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Drones to learn from flight path of butterfly

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In a finding that could benefit drone design, award-winning research by a doctoral student at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) shows that the undulating flight paths of Monarch butterflies are actually more energy-efficient than a straight-line path.

Madhu Sridhar’s paper won the 2019 AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Graduate Student Paper Competition and he was awarded at the 2020 AIAA SciTech Forum held recently in Orlando, Fla. The AIAA Scitech Forum is the largest annual aerospace conference and focuses on research and technology findings in the aerospace community. The 2020 AIAA SciTech Forum included more than 2,500 technical presentations with over 5,000 participants.

Sridhar modeled and analyzed the power consumption of Monarch butterflies while working in UAH’s Autonomous Tracking Optical Measurement (ATOM) Laboratory under Dr. Chang-kwon Kang, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Dr. Brian Landrum, an associate professor and the associate chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

From left, Dr. Brian Landrum, Madhu Sridhar and Dr. Chang-kwon Kang with their AIAA awards.

Credit: Michael Mercier / UAH

The finding that an undulating flight trajectory consumed less energy can be valuable in the bio-inspired design of long-range robotic miniature drones.

“One of the underlying goals of our study is to develop a drone that can fly as long as a migrating Monarch,” Sridhar says. “The annual migration of Monarch butterflies is the longest among insects. It can be 3,000 kilometers long! Even the state-of-the-art drones cannot show these long ranges.”

Researchers used a simplified analytical butterfly model in the study, focusing on the dynamic interplay between the wing aerodynamics and body dynamics, says Sridhar, who is from Bangalore, India.

“This paper shows that this model agrees reasonably well with experimental data,” he says. “We used motion-tracking cameras to record a series of flight trajectories and wing and body motions of freely flying Monarch butterflies in our ATOM Lab.”

If there are advantages to the undulating trajectory that butterflies use, why don’t bees or flies use it?

“This study shows that the coordinated wing and body motions following a bumpy trajectory require lower power for a flapping wing at the Monarch scale,” he says. “For smaller insects this power benefit reduces, which is probably why they fly on a straight trajectory.”

Whether butterflies utilize a biologically predetermined pattern of flight or simply random undulations is one of many questions for future research. Sridhar is also looking into how the butterflies select flight altitudes.

“Monarchs are known to fly at different heights from ground level along their migration route, which we find very interesting,” he says. “We do not know why they choose to fly higher instead of at ground level heights.”

At higher altitudes the reduced air density may benefit Monarch flight, the scientists theorize.

“So, to test this, we have performed experiments with Monarch butterflies inside the large vacuum chamber at UAH Propulsion Research Center, where we recorded the flights at lower density air up to 4,000 meters above sea level,” Sridhar says. “This helps us in observing how their wing and body motions change as the air density is lowered.”

Additionally, researchers are using computer simulations to investigate how low-density air affects the flexibility of Monarch wings

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Alexa can now read all messages

For the first time, an Alexa skill is available that makes it possible to listen to any kind of message while driving

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For the first time, Alexa users can now hear all their messages and email read aloud.

Amazon’s Alexa has become a household name. The world’s most popular virtual assistant is getting smarter every day and now, with Amazon Echo Auto, it’s in cars too. 

“In today’s highly connected world, messaging in the form of emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and work channels like Slack, are integral to our daily routine,” says Barrie Arnold, chief revenue officer at ping. “However, distracted driving is responsible for more than 25% of car crashes and thousands of preventable fatalities every year.” 

ping, a specialist in voice technology founded by Arnold and South African Garin Toren, has developed a new Alexa skill as a companion to its patented smartphone app, that enables any message type to be read aloud. Designed for safety, productivity and convenience, “pingloud” is the first skill of its kind for keeping users connected when they need a hand or an extra pair of eyes.

“The ping Alexa skill is specifically designed to help drivers stay off their phones while giving them exactly what they want – access to their messages.” says Toren, ping CEO. 

Opening up Alexa to developers has resulted in an explosion of new skills available either for free or for a fee that unlocks premium services or features. These tools magnify the usefulness of Alexa devices beyond common tasks like asking for the weather, playing music or requesting help on a homework assignment. According to App Annie, the most downloaded apps in 2019 were Facebook Messenger, Facebook’s main app and WhatsApp, highlighting the importance of messaging. 

“The ping Android app is available worldwide from the Google Pay Store, reading all messages out loud in 30 languages,” says Toren. “The iOS version is in global beta testing with the US launch coming very soon.” 

Once you’ve signed up for ping, it takes a few seconds to link with Alexa, enabling all messages and emails to be read aloud by a smart speaker or Echo Auto device. Simply say, “Hey Alexa, open pingloud.” ping links an account to a voice profile so unauthorised users with access to the same Alexa cannot ask for the authorised user’s messages.

All major message types are supported, including Texts/SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Snapchat, Slack, Telegram, Twitter DM’s, Instagram, and all email types. Promotional and social emails are not read by default.

*For more information, visit www.pingloud.com

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Coronavirus to hit 5G

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Global 5G smartphone shipments are expected to reach 199 million units in 2020, after disruption caused by the coronavirus scare put a cap on sales forecasts, according to the latest research from Strategy Analytics.

Ken Hyers, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global 5G smartphone shipments will grow more than tenfold from 19 million units in 2019 to 199 million in 2020. The 5G segment will be the fastest-growing part of the worldwide smartphone industry this year. Consumers want faster 5G smartphones to surf richer content, such as video or games. We forecast 5G penetration to rise from 1 percent of all smartphones shipped globally in 2019 to 15 percent of total in 2020.”

Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, Associate Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “China, United States, South Korea, Japan and Germany are by far the largest 5G smartphone markets this year. The big-five countries together will make up 9 in 10 of all 5G smartphones sold worldwide in 2020. However, other important regions, like India and Indonesia, are lagging way behind and will not be offering mass-market 5G for at least another year or two.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “The global 5G smartphone industry is growing quickly, but the ongoing coronavirus scare and subsequent economic slowdown will put a cap on overall 5G demand this year. The COVID-19 outbreak is currently restricting smartphone production in Asia, disrupting supply chains, and deterring consumers from visiting retail stores to buy new 5G devices in some parts of China. The first half of 2020 will be much weaker than expected for the 5G industry, but we expect a strong bounce-back in the second half of the year if the coronavirus spread is brought under control.”

Exhibit 1: Global 5G Smartphone Shipments Forecast in 2020 1

Global Smartphone Shipments (Millions of Units)20192020
5G19199
Rest of Market13941165
Total14131364
 
Global Smartphone Shipments (% of Total)20192020
5G1%15%
Rest of Market99%85%
Total100%100%

Source: Strategy Analytics

The full report, Global Handset Sales for 88 Countries & 19 Technologies, is published by the Strategy Analytics Emerging Device Technologies (EDT) service, details of which can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/wep83gc.

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