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re:Invent :: AWS rolls out RoboMaker for easy robotics

At the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas this week, it was revealed that NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), Stanley Black & Decker, Robot Care System, and Apex.AI are all using AWS RoboMaker to build space rovers, drones for industrial inspection, and elderly care robots

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Amazon Web Services this week announced the availability of AWS RoboMaker, a new service that makes it easy for developers to develop, test, and deploy robotics applications, as well as build intelligent robotics functions using cloud services. AWS RoboMaker extends the most widely used open source robotics software framework, Robot Operating System (ROS), with connectivity to AWS services, including machine learning, monitoring, and analytics services, to enable a robot to stream data, navigate, communicate, comprehend, and learn. AWS RoboMaker provides an AWS Cloud9-based robotics integrated development environment for application development, robotics simulation to accelerate application testing, and fleet management for remote application deployment, update, and management.
Robots are machines that sense, compute, and take action. More and more, a wide range of robots are becoming part of our everyday lives, performing tedious house chores, distributing inventory in warehouses, and inspecting pipelines, smokestacks, and high-voltage wires in dangerous industrial environments. Robots accomplish these tasks through instructions expressed in software applications that receive and process sensor data and control actuators that create movement and action. While it sounds simple in theory, developing, testing, and deploying intelligent robotics applications is difficult, time consuming, and demands a diverse set of hard-to-acquire skills.
For example, implementing intelligent robotics functions like object recognition, natural language processing, or autonomous movement requires the machine learning knowledge of a data scientist. Setting up a development environment takes days of configuring the infrastructure and software. Creating realistic simulators to test robotics applications in multiple virtual environments takes months to build the software and infrastructure needed to run multiple simulations in parallel. Once an application has been completed, a developer still needs to either build or integrate with an over-the-air (OTA) system to deploy the application onto the robot and then update the application on the robot while it is in use. All of this effort severely limits the number of robots and intelligent functions in use today.
AWS RoboMaker addresses these challenges by providing an integrated set of software and services for customers to develop, test, and deploy intelligent robotics applications at scale. Within the AWS RoboMaker robotics development environment, developers can start application development with a single click in the AWS Management Console. AWS RoboMaker automatically provisions the underlying infrastructure and it downloads, compiles, and configures the operating system, development software, and ROS.
AWS RoboMaker’s robotics simulation makes it easy to set up large-scale and parallel simulations with pre-built worlds, such as indoor rooms, retail stores, and racing tracks, so developers can test their applications on-demand and run multiple simulations in parallel. AWS RoboMaker’s fleet management integrates with AWS Greengrass and supports over-the-air (OTA) deployment of robotics applications from the development environment onto the robot.
AWS RoboMaker also offers additional ROS packages that connect to AWS services, which developers familiar with ROS can easily use to build advanced functions into their robotics applications. AWS RoboMaker cloud extensions for ROS include Amazon Kinesis Video Streams ingestion, Amazon Rekognition image and video analysis, Amazon Lex speech recognition, Amazon Polly speech generation, and Amazon CloudWatch logging and monitoring. All of this makes it easier to build robots, add intelligent functions, simulate and test robotics applications, and manage and update fleets of robots.
“When talking to our customers, we see the same pattern repeated over and again. They spend a lot of time setting up infrastructure and cobbling together software for different stages of the robotics development cycle, repeating work others have done before, leaving less time for innovation,” said Roger Barga, General Manager, AWS RoboMaker, at the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas this week. “AWS RoboMaker provides pre-built functionality to support robotics developers during their entire project, making it significantly easier to build robots, simulate performance in various environments, iterate faster, and drive greater innovation.”
As part of AWS’s ongoing support for robotics and open source communities, AWS has made both source code and documentation of the AWS RoboMaker cloud extensions for ROS publicly available under the terms of the Apache Software License 2.0. AWS contributes to the development of the latest version of ROS, namely ROS2, and is a member of the ROS2 Technical Steering Committee. AWS’s contributions to ROS2 include real-time messaging, security, and authentication, as well as working with the robotics community to migrate source code packages from ROS1 to ROS2.
Amazon empowers a smarter, faster, more efficient fulfillment process through the use of automation, robotics, and advanced technologies. “We regularly evaluate how we can use new technology to bring our customers a better experience,” said Brad Porter, VP and Distinguished Engineer, Robotics at Amazon. “Robotics has played a significant role in creating global solutions that help faster deliveries and lower costs for our customers. We’re excited to have supported the creation of AWS RoboMaker and to stand behind a service that will help accelerate robotics development and commercial deployments. We believe AWS RoboMaker will be impactful to advanced robotics operations across the world by greatly decreasing cost and time to production.”
Stanley Black & Decker provides the tools and innovative solutions for the builders, protectors, makers, and explorers. “We are planning to use autonomous ground vehicles and drones to make the construction industry more productive while reducing construction rework costs. Using a variety of imaging sensors, the collected data can be used to create 3D site models for planning and streamlining construction activities,” said Hamid Montazeri, VP of SW Engineering and Robotics at Stanley Black & Decker. “With AWS RoboMaker, we are able to easily test the robotics related software applications in a cloud environment, and rapidly generate synthetic imaging data to train our 3D site model creation algorithms. AWS RoboMaker also provides the ideal fleet management solution for use on ground vehicles and drones. The integration between AWS RoboMaker fleet management and AWS Greengrass makes it really easy to enable communications among ground vehicles, drones, and IoT solutions.”
Robot Care Systems (RCS) enables elderly and disabled people to live safely and independently through technology. “AWS RoboMaker exponentially increases the capabilities of Lea, an autonomous robot assistant for the elderly and disabled,” said Dimitrios Chronopoulos, Lead Mobility Engineer, Robot Care Systems. “Lea is interactive, keeps the elderly safe and active, while it can talk to you, navigate around your house and keep you connected with family and doctors. We have used AWS RoboMaker cloud extensions for ROS to enhance Lea with video and telemetry data streaming, and voice interaction capabilities using services like Amazon Kinesis, Amazon Lex, and Amazon Polly. These cloud services and extensions provided by AWS RoboMaker have enabled us to rapidly develop new features, while breaking the limitations of small on-board computing power.”
Open Robotics works with industry, academia, and government to create and support open source software for the global robotics industry, from R&D to commercial deployments. “AWS’s support for our products, including ROS2, will significantly advance our goal of making open platforms the basis for all robotics applications,” said Brian Gerkey, CEO, Open Robotics. “With ROS and Gazebo available via AWS, it’s now easier than ever for developers to get started and for companies to integrate these tools into their workflow. I can’t wait to see the new and innovative ROS-based robots that will be developed.”
FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs that build not only science and technology skills and interests, but also self-confidence, leadership, and life lessons. “We’re excited to utilize AWS RoboMaker, helping make it easier for students of all ages to develop, test, and deploy robotic applications,” said Don Bossi, President, FIRST. “Offerings like these make it easier for FIRST to meet its mission – to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators by engaging them in mentor-based, science-focused programs.”
AWS RoboMaker is available in the USA and Ireland, and will expand to additional regions in the coming year.
* For more information, visit http://aws.amazon.com/robomaker.

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Samsung S10 in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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IoT set to improve authentication

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By Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions for CISMEA region at Gemalto

As it rapidly approaches maturity, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to continue a transformational trajectory, introducing new efficiencies in multiple fields by allowing measurement and analysis on a scale that has never been possible before. From agriculture to logistics, from retail to hospitality, from traffic to health, from the home to the office, the applications for monitoring ”things” are limited only by the imagination.

And South African (and African) businesses are showing abundant imagination in their practical deployments of IoT solutions in multiple settings, creating a better tomorrow through almost universal measurement and the introduction of new levels of convenience – including how to access locations, devices and services securely.

Any company, whether South African or international, should bear in mind that understanding consumer expectations can be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT devices and related smart services.

According to Gemalto’s latest Connected Living study, improving the way consumers authenticate themselves to services is one of the most anticipated benefits of IoT, highlighting a desire for a more seamless and secure IoT experience.

Consumers are interested in advanced ways of authenticating themselves through automatic (based on behavioral patterns) or biometric techniques, lessening the need to have to intervene manually, all in the name of a much more streamlined authentication process. Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already placed fingerprint and facial recognition high on the agenda. There is also a widespread positive sentiment towards IoT’s potential for improving the quality of home life through connected, smart appliances.

Personalised services is something else that wins consumers over. In fact, a fluid, personalised and unified experience with continuity of services, together with security and privacy, is critical for the successful implementation of any technology.

And those types of services are today quite possible. With everything being connected – from small gadgets to digital solutions for large enterprises – IoT is no longer just a buzzword. That much is clear in a piece from Vodacom IoT managing executive Deon Liebenberg. Writing for IOL Online, Liebenberg provides insight into the sheer range of applications for IoT: the 20 use cases he cites range from the obvious, like transport and logistics, to the connected home and wearables; he even suggests tagging pets with IoT transmitters, for those who always need to know the whereabouts of the family cat.

Low-cost tags fitted to cats, dogs, lamp posts, shipping containers or other items are just one part of the puzzle, however. There are other two pieces; arguably the most complex part is the availability of communication networks in areas where there aren’t any WiFi networks, or indeed, anything else.

And that’s where the bigger takeaway from Liebenberg’s piece and other IoT trends articles becomes apparent. The communication networks are there, as are those tags: dedicated IoT networks (like LoraWAN, SigFox and narrowband IoT) are all available in South Africa.

So, too, is the third and final essential component. Software which is able to process the data generated by the tag and transmitted over the IoT network and into the internet. In this regard, there’s no shortage of solutions available from cloud providers like AWS and Azure; electronics giant Siemens, too, is in on the action, having recently launched a new cloud-based IoT operating system to develop applications and services for process industries, including oil and gas and water management.

This combination means it is quite possible right now to enable just about any use case. Business owners, who will know best how IoT can add value in their organisation, can now see their ideas becoming reality. Most crucial of all, IoT solutions delivering new levels of efficiency and convenience are not only possible, they are able to be offered with the simple and effective security that will drive consumer acceptance.

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