Top Tech Trends in 2015 [VIDEOS]

I recently viewed a lot of “Top Tech Trends in 2015” videos and I am depressed.  Not because the videos lacked typical tech-evangelist optimism. No, I am dispirited, because of sad similarities that afflicted so many videos.

Most “Top Tech Trends” videos can be categorized into 2 types.  One type is blatantly self-serving. “Everybody will be doing cloud computing. Quick, buy my suite of cloud products or all the other Chief Information Officers will call you names and make fun of you.”

The second type of video is what I call “buzzword bingo.”  The goal is not to communicate, but rather to establish the speaker is cool and hip by cramming as many faddish words as possible into a single sentence. “When you buy a taco, facial recognition will establish your identity, derive your preferences from algorithms that data-mine your social media, download the appropriate taco template from cloud storage, fabricate it with a 3-D printer (which is connected to the Internet of Things), and pay for the food with New Field Communication(NFC) from your mobile.”

The following are not necessarily the best “Top Tech Trends in 2015” videos, but rather the ones that I found the most interesting.

In spite of erroneous predictions about the timing of the iPhone 6 release and the unverified claims about its display’s durability, I liked this video below from the folks at Epic Technology.  Unlike so many other videos, I got the impression that the producers actually put some thought in what they were saying, instead of just repeating empty phrases.

Trend Hunter’s video is less about technology than about how consumers’ behavior is changing due to adoption of innovations.  More fads than technology.  Still very interesting.

The next video got my attention not because of what is said, but rather who is saying it. Futurist Jack Uldrich gives 100 lectures a year, mostly to business groups seeking guidance on navigating the rapidly-changing tech environment.  I have no idea if his prediction of gas prices dropping by half will come true. What I do know is that a lot business people will take his prediction seriously and plan accordingly.

Of course, you can ditch the videos altogether and take a look at these written forecasts from IDC and Gartner.

 

New Defense Budget [TABLE SUMMARY]

Congress overcame its perpetual gridlock and actually passed a Defense budget. In today’s political climate, a budget for the entire fiscal year was no sure thing.  For example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is only funded to February.

This is good news for Defense vendors who have suffered under budget uncertainty. Take a look at table below for winners and losers.

 

Who gets it How much Comments
Department of Defense $554.1 billion
  • President wanted $554.3 billion
  • $3.3 billion more than 2014 base appropriations
  • More than half of the overall federal budget
Pentagon Procurement $93.8 billion $1 billion more than 2014
Defense R&D $63.7 billion $700 million more than 2014
Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) (Afghanistan)   $64 billion $21 billion less than the 2014
Anti-Islamic State Operations $3.4 billion President wanted $5.6 billion
Military Pay Raise Capped at 1%
  • DoD wanted 1.8%
  • Civilian contractors might be laid off
DoD Operation & Maintenance $161.7 billion
  • $1.8 billion more than 2014
  • O&M, traditional budget whipping boy, may have escaped its usual ax, because of worries about military readiness
A-10 Attack Plane $338 million
  • Congress blocks A-10 retirement plans
  • The Warthog lives!
Iron Dome Program $351 million President only wanted $176 million
European Reassurance Initiative $810 million Includes $175 million for Ukraine and Baltics
Navy’s E/A-18G Electronic Warfare Jets $1.4 billion Enough to buy 15 in 2015

A few other highlights

  • The F-35 fighter program gets $240 million more than requested in order to buy four additional jets.
  • The budget maintains the American aircraft carrier fleet at 11.
  • The National Guard and Reserve gets $1.2 billion more than requested for equipment.

Information for this blog post came from DefenseNews and Forbes.

Happy Holidays from AMREL

Santa gets a surprise!

christmas2014

The Return of the IED

Thanks to Islamic State, the IED danger has just gotten worst in Iraq, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. The following story originally appeared in the Counter-IED Report.

ISIS’s latest threat: laying landmines

Militants from the group calling itself Islamic State (IS) are booby-trapping land and buildings with improvised explosive device (IEDs), creating new misery for displaced Iraqi families trying to return home and adding to dangers for government forces working on the front line.

Last week four mine clearance workers died and two were seriously injured when an IED detonated in a house in Zummar, close to Mosul Dam in Nineveh Governorate, in northern Iraq.

Witnesses said the opening of a bathroom door triggered an explosion causing the property to collapse, instantly killing the men. The group, employed by the Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency (IKMAA), run by the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), were working alongside the Peshmerga, the Kurdish military, who had recently won back the territory from IS.

Aid agencies are warning displaced Iraqis not to rush home to territory reclaimed from IS because of the risk of mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERWs) and have expressed concerns about mined borders areas between different military front lines.

“Large numbers of people are at significant risk,” said Nina Seecharan, Iraq country director for UK-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) in the Kurdistan capital Erbil.

Omer Hassan, a commercial deminer who went to the scene of the 29 October explosion to help survivors of the accident, said: “There is an immediate need to mark villages like Zummar that are full of dangers,” referring to red posts and flags used by clearance teams.

Hassan, who lost his leg in a landmine accident some 20 years ago and who has dedicated his life to demining, said IS was using crude home-made devices that were easily mistaken for other things.

“They can make booby-traps with everything,” explained Hassan. “You can find a brand-new torch. [IS] knows the Peshmerga need it, so they leave them. The Peshmerga picks it up, turns it on…” The torches are packed with explosives. “You can lose a hand,” said Hassan.

Iraq is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world due to decades of conflict and territorial disputes.

According to the Landmine Monitor, an affiliate of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the most-recently available statistics show up to 1,838sqkm of Iraqi territory is contaminated.

History repeating itself

In recent years intensive efforts to clear up ERWs mean most residential areas are now mine-free, and the bulk of remaining clearance operations are along mountainous border regions between Iran and Turkey where various armed groups had military posts.

However, thanks to IS, landmines are once again a very real danger for Iraqis, and not just in Kurdistan.

According to a 31 October report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as many as 3,000 ERWs and landmines were scattered across the town of Jurf al-Sakhr in Babil Governorate by a retreating IS.

“The issue of landmines is a major concern for us and one we urgently need to address,” said OCHA spokesman David Swanson.

Ako Aziz, the director of Mine Risk Education at IKMAA, said full details of what happened at the property in Zummar were still to be determined and an investigation had been launched.

He told IRIN that while the team was highly experienced, with some members having up to 15 years in the sector working on marked minefields and clearing ERWs from Iraq’s previous conflicts, they were not used to clearing houses of booby-traps.

“Our deminers are not specialized in IEDs, and need more training and experience,” he said.

“[IS] are very technical in laying out IEDs. They use many different ways and types of IEDs and a very high quality of explosives,” Aziz said. “This is the biggest challenge to the Peshmerga, as [IS] are booby-trapping all areas under their control.”

Raising awareness among the displaced

MAG, the only international humanitarian demining NGO left doing clearance work in Kurdistan, has been running awareness-raising sessions with displaced Iraqi families since June, when IS seized control of Mosul – forcing 600,000 people to flee in a matter of days.

“We’ve been working with displaced families to make them aware of the potential dangers, now and for when they return home,” MAG’s Seecharan explained. “Children who are naturally inquisitive and unable to read danger signs are particularly at risk.”

She said, however, that MAG clearance teams could not assist the military in their clearance operations because their remit was only humanitarian.

“While MAG’s imperative is to take action to prevent harm to civilians and civilian demining personnel, there has to be a clear line between humanitarian clearance in areas where active hostilities have ceased, and activities in support of ongoing military operations,” she said.

There are around a dozen commercial demining operators working in Iraq, including some international firms. Many are contracted by oil and gas companies clearing land for exploration, though some are also working for the government preparing for infrastructure projects and national parks.

Although the expertise is available in country to help the Iraqi authorities clear up the ERWs, the long-running budget dispute between Baghdad and Erbil means Kurdistan does not have sufficient money to take on new contractors.

Iraq also has an obligation to clear all of its landmines by 2018, having signed the Ottawa Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treat in 2007. For some time this target has seemed ambitious, even more so now with so many new devices being laid by IS.

A report by the Landmine Monitor in August 2013, citing the most-recent statistics from Iraqi government agencies, said that since the late 1980s more than 29,000 people have been victims of landmine accidents in the country.

Nearly 15,000 of those casualties – including 6,000 deaths – were in Kurdistan.

In 2012, the latest year for which data is available, there were 84 mine accidents across Iraq with 42 deaths, though many more incidents are likely to have gone unreported. Since 2012, 11 deminers have lost their lives in clearance accidents across Kurdistan, IKMAA said.

Amazon dreams of UAVs, but uses UGVs

With a great deal of fanfare, Amazon announced last spring that it intended to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) for deliveries. While UAVs delivering books and DVDs remains a fantasy, in the real world the under appreciated Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) are doing the hard work of stacking holiday goods.  The story below originally appeared in NPR’s All Tech Considered.

Amazon Unleashes Robot Army To Send Your Holiday Packages Faster

For many online retailers, Cyber Monday is likely to be the peak shopping day of the year. To handle the onslaught of orders, Amazon has begun rolling out a new robot army.

The Amazon order-fulfillment center in Tracy, Calif., is more than a million square feet — or 28 football fields, if you prefer — filled with orange and yellow bins flying this way and that on conveyor belts. Chances are, if you ordered a bunch of items in the San Francisco Bay Area recently, Amazon put that box together here.

“Whether it’s consumables or toys or electronics, with 3,500,000 items plus in this building, the odds are, pretty much anything you wanted was likely here,” says Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations and customer service.

At most warehouses, goods are held on shelves, and it’s up to humans to go out into them to stock or retrieve stuff. But with technology that Amazon acquired when it purchased Kiva Systems in March 2012, the goods move to the humans. Orange robots the shape and size of ottomans zip under shelves, lift them up and whisk them to stations where people like Amazon’s Reginaldo Rosales are waiting.

As each shelf arrives next to Rosales, packed to the gills with all sorts of items, a computer terminal displays the specific thing he’s supposed to grab — in this case a thermometer — and where on the shelves it is.

“Now it’s telling us the Monopoly electronic banking game,” Rosales says. “We pick the item, we give a six-sided check — make sure it’s not damaged — and it tells us what bin. And you confirm it.”

Kiva’s concept has been around for years now, but this rollout provides an opportunity to see it at great scale.

With this system, not only is there no need for workers to march for miles up and down the aisles — there’s no need for aisles at all, which means Amazon can squeeze 50 percent more product into its warehouses.

You might presume this means Amazon would hire fewer humans, but Senior VP David Clark says Amazon is hiring more people — 14 percent more than during 2013’s holiday season — to accommodate increased demand.

“As these buildings get more selection, they do more volume,” Clark says.

Besides, an entirely mechanical workforce simply wouldn’t work yet, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Andrew McAfee, for the same reasons robots still would make lousy doubles tennis partners.

“Robots aren’t really, really good at manual dexterity. Their vision systems are often not as good as our vision systems,” McAfee says.

But the co-author of The Second Machine Age says the robots are at least as good as people at covering ground in warehouses and hauling merchandise. So why not let them do it?

There are 15,000 Kiva machines whisking around Amazon warehouses across the country; the company’s engineers already are developing a next-generation robot.

Unmanned Underwater Vehicle maps Antarctic Ice [VIDEO]

An Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV)  braved the hostile Antarctic seas to give us a view of the underside of sea ice.  When combined with satellite and other data, this should produce the first 3-D map of Antarctic sea ice.

Read the scientific paper here and/or watch the Reuters video below. (Warning-short ad before the video)

 

The Big African Mobile Phone Market

Many of you probably know that Asia is the largest mobile market in the world. Did you know that Africa is the second largest? According to a posting in Quora.com,

“Digital technology is fast becoming a part of everyday life in Sub-Saharan Africa: by the end of 2014 it is forecast that there will be over 635 million subscriptions in Sub-Saharan Africa (over 950 million inhabitants). This is predicted to rise to around 930 million by the end of 2019.”

“The mobile phone is a leading communication device in the Sub-Saharan consumer market. Mobile users in the region have shown a preference for using their device for a variety of activities that are normally performed on laptops or desktops. Mobile banking is one such example where digital services, via the mobile phone, have moved beyond urban centers to peripheral surroundings and beyond, with significant uptake and usage in rural areas.”

africa mobile

 

Click to expand

For more charts, information and lots of photos of Africans using their mobile phones, click here.