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XBOX SERIES X

What is Xbox?

Xbox is a video gaming brand created and owned by Microsoft. It represents a series of video game consoles developed by Microsoft, with three consoles released in the sixth, seventh, and eighth generations, respectively. The brand also represents applications (games), streaming services, and an online service by the name of Xbox Live and the development arm by the name of Xbox Game Studios. The brand was first introduced in the United States in November 2001, with the launch of the original Xbox console.

History

The original device was the first video game console offered by an American company after the Atari Jaguar stopped sales in 1996. It reached over 24 million units sold as of May 2006. Microsoft’s second console, the Xbox 360, was released in 2005 and has sold 84 million units as of June 2014. The Xbox One has been released in 21 markets in total, with a Chinese release in September 2014.

Xbox series X

With Microsoft unveiling its next-gen Xbox Series X console, and Sony readying its own rival in the shape of the PS5 and PS5 Digital Edition, 2020 is officially year of the 8K games console.

Microsoft teased its new console at the E3 games conference in June 2019 and it’s set to go on sale ‘Holiday 2020’. Originally codenamed ‘Project Scarlett’, it now goes by its official name: Xbox Series X, complete with a new Xbox Series X logo. 

Xbox Series X promises four times the power of the Xbox One X and is being billed by Microsoft as the “fastest, most powerful games console ever”. To match that dramatic leap in performance, the Series X gets a new ‘tall tower’ design and new wireless controller.

Specifications

The Xbox series X will have a more processing power and graphics power- more than six teraflops, at least. A statement on the Microsoft blog claimed that the series X will pack more times more power than the already formidable Xbox One X. Microsoft also claims that the series X will come with an 8-core AMD Zen 2 processor, an AMD RDNA 2 GPU capable of pushing 12 teraflops of power, 16 GB memory and an expandable 1TB SSD for storage. It will match the capability of PC rigs costing thousands of pounds.

Based on what the Xbox team members have said in an interview, the next-gen Xbox will be able to run 4 Xbox One X games simultaneously. Games running in 4K at 60fps will be normal, with some even running at 120fps and 8K resolutions, of course, in this case one game at a time.

Some sources also say that the series X will be more powerful than the PS 5, and moreover Phil Spencer has promised that the next Xbox is going to “set the benchmark” for console gaming.

Price

 At present we can only speculate, letting the price of current consoles guide us, or have faith in the latest Xbox Series X price rumour which suggests we could be looking at $200 for the digital edition and $400 for the flagship console.

Given the Xbox One X launched with a price tag of £450/$500 and currently costs around £350/$363, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the new flagship creep over the £500/$550 price point. After all, it’s promising to be the most powerful Xbox we’ve seen.

However, Microsoft will also have the new Sony PS5 in the back of its mind. It wouldn’t want to launch Xbox Series X only to be undercut by its main rival. The PS5 is rumoured to be as much as £500/$550, so it’ll be interesting to see which console comes in at the lower price. Ultimately, we’d bet their prices on being fairly similar – although the digital-only, disc-less PS5 and rumoured disc-less ‘Xbox Lockhart’ will naturally be cheaper than the full-specifications versions of the consoles.

Games

The games that are to release for the Xbox series X include – Cyberpunk 2077, Halo Infinite 2020, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Madden NFL 21, Watch Dogs: Legion, Starfield, Scorn, Dirt 5 202, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Quarantine, among many others.

Backward Compatibility

Microsoft has announced that it is working on backwards compatibility for the Xbox Series X. If this feature is introduced, it will let players play the best versions of games from across four generations of Xbox on Xbox Series X. The company is also looking towards adding HDR (high dynamic range) imaging. The games will run at higher resolutions and improved framerates on Xbox Series X. Frame rates of some titles will be doubled from 30fps to 60fps or from 60fps to 120fps.

The new console will be best suitable for playing old games as the backward-compatible titles run natively on the Xbox Series X hardware, processing with the full power of the CPU, GPU, and the SSD. So, it is expected that the games will load faster on Xbox Series X. The company claims, “With more than 100,000 hours of play-testing already completed, thousands of games are already playable on Xbox Series X today, from the biggest blockbusters to cult classics and fan favorites.”

Release Date

The Xbox series X will release in time for Christmas 2020, as per Microsoft said. But a more specific date is yet to be announced. Although the E3 2020 has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but during Microsoft’s third-party games reveal, it was said that many of the games would be released in October, so it stands to reason the console will launch then.

DARJEELING

Location

Darjeeling is a city and a municipality in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is located in the Lesser Himalayas at an elevation of 2,000 metres (6,700 ft). It is noted for its tea industry, its views of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain, and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Darjeeling is the headquarters of the Darjeeling district which has a partially autonomous status called Gorkhaland Territorial Administration within the state of West Bengal. It is also a popular tourist destination in India.

History

The recorded history of the town starts from the early 19th century when the colonial administration under the British Raj set up a sanatorium and a military depot in the region. Subsequently, extensive tea plantations were established in the region and tea growers developed hybrids of black tea and created new fermentation techniques. The resultant distinctive Darjeeling tea is internationally recognised and ranks among the most popular black teas in the world.The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway connects the town with the plains and has some of the few steam locomotives still in service in India.

Darjeeling has several British-style private schools, which attract pupils from all over India and a few neighbouring countries. The varied culture of the town reflects its diverse demographic milieu comprising Lepcha, Khampa, Gorkha, Newar, Sherpa, Bhutia, Bengali and other mainland Indian ethno-linguistic groups. Darjeeling, alongside its neighbouring town of Kalimpong, was the centre of the Gorkhaland social movement in the 1980s and summer 2017.

How to go

By air: The nearest airport to Darjeeling is Bagdogra which is approximately 95 km away from the city. There are some direct flights from the cities like Kolkata, Delhi and Guwahati to Darjeeling. From the airport, one can reach the city by hiring taxis. It will take almost 3 hours to reach Darjeeling from the airport. Flights are available from all major cities.

By rail: The nearest railway station to Darjeeling is New Jalpaiguri which connects the city with all the major parts of the country. There are a number of trains from cities like Kolkata, Delhi, Guwahati, Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Bhubaneshwar and Kochi. People can hire private cabs from the station to reach Darjeeling.

By road: Darjeeling is well connected to some of the major cities closeby such as Gangtok and Kalimpong which are located at a distance of 100 km and 51 km respectively. The city is also connected with Kolkata which is 651 km away and it takes around 14 hours to reach here. The capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu is just 310 KM away from this beautiful place.

Places to visit

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway:  A visit to the city of Darjeeling is incomplete without a joyride at the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway toy train. Moving at a snail pace over the hilly terrain, it is an experience no one wants to miss.

Tiger Hill: If you want to witness the first rays of sun hitting the twin peaks of Kangchenjunga, along with a panoramic view of Everest peeping through the peaks standing by its side, then Tiger Hills make for a perfect sunrise for you. You can see Kurseong to the south along with multiple rivers flowing down. Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary is another nearby attraction you could visit – the place inhabits various high-altitude animals and bird.

Batasia Loop: Located around 5 km from Darjeeling, Batasia loop is a spiral railway track where the toy train takes a complete 360 degree turn. The toy train descends by 1,000 ft. as it completes the loop through a large circular area.

Darjeeling Ropeway: Darjeeling Ropeway is a cable car circuit where one can witness a myriad of exquisite landscapes, from the glorious snow-capped mountains to the charming valley replete with verdant tea estates.

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute: The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, commonly known as HMI Darjeeling, was established on November 4, 1954 primarily to encourage mountaineering as an organized sport in India. HMI regularly conducts Adventure, Basic and Advanced levels of mountaineering courses which are very comprehensive courses. These courses are highly subsidised to encourage mountaineering as a sport.

Nightingle Park: This park was earlier called ‘The Shrubbery’ when it was a private courtyard. The park was closed for renovation for about four years and has reopened for public since 2011. There is a giant statue of Lord Shiva, a musical fountain along with the great scenery.

Darjeeling Rock Garden: The Rock Garden or the Barbotey Garden as it’s commonly known is located a little far from the city around ~10 km away. The benches in the garden are made by cutting rocks at different levels.

River rafting in Teesta:  White Water Rafting in the River Teesta is one of the most exciting things to do in Darjeeling. A favourite among the adventure junkies, the rafting has a series of rapids ranging from Grade 1 to 4. However, the difficult rapids are only allowed to the professionals or the seasonal trainers as it is risky. You should definitely try this activity when in Darjeeling.

Why should you visit Darjeeling?

View of Himalayas: Darjeeling offers some breath taking panoramas from almost any guesthouse or hotel in town that has a roof terrace. Try Magnolia Residency for a hearty breakfast and amazing sunrise views, or follow the pilgrims out to Tiger Hill for stunning vistas of the snow-capped mountain Kanchenjunga. Like a guard that towers over the town and standing at 8,598 metres, it is India’s highest peak and the third highest in the word. If you are lucky on a clear day you might even catch a glimpse of Mount Everest glinting in the distance as Tibetan prayer flags flutter around you in the breeze.

Tea: A visit to Darjeeling would not be complete without sampling a steaming hot cup of the internationally acclaimed Darjeeling tea. With a distinct flavour like no other tea it is best served black, with no milk or sugar to distract from the delicate flavours said to have notes of apricot and toasted nuts; And when you have had enough of drinking the tea, head down to Happy Valley Tea Estate, (an organic farm and member of the ethical tea board) for a guided tour of their tea factory. By the time you leave you will know the difference between whole leaf, first blush and oxidisation like a seasoned pro. Once the tour is finished, be sure to take a long walk through the tea terraces for spectacular views and a glimpse of the tea pickers in action. The Happy Valley Factory tour is free, running from 8am-4pm every day except Sunday. If you can, try to arrive before 11.30am to see the pickers at work in the fields.

Colourful houses: Nothing sums up Darjeeling’s character and atmosphere quite like its collection of pastel-hued houses stacked up almost on top of each other – clinging to the hillside in a type of ramble shackle beauty. Walks around town and further afield will throw up houses in all shades of the rainbow – the perfect setting for the vibrant culture of the people who live here.

Taste of Britain: If you are feeling nostalgic for good ol’ British cucumber sandwiches and cream scones then Darjeeling will satisfy all your cravings. Formally a military hill station set up by the British armed forces in the mid 19th century, they left their imprint on the place in the form of Afternoon Tea. Darjeeling is still home to a few colonial style hotels that serve up traditional British fare like cheese and pickle sandwiches, Victoria sponge and of course lashing of locally grown Darjeeling tea. Try the Windamere Hotel for a step back in time and have high tea served to you while warming your bones in front of their open coal fire.

The food: Being a border town with so many fascinating neighbouring cuisines it is no wonder Darjeeling has so much to offer for your taste buds. For truly Indian flavours you can sample crispy Dosas served with hot samba and coconut chutney at the tourist hot spot Hasty Tasty. This place also has spectacular views over the mountains. For more international tastes warm up with a hearty bowl of Tibetan Thukpa (soup made with noodles, meat and broth) and deliciously plump Momos (dumplings filled with meat or vegetables) and wash it all down with a cup of sweet and salty Yak Butter Tea. Visit the family run restaurant Kunga – a favourite among the locals and known for truly authentic Tibetan flavours.

MANALI

Location

Manali is a resort town nestled in the mountains of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh near the northern end of the Kullu Valley in the Beas River Valley. It is located in the Kullu district, about 270 km north of the state capital, Shimla, 309 km north east of Chandigarh and 544 km northeast of Delhi, the national capital. The small town, with a population of 8,096, is the beginning of an ancient trade route to Ladakh and from there over the Karakoram Pass on to Yarkand and Khotan in the Tarim Basin. It is a popular tourist destination and serves as the gateway to Lahaul and Spiti district as well as Leh.

History

Manali is named after the Sanatan Hindu lawgiver Manu. The name Manali is regarded as the derivative of ‘Manu-Alaya’ which literally means ‘the abode of Manu’. Legend has it that sage Manu stepped off his ark in Manali to recreate human life after a great flood had deluged the world. Manali lies in the North of Kullu Valley. The valley is often referred to as the ‘Valley of the Gods’. Old Manali village has an ancient temple dedicated to sage Manu.

The British introduced apple trees in the area. The first apple orchard was set up by the British near Patlikuhal, before this, no Apple trees grew in the area. To this day, apple— along with plum and pear— remain the best source of income for the majority of inhabitants. Both Rainbow and Brown Trout was also introduced into the rivers and streams of the area by the colonisers.

With the increase in disposable incomes and somewhat owing to the rise of disturbances in Kashmir in the late 1980s, Manali witnessed a surge in tourist traffic. This once quiet village was transformed into a bustling town with numerous homestays as well as the occasional boutique hotel. During the warmer summer months, cafes and restaurants can be seen doing brisk business.

How to go

By air: The nearest airport is at Bhuntar, located approximately 50 kilometres away from Manali. Domestic flights connect Bhuntar with Delhi and Chandigarh. Once at the airport, you can take a pre-paid taxi to Manali. However, owing to weather conditions, flights are not the most reliable option for getting to or out of Manali.

By bus: Manali is very well-connected to important tourist destinations like Leh, Shimla, Kullu, Dharamshala and New Delhi by means of a network of state-run as well as private buses. The bus journey from Delhi to Manali is 550 kilometres, and it is advisable to book your tickets in the air-conditioned Volvo coaches, as the buses are more comfortable than ordinary ones, keeping in mind the long distance of the journey.

By road/self-drive: The drive up to Manali is simply breathtaking! You can catch scenic glimpses of the adjoining mountains and valleys from almost every turn that the twisty uphill road throws you in. Though a lot of tourists prefer a self-drive up to Manali, it is advisable to hire a taxi in case you are not comfortable with driving in mountainous regions.

Popular Places:

Solang Valley: A valley between the Beas Kund and the Solang village tends to be a favorite for all its visitors as well as the locals. Also known as the Snow point, the Solang valley is famous not only for the glaciers and snow-clad landscapes but also for the countless activities that one can enjoy here.

Rohtang Pass: Rohtang pass is the stretch which connects Manali to Himachal’s dreamier and dessert like landscapes, Spiti and Lahaul, and is one itself. This vast snow desert is a landscape like only a few other and a view one should not miss, while here.

Beas Kund Trek: The Beas Kund trek is a perfect weekend getaway trek with outstanding views of Pir Pinjal mountain ranges over the Beas River. Let your soul get wooed by the spectacular meadows of Dhundi and Bakarthach and finally, the glacial lake at Beas Kund which is worth all the hiking.

Paragliding: The hillside town of Manali is famous for paragliding. At 2050 metres above sea level, it is an ultimate location for the sport, with its beautiful green valleys, stark blue skies, and snow-capped mountain peaks. The picture-perfect valley boasts of ideal wind conditions for paragliding and is thronged by both international and domestic tourists. Starting with a basic training course, the operators are well organized, competent and trustworthy.

Hadimba Temple: Hadimba temple, away from the hustle and bustle of city life, is a peaceful place surrounded by towering deodar trees. The temple is dedicated to Hidimba, the wife of Bhima, one of the five Pandava princes from the great Indian epic Mahabharata. The main attraction of the temple is the three day Hidimba Devi Festival, which attracts devotees from all over the world and features colourful folk dance performances.

Skiing: A major tourist spot of North India, Manali is known for its excellent skiing conditions with skiing enthusiasts visiting from all over the country. The undulating slopes of Solang Valley and Rohtang Pass offer a perfect terrain for amateurs to learn their first move while an ideal grounds for professional skiing in Manali. So, if you are an adventure lover, leave yourself in the hands of your professional trainers to feel the thrill of skiing in the picturesque setting of Manali.

Chandratal Baralacha Lake: Chandratal Baralacha is a perfect trek destination steeped with all the right elements – nature’s beauty and enough challenges to be thrilling and tranquillity. Perched at an altitude of 4,300 meters, Chandratal is one of the high altitude lakes in the Himalayan region. Located on the Samudra Plateau of Spiti Valley, the most delightful sight of sunset gleaming upon the turquoise waters of the lake, pristine landscape, mountain passes, several gushing streams, verdant meadows, the gush of colourful orchards and exotic wildlife make Chandratal Baralacha Trek an unforgotten experience to cherish forever.

Why visit Manali?

Trekking Trails: Trekking is one of the most popular activities that many people love to do because it makes them feel more adventurous and close to Mother Nature. Manali is considered a paradise for trekking enthusiasts as it is the starting point of many amazing trekking trails. The most famous trek is the Hampta Pass, which starts from Jobri Nala. Some of the other treks are Beas Kund, Bhrigu Lake, Dashaur Lake, Patalsu Peak, Lamadugh, Hampta Circuit, Deo Tibba base camp, etc.

Vibrant Markets: Markets and mall roads are considered the lifeline of hill stations. Manali is home to a vast Tibetan market where one can find and shop varieties of clothes and souvenirs. The old Manali area is home to several cool cafes where one can chill out and spend a pleasant evening.

Waterfalls: Waterfalls are the only place where one can sit for hours and enjoy the sound of gushing water. Manali houses a famous waterfall called Jogini waterfall situated around 7.5 km from the main city. The place is perfect for spending quality time.

Mountain Biking: The most exciting thing about the mountains is the road and mountain biking can give you once in a lifetime experience. The curvaceous and adventurous roads can amaze anyone with its thrill. So if you are an adventure buff then it’s a must try activity in Manali. Bikes can easily be rented in Manali.

Hot Sulphur Baths: The natural hot water springs are one of the most exciting phenomena and found in the mountains. Taking a bath in these springs can give you an amazing relief. Manali houses one hot water spring situated at Vashisht Temple.

So this summer head out to Manali to beat the city heat and have a memorable trip. What are you waiting for?

MURSHIDABAD

Location

Murshidabad is a town in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is located on the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, a distributary of the Ganges River. It forms part of the Murshidabad district.

The District of Murshidabad has an area of 5,550 square kilometres. It is divided into two nearly equal portions by the Bhagirathi, the ancient channel of the Ganges. The tract to the west, known as the Rarh, consists of hard clay and nodular limestone. The general level is high, but interspersed with marshes and seamed by hill torrents. The Bagri or eastern half belongs to alluvial plains of eastern Bengal. There are few permanent swamps; but the whole country is low-lying, and liable to annual inundation. In the north-west are a few small detached hillocks, said to be of basaltic formation.

History

During the 18th-century, Murshidabad was a prosperous city. It was the capital of the Bengal Subah in the Mughal Empire for seventy years, with a jurisdiction covering modern-day Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. It was the seat of the hereditary Nawab of Bengal and the state’s treasury, revenue office and judiciary. Bengal was the richest Mughal province. Murshidabad was a cosmopolitan city. Its population peaked at 700,000 in the 1750s. It was home to wealthy banking and merchant families from different parts of the Indian subcontinent and wider Eurasia, including the Jagat Seth and Armenians.

European companies, including the British East India Company, the French East India Company, the Dutch East India Company and the Danish East India Company, conducted business and operated factories around the city. Silk was a major product of Murshidabad. The city was also a center of art and culture, including for ivory sculptors, Hindustani classical music and the Murshidabad style of Mughal painting.

The city’s decline began with the defeat of the last independent Nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-Daulah at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The Nawab was demoted to the status of a zamindar known as the Nawab of Murshidabad. The British shifted the treasury, courts and revenue office to Calcutta. In the 19th century, the population was estimated to be 46,000. Murshidabad became a district headquarters of the Bengal Presidency. It was declared as a municipality in 1869.

How to go?

Murshidabad is well connected to the rest of India by rail & road. Regular rail, as well as bus services, ply to and fro Murshidabad junction, well connected by several passenger and express trains. There are no direct buses for Murshidabad; you need to break your journey at Malda for a taxi to the same. There is no direct flight connectivity for Murshidabad. The nearest airport is the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata.

Main attraction – Hazarduari Palace

As the name suggests, Hazarduari is a palace with thousand doors. The palace was built in the nineteenth century during the reign of Nawab Nizam Humayun Jah who ruled Bengal, Bihar and Odisha. The architect of this masterpiece was Duncan Macleod.

What makes the palace unique?

It is not just the number of the doors that make the palace different from the rest, it is interesting to know that out of these thousand doors, only 100 of them were real doors, and the rest 900 were fake ones. You may wonder what the mystery behind the fake doors is. Well, the doors were built this way to protect the palace from predators. The idea was to confuse the attackers who attack the palace and try to escape, giving the Nawab’s guards enough time to catch them.

Palace Complex

The palace enclosure is known as Nizamat Kila or Kila Nizamat. Apart from this stunning structure, the palace complex also has Nizamat Imambara (a Muslim congregation hall), Wasif Manzil, Bacchawali Tope, Nawab Bahadur’s institution and three mosques that include the Madina mosque. Built just 40ft away from the banks of Bhagirathi River, the foundation of the palace was laid very deep, so the structure stays strong. The grand staircase to the palace and the Indo-European architectural style are other highlights of this magnificent structure. The palace was used as a venue for royal meetings and official discussions between the British and the Nawabs, and also as a residence for high-ranking British officials. However, today the palace is a museum that preserves the precious collection of the Nawabs that include furniture, paintings and antique pieces.

Palace Museum

The palace museum is today the biggest site museum managed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The antiquities of the palace museum include the belongings of the royal family, which include a stunning chandelier of the Durbar hall which is the world’s second largest chandelier in the world, the first being one in the Buckingham Palace. This chandelier was gifted to the Nawab by Queen Victoria. The museum galleries include Armoury wings, Royal Exhibits, Landscape Gallery, British Portrait Gallery, Nawab Nazim Gallery, Durbar Hall, Committee Room, Billboards Room, Western Drawing room and Religious Objects’ Gallery to name a few. The palace is located at Murshidabad at West Bengal, and here’s how you can reach Murshidabad.

Overall, it’s a really nice place to have a refreshing weekend. You can enjoy the rich heritage of Indian history and have a quick glance into the Mughal era. So what are you waiting for? Pack up your bags and set out to seek the unknown!

SHILLONG

Location

Shillong is a hill station in the northeastern part of India and the capital of Meghalaya, which means “The Abode of Clouds”. Shillong lies on the Shillong Plateau, the only major uplifted structure in the northern Indian shield. The city lies in the centre of the plateau and is surrounded by hills, three of which are revered in Khasi tradition: Lum Sohpetbneng, Lum Diengiei, and Lum Shillong.

It is the headquarters of the East Khasi Hills district. Shillong is the 330th most populous city in India with a population of 143,229 according to the 2011 census. It is said that the rolling hills around the town reminded the British of Scotland. Hence, they would also refer to it as the “Scotland of the East”.

Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya is just 100 km from Guwahati, which can be accessed by road along NH 40, a journey of about 2 hours 30 minutes through lush green hills and the magnificent Umiam Lake in between.

History

The Shillong Municipal Board has a long history dating back to 1878, when a proclamation was issued constituting Shillong and its suburbs, including the villages of Mawkhar and Laban, into a station under the Bengal Municipal Act of 1876. Inclusion of the villages of Mawkhar and Laban (Lumparing, Madan laban, Kench’s Trace and Rilbong) within the Municipality of Shillong was agreed to by Hain Manik Syiem of Mylliem under the agreement of 15 November 1878. But, there is no trace of Shillong in the British era maps dating back to 1878, up to 1900.

Shillong was also the subject of the great earthquake that occurred on 12 June 1897. The earthquake had an estimated moment magnitude of 8.1. Twenty-seven lives from Shillong town alone were lost and a major part of the town was destroyed.

How to go

By air: Shillong Airport in Umroi is a small airport that is available for the flights and is located at a distance of 40 km from Shillong. Bus services are provided by Meghalaya Transport Corporation from the airport to the various cities of the state. There are regular flights from Shillong to Ahmedabad, Aizawl, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and various other destinations.

 By rail: There are as such no proper rail lines in Meghalaya. Guwahati railway station is the nearest railway station situated at a distance of 105 Km from Shillong. The city is well connected to all other major cities of the country via rail medium. There are also taxi as well as bus facility for Shillong.

By road: Assam State Transport Corporation and Meghalaya Transport Corporation run buses from Guwahati to Shillong. The main interstate bus stand is located near to Guwahati railway station. Reasonable prices for different types of buses like AC, AC Sleeper, luxury and Volvo buses are available for Shillong. Some of the places nearby which you can visit are Cherrapunji and Jowai.

Places to visit

Umiam Lake: Umiam Lake, a mesmerizing man-made reservoir, is located at a distance of 15 kilometres north of Shillong which is the capital of the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya. The lake was formed after a dam was constructed to generate hydroelectric power. The scenic Umiam Lake is encircled by lush green East Khasi hills that form one of the best panoramic sights for nature-lovers in the country. The sunrise at the lake is a treat to watch and shouldn’t be missed. The Umiam Lake has a park adjoining it which is a hotspot for picnics and frequented by locals for a getaway from their busy scheduled.

 Elephant Falls: Named after an Elephant like stone at its foot, the Elephant Falls are amongst the most popular falls in the North-East, situated next to Shillong. It is a tourists’ paradise with three layers of the falls accessible to the layman from different vantage points. The Britishers named this fall so owing to the presence of an elephant-shaped rock on one side of the fall. However, the stone disintegrated and was washed away due to an earthquake in 1897. Elephant Waterfalls is a superb place for spending some time in the midst of nature while capturing the incredible moments for your keepsake.

Police Bazaar: Police Bazaar is the major market of Shillong, and a popular shopping haunt for locals and tourists alike. In addition to an array of restaurants, hotels and big brand stores, the Police Bazaar also has a flea market section which is pocket-friendly and draws the maximum number of tourists owing to its traditional handicrafts stores, exquisite Meghalaya merchandise, regional apparels, junk jewellery and the like. The colourful market is thronged by shopping enthusiasts as well as foodies.

Laitlum Canyons: Perched on the East Khasi Hills, Laitlum Canyons is a less explored but one of the most picturesque tourist and trekking destinations in Shillong. The canyons are located about 21 kilometers south of Shillong which is about a half-hour drive away. Literally, translating to ‘End of hills’, this exotic viewing site offers the best panoramic views of the whole of Meghalaya embraced by the majestic hills and valleys. The spot is secluded and serene, ideal for quiet and peaceful getaways. It can be visited by families, friend groups as well as couples. To catch this place at its best, visit Laitlum Canyons either during sunrise or sunset.

Shillong Peak: At the height of 6449 ft or 1965 m above sea level, Shillong Peak is the highest point of Shillong. It offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the entire city, the Himalayas, its waterfalls as well as of the Bangladesh plains. A telescope is available for tourists to get a bird’s eye view. Trekking up to this semi-circular Shillong Peak is highly recommended for the best views but it is often bounded by heavy fog.

Mawphlang: Mawphlang, home to Meghalaya’s Sacred Forest, is a beautiful village situated 25 kilometres away from Shillong, the capital city of the north-east Indian state of Meghalaya. The village lies in the district of East Khasi Hills and is famous for its sacred groves. The village is named Mawphlang as it is one of the several monoliths in the Khasi Hills. The name Mawphlang means Grassy Stone and is a land of legendary stories, sacrifices and unique culture. For the ones who want a glimpse of the tradition, culture and lifestyle of the Khasis that is fading away in the modern world, Mawphlang is the place to visit.

Ward’s Lake: A pretty artificial lake surrounded by gardens is an ideal evening get away! Also known as the Polok Lake, it is usually flocked by couples, picnickers and locals.

Don Bosco Museum: Hailed as Asia’s largest Museum of Indigenous Cultures, the Don Bosco Museum is the house of the beautiful culture and tradition of North East India. It is conveniently located in the Mawlai area, near the Police Bazaar. With its seven storeys, it rises into the skyline of Shillong and flaunts 16 laid out galleries that showcase artifacts, paintings, figures significant to the Northeastern culture. Not only do these provide a feast to the eyes of the visitors, but also give an insight into the lifestyle of the North-Eastern people.

David Scott Trail: Most popular trekking routes of Meghalaya, this path was originally laid by David Scott, a British officer as early as in the 1800s. It is still used to commute between Assam and Bangladesh.

Mawlynnong: Mawlynnong is a small village situated around 90 km from Shillong in the East Khasi Hills, Meghalaya and is also known as God’s own Garden. It was declared as the cleanest village in Asia in 2003 by Discovery India which certainly which makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Indian state. Mawlynnong village is a community-based ecotourism initiative where the entire community made collective efforts in making and maintaining the cleanliness of the village.

Why visit Shillong?

Rarest and friendly tribes: The Shillong population mostly belongs to the Khasi tribe, who are predominantly Christian. There are also a significant number of Assamese, Bengali and Nepali minorities. An interesting aspect of the Khasis is that they are a matrilineal society. Therefore the mother’s surname is passed on to the children and the youngest daughter inherits the ancestral property.

Can you imagine the celebration the birth of a daughter entails? And the special pampering the youngest daughter receives?

Thrilling peak: Located at a height of 1,496 meters above sea level, Shillong is a great destination and a treat for nature lovers. Situated 10 kilometers from the city, the Shillong Peak offers spectacular views of the city from a lofty height of 1,965 meters above sea level. Being the highest point in Shillong, it gives impressive views of lush greenery and cascading waterfalls. On a cloudless day you will be able to view the majestic Himalayan peaks and the forever inundated Bangladesh plains in the distance. The Indian Air Force has its radar station here.

Cherapunjee: Meghalaya or the Abode of the Clouds is famous for Cherrapunji and Mawsynram, which are the wettest places on earth. This makes it a popular monsoon destination. Cherrapunji, which lies 15 kilometer to the east of Shillong, offers guest houses, resorts, cottages and home-stays for visitors. Eating in Cherrapunji is a great experience. You can enjoy the succulent Khasi cuisine like pork rice. Sohra Pulao, which is rice cooked with oil and vegetables without spices, should not be missed.

Living Root Bridges: Deep in the dense tropical forests of Meghalaya, and shrouded in cloud and rain for much of the year, are some astonishing natural wonders. Known as living root bridges, and preserved as UNESCO heritage site, these roots of ancient rubber trees or Ficus Elastica have been trained by the Khasi tribesmen, to grow in a tangled mess, which have then been intertwined and intermingled to form double and single decker root bridges that are intriguing the world. Strong as they are, the bridges take 10 to 15 years to become functional enough to hold the weight of more than 50 people at a time. The wonderful bridges are alive and still growing and thus get stronger over time.

Mawsmai Caves: Meghalaya has the longest cave system of India situated in the Jaintia Hills. Of them all, Mawsmai are easily the most favourite caves for many travellers, as it is one of the few caves one can explore without a guide. Just about 6 kilometers from the main town of Cherrapunji and an enchanting drive through golden autumnal grasslands, one finally reaches a thick grove. Mawsmai, the limestone caves, lie hidden beneath these trees! The cave has a wide opening but it soon gets narrower and is best avoided if one is claustrophobic, has health issues or weight problems.

The cave is a one way road, so the adventurous visitor enters from one end and goes out of the other. In the middle, there are places where you’ve to bend and squeeze yourself out. The channel gets narrower and the walking pace is slow, but there is no turning back! The cave is well lit with electricity and you can see each and every detail of the rock formation.

The colours and shapes come alive and you can interpret different figures for the fun of it. Rocks glint in the light as water drips down from the stone tips. It’s a marvel how these tiny drops change the appearance of hard rocks, working on them tirelessly for decades like a patient artist. With bats and insects flying around, tiny passages where one shrinks and crawls, shadows and shapes filling the air and the thrill of being inside a cave, the mere 150 meters of the cave length appears unending and hugely exciting.

So what are you waiting for? Pack up your bags and set out to seek the unknown!

AGRA

Location

Agra is a city on the banks of the Yamuna river in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is 206 kilometres (128 mi) south of the national capital New Delhi. Agra is the fourth-most populous city in Uttar Pradesh and 24th in India.

Historical Significance

There was an early reference to an “Agravana” in the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, and Ptolemy is said to have called the site “Agra.” The city was founded by Sultan Sikandar of the Lodhi dynasty in the early 16th century to be the capital of the Delhi sultanate. Agra also served as the Mughal capital during some periods of that empire. In the late 18th century the city fell successively to the Jats, the Marathas, the Mughals, the ruler of Gwalior, and, finally, the British in 1803. It was the capital of Agra (later North-Western) province from 1833 to 1868 and was one of the main centres of the Indian Mutiny (1857–58).

Places to visit         

  1. Taj Mahal – Agra is best known for the Taj Mahal (17th century) which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. A complex mausoleum, the Taj Mahal is often considered to be the world’s best example of Mughal architecture. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built it for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Maḥal, in the mid-17th century. Agra Fort (16th century), called the Red Fort for its massive red sandstone walls, was built by the emperor Akbar; it contains the Pearl Mosque (Moti Masjid; 17th century), constructed of white marble, and a palace, the Jahangiri Mahal. The fort was also designated a World Heritage site in 1983.
  2. Agra Fort – A stone tablet at the gate of the Fort states that it had been built before 1000 but was later renovated by Akbar. The red sandstone fort was converted into a palace during Shah Jahan’s time, and reworked extensively with marble and pietra dura inlay. Notable buildings in the fort include the Pearl Mosque or Moti Masjid, the Diwan-e-Aam and Diwan-e-Khaas (halls of public and private audience), Jahangir’s Palace, Khaas Mahal, Shish Mahal (mirrored palace), and the Musamman Burj. The forbidding exteriors of this fort conceal an inner paradise. The fort is crescent-shaped, flattened on the east with a long, nearly straight wall facing the river. It has a total perimeter of 2.4 kilometres (1.5 mi), and is ringed by double castellated ramparts of red sandstone punctuated at regular intervals by bastions. A moat 9 metres (30 ft) wide and 10 metres (33 ft) deep surrounds the outer wall.
  3. Fatehpur Sikri – The Mughal Emperor Akbar built Fatehpur Sikri about 35 km (22 mi) from Agra, and moved his capital there. Later abandoned, the site displays a number of buildings of significant historical importance. A World Heritage Site, it is often visited by tourists. The name of the place came about after the Mughal Emperor Babur defeated Raṇa Sanga in a battle at a place called Sikra (about 40 km from Agra). Then the Mughal Emperor Akbar wanted to make Fatehpur Sikri his headquarters, so he built a majestic fort; due to the shortage of water, however, he had to ultimately move his headquarters to Agra Fort.
  4. Buland Darwaza – or ‘the lofty gateway’ was built by the great Mughal emperor, Akbar in 1601 CE at Fatehpur Sikri. Akbar built the Buland Darwaza to commemorate his victory over Gujarat. The Buland Darwaza is approached by 52 steps. The Buland Darwaza is 53.63 metres (175.95 feet) high and 35 metres (115 feet) wide. It is made of red and buff sandstone, decorated by carving and black and white marble inlays. An inscription on the central face of the Buland Darwaza demonstrates Akbar’s religious broad-mindedness; it is a message from Jesus advising his followers not to consider this world as their permanent home.
  5. Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah – It is a Mughal mausoleum in the city of Agra in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Often described as a “jewel box”, sometimes called the “Bachcha Taj”, the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah is often regarded as a draft of the Taj Mahal. Along with the main building, the structure consists of numerous outbuildings and gardens. The tomb, built between 1622 and 1628, represents a transition between the first phase of monumental Mughal architecture – primarily built from red sandstone with marble decorations, as in Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra – to its second phase, based on white marble and pietra dura inlay, most elegantly realized in the Taj Mahal. The mausoleum was commissioned by Nur Jahan, the wife of Jahangir, for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg, originally a Persian Amir in exile, who had been given the title of Itimad-ud-Daulah (pillar of the state). Mirza Ghiyas Beg was also the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal (originally named Arjumand Bano, daughter of Asaf Khan), the wife of the emperor Shah Jahan, responsible for the construction of the Taj Mahal. Nur Jahan was also responsible for the construction of the Tomb of Jahangir in Lahore. It is noticeable for the first use of pietra dura (floral design made up of semiprecious stone) technique.

6. Akbar’s Tomb – The Tomb of the mighty Mughal Emperor Akbar is situated in the outskirts of Agra. The emperor got his tomb monument constructed while he was alive as his final resting place. His son Jahangir finished the complete construction which is totally done with sandstone and white marble. The monument that is found in Sikandra within the suburbs of Agra is built over a region of 119 acres surrounded by lovely gardens designed by the Emperor Akbar. Overseeing the tomb of himself while living is part of the Tartary tradition which Akbar followed for his own tomb. The tomb is toward the rising sun and roughly a kilometer close to his wife’s tomb also in Sikandra.

Other details

Tourism, handicrafts, agriculture and manufacturing make up Agra’s economy. Agra has a thriving small scale industry sector connected to leather goods and iron foundries.

The delicate inlay and carving work in white marble of the Taj Mahal started getting affected by the rising air pollution levels in Agra. In response in year 2000 the Supreme Court mandated that a “safe” zone of 50 kilometres around the monument – or the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) – be free of polluting industry and diesel vehicles. This has had scant impact on the pollution levels in the city in general as Agra ranked 4th most polluted city in 2016. The severe pollution is affecting tourism – both for visibility and health reasons.

INTERNET OF THINGS

What is Internet of Things (IoT)?

The Internet of things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

The definition of the Internet of things has evolved due to the convergence of multiple technologies, real-time analytics, machine learning, commodity sensors, and embedded systems. Traditional fields of embedded systems, wireless sensor networks, control systems, automation (including home and building automation), and others all contribute to enabling the Internet of things. In the consumer market, IoT technology is most synonymous with products pertaining to the concept of the “smart home”, covering devices and appliances (such as lighting fixtures, thermostats, home security systems and cameras, and other home appliances) that support one or more common ecosystems, and can be controlled via devices associated with that ecosystem, such as smartphones and smart speakers.

History of IoT

The idea of adding sensors and intelligence to basic objects was discussed throughout the 1980s and 1990s (and there are arguably some much earlier ancestors), but apart from some early projects – including an internet-connected vending machine – progress was slow simply because the technology wasn’t ready. Chips were too big and bulky and there was no way for objects to communicate effectively.

Processors that were cheap and power-frugal enough to be all but disposable were needed before it finally became cost-effective to connect up billions of devices. The adoption of RFID tags – low-power chips that can communicate wirelessly – solved some of this issue, along with the increasing availability of broadband internet and cellular and wireless networking. The adoption of IPv6 – which, among other things, should provide enough IP addresses for every device the world is ever likely to need – was also a necessary step for the IoT to scale.

Kevin Ashton coined the phrase ‘Internet of Things’ in 1999, although it took at least another decade for the technology to catch up with the vision.

Adding RFID tags to expensive pieces of equipment to help track their location was one of the first IoT applications. But since then, the cost of adding sensors and an internet connection to objects has continued to fall, and experts predict that this basic functionality could one day cost as little as 10 cents, making it possible to connect nearly everything to the internet.

The IoT was initially most interesting to business and manufacturing, where its application is sometimes known as machine-to-machine (M2M), but the emphasis is now on filling our homes and offices with smart devices, transforming it into something that’s relevant to almost everyone. Early suggestions for internet-connected devices included ‘blogjects’ (objects that blog and record data about themselves to the internet), ubiquitous computing (or ‘ubicomp’), invisible computing, and pervasive computing. However, it was Internet of Things and IoT that stuck.

Intelligence

Ambient intelligence and autonomous control are not part of the original concept of the Internet of things. Ambient intelligence and autonomous control do not necessarily require Internet structures, either. However, there is a shift in research (by companies such as Intel) to integrate the concepts of the IoT and autonomous control, with initial outcomes towards this direction considering objects as the driving force for autonomous IoT. A promising approach in this context is deep reinforcement learning where most of IoT systems provide a dynamic and interactive environment. Training an agent (i.e., IoT device) to behave smartly in such an environment cannot be addressed by conventional machine learning algorithms such as supervised learning. By reinforcement learning approach, a learning agent can sense the environment’s state (e.g., sensing home temperature), perform actions (e.g., turn HVAC on or off) and learn through the maximizing accumulated rewards it receives in long term.

IoT intelligence can be offered at three levels: IoT devices, Edge/Fog nodes, and Cloud computing. The need for intelligent control and decision at each level depends on the time sensitiveness of the IoT application. For example, an autonomous vehicle’s camera needs to make real-time obstacle detection to avoid an accident. This fast decision making would not be possible through transferring data from the vehicle to cloud instances and return the predictions back to the vehicle. Instead, all the operation should be performed locally in the vehicle. Integrating advanced machine learning algorithms including deep learning into IoT devices is an active research area to make smart objects closer to reality. Moreover, it is possible to get the most value out of IoT deployments through analyzing IoT data, extracting hidden information, and predicting control decisions. A wide variety of machine learning techniques have been used in IoT domain ranging from traditional methods such as regression, support vector machine, and random forest to advanced ones such as convolutional neural networks, LSTM, and variational autoencoder.

In the future, the Internet of Things may be a non-deterministic and open network in which auto-organized or intelligent entities (web services, SOA components) and virtual objects (avatars) will be interoperable and able to act independently (pursuing their own objectives or shared ones) depending on the context, circumstances or environments. Autonomous behavior through the collection and reasoning of context information as well as the object’s ability to detect changes in the environment (faults affecting sensors) and introduce suitable mitigation measures constitutes a major research trend, clearly needed to provide credibility to the IoT technology. Modern IoT products and solutions in the marketplace use a variety of different technologies to support such context-aware automation, but more sophisticated forms of intelligence are requested to permit sensor units and intelligent cyber-physical systems to be deployed in real environments

CYBER SECURITY

What is Cyber Security?

Computer security, cybersecurity or information technology security (IT security) is the protection of computer systems and networks from the theft of or damage to their hardware, software, or electronic data, as well as from the disruption or misdirection of the services they provide.

The field is becoming more important due to increased reliance on computer systems, the Internet and wireless network standards such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and due to the growth of “smart” devices, including smartphones, televisions, and the various devices that constitute the “Internet of Things”. Owing to its complexity, both in terms of politics and technology, cybersecurity is also one of the major challenges in the contemporary world.

Importance of Cyber Security

In today’s connected world, everyone benefits from advanced cyber-defense programs. At an individual level, a cybersecurity attack can result in everything from identity theft, to extortion attempts, to the loss of important data like family photos. Everyone relies on critical infrastructure like power plants, hospitals, and financial service companies. Securing these and other organizations is essential to keeping our society functioning.

Everyone also benefits from the work of cyber-threat researchers, like the team of 250 threat researchers at Talos, who investigate new and emerging threats and cyber attack strategies. They reveal new vulnerabilities, educate the public on the importance of cybersecurity, and strengthen open source tools. Their work makes the Internet safer for everyone.

Types of Cyber Security threats

  1. Phishing is the practice of sending fraudulent emails that resemble emails from reputable sources. The aim is to steal sensitive data like credit card numbers and login information. It’s the most common type of cyber attack. You can help protect yourself through education or a technology solution that filters malicious emails.
  2. Ransomware is a type of malicious software. It is designed to extort money by blocking access to files or the computer system until the ransom is paid. Paying the ransom does not guarantee that the files will be recovered or the system restored.
  3. Malware is a type of software designed to gain unauthorized access or to cause damage to a computer. 
  4. Social engineering is a tactic that adversaries use to trick you into revealing sensitive information. They can solicit a monetary payment or gain access to your confidential data. Social engineering can be combined with any of the threats listed above to make you more likely to click on links, download malware, or trust a malicious source.
  5. SQL (structured language query) injection is a type of cyber-attack used to take control of and steal data from a database. Cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in data-driven applications to insert malicious code into a database via a malicious SQL statement. This gives them access to the sensitive information contained in the database.

Recent Cyber Threats

Dridex malware: In December 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) charged the leader of an organized cyber-criminal group for their part in a global Dridex malware attack. This malicious campaign affected the public, government, infrastructure and business worldwide.

Affecting victims since 2014, it infects computers though phishing emails or existing malware. Capable of stealing passwords, banking details and personal data which can be used in fraudulent transactions, it has caused massive financial losses amounting to hundreds of millions.

In response to the Dridex attacks, the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre advises the public to “ensure devices are patched, anti-virus is turned on and up to date and files are backed up”.

Romance scams: In February 2020, the FBI warned U.S. citizens to be aware of confidence fraud that cybercriminals commit using dating sites, chat rooms and apps. Perpetrators take advantage of people seeking new partners, duping victims into giving away personal data. The FBI reports that romance cyber threats affected 114 victims in New Mexico in 2019, with financial losses amounting to $1.6 million.

Emotet malware: In late 2019, The Australian Cyber Security Centre warned national organizations about a widespread global cyber threat from Emotet malware. Emotet is a sophisticated trojan that can steal data and also load other malware. Emotet thrives on unsophisticated password: a reminder of the importance of creating a secure password to guard against cyber threats.

End-User Protection

End-user protection or endpoint security is a crucial aspect of cyber security. After all, it is often an individual (the end-user) who accidentally uploads malware or another form of cyber threat to their desktop, laptop or mobile device.

So, how do cyber-security measures protect end users and systems? First, cyber-security relies on cryptographic protocols to encrypt emails, files, and other critical data. This not only protects information in transit, but also guards against loss or theft.

In addition, end-user security software scans computers for pieces of malicious code, quarantines this code, and then removes it from the machine. Security programs can even detect and remove malicious code hidden in Master Boot Record (MBR) and are designed to encrypt or wipe data from computer’s hard drive.

Electronic security protocols also focus on real-time malware detection. Many use heuristic and behavioral analysis to monitor the behavior of a program and its code to defend against viruses or trojans that change their shape with each execution (polymorphic and metamorphic malware). Security programs can confine potentially malicious programs to a virtual bubble separate from a user’s network to analyze their behavior and learn how to better detect new infections.

Security programs continue to evolve new defenses as cyber-security professionals identify new threats and new ways to combat them. To make the most of end-user security software, employees need to be educated about how to use it. Crucially, keeping it running and updating it frequently ensures that it can protect users against the latest cyber threats.

Security Measures

A state of computer “security” is the conceptual ideal, attained by the use of the three processes: threat prevention, detection, and response. These processes are based on various policies and system components, which include the following:

  • User account access controls and cryptography can protect systems files and data, respectively.
  • Firewalls are by far the most common prevention systems from a network security perspective as they can (if properly configured) shield access to internal network services, and block certain kinds of attacks through packet filtering. Firewalls can be both hardware- or software-based.
  • Intrusion Detection System (IDS) products are designed to detect network attacks in-progress and assist in post-attack forensics, while audit trails and logs serve a similar function for individual systems.
  • “Response” is necessarily defined by the assessed security requirements of an individual system and may cover the range from simple upgrade of protections to notification of legal authorities, counter-attacks, and the like. In some special cases, complete destruction of the compromised system is favored, as it may happen that not all the compromised resources are detected.

Today, computer security comprises mainly “preventive” measures, like firewalls or an exit procedure. A firewall can be defined as a way of filtering network data between a host or a network and another network, such as the Internet, and can be implemented as software running on the machine, hooking into the network stack (or, in the case of most UNIX-based operating systems such as Linux, built into the operating system kernel) to provide real-time filtering and blocking. Another implementation is a so-called “physical firewall”, which consists of a separate machine filtering network traffic. Firewalls are common amongst machines that are permanently connected to the Internet.

Some organizations are turning to big data platforms, such as Apache Hadoop, to extend data accessibility and machine learning to detect advanced persistent threats.

However, relatively few organizations maintain computer systems with effective detection systems, and fewer still have organized response mechanisms in place. The primary obstacle to effective eradication of cybercrime could be traced to excessive reliance on firewalls and other automated “detection” systems. Yet it is basic evidence gathering by using packet capture appliances that puts criminals behind bars.


In order to ensure adequate security, the confidentiality, integrity and availability of a network, better known as the CIA triad, must be protected and is considered the foundation to information security. To achieve those objectives, administrative, physical and technical security measures should be employed. The amount of security afforded to an asset can only be determined when its value is known.

ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION (rpa)

What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

Robotic process automation (or RPA) is a form of business process automation technology based on metaphorical software robots (bots) or on artificial intelligence (AI)/digital workers. It is sometimes referred to as software robotics (not to be confused with robot software).

In traditional workflow automation tools, a software developer produces a list of actions to automate a task and interface to the back-end system using internal application programming interfaces (APIs) or dedicated scripting language. In contrast, RPA systems develop the action list by watching the user perform that task in the application’s graphical user interface (GUI), and then perform the automation by repeating those tasks directly in the GUI. This can lower the barrier to use of automation in products that might not otherwise feature APIs for this purpose.

RPA tools have strong technical similarities to graphical user interface testing tools. These tools also automate interactions with the GUI, and often do so by repeating a set of demonstration actions performed by a user. RPA tools differ from such systems that allow data to be handled in and between multiple applications, for instance, receiving email containing an invoice, extracting the data, and then typing that into a bookkeeping system.

Deployment

The hosting of RPA services also aligns with the metaphor of a software robot, with each robotic instance having its own virtual workstation, much like a human worker. The robot uses keyboard and mouse controls to take actions and execute automations. Normally all of these actions take place in a virtual environment and not on screen; the robot does not need a physical screen to operate, rather it interprets the screen display electronically. The scalability of modern solutions based on architectures such as these owes much to the advent of virtualization technology, without which the scalability of large deployments would be limited by available capacity to manage physical hardware and by the associated costs. The implementation of RPA in business enterprises has shown dramatic cost savings when compared to traditional non-RPA solutions.

There are however several risks with RPA. Criticism include risks of stifling innovation and creating a more complex maintenance environment of existing software that now needs to consider the use of graphical user interfaces in a way they weren’t intended to be used.

Benefits of RPA

RPA provides organizations with the ability to reduce staffing costs and human error. David Schatsky, a managing director at Deloitte LP, points to a bank’s experience with implementing RPA, in which the bank redesigned its claims process by deploying 85 bots to run 13 processes, handling 1.5 million requests per year. The bank added capacity equivalent to more than 200 full-time employees at approximately 30 percent of the cost of recruiting more staff, Schatsky says.

Bots are typically low-cost and easy to implement, requiring no custom software or deep systems integration. Schatsky says such characteristics are crucial as organizations pursue growth without adding significant expenditures or friction among workers. “Companies are trying to get some breathing room so they can serve their business better by automating the low-value tasks,” Schatsky says.

Enterprises can also supercharge their automation efforts by injecting RPA with cognitive technologies such as ML, speech recognition, and natural language processing, automating higher-order tasks that in the past required the perceptual and judgment capabilities of humans.

Such RPA implementations, in which upwards of 15 to 20 steps may be automated, are part of a value chain known as intelligent automation (IA), Viadro says. “If we were to segment all of the major enterprises and ask them what’s on their agenda for 2018, close to 100 percent would say intelligent automation,” Viadro says.

By 2020, automation and artificial intelligence will reduce employee requirements in business shared-service centers by 65 percent, according to Gartner, which says the RPA market will top $1 billion by 2020. By that time, 40 percent of large enterprises will have adopted an RPA software tool, up from less than 10 percent today.

Tips for effective RPA

1. Set and manage expectations: Quick wins are possible with RPA, but propelling RPA to run at scale is a different animal. Dave Kuder, a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP, says that many RPA hiccups stem from poor expectations management. Bold claims about RPA from vendors and implementation consultants haven’t helped. That’s why it’s crucial for CIOs to go in with a cautiously optimistic mindset. “If you go in with open eyes you’ll be a lot happier with the result,” Kuder says.

2. Consider business impact: RPA is often propped up as a mechanism to bolster return on investment or reduce costs. But Kris Fitzgerald, CTO of NTT Data Services, says more CIOs should use it to improve customer experience. For example, enterprises such as airlines employ thousands of customer service agents, yet customers are still waiting in the queue to have their call fielded. A chatbot, could help alleviate some of that wait. “You put that virtual agent in there and there is no downtime, no out sick and no bad attitude,” Fitzgerald says. “The client experience is the flag to hit.”

3. Involve IT early and often: COOs initially bought RPA and hit a wall during implementation, prompting them to ask IT’s help (and forgiveness), Viadro says. Now “citizen developers” without technical expertise are using cloud software to implement RPA right in their business units, Kuder says. Often, the CIO tends to step in and block them. Kuder and Viadro say that business heads must involve IT from the outset to ensure they get the resources they require.

4. Poor design, change management can wreak havoc: Many implementations fail because design and change are poorly managed, says Sanjay Srivastava, chief digital officer of Genpact. In the rush to get something deployed, some companies overlook communication exchanges, between the various bots, which can break a business process. “Before you implement, you must think about the operating model design,” Srivastava says. “You need to map out how you expect the various bots to work together.” Alternatively, some CIOs will neglect to negotiate the changes new operations will have on an organization’s business processes. CIOs must plan for this well in advance to avoid business disruption.

5. Don’t fall down the data rabbit hole: A bank deploying thousands of bots to automate manual data entry or to monitor software operations generates a ton of data. This can lure CIOs and their business peers into an unfortunate scenario where they are looking to leverage the data. Srivastava says it’s not uncommon for companies to run ML on the data their bots generate, and then throw a chatbot on the front to enable users to more easily query the data. Suddenly, the RPA project has become an ML project that hasn’t been properly scoped as an ML project. “The puck keeps moving,” and CIOs struggle to catch up to it, Srivastava says. He recommends CIOs consider RPA as a long-term arc, rather than as piecemeal projects that evolve into something unwieldy.

Impact on employment

According to Harvard Business Review, most operations groups adopting RPA have promised their employees that automation would not result in layoffs. Instead, workers have been redeployed to do more interesting work. One academic study highlighted that knowledge workers did not feel threatened by automation: they embraced it and viewed the robots as team-mates. The same study highlighted that, rather than resulting in a lower “headcount”, the technology was deployed in such a way as to achieve more work and greater productivity with the same number of people.

Conversely, however, some analysts proffer that RPA represents a threat to the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. The thesis behind this notion is that RPA will enable enterprises to “repatriate” processes from offshore locations into local data centers, with the benefit of this new technology. The effect, if true, will be to create high-value jobs for skilled process designers in onshore locations (and within the associated supply chain of IT hardware, data center management, etc.) but to decrease the available opportunity to low skilled workers offshore. On the other hand, this discussion appears to be healthy ground for debate as another academic study was at pains to counter the so-called “myth” that RPA will bring back many jobs from offshore.

Impact on society

Academic studies project that RPA, among other technological trends, is expected to drive a new wave of productivity and efficiency gains in the global labour market. Although not directly attributable to RPA alone, Oxford University conjectures that up to 35% of all jobs may have been automated by 2035.

In a TEDx talk hosted by University College London (UCL), entrepreneur David Moss explains that digital labour in the form of RPA is not only likely to revolutionize the cost model of the services industry by driving the price of products and services down, but that it is likely to drive up service levels, quality of outcomes and create increased opportunity for the personalization of services.

In a separate TEDx in 2019 talks, Japanese business executive, and former CIO of Barclays bank, Koichi Hasegawa noted that digital robots can be a positive effect on society if we start using a robot with empathy to help every person. He provides a case study of the Japanese insurance companies – Sompo Japan and Aioi – both of whom deployed bots to speed up the process of insurance pay-outs in past massive disaster incidents.

Meanwhile, Professor Willcocks, author of the LSE paper cited above, speaks of increased job satisfaction and intellectual stimulation, characterising the technology as having the ability to “take the robot out of the human”, a reference to the notion that robots will take over the mundane and repetitive portions of people’s daily workload, leaving them to be redeployed into more interpersonal roles or to concentrate on the remaining, more meaningful, portions of their day.

EXTENDED REALITY (XR)

What is Extended Reality (XR)?

Extended reality (XR) is a term referring to all real-and-virtual combined environments and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology and wearables, where the ‘X’ represents a variable for any current or future spatial computing technologies. It includes representative forms such as augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and virtual reality (VR) and the areas interpolated among them. The levels of virtuality range from partially sensory inputs to immersive virtuality, also called VR.

XR is a superset which includes the entire spectrum from “the complete real” to “the complete virtual” in the concept of reality–virtuality continuum introduced by Paul Milgram. Still, its connotation lies in the extension of human experiences especially relating to the senses of existence (represented by VR) and the acquisition of cognition (represented by AR). With the continuous development in human–computer interactions, this connotation is still evolving.

XR is a rapid growing field being applied in a wide range of ways, such as entertainment, marketing, real-estate, training and remote work.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is the simplest of the three XR subsets and describes the interaction between a virtual experience and the real world, which results in an augmented or supplemented environment. One popular example of augmented reality is the smartphone game “Pokémon GO,” where users virtually place a character somewhere in their surrounding environment.

Augmented reality is slowly making its way into sectors beyond entertainment, such as retail, online shopping, and manufacturing. Augmented reality is arguably the most widely adopted of all XR technologies as it requires the least amount of processing, allowing it to function on most smartphones and tablets. Augmented reality can exist in any environment that contains two necessary features – a camera to capture the surrounding environment and a processor to understand that environment and actively simulate a virtual object placed into that environment

Currently, the only factor slowing the growth of augmented reality is the native processing power in devices where augmented reality will take place.

Virtual Reality

As the name and image above suggest, virtual reality (VR) creates a completely virtual environment that allows users to immerse themselves in an alternate universe. The Oculus, a consumer-grade, multimedia entertainment VR solution, may be the most famous VR system on the market today. Since its founding in 2012, Oculus’s creators have continually pushed the limits of virtual reality technology.

Because virtual reality is completely simulated, users can also supplement the virtual, simulated environment with controllers and other sensory stimulators. The most obvious sensory additives, such as headphones and haptic devices, have already made their way into the virtual reality market. More advanced technologies, such as the haptic technology presented by Ultraleap, are working their way into the virtual reality market to provide users with next-level intractability and feedback.

VR technology is currently limited by low-power processing devices and GPUs. An immersive virtual reality experience requires a fully-developed simulation as well as native processing of the interactions and movement within the simulation. We see one excellent example of these current processing limitations in the jump from “standalone” VR headsets to headsets that require a PC for operation. When compared to standalone simulators, PC virtual reality devices feature more advanced – video quality, refresh rate, video complexity, movement tracking, controller complexity, audio integration and immersive experience.

Mixed Reality

The newest and most complex facet of XR is mixed reality. Think of mixed reality as a hybrid between augmented and virtual reality. Its goal is to superimpose an interactive experience over the real world, allowing for both the simulated reality and true reality. In augmented reality, the ability to interact with the simulation does not exist or is significantly limited. In virtual reality, the ability to interact with the real world does not exist. Mixed reality has set out to fill the gap between the virtual and augmented world; this highly advanced augmented reality allows for an interactive experience that’s similar to virtual reality.

One excellent example of mixed reality is Microsoft’s HoloLens’ integration with Skype, in which the user can superimpose a Skype session into reality, transmit their reality over Skype, and virtually control their Skype session with their hands by “touching” the simulation. Imagine being able to scroll through your Twitter feed or navigate the internet using Google glasses, all while being able to see the world around you.

Mixed reality’s limitations lie in the processing capabilities of available devices. However, this technology may hold the most promising future for revolutionizing how we interact with true reality. Mixed reality has already made its way into employee training, manufacturing, military, and the consumer sector. Imagine putting on your MR goggles to diagnose internal issues within your car, see your current performance, and adjust settings.

As highly complex XR devices become more powerful, efficient, compact, and affordable, this technology will find its way into our everyday lives. Scientists 50 years ago would never have believed we could fit terabytes of storage into a device the size of a stick of gum, but here we are. In 50 more years, we may be able to fit a data center worth of processing power into wearable glasses.

Uses of Extended Reality

Additionally, the hardware and software for interacting with XR have improved drastically over the years. XR technologies have improved with sophisticated tech, high-quality imaging and the perception for depth and spatial surroundings. XR software utilises improved programming, such as hand tracking and live movements, so that the environment that XR creates is very similar to the physical environment. Now, a VR headset is available for a fairly affordable price. Products like the Oculus Rift can show students the future, or introduce other emerging technologies.

In terms of industry use, almost 50% of XR is currently used in education. The interactive technology Google Expeditions allow pupils to sit in their classroom and experience virtual worlds. Similarly, apps such as Unimersiv totally immerse students in the sights and sounds of a foreign culture and language, which is proven to aid learning and development. Indeed, 9 out of 10 teachers in the UK recognise that XR technologies would be a benefit in classroom teaching.

In healthcare, there are many application areas of virtual reality, such as being used to train surgeons and doctors. Medical professors at Stanford University have stated their intention to educate their students on anatomy using VR technology, and a research team at Cambridge University is seeking to construct 3D models of tumours that can be explored in incredible detail.

Research into VR uses in this field has found that VR allows specialists to change in situations that are usually changing on the spot. For example, research has shown that rehearsing surgery in VR can speed up operations. It is also being used to allow health & safety trainees, and emergency responders to rehearse disaster scenarios in a safe but very real looking environment. Fergus Drake, CEO of not-for-profit Crown Agents, stated: “Virtual Reality allows us to go some way in accurately conveying the pressures of a humanitarian crisis and we hope it appeals to a new generation of those wanting to work in this life-saving field.”

Aside from educational applications, XR technology is also being used in design, architecture and engineering. Due to the possible application areas of virtual reality, architects can create 1:1 scale models of their projects, which they can then explore, manipulate and test before commencing the build. Similarly, automotive engineers sculpt new cars and engines in Virtual Reality suites, which brings down the cost of building numerous real-world prototypes.

The many possible VR uses are also helping fashion retailers allow consumers to customise their own garments, as well as building virtual shops so customers can browse their goods from the comfort of their own home. Global furniture makers are using AR technology to allow customers to try out new furniture in their own homes before completing their purchase.

These are just a few examples of the current and potential uses of XR technology. Hire Intelligence’s General Manager, Mark Bates, says: “The rise of XR shows no sign of abating. It’s revolutionising training and events across a variety of industries. As VR technology continues to develop there are more and more opportunities to learn about and engage with XR and the potential is hugely exciting”.

It is clear that XR provides users with a creative way to engage in a variety of new environments through simulation technology. With this, XR also offers logical solutions to modern challenges.