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Analyzing data from space – the ultimate intelligent edge scenario

Space represents the next frontier for cloud computing, and Microsoft’s unique approach to partnerships with pioneering companies in the space industry means together we can build platforms and tools that foster significant leaps forward, helping us gain deeper insights from the data gleaned from space.

One of the primary challenges for this industry is the sheer amount of data available from satellites and the infrastructure required to bring this data to ground, analyze the data and then transport it to where it’s needed. With almost 3,000 new satellites forecast to launch by 20261 and a threefold increase in the number of small satellite launches per year, the magnitude of this challenge is growing rapidly.

Essentially, this is the ultimate intelligent edge scenario – where massive amounts of data must be processed at the edge – whether that edge is in space or on the ground. Then the data can be directed to where it’s needed for further analytics or combined with other data sources to make connections that simply weren’t possible before.

DIU chooses Microsoft and Ball Aerospace for space analytics

To help with these challenges, the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) just selected Microsoft and Ball Aerospace to build a solution demonstrating agile cloud processing capabilities in support of the U.S. Air Force’s Commercially Augmented Space Inter Networked Operations (CASINO) project.

With the aim of making satellite data more actionable more quickly, Ball Aerospace and Microsoft teamed up to answer the question: “what would it take to completely transform what a ground station looks like, and downlink that data directly to the cloud?”

The solution involves placing electronically steered flat panel antennas on the roof of a Microsoft datacenter. These phased array antennas don’t require much power and need only a couple of square meters of roof space. This innovation can connect multiple low earth orbit (LEO) satellites with a single antenna aperture, significantly accelerating the delivery rate of data from satellite to end user with data piped directly into Microsoft Azure from the rooftop array.

Analytics for a massive confluence of data

Azure provides the foundational engine for Ball Aerospace algorithms in this project, processing worldwide data streams from up to 20 satellites. With the data now in Azure, customers can direct that data to where it best serves the mission need, whether that’s moving it to Azure Government to meet compliance requirements such as ITAR or combining it with data from other sources, such as weather and radar maps, to gain more meaningful insights.

In working with Microsoft, Steve Smith, Vice President and General Manager, Systems Engineering Solutions at Ball Aerospace called this type of data processing system, which leverages Ball phased array technology and imagery exploitation algorithms in Azure, “flexible and scalable – designed to support additional satellites and processing capabilities. This type of data processing in the cloud provides actionable, relevant information quickly and more cost-effectively to the end user.”

With Azure, customers gain its advanced analytics capabilities such as Azure Machine Learning and Azure AI. This enables end users to build models and make predictions based on a confluence of data coming from multiple sources, including multiple concurrent satellite feeds. Customers can also harness Microsoft’s global fiber network to rapidly deliver the data to where it’s needed using services such as ExpressRoute and ExpressRoute Global Reach. In addition, ExpressRoute now enables customers to ingest satellite data from several new connectivity partners to address the challenges of operating in remote locations.

For tactical units in the field, this technology can be replicated to bring information to where it’s needed, even in disconnected scenarios. As an example, phased array antennas mounted to a mobile unit can pipe data directly into a tactical datacenter or Data Box Edge appliance, delivering unprecedented situational awareness in remote locations.

A similar approach can be used for commercial applications, including geological exploration and environmental monitoring in disconnected or intermittently connected scenarios. Ball Aerospace specializes in weather satellites, and now customers can more quickly get that data down and combine it with locally sourced data in Azure, whether for agricultural, ecological, or disaster response scenarios.

This partnership with Ball Aerospace enables us to bring satellite data to ground and cloud faster than ever, leapfrogging other solutions on the market. Our joint innovation in direct satellite-to-cloud communication and accelerated data processing provides the Department of Defense, including the Air Force, with entirely new capabilities to explore as they continue to advance their mission.

  1. https://www.satellitetoday.com/innovation/2017/10/12/satellite-launches-increase-threefold-next-decade/

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CTO Kevin Scott on the Intelligent Edge revolution

I’m old enough now to have experienced several distinct waves of transformation brought by digital technology. As a kid, the personal computing revolution captured my imagination and energy with gaming and programming and new ways to create and do work. As a young adult, personal computers were everywhere and the internet and the World Wide Web connected them, and more importantly, the people using them, in ways that allowed communication and information to flow freely, and for work, commerce, creativity and leisure to be done in radically different ways. In my 30s, the smartphone and an incredible ecosystem of apps and services extended the internet to our pockets, making our connections to information and each other more ubiquitous, helping us navigate our way through the physical world, allowing us to buy almost any good or service we can think of, entertaining us in wonderful new ways, and making collaboration to get our work done more powerful than ever.

Even though that’s already a lot of transformation in a short period of time, and technology has never been more present in our lives, I feel like we’re just getting started. The next wave – one that’s already happening – comes when cheap connected devices with powerful sensors become truly ubiquitous in all of our physical environments, and when those devices become powerful enough to use the techniques of artificial intelligence (AI) to interact with their surroundings and the people in them. We call this combination of connected devices with powerful sensors and AI the Intelligent Edge. A year ago, I shared my belief that the Intelligent Edge would unfold as a platform over the next several years in ways that would surprise us by its breadth and diversity. And it already has.

The Intelligent Edge is proving to be the last mile in the convergence of the digital and physical worlds. –whether it’s a mixed-reality device like HoloLens providing a technician with a digital overlay of analytics, diagnostics and documentation for a piece of equipment they are servicing, or smart devices making the places where we live, work and shop more responsive and interactive, safer and more efficient. Intelligent Edge technologies are already making our homes smarter, improving the yields of our farms, monitoring the environment, helping us navigate our work more effectively, and improving our health and safety.

We’re in the middle of a revolution that is more than just smart speakers, security cameras and clever thermostats. Right now, we have in excess of 12 billion devices connected to the internet. It’s forecast that by the end of this calendar year, that number will rise to 20 billion. We anticipate that billions more of these devices are going to connect to the internet in the next few years. It’s a staggering thought. This Internet of Things (IoT) is already many times larger than the universe of personal computers and smartphones combined, and devices on it are becoming more powerful and more intelligent every day. With the advent of 5G, with its higher throughput, lower latency to the cloud, and higher device densities at the edge, we are likely to see the growth of the Intelligent Edge accelerate even further.

It probably comes as no surprise that I’ve been super stoked by each of the big technology platform waves that I’ve personally experienced, from PCs, to the internet, to smartphones. The Intelligent Edge is no different. I can’t keep from tinkering with these technologies, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’m using bits of the Intelligent Edge platform to build, of all things, an AI-powered siphon vacuum coffee machine. Instead of screens and buttons, my machine has a camera, a microphone, a speaker, a small digital brain and a connection to the cloud. When you focus your attention on it, it notices, and will ask “Would you like a cup of coffee?” When you respond “Yes,” it guides you through the brewing process with a short dialogue. And if you like, it will remember you and your preferences so that you can get your next cup of coffee more quickly.

My coffee machine probably won’t be commercially viable, and no one should mistake my weekend tinkering for a product that might one day show up in the Microsoft store. But one thing that’s become very clear to me as I build this machine is this: The Intelligent Edge parts of the device are neither especially hard nor expensive. I’m having a tougher time designing a safe steam boiler than I am with the AI! The hardware I’m using to run some of the local AI is cheap and readily available, and the software techniques I’m using to split the AI computations between the edge and the cloud are relatively straightforward. The Intelligent Edge and Intelligent Cloud platform that’s already out there for everyone to use is already quite capable. And even though to some, my coffee machine sounds like a crazy sci-fi project, making it a reality doesn’t feel as challenging as writing my first PC program, internet service or mobile app felt in the early days of those platforms.

What I’m most excited about with the Intelligent Edge is not what we’ve already done, nor even what I can imagine might be done with this new platform, but rather, what others will imagine and create as tens of millions of developers, entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers start building new products and businesses with this technology. Given the magnitude of growth ahead of us, and the fact that the platform is becoming more powerful every day, the opportunities for creators, entrepreneurs and businesses are huge. As with any successful platform, the true measure of the Intelligent Edge’s success will be in the breadth and diversity of the things built on top of it. There, I have infinite faith in the vision and ambition of others.

The IoT Signals Report (an annual research survey published by Microsoft) identifies key, industry-relevant trends in IoT. The survey, conducted by individual interviews with more than 3,000 IoT professionals based in Europe, Asia and North America, found that IoT is considered mainstream. Businesses are seeing tremendous value and opportunity in their ability to improve their bottom lines through IoT adoption. Right now, we’re seeing significant advancements in what I call a new world order with the demise of Moore’s law[1] and the collapse of Dennard scaling[2]. This means that compute is no longer becoming cheap at the exact same time that machine learning is becoming an insatiable consumer of compute power. But while this shift is impacting PCs, we will still see a few years where the power and compute capabilities of Intelligent Edge devices will continue to improve exponentially without much increase in cost.

IoT devices that are part of the Intelligent Edge provide businesses with invaluable insights on how to transform processes for operational efficiencies, such as improving the maintenance of vital of equipment before a costly shutdown and accelerating innovation while simultaneously improving safety, for example. As the IoT landscape continues to expand, we can bank on critical breakthroughs in areas that benefit humanity, such as healthcare, conservation, sustainability, accessibility and disaster recovery.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennard_scaling

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New tracking solution aims to keep skies safe as drones proliferate

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects the number of drones in our airspace to increase as much as threefold by 2023, as commercial drone operations become more common. But with more drones in the air, mishaps become more likely. In 2017, the FAA reported an average of 250 safety incidents per month, in some cases halting operations at major international airports.

Engineers test a cloud technology solution on a drone.Israeli startup Vorpal specializes in tracking and, ideally, preventing those near misses. Their drone detection and tracking solution, VigilAir, uses a geographically distributed network of sensors that scan relevant frequencies to identify drone transmissions, allowing them to identify and track drones and their operators in near-real time.

Each of Vorpal’s sensors is equipped with computing hardware that processes their location-tracking software. The more drones in the sky, the more compute power needed to handle all that data. To ensure that VigilAir can seamlessly maintain those capabilities, Vorpal is looking to the cloud, working with AT&T and Microsoft to test how edge computing could allow them to track thousands of drones at any given time.

The AT&T Foundry, a network of innovation spaces dedicated to rapid prototyping, is testing how to bring network edge compute (NEC) capabilities into AT&T’s network with Microsoft’s intelligent edge offerings, including Azure’s IoT and AI services, and Azure Stack hybrid technology. By deploying Microsoft’s advanced cloud services closer to the edge of the network, NEC could allow businesses to access low-latency network compute at a fraction of the cost of traditional, embedded processing.

Learn more about the proof-of-concept solution Vorpal is developing with AT&T and Microsoft.

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Asia and the intelligent edge: Riding a new wave of innovation

A new wave of innovation is surging ahead. And, the world’s manufacturing powerhouse, Asia, is riding its crest.

The billions of appliances, gadgets, machines, and vehicles that are routinely rolling off Asian production lines are becoming smarter and connected. So too are the factories that make them.

Built with sensors, infused with artificial intelligence (AI) and enabled by machine learning (ML), these devices will push the boundaries of the Internet of Things (IoT) through the next decade and beyond. Advanced algorithms will help them see, listen, reason, predict and more, without requiring “always on” connectivity to the cloud.

This is the intelligent edge and it is based on the principle that data has gravity. In other words, the closer we move computing to a device, the faster we can move from insights to action.

You can see edge computing is any scenario where data is collected and processed inside a device or machine, allowing it to act faster than it would if had to rely on the cloud. Equipment on a factory floor can use ML and AI to anticipate when a part will break or fail. An autonomous car will be able to take evasive action when it faces a possible collision. In both cases, the milliseconds saved could be the critical difference between a safe outcome and an accident.

At this year’s Computex trade show in Taipei, we saw how the intelligent edge will be a key part of a future in which trusted, ubiquitous computing will be part of the fabric of life.

“Everything in our lives is being connected,” Nick Parker, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Consumer and Device Sales, said in a keynote address to a sell-out audience.ws. “Whether it is the sensors in our domestic appliances, whether it is our cars, whether it is new markets for precision agriculture, whether it is the IoT of our lives, or maybe in the experiences we have with technology.”

Nick Parker, Corporate Vice President of Consumer and Device Sales, Microsoft

With insights gleaned from these connected intelligent devices, companies will be able to reimagine business models with new product offerings, new customer experiences, and new efficiencies.

The business potential is huge, and the competition is likely to be fierce. Isaiah Cheung, Microsoft’s Vice President for Consumer and Device Sales in the Greater China Region, said the race is now on among Asian manufacturers and service providers to get into the intelligent edge game.

“New emerging device companies in our region want to infuse their products with AI,” he said. “And big, established companies are doing the same. They want AI built into the big multimillion dollar machinery in their factories to improve efficiency. And, they want to build the intelligent edge into all the consumer devices, appliances and services they export around the world.

“Just the other day, I had one big brand ask me how they could put AI into a new line of rice cookers. Another one is doing the same with its white goods. The list goes on and on.”

Isaiah Cheung, Vice President, Consumer and Device Sales, Microsoft Greater China Region

To add to this progress, Microsoft has established the  Intelligent Edge Partner Community. “Our initial focus is on fostering collaboration across our partners, providing training, and early-adopter programs,” Roanne Sones, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Core Operating System and Intelligent Edge, shared. “From a resource perspective, members receive access to documentation, specs, builds and certification details to further their intelligent edge business”.

Parker sees a new wave of business opportunities and economic progress coming off the back of the intelligent edge, with Asia being a major player.

“Asia has always been very much a center of global innovation, whether it is in a lab in Shenzhen or our partnerships across the Greater China region in terms of supply chain or our partnerships in Taiwan,”  Parker to a media conference at Computex. “We see so much of our new technology, particularly in the intelligent edge, starting here and delivering worldwide.”

Roanne Sones, Corporate Vice President of Core Operating System and Intelligent Edge, Microsoft.

Asia is also playing a major role in developing new AI technologies, with Microsoft’s research labs around the world – including in China and India – working in this space for decades. They have achieved a series of breakthroughs, using the immense computing power of the Azure cloud.

With this know-how, Microsoft has been able to infuse AI into its core products and services. It has delivered AI tools and frameworks, including cognitive, vision, spatial and object APIs, and earlier this year announced a limited preview of Project Brainwave, an architecture for deep neural net processing on the edge – all of which partners can use to enable next-generation AI applications and solutions that run on devices.

Project Brainwave – a new deep learning acceleration platform for real-time AI.

Meanwhile, intelligence is spreading across mass markets as microcontroller units (MCU) become connected. These tiny AI-enabled single-chip computers (see picture at the top of this article) now power more than 9 billion new devices around the world every year.

“An MCU is a single-chip computer that is no larger than your thumbnail,” Distinguished Engineer and Managing Director at Microsoft, Galen Hunt, told the Computex audience. “These are very tiny, very low-cost chips and enabling them with connectivity means you can turn anything into an IoT device. We are headed to a world where everything can become connected.”

As amazing as they are, these tiny chips have had one a big flaw: They were never designed to be secure. When a device is compromised, it can impact your privacy, your data and your infrastructure, and even your physical security.

“If these devices aren’t secured, who are we bringing into our most personal spaces? Who are we bringing into our homes, into our schools, into our hospitals, our offices, our factories? And what is at stake? Our data, our privacy, our infrastructure, our property, even our safety.”

This changed this year when Microsoft launched Azure Sphere, an end-to-end solution for creating highly secure, MCU-powered devices.

Galen Hunt, Distinguished Engineer and Director, Microsoft

In a recent blog, Hunt described MCU internet connectivity as “a two-way street.” “With these devices becoming a gateway to our homes, workplaces, and sensitive data, they also become targets for attacks. Look around a typical household and consider what could happen when even the most mundane devices are compromised: a weaponized stove, baby monitors that spy, the contents of your refrigerator being held for ransom.

“We also need to consider that when a device becomes compromised, it’s not just a problem for the owner, it can also become a problem for society. A device can disrupt and do damage on a larger scale.”

This is what happened with the 2016 Mirai botnet attack where roughly 100,000 compromised IoT devices were repurposed by hackers into a botnet that effectively knocked the east coast of the United States off the internet for a day.

With connected MCUs built into billions of new devices every year, it is of “paramount importance” that security keeps pace with an ever-changing threat landscape.

Hunt suggests that as we look to a future, where every device will be smart or intelligent, we need to redefine what we mean by “smart”. Yes, smart devices are intuitive, insightful, and easy to use. But we need to add one more thing: Smart devices must be secure – if a device is not secure it is not smart.

This makes security essential for manufacturers in Asia and around the world. “We see an ecosystem that is very eager to deliver the products that customers need, and customers need secure products,” he said adding that Azure Sphere makes it easy for manufacturers to create smart/intelligent products that are innately secured.

READ: Unlocking the Economic Impact of Digital Transformation in Asia Pacific

ALSO READ: Microsoft’s AI Blog

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Driving opportunity for device partners in the era of the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge

Satya Nadella recently shared our vision for the future of computing – one in which the intelligent edge and intelligent cloud create experiences where trusted technology is part of the fabric of our lives.Today at Computex 2018, joined by executives from Microsoft’s engineering, marketing and research teams, I had the opportunity to share what that vision means for our device partners. The opportunity to leverage artificial intelligence (AI), ubiquitous computing and Microsoft 365 multi-device and multi-sense experiences has never been greater. Together we can create new, compelling devices and experiences in the era of the intelligent edge and intelligent cloud.

To accelerate innovation in this new era we invite all our partners to join our Intelligent Edge Partner Community. The community will help partners connect with one another to identify opportunities to collaborate on technology innovation and achieve shared business goals. In addition, community members will be able to participate in training and community events, and can participate in early-adopter programs that provide access to documentation, specs, OS builds and certification details. To sign up, simply head to http://Microsoft.com/intelligentedge.

Today, in Taipei, we announced a new category of teamwork devices: Windows Collaboration Displays. These large, interactive displays will let people experience Microsoft 365 collaboration tools: Office, Teams and Whiteboard at room scale, and include built-in sensors that can connect to Azure IoT spatial intelligence capabilities. This incredible technology will allow facility managers to utilize environmental data to make real-time decisions. A variety of collaboration displays, from Sharp and Avocor will be available later this year.

A Windows Collaboration Display from Sharp.A Windows Collaboration Display from Sharp.

We also announced Windows 10 IoT Core Services. This new service offering enables partners to commercialize a secure Internet of Things (IoT)-device backed by industry-leading support. It provides device makers the ability to manage updates for the OS, apps, settings and OEM-specific files, and is backed by 10 years of support.

Advances in ubiquitous computing and AI will drive the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge era 
Every part of our life, our homes, our cars and our workplaces are being transformed by digital technology. We are seeing this in every industry and sector of our economy.  The era of the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge will be driven by advances in ubiquitous computing, artificial intelligence and multi-sense, multi-device experiences.

First, with ubiquitous computing, Azure is being built as the world’s largest computer with cloud services from 50 regions around the planet, more than any other cloud provider. Azure also has the broadest set of compliance certifications in the industry, and brands across all industries are using Azure at scale. With offerings like Azure Stack, an extension of Azure that enables a truly consistent hybrid cloud platform; Azure IoT, a broad set of services that power IoT solutions; Azure IoT Edge, that allows devices on the edge to act on their own and connect only when needed; and Azure Sphere, a new solution to secure the 9 billion microcontroller unit (MCU)-powered devices that are built and deployed every year, Microsoft provides the most comprehensive ubiquitous computing fabric that partners can use to bring intelligence to edge devices from servers to gateways, to the smallest MCUbased sensors.

Computer scientists at Microsoft have been working on AI technologies for decades. Thanks to the immense computing power of the Azure cloud, access to comprehensive and secure data spanning services such as Bing, Office and LinkedIn, and the AI breakthroughs coming out of our worldwide network of research labs, we are uniquely able to infuse AI into our core products and services. Beyond that we’re delivering AI tools and frameworks including cognitive, vision, spatial and object APIs, and the recently announced Project Brainwave, an architecture for deep neural net processing on the edge – all of which partners can use to enable next-generation AI applications and solutions that run on devices.

Modern devices amplify the power of Microsoft 365 

Using Microsoft’s programs, platforms and suite of services, our partners are bringing to life a breadth of devices at the intelligent edge that delight customers and empower them to do more.

Microsoft 365 enables people and organizations to embrace the modern culture of work, to be more creative, work together more effectively and have a more productive experience – without sacrificing protection and security. This platform opens the door for new experiences brought to life by great hardware innovations from our partner ecosystem that helps users fluidly go from mouse to keyboard to touch to ink – and beyond, to multi-sense scenarios like voice and vision.

Modern devices from our partners light up Microsoft 365 features. Today at Computex, for the first time, we showed the brand-new HP ProBook x360 440 built for growing businesses and professionals on-the-go. Powered by Windows 10, the ultra-slim device delivers the power, security and durability businesses demand in a versatile 360-degree design. Built-in security from HP BIOSphere Gen4, a firmware ecosystem that automates protection of the BIOS, coupled with Microsoft 365 and an infrared sensor supporting Windows Hello face authentication, provides incredibly strong protection.

The new HP ProBook x360, built for businessThe new HP ProBook x360 440, built for business.

Another great device that takes advantage of Microsoft 365 is Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580, beautifully designed with an all-aluminum unibody in a luxurious Deep Dive Blue with Rose Gold detailing. This high-performance laptop isn’t just beautiful, it’s also powerful and able to handle the most demanding tasks with ease, powered by the latest eighth-generation Intel Core processors. The ZenBook Pro series also features Windows Hello capabilities and built-in support for Amazon Alexa voice services, giving users new, smart ways to interact with their laptop.

The Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580.The Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580.

Last year at Computex we announced a new category of always-connected PCs that partners including, Asus, HP and Lenovo are bringing to market. These devices come with incredible battery life and work like your phone with always-on connectivity. Earlier this week, Qualcomm announced that Samsung is joining us to expand this category of always-connected devices.

A new era needs a new level of trust

This new era represents tremendous opportunity for the ecosystem and comes with a responsibility to ensure that the technologies, devices and solutions we all create are trusted by the individuals and organizations that use them. We also need to ensure everyone can experience technology’s benefits and are inclusive. We all need to work together to ensure privacy, protect the legal rights of people around the world, drive cybersecurity efforts to keep the world safe and take steps to ensure that AI works in ethical and responsible ways.

Every part of our lives, every industry and every sector of our economy is being digitally transformed. There are limitless opportunities for Microsoft partners – from the largest Azure servers to the smallest devices using Azure Sphere and everything in between.

I’m so inspired by the opportunity for innovation that’s made possible by the intelligent cloud, the intelligent edge and AI, and I look forward to the future we’ll build together.