Search This Blog

Friday, May 31, 2013

Landsat 8 is up and running - and the data is free

Landsat 8 officially opened for business yesterday (May 30, 2013).  The satellite weighs in at 4,566 lbs (2,071kg), not including the instrument weight - and can image in nine spectral bands as well as measuring the heat signature of Earth features in two additional bands.  The Landsat 8 replaces the aging Landsat 7 which has been providing Earth imaging for more than 14 years (albeit with some ongoing mechanical issues with the Scan Line Corrector) - the Landsat satellite program has been providing Earth images for over 41 years - and Landsat 8 is expected to continue that work for at least another 5-10 years under the direction of the USGS.  Landsat 8 will circle the Earth 14 times a day, and complete a full Earth scan every 16 days.  Landsat images have been used in a video time-lapse by Google to display recent Earth climate changes.  Images from the satellite are available from:

ETSIT: Cabinet approves license for Egyptian vehicle tracking company

The Egyptian cabinet has agreed to grant a 2 year license to a new entity called the Egyptian Tracking Services and Information Technology (ETSIT) company allowing it to provide AVL to non-military commercial services in the region.  ETSIT has been endowed with capital of about $14.3M USD (EGP 100m), and will be owned and managed by several entities, including Dahab Services and Supplies Co, the Egyptian Company for Investment Projects, the Healthcare and Social Services Improvement Fund, and by Telecom Egypt.  The Egyptian Armed Forces have tentatively agreed to the license under the stipulation that the National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA) be solely responsible for providing or approving similar services to the Military.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Colorado at center of new global positioning technology GPS III: A nice summary from the Denver Post about the upcoming upgrade of the US GPS system starting in 2012 - with specific references to businesses in the Colorado Springs, Aurora, and Boulder communities.

Some of the additional features include the new L1C signal and higher signal strength as well as the increase in location accuracy (from 3m to 1m), the new search and rescue distress signals, jamming resistance, satellite life expectancy (increased from 7.5 years to 15 years), launch and deployment of multiple satellites (dual launches) with a cost savings of nearly $50 million per satellite.

The article also discusses the impact on users from a variety of markets; Agriculture, 911 and Emergency First Responders, Road Construction, Aviation, Weather, as well as the monitoring of tectonic plate movements by geologists.  This includes the capability of the system to accurately time the processing of several different types of market transactions using their on-board atomic clocks.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

PhoneSat - NASA tests Smartphones as satellite technology: NASA launched three consumer smartphones into space this year to test how existing consumer technology can be incorporated into low-cost satellites (video).  Pictures from the devices were retrieved by amateur radio 'hams'.  The three smartphones were aptly named, 'Alexander', 'Graham', and 'Bell', and were housed in a CubeSat chassis about 4 inches per side.  The cost of the satellites varied between $3,500USD and $7,000USD and used Nexus S (Samsung) phones - with the phone interface removed and replaced with the ham radio interface.  Each system included a GPS receiver, radios, multiple acceleration and rotation sensors, a compass, 1-2 cameras, memory - as well as Lithium-Ion batteries, and magnetorquer coils and reaction wheels to control satellite orientation.  All three were launched aboard the Antares 110 rocket. A similar British built satellite called STRaND-1 was put into orbit earlier this year, and was powered by a Google Nexus One phone. 
Push for new GPS stalking law: There is a saying that any useful tool can also be used as a weapon - and GPS is not excluded from that rule. When clients new to vehicle tracking ask us about tracking their vehicles or assets, they will sometimes ask us about whether or not to inform their employees of the tracking system - and we tell them that they should always inform anyone driving a vehicle with a tracking system that they are being tracked.  There is nothing wrong with tracking your own assets or vehicles - but I certainly believe tracking someone else's person, phone, or vehicle without their permission should be considered a violation of their privacy.  I fully support this new law and would like to see it implemented on a national level.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Interplanetary GPS: Here is an interesting article about a proposed GPS system using x-ray pulsars to help navigate the solar system.  However, I'm more surprised that we we don't have a plan for conventional GPS or GNSS satellite systems for places we plan to visit in the near future - like the Moon, or Mars.

That said, there may be reasons why this isn't practical at the moment.  One issue is the lack of a significant magnetic field around either Mars or the Moon to help deflect solar or cosmic radiation.  This could significantly reduce the life and health of conventional GPS satellites.

Another issue, for at least the Moon is that the satellite constellation could make exploration of the Moon, and navigation to and from the moon more difficult in the near term.  Transportation coordination for Mars would also need to be worked out - we wouldn't likely launch the satellites one at a time like we do for the Earth orbits.  We'd need to send them in adequate groups to conserve on energy (but small enough to promote redundancy in case of a significant transport issue); and management of the satellites on Mars may require that a base be setup first.

Finally, it's also a question of timing; having the right resources in place at the right time.  Still it would be nice to see a plan for GPS tracking on either the Moon or Mars (or both) in the near future.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Oversized Truck causes bridge collapse:  It would be interesting to know if current technology could have helped or if it hurt this particular situation.  

Did the vehicle have a tracking system?  Did it include a driver navigation system, and if so, did it include enough information to determine that the bridge was probably not part of a good route for an oversized load (too wide and possibly too tall as well in this case)?  Fleet and Vehicle technology is increasing by leaps and bounds - but they are not without fault; nor is the uptake of this new technology occurring that rapidly.  The broader question is what can we learn from this, and how do we prevent it from happening again?

It's possible that even with current technology that this might not have been prevented - human error could have caused a miscalculation in the entry of the data into the navigation system - or the actual dimensions of the bridge could have been recorded incorrectly.  

But for $15 million to replace the bridge, there needs to be a lesson learned here somewhere. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Changes in movement as a predictor of health issues:  In the article - Smartphone Tracker Gives Doctors Remote Viewing Powers we have another example of how patterns regarding location changes, combined with other personal data, can help medical staff determine if a patient is either off their medication, or has taken a turn for the worse.

This software was developed by, the same group that helped provide the epidemiology data analysis in the "Big Data from Cheap Phones" article previously posted.

This does require that patients give up some personal privacy, but the data is still covered by HIPAA rules - while providing better access to medical staff which can be a boon for patients with a variety of medical issues, such as diabetes, heart issues, chronic back pain, Crones, etc.

Changes in daily patterns of travel and communication can also indicate changes in stressors or possible lethargy; and using predictive analysis, the application can help alert medical staff to reach out to individuals that may be at risk.

It's unclear how the system will deal with lost or stolen phones, or out-of-coverage and/or battery and charging issues.  Nevertheless, it's a good first step forward in proactive medical analysis.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Google Earth Sky - a new concept: We spend a lot of time pointing our cameras at ourselves, and at our surroundings, but we rarely seem to look 'up'.  I'd propose a new program where we setup cameras so that anyone from anywhere can see what the sky looks like in near real-time from any location on the planet.  This information could be fed into weather systems for analysis, but it could also be used to observe any minor atmospheric or other 'sky' related occurances that might be missed by the casual observer - much like the meteorite impacts on the moon that have recently been documented by NASA near Mare Imbrium: I call this 'Google Earth Sky' because absorbing, analyzing and making the data available to the general public for this kind of 'big data' would be difficult for all but the largest of organizations; such as Google, Bing/Microsoft, or say the US government.  However, this kind of crowd-sourced image data could be put together by individuals and businesses with relative ease.  Eventually, the whole earth sky could be a lens that we could all look through from anywhere, at any time.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mapping the Tornado's path: Here is a link to a crisis map provided by Google Maps with information regarding the path of the tornado in Oklahoma, as well as information about shelters in the area, and overlays at wider zooms showing a weather storm snapshot:

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sci-Fi Interlude: I went to go to see 'Star Trek: Into Darkness' today. It was relatively good. In general I like the new series - while being fresh and new, it continues to pay homage to the original series and movie spin-offs. One of my favorite quotes was from when Admiral Pike was giving Spock and Kirk a lecture (paraphrasing from memory) - Pike: "Are you giving me attitude Spock?" Spock: "I am attempting to convey multiple attitudes as the same time, to which are you referring?".  Using that sharp intellect  to convey the logical and forthright response, and yet delivered to be stingingly irritating at the same time was a nice bit of writing.

Friday, May 17, 2013

I had the pleasure of working on the iTRAK® WebApp over the past several months:
  I had worked in PHP before, but this was a new effort combining PHP with HTML5 and AJAX.  Development for individual devices such as the iPhone, iPAD, and Android and trying to keep the interface the same across all platforms has been a challenge.  Using the web-app approach has simplified our development efforts significantly, while allowing us to very quickly deploy across multiple smartphone platforms at virtually the same time.  The one exception was Android, which had some issues with the menu interface for the release of 'Ice cream Sandwich', but these were resolved by upgrading to 'Jellybean'.  This has given our clients in the wireless GPS fleet tracking market instant access to their accounts using their mobile phones - and since we included all 9 languages, we were able to deploy it to all of our customers regardless of region.  This was the kind of 'write once, run anywhere' promise of Java, that never really came to fruition.
The USA continues to upgrade their GPS constellation with newer satellites - the 2F-4 is launched to replace the 2A-25 which will become a backup:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

An excellent article by the MIT Technology Review on the use of Big Data and gross location information from phones for epidemiological studies regarding malaria infection (and eradication):