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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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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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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NASA’s Jet Laboratory Helps Determine Extent of California Drought
Jul10

NASA’s Jet Laboratory Helps Determine Extent of California Drought

While the four year long California drought is making headlines worldwide, United States government researchers are trailblazing new ways to measure the scope and scale of the drought. Members of the NASA jet laboratory, the prestigious Jet Propulsion Lab, are using advanced technology to figure out exactly how, where, and why the drought is occurring and experts hope to use this information to predict the duration and severity of the drought Since the Sierra Nevada Mountains are the largest source of freshwater for the state of California, the snowpack levels in the mountains are of particular importance when it comes to monitoring how much fresh water the state can expect to receive each season. Winter levels of snow can help to predict how much water will melt and flow to the low-lands during the hotter seasons. The NASA jet laboratory is using an airplane known as the Airborne Snow Observatory to do flyovers of the snowpack to check levels. The plane is a turboprop Beechcraft King Airplane which has been specially outfitted with numerous devices that help scientists to measure the snowpack levels. The amount of snowpack contributes up to 70% of the total precipitation in California. The aircraft flies almost daily in areas in and around California and the American West. It uses a technology called Lidar—which is laser radar—to determine how deep the snow is at any particular level. The laser is able to scan the land 800,000 times per second. The rate to which the signal bounces back to the plane  is used to determine the depth of the existing snowpack. The depth of the snowpack is then used to figure out how much freshwater there will be. In addition, NASA also measures how much sunlight is being reflected by the snow using an imaging spectrometer. This is a control measure and helps to create more accurate data. Between the two data, NASA can tell water managers how much freshwater will be available and when it will be available. This can help to determine policy changes or cutbacks that may need to be made due to worsening drought conditions or whether commercial and residential areas can loosen those rules. For the first time in history, NASA is able to tell officials how much water will be necessary to end a drought in the US. Launched in 2002, the data collected by its Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites showed that two of California’s main river basins were depleted by 4 trillion gallons of water each year from 2011–2014. Together, the data shows that California will need to replenish roughly 11 trillion gallons of water to recover from...

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Up For Bid: CIA’s Osama Bin Laden Action Figure
Nov13

Up For Bid: CIA’s Osama Bin Laden Action Figure

Only a few days left to get your very own, one-of-a-kind, Osama bin Laden doll – designed exclusively for the CIA! That’s right: In 2005, the Central Intelligence Agency, with the help of G.I. Joe creator and former Hasbro exec Donald Levine, produced 3 action figures of Osama bin Laden with the assistance of some of Levine’s toy manufacturing contacts in China. The intent was to mass produce them and give them to children in Afghanistan. The idea behind project “Devil Eyes”, was to attempt to influence Afghan children into rejecting Al Qaeda and similar terrorist groups. This type of project, known as an “influence mission” has been a staple in the CIA’s operations for decades. The purpose of these missions is to either win the hearts of the local populace or to turn their minds against a specific ideology. While the CIA claims that only three prototypes were produced, the Washington Post claims to have seen a doll that was allegedly one of hundreds of the dolls manufactured as a pre-production run by a Chinese manufacturer. The doll is 12″ tall, dressed in a removable white robe, and comes with a removable head. The first head is a normal depiction of Osama bin Laden, while the replacement head is a depiction of a demonic bin Laden with red skin, black facial markings like tattoos, and some very menacing emerald green eyes. Of the 3 that are known to exist, one is definitely up for sale. Nate D. Sanders, auctioneers for fine autographs and memorabilia, has the doll currently up for auction on their website. The auction currently has only 1 bidder for the doll and the bid is $2500. So if you’re into this sort of thing for personal reasons or for a potential long-term investment, visit Nate D. Sanders, Auctioneers on the web and you could have this one of a kind piece for your collection....

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Atlas Robot Recreates Scene From ‘The Karate Kid’
Nov12

Atlas Robot Recreates Scene From ‘The Karate Kid’

On Saturday, November 8, the Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition posted a video on its DRCihmcRobotics YouTube channel that brought a bit of nostalgia to a lot of people. The video, titled “20141108 115244 KarateKid,” revealed Ian, Boston Dynamics‘ Atlas Robot, performing the graceful “crane kick” stance portrayed by Ralph Macchio 30 years ago in the movie “The Karate Kid.” This pose is considered a tremendous feat for both Google’s Boston Dynamics who developed the robot, and the Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition who built its control algorithm, because Ian weighs 330 pounds, is 6-feet, 2-inches tall, yet the robot was able to display balance, agility and fine motor skills while standing on one leg atop a stack of three concrete blocks. It was also able to fully articulate its arms into several positions required to complete the stance. Reproducing movie moments isn’t Ian’s only talent. With oversight and funding contributions from the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the teams have been trying to create a robot that can assist humans in areas of rough terrain and dangerous situations usually handled by emergency personnel. As a result, they’ve had to develop Ian to be as humanoid as possible with a wide range of human characteristics and abilities. Ian possesses a bipedal body with 28 independent hydraulically-actuated joints, a movable head, a laser rangefinder and stereo cameras. These features, as well as special control software, make it possible for the robot to perform many tasks that humans perform every day. In past tests, Ian moved easily through rough terrain, removed objects in its path and manipulated items like power tools. Besides walking, jumping and climbing, Ian has also entered, driven and exited a vehicle. Although Ian receives power via a tether to an electric generator, the teams have made a lot of changes to its design since they first displayed it to the public on July 11, 2013. Future plans include finding a way to disconnect the the cable and install a portable power...

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