IIT-Hyderabad launches B.Tech in Artificial Intelligence

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Hyderabad will launch a full-fledged B Tech program in Artificial Intelligence (AI) from the coming academic year (2019-2020). Admissions to the course will be accepted based on the JEE Advanced score. With this, the institute claims it has become the first Indian educational institution to offer a full-fledged B Tech programme in AI. IIT-Hyderabad is also the third institute globally after US-based Carnegie Mellon University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The course will have an intake of around 20 students and the admission will be done on the basis of the JEE-Advanced score. Taught by the Department of AI, IIT-Hyderabad, the course syllabus will comprise of the study of algorithms from the computer science department, signal processing from the electrical engineering department, robotics from mechanical engineering department and mathematical foundations.

The course will also focus on application verticals such as healthcare, agriculture, smart mobility, among many others.

Further, the ethical impact of AI and its technologies on areas such as privacy, bias, and related issues will also be a key component of this B Tech program, according to the institute.

Students pursuing other degrees such as B.Tech. in chemical engineering or mechanical engineering can also pursue a minor in AI as well from the coming academic year onwards.

IIT Hyderabad’s Department of Liberal Arts in collaboration with faculty from Computer Science and Electrical Engineering has also launched a minor in ‘AI and Humanity.’

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UNNATI (UNispace Nanosatellite Assembly & Training by ISRO)

India announced a capacity building programme UNNATI (UNispace Nanosatellite Assembly & Training by ISRO) on Nanosatellites development through a combination of theoretical coursework and hands-on training on Assembly, Integration, and Testing (AIT) in June 2018  to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first United nation conference UNISPACE+50.

UNNATI Programme:

The UNNATI Programme is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE+50).

UNNATI programme is planned to be conducted by U R Rao Satellite Centre (URSC) of ISRO for 3 years in 3 batches and will target to benefit 90 officials from 45 countries.

The primary objectives of the programme are:

  • To offer a simplified and increased exposure to satellite fabrication technologies, as part of the UNISPACE initiative.
  • To provide a theoretical course on satellite technology.
  • To provide hands-on training to assemble, integrate and test a low cost, modular nanosatellite.
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Scientists warn Earth’s magnetic North Pole has begun moving ‘erratically’ at speeds so fast they are having to issue an emergency update to maps used by electronic navigation systems

Earth’s magnetic fields are shifting – and scientists are unsure why.

Researchers say the magnetic North Pole is  ‘skittering’ away from Canada, towards Siberia.

The problem has got so bad, researchers around the world are scrambling to update a global model of the fields.

Called the World Magnetic Model, it underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

Impact on World Magnetic Model:

The problem has got so bad, researchers around the world are scrambling to update a global model of the fields. Called the World Magnetic Model, it underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

WHY ARE THE EARTH’S MAGNETIC FIELDS MOVING?

The problem lies partly with the moving pole and partly with other shifts deep within the planet.

Liquid churning in Earth’s core generates most of the magnetic field, which varies over time as the deep flows change.

In 2016, for instance, part of the magnetic field temporarily accelerated deep under northern South America and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Satellites such as the European Space Agency’s Swarm mission tracked the shift.

WHAT IS THE WORLD MAGNETIC MODEL?

The charts, known as the World Magnetic Model (WMM), are used to convert between compass measurements of magnetic north and true north and can be found in the navigation systems of ships and airplanes as well as geological applications (such as drilling and mining).

The WMM is also part of map applications in smartphones, including the Google Maps App.

Researchers from the U.S.’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintain the WMM.

WHAT COULD HAPPEN TO EARTH IF ITS POLES FLIPPED?

Scientists in recent years have predicted that Earth’s magnetic field could be gearing up to ‘flip’ – a shift in which the magnetic south pole would become magnetic north, and vice versa. Such an event could have catastrophic effects, wreaking havoc on the electric grid and leaving life at the surface exposed to higher amounts of solar radiation.

Electric grid collapse from severe solar storms is a major risk. As the magnetic field continues to weaken, scientists are highlighting the importance off-the-grid energy systems using renewable energy sources to protect the Earth against a blackout.

Very highly charged particles can have a deleterious effect on the satellites and astronauts.

The Earth’s climate could also change. A recent Danish study has found that the earth’s weather has been significantly affected by the planet’s magnetic field.

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TESS Discovers Its Third Small Planet Outside Our Solar System

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, TESS, has discovered a third small planet outside our solar system, scientists announced this week at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

The new planet, named HD 21749b, orbits a bright, nearby dwarf star about 53 light years away, in the constellation Reticulum, and appears to have the longest orbital period of the three planets so far identified by TESS. HD 21749b journeys around its star in a relatively leisurely 36 days, compared to the two other planets — Pi Mensae b, a “super-Earth” with a 6.3-day orbit, and LHS 3844b, a rocky world that speeds around its star in just 11 hours. All three planets were discovered in the first three months of TESS observations.

About TESS mission:

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a NASA mission that will look for planets orbiting the brightest stars in Earth’s sky. It was led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with seed funding from Google.

The mission will monitor at least 200,000 stars for signs of exoplanets, ranging from Earth-sized rocky worlds to huge gas giant planets. TESS, however, will focus on stars that are 30 to 100 times brighter than those Kepler examined. This will help astronomers better understand the structure of solar systems outside of our Earth, and provide insights into how our own solar system formed.

TESS will occupy a never-before-used orbit high above Earth. The elliptical orbit, called P/2, is exactly half of the moon’s orbital period; this means that TESS will orbit Earth every 13.7 days. Its closest point to Earth (67,000 miles or 108,000 kilometers) is about triple the distance of geosynchronous orbit, where most communications satellites operate.

It will use the transit method to detect exoplanets. It watches distant stars for small dips in brightness, which can indicate that the planet has passed in front of them. Repeated dips will indicate a planet passing in front of its star. This data has to be validated by repeated observations and verified by scientists.

The significance of the mission:

TESS is designed to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel.

Nasa expects to pinpoint thousands more previously unknown worlds, perhaps hundreds of them Earth-sized or “super-Earth” sized – no larger than twice as big as our home planet.

Those are believed the most likely to feature rocky surfaces or oceans and are thus considered the best candidates for life to evolve. Scientists have said they hope TESS will ultimately help catalog at least 100 more rocky exoplanets for further study in what has become one of astronomy’s newest fields of exploration.

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Gene that helps tomato fight viral infection, heat stress identified

While trying to understand the genetics of stress to make tomatoes and other crops more productive, Indian researchers have identified a gene that helps tomato plant tackle pathogens as well as heat stress.

Scientists at New Delhi-based National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR) have deciphered the critical role of a single gene—SlDEAD35—in tomato plant whose expression controls its response to both heat stress and viral infection.

Milk being widely consumed food, its safety is of prime concern to consumers. More so because it is highly perishable and prone to the action of enzymes and microorganisms inherently present in it. Although pasteurization, freezing, and preservation using additives are widely used to prevent spoilage, perishability of milk is still a concern.

The new method- how it works?

  • A milk enzyme, Alkaline Phosphatase or ALP, is considered an indicator of milk quality because its presence even after pasteurization indicates the presence of microbes that may not have been rendered inactive with pasteurization.
  • Researchers used ordinary filter paper to prepare the detector. The filter paper was cut into small discs and impregnated with chemical probes that preferentially react with ALP. The ‘probes’ used are antibodies that specifically bind to ALP. When ALP comes into contact with the probe, it turns white paper disc into a coloured one.
  • The colour change on paper discs is then photographed by a smartphone camera and images processed to obtain corresponding colour values. These values are then compared with standard data stored in the phone. Thus not only the presence of ALP could be detected but the amount of it in milk could also be measured.
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ISRO launches Samwad with Students on New Year Day

As part of the enhanced outreach programme of Indian Space Research Organisation, a new platform named Samwad with Students (SwS) was launched in Bengaluru on January 1.

About the SwS Initiative:

ISRO aims to engage youngsters across India to capture their scientific temperament.

The new conversation mission will inspire students cutting across schools and colleges.

The first SwS event saw 40 wards and 10 teachers from select schools interact with ISRO Chairman Dr. K Sivan at the Anthariksh Bhavan.

 

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Bill on commercialization of space activities likely in 2019

The government is likely to introduce the Space Activities Bill, 2017, which will allow commercial use of space, in the budget session of 2019.

Features of Space activities bill 2017:

  • It is a proposed Bill to promote and regulate the space activities of India.
  • The new Bill encourages the participation of non-governmental/private sector agencies in space activities in India under the guidance and authorisation of the government through the Department of Space.
  • The provisions of this Act shall apply to every citizen of India and to all sectors engaged in any space activity in India or outside India.
  • A non-transferable licence shall be provided by the Central Government to any person carrying out commercial space activity.
  • The Central Government will formulate the appropriate mechanism for licensing, eligibility criteria, and fees for licence.
  • The government will maintain a register of all space objects (any object launched or intended to be launched around the earth) and develop more space activity plans for the country.
  • It will provide professional and technical support for commercial space activity and regulate the procedures for conduct and operation of space activity.
  • It will ensure safety requirements and supervise the conduct of every space activity of India and investigate any incident or accident in connection with the operation of space activity.
  • It will share details about the pricing of products created by space activity and technology with any person or any agency in a prescribed manner.
  • If any person undertakes any commercial space activity without authorization they shall be punished with imprisonment up to 3 years or fined more than ₹1 crore or both.
  • There is a need for national space legislation for supporting the overall growth of the space activities in India. This would encourage enhanced participation of non-governmental/private sector agencies in space activities in India, in compliance with international treaty obligations, which is becoming very relevant today.
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New Horizons’ Historic Flyby of Ultima Thule

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft rang in the New Year by making history: the first flyby of an object in the Kuiper Belt in the extreme outer solar system.

This is a historic flyby of the farthest, and quite possibly the oldest, a cosmic body ever explored by humankind.

Ultima Thule is located in the Kuiper belt in the outermost regions of the Solar System, beyond the orbit of Neptune.

It measures approximately 30 km in diameter and is irregularly shaped.

Ultima Thule has a reddish color, probably caused by exposure of hydrocarbons to sunlight over billions of years.

Ultima Thule belongs to a class of Kuiper belt objects called the “cold classical”, which have nearly circular orbits with low inclinations to the solar plane.

New Horizons was launched on 19 January 2006 and has been traveling through space for the past nine years. New Horizon’s core science mission is to map the surfaces of Pluto and Charon, to study Pluto’s atmosphere and to take temperature readings.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Enters Close Orbit around Bennu, Breaking Record

A NASA spacecraft set a new milestone Monday in cosmic exploration by entering orbit around an asteroid, Bennu, the smallest object ever to be circled by a human-made spaceship.

The spacecraft, called OSIRIS-REx, is the first-ever US mission designed to visit an asteroid and return a sample of its dust back to Earth.

OSIRIS-Rex is the first-ever US mission designed to visit an asteroid and return a sample of its dust back to Earth. The $800 million (roughly Rs. 5,600 crores) unmanned spaceship launched two years ago from Cape Canaveral, Florida and arrived December 3 at its destination, some 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) away.

The plan is for OSIRIS-REx to orbit Bennu through mid-February, using a suite of five scientific instruments to map the asteroid in high resolution to help scientists decide precisely where to sample from.

Then, in 2020, it will reach out with its robotic arm and touch the asteroid in a maneuver Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager with Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, described as a “gentle high-five.”

Using a circular device much like a car’s air filter, and a reverse vacuum to stir up and collect dust, the device aims to grab about two ounces (60 grams) of material from the asteroid’s surface and return it to Earth in 2023.

About the mission

OSIRIS-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program, which previously sent the New Horizons spacecraft zooming by Pluto and the Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter.

Bennu was selected for the OSIRIS-REx mission from over 500,000 known asteroids, due to it fitting a number of key criteria. These include:

  • In order for OSIRIS-REx to reach its destination in a reasonable timeframe, NASA needed to find an asteroid which had a similar orbit to Earth.
  • Small asteroids, those less than 200m in diameter, typically spin much faster than larger asteroids, meaning the regolith material can be ejected into space. Bennu is around 500m in diameter, so rotates slowly enough to ensure that the regolith stays on its surface.
  • Bennu is a primitive asteroid, meaning it hasn’t significantly changed since the beginning of the Solar System (over 4 billion years ago). It is also very carbon-rich, meaning it may contain organic molecules, which could have been precursors to life on Earth.
  • Additionally, Bennu is of interest as it is a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Every 6 years, Bennu’s orbit brings it within 200,000 miles of the Earth, which means it has a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd Century.
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Don’t allow new colleges from 2020, review every two years: Panel to engg body

With more than half the engineering seats falling vacant every year, a government committee, headed by IIT-Hyderabad chairman B V R Mohan Reddy, has advised the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to stop setting up new colleges from 2020 and review the creation of new capacity every two years after that.

The committee was appointed to come up with a medium and short-term perspective plan for expansion in engineering education.

Important recommendations made by the committee:

Stop setting up new colleges from 2020 and review the creation of new capacity every two years after that.

No additional seats should be approved in traditional engineering areas such as mechanical, electrical, civil and electronics and institutes should be encouraged to convert current capacity in traditional disciplines to emerging new technologies.

For approving additional seats in existing institutions, the AICTE should only give approvals based on the capacity utilization of concerned institute.

Introduce undergraduate engineering programmes exclusively for artificial intelligence, the blockchain, robotics, quantum computing, data sciences, cybersecurity, and 3D printing and design.

More than half the engineering seats fall vacant every year. There were no takers for 51% of the 15.5 lakh B.E/B.Tech seats in 3,291 engineering colleges in 2016-17.

Besides, current capacity utilization in traditional disciplines is just 40% as opposed to 60% seat occupancy in branches such as computer science and engineering, aerospace engineering and mechatronics.

There were glaring gaps in regulation, including alleged corruption; a vicious circle of poor infrastructure, labs, and faculty; non-existent linkages with industry; and the absence of a technology ecosystem to nurture the classroom. All this accounted for low employability of graduates.

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