Monday, September 10, 2018

So near yet so far

On a visit to Northeast India during 2014, we had halted in a hotel in Kaziranga Wildlife sanctuary Assam. Our next halt was at Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh. Our hotel in Kaziranga was not at a great distance from Bramhmaputra River, and I had thought that we would be crossing the river by some nearby bridge and would be on our way to Tezpur and beyond. The situation was unfortunately not that simple, as there is no bridge on Brahmaputra, except for the one near Tezpur. We had therefore to travel back towards Guwahati for another 40 Kilometers or so via Nagaon to get on the Kalia-bhomora Bridge to cross the Brahmaputra. I was quite surprised to find that there was no bridge available to cross Brahmaputra anywhere east of Kalia-bhomora Bridge. For the eastern Assam, the situation is quite bad,  because a person in Dibrugarh town, if he needs to cross the Brahmaputra, needs to take a detour of 600 Km to get to the other bank using Kalia-bhomora Bridge.

In 1962, when Chinese had attacked India in Arunachal Pradesh, the situation was far worst. There was only one bridge for crossing Bramhaputra. Indian railways had just constructed first ever bridge over Brahmaputra near Guwahati. This 1.3 km rail-cum-road bridge was the only link between Assam (with  rest of India) and North Eastern states. The situation eased to some extent when 3.015 Km long Kalia Bhomara Bridge was completed in 1987. Naranarayan Setu in western Assam,  is the third bridge to have been constructed over the mighty Brahmaputra . It is a double-deck bridge with a railway track on the lower deck and a road on the upper deck. It has a length of 2.284 kilometres and connects Bongaigaon District on the north with Goalpara District on the south. The bridge was inaugurated on April 15, 1998. However, eastern Assam still remained inaccessible from northeastern states and vice versa.  The situation continues even on this day.

To remedify the situation, Government decided to take up the work on the fourth bridge at Bogibeel , a place located 17 Km downstream from Dibrugarh town. The foundation stone for the Bogibeel Bridge was laid in January 1997 Eventually; work could start only in April 2002, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee inaugurated the construction. The bridge site is located just over 20 km away from the Assam- Arunachal Pradesh border and the bridge is  expected to act as an alternative to the Kalia Bhomora Bridge near Tezpur in providing connectivity to nearly five million people residing in eastern Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

Unlike other bridge sites, Bogibeel site proved a tough nut to crack. In the first place, it is located in an area of high rainfall, which results in the construction being slowed down significantly, as it can proceed largely during a period of four dry months between November and March. Compared to other bridges, the river is much wider here with the result that the bridge, when open for traffic would be approximately of 5 Km length. Perhaps the hardest difficulty that faced the constructors was the instability of riverbanks and unpredictable floods of Brahmaputra. To overcome this difficulty a system of guide bunds and dykes was planned to train the river. The river now flows through a narrow diversion channel. To do this  total  4.83 km of guide bunds and  flood dykes have been raised and strengthened 9 km upstream and 7 km downstream on both banks. Only when the engineers were sure that the guide bunds and dykes could withstand the river’s might, actual work on the bridge began in 2011.

Several deadlines have been missed in last sixteen years. However, it is envisaged now that the bridge will be thrown open to traffic by end of this year. The Bogibeel Bridge will usher in a new era of economic development in the region, apart from strengthening national security in the border areas says the chief minister of Assam.  The bridge is a double-deck bridge with two-railway tracks on the lower deck and a 3-lane road on the upper deck. Upon completion, it will be the longest combined rail and Road Bridge in India.

10 September 2018

Thursday, September 6, 2018

F 16 aircraft to get Indian wings

Can you guess which fixed-wing aircraft in military service is most popular today? In other words, which fixed wing aircraft in military service has the largest global fleet? The answer is rather simple and straightforward. It is the F16 aircraft produced by The General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin).  Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon is a single-engine supersonic multirole fighter aircraft originally developed by General Dynamics. As of 2015, it is the world's most numerous fixed-wing aircraft in military service. In its Global fleet, there are 2,242 combat aircraft and the remainder 242 trainers. Besides use by armed forces of United States, as many as 25 nations have the aircraft as their mainstay in the air forces.

Maryland, USA-based aerospace giant Lockheed Martin has now announced that all future wings of the F16 for the global market, outside of the US, will be built in India by Tata Advanced Systems (TASL). Manufacturing is scheduled to begin in couple of years or in late 2020. Lockheed says however that the TASL deal will not affect the US market, which would be supplied from Lockheed’s American operations. Times of India has reported that Lockheed has also offered to move its entire F-16 manufacturing base for global markets to India.

Lockheed and TASL are already cooperating in two projects. TASL has started manufacturing Sikorsky S92 Helicopter Cabin Assembly along with manufacture of detailed parts. TASL is also making  for Lockheed Martin C-130J aircraft,  Empennage & Center Wing-Box Assembly.

TASL is fast emerging as a major defense manufacturer with several new projects, such as manufacture of Boeing AH64 Apache Fuselage along with secondary structures, Boeing CH47 ChinookAft  Fuselage Panels and General Electric LEAP Engines Parts. TASL says that a subsidiary of TASL has won the tender for supply of 49 mini UAVs to Indian Army having qualified through a competitive bidding process. It has received the supply order from Northern Command for its system Aquilon, which is the largest such order for mini UAVs by Indian Army till date.

6th September 2018

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The ultimate super store

What you hate most, while buying stuff at a big super store? I am sure that nine out of ten people will answer that standing in a long queue before a cashier, is their most hated experience in a super store. Mom and pop stores fare no better. You go to the shop. Tell the owner, what you want and while he would walk to the shelf to get the stuff, you wait patiently. After he brings up the desired goods, you examine them and if satisfied, pay to the shop owner. He then usually walks to his cash box and brings up the change and gives it to you. The deal is over only then. We go through either of these rituals almost every day or at least several times in a week. It is not something about which to feel enthused. Nevertheless, there is no real solution or choice really.
However, there appears to be some hope on the horizon now, at least for people living in the city of Kochi in Kerala. That is if they decide to walk to a store known as Watasale, recently launched by a Kochi-based startup, at the city’s Gold Souk Grande Mall. There are no long-winding queues or slow cashiers at Watasale. In fact, there is no cashier at all. There is also no mom or pop, who will get the stuff for you. The store is fully automated. You just walk in the store, pick up what you want from the shelves to examine. If satisfied, drop it into your shopping basket and simply walk out. The shopping is over. Unbelievable, isn’t it? It is however true. In Watasale store, this is exactly what actually happens. The store is cashier-less, which means there are no needless human interactions. Promoters also claim that at this store there is no need to scan the products, generate the bill, enter the card pin, or get the bill checked at the exit. It runs on a combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI), computer vision and sensor fusion, the same technology that is employed in self-driving cars.
How does it actually work? A prospective customer has to download the Watasale app from the Google Play store and enter the Watasale store by scanning the QR code shown on his mobile at the entrance. After that, it is just smooth sailing. Customer picks the products, tosses them into his bag, and walks out. The money is automatically deducted from the customer’s account through credit card or an integrated wallet. So how does it actually work? Unfortunately, promoters of Watasale are rather evasive about this. They say that they use computer vision (Whatever that means!) but do not use facial recognition. They depend on multiple classifications based on artificial intelligence and identify the customer based on the algorithm (a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.). The customer or their mobile phone is not tracked. Not very helpful, isn’t it?

Watasale may be the first in India, but it is not world’s first automated store. That credit goes to the American giant Amazon, who opened their first full-fledged automated store called Amazon Go, in Seattle on 18 January 2018. Some information is now available about the operational procedure used by Amazon in this shop. The ceiling of the Amazon Go store has hundreds of multiple cameras and store shelves have weight sensors, to detect which item(s) a customer took. If a customer takes an item off the shelf, it will be added to the person's virtual cart. If a customer places an item back on the shelf, it is "taken out" of the virtual cart. Cash registers and checkout lines become superfluous. Customers are billed after leaving the store, using credit cards on file.
Amazon had reported problems in the initial phase. These included correctly identifying shoppers with similar body types. When children were brought into the store, they caused havoc by moving items to incorrect places. These challenges seem to have been met now. Another problem crops up when too many customers (more than 20) enter the store, making it difficult for the cameras to identify persons correctly. Amazon has managed to open its second Go store in Seattle on August 18 2018. Significantly, this store has less floor area than the first store.
This problem of dealing with a larger number of customers is perhaps leading Watasale to concept of micro stores. According to Watasale management, these ‘stores next door’ will be deployed in apartment complexes, housing areas, workplaces and transit areas. These work as upgraded vending machines, but on the same cashier-less principle, where the customer can scan the QR code and pick up what they need. These micro stores can be placed in any location, and the customers can use them at any time of the day for groceries, daily essentials, food items and the like.

5th September 2018