Archive for category Technology
Posted: Friday, June 14, 2013
The Internet is one of the most transformative technologies of our lifetimes. But for 2 out of every 3 people on earth, a fast, affordable Internet connection is still out of reach. And this is far from being a solved problem.
There are many terrestrial challenges to Internet connectivity—jungles, archipelagos, mountains. There are also major cost challenges. Right now, for example, in most of the countries in the southern hemisphere, the cost of an Internet connection is more than a month’s income.
Solving these problems isn’t simply a question of time: it requires looking at the problem of access from new angles. So today we’re unveiling our latest moonshot from Google[x]: balloon-powered Internet access.
We believe that it might actually be possible to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, that provides Internet access to the earth below. It’s very early days, but we’ve built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster. As a result, we hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters. The idea may sound a bit crazy—and that’s part of the reason we’re calling it Project Loon—but there’s solid science behind it.
Balloons, with all their effortless elegance, present some challenges. Many projects have looked at high-altitude platforms to provide Internet access to fixed areas on the ground, but trying to stay in one place like this requires a system with major cost and complexity. So the idea we pursued was based on freeing the balloons and letting them sail freely on the winds. All we had to do was figure out how to control their path through the sky. We’ve now found a way to do that, using just wind and solar power: we can move the balloons up or down to catch the winds we want them to travel in. That solution then led us to a new problem: how to manage a fleet of balloons sailing around the world so that each balloon is in the area you want it right when you need it. We’re solving this with some complex algorithms and lots of computing power.
Now we need some help—this experiment is going to take way more than our team alone. This week we started a pilot program in the Canterbury area of New Zealand with 50 testers trying to connect to our balloons. This is the first time we’ve launched this many balloons (30 this week, in fact) and tried to connect to this many receivers on the ground, and we’re going to learn a lot that will help us improve our technology and balloon design.
Over time, we’d like to set up pilots in countries at the same latitude as New Zealand. We also want to find partners for the next phase of our project—we can’t wait to hear feedback and ideas from people who’ve been working for far longer than we have on this enormous problem of providing Internet access to rural and remote areas. We imagine someday you’ll be able to use your cell phone with your existing service provider to connect to the balloons and get connectivity where there is none today.
This is still highly experimental technology and we have a long way to go—we’d love your support as we keep trying and keep flying! Follow our Google+ page to keep up with Project Loon’s progress.
Onward and upward.
Posted by Mike Cassidy, Project Lead
- Project Loon: Internet for everyone in The Planet (financearmageddon.blogspot.com)
- Introducing Project Loon: Balloon-powered Internet access (googleblog.blogspot.com)
- Google unveils latest moonshot: balloon-powered Internet access (9to5google.com)
- Google extends balloon-internet trials with Project Loon (wired.co.uk)
- Google X Announces Project Loon: Balloon-Powered Internet For Rural, Remote And Underserved Areas (techcrunch.com)
- Internet aases secret project (sathought.wordpress.com)
- Google Introduces Balloon-powered Internet access (rashidfaridi.com)
- Balloons above Canterbury to beam down wireless internet (radionz.co.nz)
- Google X Announces Project Loon: Balloon-Powered Internet For Rural, Remote And Underserved Areas (altf1be.wordpress.com)
- Google X to launch Internet balloon project ‘Loon’ (theinformativereport.com)
NASA Looks at 3-D Food Printer for Star Trek-like Replicator
by DAVID DICKINSON on MAY 22, 2013
The International Space Station may soon have its very own Star Trek food replicator.
Earlier this week, NASA awarded a $125,000 six month grant to the Systems & Materials Research Cooperation to design a 3D printer capable of printing a pizza from 30-year shelf stable foodstuffs.
Founded by Anjan Contractor, SMRC built a basic food printer from a chocolate printer to win NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program in a trial video. The design is based on an open-source RepRap 3D printer.
Contractor and SMRC will begin construction on the pizza-printing prototype in two weeks. Pizza has been one item missing from astronauts menu for years. The 3D printer would “build-up” a pizza serving by first layering out the dough onto a heated plate then adding tomato sauce and toppings.
The RepRap self-replicating printer ‘Mendel”. (Credit: CharlesC under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).
But this isn’t your mother’s pizza, as the proteins would be provided by cartridge injectors filled with organic base powders derived from algae, insects and grass.
Yummy stuff, to be sure!
Of course, one can see an immediate application of 3D food printing technology for long duration space missions. Contractor and SMRC envisions 3D food printing as the wave of the future, with the capacity to solve world hunger for a burgeoning human population.
Could a 3D food printer be coming to a kitchen near you?
Curiously, printing confectioneries and pet food pellets would be the simplest application of said technology. Printing a soufflé and crowned rack of lamb will be tougher. 3D printing technology has made great strides as of late, and RepRap has made a printer which is capable of printing itself. Those who fear the rise of Von Neumann’s self-replicating robots should take note…
Should we welcome or fear our self-replicating, pizza-bearing overlords?
The International Space Station is due for the delivery of its first 3D printer in 2014. This will give astros the capability to fabricate simple parts and tools onsite without requiring machining. Of course, the first question on our minds is: How will a 3D printer function in zero-g? Will one have tomato paste an insect parts flying about? Recent flights aboard a Boeing 727 by Made in Space Inc have been testing 3D printers in micro-gravity environments.
Made in Space demonstrates 3D Printing technology headed to the ISS next year. (Credit: Made in Space Inc./NASA).
Further afield, 3D replicators may arrive on the Moon or Mars ahead of humans, building a prefab colony with raw materials available for colonists to follow.
Artist’s conception of a lunar base constructed with 3D printing technology. (Credit: NASA Lunar Science Institute).
Will 3D food replicators pioneered by SMRC be a permanent fixture on crewed long duration space missions? Plans such as Dennis Tito’s Mars 2018 flyby and the one way Mars One proposal will definitely have to address the dietary dilemmas of hungry astronauts. Biosphere 2 demonstrated that animal husbandry will be impractical on long term missions. Future Martian colonists will definitely eat much farther down the food chain to survive. SpaceX head Elon Musk has recently said in a Twitter response to PETA that he won’t be the “Kale Eating Overlord of Mars,” and perhaps “micro-ranching” of insects will be the only viable alternative to filet mignon on the Red Planet. Hey, it beats Soylent Green… and the good news is, you can still brew beer from algae!
Diagram of a proposed 3D food printer based on ReRap. (Credit: SMRC).
Would YOU take a one way journey to Mars? Would you eat a bug to do it? It’ll be interesting to watch these 3D printers in action as they take to space and print America’s favorite delivery fast food. But it’s yet to be seen if home replicators will put Dominos Pizza out of business anytime soon. Perhaps they’ll only be viable if they can print a pizza in less than “30 minutes!”NASA Looks at 3-D Food Printer for Star Trek-like Replicator.
- Not quite a Trek replicator, but print-your-own-pizza is coming (chron.com)
- NASA Looks at 3-D Food Printer for Star Trek-like Replicator (universetoday.com)
- NASA 3D Food Printer (nasilemaktech.com)
- Engineer Plans to Build 3D Pizza Printer with NASA Grant (tested.com)
- 3D-Printed Pizza In Space! NASA Funds ‘Food Replicator’ For Space Station [VIDEO] (planetsave.com)
- There’s An Audacious Plan To End Hunger With 3-D Printed Food (businessinsider.com)
- The audacious plan to end hunger with 3-D printed food (qz.com)
- NASA’s 3D Printed Food System (robsreallife.wordpress.com)
- NASA Backs Star Trek-Style Replicator That Could 3D Print Pizza In Space! (inhabitat.com)
- NASA Invests In 3-D Food Printer For Mars Missions? (planet.infowars.com)
Written By: Jason Dorrier
Posted: 05/15/13 8:55 AM
MOSHE VARDI: ROBOTS COULD PUT HUMANS OUT OF WORK BY 2045
Robots began replacing human brawn long ago—now they’re poised to replace human brains. Moshe Vardi, a computer science professor at Rice University, thinks that by 2045 artificially intelligent machines may be capable of “if not any work that humans can do, then, at least, a very significant fraction of the work that humans can do.”
So, he asks, what then will humans do?
In recent writings, Vardi traces the evolution of the idea that artificial intelligence may one day surpass human intelligence, from Turing to Kurzweil, and considers the recent rate of progress. Although early predictions proved too aggressive, in the space of 15 years we’ve gone from Deep Blue beating Kasparov at chess to self-driving cars and Watson beating Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.
Extrapolating into the future, Vardi thinks it’s reasonable to believe intelligent machines may one day replace human workers almost entirely and in the process put millions out of work permanently.
Once rejected out of hand as neo-Luddism, technological unemployment is attracting commentary from an increasingly vocal sect of economists. Highlighted in a recent NYT article and “60 Minutes” segment, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT also discuss the impact of automation on employment in their book, Race Against the Machine.
The idea is we may be approaching a kind of economic singularity, after which the labor market as we know it will cease to exist.
The theory is tempting for its simplicity but hard to prove. In my opinion, though you can list anecdotes and interpret select statistics showing the negative effects of automation—the qualitative historical record, that the labor market will evolve and adapt, remains the weightier body of evidence.
Relying on modern statistics to prove something fundamental has changed is troublesome because you can’t do rigorous, apples-to-apples comparisons with most of the technological revolutions of the past centuries. The data get dodgier and the statistical methodologies change the farther back you go.
Are machines really replacing humans faster now than say in the early 19th or 20th centuries? And are workers really falling behind at a greater rate? We can’t say with certainty.
However, we can say that accelerating technology over the last few centuries has consistently erased some jobs only to replace them with other jobs. In the short and medium term, these transition periods have caused discomfort and vicious battles in the political arena. But the long-term outcome has been largely positive—that is, improving living standards thanks to cheaper, better goods and services.
By dismissing qualitative historical evidence as newly irrelevant, you’re left with a quantitative vacuum into which you can inject any number of competing theories, fascinating but as yet impossible to prove or disprove.
As you may have gathered, I fall into the boring mainstream on the subject. To me, the technological unemployment thesis is too dire and what humans will do too hard to imagine. But just because we can’t imagine something, doesn’t mean it won’t exist.
While microchips are just now beginning to replace human brains, machines have been replacing human brawn for years. And yet workers are still paid to perform many physical jobs that were automated long ago and a number of new ones to boot. Why is that?
Assembly line products are cheaper, but folks still place a premium on and desire “handmade” items. Some people feel good about supporting an artisan; others believe the products are better quality; many value something’s distinctiveness, looking down their nose at assembly line monotony. None of these reasons are perfectly rational, but the economy is seldom rational on the level of the individual.
Further, physical activities that used to be classified as leisure activities now command an income. In the past, sports were at most an amateur activity for those who could afford the time to play them. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, as countries industrialized, a giant new market in athletics popped into existence.
I imagine a futurist at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution finding the idea preposterous. But today’s best pro athletes collect paychecks that would make an investment banker blush. And it’s not just the top athletes getting paid. There are lower tiers for the less skilled too—utility players, backups, smaller market pro leagues, or feeder leagues all pay modest but livable incomes.
Why shouldn’t the same hold true for activities of the mind?
Perhaps in the future, while some of us work hard to build and program super-intelligent machines, others will work hard to entertain, theorize, philosophize, and make uniquely human creative works, maybe even pair with machines to accomplish these things. These may seem like niche careers for the few and talented. But at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, jobs of the mind in general were niche careers.
Now, as some jobs of the mind are automated, more people are doing creative work of some kind. In the past, not many writers earned a living just writing. But the Internet’s open infrastructure and voracious appetite for content allows writers of all different levels of skill to earn income. The same holds true for publishing—50 Shades of Grey isn’t exactly literature, but it’s sold millions—and music, film, design, you name it.
How will the economy make the transition? The same way it has for the last several hundred years—with a few (or more than a few) bumps. But maybe these job-stealing exponential technologies are also empowering humans with exponential adaptation.
Online courses from Coursera and edX and Udacity make education more specialized, shorter in duration, and either cheap or free. This model may allow for faster more affordable acquisition of new skills and smoother economic adaptation. The belief many people are only capable of unskilled labor is elitist to the extreme. The problem of acquiring new skills is largely one of access not intelligence.
There are those who think our great grandchildren simply won’t work. But I can’t imagine such a future. The developed world could have rested on its laurels years ago, having automated the means of production for essentials like food or clothing or cars or televisions (the essentials change as they get cheaper).
But we’re working harder than ever. Why? Work lends meaning to life and leisure. When one kind of work goes away, we tend to create something productive to replace it. And life is richer when we get to trade the fruit of our labors for the vegetables or lines of code or smartphones of other people’s labors.
Vardi says, “The world in 50 years…either will be a utopia or a dystopia.” But history is littered with dystopic and utopian visions, even as the world has consistently muddled along the middle path.
- Moshe Vardi: Robots Could Put Humans Out of Work by 2045 (singularityhub.com)
- Robots might replace human brains by 2045 (news.techeye.net)
- Rice Professor Predicts Humans Out of Work In 30 Years (Slashdot) (slashdot.org)
- [tt] MOSHE VARDI: ROBOTS COULD PUT HUMANS OUT OF WORK BY 2045 (stirling-westrup-tt.blogspot.com)
- Humans Fully Outsourced to Robots by 2045? (activistpost.com)
- I, ROBOT? Humans Fully Outsourced to Robots by 2045? (secretsofthefed.com)
- Humans Fully Outsourced to Robots by 2045? (libertycaucus.net)
- Robots Could Put Humans Out of Work by 2045 (aworldchaos.wordpress.com)
- Will robots take all the jobs? (boingboing.net)
- Robots Are Not Killing Jobs, Says a Roboticist (spectrum.ieee.org)
How BlackBerry is riding iOS and Android to power its comeback
The very factor that decimated BlackBerry over the past five years is now becoming one of the most important catalysts in its turnaround.
While a fresh new generation of BlackBerry phones fight a ferocious battle for third place in the smartphone race, BlackBerry’s other big business remains in a great position in its red-hot market, Mobile Device Management (MDM). At BlackBerry Live 2013 in Orlando this week, the company rolled out a major update to BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) and deepened its commitment to making BES a multiplatform solution that now deeply secures its two leading smartphone competitors.
Ironically, the trend that brutally undercut BlackBerry phones during the past five years—the ”bring your own device” (BYOD) movement—is now driving significant sales of BES, the company’s backend software. At BlackBerry Live, the company released version 10.1 of BES. BES 10.1 will support a powerful new module that will launch at the end of June called Secure Work Space, which brings BlackBerry’s high security mobile solution to Android and iOS.
“Our customers have been asking, ‘Can you just take what you’ve done on BlackBerry and put it on iOS and Android?’” said Pete Devenyi, BlackBerry’s SVP of Enterprise Software.
While older versions of BES could do some basic administration of non-BlackBerry smartphones like iPhone, Android, and other types of devices, the solution was limited to the basics, including a full remote wipe of devices when those employees left the company. But, that’s obviously not a great solution with BYOD where employees own the devices. With Secure Work Space, BlackBerry will manage iOS and Android devices in a much more sophisticated and secure way.
Part of that is due to the fact that BES 10 not only does mobile device management, but also does mobile application management, and secure mobile connectivity as well. This triple play raises the bar on manageability. One of the key factors that makes all of this happen in BES 10 is a module called BlackBerry Balance that cleanly separates work and personal data and applications. For example, you can’t copy and paste between work and personal data and in a BYOD situation where an employee leaves the company and IT needs to wipe the business data off the device then it can wipe the work side of the phone without affecting the former employee’s personal data.
However, BlackBerry Balance is limited to BlackBerry devices because they are designed from the ground up to function this way and to adhere to this security model. Because of that, BlackBerry can’t bring Balance to Android and iOS because those operating systems are simply architected differently. But, BlackBerry is doing the next best thing by bringing a lot of these same features to iOS and Android with Secure Work Space.
“With Secure Work Space, it really is a secure container,” said Devenyi.
Image: Jason Hiner
Secure Work Space will be an app in the Apple App Store and Google Play, pending approval from Apple and Google, respectively. It will include secure email, calendar, contacts, tasks, and document editing. It won’t allow data leakage including copy and paste between Secure Work Space and the rest of the device. IT will be able to remotely wipe everything in the Secure Work Space without affecting any of the other apps or data on the person’s device, in a BYOD scenario.
“It really is about the separation of work data and personal data,” Devenyi said. ”It supports a BYOD model much more directly.”
Another thing that Secure Work Space does is to create a fully encrypted tunnel back to the BES 10 server so that all communications from it are secure, even if you’re on an insecure connection such as an Internet cafe or public Wi-Fi. In the past, you’d typically need to launch a VPN tunnel in order to accomplish that, but Secure Work Space does it automatically and at all times.
Devenyi said, “There’s no need for a VPN. It’s a [continually] secure outbound port”
The combination of secure data and apps and a secure connection turns BYOD Android and iOS smartphones and tablets into highly secure business devices. That’s what BlackBerry is bringing to market at the end of Q2, built on top of BES 10.1.
“For the first time, a solution on Android and iOS can benefit and take advantage of the BlackBerry infrastructure and BlackBerry security model,” said Devenyi.
BlackBerry does not split out BES revenue from its revenue from smartphones, but clearly it’s a much more attractive business than the commodity mobile hardware business. And, Devenyi said that BlackBerry is seeing “exploding” demand for MDM solutions to manage BYOD.
In its latest analysis of the MDM market, Gartner corroborated that perspective saying, “MDM is the fastest-growing enterprise mobile software ever (in terms of number of suppliers, revenue growth and interest from Gartner clients).”
That growth is fueling a crowd of companies to jump into MDM, but BlackBerry is one of the creators of the category and one of the most trusted names in mobile security. The fact that many of the companies that need MDM for BYOD have previously relied on BlackBerry and BES to manage their mobile devices provides the company with an excellent opportunity to become a market leader in securing for iOS and Android for BYOD. The irony is obvious, but don’t underestimate how much this could potentially fuel BlackBerry’s comeback, no matter what BlackBerry devices do.
Opportunity Breaks NASA’s 40-Year Roving Record
MAY 16, 2013 09:14 PM ET // BY IAN O’NEILL
After nine years of hard Mars roving, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Opportunity has broken a 40-year-old extraterrestrial distance record.
On Thursday, the tenacious six-wheeled robot drove 80 meters (263 feet), nudging the total distance traveled since landing on the red planet in 2004 to 35.760 kilometers (22.220 miles). NASA’s previous distance record was held by Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt when, in December 1972, they drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle 35.744 kilometers (22.210 miles) over the lunar surface.
“The record we established with a roving vehicle was made to be broken, and I’m excited and proud to be able to pass the torch to Opportunity,” Cernan told Jim Rice of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Opportunity team member in a conversation about the possibility of the rover exceeding the 40-year-old record a few days ago.
Opportunity may be NASA’s record-breaking hot-rod, but it has a few hundred meters left to go before it smashes the international extraterrestrial land-distance record.
In 1973, the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 remote-controlled moon rover roved 37 kilometers (23 miles) across the lunar surface and, so far, remains the undisputed champion of distance driving on an extraterrestrial surface.
But Opportunity is nearly there. Until recently, the NASA rover has been investigating the “Cape York” area of Endeavour Crater’s rim at Meridiani Planum. It is currently en route to a new location called “Solander Point,” 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) away, so we can expect the international roving record to be smashed within weeks.
Sadly, Opportunity’s sister rover Spirit wasn’t the distance-runner like her sibling. Spirit, although still a highly successful rover mission, conked out at a respectable 7.7 kilometers (4.8 miles) after becoming stuck in a sand trap in Gusev Crater. Spirit was declared lost in 2010. Both rovers have surpassed all expectations, considering their primary mission was only supposed to last three months.
How Far Has Opportunity Really Traveled?
In July 2012, shortly before the exciting landing of NASA’s newest and most sophisticated rover, Curiosity, inside Gale Crater, the MER team wanted to point out that their veteran rover hadalmost rolled a marathon. It still hasn’t quite reached the magic 26.2 mile mark (the official distance of a marathon), I thought it interesting to compare Opportunity’s odometer with some other, more familiar distances.
So, in honor of Opportunity holding the NASA distance record, here are those distances, updated:
Opportunity has traveled…
…almost nine laps of the Daytona Motor Speedway NASCAR track (one lap = 2.5 miles)
…178 furlongs. Which is nearly five-times the distance a horse will run during the British Grand National.
…four-times the distance an active basketball player will run during a game.
…from the coast of South England to the coast of France across the Strait of Dover (21 miles), plus a short detour for a croissant.
…from my house to Hollywood (the scenic route — avoiding the 101 freeway).
Image: On the 3,309th Martian day, or sol, of its mission on Mars (May 15, 2013) NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove 263 feet (80 meters) southward along the western rim of Endeavour Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Amtrak Upgrades Wi-Fi Service on Trains
Luke Sharrett for The New York Times
Steven Jackson using Amtrak’s Wi-Fi service on a Boston-bound train last year. The service has drawn technology jokes, and praise, from passengers.
By RON NIXON
Published: May 16, 2013
WASHINGTON — After years of criticism of the wireless service on its trains, Amtrak announced on Thursday that it had upgraded its cellular-based Wi-Fi using broadband technologies that will improve the speed and reliability of the Internet in its passenger cars.
Amtrak’s Wi-Fi has been the target of technology jokes since the railroad introduced the service, with some passengers comparing it to dial-up services like America Online or Prodigy. But others have praised the service, saying it allows them to be productive while traveling between cities, unlike airline travel. Because of the technical difficulties of maintaining a strong Internet connection on a moving train, the increase in speed would still be less than most people experience at home.
The railroad said the broadband upgrade was complete on the high-speed Acela trains that travel the more than 400 miles between Washington and Boston. Several state-supported routes in California, including the Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin routes, have also been upgraded.
Amtrak said it would roll out the upgrades to all remaining Amtrak trains equipped with Wi-Fi, including the Northeast Regional, by late summer.
“We continue to place a strong focus on improving customer satisfaction, and this upgrade is delivering the improved speeds and connectivity required to maintain a competitive edge,” Deborah Stone-Wulf, Amtrak’s chief of sales distribution and customer service, said in a statement.
Amtrak said Acela passengers have already noticed an improvement in the Wi-Fi service aboard the trains and have been commenting through social media.
But not all the social media chatter has been positive.
Shelton Mercer, chief executive of TwitChange, an Atlanta-based Web site that brings celebrities and fans together for good causes, wrote on Twitter last month, “#Amtrak ‘Wi-fi’ should be renamed ‘Why-Try.’ ”
Amtrak responded to some negative Twitter posts, saying the upgrades would strengthen its Wi-Fi network and increase the amount of bandwidth available for tech-savvy passengers who have become accustomed to being connected while traveling.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher, an author and Web consultant in Lancaster, Pa., called the service an infuriating luxury. On a recent trip home from teaching a workshop in New York, she said, she was desperately trying to catch up on e-mail. But the Wi-Fi on the train booted her off every few minutes, she said, and she had to resort to a combination of her smartphone and laptop to keep working.
“On the one hand, we’re lucky to have such pervasive Internet access,” she said in an e-mail. “On the other, it’s frustrating anytime something that should work doesn’t.”
Unlike most airlines, Amtrak said it would continue to provide free Wi-Fi service. The railroad said that Wi-Fi was available on trains that serve 75 percent of Amtrak passengers, and that it routinely supported 30 percent to 50 percent of passengers on a given train.
But Amtrak also said it would continue to limit some Internet activities.
To ensure that all passengers have an opportunity to use the Wi-Fi service, Amtrak said, it would still restrict data-heavy activities that could slow the service down, like streaming video sites like Netflix and music sites like Pandora. The railroad also restricts file downloads larger than 10MB.
Even with the upgrades, Amtrak will continue to face some challenges with its wireless service. High-speed service is not available everywhere, and because the railroad uses different carriers along its routes, including Verizon and AT&T, service could still be interrupted or slowed as the Wi-Fi signals switch between the carriers. In addition, as the speed of the service increases, so will the number of people trying to use it, potentially slowing it down.
Still, Amtrak seems confident that passengers will have a better Internet experience aboard its trains. In a news release announcing the upgrades, the railroad suggested the following Twitter post: “Productivity on @Amtrak #Acela just got better. Their onboard #Wi-Fi is now powered by 4G technology.”
- Is Amtrak’s new Wi-Fi upgrade really going to work? (bizjournals.com)
- Amtrak’s WiFi Upgrade Allows More People to Complain About Amtrak WiFi (theatlanticwire.com)
- Amtrak Upgrades Wi-Fi (mobile.slashdot.org)
- Amtrak Upgrading W-iFi Service on Its Trains, Acela Trains Already Enjoying Speed Boost (hothardware.com)
- Amtrak Faces Money Shortfall (stlouis.cbslocal.com)
- Amtrak unveils new, efficient locomotives (smartplanet.com)
- Wichita’s Amtrak supporters plan announcement Friday (bizjournals.com)
- Amtrak Gets Siemens Locomotive to Serve U.S. Northeast – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Friday Reading: Marathon Training, Minus the Long Run (bucks.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Amtrak train headed to Milwaukee strikes car in Mount Pleasant (fox6now.com)
Power plants: UGA researchers explore how to harvest electricity directly from plants
May 9, 2013
Ramaraja Ramasamy is an assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering.
Athens, Ga. – The sun provides the most abundant source of energy on the planet. However, only a tiny fraction of the solar radiation on Earth is converted into useful energy.
To help solve this problem, researchers at the University of Georgia looked to nature for inspiration, and they are now developing a new technology that makes it possible to use plants to generate electricity.
“Clean energy is the need of the century,” said Ramaraja Ramasamy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering and the corresponding author of a paper describing the process in the Journal of Energy and Environmental Science. “This approach may one day transform our ability to generate cleaner power from sunlight using plant-based systems.”
Plants are the undisputed champions of solar power. After billions of years of evolution, most of them operate at nearly 100 percent quantum efficiency, meaning that for every photon of sunlight a plant captures, it produces an equal number of electrons. Converting even a fraction of this into electricity would improve upon the efficiency seen with solar panels, which generally operate at efficiency levels between 12 and 17 percent.
During photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, which produces electrons. These newly freed electrons go on to help create sugars that plants use much like food to support growth and reproduction.
“We have developed a way to interrupt photosynthesis so that we can capture the electrons before the plant uses them to make these sugars,” said Ramasamy, who is also a member of UGA’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.
Ramasamy’s technology involves separating out structures in the plant cell called thylakoids, which are responsible for capturing and storing energy from sunlight. Researchers manipulate the proteins contained in the thylakoids, interrupting the pathway along which electrons flow.
These modified thylakoids are then immobilized on a specially designed backing of carbon nanotubes, cylindrical structures that are nearly 50,000 times finer than a human hair. The nanotubes act as an electrical conductor, capturing the electrons from the plant material and sending them along a wire.
In small-scale experiments, this approach resulted in electrical current levels that are two orders of magnitude larger than those previously reported in similar systems.
Ramasamy cautions that much more work must be done before this technology reaches commercialization, but he and his collaborators are already working to improve the stability and output of their device.
“In the near term, this technology might best be used for remote sensors or other portable electronic equipment that requires less power to run,” he said. “If we are able to leverage technologies like genetic engineering to enhance stability of the plant photosynthetic machineries, I’m very hopeful that this technology will be competitive to traditional solar panels in the future.”
“We have discovered something very promising here, and it is certainly worth exploring further,” he said. “The electrical output we see now is modest, but only about 30 years ago, hydrogen fuel cells were in their infancy, and now they can power cars, buses and even buildings.”
- Power plants: UGA researchers explore how to harvest electricity directly from plants (eurekalert.org)
- Power plants: UGA researchers explore how to harvest electricity directly from plants (esciencenews.com)
- Nanotubes Capture Electrons from Plant Material for Generating Power (azonano.com)
- True power plants: Researchers explore how to harvest electricity directly from plants (nanowerk.com)
- How to harvest electricity directly from plants (scienceblog.com)
- Plug into a plant: A new approach to clean energy harvesting (gizmag.com)
- Scientists Use Cyborg Plants to Harvest Solar Energy (dailyfusion.net)
- ‘Power plants’: How to harvest electricity directly from plants (sciencedaily.com)
- Scientists Interrupt Photosynthesis To Snatch Plants’ Clean Energy (earthtechling.com)
- Nature’s power plants (bizjournals.com)
When cars talk, this is what they’ll tell each other
Your next car may even know the destination of other vehicles around it on the highway
May 10, 2013 05:56 AM ET
Researchers are developing machine-to-machine (M2M) communication technology that allows cars to exchange data with each other, meaning vehicles will soon know what the cars all around you are doing on the highway.
Your car, for instance, could “see” the velocity of nearby vehicles and react when they turn or brake suddenly. And with computer algorithms and predictive models, your car will be able to predict where other vehicles are going and measure the other drivers’ skills — ensuring you’re safe from their bad moves.
“We’re even imagining in the future cars would be able to ask other cars, ‘Hey, can I cut into your lane?’ Then the other car would let you in,” said Jennifer Healey, a research scientist with Intel.
“Car accidents are the leading cause of death in people 16 to 19 in the United States. And 75% of these accidents have nothing to do with drugs or alcohol,” said Healey, who delivered a TED Talk on the subject in March (see video below).
She recounted her first accident when she was a young driver: The driver she was following on a highway slammed on his brakes and the resulting collision totaled her car. “I think we can transform the driving experience by letting our cars talk to each other,” she said.
That idea came from caravanning, Healey said, citing an available, but-not-yet-deployed technology that uses direct line of site infrared (IR) and a range finder in order to automatically adjust the speed of cars so they can travel at a measured distance from each other. In other words, they’re electronically tethered to one another.
Instead of using IR, the researchers wanted something that is omnidirectional. They tried radio communications, but quickly discovered that omnidirectional radio signals tend to bounce off vehicles, making them unreliable at high speeds.
So Healey and university researchers began using unique Internet Protocol addresses for vehicles, which would allow them to be instantly identifiable to nearby cars around on the same network.
“Imagine a group of cars traveling down the road together as an ad hoc network,” she said. “Let’s say you are three cars ahead of me and I get those IP packets that say I’m the packet from the blue car whose GPS position is here. Now I can associate my position with the unique ID of that physical blue object.”
Along with a steady stream of data a bout the GPS location of cars around you, your car could also know drivers’ intentions.
This video shows how machine-to-machine sensing works. Each vehicle that enters another vehicle’s range is detected and data is exchanged about speed and location. Vehicles automatically slow to allow others to pass or traverse an intersection.
“I could [upload] my route to the cloud and, for example, let cars around me know I’ll be on Rte. 101 for the next 10 minutes, and then I’m going to exit,” Healey said. “You’re augmenting on-road perception.”
With a large enough cloud infrastructure, driver history could also be added, allowing cars to adjust their distance based on the safety record of other drivers. For example, a vehicle might identify a problem driver and simply monitor his or her car more carefully than other vehicles that have not been flagged.
“The car could passively let the driver know that red Jetta is someone you may want to watch more closely,” she said.
Healey said the technology to create an automobile cloud network is readily available, but it’s the reliability and scalability that remains unproven.
One obvious issue is bandwidth. Wireless communications vary by region, so while the system might work well in an urban setting, in a more suburban or rural area radio communications might be too slow to transmit accurate data.
Another problem is speed and traffic congestion.
“So if you’re driving at 85mph, there is a physical problem of transmitting radio packets fast enough to exceed your speed such that other people can get it and react to it in time,” she said. “So you’d have to start publishing a plan to go 85mph in my lane up Rte. 101. So I want to announce to cars 10 miles ahead of me that I’m doing that.”
Of course, drivers may not want to publicize their plans to exceed the speed limit. “Law enforcement doesn’t tend to like 85mph lane splitters,” Healey said.
In additiion, the more vehicle there are, the more complicated the data exchange on an ad hoc network, Healey admitted.
“I can show you a Taiwan intersection with 100 cars coming into it. That’s a problem,” she said. “We’re doing it for three cars, but can we do it for 100? [If] you can do this in a Taiwan intersection with four lanes and scooters coming across … then you have a real situation.”
- When cars talk, this is what they’ll tell each other (pcadvisor.co.uk)
- 8 great talks about cars (ted.com)
- MIT envisions future of talking cars that can plan driver’s day (networkworld.com)
- TED: Jennifer Healey: If cars could talk, accidents might be avoidable – Jennifer Healey (2013) (ted.com)
- #slownewsday at + Computerworld (plus.google.com)
- Florida restricts use of drones by law enforcement officials (networkworld.com)
- Uh, that’s humble blogwatcher, please + Computerworld Shared from Computerworld: IBM… (plus.google.com)
- Winter car debacle – How to fight the issue (chooseyourbestcarservicingputney.wordpress.com)
- Caesars Palace deals Google Glass out of its game – Computerworld (computerworld.com)
- Chip Shot: What if Cars Could Talk? How Technology Can Make Driving Safer (newsroom.intel.com)
Written By: Jason Dorrier
Posted: 04/28/13 12:38 PM
ROBOTS WILL DO EVERYTHING YOU DO NOW ONLY BETTER—WHAT THEN?
The S&P 500 is at record highs, having finally regained all it lost in the 2008 financial crisis. It would be cause for celebration if it didn’t feel so out of touch with the “main street” reality of continued high unemployment. As a recent New York Times headline read, “recovery in the US is lifting profits, but not adding jobs.”
The NYT goes on to blame the divide between rising corporate profits, recovering stocks, and stubborn unemployment on big gains in productivity over the last few years. The article notes that the giant industrial conglomerate, United Technologies, “does not need as many workers as it once did to churn out higher sales and profits.”
While United Technologies (and other manufacturing firms) may not be adding jobs, it’s strange to blame today’s high rate of unemployment on the trend. Due in large part to automation, manufacturing jobs have been disappearing for over 30 years. During that period, unemployment has been as high as 10.8% and as low as 3.8%. A better headline might read, “recovery in the US is lifting profits, but not adding traditional jobs in manufacturing and that’s nothing new.”
Credit: MJ Perry, Carpe Diem, BEA, BLS
It’s rarely noted, but even as manufacturing jobs have steadily decreased, total manufacturing output has steadily grown. Since World War II, manufacturing output in the US has risen over 700%. While rising productivity is often demonized as a job killer, in truth, it is a very powerful force for good in the modern economy.
The time and creativity that productivity growth frees—and it’s been happening since the Industrial Revolution—is responsible for every modern invention from healthcare to high tech, smartphones to non-invasive surgery. If humans hadn’t started using machines to do some things for us, most would still be working in the fields with few moments to spare pondering economic theory, let alone inventing new technologies.
One argument says that this time is different because soon robots will be able to do everything a human does. But it’s misguided to assume we can forecast what humans “will do.” What that statement really means is, “In the future, robots will do everything humans dotoday.” But what exactly it is that humans will do in the future is anyone’s guess—and few, if any, have ever successfully predicted it.
Before the 20 century, most folks in the West farmed. Now, thanks to massive productivity gains in agriculture, virtually none do. To a 19 century farmer that would imply nothing less than the collapse of the economy. Why? Because the thing most people did back then was farm. Our farmer might understandably wonder, “What will we do when machines perform our jobs for us? How will we make money? How will we survive?”
We are gifted with the vision of our times and cursed with the temptation to extrapolate that vision into the future. How could our farmer know that in 2013 humans would be paid to make movies, pick up garbage, write online, build robots, clean bathrooms, engineer rockets, lead guided tours, drive trucks, play in garage bands, brew artisanal beer, or write code?
The revolution in agricultural technology liberated vast resources and made us all richer and the economy more diverse as a result. And while one might think that those riches should have accrued to only those making agricultural tech, thus permanently widening the income gap, no such thing happened in practice. While those making agricultural machinery undoubtedly made some bucks, the next economic waves provided different work and income for many levels of skill and motivation.
This is understandably a firebrand topic right now. If current unemployment marked the beginning of mass technological unemployment, you can be sure mass social unrest would be quick to follow. But we can’t prove it’s structural yet. Unemployment is a typically lagging indicator. (Click ‘show recessions’ here to see how unemployment continues long after recessions end.) In the last sizable downturn in the early 80s, unemployment didn’t drop below 7% for four years after the recession ended. And that preceded two decades of virtually unbroken growth.
We don’t know precisely what the future holds, but we do know that most in the developed world—even the poorest—live longer, healthier lives than they did a century ago. And while the world will never be a perfect place, technology and productivity have freed more minds to ponder, play, and invent today than ever before.
- How Earnings at United Technologies Will Fare (fool.com)
- United Technologies 1Q net income, revenue rise (newsday.com)
- Earnings Preview: United Tech to report 1Q results (newsday.com)
- UTC Reports Revenues Up 16% (connecticut.cbslocal.com)
- United Technologies Sells Electric Power Systems Unit (fool.com)
- When a Successful Company Shrinks its Workforce (blogs.hbr.org)
- United Technologies Profit Exceeds Estimates on Aerospace – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Deficit Falling Even More Dramatically, Few Know It | Seeing the Forest (don-overton.newsvine.com)
- United Technologies Sells Electric Power Systems Unit (dailyfinance.com)
- UTC Selling Former Goodrich Power Systems Business (connecticut.cbslocal.com)
CHINESE RESTAURANT OWNER SAYS ROBOT NOODLE MAKER DOING “A GOOD JOB!”
[Source: arkazlive via YouTube]
Noodle peelers should probably start looking for other things to do around the kitchen – there’s just no competing with these robots. Not only are they saving restaurants in China money in wages, they can work rapidly and tirelessly for hours.
We reported on the robots, invented by restaurant owner Cui Runguan, last August. Now, we’re hearing from another restaurant owner who has had one of the robots in his “employ” for a month. How is the indefatigable noodle-maker working out at the Jinhe Noodle Shop in Beijing? The restaurant owner, with the last name Zhao, loves it and tells China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency that “It does a good job!”
Runguan’s robots peel noodle strips from a firm piece of dough and tosses them directly into boiling water “before diners’ eyes can follow the whole process.” To Zhao and a growing number of restaurant owners in China, choosing robots over human noodle cooks is a no-brainer. While a cook doing the same job would make about 40,000 yuan ($6,400) per year, the robot cost him just 10,000 yuan ($1,600). And no human chef can work so tirelessly.
China is expected to be the world’s largest market for robots by 2014 [Source: arkazlive via YouTube]
Its price is already down from $2,000 this past August, which is no doubt a big reason why more than 3,000 restaurants that have already relegated their noodle-making to the robot. As the technology improves and the cost to build and run the robot drops, business will only get better for Runguan, who has received four patents for the technology.
That humans can be replaced by robots that do the job faster and cheaper is an idea that now pervades Chinese employers. “Chinese companies usually start considering robots when the payment for a skilled worker exceeds 50,000 yuan ($8,060) a year,” Tan Xueke, a manager at the Xinsong Robot Automation Company in Shenynang, told Xinhua News Agency.
The repetitive action that goes into preparing certain foods such as noodles makes automation an obvious choice. In Japan robots are already being used to make sushi, and a robot in San Francisco can serve up 340 hamburgers an hour. But while robotic cooks provide restaurants a novelty for customers and savings for owners, other robots are invading China’s workplace on a much grander scale. Most notably is Foxconn who, last November, began replacing 1 million jobs performed by humans with robotic automation. The metamorphosis is advancing quickly. In late February the company announced it put a freeze on hiring new entry-level workers. This was due in part to a high worker retention rate following pay increases, but it’s also a conscious decision to accelerate the automation of their factories.
And as prices for the robots drop, they’ll continue to invade the workplace at increasing an increasing pace. Already China is expected to become the world’s largest robot market next year. And as entry-level jobs become scarce, out-of-the-job workers such as those at Foxconn and Jinhe Noodle Shop will find the new reality hard to swallow.
- Noodle Robots Replacing Workers In Chinese Restaurants (hardware.slashdot.org)
- Robots joining China businesses, factories (upi.com)
- Robots replace chefs, labourers in Chinese restaurants, farms (rediff.com)
- China sets up robot industry association (wantchinatimes.com)
- Food of the future at Harbin’s first robot restaurant (wantchinatimes.com)
- China sets up group to promote local robot industry (zdnet.com)
- Robots seen as living things (radionz.co.nz)
- Robots joining China businesses, factories (spacedaily.com)
- Humans feel empathy for robots: fMRI scans show similar brain function when robots are treated the same as humans (phys.org)
- Specialized robots join rescue efforts in quake zone (wantchinatimes.com)