Highlights from Facebook F8

The annual Facebook’s F8 developer conference was held on 18th April 2017 at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California. More than 4000 people attended this year’s conference and millions watched the keynote via Facebook Live. In case you missed, here are some of the highlights of the conference:

1. Camera Effects Platform: Mark Zuckerberg opened the conference with a keynote about how camera is the first mainstream augmented reality (AR) platform. He introduced the Camera Effects Platform and two products, namely:

• Frames Studio, an online creative editor that allows users to design frames that can be used either as profile picture frames or in the new Facebook camera.

• AR Studio (now in beta) used to create masks, scripted effects, animated frames and other AR technologies that react to movement, the environment or interactions during live videos.

They also unveiled a new camera for recording VR through “Surround 360” technology. Two models – the X24 and X6 will help record 360-degree video footage for experiencing through the VR kit.

Facebook is also planning an AI-infused camera across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. They also launched Caffe2 — an open source deep learning framework to build and run AI algorithms on a phone.

2. Facebook Spaces: Facebook Spaces is a new virtual reality (VR) app where users can hang out with friends with virtual elements in a virtual space with real-world backgrounds. You can draw imaginary lines in that air, take selfies with your virtually generated friends and do a direct video call with another friend through Messenger’s video calling facility.

3. Messenger bots: Chatbot is the new buzzword in the tech space. Facebook announced the addition of a flurry of new features to the platform. These include the Discover Tab that will help users to find the bot for Messenger they’re looking for. Chat Extensions will allow multiple people to chat with the same business at the same time. One of the most exciting announcements is that both Spotify and Apple Music are coming to the platform. Messenger’s AI powered voice assistant, M will now help users with suggestions to improve their communication experience on the app. Smart Replies is an another feature which will help Pages to respond to the most frequently asked questions – such as business hours, directions and contact details. Finally, Hand-over Protocol, a new way for businesses to work with multiple developers for different experiences on Messenger.

4. Building 8: The Building 8, Facebook’s product development and research team lead by Regina Dugan is working on developing what the company calls silent speech communication. The project is focusing on two areas:

• Typing with your brain: The project will enable computers to read human thought and turn them into words. According to Facebook, you shall be able to write 100 words per minute by only thinking about the content in your mind. That can be achieved by decoding neural code through additional hardware and software that can be embedded in the current communication input system.

• Hearing through your skin: They are also working on a project to let people hear through their skins. The team feels that 2 square meter of skin available on our bodies can be a great medium in receiving massive amounts of information through a combination of hardware and software dedicated to the activity.

Some of the other announcements include the launch of Places Graph, Developer Circles, Identity & new capabilities in Facebook Analytics. Zuckerberg also mentioned that the team in Arizona is working on conducting the second test of its solar powered drone Aquila.

The Pandas would like to hear from you, too. What was exciting about this year’s F8 Conference ? Your recommendations and suggestions?

What is the big deal? – Flipkart & eBay India

On 10th April 2017, Flipkart made announced that they would acquire eBay India for $1.4 billion, with the help of funds raised from Microsoft, Tencent and eBay. With the latest round of investment, Flipkart’s valuation now stands at a massive $11.6 billion. So what is the big deal between Flipkart acquiring eBay India ? Is it only to compete with Amazon India ?

Let’s look into the history !

eBay India was born in 2004, when eBay acquired Baazee. At that time, the concept of online shopping was unheard of for a large number of Indians. E-bay has a first mover advantage but it failed to use it. They failed to focus on diversifying & evolving with the changing face of India’s ecommerce industry and stayed dormant for years. But Flipkart on the other hand successfully, realized the potential of the market and expanded rapidly into the Indian market. But, the market saw new entrants including e-commerce giant Amazon entering into the Indian market. Flipkart acquired LetsBuy.com in 2012, Myntra.com in 2014, Jabong in 2016 and payment start-up PhonePe in 2016. These deals have helped Flipkart expand both its seller and customer base.

Reports suggest that Flipkart is looking forward to acquire Snapdeal in the near future. The acquisition also helps Flipkart present itself as the sole alternative to Amazon to investors and customers. This may create a duopoly market for e-commerce in India. But new players like ShopClues and PayTM are turning out to be strong players in the market.

Strategic Move

The deal has also set the stage for a faceoff between some of the world’s biggest technology corporations on Indian turf. Amazon competes with eBay (in e-commerce) and Microsoft (in technology) in US and Tencent competes with Alibaba in China. Both Microsoft and Tencent will also be able to offer Flipkart the technology and market expertise in needs. SoftBank is an investor in Alibaba and also the largest investor in Snapdeal.

eBay India will continue to operate as an independent entity as a part of Flipkart. Flipkart and eBay have also signed an exclusive cross-border trade agreement. This is a strategic move because customers of Flipkart will gain access to the global inventory on eBay, while eBay’s customers will have access to unique Indian inventory provided by Flipkart sellers. This will allow Flipkart indirectly attack Amazon in its home turf. Flipkart has now raised a total of $4.6 billion, close to Amazon’s $5 billion capital commitment for India.

The Pandas believe that the deal is certainly a landmark for the Indian e-commerce industry. Especially after the rise in digital wallets transaction, more people are shopping online and the industry is expected to grow rapidly. Thus, the competition is expected to intensify and the deal is going to make the market more challenging.

Regulated Isolation

“It is not easy to find happiness in our self, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere” – Agnes Repplier

Dude!! Let’s go to the party this weekend – Requests a friend
Students, do this assignment by today evening – Orders a teacher
You should go to your cousins house warming ceremony next week – Command your mom
Prepare this report by tomorrow – instructs your boss

Unorganized thoughts, unhindered tasks, incomplete assignments, unsympathetic environment and the most disastrous UNCONTROLLABLE EMOTIONS. What are you going to do? How are you going to manage?

ISOLATION is the only way out. By isolation, I doesn’t mean social isolation or personal isolation. It means, isolation from the present environment. To take time for yourself. To ponder on your self-thoughts, emotions and actions. Most importantly, to revive your goals, ambitions and vision in your life.

Siddhartha, after watching a dead man, poor man and an ascetic, left all the princely comforts to begin an ascetic life. After 6 years of isolation and intense meditation, he transformed into Gautama Buddha and established Buddhism. Isolation from the environment has transformed Siddhartha into Buddha.

America, from 1930 to 1945 isolated itself from world politics and returned as a gem in World War II. India, after Independence, has preferred non alignment policy instead of joining US or USSR. And now we have cordial relations with both the countries. China, which has been in isolation for major part of the history strengthening its culture and economy, is flexing its diplomatic muscle over the world politics.

Steve jobs after being isolated from Apple (1985-1997), has revived it after returning to the office. He always assets that the life is all about connecting the dots. But, to connect those dots, you need isolation. Jeffery J Fox in his book “How to become CEO” asks us to think daily for one hour. Robin Sharma, in his book The Monk who sold his Ferrari, directs us to maintain a dream book and revive it regularly. So, all my dear friends, if not for years, at least get isolated for half an hour and THINK about your future and impending goals. (Don’t forget to put off notifications from Facebook, Twitter, mails and most importantly WhatsApp!!)

The Lithium Race: Why India needs to hunt

On 8th April 2017, the Indian government has asked Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to develop a framework to allow interested players including from private sector to obtain the technology to mass produce Lithium-Ion batteries. Now, why is this very important strategic move from India’s point of view ?

Lithium is the lightest metal on the periodic table of the elements and a superb conductor. It is now used to make batteries which are commonly used in mobile phones, solar power plants as well as electric vehicles. One of the main advantages of Lithium-ion batteries is that they have high energy density and have a rate of self-discharge which is much lower than that of other rechargeable cells-Ni-Cad and NiMH forms. Therefore, lithium is a strategic metal.

However, India unfortunately doesn’t have any reserves of lithium. The cost of Lithium-ion batteries is very high. India has to completely depend on lithium rich countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan on exports for the battery storage system – whether for electric vehicles or for using solar energy for electricity or in portable electronic devices. This is a big disadvantage for India. India also has plans to reach out to countries like Bolivia, Argentina and Chile (“lithium triangle”) which hold the world’s greatest reserves of the lithium metal. But this doesn’t reduce costs.

India has an ambitious target of 100 GW of solar power generation by 2022 which also includes 40 GW from rooftop solar. The roof-top plants will also require batteries for storage, if the institution or household desires to store the solar energy. The government is also pushing for the use of electric vehicles to reduce air pollution, which has become one of the major health concerns.

Last year, the Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CECRI), Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu, set up the first indigenous Li-ion fabrication facility that has applications in defence, solar powered devices, railways and other high end usages. Similarly, The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre under ISRO has developed indigenous technology to manufacture such high-power batteries for automobiles and their feasibility tests in vehicles have been successful.

Thus the Pandas believe that if India is able to produce “Make in India” Lithium-ion batteries the cost will come down. Production from few private players will not be sufficient. The cost will come down only when we will have huge production to meet the demand.

Working for a Japanese firm – Isuzu Motors Pvt. Ltd

“naku neko nezumi o toranu” is a famous saying in Japanese. Which means that a loud cat doesn’t catch mice. Japanese belief in this principle might be the reason why the entire office is mostly silent. The organisation is entirely formal and the roles are the employees are watertight. Cross talk across the departments and the break between the works is minimal in the office. Strict discipline is adopted across the organisation and any deviation from the rules is sternly discouraged. However they extend huge respect to their fellow employees.

To understand the nitty-gritties of their working culture, I had to compare Japanese culture with the Indian and American using Hofstede cultural dimension theory. The analysis proved why Japan has the third world economy in the world with just 1.7% of world population. Their long-term focus, avoidance of uncertainty and achievement orientation motivates them to improve productivity and thereby increase profits.

Japan’s score (95) in masculinity is very high when compared to India (56) and USA (62). Which means that the value system is driven by achievements, accomplishments and the perfection is achieved through their work. This is the primary reason why Japan has successfully recovered from Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks. They may spend less than 8 hrs. outside the work but never defer on the deliverables to the company. Working overtime without any higher pay is routine for Japanese.

Uncertainty Avoidance and long term orientation scores are also exceptionally high when compared to USA and India. Japanese consider their life to be very short in the overall history of mankind. So they try to make the most of it by constantly adopting to the ever changing environment. They also believe in serving the overall society in this short span than to focus on their personal goals. This leads to the final criteria of individualism. This implies that the Japanese firms wholeheartedly take care of their employees which in turn improves productivity.

Though Japanese firms are achievement oriented, they never neglect the welfare of their employees. Maintaining a thin line of balance between the both is the uniqueness of Japanese corporate culture.

The Low Cost Space Race – SpaceX vs ISRO ?

On 15th February 2017, ISRO’s PSLV-C37 successfully launched 104 Satellites in a single rocket making a new world record. A month later, SpaceX reused it’s reusable rocket and landed it back successfully. Both companies are marching towards success and the question is “Who is going to be the winner in the low cost Space Race ?”

It’s not easy to compare SpaceX and ISRO because, SpaceX is a private organisation and ISRO a government body. They have their own goals. Space X has enormous funding to burn in R&D. ISRO is innovative in cheap payloads but is not market driven. It has a mandate from the Department of Space to be India’s primary launch-service provider. It has to fulfil the needs of the government first and then the private entities.

ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is a low-medium lift launch vehicle with 39 launches (as of 15 February 2017) with a success rate of 95%. It can carry a maximum payload of 1,400 kg to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). ISRO is charging only 60 percent of the rates compared to other space programs.

SpaceX Falcon 9 is a much more powerful rocket than PSLV. It can carry payloads upto 8,300 kg to GTO. The rocket has a reusable booster that can be landed back to predetermined sites and then retrieved and transported back so that it can be used again. Costs could then be reduced since new boosters don’t have to be made for each launch. According to Elon Musk, the reusable Falcon 9 rockets can drastically cut spaceflight costs “by a factor of 100”, making the company a low-cost game-changer in the satellite market. ISRO PSLV cost $15 million to launch whereas SpaceX Falcon 9 costs around $62 million as cited by various sources.

One advantage for ISRO is that SpaceX is still yet to master the technology. ISRO has a higher success rate and a more reliable rocket. ISRO may have more success with the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) which is currently being developed. It is essentially India’s space shuttle. The RLV might be a low cost alternative, if reusable boosters could be incorporated with it. ISRO is also developing GSLV Mk III with a payload capacity of 4,000 kg to GTO. If the booster can be reused, the GLSV might be turn out be a major competitor of Falcon 9.

SpaceX is hiring some of the best talents with high salary from the US whereas ISRO is struggling in this area. They are planning to land men on Mars and make preparations for their living while ISRO has no plans for these missions in the near future.

Both ISRO and SpaceX must also look into new companies waiting to enter into the industry. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin has announced plans to develop first full-scale BE-4 rocket engine — the main engine the company plans to use to propel its future orbital rocket. In future, more companies like Boeing, Virgin Galactic, and Lockheed Martin could enter the industry with cost effective rockets.

The Pandas think that bottomline of the space race programs is cost reduction. Both SpaceX and ISRO have a lot to learn from each other. Most companies are looking for the most cost effective way of launching their satellites into space – and the one that offers the most efficient launch vehicle would be the clear winner.

Obsession of Adventurism

There were days when each moment was considered an adventure. Those were the days when adventure was a necessity rather than leisure. In the Iron Age hunting was a necessity but from the early 1800s, it’s been an adventure. So is river rafting. Before Fulton Robert invented the steam boat, crossing a river was a necessary evil! Now?? It’s an exhilarating thrill.

No wonder the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) predicted that the major share (57%) of tourism would be occupied by adventure sports. Also, the overall growth of this industry is pegged at around 50% year on year. So, where there is wealth, there is a Business. Not just the services such as river rafting, trekking, hiking, etc., but the spill over effects opens up a Pandora of opportunities for a sustainable growth of industry.

Now the question is how this industry is growing at such a fast pace when the overall economy is slowing down. There are an umpteen number of reasons. The rise in average disposable income, saturation of other options for leisure, ever increasing stress levels are forcing a middle class person to look for adventure sports. More than all the above stated factors, the latest fad of spending a holiday in adventure trips, is attracting the youth. It’s a new “cool factor” to share the pictures of hiking, trekking, solo travelling, bungee jumping on social media. And yeah they are considered the coolest friends of all.

And that cool factor is what companies are cashing in on. Royal Enfield positioned themselves as adventure vehicles and recorded a sales growth of 50% in 2015. Whether the person is adventurous or not, they created a buzz that owing a Royal Enfield makes you an adventurous MAN. Isuzu Motors has come up with a new vehicle D-Max V-Cross only for Adventure seekers for off road riding. They built a Manufacturing plant in India anticipating a huge potential for this segment. So, whether you are a real adventurist or not, you are directly or indirectly, contributing to the profitability of these companies.

The reason to get up in the morning

“If you can’t fly, then run;
If you can’t run, then walk;
If you can’t walk, then crawl;
But whatever you do, you have to keep going”
-Martin Luther King Jr.

World came into existence around 13.6 billion years ago according to Big Bang Theory. Life began around 4 billion years ago. So, there is an enormous probability that a particular person would have taken any life form. In other words, there is very less probability to take a form of human being in this generation as a Millennial. Where there is unlimited access to information, unhindered rights to fundamental freedom etc., so there is a purpose to fill in everyone’s life and to fulfil that, one needs to get up in every morning.

Though the civilization has evolved through generations, we still have many challenges to be resolved around us. According to WHO, 5 woman die per every hour during pregnancy and 1 woman die every hour due to dowry related issues. India still has highest number of child deaths in the world. Gandhi says that it’s the duty of every educated person to lift the downtrodden from his poverty. For this, we need to get up every morning.

Demonetization and its efficacy

Sometimes, thought the target is missed, prize is won. Demonetization drive started as a drive to alleviate the circulation of black money in the economy. But, it resulted in improvement in usage of digital payment systems and reduction in interest rates by most banks. However, there was a short term reduction in GDP growth rate and escalation of unemployment due to decline in demand.

In the analysis carried out by Mint, the industries such as Mining, Metals and Machinery were not affected by demonetisation. Most affected were customer facing industries like consumer goods sector. Consumer electronics and domestic appliances were badly hit. There was also a 30% fall in house prices in metropolitan and Tier 1 cities. So, due to temporary slowdown of economy, IMF slashed India’s growth forecast by 0.4% for next fiscal.

According to RBI, banks have received around Rs. 5 trillion by 18th November, 2016. Leveraging this opportunity, online payments systems promoted their brands and improved their market share. Paytm saw a fivefold increase user base after demonetisation and so have do other companies like Mobikwik, Ola Money etc., Government also swung into action through their digital payment systems like BHIM and UPI. However, the continuation in usage of digital payment systems is yet to be seen.

Should religion be given a say in the process of law-making

Preamble of the Indian Constitution stipulates that India is a secular country. It is supported by Article 25 of Part III which provides freedom of conscience and free practice, propagation and profession of religion. Also, Indian way of secularism means that India is non-religious and not anti or irreligious. So the state supports all the religions without any favouritism.

India is a birth place of many religions. Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism are born here. Christianity and Islam are also widely practised in India. Furthermore there are many cultures and traditions which are imbibed our society. Not considering the voice of religion in such a multi diverse society is an act of ignorance. All the laws governing the personal life of citizens are based on the religion. For example, Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and The Muslim Women Act, 1968 are promulgated respecting the religious values of citizens.

According to the sociologists, like Robert. K. Merton, who believe in functionalism, religion is a part of society and cannot function without it. However, this doesn’t mean that religion takes the centre stage as in case of some Islamic countries. Religion should evolve itself with by complimenting and contradicting laws in any society.