Amazon Employees Ask Bezos To Stop Selling Facial Recognition To Cops – Thomas Fox-Brewster

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Amazon employees have written a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos in which they ask the company to stop selling its facial recognition tool to American law enforcement.

The tech giant’s sales to U.S. cops were revealed by an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) investigation earlier this month, as it emerged Amazon Web Services’ Rekognition tool was shipped to police in Florida and Oregon. The cost of the tool was also revealed to be remarkably low, as evidenced by a Forbes test of the product, in which a facial recognition project was set up for free across the publication’s Jersey City and London offices.

In a letter posted to an internal forum, first revealed by The Hill and published in full by Gizmodo, some employees expressed the same concerns as the ACLU about the power of Amazon’s Recognition being abused by American officers. The letter also called on Amazon to cease providing computing infrastructure to Palantir, the Peter Thiel-backed surveillance company, over concerns about the company’s work with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department that’s been caught up in the furor over the forced separation of children from their parents at the border.

“Our company should not be in the surveillance business; we should not be in the policing business; we should not be in the business of supporting those who monitor and oppress marginalized populations,” the letter, signed off by “Amazonians,” read.

“We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE, and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights.

“As ethically concerned Amazonians, we demand a choice in what we build, and a say in how it is used.”

 Employee activism is alive

It comes after a recent spate of protests across workforces in Silicon Valley about tech giants’ work with the U.S. government. As uncovered by Gizmodo’s Kate Conger, Google employees were up in arms about the company’s work with the Pentagon on an artificial-intelligence-powered drone footage analysis initiative known as Maven. Google subsequently decided to stop working on the project.

Microsoft staff this week called on the company to cease working with ICE. While CEO Satya Nadella slammed the practice of separating children and parents, he said the company was not providing any tech aiding in ICE’s work on separating families.

Palantir, which The Intercept last year revealed provides a $20 million Investigative Case Management service for ICE, has not responded to Forbes’ request for comment on its work for the immigration department. Recent contracts show Palantir received $250,000 from ICE this month and $12.2 million in May 2017, among many other orders.

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What It Takes To Make IoT Implementation A Success – Robert Plant & Cherie Topham

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Organizations around the globe understand the importance of IoT. In fact, in a recent Forbes Insights/Hitachi survey of more than 500 executives worldwide, over 90% said IoT will be important to the future of their business. What’s more, of all emerging technologies, executives said IoT would be the most critical, ranking it above others like artificial intelligence and robotics.

While executives acknowledge the importance of IoT, 49% remain in the early stages of planning or are only operating pilot programs. We spoke with John Magee, Hitachi Vantara’s vice president of product and solutions marketing, to get his perspective on this state of development and how organizations can make IoT a larger part of their strategy and operations going forward.

If an executive is looking to invest in IoT and understand the economics behind it, what does he or she need to know?

Most organizations are looking to IoT projects to either improve operational efficiency or drive new revenue streams. A lot of organizations are seeking to use the data they can get from IoT sensors and connectivity to provide better visibility and help them understand what’s going on in their operations. For product companies, they’re often looking to optimize how their products are being manufactured or used, and to offer new data-driven services with those products.

The goal for most of these companies is to transform the way they operate and the way they compete. For business leaders looking to take advantage of IoT, the most important thing is to begin with the business outcome goals first and then determine what data IoT can provide that can help deliver those outcomes. It’s the new data that delivers the business value. So that should be the starting point for any project. Then you can work back from there to the technology required to meet the objective.

For example, manufacturers might want to understand why quality issues are creeping into one of their manufacturing lines but not the other. Logistics companies may want to understand the location of parts and deliveries to optimize scheduling. Product companies may want to sell new value-added software services that help customers get more value from their products. Whatever the goal, by understanding what data you need to collect and who needs access to it, the technology requirements will fall into place more easily and you won’t over- or underspend for success.

When executives are thinking about what data is most important to achieving their desired outcomes, what do they need to know? How should they approach this?

IoT is essentially a rich source of new business data. Data that comes from machines and devices, and from the spaces and environments those machines operate in. In many situations, just having access to real-time data about what’s going on—in a manufacturing plant, on a remote oil rig or in a city train station—can be transformative. In most situations, though, some analysis of the data is going to be needed to gain the insights that lead to business value.

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This is where technologies like big data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence come into play. Analytics is the key to not just understanding what is happening but also learning and getting smarter so that your IoT solutions can predict when a problem will occur or find the root cause of product quality issues that would have been unsolvable without analyzing the mountains of data that IoT can deliver.

The right way to think about IoT is as an extension of the business analytics that your organization is probably already doing in other areas. At the end of the day, IoT is a means to accessing and interpreting more data. And data management, data integration and data science are all key enabling technologies for IoT, just as they are for most other areas of business today.

One new twist on IoT data that differs from traditional business data is the idea of a “digital twin.” The digital twin is the software representation of a physical device, such as a pacemaker, an elevator or a dump truck. As data streams in from the physical device, it is collected and stored in the corresponding digital twin. The digital twin knows everything about that asset: where it was manufactured, how it has been operated, when it was last serviced.

By using software to analyze hundreds or even thousands of these digital twins, data scientists can build powerful analytic models that can optimize the corresponding physical assets. Organizations are using this approach to enhance asset uptime and performance, extend the useful life of critical assets and optimize maintenance and operations.

Once you’ve aggregated data into a single version of the truth and are drawing conclusions, how can companies best integrate that information into broader networks?

There’s a sort of stairway to value in many IoT scenarios. The first step of the stairway is the physical devices themselves. The second step is the operations around those devices. And the third step is the business processes and ecosystem around those operations.

Think of a manufacturing plant. If you use sensors on critical plant equipment, you can get data that can help you operate that equipment more effectively. If you collect enough data, you can even start to predict when it will fail so you can service it before that happens. So that’s the next step – using the data insights about the equipment into optimizing your maintenance and repair operations.

But that data can also be useful at the next step in the stairway, which is how your supply chain responds to requirements for parts or materials being delivered based on the performance of the equipment and operations in the factory. The more data you have, the more visibility you have, and the more opportunity to optimize every part of the operation. Sort of like air traffic control for the factory.

This stairway, or hierarchy, of value—from asset to operations to business process—is one we see play out in industry after industry.

When it comes to IoT, which is a complicated endeavor, research shows that it’s best not to go at it alone. What should executives be looking for in a partner when they’re considering making this transformation?

Working with a partner who understands your industry and has a methodology to help you think through your data strategy are the real enablers for success. IoT is a hot technology right now, and it is easy to get caught up in the hype and invest in the wrong areas. Working with an experienced partner who has a pragmatic approach that starts with understanding how IoT data and analytics will drive the desired business outcome is the key to success.

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The Impact of Fintech on Investment Banking

Leon Saunders Calvert, Global Head of M&A and Capital Raising at Thomson Reuters explores to what an extent Fintech is now changing the Investment Banking industry.

New technologies, like machine learning/artificial intelligence, predictive behavioral analytics and data-driven marketing, will take the guesswork and habit out of financial decisions. “Learning” apps will not only learn the habits of users, often hidden to themselves, but will engage users in learning games to make their automatic, unconscious spending and saving decisions better.

The Fintech Landscape

Fintech startups received $17.4 billion in funding in 2016 and were on pace to surpass that sum as of late 2017, according to CB Insights, which counted 26 fintech unicorns globally valued at $83.8 billion. North American produces most of the fintech startups, with Asia following. Some of the most active areas of fintech innovation include or revolve around the following:

  • Cryptocurrency and digital cash
  • Blockchain technology, including Etherium, a distributed ledger technology (DLT) that maintain records on a network of computers, but has no central ledger.
  • Smart contracts, which utilize computer programs (often utilizing the blockchain) to automatically execute contracts between buyers and sellers.
  • Open banking, a concept that leans on the blockchain and posits that third-parties should have access to bank data to build applications that create a connected network of financial institutions and third-party providers. An example is the all-in-one money management tool Mint.
  • Insurtech, which seeks to use technology to simplify and streamline the insurance industry.
  • Regtech, which seeks to help financial service firms meet industry compliance rules, especially those covering Anti-Money Laundering and Know Your Customer protocols which fight fraud.
  • Robo-advisors, such as Betterment, utilize algorithms to automate investment advice to lower its cost and increase accessibility.
  • Unbanked/underbanked, services that seek to serve disadvantaged or low-income individuals who are ignored or underserved by traditional banks or mainstream financial services companies.
  • Cybersecurity, given the proliferation of cybercrime and the decentralized storage of data, cybersecurity and fintech are interlocked.

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Fintech Users

Who uses fintech? There are four broad categories: 1) B2B for banks and 2) their business clients; and 3) B2C for small businesses and 4) consumers. Trends toward mobile banking, increased information, data and more accurate analytics and decentralization of access will create opportunities for all four groups to interact in heretofore unprecedented ways.

Customers now expect seamless digital onboarding, rapid loan approvals, and free person-to-person payments – all innovations that FinTechs made popular. And while they may not dominate the industry today, FinTechs have succeeded as both standalone businesses and vital links in the financial services value chain,” a recent industry report by Deloitte and the World Economic Forum (WEB) stated.

According to Deloitte and the WEB, disruptive forces that have reshaped the FinTech industry include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • The growth of online shopping, which is expanding quickly at the expense of in-person shopping, leading to the dominance of online, cashless solutions for transactions.
  • A shifting balance of power that swings from banks and other financial services to those who own the customer experience. Banks are eliminating in-person services and looking to FinTech and large technology companies for other ways to engage customers.
  • New trading platforms that are collecting data to create an aggregated market view and using analytics to uncover trends.
  • Insurance products, which are becoming more tailored to customers who, in turn, are demanding coverage for specific locations, uses and timeframes. That’s driving insurers to collect and analyze additional data about their clients.
  • Artificial intelligence, which now plays a role in differentiating financial services products as it replaces complex human activities.
  • Transaction process improvement and middleware, both of which remain expensive. This is pushing traditional financial services firms to consider partnerships with marketplace lenders for FinTech solutions that don’t require a full infrastructure overhaul

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How Augmented Reality is Being Implemented in the Real World – Umeed Kothavala

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Augmented Reality (AR) is the imposing of digitally generated images into a viewer’s real-world surroundings. Unlike Virtual Reality, which creates a completely artificial environment, AR uses the existing environment and overlays it with new information. Augmented reality apps are usually written using special 3D programs which allow developers to superimpose animation in the computer program, to an AR “marker” in the real world. It is now popularly being used by advertisers to create 3D renders of products, such as cars, the inside of buildings, and machinery. This provides consumers with a 360-degree product view.

The term ‘Augmented Reality’ was coined by Boeing researcher Thomas Caudell in 1990, to explain how head-mounted displays of electricians worked during the assembling of complicated wiring. Since then, the technology has been used in CAD programs for aircraft assembly, architecture, digital advertising, simulation, translation, military, and various medical procedures.

Tech giant Google, unveiled Google Glass in 2013, propelling AR to a more wearable interface – glasses. It works by projecting on the user’s lens screen while responding to voice commands, overlaying images, videos, and sounds.

Real-World Examples

AR has proven to be very useful across several industries when tied with location-based technology. Investments in this market continue to grow as several applications, which leverage the power of AR, are now available across different sectors. Its use in marketing is particularly appealing, as more detailed content be put within a traditional 2D advert with very interactive, engaging results with a high possibility of generating viral campaigns. Other fields utilizing AR with commendable results include:

  • Education: Academic publishers are developing applications which embed text, images, videos, and real-world curriculum with classroom lessons.
  • Travel: AR has enabled travellers to access real-time information of historical places and tourist sites, by pointing their camera’s viewfinders to specific subjects.
  • Translation: Globalization has propelled the development of translation applications to interpret text to different languages such as French, Afrikaans, Spanish and many more.
  • Locators: With location applications, users can access information about places near their current location along with user reviews.
  • Gaming: It is being used to develop real-time 3D games, through Unity 3D engines.
  • Defense: Several governments are now implementing AR solutions for their military. The US military has begun to use Google Glass designed for the battlefield. The glasses display virtual icons which are superimposed on a real-world view increasing the soldiers awareness.
  • Automotive: Back in 2013, Volkswagen launched an application for the Audi luxury brand which enabled potential customers to experience AR based car drives through the use of graphics, audio, and videos to enhance real-world vehicle motions.
  • Healthcare: Some optical manufacturers are now using AR to design smart contact lenses which repel optical radiation that could cause poor sight and eye cancer.

Statistics and Projected Growth

The growth and demand of AR applications and platforms in commercial, aviation, defense, and other fields is expected to be worth at least 56.8 billion dollars by 2020 according to a new research report by Markets and Markets.

The presence of several tech giants such as Google, Qualcomm, and Microsoft in the industry will boost AR growth within several geographies. This begins with North America, followed by the European market, due to growth in the automotive and aerospace sectors. Followed by the Asia Pacific region as a result of the growing industrial and manufacturing sectors, especially in China and Japan.

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Industries expected to heavily embrace augmented reality technologies include healthcare, automotive, defense, education, and travel sectors. In fact, high calibre investors are planning to invest in AR startups. Magic Leap, a giant AR startup which designs 2D generated imagery, has received over 590 million dollars in investment funding since 2014.

Threats and Barriers to AR

Although AR seems to have huge market potential, there are specific threats which may restrict its mass adoption:

  • Lack of public or social awareness of mobile AR
  • Lack of profitability for enterprises
  • Huge monopolies within the AR market
  • Limitations in user experience
  • Poor marketing and advertising compared to VR
  • Budget limitations mostly among SME’s
  • Privacy, security issues, and other concerns
  • Poor mobile internet connectivity in emerging markets

With the population of smartphones rising, augmented reality is definitely here to stay. More and more consumers are carrying phones with AR application capabilities. For as long as augmented reality content remains engaging, and innovative while embracing superior user experience, consumers will gravitate towards AR friendly applications.

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AI Is Already Changing The Way We Think About Photography – Evgeny Tchebotarev

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AI is rapidly changing the way we think about photography. Just a couple of years from now, most advances in the photo space will be AI-centric, and not optics or sensor-centric as before. The advancement in photography technology will, for the first time ever, be untethered from physics, and will create a whole new way of thinking about photography. This is how it’s going to happen.

Processing power

Just six months ago we saw the first glimpse of AI entering our consumer world when Apple introduced A11 Bionic neural engine chip, which powers current generation of iPhones. The A11 is important because the chip is specifically designed for tasks such as image–and face–recognition, AR applications, etc. In applications like this, it’s way more effective.

I then wrote that the Google Pixel line would introduce it’s own hardware chips, designed for specific tasks, and that indeed happened sooner than anyone—including me—expected, as the Pixel 2 featured dedicated image enhancement chip to help with image processing on the fly.

What made it intriguing is that when Pixels were announced and shipped, there was no mention of the feature, and only sometime later did Google admit that the Pixels had a dedicated chip which would be “enabled” sometime in the future (if you own Pixel 2 today, this hardware feature is already enabled).

Then came Chinese smartphone maker Huawei with the P20 Pro, featuring 4 cameras — 1 in front and 3 in the back. In addition to achieving the highest DxO Mark score to date, the Huawei P20 Pro is packed with AI features, such as real-time image scene recognition, meaning it can discern 500 scenarios in 19 categories, such as animals, landscapes, as well as an advanced night mode, where the AI assists in processing noisy photos, making them almost perfect.

The Verge has great coverage with image samples to provide a good overview of this photo powerhouse. As the next generation of smartphone products are developed, many manufacturers are focused on image capture and real-time processing, partially because it’s a great marketing differentiator, but also because advances in this area are clearly visible to the consumer.

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Catering to the pros

But in professional and semi-pro setting, there are several other developments that are key to image quality. First of all, is the processing part, that has to happen right after the photo has been taken. Advances in RAW processing have been steady and predictable (but yet, very welcome by everyone), but AI is ready to supercharge this process. Recently PetaPixel featured a research paper named “Learning to See in the Dark” by Chen Chen, Qifeng Chen, Jia Xu, and Vladlen Koltun, that covers techniques of recovery of extremely underexposed RAW files.

For the consumer it means that AI-assisted software can create high-quality images way beyond the current physical limit — allowing smaller sensors (such as found in drones or mirrorless cameras) to leapfrog current top-end DSLR’s.

In other applications, it might allow tiny security cameras to yield high-quality imagery, increasing overall surveillance.

Photo optimization

One intriguing technology I had a chance to see recently is AI-powered upscaling, far beyond in quality than what is currently available to the public. A team of AI developers at Skylum is putting finishing touches on technology that will allow smartphone images to be upscaled and printed at an incredibly high resolution and sharpness. As I’ve previously pointed out, not everyone has an iPhone X in their pocket — hundreds of millions of people today are buying brand new phones that use 4-year-old technology, so having sharper, crispier photos from outdated smartphone sensors will allow millions of people future-proof their precious moments.

Thousands of kilometers from Skylum AI research lab is another startup, that stealthily applying quantum mechanics research to RAW files, is promising to compress your photos up to 10x without loss of data.

A year ago Apple introduced HEIF, High Efficiency Image Format. If you use iPhone with iOS11 you are likely using HEIF without even knowing it. HEIF allows for higher quality images (compared to JPEG) at about half the size, allowing to keep twice as many photos as before. Dotphoton, a small startup from Switzerland, is aiming to up HEIF format and is focusing on the professional applications, from aerial footage to professional photographers.

After a long technological hiatus in image tech, we are yet again seeing an explosion of interest in the space. Photography plays an important role in every tech company, but nowhere it is more important than in the smartphone race. And as September edges closer, Google and Apple will both be aiming to announce cutting-edge photography advances. Yet, an influx of smaller players are innovating at a rapid rate and raising the stakes for everyone. Evgeny Tchebotarev founded 500px (acquired by VCG), backed by A16Z . He is VP Business Development Asia at Skylum and Director of Startup Grind Taipei. He is based in Taipei, Taiwan.

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Step-by-Step You Can Turn Your Ecommerce Side Hustle Into a Real Company – William Harris

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The nature of work is evolving. To make a living and build a successful career for yourself, you no longer need to work a traditional 9-to-5 job, commute to a physical office or wait patiently for someone to finally hand you that promotion you’ve worked so hard to get.

You can create your own company, sell your own products and provide valuable services to your own customers — from anywhere in the world. It’s never been a better time to start an ecommerce business. There are plenty of tools, blog posts, podcasts and other resources to help you build an ecommerce shop while you hold on to your day job.

The question is, how do you take that ecommerce side hustle and scale it into a profitable, sustainable full-time gig? It’s not easy, but it is possible. To get on the right track, consider implementing the following tips and ideas from leaders in the ecommerce space.

Find the balance

To be a successful ecommerce entrepreneur, you must walk the line between being thoughtful and executing ideas before you feel completely ready.“You often hear really smart and successful people say you need to be perfect with every action and intention — be it brand, product, packaging, website, customer service, etc.,” Guided CEO David Stober says. “I think many of those big-brained and successful people quickly forgot their actual path to success.

Building a brand and business is about finding that perfect balance of just doing it at the risk of breaking stuff (workflows, technology, product, brand voice) and perfection. Neither extreme is ideal. One means you are going too fast; the other means you are going too slow. Each business has a perfect tempo.”

Striking this balance can be difficult, especially if you’re new to entrepreneurship. To get there, leverage advice and experience from seasoned entrepreneurs and mentors who’ve been in your shoes. Read their blog posts, engage with them on Twitter, join a group on Slack or reach out to someone on Clarity.

Be data-hungry

Scaling your ecommerce business so it can pay all your bills and allow you to live comfortably also requires an obsession with numbers.

“You need to have a detailed growth and profit plan in place,” Blue Stout CEO Allen Burt says. “I always recommend that entrepreneurs outline the financial road map for their business so they know the exact levels of traffic, conversions, average order value and repeat purchases they need to hit their revenue and profit goals.”

Burt recommends you start with an audit of your current website. Ask yourself questions such as, “What is my current conversion rate? What is my average order value? What is my profit margin on each order?” From there, work backward to map out how many monthly site visitors you need to generate enough profit to sustain you and your team.

Network and keep bridges intact

“Maintain positive relationships and try to never burn bridges,” says Kyle Eisenberg, a senior manager at Image Beauty. “You never know when someone that you’ve worked with in the past will be in a position to help you in the future.”

Friends, colleagues and family members can add huge value. They can help you raise money, give you much-needed advice and connect you with the right partners, vendors and industry influencers.

Lean heavy on your biggest fans. Make sure you keep relationships intact and be proactive about updating your network’s members on your projects and progress. Sometimes, it takes just one person to take your business to the next level.

Identify your needs

A successful, scalable ecommerce shop should run like a well-oiled machine even when you’re not the one moving the levers and steering the wheel.

“Figure out the seats you need filled to grow your company without your involvement,” GrocerKey CEO Jeremy Neren says. “If your business can’t function and grow without your involvement, you will have only created a more stressful job for yourself. Total up the cost associated with filling all necessary seats and put together a plan of how far you can scale with those seats filled.”

You have to spend money to make money, and that money ultimately must come from somewhere. Be realistic about your needs upfront so you can gain a better understanding of how it actually will look to scale your business. Identify what you need to do (or whom you need to talk to) during the next few months.

“Determine investors interested in your ecommerce industry and approach them with your plan to scale your business to see if you are able to fund your growth via investment,” Neren says. “If you aren’t able to attract investors, you’ll need to determine how you can bootstrap your growth by increasing revenue with positive unit economics (meaning every time you make a sale you make money).”

Think ahead

Ecommerce is a great growth industry, but it’s also extremely saturated and competitive. To survive, you need to think ahead and prepare for the inevitable.

“There’s no such thing as a sustainable competitive advantage anymore, as every successful and profitable niche or product will inevitably attract me-toos and competitors over time,” Edgacent Cofounder Linda Bustos says. “Ensure your plan and strategy can continually stay ahead of the curve, or plan for a quick exit strategy when your business is at its peak.”

Bustos also recommends you approach with a certain degree of wariness any business that relies entirely on a third-party platform. Think eBay, Amazon or Etsy. You can’t control these platforms, and that’s a problem because they’ll own your data.

“Build your own direct or alternative channels in conjunction,” Bustos says, “as you never know when these platforms will change their rules of play, search and merchandising algorithms, pricing and commission structures or even start directly competing against you.”

The ecommerce industry has more players and competition than ever before. To successfully scale your ecommerce shop into a thriving, full-time gig, you must know the game, be willing and able to quickly pivot and be both proactive and innovative in your strategy.

 

These Unique Buildings in India Just Won the Biggest Award in Architecture – Cailey Rizzo

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Famed architect Balkrishna Doshi, also known as B.V. Doshi‬, won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize on Tuesday, making him the first Indian to do so in the award’s 40-year history. The Pritzker Prize is often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture.

Doshi, 90, designed renowned buildings throughout his home country of India, with an emphasis on public institutions and economical housing. Some of his most famous structures include the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore and the Aranya Low Cost Housing complex in the city of Indore. Asked about his architecture philosophy by NPR, Doshi said: “Architecture is a backdrop for life.”

“I think it is very, very significant that this award has come to India — of course to me, but to India,” Doshi added in an interview with CNN. “The government, officials, those who take decisions, cities – everyone will start thinking that there is something called ‘good architecture’ [and that] lasting things can happen. [Only] then can we start talking about urbanization and urban design.”

To celebrate Doshi’s Pritzker Architecture Prize, take a look at some of the buildings he designed throughout his half-century career.

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Could This Low-Cost Device Provide Clean Drinking Water To Those In Need – Emily Matchar

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Worldwide, some 850 million people lack access to clean drinking water. Contaminated water transmits a huge variety of diseases, including cholera, dysentery and typhoid, causing more than half a million deaths a year.

Researchers at the University at Buffalo have developed a solar water purifier they hope can sanitize water more quickly, cheaply and effectively than other models.

“Solar energy is basically free,” says Qiaoqiang Gan, a professor of engineering who led the research. “In some countries in tropical areas, they are short of resources but they have an abundance of solar energy.”

The design looks more or less like a small A-frame tent. Black carbon-dipped paper is draped over a triangular form and set on top of the water. The edges of the paper trail in the water, soaking it up like a sponge. It’s a modernization of the ancient technology of the solar still, which uses solar energy to evaporate water and leave contaminants behind. The water vapor then cools, condenses and can be collected.

Gan’s team improved the design of the solar still, making it more efficient by giving it a sloped shape—this keeps the paper cool, since light hits it at a slant instead of directly. Since the paper stays below the ambient temperature, it draws heat from its surroundings, which makes up for the loss of solar energy during the vaporization process.

The device can evaporate about 2.2 liters of water per hour for every square meter of paper hit by the sun. This is more efficient than other solar-powered water purifiers, Gan says.

The research was described in a paper published earlier this month in the journal Advanced Science. The work, funded by the National Science Foundation, was a collaboration between University at Buffalo, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Fudan University in China. The first authors on the paper were Haomin Song and Youhai Liu.

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Researchers Qiaoqiang Gan, Zongmin Bei and Haomin Song were among the authors of the new study. The three engineers and their colleagues are working to bring the solar still to those who need it through their startup, Sunny Clean Water. (Douglas Levere/University at Buffalo)

Gan and his colleagues have set up a company to commercialize the technology. Their prototype can condense and collect between 10 and 20 liters every day in full sun conditions, Gan says. As the average adult woman needs about 2.7 liters of fluid per day and the average man needs about 3.7, some 80 percent of which comes from drinks, the still could in theory provide enough daily drinking water for a family. Gan estimates it will cost about $200 and will be available within a year or so.

Gan hopes the device will be cheaper than similar technologies developed in recent years, many of which rely on expensive nanomaterials. Stanford scientists have created a tiny water filter using “nanoflakes” of molybdenum, several companies have been looking at using nanocellulose for water treatment, while a Tanzanian engineer’s nanofilter won the African innovation prize from the UK Royal Academy of Engineering. In contrast, the solar still uses inexpensive and widely available carbon paper.

The device can be used on any kind of water surface—a lake, a pond, a trough, even the ocean. But how it works will depend on the setting.

“The major challenge is different people in different areas have local needs,” says Gan, who just returned from a fact-gathering trip to Argentina. “Especially if the source water quality is very different.”

For example, if the still is used on the ocean, salt will eventually accumulate on the surface. This and other design challenges are still being worked on.

The still can remove nearly 100 percent of bacteria, viruses and organic compounds like arsenic, Gan says. It does less well with certain volatile chemicals, including certain pesticides, which are evaporated up with the water rather than left behind.

“It looks like it has some serious promise to it,” says Desmond Lawler, an engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin, of the system.

Lawler says one major consideration will be the humidity of the environment where the still is used. In very humid conditions—think the Caribbean after a hurricane—it’s much harder to evaporate water. The team will need to take this into consideration when designing systems for specific locations.

Though he doesn’t imagine the system being a substitute for more permanent clean water sources, Lawyer says he finds the simplicity of the system promising.

“A small-scale system that could create drinking water for a family,” Lawler says. “It’s very exciting to think about, particularly for emergency situations.”

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