The Gist of Science Reporter: July 2013

The Gist of
Science Reporter: July 2013


  • Open Source and Open Innovation
  • General Public License
  • Hilka Haven for Birds
  • Microphones

Success in the Skies!

The year’s first and the country’s 101st space mission
successfully put into orbit seven satellites riding atop ISRO’s PSLV rocket. On
25th February, the Indian Space Research Organisation launched its Polar
Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) on its twenty-third successful flight from the
spaceport of Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh carrying with it the Indo-French
satellite SARAL, The PSLV C20 also carried with it six foreign mini and micro

Rising towards the evening skies with a plume of white fumes,
after a flight of 1 7 minutes 55 seconds, the PSLV safely stationed the main
payload, SARAL weighing 407 kg into an orbit very close to the intended orbit.
The six auxiliary satellites were also successfully injected into their orbits.
When reports last came In, all the six satellites had established contact with
their respective Ground Stations and were said to be in good health.
SARAL is an Indo-French joint venture. The satellite has been built by ISRO,
while the French Space Agency CNES has contributed the ARGOS-3 and AltiKa
payloads. SARAL is a 410-kg oceanographic satellite whose data will be useful
for researchers besides having many practical applications like marine
rneteoroloqv forecasting the state of the oceans, climate monitoring,
continental ice studies, environmental monitoring, protection of biodiversity
and improvement in maritime security. While AltiKa, which is an innovating
Ka-band altimeter system dedicated to accurate measurement of ocean surface
topography, would help study the sea surface heights, the ARGOS-3 payload is a
satellite-based data collection platform.

Besides SARAL the other satellites successfully carried out
into orbit by the PSLV are two micro-satellites UniBRITE and BRITE from Austria
and AAUSAT3 from Denmark and STRaND- 1 from United Kingdom. There is also one
micro-satellite (NEOSSat) and one mini-satellite (SAPPHIRE) from Canada.

Canada’s SAPPHIRE is the Canadian military’s first satellite
in space. It is a space-based electro-optical sensor that will track man-made
space objects in high Earth orbit. It will try to make sure that none of the
almost 20,000 orbiting pieces, including junk and orbiting satellites, collide
with each other.

UniBRITE and BRITE from Austria have been developed in
collaboration with the Institute of Communication Networks and Satellite
Communications (IKS) at the Technical University of Graz (TUG), Institute for
Astronomy of the University of Vienna.

AAUSAT3 is a micro satellite built and operated by students
from Aalborg University in Denmark. All design, implementation and manufacturing
was carried out by students.

STRaND-1 is a 30 cm 3.5 kg mini satellite. At its heart is a
Google Nexus One Smartphone with an Android operating system and highly advanced
features that are integral to a satellite such as cameras, radio links,
accelerometers and high performance computer processors. It is also loaded with
a number of experimental Apps’. Designed to test commercial off-the-shelf
technologies in space, STRaND-l is the first Smartphone-operated satellite in

PSLV, the trusted warhorse of ISRO, has proved its
versatility ever since its first successful launch in 1994. It has launched 27
Indian satellites and 35 foreign satellites. It also launched India’s first
spacecraft mission to moon, Chandrayaan-1, in 2008. Next, it is also scheduled
to launch India’s first interplanetary mission, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)
spacecraft, by the end of this year.

Open Source and Open Innovation

Is it possible that solely by voluntary efforts, world-class
software and products are produced and distributed with limited conditions and
often at reasonable cost? Can goods and services be produced and offered for
public benefit by coordinating the efforts of teams spread across the world
without the intervention of state or big corporations?

If these sound too unbelievable or utopian, think again. How
about Linux? Apache – a widely used server software – is an open source software
similar to Linux. Both Linux and Apache are products of open source development.
Open Source models have gone beyond software and are in use in biotechnology and
drug discovery development.

The origins of open source can be traced to the Free Software
movement initiated by hackers, of whom Richard Stallman became a cult figure.
The free Software movement was for development of Software and its free
distribution for users to develop it further, modify and distribute as the user
wishes. The Free Software is for freedom of programmers. That means freedom from
restrictions by commercial firms, no restrictions on account of intellectual
property rights are considered as important goals in the free Software movement.
In general, while open source projects are based on a project or addressing a
problem, open innovation projects are based in firms or in consortiums. The firm
takes the lead in open innovation as it feels that need for it while open source
projects are initiated by programmers who organize themselves as teams and
identify coordinators to facilitate smooth functioning. Most of the open source
programmers do it on a voluntary basis but some firms employ them for this

Often Software and products are protected by intellectual
property rights that provide exclusive rights to the inventor or licensee. In
most countries, Software is protected by copyright while in some it can be
protected by copyright and patent both. In case of open source approach, the
objective is to enhance the freedom than to restrict it. But intellectual
property rights are needed; if the innovation is not protected by them anybody
can free ride and appropriate it and also try to obtain intellectual property
rights by making slight changes.

The open source approach to overcome this problem is to
develop a license that enables sharing without bringing in proprietary norms to
restrict development and Sharing. The General Public License or the licenses
derived from it are used for this purpose. The basic dictum is share what you
have created with others on the terms with which you have received the
contribution of others; don’t block further innovation by securing rights that
prevent further innovation.

Open Software Vs Free Software

Open Source approach is different from free software approach
in many ways. The important one is open source approach is not averse to
commercialization of software. But the objective of the open source approach is
to strike a balance between proprietary software development approach, which
severely restricts users’ rights, and the free software approach, which is
averse to commercialization.

Open Source approach is based on a simple and profound fact that when

thousand brains try to do something or solve a puzzle the outcome would be
better than one brain could do. As Eric Raymond puts it:

While organizations employ thousands of persons and have
systems of coordination the incentive there is monetary and other benefits,
where as in open source software it is almost voluntary effort and many do it
for the pleasure in finding solutions to challenges, to prove their talent and
thereby gain reputation and recognition or for the sheer pleasure in
programming. Open Source software development is organized in terms of teams and
the developing an application/software will involve many teams that are spread
across different time zones and continents. These teams achieve unparalleled
productivity thanks to modularity.

But how is this enforced? GPL is a legally binding license
and its validity is upheld by courts. GPL is based on copyright but as it
applies copyright in a unique way, it is called as copy left!

Open Innovation is based on the simple fact that however big
an organization may be, it may not have all the skills and capabilities to
address all its problems. Some of the best minds and resources are outside the
organization. Open Innovation was conceptualized by Chesesbrough, according to
whom, ‘’At its root Open Innovation assumes that useful knowledge. is widely
distributed, and that even most capable R&D organizations must identify, connect
to, and leverage external knowledge sources as a core process of innovation.”

Models of Open Innovation

Advances in production and distribution of knowledge and
collaborative possibilities made available by developments in informatics and
communication technologies have facilitated open innovation. For organizations,
using Open Innovation is a pragmatic solution when there is a need to tap
knowledge and resources that are essential to solve a problem or pursue an
objective are available only outside the organization.

Here too the idea is no problem is big if sufficient numbers
of persons or teams try to solve it. An organization can announce a prize amount
for anyone who can find a solution by throwing open the challenge. This is a
simple model of open innovation. There are many examples for this including the
DST sponsored one in India and Innocentive.

But in most cases open innovation is organized through
networks or consortiums or through collaborative projects. This is all the more
relevant when the resource or knowledge has to be shared so that different
organizations can pursue their objectives collaboratively and still benefit from
it. Organizations come together and evolve norms for sharing knowledge and
materials. This entails joining hands for collaborative knowledge production in
cases where joint benefits outweigh the costs and no organization can benefit if
each organization tries to block access to others.

For instance, by forming a consortium, organizations can
share knowledge produced by each other among themselves and also develop rules
regarding seeking intellectual property rights. Access can be limited to members
and rules for sharing can be enforced. Such collaborative consortiums and
networks have proliferated in the last decade particularly in health genomics
and biopharmaceuticals. A third party (say government agency) can bring together
the organizations to develop such collaboration and manage it.

The vexing question of intellectual property rights is
handled in both open source and open innovation in many ways. While both models
of innovation are not against intellectual property rights, IPRs are designed
with the objectives of furthering innovation and sharing the products of
collaboration than to use it to block further development and monopolize rights.

In case of Open Source, GPL or its derivatives are used for
this purpose. In open innovation approach, organizations allow patenting the
contributions but also ensure that securing intellectual property rights does
not harm the interests of other organizations in the consortium or network. Such
an arrangement can include a norm that all organizations will not seek
intellectual property right protection to data per se and/or will share their
data with others on terms that are mutually beneficial in cases where upstream
discovery cannot result in commercial products or costs upstream competition are

These approaches have resulted in interesting arrangements
for sharing resources. One such arrangement is creation of a “commons”. In
regular parlance, we think that resource in a commons is free for all with no
strings attached. It can thus be exploited by all and it will be ruined. This
understanding was made popular by the famous essay of Hardin on the Tragedy of
Commons. But as the Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom and others have showed in
several cases, communities can collectively and sustainably manage common
resources and the tragedy of commons is only one of the possible scenarios.

Collective management and development of commons makes
possible not only drawing upon the commons but also contributing to it. Today
there are many Commons and methods that facilitate sharing therein. In 2005, a
Patent Commons was created by Open Source Development Laboratories for
furthering Open Source Software development. This Commons facilitates access to
patents on some conditions. Not all users need to be contributors or vice versa.

General Public License

General Public License (GPL) or its derivatives are widely
used in Free/Open Source Software development and distribution. The GNU GPL was
originally written by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation for GNU
Project. It assures end users the freedom to use, share/copy, study and modify

GPL uses “CopyLeft” so that teh freesoms are conserved
whenever the software is distributed, irrespective of changes or additions. A
copyleft license mandates that derived software can be distributed only on the
same license terms. The GPL mandmates that a distributor may not impoe “further
restrictions on the rights granted by the GPL”.

Adhering to Copyleft principle ensures that the work of the
programmers who contributed to Linux Kernel development would not be
misappropriated and would be available freely. Linux Kernel is made available
under GPL. Some software is made available under multiple license, with GPL or
its derivatives being one oof them. GPL Version 3 was released in 2007.

The further development of Open Source Software development
benefits companies that use Open Source Software or develop them. For example,
IBM uses Open Source Software in some of its products and any further
development of that software benefits IBM as IBM can access that software
without investing on its own. Supporting Open Source Software and such Commons
helps IBM to further its business objectives.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) based in Geneva
has promoted Eco-Patent Commons, In this Commons, access to patented
technologies in energy and environment sector is provided to any firm or
individual under some conditions so that these technologies can be used for
developing innovations in finding solutions to global climate change.

In agricultural biotechnology, CAMBIA. an organization based
in Australia, has used the Open Source model in sharing technology in
agricultural biotechnology. Janet Hope, an Australian researcher, has examined
the relevance of open source in biotechnology in her book Biobazaar: The Open
Source Revolution and Biotechnology. I have developed a BioLinux Model as an
alternative model in plant varieties and seeds, based on open source, and also,
in conjunction with participatory plant breeding.

An open source approach has been discussed as a suitable
model for drug discovery and development. CSIR’s Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD)
Project is an important initiative in this regard. OSDD is coordinated by CSIR
and the contributors who can be anywhere in the world, ranging from students and
amateur scientists to top ranking experts. Web-based sharing of results and data
and mechanisms to facilitate collaboration and help in problem identification
and solving them have made this project a pioneer in this field. If OSDD
succeeds in finding affordable and effective drugs for TB that would truly be a
remarkable solution to a global health problem.

Innovations from both Open Source and Open Innovation can be
made more accessible by licensing mechanisms, patent pools, use of clearing
houses and other mechanisms. Patent pools are mechanisms to share patents.
Product development is facilitated by mutual sharing of patents particularly
when the necessary technology is covered by many patents and are held by
multiple firms. These are used in electronics and health sector.
In some cases governments mandate development of such pools so that the country
can benefit from technological advancements. The pool mandated by government of
USA to share aircraft technology is a classic example. In licensing, there are
licenses like Humanitarian Use Licensing that mandates sharing of further
innovations and licenses derived from GPL. Clearing Houses bring together
technology developers and users and facilitate exchange of technology and help
both to share technology for mutual benefit. Thus combining Open Source and Open
Innovation models with these mechanisms can facilitate access, and help in
innovating further.
While there are many merits in both open source and open innovation approaches,
they ore yet to be proven as viable solutions in many sectors. Open Source has
proved that it is a viable option in software sector but replicating that in
other sectors, particularly where access to materials is necessary, remains a
challenge. Today some of these problems are addressed through open access
databases, open source programs and software in different fields and by
developing pools or shared resources.

To sum up, Open Source and Open Innovation exemplify the power of
collaboration and sharing and provide alternative models for innovation.

Hilka Haven for Birds

The largest lagoon along the east coast of India, Chilika is
a unique assemblage of marine, brackish and fresh water ecosystem with estuarine
characters. Fifty-two rivers and rivulets drain into the Chilika. This lake,
which is the largest in the subcontinent, varies in its extent in the dry and
wet seasons between about 560 and 1100 square kilometres and is about 32
kilometres wide at its broadest.

It has been formed due to the silting action of the Mahanadi
River, which drains into the northern end of the lake, and the northerly
currents in the Bay of Bengal, which have formed a sandbar along the eastern
shore leading to the formation of a shallow lagoon. Spread over the Puri, Khurda
and Ganjam districts of Odisha, Chilika is the largest coastal lagoon in Asia.

Chilika Lake is the largest wintering ground for migratory
birds in the Indian subcontinent. Considered as one of the hotspots of
biodiversity, the Chilika shelters a number of endangered species listed in the
IUCN red list of threatened species, and is also a designated Ramsar site, that
is, a wetland of International Importance.

Its part freshwater and part saltwater character, very high
productivity and the presence of a variety of habitats in and around the lake
allow the proliferation of an amazing number of species.

The fauna’ of this water body includes fishes and several
varieties of prawns, crabs and oysters. Endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins are the
other attraction. It shelters the largest population of these dolphins. A few
amphibians and reptiles including water snakes are also seen.

The rich fishery resources of the lagoon sustain the
livelihood of more than 0.15 million fisher folk who live in and around the
lagoon. The total number of fish species in Chilika is reported to be 225. Along
with a variety of phytoplankton, algae and aquatic plants, the lagoon also
supports over 720 species of non-aquatic plants and a rich diversity of fauna.
This list includes a number of rare, threatened and endangered species,
including the Barakudia limbless skink.

Chilika is also one of the terminuses on the migratory
flyways and some of the largest congregations of aquatic birds in India can be
seen here, particularly in winter. It is the wintering ground for more than one
million migratory birds. Flocks of migratory waterfowl arrive from as far as the
Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of
Mongolia, Central and South East Asia, Ladakh and the Himalayas. The species of
birds that flock to the Chilika include flamingos, Great- crested grebes,
shovellers, pintails, gadwalls, coots, teals, pochards, geese, Peregrine falcon,
Sea eagle, sandpiper, herons, and many others.
The year 2002 was a landmark year in the recognition of conservation efforts at
the Chilika Lake. Chilika was taken out of the Montreux Record, which was “a
record of Ramsar sites where changes in ecological character have occurred, are
occurring or are likely to occur”. Due to the improved conditions of the lake,
Chilika Lake is the first Ramsar site in Asia to be removed from the Montreux

In 2002, the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award was presented
to the Chilika Development Authority for “outstanding achievements in the field
of restoration and wise use of wetlands and effective participation of local
communities in these activities”. The Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puruskar was also
awarded to the Chilika Development Authority in the same year for the
outstanding contribution of conservation and restoration of the Chilika lake


The word “microphone” comes from the Greek words “micro”,
meaning mall, and “phone” meaning voice. This word first appeared in a
dictionary in 1683, where it was defined as “an instrument by which small sounds
are intensified”. Microphones convert sound waves into electrical voltages. They
were first used with early telephones, and then radio transmitters.

A variety of mechanical techniques can be used in building
microphones. The two most commonly encountered in recording studios are the
magneto-dynamic and the variable condenser designs.

The first microphone was a telephone transmitter, developed
almost simultaneously by Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. This
transmitter had a black funnel-shaped mouthpiece, at the base of which was a
stretched membrane diaphragm. A metal pin through the center of the diaphragm
extended down into the metal cup below. The cup contained a dilute acid. An
ohmmeter between the cup and the pin showed a fixed resistance. Any movement of
the diaphragm moved the pin up and down in the liquid and the resistance would
vary accordingly. If wires from the pin and cup were connected in series with a
battery and telephone receiver, any talk directed into the mouthpiece would
produce articulate speech in the receiver.

With the telephone business picking up around 1877, several
other experiments were made with microphones. After the magneto type, the next
improved transmitter to be put into use was Edison’s lampblack carbon unit,
another variable-resistance design. It was more sensitive and reliable, needing
adjustment only occasionally. The next innovation in transmitter design was by
Henry Hunnings of England who used granules of coke between the diaphragm and a
metal back plate. This design originated in 1878 and was patented in 1879. This
transmitter was very efficient and could carry more current than its competitors
at that time.

In 1886, Edison improved this type of transmitter by
designing a small button-type container and using processed anthracite granules.
In 1892, A.C. White improved upon this button by using a polished carbon block
as a rear plate and a similar block n front against a mica disc, and with the
carbon granules in between. Due to the flexibility of the mica disc, it worked
like a piston. This button, mounted firmly in the transmitter housing, gave the
industry its first reliable transmitter. Known as the Whit “solid-back” type, it
was used from 1892 until about 1925.

When wireless telegraphy was invented in 1895, in addition to
telephony the microphone found another job-sending speech over radio waves. Back
in 1879 and 1881 respectively, Edison and Dolbear introduced condenser
transmitters. They were not practical at the time for telephone use but now they
were reintroduced with the search for high-power microphones. Between 1900 and
1915, J. Berliner made a high-current carbon microphone that was air-cooled by a
fan mounted under the microphone.

Blondell and Chambers had developed flame microphones in 1902
and 1910. In this design, spark rods in an oscillating circuit adjusted just
short of sparking. A flame is adjusted to reach up to the gap. As one spoke into
the mouthpiece, the diaphragm vibrated and altered the pressure of the gas
supply, causing the flame to change its length. This varied the resistance
between the gap points, and sparking occurred in response to its movements.

Around 1915, Western Electric supplied simple “loud speaking
outfit”, for very small paging applications and chauffeur-driven cars. After
World War I, the radio industry grew by leaps and bounds. The populace was
introduced to “public-address systems” (or sound-reinforcement systems as we
know them today). The early radio station used the candlestick telephone for a
microphone. With the receiver off-hook, the speaker was on the air. As time
passed, the receiver was removed, along with the hook switch and contacts,
leaving the microphone “on” at all times. In this case the volume and on-off
functions were controlled by the engineer. In some cases the short mouthpiece
was replaced with a brass megaphone six inches long. This allowed the announcer
or performer to work at greater distances from the microphone.
An unusual microphone produced by Westinghouse was the “Hushaphone” for noisy
areas. The radio studio became busy at times with one or two people preparing
for a programme. The announcer could talk into this microphone and it would not
pick up anything in the background.

Until ribbon types came on the scene, microphones were
omni-directional in their pickup patterns. This means they picked up sound from
all directions. The ribbon microphones were bi-directional. They picked up
sounds equally from front and rear, but little from the sides, top or bottom.
Next came the “shotgun” or “rifle” microphone, which was used for long-distance

Dr. James West received a patent, along with Gerhard Sessler,
for the electro acoustic transducer, an electrets microphone, which offered
greater reliability, higher precision, lower cost and smaller size. The electret
microphone revolutionized the microphone industry, with almost one billion
manufactured each year. West and Sessler were inducted into the National
Inventors Hall of Fame in 1999. Today you have tie-clip microphones,
ear-cum-microphones and minute wireless microphones with a large range that we
often fail to even notice.

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