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Can drones help in the fight against COVID-19?

Inside Telecom Staff

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Can drones help in the fight against COVID19
concept of drone technology, graphic of quadrocopter control interface

Imagine that the next time the world faces another pandemic like COVID-19, drones are ready to take to the skies to provide help. Some are able to quickly release necessary supplies, notify medical professionals to attend to those at risk, and safely disinfect hard-hit areas, while others employ cutting-edge technology such as thermal sensors, which are able to identify symptoms such as elevated body temperatures.

In the meantime, drones enable shops, restaurants, businesses, and even schools, to continue delivering essential goods and services from a distance, potentially saving immeasurable lives.

This does sound like a plot for a Sci-Fi movie but how soon is it becoming reality?

If the current pandemic has any silver linings, it is that we are able to work together even from a distance to help protect communities against COVID-19. While millions of us are doing what we can by staying at home and taking the right precautions when we venture out, some innovators are testing new approaches that may benefit us in the future.

Since 2014, SkySkopes has been a trusted Drone Services Provider (DSP) for clients in industries like energy, utilities, transportation, oil and gas, where workers are exposed to hazardous conditions and named one of the top five DSP companies in the world by Frost & Sullivan. Headquartered in the Grand Forks, the North Dakota-based company is now testing innovative drone applications in collaboration with North Dakota State University, Grand Forks County, and the Research Institute for Autonomous Systems.

As early detection has been proven effective in the prevention of the rapid spread of infections, SkySkopes is conducting research on drone technology that could potentially detect unusually high temperatures. Using advanced, commercially available Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) and thermal sensors on the ground, SkySkopes can check participants for body heat that could indicate symptoms consistent with the novel coronavirus.

They are also testing using drones for the touch-free delivery of necessities and medical supplies, and also the sanitation of playgrounds, by cleaning surfaces with disinfectants, which are not harmful to humans.

SkySkopes has always known that drones have the capability to solve some of humanity’s most demanding problems, if they can be scaled efficiently. Early in their program, SkySkopes used spreadsheets and various other tools to manage their drone program. However, as the company scaled up and systems grew more complicated, they needed a single platform to manage their entire aviation operations.

That’s why they turned to Skyward, a Verizon company. Skyward helps companies in all industries see clearly, act intelligently, and fly with confidence through software and consulting services designed for power safety, efficiency, and access to airspace.

The platform-agnostic fashion of Skyward is extremely beneficial,” says SkySkopes President and CEO Matt Dunlevy. “Being able to just reach into your pocket, to see what you need to see and schedule what you need to schedule with your teams is an indispensable feature. There just isn’t a way to scale without something like Skyward.”

For more than four years, SkySkopes has relied on Skyward to manage its drone program from a single platform accessible from any device at any time. As a leading authority on safe, efficient drone operations, Skyward’s software and expert guidance helps SkySkopes oversee everything from teams and equipment to projects and flights. Skyward also helps the company manage operational data and makes it easy for pilots to comply with aviation regulations.

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South Africa bars WhatsApp from sharing private user data with Facebook

Yehia El Amine

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private user data

South Africa’s Information Regulator (IR) barred Facebook Inc. from sharing any information it collects from WhatsApp users in the country without prior authorization from the regulator, Reuters reported on Thursday.

“WhatsApp cannot, without obtaining prior authorization from the IR, process any contact information of its users for a purpose other than the one for which the number was specifically intended at collection, with the aim of linking that information jointly with information processed by other Facebook companies,” the regulator said.

The regulator added that its decision was in accordance with section 57 of the Protection of Personal Information Act, South Africa’s data protection law. The agency also said that it has written to Facebook South Africa outlining its concerns regarding its privacy policy.

The IR is also “very concerned” that citizens of the EU will receive significantly higher privacy protection than people in South Africa and Africa generally.

“Our legislation is very similar to that of the EU. It was based on that model deliberately, as it provides a significantly better model for the protection of personal information than that in other jurisdictions,” Chairperson of the IR Pansy Tlakula said.

“We do not understand why Facebook has adopted this differentiation between Europe and Africa,” she said.

According to Reuters, WhatsApp is currently reviewing the regulator’s letter while downplaying the privacy update, suggesting that it “does not expand the company’s ability to share data with Facebook, or affect the privacy of users’ messages with friends or family.”

Earlier in January, the popular instant messaging app announced a change in its privacy terms and conditions that would allow parent company, Facebook, to collect users’ data from the app such as their phone number, email address, contacts, location, device ID, user ID, advertising data, purchase history, product interaction, payment info, crash, performance, and other diagnostic data, customer support, and metadata.

However, after a hailstorm of controversy, WhatsApp pushed back the update till May 15 to allow users ample time to review the new conditions. The controversy spread worldwide, as many users began to migrate to rival alternative messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram.

Mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower said last week that Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of Jan. 5 to Jan. 12. Representing a 61-fold increase from just 285,000 the previous week.

Telegram, an already-popular messaging app for people around the world, saw 15.7 million downloads in the Jan. 5 to Jan. 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it experienced the previous week.

South Africa joins the line of countries expressing concern over the use of private user data, such as India – a key market for WhatsApp – who asked the company to withdraw the new update from the country.

In parallel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan completely dropped the app as a presidential communication tool in favor of homegrown instant messaging app BiP.

Many Turkish citizens also called for the boycott of the app on Twitter, using the hashtag #DeletingWhatsApp.

Even the head of the Turkish Presidential Digital Transformation Office, Ali Taha Koc, took to Twitter to voice his criticism over the instant messaging app’s privacy policy, and the exemption from the new data-sharing rules for users in the United Kingdom and the European Union.

It is worth mentioning that the sudden worldwide flare up against WhatsApp could be attributed to a deeply rooted problem of trust, or lack thereof.

Facebook has a notorious track record when it comes to digital privacy, to the extent of which its CEO Mark Zuckerberg has frequently testified in front of the U.S. Congress and EU Parliament for that matter.

While the company has clarified time and again that the update will not affect users when talking to friends and family, many refuse to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt.

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Soul App provides a glimpse into a wave of AI-powered social networking

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Of the various social networking apps that have made it easier to stay connected amid the pandemic, one of the social platforms that stands out is Soul App; a Shanghai-based application has recently come to North America, Japan, and South Korea.

The latest trend, such the fast-growing Clubhouse app highlights an emerging social media trend featuring technology-driven social platforms. Yet it still uses the basic model as Facebook, which involves circles of friends, with the distinction that Clubhouse requires only an invitation from an existing member to join the Club.

A social platform that is a little bit different is veteran, Soul App, launched in 2016 which would make it something of an antique, but for the fact it kept its backroom tech updated with Artificial Intelligence (AI) matching of members.

SOUL has benefited from the technological tide of the increasingly matured tech of big data and AI, a trend that helps transform social networking products.

“At a time when Internet-based technologies have penetrated every nook and cranny of life – and social life in particular – nearly 90 percent of Gen Z surveyed want to expand the ways they socialize,” SOUL said in a statement.

This was highlighted in Soul’s Generation Z’s Social Life Report.

SOUL noted that “most social networks fail to move away from the traditional model centered on pre-existing social circles putting younger users under social pressure who would otherwise express themselves freely and honestly.”

Albeit, with slow growth, the AI-powered social networking app has become quite popular, with more than 100 million registered users, and more than 30 million monthly active users, making it the top five most downloaded free social networking apps on the China App Store.

Unlike Chinese dating apps competitors Momo and Tantan, SOUL offers an alternative to superficial swipe culture. By taking profile pictures out of the equation, the Chinese dating app helps its Gen Z users find matches based on common interests, Jing Daily reported.

The AI-powered social networking platform offers users an “explore” feature to post personal statuses and to browse through other people’s posts. The simplicity of the platform’s interface is the main reason for its popularity. Additionally, the application has become a social media hub based on an algorithm-based recommendation system. 

The speedy algorithm-enabled interaction models cater to young people’s social needs. As the younger generation falls into the habit of spending fragmented, sporadic time online, their desire to seek a lifelong friend has been replaced by the pursuit of temporary, but equally meaningful, companionship. 

SOUL also uses a decentralized content distribution mechanism that balances popularity and matching influences, so that everyone’s contents can be fairly viewed and shared with reduced interference on traffic distribution for users and their posts.

On SOUL, users can tag their posted contents to define their topics of interested and enable their contents to reach others with the same interests and hobbies, including music, literature, history, movies and games, according to the company.

Users can strike up a conversation about shared interests or play online games as a team. In this regard, SOUL capitalizes on its accurate and efficient recommendation system to build a “wonderland” of freedom, openness, and enjoyment as a path for its users to have pleasant companionship 24/7, which betrays the core secret of Soul app’s exponential growth.

“The app’s algorithm-enabled friend recommendation system Planet and personalized content feeds allow users to spot someone after their own hearts,” SOUL said in a statement.

Specifically, Soulers can tap their Planet to make matches and interact directly with their friends through various features including Audio Call and Soul Cam.

There is no swiping left or right as is familiar the world over with user of such dating apps as Tinder, instead users look for comonality.

“They can  find potential like-minded friends as they scroll through intriguing posts made by others, where shared interests lead to blossoming friendships,” SOUL said.

Predictably, amid the deeper integration of new technologies and social networking services, stress-free and interest-based social networks represented by the Soul app are set to play an ever-important role down the road.

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New device to help protect athletes from traumatic brain injury

Karim Hussami

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traumatic brain injury

A new device that could help reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury during head impacts was given approval this week by the Food and Drug Administration. The device is authorized for athletes 13 and older, and can be used during football, soccer and other high-impact sports.

The device is intended to protect athletes from sub concussive injuries, by protecting the internal jugular veins, thereby increasing the volume of blood to vessels of the skull.

The additional blood restricts the movement of the brain inside the skull. As the brain moves less, it may be protected from the negative effects of the “slosh” movement that occurs in unprotected athletes who suffer heavy impacts to the head.

The C-shaped device, called the Q-Collar, fits around the back and side of the neck. It works by clamping compressive protection on blood vessels in the neck.

A CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) analysis found 2 million children visited emergency departments because of TBI sustained during sports and recreation activities from 2010 to 2016.

TBI can have emotional, physiological and cognitive effects, while negative health outcomes can stem from sub concussive injuries that alter tissue but do not cause diagnosed concussion.

The researchers used advanced imaging techniques to look at changes in the brains of nearly 300 study participants before and after the season. They found changes in deep structures of the brain in 73 percent of participants in the no-collar group, while no significant changes in these same structures were found in 77 percent of participants in the collar group.

Carolina Panthers’ Linebacker Luke Kuechly, who retired at 28 after suffering a series of head injuries, was seen wearing the Q-Collar in his final seasons with the NFL.

“Today’s action provides an additional piece of protective equipment athletes can wear when playing sports to help protect their brains from the effects of repetitive head impacts while still wearing the personal protective equipment associated with the sport,” said Dr. Christopher M. Loftus, acting director of the Office of Neurological and Physical Medicine Devices in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

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