Phone anti-theft put through paces in New York and San Francisco


New measures to curb soaring levels of mobile phone theft worldwide are to be tested in New York and San Francisco.

Prosecutors will test measures on Apple’s iPhone 5 and Samsung’s Galaxy S4 to measure effectiveness against common tactics used by thieves. Various cities across the world have called on manufacturers to do more to deter phone theft.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has written to firms saying they must “take this issue seriously”.

In a letter to Apple, Samsung, Google and other mobile makers, Mr Johnson wrote: “If we are to deter theft and help prevent crimes that victimise your customers and the residents and visitors to our city, we need meaningful engagement from business and a clear demonstration that your company is serious about your corporate responsibility to help solve this problem.”

Kill switch

Prosecutors in the US are following a similar line – last month meeting representatives from the technology firms to discuss the matter. They are calling for a “kill switch”, a method of rendering a handset completely useless if it is stolen, rendering a theft pointless.

Statistics from the US Federal Trade Commission suggest that almost one in three robberies nationwide involves the theft of a mobile phone. In New York, 40% of robberies are phone thefts – a crime so common it has been dubbed “Apple-picking” by police.

London has seen a “troubling” rise in mobile phone theft, the mayor’s office said, with 75% of all “theft from person” offences involving a phone – 10,000 handsets a month.

Close scrutiny

The firms have offered theft solutions to help combat the problem. Apple’s Activation Lock – which will be part of the next major iPhone and iPad software update – is to come under close scrutiny.

Thieves will often deactivate a phone immediately to stop it being tracked after a theft. Activation Lock is designed to make it harder to then reactivate, as it requires the entry of the log-in details used to register the phone originally.

For Samsung and other handsets, prosecutors, aided by security professionals, will be testing theft recovery system Lojack.

“We are not going to take them at their word,” the prosecutors in New York and San Francisco said in a joint statement.

“Today we will assess the solutions they are proposing and see if they stand up to the tactics commonly employed by thieves.”

Source: BBC

New class of car devices under development


A new class of devices are being developed that capture your car’s computer sensor data using your vehicle’s on-board diagnostic port (OBD II is available on cars built from 1996 onwards) and add another layer of additional features on top like cellular and Bluetooth connections, GPS, and a range of sensors.

The devices use this gathered information and turn it into a resource to help you easily troubleshoot a check-engine light, adjust your insurance rate based on how/when you actually drive, and create added safety features through tracking and emergency response services.

Here are a few of the products:

Automatic is a Smart Driving Assistant that can save you money on gas, remember where you parked, and even call for help in a crash.

Plug in a Carvoyant device underneath your car’s dashboard. Instantly your car will begin wirelessly sending data to to the cloud where you can monitor its mechanical status or see where and how fast your teen is driving in realtime.

Dash connects your car to your phone enabling smarter everyday driving and helping to make the roads safer.

Delphi gives your vehicle a voice so you know more about its health, location and past trips with the Vehicle Diagnostics by Delphi. You can stay connected to your ride 24/7 through Verizon’s data network-and get helpful information about your vehicle’s operation.

Cloud your car
Cloud Your Car is a tool providing information about your employees driving behaviour. You will know the exact amount of working hours spent in a car and detailed vehicle usage. You will be notified about the most dangerous situations on the road like unexpected stops and private trips.


Microsoft introduce Lab of Things


Today at its Faculty Summit, Microsoft Research introduced the beta of Lab of Things, a new platform from the company that will support sensor information from the physical world in a simple way, allowing for more experiment by more people in more places.

Lab of Things is a system that links together physical data collection and Microsoft’s HomeOS. HomeOS  is Microsoft’s bid to turn your house into something slightly more automated. If you want to run an experiment that employs sensor data, Lab of Things will provide a backend for you. Also, you can access your experiment via mobile devices, store and share data in the cloud, and adjust the experiment itself by visiting the site itself.

Assume that you wanted to run an experiment that involved collecting temperature data from the top of radio towers around your city. Once you installed your sensors on the towers, and linked their data flow to the Internet, you could employ Lab of Things as the tool to collect, monitor, and analyse the information. Microsoft calls the service “near real-time.”

One of the Lab of Things’ objectives is to lower friction between idea and experiment by cutting out the need for scientists and software engineers. Here, have some code that works. This will allow for more total experiment, and also more experiment by the less well-funded; DIY hackers.

The lab costs nothing, but there is a caveat: If you are an academic collaborator, you can freely use the Lab of Things for your research. The Lab of Things license does not allow commercial use.

You can snag the beta Lab of Things SDK here.

IBM spearhead an industry-wide effort to solve big data problem

The explosion of big data has changed the way we do business, and this is particularly true for online commerce. With 2.4 billion Internet users worldwide, millions of transactions are taking place on a daily basis resulting in a wealth of data about consumers and their desires. Thanks to advanced digital analytics and marketing technologies, businesses have the ability to analyse and capture this data to create personalised online experiences for their customers.

But gaining actionable insights from those users is not an easy task. Businesses rely on a wide variety of marketing and analytics technology from a large number of vendors to make personalisation come to life. However, until now, there has been no standardised way to collect data about the interactions with customers across multiple technology platforms.

To make personalised marketing easier, IBM spearheaded an industry-wide effort to solve this big data problem. Today, a group of more than 20 companies announced that they’re developing the Customer Experience Digital Data standard. Through a standardised approach of collecting and managing data, this standard removes the barrier to innovation giving businesses the ability to rapidly adopt new digital marketing tools and services. This makes it easier for new digital vendors to succeed and spurs innovation for the industry as a whole.

The initiative began last year when IBM led the formation of a group with the goal of creating a standard format for capturing and reporting interactions. With their long history of developing and supporting open standards, they recognised that this was a classic situation where an industry-standard approach would help simplify the process and make it easier for retailers to deploy more services to improve the customer experience.

Over the past several months, the initiative has gained significant momentum, and many of the major web analytics, marketing technology companies and online retailers such as Adobe and Google have given their support. The standard is expected to be formalised later this year when the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) releases final specifications for it.

With this new data format layer, digital marketers will be able to more easily deploy new digital services and quickly integrate them into their systems. It will also reduce the need for on-going data maintenance and auditing, freeing resources for more valuable work such as diving into analytics to develop insights and actions that help retailers better connect with customers.


Human motion will Power the Internet of Things, say energy harvesting engineers

Most people generate enough power to continuously transmit data at a rate of 1 Kb/s, say researchers who have audited the harvestable energy from human motion.

The Internet of Things is the imagined network of data links that will emerge when everyday objects are fitted with tiny identifying devices.

The idea is that every parcel in a post office would transmit its position, origin and destination so that it can be tracked and routed more efficiently, that every product on a supermarket shelf would transmit its contents, price, shelf life and so on, that your smartphone would interrogate the contents of your fridge and cupboards every time you walk into the kitchen to warn you when the milk is running low.

Each of these things will enhance our businesses and lifestyles in a small way. But taken together, this Internet of Things will entirely transform the way we interact with the world around us.

But there’s a problem: these tiny identifying devices require a power source. Batteries are expensive and impractical so computer scientists are hoping to harvest the necessary energy from the environment, in particular from lights and from human motion.The question is how much energy is available in this way. That’s relatively straightforward to answer for indoor lights (about 50-100 microwatts per cm^2). But the energy available from human motion is much harder to assess.

That’s caught the interest of Maria Gorlatova and team at Columbia University in New York who have measured the inertial energy available from the activity of 40 individuals over periods up to 9 days. To do this they attached to each person inertial energy harvesting devices, essentially a mass attached to a spring, that recorded their motion.

“To the best of our knowledge, the dataset that we analyze is the first publicly available acceleration dataset collected for a large number of participants,” they say.

They also measured the power available from the movement of objects such as doors, drawers and pencils to see how much might be harvested here.

The results are often surprising and sometimes counter-intuitive. Here’s a list of their main findings:

  • Periodic motion is energy rich. So writing with a pencil generates more power (10-15 microwatts) than the acceleration associated with a 3-hour flight flight including take off, landing and turbulence, which never generated more than 5 microwatts.
  • Humans are passive most of the time. About 95 per cent of the total harvestable energy they produce is generated during less than 7 per cent of the day.
  • Walking generates the same amount of power as indoor lighting (about 150 microwatts). Running generates around 800 microwatts.
  • Purposeful shaking generates up to 3,500 microwatts, 30 times more than walking.
  • Even though it requires less exertion, walking downstairs generates more power than going upstairs because of the higher accelerations involved.
  • Taller people generate about 20 per cent more power than shorter people.
  • The difference between people’s power output depends largely on the amount of walking they do. Sensor placement on the body makes little difference.
  • Most people generate enough power to continuously transmit data at the rate of about 1 Kb/s (more than 5 microwatts).

That’s an interesting set of results. Engineers are already designing algorithms to manage the way energy is harvested, stored and then used. Gorlatova and co say this kind of work will help to make these as efficient as possible.

Ref: Movers and Shakers: Kinetic Energy Harvesting for the Internet of Things