Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fuzzy Logic

Business India, November 30-December 13, 1998

Closer to real life

Fuzzy-logic-based consumer goods may not be worth their premium prices, but in complex systems, and where safety is involved, fuzzy logic scores high.

Shivanand Kanavi

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a machine? That it is mechanical. Which means that it does exactly what it is instructed to do at the press of a button or turn of a knob. The machine sees everything in terms of discrete numbers with no choices in between. That means that you, the user, have a limited choice - you cannot get the benefit of the in-between values, be they temperature for an air-conditioner or intermedi­ate distances for an auto focus camera.

That is changing, thanks to what is called fuzzy logic. This logic, used to programme newer, more sophisti­cated machines, works differently. Unlike conventional machines, which act on simple yes-no instruc­tions, fuzzy logic machines can oper­ate in more complex conditions. In that sense they behave more like humans, whose thought processes are complex.

Let us take the example of a family deciding to shift house. Many consid­erations are weighed before a deci­sion is taken. For example, the new house is bigger, but is further from the husband's office, though it is closer to the wife's dispensary and daughter's school. The cost per square foot of the built-up area is higher, but the location is cleaner and quieter. And so on.

In short, the new house has a number of pluses and minuses. The family's decision will ultimately be either yes or no, but it will have been arrived at as a result of a complex process in which the factors involved are given varying degrees of impor­tance or weights. That is what statis­ticians would call a weighted average. To put it simply, that is how fuzzy­ logic-based machines work.

Fuzzy logic has found numerous applications in the control systems of complex machinery. In the 1990s Japanese and Korean companies have launched a large number of consumer goods with fuzzy controls. For exam­ple, a fuzzy-logic washing machine uses sensors to measure the size of the wash load and the turbidity in the wash water (which will indicate the amount of dirt in the wash). A few fuzzy rules then turn these signals into patterns of water agitation for different lengths of time and different amounts of detergent to be released by the dispenser. Accurate and inexpensive sensors became widely available in the late 1980s, as did fuzzy chips, and thus consumer goods with fuzzy controls became a reality (see table).

The shopper's guide to fuzzy logic
Product Manufacturers The fuzzy advantage
Air-conditioner Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Sharp, Matsushita (Videocon) Consumes less power
Auto engine Nissan/NOK Controls fuel injection
Camcorder Matsushita Cancels hand-held Jitter and adjusts auto focus
Photocopier Canon Adjusts drum voltage based on picture density, temperature, and humidity
Dishwasher Matsushita
Adjusts cleaning cycle and rinse and wash Strategies
Refrigerator Sharp, Daewoo(India) Sets defrosting and cooling times based on
Rice cooker Matsushita, Sanyo Sets cooking time according to amounts of rice and water
Television Sanyo(BPL), LG, Samsung, Sony Adjusts screen and texture for each frame
Video Camera Canon, Sanyo Adjusts auto-focus and lighting
Washing machine Daewoo(India), Matsushita(Videocon), Sanyo(BPL), LG, Hitachi, Samsung
Adjusts washing according to dirt level, fabric type, load, and water level.

Some of these products have reached the Indian market recently. For example, Videocon and BPL have introduced fuzzy-logic washing machines based on Matsushita and Sanyo technology. Daewoo has intro­duced its own fuzzy washing machines and refrigerators. Videocon has a fuzzy air-conditioner, BPL a colour TV, and so on. All these machines are priced 10-20 percent higher than the non-fuzzy models. The companies claim that the payoff is in ease of use and better perfor­mance. But will a fuzzy washing machine save Rs.3,000 worth of power and detergent in its design life of, say, 5-7 years? Not very likely. Besides, if something happens to the fuzzy circuitry, the repair charges are steep as the companies keep the design proprietary.

Doubtful value for money
Today fuzzy control systems have further evolved into even more advanced adaptive fuzzy. These systems change their fuzzy rules as the environment changes or as the machine undergoes wear and tear. Now we have refrigerators with adap­tive fuzzy logic which change their compressor cycles on the basis of how the consumer uses the fridge. Is the door opened very often in the morn­ing and evening and not during the rest of the day and most of the night (as a working couple with no children might do)? In a house with many children, the door might be opened often, except when they are in school or sleeping. The pattern might change again during the summer and winter vacations, and so on. The adaptive fuzzy chip learns the pattern of usage, records it in an internal clock, and triggers off the compressor accordingly. Consumer goods with adaptive fuzzy logic control are even more expensive and doubtful value for money.

“Fuzzy is wrong, wrong, and pernicious"

“So for as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain. And so far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.
– Albert Einstein (Geometrie und Erfahrung)

Fuzzy logic and its application suffered from official neglect and even ridicule in the US. A distinguished electrical engi­neer once said, Fuzzy theory is wrong, wrong, and pernicious. Fuzzy logic is the cocaine of science.”

Another traditionalist added: "Fuzzification is a kind of scientific permissiveness. It tends to result in socially appealing slogans unaccompanied by hard scientific work." Such strong opin­ions were a product of intolerance and fundamentalism that no doubt exist in many influential members of the scientific establishment. It was also provoked by the fact that initial advocates of fuzzy thinking gave only "hand-waving arguments" and no "hard science". Today the conserva­tives have had to eat crow. IEEE, the most prestigious body of electrical engineers worldwide, has a separate journal for research in fuzzy logic. Many Japanese and Korean companies have also turned these ideas into commercial success.

Lotfi Zadeh, an Iranian born in Azerbai­jan, developed fuzzy logic while teaching electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid- 1960s. He used his prestige as a brilliant systems engineer to encourage people to work in fuzzy logic, but he faced constant ridicule. Today, he has been vindicated after a hard struggle. However hard nuts among the traditionalists have tried rationalise the fuzzy logic phenomenon by calling it some sort of Oriental mysticism (and hence Asian companies were the pioneers). However, today fuzzy is part of the arsenal of any expert in artificial intelligence.

Interestingly there was a school of Jain logicians in ancient India who had devel­oped a six-valued logic called shyadvad, instead of the Aris­totelian yes-no type of binary logic.

However, adaptive fuzzy logic is a must in more complex systems like a steel rolling mill, an aircraft, or a high-speed train. For example, if the control system of a helicopter can adjust itself to wear and tear, and changes in the outside temperature and dusty conditions, it can fly safely even in severe conditions. The absence of such adaptive controls led to failure of the commando operation launched by Jimmy Carter during the hostage crisis in Iran. Many of the US choppers crashed in the hot and dusty deserts of Iran before they could get anywhere near the hostages!

Today, adaptive fuzzy logic is being used in a large number of non-mechanical applications as well, such as evaluating takeover targets, modelling econometric changes, simulating test marketing, project management, and so on.

Fuzzy logic tries to accommodate the greyness of life as against the black and white of Aristotelian logic and is thus an advance of theory. Control systems or simulation programmes based on it are a step closer to the complexities of real life and play an important role where the cost of a mistake can be frightful. However, applications where the controls are not critical, as in a wash­ing machine or air-conditioner or fridge, are of doubtful value to the consumer.

Himalayan Bio-resources

Business India, June 12-25, 2000
Bouquet of technology blossoms

Can plant biotechnology yield better tea, high value flowers, aromatic plants rich in essential oils and new drug molecules from rare Himalayan plants? Yes, proves the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHGT) at Palampur

Shivanand Kanavi

Englishmen who fancied the hills of Himachal, which reminded them of Scotland, found refuge from the hot Indo-Gangetic plains in cooler climes of Shimla, Dalhousie, Mcleodgunj, Forsythgunj, Barot, and other places. They also brought in tea cultivation to the region. Tea from Kangra Valley was at one time bought at a premium. However, the neglect of the tea gardens by local owners after Independence led to the fall of Kangra tea. Most tea gardens became weed gardens and production touched the nadir of less than 6 lakh kg a year. Today Kangra tea has bounced back the production has gone up in less than 10 years to 1.6 million kg, with the same acreage under cultivation.

The credit goes to a band of scientists at the youngest and one of the smallest CSIR laboratories – IHBT Palampur. They painstakingly educated the growers in the area and introduced proper practices in weeding, pruning, and plucking, and the correct use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers. On the other hand, as concern has grown in export markets about pesticide residues in tea, IHBT has set up an advanced analytical lab for the same.

As growers face labour shortage during several months of the busy plucking season of March-October, the institute has also developed machines, in collaboration with Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute, Durgapur, for mechanised tea plucking thereby improving productivity 10-20 times. “The machines have found favour with several planters and some companies have bought the design from CSIR and manufacture the same,” says S.D. Ravindranath, head of the tea division at IHBT.

It may not sound very hi-tech, but nevertheless it boosts the local economy. Meanwhile plant biotechnologists at Palampur are also doing cutting-edge work in tea, to genetically alter it. Their aim is to produce a variety, which will sprout in cold climates as well. Since tea goes “dormant” in this region for almost five months a year, additional sprouting for even a month or two more, would be a major boon for the industry.

Himachal provides the ideal agroclimatic conditions for floriculture. “What we did when we took up floriculture as a major thrust area, was to first study the market, to see which
Variety of flowers fetch the maximum value in Delhi market and in which season,” says D. Mukherjee, who heads the floriculture division. As a result, IHBT developed several new varieties of flowers which are commercially attractive to growers. They are also working on producing tulips, gladioli, bird of paradise, lilliums, and others, which will flower off-season, or on a particular day, like Valentine’s Day, Christmas, etc. Today, the floriculture industry in India pays through its nose to buy good planting material from European sources. This makes the work undertaken by Mukherjee and his team all the more important.
Research done at Palampur on plant viruses has led to the recognition of this lab as a major center for plant virus research. This work is particularly important to help floriculturists when their crops are attacked by dreaded viruses.

Another thrust area for the lab, which is having significant impact on the regional economy, is essential oils from aromatic plants, a passion of Paramvirsingh Ahuja, director of the lab. Work in this area has resulted in the release of a Damask Rose (Rosa damascena), a variety rich in rose oil. Oil from this flower can fetch up to Rs.3 lakh per kilo in today’s market. According to Ahuja, the aroma of cash flow is bringing many farmers from not only Himachal but even Punjab, who are tired of growing wheat and basmati rice, with diminishing returns, and who are ready to take new risks.

India is one of the largest producers of essential oils in the world. IHBT, however, is concentrating on two things in this area. One: producing inexpensive designs distilling equipment, so that farmers can themselves put up oil extraction plants. (The natural products group led by V.K. Kaul has already developed and transferred the design of distillation plants to some fabricators. The farmers can now realise higher value, instead of selling bulk material to middlemen.) Two: to develop the technology to farm high-value aromatic plants like lavender, geraniums, etc.

However, what makes this lab a truly Himalayan Bioresource Technology Lab is its focus on the need to identify, preserve, and harness the vast biodiversity of the Himalayas. These mountains, which protect the plains of India form the harsh, cold winds from Tibet, are also recognised the world over as repositories of several important medicinal plants. For example, important anti-cancer drugs are extracted from Himalayan plants like Taxus Picrorhiza kurroa, a plant known for hepato-protective activity, and hypericum, whose anti-AIDS activity has been reported.

These plants are rare to find, difficult to grow, and are facing extinction due to unscrupulous exporters and uncaring pharmaceutical companies. The lab is quietly working on locating areas of concentration of such plants along with the Department of Space and Department of Biotechnology, so that satellite imagery can be used to locate a medicinal plant high up on the mountains. The lab is also developing the technology to “domesticate” such plants so that they can be grown in large quantities in controlled conditions.

“What’s new about this, after all, tissue culture is the answer,” one might ask. But life is not that simple. Many important medicinal plants grow in very severe conditions. In fact, there is a theory that severe conditions induce plants to produce the all-important alkaloids and metaboloids that yield drug molecules. In that case how can we grow them in less severe climates in labs and hothouses and still harvest the same amount of phytochemicals? “It took mankind about 10,000 years to domesticate wild rice and wheat, so we cannot hope to domesticate wild medicinal plants without intensive research and using modern biotechnology,” says Ahuja.

Aware of the wealth hidden in the Himalayas, the lab has a special biodiversity group made up of scientists like Brij Lal and S.K Vats, who wander in remote areas high up in the mountains, which are difficult to access, in search of the rare medicinal plants. Naturally you need to be a good mountain trekker and a naturalist of the 19th century mould – a rare combination indeed. In fact, Brij Lal belongs to a rare breed called ethnobotanists, who specialise not only in being good botanists and taxonomists but who also learn dialects of the tribals, befriend them in remote areas, and tap into their knowledge base of folk medicine. Ethnobotanists collect the plants used by tribals and nomads for medicinal purposes, identify them in modern botanical terms, preserve the plant material in herbaria, and so on. Today CSIR is involved in a major hush-hush programme of tapping India’s vast knowledge base of Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, and tribal medicine in search of new wonder drugs. IHBT has a key role to play in this due to its knowledge of the Himalayas.

A search by IHBT in the Lahaul-Spiti valley for plants which are able to withstand the cold desert conditions has led to detection and isolation of the gene which makes a plant resistant to cold. According to Manju Sharma, secretary Department of Biotechnology, an international patent has been filed on this discovery.

Clearly, this lean and young lab, perched at the foot of the Dhavaldhar Himalayas, is showing how to use technology, high or low, to greater economic good of the region.

Trekking in Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal

Business India, May 17-30, 1999
Annapurna, an extreme close up

Nepal provides unparalleled trekking opportunities in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas for even rookie trekkers

Shivanand Kanavi

If one wants to be in the serene presence of magnificent snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas without being hardcore climbers and trekkers then the best area is around the Anna­purna range in north central Nepal bordering Tibet. The range includes such giants as Annapurna I - 8,091 metres, Machhapuchre (Fish Tail) ­6,993 m, Niligiri-7,061 m, Dhavalgiri -8,167 m, Tukuche-6,920m, Tilicho - 7,134 m and so on. The most endearing aspect of trekking in the Anna­purna region is the handshaking distance from the awe-inspiring peaks.

The trekking routes in the area orig­inate from Pokhara, a major city in Nepal. The city itself is located in a valley (altitude 833 m) and is blessed with the beautiful Phewa lake. Here you will have the unique opportunity of boating in the Phewa tal surrounded by green hills like Sarangkot (1,600 m) while actually gazing at the Annapurna and Machha­puchre peaks, nearly 8,000 metres up in the sky. There are many options for a trekker in this region depending on his physical capabilities and the time he can spend, starting with a two-day trek to week long treks and even two and three week long treks.

Annapurna sanctuary
If you have a week at your disposal then there are two options. One is to start from Pokhara, go to Ghorepani (2,700 m) and come back. The other is to reach Jomsom (2,700 m) and fly back or fly to Jomsom and trek back to Pokhara. The Pokhara-Ghorepani­-Pokhara trek is known as the Anna­purna sanctuary trek. This trek takes you into thickly-forested areas from the tropical to the rhododendron forests. The brightly-coloured pink and red rhododendrons are the national flowers of Nepal and blossom in April, brightening up the whole forest. As you near Ghorepani one then rises into coniferous forests as well. Needless to say, one gets darshan of the Annapurna range intermit­tently as a lot of paths are in the valleys. One is also constantly surrounded by not only flora but also mountain springs and waterfalls. 01 course since there are many steep climbs and downhills on this route you better have strong knees. You feel the pinch especially when coming downhill. It is definitely advisable to take a guide-cum-porter.

On day one you reach Sarangkot, stay there, get up early and see the glorious sunrise on Annapurna and then walk down to Navapool on the Jomsom-Baglung highway. From Navapool cross over to Birethanthi which is at the confluence of the rush­ing waters of Modi and Bhurungdi. One can continue from Birethanthi along Bhurungdi river and can end day two at Ramghar. Since most of this trek is in the valleys, it gets dark pretty fast and a sweaty afternoon turns pretty quickly into a freezing evening even in May. By 7:00 pm one might actually end up sitting around the boiler in an inn to get warmed up. Due to the presence of thick forests in the area one frequently encounters sudden rains and hailstorms in the afternoons.

On the third day one rises up from the river valley and climbs the step steps of Tikhedunga and stop at Ulleri (2,073 m). The climb involves a rise of more than 5,000 feet in one day by climbing over 3,000 steps. The glorious views of the valley compensate for the huffing and puffing. But huff and puff shamelessly so that the body gets as much oxygen as possible and as quickly as possible. The fourth day you climb up from Ulleri to Ghorepani (2,700 m). Stay at Ghorepani and next day morning rush to Poon Hill nearby, which is another 500 feet up. The panoramic view of the whole Anna­puma range from Poon Hill is unbeliev­able. On the fifth day start climbing down from Ghorepani and reach Tada­pani. The path goes through thick forest and when you reach Tadapani in the evening, with every limb aching, there is a glorious view of the Machha­puchre waiting for you at about 7:30 pm. When the valley is dark, the peak is lit up with the unearthly golden yellow rays of sunset. It will be one of those sights in your life which cannot be writ­ten about, nor captured in film, but which remain imprinted in your mind.

On sixth day you start from Tada­pani and reach Ghandrung (1,951 m), a lovely village full of gurungs. On day seven travel down from Ghandrung via Shoule Bazaar to Birethanthi and Navapool. At Navapool one reaches the Pokhara-Baglung highway, and one can provide the luxury of a one-­and-a-half hour bus ride back to Pokhara to one's aching limbs.

Dhavalgiri, shaligrams and…..
The other option, if you have only a week to ten days is to fly from Pokhara to Jomsom and trek back to Pokhara, which is known as the Annapurna circuit. Jomsom (2,700 m) is the head­quarters of Mustang district bordering Tibet. The place is also the nearest airport to thefamous Muktinath peak (3,800 m) which is a major pilgrim centre mentioned even in the Mahab­harat. The pious rich who want to visit the Vishnu temple at Muktinath can also charter a helicopter from Jomsom perform their puja and get back to Jomsom the same day. By trekking it takes three days, mainly due to acclimatisation required at the high altitude.

Jomsom town lies in the valley of Kali Gandaki, a river apparently older than the Himalayas. The moun­tain flight from Pokhara takes only 20 minutes but gives you memorable views of the Himalayas and even the brightly-coloured rhododendron forests. When you reach Jomsom, the towering peaks of Nilgiri and Tilicho watch over you at all times in the clear mountain air. The closeness of the mountains can be guessed from the fact that a snow avalanche on the Nilgiri North peak could easily be heard from Jomsom town. Once you reach Jomsom spend a day in the town to acclimatise yourself. There is a well­ documented eco-museum where one can spend at least an hour or two fruit­fully. The museum depicts various aspects of history, geology, botany, culture and legends of Mustang district.

Scattered pearls of wisdom

How to get there by Air: Fly to Kathmandu and then take a local flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara. For the last leg take a mountain flight from Pokhara to Jomsom.
By Rail and Road: Reach Gorakhpur by rail from where the Nepal border at Sunauli is three hous away. Cross the border and get a bus or a taxi to Pokhara. (5-10 hours depending on the mode of transport). One can drive an Indian registered vehicle into Nepal; however the authorities at the border take away the Indian number plate and provide you with a temporary Nepali number plate.
Travel documents: Indians do not need a passport or visa and Indian currency is widely accepted all over Nepal.
Special Tips: If you are going to cross the border by road then be prepared for harassment form Indian customs and police when you are returning. You can be saved a lot of embarrassment it you register mobile phone, cameras and any other electronic goods that you are taking into Nepal with the Indian customs post at the border right when you are entering.
Accommodation & food: There are a large number of inns that provide decent accommodation in every village around Annapurna. The rooms cost anywhere from Rs20 Nepali (Rs100=Rs160 Nepali) to Rs300 N. The inns more than make up for it in their food bills, which can run up to Rs500 N per person per day. A coke which costs Rs15 N at Pokhara can cost Rs 60 N at Jomsom or Ghorepani as it has to be hauled up on mule back. It is best to stick to dal - bhat, Nepal’s national dish and Tibetan bread with honey or eggs. In fact, it is always safe to stick to the local dish, since the cooks know it best! People who have eaten masala dosa in Delhi and parotha or puri-bhaji in Tiruvananthapuram would swear by this wisdom.
Drink: Try hot lemon juice and even tato pani (hot water) after a tiring day or even in the early morning. If you are a tea drinker from India ask for Nepali chay. It is inexpensive and exquisitely brewed with tea, ginger and cinnamon. If you want to try local alcoholic drinks, go for home-made millet brews like chhang or rakshi. In villages like Marpha an Tukuche, there are local distilleries that manufacture brandies from locally- grown apricots, apples and oranges.
Guides and porters: If you are past your twenties and are used to a sedentary lifestyle then it is better to hire a guide-cum–porter at Pokhara. They charge anywhere from Rs.400 N to Rs.1,000 N a day.
Equipment: Nothing, except a camera or a camcorder to record at least a tiny bit of the natural splendour. Because of the abundance of inns for trekkers at every village on all the trekking routes, one does not need tents or even a sleeping bag unless one is going to Tilicho lake.

Interestingly at Kagbeni near Jomsom on the way to Muktinath, one can still find 100 million-year-old fossils of marine animals. These fossils are major evidence for the theory of continental drift, according to which, 65 million years ago there was a sea where the Himalayas stand today and the Indian tectonic plate came and hit the Tibetan plate leading to the forma­tion of the Himalayas. A common fossil one finds in ammonite rocks is that of a conch. These fossilised conches are revered by devout Hindus as symbols of Vishnu and are called shaligram. If you are not lucky enough to find a shaligram on the Kali Gandaki riverbed then you could always buy one from the numer­ous Tibetan souvenir traders that you will find on the trek.

On the Jomsom-pokhara trek, start from Jomsom after spending a day at Jomsom. Reach Tukuche (2,591m) by evening after passing through Marpha. On day two, go from Tukuche via Kalopani to Ghasa (2,031m). The second day provides you with unparal­leled panoramic views of Dhavalgiri and Tukuche peaks from the Kali Gandaki riverbed. While trekking in the Kali Gandaki valley, a strong wind starts everyday at about 11:00 am till about 3 pm which carries a lot of dust. So make sure that you start as early as possible.

On day three start from Ghasa and reach Tatopani (1,189 m). This stretch passes through the world's deepest river valley which is over 7,000 feet deep. Tatopani means hot water and the name is derived from the hot water springs there, where one can wash away the tiredness from one's limbs. Tatopani also provides the best food in the entire route. On day four, start from Tatopani and reach Ghaleshor. If the first three days were more or less on level ground at about 10,000-8,000 feet along the Kali Gandaki river valley, the fourth day involves steep climbs up and down and the temperature also climbing as you come down to about 3,000 feet from 8,000 feet. The next day it takes a two-hour trek from Ghaleshor to Beni from where one can get a bus ride to Pokhara. The bus takes about four-and-a-half hours to reach Pokhara and goes through several steep ups and downs. A day's rest in Pokhara and boating on Phewa lake can top your trek.

For the more ambitious trekkers there is a 14-day trek from Pokhara to the Annapurna base camp (4,500 m) and back. There is a 28-day trek around Annapurna from Besishahar to Pokhara via Manang, Thorungla pass (5,416 m), Muktinath, Jomsom and back to Pokhara via Ghorepani or via Beni. If you have only seven days but want to do high altitude trekking then one can also fly from Pokhara to Hungde near Manang and trek to Tili­cho lake and back. Tilicho is a glaciated lake at about 15,500 feet and is one of the highest lakes in the world.

In short the Annapurna range is a goldmine for trekkers and can cater to all varieties from city slickers who want to stretch their limbs a bit, to hard core trekkers. What attracts literally lakhs from around the world every year to this region is of course the glorious views of the mountains and the friendly people. In fact one is yet to hear of a robbery or any sort of crime against trekkers in this area. So what are you waiting for, pack your rucksack, take a few thousand rupees and get ready to be overwhelmed by the Himalayas!