoothly on different devices – we looked at some videos of SWYO in action on a laptop, and on a Google Nexus 5:

Watching someone play Shadow of Mordor on a Nexus 5 is promising, and the game seemed to run smoothly too:

According to Chakraborty, SWYO isn’t affected by Steam’s DRM – something that would matter to many, (if not all), PC gamers. The computer or phone you’re streaming on simply needs to be capable of HD video playback. In case you’re streaming to a PC, then you need to a browser that supports Flash, ideally Firefox or Chrome, Chakraborty explains.

And game streaming is just one part of SevenRE’s plan – they’re also going to sell software licenses to businesses, and plan to compete with remote presentation and PC access services like TeamViewer.

“Our tech fills the gaps and enhances existing solutions,” says Chakraborty. “TeamViewer lacks gaming capabilities. Remote Play is Nvidia only, and Steam needs both computers to be on the same local network. In the diverse streaming ecosystem, SWYO is all about feature unification, ease, power of sharing, and personalisation.”

While that sounds good, the fact remains there’s nothing concrete beyond a few videos SevenRE has put up to demonstrate the concept. There’s not trial version you can download, to see how effective it is today, or to decide if it’s worth putting down the money to back the company as yet. But leaving aside SevenRE’s bigger plans of selling corporate tools, as a gamer, the idea is interesting.

You’re not locked down to a specific library of games, or a specific set of hardware. It’ll work with your GOG, Steam, and Origin games. It’ll work if you have an AMD graphics card or an Nvidia card. You just need to install the SWYO server software on your PC, and that’s it. And it doesn’t require a cutting edge gaming PC on the client-side either.

The bandwidth requirement means that if you’re in India, you definitely don’t want to try doing this over the Internet, but local streaming from your desktop to different screens in your house should work just fine. There’s a lot of appeal to the idea, and we’re cautiously optimistic to see how it all turns out.

Making Computer Science More Inviting

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When Sonja Khan started college, she’d never thought of studying computer science. But when she heard from friends that the intro class was good, she decided to give it a try – and then ended up majoring in it.Four years later, she has just graduated with a computer science degree, is pursuing a master’s degree and is headed to a summer internship at Facebook.

“I didn’t even know anything about the field before; I had never considered it,” she said. “I signed up for it pretty much on a whim and really enjoyed it.”

Khan’s story reads like a dream for universities and technology companies – where only about 15 percent of computer science graduates and technical workers are women. The industry has been under pressure to recruit more. The difficult question, though, is how to encourage more women on paths like Khan’s.

Some colleges have made significant strides, including the University of Washington, where Khan is a student. Their methods offer lessons for other schools and companies hoping to increase the number of women in fields where they remain under-represented.

Behind the scenes of many of these schools’ efforts is an organization called the National Center for Women & Information Technology. It provides consultants to college faculties on how to change their programs to recruit and retain women. On Thursday, the centre is giving the University of Washington its first award, sponsored by Google, for colleges that have succeeded in this effort. The center hopes to give the award annually.

Thirty percent of University of Washington bachelor’s degrees in computer science last year went to women. Ed Lazowska, chairman in computer science and engineering at the university, called that share “not great.” Still, it is twice the national average and up from 20 percent in 2010 and 15 percent in 2005.

The university has done three big things to diversify its student base, Lazowska said. The first is to get girls interested in computer science early on, by teaching elementary and high school teachers and students about computing through workshops and field trips. These efforts have particularly large effects at state schools that recruit from nearby high schools.

Still, like Khan, many students, and particularly girls, are not exposed to the subject before college.

That is why the university gave its introductory courses a makeover a few years ago. The goal was to make computing more accessible and inviting to a broader range of people, Lazowska said. The courses showed students they can succeed through hard work and do not need esoteric knowledge or an innate gift.

The new program includes small group sessions with faculty members, classes that connect software programming to philosophy or biology and an emphasis on real-world applications. Forty percent of the teaching assistants are women, and there is a seminar on women in computing.

The University of Washington has also tried to build a sense of community for women studying the topic. It sends students to tech companies or conferences for women in tech to meet others in the field.

For Khan, there were several events that pushed her to continue in the major. A small yet critical one happened early on, she said: After she took the first introductory class, the professor emailed her to encourage her to take the next one.

The seminar on women in computing gave her a chance to discuss some of her insecurities about the field, she said. And as a freshman, she entered a hackathon with friends – despite being worried that she was under-qualified to enter – and won second place.

“Before, I kind of thought of computer science was potentially an isolating field where I’d work by myself all day, but actually you get to work with other people and get exposed to different ideas,” Khan said.

Her school’s efforts mirror what other schools have tried to do. Indiana University, which has used data to track efforts to increase women’s enrolment, won a second-place award Thursday from the National Center for Women & Information Technology. So did Michigan State University, which opened a lab for students to work together on computing assignments.

“It’s not just the sink-or-swim mentality, which in my humble opinion has been present in too much of computing education,” said Lucy Sanders, co-founder and chief executive of the centre.

Harvey Mudd increased its share of women studying computer science by doing things like including pictures of women in school brochures and hiring women students as campus tour guides. Carnegie Mellon, meanwhile, started a formal mentorship program for women studying the subject, since they were often excluded from male students’ informal networks.

The focus on recruiting and retaining women might increase their numbers – but it also singles them out, say some critics of programs that change curricula to attract more women or offer classes specifically for women. Students often say they want to be seen as a computer scientist, not a female computer scientist.

But Sanders says the American computer science curriculum is in need of a complete overhaul, not just for women.

“I don’t particularly think that the existing computer science curriculum has been effective for anybody,” she said. “It needs to be situated in a real-world or meaningful context so people understand why they’re doing it. That doesn’t make it less rigorous – students learn the same things, but in a different way.”

India to Launch Communications Satellite for Strategic Applications Soon

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India will launch an advanced communications satellite (GSAT-6) in July or August for strategic applications, its space agency chief said on Wednesday.”We will launch GSAT-6 for strategic applications in July-end or August beginning, with a special antenna that will have a capability to use a handheld device to communicate from anywhere,” Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar told reporters in Bengaluru.

Isro will use a heavy rocket – geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLVA Mark II) to launch the 2-tonne GSAT-6 with 10 special transponders from its spaceport at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.

“The six-metre diameter antenna will be one of the scientific instruments onboard the satellite. We are making optical instruments for measurements using optimal techniques,” Kiran Kumar said on the margins of a function here.

The instruments are also used in telescopes of 1.2 metre and 0.7 metre mirrors, which are measured to nanometre accuracy.

Though the space agency was to launch the satellite earlier for the city-based Devas Multimedia Services Ltd under a pact with its commercial arm Antrix Corporation, the government cancelled the $300 million deal in February 2011 invoking sovereignty and decided to use it for strategic needs.

Under the annulled deal, Antrix was to lease transponders of GSAT-6 and GSAT-6A to Devas for allowing it to offer digital multimedia services using S-band wavelength (spectrum), reserved for strategic use of the country.

Earlier, the Isro chief flagged off a three-day seminar, symposium and expo on metrology at the Central Manufacturing Technology Institute (CMTI), organised by the Metrology Society of India, southern region on the occasion of ‘World Metrology Day’, celebrated on May 20.

Delhi High Court Asks Government to Consider Retailers’ Plea for E-Commerce Parity

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Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked the government to consider a retailers association’s plea seeking a level-playing field with e-commerce sites like Flipkart in the FDI policy and take a decision within four months.Justice Rajiv Shakdher told the government, represented by advocate Jasmeet Singh, to consider the plea of Retailers’ Association of India (RAI) as a representation.

RAI has claimed that while FDI was banned for e-commerce in the inventory model, an alternate route of “marketplace model” has been created which has nullified the government’s ban.

As per marketplace model, an e-commerce website acts as a platform alone and the transaction happens between the actual seller and the consumers or the buyers.

RAI – a lobby group for Future Group, Reliance Industries Ltd’s retail unit and other such retailers, also alleged that using this model, the e-commerce sites have circumvented the FDI policy.

It has also challenged the various conditions imposed by the government prior to giving approval to FDI in multi-brand retail.

Government standing counsel Jasmeet Singh told the court that if other retailers were accorded a hearing, then RAI would also be given an opportunity to state its case.

The government also said that the retailers had turned down its invitation to discuss FDI in e-commerce.