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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Pakistani Professor Develops ‘Next-Gen’ Hearing Aid That’s Perfect for Noisy Environments

rofessor Amir Hussain, a UK-based Pakistani, along with his team at the University of Stirling, are developing what they call a “next generation” hearing aid.
This hearing aid will be equipped with a camera and a lip-reading software which will help users in noisy environments, and can switch between audio and visual cues.
The Professor and his team have been funded with almost £500,000 for the project. The project is being funded by the UK Government’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for the next three years.
Professor Amir said that this new technology will “significantly improve” the lives of millions of people who suffer from hearing loss.
He said that this kind of an invention was becoming more and more of a crucial need since there are a lot of people all around the globe with some kind of hearing loss. Roughly around 360 million worldwide suffer from a form of hearing loss currently as per latest statistics.

How Does it Work?

According to Professor Amir:
“Existing commercial hearing aids are capable of working on an audio-only basis, but the next-generation audio-visual model we want to develop will intelligently track the target speaker’s face for visual cues, like lip reading. These will further enhance the audio sounds that are picked up and amplified by conventional hearing aids.
The 360-degree approach to our software design is expected to open up more everyday environments to device users, enabling them to confidently communicate in noisier settings with a reduced listening effort.”
Not much details about the physical attributes of this next generation hearing aid have been revealed, but it was mentioned that the tiny camera used to keep track of lip-reading is quite handy and can be mounted anywhere, like in a pair of glasses, in an earring or even in a necklace.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Pakistani Engineers Reinvent the Fan

Those who live in Pakistan know the feeling of sitting through a hot summer afternoon without electricity. This is often accompanied by a dysfunctional Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), which further deteriorates the situation.
However, the latest technology in ceiling fans promises to not only reduce the running cost of the device but also provide a system whereby the fan may be directly powered from an alternative energy source.
Dr. Tauseef Tauqeer is the Head of Department for Electrical Engineering at Information Technology University (ITU) in Lahore. He started working on this project with the help of his Research Associate, Afnan Ansari, while Dr. Tauqeer was the Head of Department of Power, Electronics and Control at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST). They continued their research after shifting to ITU and made their final model of the technology behind energy efficient fans. They have now received their first order of 1000 pieces for an industry in Pakistan.

This new technology for fans incorporates a feature called the Brushless DC (BLDC) drive which consumes less power than the fans traditionally installed in houses. Currently, ceiling fans use up 80-100 watts of electricity, whereas this technology promises to consume only 32 watts, without compromising on the speed and air delivery of the fan. This significant difference in the watts used by both fans translates into a marked decrease in electricity bills of a household.

The electricity in Pakistan suffers from periods of sags and swells, which means the the voltage is either too high or too low than the desired 230 Volts that should be supplied at all times. Apart from affecting the performance of fans, these sags and swells may also damage the appliance, sometimes beyond repair. However, the technology used in this energy efficient fan maintains the nominal voltage level irrespective of the voltage being supplied by the main grid, therefore providing optimum performance throughout the day.
BLDC Drive Embedded Within a Fan
This fan requires a battery bank, which is already installed in houses with a UPS. The battery bank is charged through the main grid which makes the fan work during power outages. Houses without a UPS can purchase a small battery separately and directly attach it to the fan. If customers incur the one time cost of a solar panel for their homes, the battery can also be charged by the solar panel, which further reduces electricity bills as the pressure is alleviated from the main grid.
“Our main competitors are chinese fans which have similar features and technology,” says Dr. Tauqeer. “But they are much more expensive and are not customized according to our region. As a result, their air delivery is less and the size is smaller.”
Ansari further explains that these chinese fans cannot be repaired locally unlike the fans using their technology, which has not only been manufactured with parts available in Pakistan but is also repairable in the local market.
Currently, the chinese fans cost PKR 10,000-12,000, while this new variant costs approximately PKR 5000. To be of the highest quality, a fan’s service value must be more than or equal to 4.0 m3/min. Fans using the BLDC technology developed by the ITU duo exceeds that amount and equals 4.6 m3/min.
“If Pakistan’s manufacturing industry starts making fans with this technology, more than 1000 GWh energy can be saved per year, which is 3.5% of domestic use currently,” says Ansari.

The Pakistani Programming Prodigy

Mohammad Raza is not your everyday 11 year old boy. While his peers go to school, play cricket and scrape the occasional knee, Raza sits in front of a computer and codes. He builds softwares that can help catch most wanted criminals and create language predictors that no one in the market has been able to develop yet. Yes, he does go to school, but instead of English, Mathematics and Geography, Raza sits in on undergraduate and masters level courses at Lahore’s Information Technology University. And scores significantly higher than his classmates.

Raza was introduced to programming by a friend of his father’s who downloaded the programming language, GW Basic, onto Raza’s computer. Then began a process of self learning via YouTube videos. After seeing Raza’s affinity for programming, the same family friend later installed the coding language C to his computer as well.
He was nine at the time when his parents moved from Karachi to Lahore to set up a printing business which could not do well. Subsequently, financial constraints became a roadblock between Raza and regular school education.
Around the same time, Raza’s father saw a story on the news about a recently concluded robotics exhibition at ITU. Through a common friend, he met with Talha Rehmani, a faculty member at the university, and tried to convince him of his child’s prowess in programming.
Rehmani wasn’t impressed. But on the insistence of the father, he asked two of his research assistants to test Raza’s programming skills. “When none of them returned after an hour, I went to check up on them,” says Rehmani. “To my shock, both my assistants were sitting quietly while Raza kept talking about coding and that’s when I realized that there is something special about this boy.” It has been a year and half now since Raza started being mentored under Rehmani as his research assistant.
When Raza came to ITU, he already knew how to code. “The only hurdle was that sometimes he would not know the mathematics of specific coding. But once I explained what they were, he understood the algorithms quickly,” says Rehmani.
To further polish his talent, it was decided that Raza would sit through Computer Science classes meant for undergraduate and masters level students. The faculty had made sure that no leniency would be given to Raza in anyway so he could compete with the rest of the students on an equal footing. To everyone’s shock, in classes where the class average scores were in the 30’s, Raza’s were in the 80’s or 90’s.
One of his earlier courses at ITU was with Dr. Agha Ali Raza, himself a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University. “When I chatted with him I immediately realized that he’s brilliant. However, my only concern then, which remains today as well, is that he hasn’t gone through regular schooling and doesn’t get along with children his own age.”
Raza’s brilliance has not gone unnoticed amongst his peers. And not all of the attention is positive.
“He has an intelligent brain in an impatient body and keeps asking questions, sometimes not aligned with where the class is,” says Dr. Agha. This in turn creates tension in class.
This semester, Raza is taking five classes including Computer Architecture, Operating Systems, Electronic Devices and Structures, Advanced Algorithms and Computational Linguistics.
Since coming to ITU, Raza has actively taken part in the annual Robotics Exhibition. Last year, he developed a Vision Based System (VBS) with facial recognition capabilities. This year, he has showcased an Urdu word predictor. It is similar to English word predictors in smartphones that give you a list of possible words after typing the first one or two letters. Raza has done the same in the Urdu language by using a 50,000 word corpus.

“Making an urdu word predictor is a difficult task as gender and tenses are hidden between words and sentences. This explains why there is no good predictor in the market currently. But Raza’s program has been tested using Mirza Ghalib’s poetry and it works well,” explains Rehmani. “This product will not only work as a predictor, but also as a transliterator. It can also convert Roman Urdu to Urdu letters in real time.”

Urdu Word Predictor
During a demonstration of the program to the author, Raza’s beautiful mind is plain to see. He whizzes through the explanation, with his tongue barely keeping up with his racing brain. To a question, he impatiently responds, “I just explained that,” as if the intricate code designed by him is easy to comprehend.
Later, when the demonstration is over, Raza reveals his real interest. “Mathematics – I like solving problems”.
However, Raza’s genius mind and an overly advanced programming skillset has come at a cost. Raza was enrolled in school twice but could not adjust with children of his own age. He was bullied by his classmates and unsurprisingly, by his teachers as well. Consequently, Raza lost interest in school quickly.
“This worries us,” says Rehmani. “Even if the child is a prodigy, he will not be acknowledged unless he has gone through the regular channel of schooling.” However, Dr. Agha explains that he and Rehmani have planned that at some point, Raza will sit for the Matric or O-Level and A-Level exams. Dr. Umar Saif, Vice Chancellor of ITU says that the University will undertake all that is required for Raza to reach his full potential.
Looking at the future, Raza does not want to conduct research for the sake of research. He wants to help take Pakistan forward and create softwares that are recognized globally. “He wants to make a difference for humanity at large. And this can also be seen through his previous projects like the vision based system to catch criminals. He wants to solve real time problems, and I think he will,” says Rehmani.

These Pakistani Students Have Made Life Manageable for Blind People

Studying in the final semester of Software Engineering department at COMSATS University, three students have laid foundation to a groundbreaking idea.

They have developed Optasia, a navigation system for the blind and visually-challenged.
Team members Hashim Naveed, Javeria Rasheed and Faizan Shabbir came up with the idea for Optasia after looking at how Pakistani society treats disabled people. Not enough is being done for blind people in our country and it was time someone changed this with the use of commonly available technology.
Their answer – using a mobile application and a specially designed and customizable cane.
In order to solve a problem that blind people face worldwide, the team from COMSATS decided to design a product that can help the visually-challenged easily navigate from Point A to Point B.

Speaking exclusively to ProPakistan, Javeria Rasheed, a member of the team said:
“Our project is still in testing phase but we are fully committed to turn this [final year project] into a marketable product, to help and assist the less fortunate.”

How Does Optasia Work?

The functionality of this Optasia is fairly simple to comprehend. It requires a smartphone, with the Optasia application installed and synced with the customizable cane.
The smartphone is mounted onto the customized cane, which is equipped with 4 sonar sensors; placed on left, right, front and upper front of the cane. Moreover, there is a hand glove attached to the cane.
When the Optasia application is opened, it automatically detects the location of the blind person through GPS system. Through voice recognition system, the blind person speaks out the destination and the optimal path is calculated by the application.
After the path is selected, the smartphone camera is utilized to guide the blind person towards the destination.

How Will Obstacles Be Detected?

There are two ways through which the blind person can be informed about the obstacles that they encounter in theie path:
1) Via Mobile Application:
Through digital image processing, the camera stream is fetched by the application. By using voice recognization system it alerts the blind person about the incoming hurdles.
2) Via Vibrations:
Another way that Optasia works is through the four sonar sensors equipped on the glove that are always assessing the surroundings. Depending upon the location of the sensor, it sends a vibration to the respective vibrator placed on the glove:
  • Vibration felt on index finger = Obstacle is at lower front.
  • Vibration felt on thumb = Obstacle is at upper front.
  • Vibration felt on pinkie = Obstacle is at left side.
  • Vibration felt on top of the glove = Obstacle is on the right side.

Final Words

Where the world is busy with its capitalistic ideas, working on an idea for the betterment of humankind should be appreciated. For an educational system which offers limited technical assistance to students, an idea of this capability is truly inspirational. With proper support and investment, this startup could turn into a leading aid manufacturer for the blind.

Pakistani Hulk Becomes an Online Celebrity Around the World

If you have been active on social media, there’s no doubt you must have heard of Khizar Hayat Khan, otherwise known as the Pakistani Hulk (a fictional character from Marvel Comics).

People from his village in Mardan often refer to him as Khan Baba.
The guy seems to have gained international fame now thanks to his “outstanding” physique.

About Khizar Hayat Khan

Khizar weighs an unbelievable 436 kilograms (yes, no typos there!) and he is still only 24 years old. He claims to be the strongest man in Pakistan and challenges anyone to come and defeat him in a bout.
He takes 10,000 calories a day. His daily intake includes a buffet of 4 whole chickens, 5 dozen eggs and 5 litres of milk.
Khizar wishes to become an international professional wrestler. To do that, the heavy weightlifter aims to increase his own weight (and size) even further. He wants to be a part of WWE as soon as 2017.
The news has even reached WWE in the US and they say they have announced no plans as of yet to bring him in. But you never know, one of these days it might just come true.

Pakistani Hulk on Social Media

A European site, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), covered Khizar and since then he has become an internet sensation around the world.
Meanwhile you can take a look at the Pakistani Hulk below (courtesy of RFE/RL):
Unfortunately, instead of being famous, people seem to be making fun of him instead.
Some are saying that unlike Hulk you can’t even see a single developed muscle on this guy.
But instead of becoming discouraged, Khizar has his mind set on realizing his dreams.

Final Words

We appreciate the guy’s effort because it is not everyone who harbors big ambitions and tries their best to fulfill them, even when people around them serve to discourage and deter them. Khizar is proving to be an exception to that rule.
We hope he turns all that protein to muscle soon and proves everyone wrong while becoming an international celebrity. That alone will be more than enough to shut down his haters.
Thanks to him, there’s renewed international interest in Pashtoon culture. Where most just equate Pakistan with terrorism, tales like those of Khizar’s are helping fight that negative stereotype in numerous ways.
People from all over the world are keeping an eye on Khizar and whether he will be able to live up to his name of the Incredible Pakistani Hulk. Here’s to hoping he faces John Cena one day.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Careem Introduces Female Captains in Karachi, Lahore And Islamabad

Careem, the cab-hailing app, will now empower women in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad to serve as captains. Through the Main Hoon Azaad! campaign, Careem will be adding female Captains to their rapidly growing fleet.

The service is created specially to cater to the needs of Pakistani women in order to enable them to travel with comfort and convenient, while being completely at ease and stress-free.
Careem will initiate the pilot project with 2 female Captains in Karachi, 3 in Lahore and 1 in Islamabad. Work is underway to expand this project to increase the fleet and introduce more cities in the future.

“This is a unique milestone for us here in Pakistan and we are excited to be the ones leading the movement,” said Junaid Iqbal, General Manager, Careem Pakistan.
“Launching a female Captain service, not only helps create equal employment opportunities but also encourages others to break through cultural and social barriers.”
With a customer base of more than 50%, #MainHoonAzaad is an important step towards women empowerment. Aside from encouraging freedom of mobility, Careem aims to enable women by providing them safe and convenient job opportunities that ensures more financial independence.
As with all Careem trained Captains, female Captains will follow the same rigorous training process where they will be checked and verified according to strict Careem protocols, to ensure high-quality service is delivered to all passengers, regardless of the type of service.
Moreover, Careem has created a separate line in the Captain Support Department to provide efficient on-ground assistance to all female Captains.
Careem is committed to improving the experience of all its customers by providing safety and comfort every time they Careem.

This Brave Pakistani Lady From KPK Is A Member of the Bomb Disposal Unit

KPK’s Rafia Qaseem Baig has become the first woman in Pakistan to join the Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU).

The development is particularly significant, especially in KPK province, where a woman has entered the realm of what is considered a “man’s job”(bomb disposal/firefighting).

What Inspired Her Decision to Join the BDU

She joined the police force as a constable back in 2009.
A bomb blast near the sessions court occurred during her first day on the police force, an incident that motivated her to join the bomb squad.
She will work in the BDU after completing her training, which will last 15 days. Ms. Rafia is taking currently taking her classes in Nowshera’s School of Explosive Handling, along with 31 male trainees.

Not Afraid to Die

She wants to send a message to the world about the bravery of the men and women of KP and says that she isn’t afraid to lose her life.
Rafia adds,
If KP’s women are so daring, imagine what level of courage male soldiers possess. It will be a matter of pride for me and my family if I sacrifice my life for the country while tackling explosives to save people’s lives.
Rafia belongs to the Peshawar district in KP. She has done Masters in Economics and International Relations. She was very happy to be the first woman to volunteer for joining the BDU.
She is currently doing her LLB from the University of Peshawar and wants to appear in the examinations.

Denied Job Offers From Abroad to Serve Her Country

She was in Matani, a place near Peshawar for several days when an operation was being carried out against terrorists in the area. Rafia’s work got her noticed by many multilateral organizations, and they were impressed with how she went on to present a positive image of Pakistan and the KPK police force in particular.
As a result, she received offers from well reputed international organizations and institutions but she denied these to serve her country.
Rafia gained fame earlier this year for singing the national song “Hamara Parcham” at the Yom-e-Shauhada event at Nishtar Hall in Peshawar.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Despite Taliban Opposition, This Waziristan Girl Became the Top Rated Pakistani Squash Player

Did you know that Maria Toorpakia Wazir, a Pakistani girl, is ranked 56th among the best female squash players of the world?

And thats not the most remarkable thing – she had to face some huge challenges along the way – to become what she is today.
In fact, to evade religious extremists (Taliban) who frequented her area, she used to play squash dressed as a boy, calling herself Genghis Khan as she honed her sports skills.

The Story of Maria Toorpakia Wazir

Maria grew up in Waziristan, which was once considered as the home to the Taliban. Her hometown is not welcoming of women expressing themselves outside the houses. Extremists living there regularly denounce women playing sports as un-Islamic.
“I could feel that girls are not equally treated as boys. They are enslaved.”
Maria did not have an ordinary childhood. Her narrative was that women can achieve great things as well, if given the opportunity. She took that narrative to heart, and achieved what she always wanted by playing squash and getting ranked worldwide.

Maria’s Early Childhood

At the age of 4, she burned all her girly clothes and cut her hair to fit in with her brothers. That was the day, when Maria’s father gave her the nickname of Changez Khan aka Genghis Khan, one of the greatest warriors to have ever lived.
Maria was enrolled in a local gym under the identity of a boy, by her father, who also supported his daughter’s ambitions. She would train there and ultimately get ready for the next step.
Maria in action at the gym, disguised as a boy.
To defy all the odds, Toorpakai’s father played a prominent role. Shamsul Qayyum Wazir is a tribal leader who belongs to a prominent political family in their hometown.
“My father is really progressive,” Toorpakai says. “He raised my brothers and us equally, as sons and daughters come from the same womb.
He educated my mum, supported my sister to become the prominent Pakistani politician she is today and helped me to become a professional squash player.”

How She Prepared for Squash

Early in her career, when she was still disguised as a boy, she focused on weightlifting. At the age of 12, she was ranked number 2 in all of Pakistan for weightlifting in the junior division.
Not long after that she discovered her passion for squash. She went on to take an admission in a academy, based in Peshawar. The academy required a birth certificate for the enrollment process, where her true identity was revealed.
Maria claims that she was fortunate because the director of the academy also shared the same values as her father. He proceeded to hand her the squash racket.

Life In Danger

Things started changing drastically for Maria after her identity was revealed to the world. She claimed in an interview with the local press that she did not feel respected in the academy and in her hometown.

Her prayers were finally answered one day when the former number 1, Jonathan Power, returned her e-mail. He offered Maria a way out; to come and join him in Toronto and train with him.
Jonathan Power training Maria at a tournament in Pakistan, 2013.
Without having a shred of a doubt in her mind, Maria decided to leave Pakistan and has ever since been living in Canada in order to peruse her dreams.
Maria’s father claims that he is delighted for his daughter and hopes that she becomes a role model for the young girls in the Muslim community. He said that he hopes that the moderate face of the tribal people is also promoted alongside, which guarded Maria’s dream when all was lost.
He said,

“Given the opportunity, there could be thousand Maria’s.”

Fazal Mohammad – A Tale From Baluchistan

If you were to come across Fazal Mohammad on the street, you would gather little from his outlook. The persistence and determination that runs through his veins only becomes evident once you discover his story. This 21-year old who hails from the Khuzdar district in Baluchistan is an auto mechanic by profession. As the third of six brothers in his family, Fazal has a responsibility to provide for his family in a community where there are such individuals who don’t consider the concept of following your passions a practical approach towards life.
Inspired by Waseem Jhang – a popular footballer in his area, Fazal started to play football in 2004. Through continuous practice and persistence, he developed skills that landed him on the district team. Having gained the attention of his seniors, he was selected for a regional tournament in 2010 where he scored two goals against Afghanistan and Kuwait each. He now plays for the Junior national football team. However, this does not mean that life has rewarded him with everything he could have ever dreamed of as challenges continue to be plenty for Fazal.
Footballer Fazal Mohammad
Sadly, Khuzdar lacks standard football grounds, coaches, clubs, and players. Even for something as minor as sports shoes that many of us would take for granted. Through all this, Fazal continues to have a positive outlook. While striking a balance between what he loves and how he earns a living, he also makes time to stay fit and advises other aspiring footballers to stay away from smoking and other habits that are injurious to health.
Considering the sport doesn’t get as much attention as many others in the country, footballers are also grossly underpaid making it difficult for Fazal to pursue his passion while coming from a humble background. Through sheer determination, Fazal has started to make a name for himself in the world of football. In his own words, he attributes much of his success to everything he has learned from his seniors and advises upcoming players to respect their seniors and consider their suggestions to learn better football techniques.