UPSC IAS Prelims 2022 Material| Science and Tech Current Affairs | Robotics, AI, and others – Dec. 2021- 15th March, 2022

Dear Friends,

This post is a part of our current affairs series for the UPSC IAS Prelims 2022. In this post, we have covered the Science and tech current affairs of the Robotics, AI, and others section. This post covers current affairs from Dec. 2021 to 15th March 2022. In the 2nd part, we will cover the rest of the current affairs of July 2021 to 31st April 2022.


Science and Tech Current Affairs 2021-22

Robotics, AI, and others

To Read Other Current Affairs Compilations for UPSC Prelims 2022Click here


Touch-less touch screen technology

News: Indian Scientists have provided an affordable solution to develop a low-cost touch cum proximity sensor, popularly called Touchless Touch Sensor through a printing technique.

About Touchless Touch Sensor: Scientists have developed touchless touch screen technology through a printing technique.

This touch sensor senses a proximal or hovers touch even from a distance of 9 cm from the device.

Significance of touchless touch screen: The coronavirus pandemic has triggered efforts to make lifestyle more adaptable to pandemic scenarios.

Hence, technologies like these will help reduce the risk of viruses spreading particularly in public places where touchscreens are there like on self-service kiosks, ATMs, and vending machines.

Moreover, it has tremendous potential to be used in advanced smart electronic devices like touchless screens and sensors.


Kavach System of Indian Railways

News: Union Minister of Railways has inspected the trial of ‘Kavach’ working system in Secunderabad Division of South Central Railway.

About Kavach system: KAVACH is an indigenously developed Automatic Train Protection (ATP) System for Indian Railways.

Main Function of Kavach: It is designed to bring a train to a halt automatically when it notices another train on the same line within a prescribed distance.

Developed by: Research Design and Standards Organisation(RDSO) of the Ministry of Railways in collaboration with Indian industry.

Features of Kavach

  1. Prevents trains from passing the signal at Danger (Red) and avoiding collisions.
  2. Activates the train braking system automatically if the driver fails to control the train as per the speed restrictions.
  3. Continuous update of Movement Authority with the display of signal aspects in Driver Machine Interface(DMI)/Loco Pilot operation cum Indication Panel
  4. Auto whistling while approaching Level Crossing Gates
  5. Prevention of collision between two Locomotives equipped with functional KAVACH
  6. SoS Messages during emergency situations
  7. Centralised live monitoring of Train movements through Network Monitor System.

Significance of Kavach: 1) Kavach is one of the cheapest, Safety Integrity Level 4(SIL-4) certified technologies with the probability of an error being 1 in 10,000 years. 2) It opens avenues of export of this indigenous technology for Railways. 3) It helps the Railways to achieve the goal of “zero accidents”.


Wireless charging

News: Most consumers who are investing in flagship smartphones are opting for wireless chargers. However, there are some people who are still wary of adopting this tech, despite its convenience.

About Wireless Charging: Wireless charging is the transfer of power from a power outlet to the device, without the need for a connecting cable.

Working of wireless charging: Wireless charging uses electromagnetic induction to transfer electric energy from the charger to the smartphone.  For wireless charging to work, one needs a phone that supports wireless charging and a compatible wireless charger.

Note: Electromagnetic induction is a phenomenon by which a rapidly changing magnetic field produces electric energy in a closed loop that interacts with that magnetic field.

What is the impact of Wireless Charging on phones?

Firstly, wireless charging does produce more heat than conventional wired charging. However, wireless charging standards like Qi have strict guidelines to deal with such problems. When Qi-certified wireless chargers detect excessive heat, it reduces the charging speeds.

Secondly, wireless charging doesn’t affect battery charge cycles.

Thirdly, wireless charging averagely uses 47% more power than wired charging. But the extra power consumption by a single wireless charger won’t significantly increase the energy bill. However, all smartphone users in the world switching to wireless charging would have an impact on the environment.


Meta’s AI Supercomputer

News: Facebook-parent Meta has announced that it is building an AI supercomputer named “AI Research Super Cluster (RSC)”.

About AI Research SuperCluster(RSC): It is an AI Supercomputer being built by Facebook-parent Meta. The company has claimed that this will be the fastest supercomputer in the world once fully built by mid-2022.

The RSC will be capable of quintillions of operations per second. It can perform tasks like translating text between languages and help identify potentially harmful content on Meta’s platform.


Artificial Neural Network (ANN)

News: Recently, the global Artificial Neural Network (ANN) Market report was published. As per the current report, ANN Market is to set phenomenal growth from 2021 to 2028.

About Artificial Neural Network (ANN):

Definition: Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) also known as Neural Networks are a vital subset of machine learning and are at the heart of deep learning algorithms.

Their name and structure are inspired by the human brain, mimicking the way that biological neurons signal to one another.

They are not like other machine learning algorithms that process numbers or organize data, it is an algorithm that learns from experience and repeated tasks performed by users.

It is fed massive volumes of data in the beginning phases. In most cases, training is done by providing input and informing the network about what should be the output.

Note: Backpropagation is a commonly used method for training artificial neural networks, especially deep neural networks.

Applications of Artificial Neural Network (ANN): Image Preprocessing and Character Recognition, Forecasting, Credit rating, Fraud Detection, Portfolio Management among others.

Limitations of Artificial Neural Network (ANN)

Time it takes to train networks, which frequently demand an acceptable level of computational power for even complex tasks.

Neural networks are computer systems in which the user categorizes the trained data and gets responses. They have the ability to fine-tune the responses, but they do not have access to the specific decision-making process.


Quantum communications and terminologies

News: Scientists from the Space Applications Center and Physical Research Laboratory have used quantum entanglement to create a hack-proof communications system.

About Quantum Communication: “Quantum communication” uses laws of quantum physics to protect data during communication.  These laws allow particles—typically photons of light for transmitting data along  optical cables. These particles are known as quantum bits, or qubits.

Quantum techniques also improve the efficiency and capacity of communication channels.

Photonics, the method of using light particles, photons, to transmit or carry information is a less resource-intensive process, since photons are more accessible than other sources of energy. Fiber cables weigh around 40 times less than cables currently used for telephone lines and broadband internet.

About Quantum Key Distribution (QKD): Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a secure communication technique that uses quantum properties of photons, the elementary particles of light, to encrypt secret keys that can be shared by two parties to protect their communications.

What is Quantum Entanglement: Quantum entanglement is a physical phenomenon that occurs when a group of particles is generated, interact, or share spatial proximity in a way such that the quantum state of each particle of the group cannot be described independently of the state of the others, including when the particles are separated by a large distance.

Read moreAbout Quantum Computing

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: It was articulated in 1927 by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg. According to this principle, it is impossible to know the exact velocity of a particle, and its exact position, at the same time. One can calculate velocity, or position, to precision, but not both at the same time.


Tardigrades and Quantum Entanglement

News: In a recent study, scientists have claimed that Frozen tardigrade became the first ‘quantum entangled’ animal in history.

About Tardigrades: Tardigrades are also called water bears or moss piglets. They are near-microscopic multicellular organisms.

They were discovered in 1773 by the German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze who dubbed them “little water bear”.

Tardigrades are found everywhere in terrestrial, marine, and freshwater environments from the Arctic to the Antarctic, including great depths and altitudes.

They are known to survive extreme conditions — such as exposure to extreme temperatures, extreme pressures (both high and low), and air deprivation through a latent state of life known as cryptobiosis. Tardigrades have also survived exposure to outer space.

Note: Cryptobiosis or anabiosis is a metabolic state of life entered by an organism in response to adverse environmental conditions such as desiccation, freezing, and oxygen deficiency.

What have the scientists done?

Scientists have placed a tardigrade in a state of quantum entanglement.

In other words: the researchers managed to put a tardigrade in a state where it was directly connected to the qubits in such a way that anything that happens to the water bear or the qubits would simultaneously affect all three.

Significance of this study: This study is perhaps the closest realization combining biological matter and quantum matter available with present-day technology. Moreover, this work is a new record for the conditions in that a complex form of life can survive.


Quantum Laboratory at Mhow (MP)

News: The Indian Army has established the Quantum Lab and a Centre for Artificial Intelligence (AI) at Military College of Telecommunication Engineering, Mhow (MP).

About Quantum Lab: The lab has been established by the Indian Army with the support of the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS).

Purpose: To conduct research and training in the Quantum Technology field.

The key thrust areas are Quantum Key Distribution, Quantum Communication, Quantum Computing and Post Quantum Cryptography.

Significance: The research undertaken by the Indian Army in the field of Quantum Technology will help leapfrog into next-generation communication and transform the current system of cryptography in the Indian Armed Forces to Post Quantum Cryptography (PQC).

About Public Key Cryptography: Public-key cryptography also called asymmetric cryptography is communication where people exchange messages that can only be read by one another.

In public-key cryptography, each user has a pair of cryptographic keys: a public key and a private key

The private key is kept secret, while the public key may be widely distributed and used by other users.

Incoming messages are encrypted with the recipient’s public key and can only be decrypted with their corresponding private key.


Taste the TV (TTTV)

News: A Japanese Professor has developed a prototype lickable TV screen named Taste the TV (TTTV).

About Taste the TV (TTTV): Taste the TV (TTTV) is a prototype lickable TV screen that can imitate food flavours.

How does it work?

The TV uses a carousel (a device that rotates) of 10 flavour canisters (metal container) that spray in combination to create the taste of a particular food. The flavour sample is then rolled on hygienic film over a flat TV screen for the viewer to try.

Applications: The device could potentially be used to impart distance learning to chefs and as well as interactive quizzes and games involving food.  It would also be useful in the post-COVID era, as people could taste restaurant food from the comfort of their own homes and television screens.


Daylight Harvesting Technology

News: The Ministry of Science & Technology has decided to promote a unique Start-up in Daylight Harvesting Technology.

About Daylight Harvesting: Daylight Harvesting works on the simple premise that facilities can optimally utilize natural sunlight inside the rooms for about 9 to 11 hours. It will reduce the use of artificial light during daylight hours.

Benefits: a) Reduced carbon footprint, b) Improve building energy efficiency, c) reduces electrical lighting energy consumption by 70-80%, d) Technology is indigenous, easy to use and maintain.

What is the Government doing to promote Daylight Harvesting?

The Technology Development Board (TDB) under the Ministry of Science and Technology will provide Rs 5 crore as support to a startup called Skyshade Daylight Private Limited for developing Daylight Harvesting Technologies.

This startup has already developed several technologies which harvest huge quantities of sunlight for a building.This helps in reducing electrical lighting energy consumption by 70-80 per cent, besides reducing air-conditioning needs.


Zariski cancellation problem and Ramanujan Prize for Young Mathematicians

News: Professor Neena Gupta, a mathematician at the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata has been awarded the 2021 DST-ICTP-IMU Ramanujan Prize for Young Mathematicians from developing countries. She was awarded for solving the Zariski cancellation problem.

About the Zariski cancellation problem: It is one of the world’s greatest math problems. It is a fundamental problem in Algebraic Geometry. The problem was posed by one of the most eminent founders of modern Algebraic Geometry, Oscar Zariski, in 1949.

What is the problem? “The cancellation problem asks that if one have cylinders over two geometric structures, and that have similar forms, can one conclude that the original base structures have similar forms?”

Neena Gupta solved this problem which is considered as one of the best works in algebraic geometry in recent years done anywhere.

About Ramanujan Prize for Young Mathematicians: It is awarded annually to young mathematicians from developing countries since 2005.

Who is the prize awarded to? The prize is given to an eminent Mathematician who is less than 45 years of age on 31 December of the year of the award and has conducted outstanding research in developing countries

Administered by: The Prize is administered by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) jointly with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) Government of India and the International Mathematical Union (IMU).

Sponsored by: Department of Science and Technology, Government of India (DST).

ICTP: It was founded in 1964 by the late Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam. It seeks to accomplish its mandate by providing scientists from developing countries with the continuing education and skills that they need to enjoy long and productive careers.

IMU: It is an international non-governmental and non-profit scientific organization with the purpose of promoting international cooperation in mathematics.


3D Printed houses

News: Indian Army’s Military Engineering Services (MES) has constructed two houses using 3D Rapid Construction Technology. The houses have been constructed in South-Western Air Command in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

About 3D Printing

It is a process where three-dimensional objects are created from a digital representation by putting layer after layer of printing material.

Typically, the material used in 3D printing is made of plastic or metal. A special type of concrete is used for housing projects.

Advantages of 3D Printed houses

– Potentially reduces overall construction cost significantly,

– Less construction time,

– Brings down the related carbon footprint,

– Increases productivity of labour involved,

– Offers raw material flexibility/utilization of eco-friendly materials.


Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)

News: The Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways launched Green Hydrogen based Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) named Toyota Mirai.

About Toyota Mirai

Toyata Mirai (‘Mirai’ in Japanese means ‘future’) is India’s first green hydrogen-based advanced Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV).

The car is capable of providing a range of up to 650 km on a single charge, with a refueling time of five minutes.

Significance of this launch

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) powered by Green Hydrogen is one of the best Zero-Emission solutions. It is completely environment friendly with no tailpipe emissions other than water.

Note: This process to make green hydrogen is powered by renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar.

About the Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)

The Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) is a device that uses a source of fuel, such as hydrogen, and an oxidant to create electricity by an electrochemical process.

Put simply, the fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to generate an electric current, water being the only byproduct.

Fuel cells generate electricity through an electrochemical process. But unlike a battery-electricity vehicle, it does not store energy and, instead, relies on a constant supply of fuel and oxygen. In that sense, it may be seen as being similar to a conventional internal combustion engine.

However, unlike combustion engine cars, there are no moving parts in the fuel cell, so they are more efficient and reliable by comparison. Also, there is no combustion on board, in the conventional sense.

Advantages of FCEVs

FCEVs produce much smaller quantities of greenhouse gases and none of the air pollutants that cause health problems.

Fuel cells emit only heat and water as a byproduct and are far more energy-efficient than traditional combustion technologies.

FCEVs do not need to be plugged in for charging, like battery-powered EVs.

There is also a wide availability of resources for producing hydrogen.

Problems associated with FCEV

While FCEVs do not generate gases that contribute to global warming, the process of making hydrogen needs energy — often from fossil fuel sources. This is the reason why we need to focus on green hydrogen.

Also, there are questions of safety, as hydrogen is more explosive than petrol.

Moreover, these vehicles are also expensive.


Sagar Nidhi

News: The Union Minister visited the Indian Subcontinent’s Pioneer Research Vessel, Ship “SagarNidhi” and interacted with the Scientists on the deck.

About Sagar Nidhi

Oceanographic Research Vessel (ORV) Sagar Nidhi is an ice-strengthened multidisciplinary vessel operated by the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT).

Note: An ice-strengthened ship is a ship made of steel. These ships are made to get through the ice in Antarctica and the Arctic.

It became the first Indian flagged research ship that reached the 66°S latitude [Antarctic waters].

Other Research Vessels of India

The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) has at present has 6 ships namely Sagar Nidhi, Sagar Manjusha, Sagar Kanya, Sagar Sampada, Sagar Tara, and Sagar Anveshika.


Climate TRACE

News: Climate TRACE with the help of satellites could help track the global greenhouse gas emissions.

About Climate Trace

Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) was launched in 2021 before COP26. It is a global coalition of non-profit tech companies, and universities.

Purpose: It was created to collect and share greenhouse gas emissions from anthropogenic (human) activities to facilitate climate action.

Significance: Climate TRACE is the world’s first comprehensive accounting of GHG emissions based primarily on direct and independent observation.


Octacopter

News: CSIR-National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL)’s “Octacopter” drone has successfully delivered 50 vials of Covid vaccines to a primary health center in Karnataka.

About Octacopter

It is an indigenous medium-class drone developed by National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) a constituent of CSIR.

Features of Octocopter

The drone is made of lightweight carbon fiber with a foldable structure for ease of transportation.

It has unique features like autonomous guidance through dual redundant MEMS-based digital autopilot with advanced flight instrumentation systems.

It can fly at an operational altitude of 500 meters and can carry a payload of 15 kg.

Applications

The drone can be used for the last-mile delivery of medicines, vaccines, food, postal packets and human organs.

It is also integrated with Powerful onboard embedded computers and the latest generation sensors for other applications like agricultural pesticide spraying, crop monitoring, mining survey, and magnetic geo survey mapping among others.


India’s Antarctic Expeditions

News: India has successfully launched the 41st Scientific Expedition to Antarctica with the arrival of the first batch of its contingent at the Antarctic.

About India’s Antarctic expeditions

The Indian Antarctic expeditions began in 1981. The first trip consisted of a team of 21 scientists and support staff led by Dr. SZ Qasim.

Research Base Stations: Indian Antarctic program has built three permanent research base stations in Antarctica—named Dakshin Gangotri, Maitri, and Bharati. Currently, India has two operational research stations in Antarctica named Maitri and Bharati.

Nodal agency: The National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) manages the entire Indian Antarctic program.

The expeditions duly follow all protocols for the deployment of men and material as per Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP).

About NCPOR

Former Name: It was formerly known as the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR).

Ministry: It is an Autonomous Institution of the Department of Ocean Development (DOD), Ministry of Earth Sciences.

Purpose: It is responsible for administering the Indian Antarctic Programme and maintains the Indian government’s Antarctic research stations, Bharati and Maitri.

Situated in: Goa

Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP):

It is an international association formed in 1988, which brings together the National Antarctic Programs.

Note: National Antarctic Programs are those organizations that have responsibility for delivering and supporting scientific research in the Antarctic Treaty Area on behalf of their governments.

Primary Function: To exchange practical and operational information in order to help all National Programs fulfill their various missions, together or independently.

Secretariat: Christchurch, New Zealand.

About 41st Scientific Expedition to Antarctica

The 41st expedition is being led by scientists from the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, India Meteorological Department, and the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism.

The expedition has two major programs:

First Program involves geological exploration of the Amery ice shelf at Bharati station.

Second Program involves reconnaissance surveys and preparatory work for drilling of 500 meters of ice core near Maitri.

Agencies Involved: The ice core drilling will be done in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey and the Norwegian Polar Institute.


HomoSEP – A Robot to end septic tank deaths

News: IIT Madras has developed a robot named HomoSEP.

About HomoSEP

HomoSEP stands for “homogenizer of septic tanks”.

It is a portable robot that has a shaft attached to blades that can open like an inverted umbrella when introduced into a septic tank. This is helpful as the openings of the septic tanks are small, and the tank interiors are bigger.

Moreover, the sludge inside a septic tank contains faecal matter that has thickened like hard clay and settled at the bottom. This needs to be shredded and homogenized so that it can be sucked out and the septic tank gets cleaned. The whirring blades of the robot duly achieves this.

If this robot is deployed extensively, it can put an end to the practice of manual scavenging.

Deaths due to Manual Scavenging

According to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in the last five years, there have been 340 deaths due to manual scavenging.

Uttar Pradesh (52), Tamil Nadu (43) and Delhi (36) lead in the list of deaths due to manual scavenging.

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