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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Smart Floating Farms: 20,000 Leagues of Fish, Food, and Solar Energy
Sep17

Smart Floating Farms: 20,000 Leagues of Fish, Food, and Solar Energy

  As the human population swells and we continue to look for places to live, work, and shop, agricultural land is becoming harder and harder to find. A Barcelona-based company believes it has developed a solution to the world’s shrinking supply of farmland. Forward Thinking Architecture has developed what they call “Smart Floating Farms,” which are three-level agricultural barges that provide additional farmland . . . on the water. Environmental Advantages of Floating Farms Although the company is still planning out the logistics of their floating farms, the proposed design addresses many issues facing today’s farmers. First of all, the farms would preserve arable land. In 2012, only 10.8% of the planet qualified as “arable,” but there are over 372,000 miles of coastline that would be perfect for floating farms. These floating platforms would allow for more universal access to organic food, and, by being mostly self-sufficient and easily sustainable, would be good for the environment, too. The farms would also be modular, making it possible for several of them to be grouped together to provide a centralized food bank for densely populated areas of the world. Smart Floating Farm Design The default size for the farms is 656’ x 1,150’. The middle level of each unit would be farmable, creating about 750,000 square feet of farmland (that’s over 13 football fields!). The bottom level of each farm would be utilized for fish farms and the top level would contain solar panels and skylights to deliver natural light to the plants below. The facilities could include water access points, storage centers, wave barriers, and desalination plants. With automated hydroponics and microclimate control, floating farms would offer consistent, regulated environments for the plants (similar to freight farms). To increase energy production, floating farms could incorporate wind turbines and wave-energy conversion units. Economic Benefits of Aquaculture and Hydroponic Farming Because the plants would be grown hydroponically (without soil), there would be no need for natural precipitation, pesticides, or soil itself. The gardens are stackable, too, so they could be placed on top of one another to save space. The designers believe floating farms could someday operate with very little human assistance, but early floating farms are already providing jobs and sustenance for thousands of people around the world. Using the “Internet of Things,” sensors could be placed throughout the farms to keep each facility running efficiently. The farms would also provide data on the types of foods local people are seeking. The company says that one farm could yield over eight tons of vegetables and almost two tons of fish each year. With that rate of production, the cost of building...

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LiFi and the VLC: An IoT Revolution
Sep09

LiFi and the VLC: An IoT Revolution

The long-awaited “Internet of Things” (IoT) may be one step closer to becoming a reality, all due to one unlikely source . . . light fixtures. Developments in LED lighting technology are making “LiFi” a brilliant and potentially industry-changing alternative to WiFi. Using the VLC to Communicate So what is LiFi anyways? LiFi is a technology that uses the visible light spectrum (VLC) to transmit data. It is similar to WiFi, but while WiFi uses radio bands to communicate its signal, LiFi relies on LED lighting. The LEDs can emit quick bursts of photons invisible to the human eye but capable of carrying data from the sender to the receiver (i.e., straight from the lights to your electronic device). Advantages of LiFi Technology If you’ve ever used public WiFi before, you know what it’s like to be on an overcrowded server: It’s molasses-slow, your pictures don’t load, and you can’t watch more than six seconds of, well, anything, before your phone freezes. LiFi addresses this problem by transmitting its signal via the light spectrum, which is 10,000 times larger than the radio frequency spectrum. With LiFi, even the busiest public spaces can become active, high-speed hotspots (and you can dive as deep into the Internet as you’re willing to go). Another advantage of LiFi is its security: The LiFi connection can only be accessed by users whose devices are in sight of the light emitting the signal. No longer will your neighbors be able to steal your WiFi; no longer will you have to deal with crawling download speeds. If they’re not in the light, they’re not on your Internet. LiFi is just starting to become viable for everyday use. For example, cars with LED headlights may soon be able to send and receive data to enable car-to-car communication about roadway hazards, etc. The cars would also send and receive data from other LED devices on the street grid (such as traffic lights and street lights) to create an entire network of active, fully connected devices. The “Internet of Things” Awaits The LiFi revolution may bring us one step closer to what entrepreneur Kevin Ashton called the Internet of Things. The term, which we mentioned earlier, refers to a network of everyday objects embedded with the hardware and software necessary to exchange data with each other. At its early beginnings, access to the Internet was limited to computers and workstations directly connected to local area or dial-up networks. Presently, we can access the Internet from personal devices such as mobile phones and smartwatches using WiFi networks; the LiFi revolution could take everything one giant step forward. Everyday objects outfitted with LEDs...

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Facebook and Google in a Race to Extend Global Internet Access
Aug19

Facebook and Google in a Race to Extend Global Internet Access

While most of us depend on the Internet to provide us with communication, information, and entertainment, much of the world’s population does not have Internet access. In some areas, there is insufficient infrastructure to provide such access. In others, potential users can afford neither Internet service nor the devices on which to access it. Up to 10% of the world’s population exists in these technological gaps, limiting entire community’s access to communication and information. This digital divide between the “haves” and “have nots” becomes more pronounced as Internet use continues to proliferate in the consumer and business world. Two giants of the Internet, Google and Facebook, are taking steps to make global Internet access a reality. Google Launches Project Loon Google is spreading Internet access through Project Loon, which entails launching huge, super pressure balloons, known as Nighthawks, approximately 20 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. Using software algorithms, Project Loon is able to steer balloons to particular wind currents in order to create a comprehensive communications network. The balloons, developed by Raven Aerostar, are long-duration, high altitude balloons that have been designed to maintain consistent pressure despite temperature fluctuations. In March 2015, the Google team succeeded in keeping one Nighthawk balloon aloft for a record-breaking 187 days. The balloon circled the globe 9 times before being recovered in Argentina, and successfully endured temperatures as low as -75c (-103 F). The government of Sri Lanka announced that it was partnering with Google to have Project Loon provide comprehensive Internet coverage for the entire nation. Sri Lanka is a prominent example of a country under served by the Internet: the country has a population of 22 million but only approximately 2.8 million mobile Internet connections and 606,000 wired connections. Although there is no definite timetable for a launch of Project Loon in Sri Lanka, the country’s foreign minister estimates that the country will be covered in a few months. Facebook Takes to The Air With Aquila Meanwhile, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced via Facebook post that the company intends to deliver wireless signals from the skies using Aquila, a solar powered drone aircraft. The project will use lasers to beam wireless Internet access down to areas that currently lack service. Aquila boasts a wingspan of 42 meters, approximately the same as a Boeing 737, but weighs less than an automobile. The massive drone is capable of sending data at 10 gigabits per second from a distance of over 10 miles to “a point the size of a dime.” Perhaps the flashiest part of the Facebook project Internet.org, Aquila is designed to provide affordable Internet access to more communities around the world....

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The Future Has Just Arrived On Exclusive College Campuses
Aug04

The Future Has Just Arrived On Exclusive College Campuses

CMU IoT Study Mobile systems such as cell phones and global positioning systems are becoming the dominant method of accessing large-scale networks, as opposed to the “traditional” desktop computer. In fact, as of January 2015, more than 50% of all internet traffic is from mobile users. In light of this shift, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh are converting their entire campus into a laboratory. Specifically, they are going to place inexpensive sensors all over the campus. A Living Campus CMU researchers intend to increase the interconnectivity of all appliances, buildings and devices on campus with sensors. The project is part of a multi-college initiative funded by Google to increase research in, and support the development of, the Internet of Things. CMU researchers will also be working with colleagues at Cornell, and Stanford. “The goal will be to radically enhance human-to-human and human-to-computer interaction through a large-scale deployment of the internet of things (IoT) that ensures privacy, accommodates new features over time and enables people to readily design applications for their own use,” said Anind Dey, lead investigator and director of CMU’s Human Computer Interaction Institute. Creating a Connected World Researchers will encourage students across campus to create and use IoT apps via an IoT app store. Any campus member, and members of the larger research community, will be able to share and develop IoT script, actions, sensor feeds, or apps. For example, researchers have created an app called Snap2It, which allows users to connect to a printer or smartphone by simply taking a photo of the device. As principal investigator of the study, Dey states that he hopes to push the current boundaries of mobile interaction. The IoT project is currently supported by Google., which will provide CMU with $500,000 as initial funding. CMU will work with scientists from the other partner universities in order to develop of the GIoTTo, which will support the security of the apps and enable users to create their own experience. Preserving the privacy of mobile users and ensuring security in an increasingly digital world is one of the main challenges the team hopes to tackle with this project. Ultimately, the CMU and Google are striving to have these sensors placed throughout Pittsburgh. The city’s mayor, Bill Peduto, has expressed favor for this idea, as he hopes that it will “…enhance city services and improve the quality of life of our [Pittsburgh’s]...

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