Elon Musk and the International (and Interplanetary) Internet
Jan14

Elon Musk and the International (and Interplanetary) Internet

Elon Musk, the CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla Motors, and product architect of Tesla Motors, is now entering the field of satellite Internet. He recently submitted a request to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to launch four thousand satellites into the Earth’s atmosphere, in the hopes of providing Internet access to, well, literally everyone in the world. Musk joins several other prominent companies looking to use sometimes-maligned satellite technology to provide quick Internet access to parts of the world starved for connectivity. For Musk, however, the satellite project is part of something much larger. By creating a network of satellites for the Earth, Musk hopes to start a project that will kickstart the process of colonizing Mars (we’re not kidding).   Using the Falcon Rocket to Deploy a Global Satellite System Musk plans to use SpaceX’s Falcon rocket to distribute a network of satellites that will orbit the Earth and enable global, low-latency Internet accessibility. He and  his SpaceX team hope to make each rocket in the Falcon series reusable; to date, most rockets have been destroyed (intentionally) or have crash-landed (unintentionally), which makes each one extremely expensive. Reusable rockets will help save SpaceX and its affiliates a lot of money. Working with Google and Fidelity to Create Global Connectivity Musk’s mission has connected him with partners like Google and Fidelity, who want a piece of the action. The two companies recently contributed $1 billion to SpaceX to help Musk achieve his goals; this means they will own just under 10% of the company. Google has a history of similar projects, like Project Loon, which got off the ground in June 2013. By deploying low-altitude satellites, Musk hopes to solve the “latency” problem of most satellite Internet connections (in other words, he hopes to make satellite Internet fast enough for everyone, regardless of their geographic location). Nowadays, many Internet providers use satellites that are located over twenty-six thousand miles above sea level. Musk’s satellites would be located approximately 750 miles above sea level, greatly reducing any delays in latency. Using a Network to Create “Mars City” As we mentioned, Musk’s endgame is even more ambitious than providing globally accessible satellite Internet (as if that wasn’t ambitious enough). Musk sees the satellite network as the first step toward financing a permanent, fully functioning colony on Mars. Here’s his plan: Once the web of satellites is established and Earth becomes a powerful, Internet-rich planet, SpaceX will link the satellites to another web of satellites orbiting Mars. The interplanetary connection will be funded by the success of Earth’s satellite-Internet program and will eventually be used by “Mars City.” A Bridge...

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The Invisibility Cloak Steps Into the Light
Oct09

The Invisibility Cloak Steps Into the Light

  We humans have long hailed ourselves as the most evolved, most intelligent, most all-around-awesome species ever to walk the earth. And, okay, to be fair, we are pretty darn impressive. Thumbs, speech, logic, and the ability to make fire and build skyscrapers—we’ve got a whole lot that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. However, there is one thing we have yet to master—one thing that tops the list of “things we wish we had”—invisibility. A number of other organisms have become virtuosos of invisibility, camouflaging their bodies to mimic other species and their surroundings. And we are so freakin’ jealous. Until now. Scientists at the US Department of Energy and UC Berkeley have developed technology for a super-thin material that can actually hide an object from visible light. The material has a long way to go before it can be considered a full-fledged invisibility cloak, but we’d like to officially notify the chameleons, octopi, and jellyfish of the world to enjoy the spotlight while you still can: We’re coming for you.     Invisibility as a “Mirror Effect” The scientists, working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, assembled their material by weaving microscopic nanoantennae into the ultrathin skin of an electromagnetic metasurface. This became an 80-nanometer-thick sheet that could be placed over an object; the first “object” they chose was a cluster of bumpy, mountainous cells. When placed over the cells, the magnetized sheet redirected all visible light waves, making the object appear smooth and flat (like a mirror) to the human eye. When the scientists reversed the polarity of the nanoantennae, the object became visible again. It’s easy to imagine this technology placed over a larger surface (a person, for example); the redirection of light waves would totally disguise the wearer, just as it did the cluster of cells. From Science Fiction to Science There has always been a connection between science fiction and actual science. The two often feed into and from each other. From flying machines to ultrasonic drones to 3D-printed hands, we’ve proven our ability to bring science fiction to the real world. Scientists are now close to pulling the abilities of The Invisible Man and Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak out of our imaginations and into reality. “I Solemnly Swear I Am Up to No Good”: Relevant Questions about Invisibility Considering this technological leap, we now face the ethical and utilitarian questions of invisibility: What should it be used for? Who should be allowed to use it? Should there be legal stipulations to using the material? How should (or could) invisibility be monitored? There are obvious militaristic applications (real-life Predator, anyone?),...

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Smart Glass Sounds Cool—Keeps You Even Cooler
Aug14

Smart Glass Sounds Cool—Keeps You Even Cooler

A group of researchers, led by Delia Milliron, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas, have developed a new and innovative way to save energy resources. They have produced a new kind of electrochromic window glass which is able to change color when an electrical charge is applied. The glass blocks near-infrared light from the sun which produces heat in addition to blocking excessive visible light. “Smart glass” is a concept which has existed in application for several decades. The term refers to glass which changes color to block visible sunlight. The cost of production has rendered the technology fairly obsolete, only appearing in expensive niche projects such as the new Boeing jetliner. Delia’s team has developed a way to make smart glass which not only blocks visible light, but can also selectively block the heat producing components of sunlight. She believes they have developed a prototype that works well enough that Heliotrope Technologies, a startup Milliron helped to co-found, will be able to begin a commercialized manufacturing process which will be cheaper and have a higher yield than current smart glass production processes.   The glass is composed of a framework of nanocrystals made of electrically conductive material in a glassy base material. The nanocrystals and the glass in which they are embedded have different but distinct electrical properties which change when an electrical charge is applied. The two materials work in tandem to control the passage of light. The nanocrystals can block 90% of near-infrared, heat producing light while the glassy material can transition between transparency and a neutral blue opacity which blocks 80% of visible light. In “cool” mode, the electrochromic glass can be applied to help buildings save energy during the summer, and vehicles can use less fuel to support environmental controls. The glass is able to switch between modes in minutes—much faster than any commercially available smart glass. Buildings which applied Milliron’s glass would potentially save thousands of dollars a year on air conditioning. It’s not hard to imagine the benefits of having glass that keeps you cooler on command. When can we expect to have access to this color changing technology? Jason Holt, president of Heliotrope Technologies, expects to bring their first products to market in...

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NASA & UCLA Could Make Wearable Devices Insanely More Powerful
Jul29

NASA & UCLA Could Make Wearable Devices Insanely More Powerful

A collaborative team of scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UCLA are making headway in the development of a new WiFi chip that would prolong the battery life of smartphones and wearable devices. The invention would have the potential to reduce the amount of power needed to send and receive data, allowing users to get more mileage out of their personal technology. The chip, developed by Adrian Tang of NASA and Mau-Chung Frank Chang, a professor at UCLA, would reflect an incoming WiFi signal from a router or cell tower, rather than the device generate a signal on its own. This would use 100 times less power than a traditional chip, thereby significantly extending battery life. For devices that are always on and always close at hand, like an Apple Watch or other personal device, holding a longer charge would be a powerful upgrade. “The idea is if the wearable device only needs to reflect the WiFi signal from a router or cell tower, instead of generate it, the power consumption can go way down (and the battery life can go way up),” Tang said in a statement. To transmit data, current personal devices send signals to a router, which subsequently responds with a brand new signal. In contrast, the new chip uses existing signals to reflect information back to any nearby router or cell tower, eliminating the need to send out a unique signal every time information is communicated. Not only does this save on battery power, but lab tests have achieved data transfer speeds of 330 megabits per second, up to the three times faster than traditional WiFi. Wearable devices and smartphones send and receive data in the same format that computers do: familiar strings of 1’s and 0’s. This chip utilizes a switch mechanism to transfer data. Incoming energy is absorbed by the circuit as a 0, and energy the chip reflects is sent as a 1. The switch mechanism inside the chip uses scant amounts of power and allows for fast transfer of information between wearable devices and other technology such as computers, tablets, and smartphones to receive data. The biggest remaining challenge for the team of researchers is to help the chip differentiate between communicated signals from the router or cell tower, and ambient background noise. In any application, the wearable device containing a wi-fi chip will not be the only object reflecting signals. Signals are bouncing off of walls, floors, ceilings etc., all the time. To combat this effect, Tang and Chang have developed a wireless silicon chip that will constantly sense, assess and suppress background reflections. The chip will have a...

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Digital Prototyping Drives Auto Makers to Build Faster and More Efficiently
Jul28

Digital Prototyping Drives Auto Makers to Build Faster and More Efficiently

For decades, vehicle manufacturers have used prototypes as a way to test and refine new models before putting them into full scale production. However, those test cars are an expensive part of the development process, with each taking as much as $1 million to create. Advances in digital simulation have motivated many manufacturers to take a closer look at a faster and less expensive way to evaluate new models. Jaguar Land Rover recently began mass production of the Jaguar XE, which was designed and developed without using any prototypes during aerodynamic testing—the first mainstream model to do so. The company wants to eliminate all physical prototypes from the process by 2020. Greater processing power has allowed more widespread use of computer-aided engineering in vehicle manufacturing, as computer simulations have increasingly replaced the physical testing process that is typically expensive, time consuming, and often inaccurate. Annually, car manufacturers spend about $10 billion on prototype construction. According to Exa, the software company that worked with Jeep Land Rover on the XE, General Motors constructed 170 prototypes during testing for its latest version of the Chevrolet Malibu. Manufacturers could reduce the amount spent on prototype testing by a third with the use of simulation technology. In addition to seeing the three-dimensional renderings of an initial design, engineers can take the vehicle around a virtual test track and place it in other situations such as a parking lot. Approximately 80 percent of problems found during physical testing can be eliminated through simulation. Car makers are under pressure to reduce cost in the manufacturing process as well as meet demands for reduced emissions, and to add innovative connected technologies, as well as autonomous driving features. Another advantage of digital prototyping is that the technology is expected to bring down the car industry’s snail-pace development process, that can take as long as four years, and keep up with rapid prototyping by new rivals such as Google, Tesla, and Apple. Not all vehicle manufacturers will immediately turn to virtual prototyping, as the technique is expected to meet resistance from engineers. Many purists feel that one cannot properly judge a vehicle’s performance until it can be physically seen. German manufacturer Daimler continues to pour huge amounts of money into wind tunnel testing its cars. Some automotive designers, such as Chrysler LLC,  are combining simulation technologies with clay models to satisfy the need to see a prototype in its physical form before committing to the design. Manufacturers must also prove that they have crash-tested at least 10 cars to satisfy safety requirements. The new digital design trend seems to be inevitable. As the technology advances, more manufacturers will...

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Skrillex Live Phone Cases Are The Next Step in Smartphone Tech
Jun26

Skrillex Live Phone Cases Are The Next Step in Smartphone Tech

DJ and music producer Sonny Moore loves smartphones and all the gadgets that come with them. That’s why he, Android, and Google have teamed up to bring us a new generation of phone cases. Moore—also known as Skrillex—is merely the initial partner in Google’s new line of Edition cases for Android phones. The idea behind the cases was simple, yet like nothing we’ve seen before in smartphone tech. They aimed to create a small, limited collection of smart cases for your smartphone. Each Skrillex Live Case is individually numbered, bears a print of the artist’s signature on the inside, and uses near field communication (NFC) to link itself to your phone, and yours alone. Your phone will know exactly which case it wears and will be able to receive content to match. A completely customizable shortcut button connects you to your favorite apps with a single touch. For the visual design, the partners settled on the theme of space. The three cases have a spacey, ‘the future is now’ meets ‘glory of the mid-1990s’ look to them (a smiling alien head, some robot machinery, the apparent inner workings of a microchip). They’re fun designs, but certainly scream ‘I’m a Skrillex fan!’. One of the more exciting features of the limited edition cases involves the thirteen different satellites Google launched for this special occasion. The satellites gathered images while dancing around in the atmosphere for five hours. These images became the slideshow type wallpapers each case equips your phone with. At night, the image changes to a star map that shows the night sky over your location. And naturally, purchasing a Skrillex Live Case will also give you VIP access to Skrillex content, including videos, photographs, and much more. “We’re constantly making videos, and taking photos, and making sounds. …So we’ll be sending random treats to the case that no one else will get.” —Sonny Moore, a.k.a. Skrillex Google hopes its partnership with Skrillex will open the path to collaborations with other artists. We already know that more Edition partners are coming, though they have yet to be named. The Skrillex Live Cases are available in limited quantities, and on sale now through the Google store. They’re selling for $40, and are so far only available for the Nexus 6 phones....

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