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Friday, January 31, 2014

Telematics For Tennis Rackets Can Provide For Virtual Coaching

As reported by EuroSportMany sporting gadgets come and go with barely a flicker of attention, but there is now a tool that could transform tennis forever.  

An exaggeration? Only time will tell, but the number of top companies involved surely gives an indication as to its genuine potential.
Sony have unveiled a tennis sensor - a little gadget that is attachable to the base of a tennis racket - and Babolat have released their 'Play Pure Drive' effort with one already embedded into the grip.
To put the device in its simplest terms, it is like having a virtual 'tennis coach' to assess your every shot, sensing where the ball strikes the racket and the quality of the contact.
It counts forehands and backhands, serves and smashes and provides stats in the form of tennis data that can be analysed, stored and compared.
The sensor can gather data such as ball speed, accuracy, angle, etc and will pair the info with devices such as Bluetooth, phones, computers and USB connections.
More than simply a coaching aid, the sensor would allow even the top players to quickly and effectively assess their own shots and learn from specific errors during a match.
Would this go right the way to the top elite level? That all depends on how it is received within the tennis world, but the potential is there for it to improve broadcasting tools in addition to personal analysis.
Babolat's latest venture into the field of personal sporting analytics has been put through the International Tennis Federation's official approval process and could well impact the professional game if it is viewed as beneficial to everyone involved.
Babolat's Play Pure Drive (Babolat)
Put simply, if the ITF approve the sensors then they could be used in Grand Slams. Given that the technology already exists on the market, the top players would provide companies the exposure and publicity they desire.
Gael Moureaux, tennis racquets products manager at Babolat, has said: "We integrated sensors inside the handle of the racquet, but it does not change the specification.
"And these sensors will analyse your tennis game, so your swing - your motion - and all this information will be collected by the racquet.
"During the development process of the racquet, we did a lot of lab tests with a lot of players around the world to make sure the data is accurate and to have the right data for the player."
What does this mean for your average amateur tennis lover? The Babolat Play Pure Drive is already out on the market, while Sony's Smart Tennis Sensor will be priced at around £106 when it moves from Japan, where it is currently available.
According to Sony who announced the sensor’s availability in Japan, the sensor will be compatible with around six Yonex EZone and VCore tennis rackets, but additional racket compatibility will be available before long.
Sensor-connected racquets are already with us and who is to say that this will not end up becoming the accepted next phase of the tennis equipment revolution.
We've come quite a way from wooden racquets with tiny heads. This crazy-looking new gadget could yet transform the sport as we know it.

Android App Warns When You’re Being Tracked

As reported by Technology Review: A new app notifies people when an Android smartphone app is tracking their location, something not previously possible without modifying the operating system on a device, a practice known as “rooting.”

The new technology comes amid new revelations that the National Security Agency seeks to gather personal data from smartphone apps (see “How App Developers Leave the Door Open to NSA Surveillance”). But it may also help ordinary people better grasp the extent to which apps collect and share their personal information. Even games and dictionary apps routinely track location, as collected from a phone’s GPS or global positioning system sensors.

Existing Android interfaces do include a tiny icon showing when location information is being accessed, but few people notice or understand what it means, according to a field study done as part of a new research project led by Janne Lindqvist, an assistant professor at Rutgers University. Lindqvist’s group created an app that puts a prominent banner across the top of the app saying, for example, “Your location is accessed by Dictionary.” The app is being readied for Google Play, the Android app store, within two months.

Lindqvist says Android phone users who used a prototype of his app were shocked to discover how frequently they were being tracked. “People were really surprised that some apps were accessing their location, or how often some apps were accessing their location,” he says.

According to one Pew Research survey, almost 20 percent of smartphone owners surveyed have tried to disconnect location information from their apps, and 70 percent wanted to know more about the location data collected by their smartphone.

The goal of the project, Lindqvist says, is to goad Google and app companies into providing more prominent disclosures, collecting less personal information, and allowing users to select which data they will allow the app to see. A research paper describing the app and the user study can be found here. It was recently accepted for an upcoming computer security conference.

In many cases, location information is used by advertisers to provide targeted ads. But information gained by apps often gets passed around widely to advertising companies (see “Mobile-Ad Firms Seek New Ways to Track You” and “Get Ready for Ads That Follow You from One Device to the Next”).

Google, which maintains the Android platform, has engineered it to block an app from gaining information about other apps. So Lindqvist’s team used an indirect method using a function within Android’s location application programming interface (API) that signals when any app requests location information. “People have previously done this with platform-level changes—meaning you would need to ‘root’ the phone,” says Lindqvist. “But nobody has used an app to do this.”

Google has flip-flopped on how much control it gives users over the information apps can access. In Android version 4.3, available since July of last year, users gained the ability to individually disable and enable apps’ “permissions” one by one, but then Google reversed course in December 2013, removing the feature in an update numbered 4.4.2, according to this finding from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The new app and study from Lindqvist’s team could help push Google back toward giving users more control. “Because we know how ubiquitous NSA surveillance is, this is one tool to make people aware,” he says.

The work adds to similar investigative work about Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS. Last year different academic researchers found that Apple wasn’t doing a good job stopping apps from harvesting the unique ID numbers of a device (see “Study Shows Many Apps Defy Apple’s Privacy Advice”). Those researchers released their own app, called ProtectMyPrivacy, that detects what data other apps on an iPhone try to access, notifies the owner, and makes a recommendation about what to do. However, that app requires users to first “jailbreak” or modify Apple’s operating system. Still, unlike Android, Apple allows users to individually control which categories of information an app can access.

“Telling people more about their privacy prominently and in an easy-to-understand manner, especially the location, is important,” says Yuvraj Agarwal, who led that research at the University of California, San Diego, and has since moved on to Carnegie Mellon University. Ultimately, though, Agarwal believes users must be able to take action on an app’s specific permissions. “If my choice is to delete Angry Birds or not, that’s not really a choice,” he says.

A 96-Antenna System Tests the Next Generation of Wireless

As reported by MIT Technology Review: Even as the world’s carriers build out the latest wireless infrastructure, known as 4G LTE, a new apparatus bristling with 96 antennas taking shape at a Rice University lab in Texas could help define the next generation of wireless technology.

The Rice rig, known as Argos, represents the largest such array yet built and will serve as a test bed for a concept known as “Massive MIMO.”

MIMO, or “multiple-input, multiple-output,” is a wireless networking technique aimed at transferring data more efficiently by having several antennas work together to exploit a natural phenomenon that occurs when signals are reflected en route to a receiver. The phenomenon, known as multipath, can cause interference, but MIMO alters the timing of data transmissions in order to increase throughput using the reflected signals.

MIMO is already used for 4G LTE and in the latest version of Wi-Fi, called 802.11ac; but it typically involves only a handful of transmitting and receiving antennas. Massive MIMO extends this approach by using scores or even hundreds of antennas. It increases capacity further by effectively focusing signals on individual users, allowing numerous signals to be sent over the same frequency at once. Indeed, an earlier version of Argos, with 64 antennas, demonstrated that network capacity could be boosted by more than a factor of 10.

“If you have more antennas, you can serve more users,” says Lin Zhong, associate professor of computer science at Rice and the project’s co-leader. And the architecture allows it to easily scale to hundreds or even thousands of antennas, he says.

Massive MIMO requires more processing power because base stations direct radio signals more narrowly to the phones intended to receive them. This, in turn, requires extra computation to pull off. The point of the Argos test bed is to see how much benefit can be obtained in the real world. Processors distributed throughout the setup allow it to test different network configurations, including how it would work alongside other emerging classes of base stations, known as small cells, serving small areas.

“Massive MIMO is an intellectually interesting project,” says Jeff Reed, director of the wireless research center at Virginia Tech. “You want to know: how scalable is MIMO? How many antennas can you benefit from? These projects are attempting to address that.”

An alternative, or perhaps complementary, approach to an eventual 5G standard would use extremely high frequencies, around 28 gigahertz. Wavelengths at this frequency are around two orders of magnitude smaller than the frequencies that carry cellular communications today, allowing more antennas to be packed into the same space, such as within a smartphone. But since 28 gigahertz signals are easily blocked by buildings, and even foliage and rain, they’ve long been seen as unusable except in special line-of-sight applications.

But Samsung and New York University have collaborated to solve this, also by using multi-antenna arrays. They send the same signal over 64 antennas, dividing it up to speed up throughput, and dynamically changing which antennas are used and the direction the signal is sent to get around environmental blockages (see “What 5G Will Be: Crazy Fast Wireless Tested in New York City”).

Meantime, some experiments have been geared toward pushing existing 4G LTE technology further. The technology can, in theory, deliver 75 megabits per second, though it is lower in real-world situations. But some research suggests it can go faster by stitching together streams of data from several wireless channels (see “LTE Advanced Is Poised to Turbocharge Smartphone Data”).

Emerging research done on Argos and in other wireless labs will help to define a new 5G phone standard. Whatever the specifics, it’s likely to include more sharing of spectrum, more small transmitters, new protocols, and new network designs. “To introduce an entirely new wireless technology is a huge task,” Marzetta says.

In Motorola Purchase, Lenovo Gains Big Footprint in Smartphones

As reported by the NY Times: Apple and Samsung Electronics dominate the smartphone business, controlling about half of the sales and most of the profits. An ever-changing roster of also-rans has struggled to close the gap.

Now one of those challengers, Lenovo, has broken free of the pack and pushed itself into a clear No. 3 position with an agreement to buy Motorola Mobility from Google.

Assuming the deal is completed, do Samsung and Apple need to start looking over their shoulders? Not yet, it seems.

With a combined share of 6.4 percent of smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2013, Lenovo and Motorola would still be only a distant third to Samsung, with 29 percent, and Apple, with 17 percent, according to Counterpoint Technology Market Research. Motorola, with barely more than 1 percent of the smartphone market share, is a shadow of the company whose Razr handsets were the must-have devices of the pre-smartphone era.

No other mobile phone maker has managed to climb back after falling from the heights. And Google piled up millions of dollars in losses from Motorola during a brief ownership that began in 2012.

But Lenovo executives say the Motorola brand remains valuable. And analysts agree that the deal includes other assets that could give Lenovo a better chance of eventually challenging the top two than other second-tier smartphone makers.

“Lenovo now has extra scale in smartphones and a seat near the top table,” said Neil Mawston, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, a research firm.

Some analysts said the deal was reminiscent of Lenovo’s 2005 acquisition of IBM’s PC business, which turned a parochial Chinese electronics company into a global technology power. After several other acquisitions, Lenovo is the biggest PC maker in the world, and it moved this month to expand its computer-making operations further by snapping up IBM’s low-end server business.

Investors are worried about the cost of the two most recent deals: more than $5 billion. Lenovo shares fell 8.2 percent in Hong Kong on Thursday. But analysts say that if the company can successfully integrate Motorola, it could gain considerable advantages.

For one, there would be geographical benefits, which Lenovo executives pointed out in separate conference calls with reporters on Wednesday in the United States and on Thursday in Asia.

Although the company has been pushing to expand its smartphone business internationally, more than 90 percent of its sales are still in China. Lenovo has entered a few other developing markets, but it has not begun selling phones in the United States or Western Europe.

Lenovo executives said they would retain both brand names, and in some cases, the two brands might be sold alongside each other.

“We are not restricting Lenovo to China or Motorola to the U.S.,” said Wai Ming Wong, the Lenovo chief financial officer. “They are two different brands with different sets of propositions for the customers. The key for us is to sell more devices to the market.”

Motorola sells its flagship phone, the Moto X, for $399 in the United States without a mobile service contract. That is more than double the price of some Lenovo smartphones in China.

Although Motorola is not a big player globally, it has distribution relationships with more than 50 mobile carriers, Mr. Wong said.

Analysts said it could take several years to rebuild the brand in Europe, where it has mostly disappeared, but Motorola would give Lenovo a more immediate entree into the United States.

One of the biggest barriers to entering the American smartphone market for Lenovo has been its lack of a strong patent portfolio. This would have made it vulnerable to so-called patent trolls — entities that buy patents to collect royalties from technology manufacturers. Under the agreement, Lenovo said it would receive more than 2,000 patents and license others from Google, affording it a measure of protection.

“Motorola understands the smartphone market very well, especially in the mature markets,” Mr. Wong said.

Because the $2.9 billion price of the Motorola sale includes $750 million in Lenovo stock, the deal also gives Lenovo what it described as a “strategic relationship” with Google, developer of the Android mobile operating system, which is widely used by Lenovo, Samsung and other phone makers.

By aligning itself more closely with Google, Lenovo can keep pace with Samsung, which this week announced a 10-year deal to share patents with Google. That agreement, along with the planned sale of Motorola to Lenovo, eased concerns over possible strains in the Google-Samsung alliance.

“With these agreements, Google gets away from unnecessary friction with the manufacturers,” said Tom Kang, an analyst at Counterpoint.

Close ties to Google are important for Lenovo and Samsung because they build official versions of the Android operating system into their phones, integrating them with Google’s other online services. Some other phone makers use so-called forked versions of Android, which are stripped of some of their Google functions.

“Lenovo has the expertise and track record to scale Motorola into a major player within the Android ecosystem,” Larry Page, the chief executive of Google, said in a statement.

When Google acquired Motorola, the move prompted speculation that it was trying to free itself from its dependence on Samsung phones and create a more integrated system combining hardware and software, along the lines of Apple. Samsung began developing more of its own software, including a new operating system called Tizen.

This week, Lenovo announced a restructuring that created a separate unit to develop “ecosystem and cloud services.”

But analysts said they expected Lenovo to continue to use Android in its mobile phones, rather than develop its own mobile operating system.

“For Lenovo, it’s the cheapest and best-performing solution,” Mr. Kang said.

By relying on Android, Lenovo — like Samsung — falls short of the level of hardware and software integration that Apple provides. But the addition of Motorola would give it a range of hardware that few others could match.

“This puts Lenovo in position to have leading offerings in smartphones, tablets and PCs — a vital trifecta that no other global manufacturer has — besides Apple,” said Frank E. Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

EU Police Want ‘Remote Kill Switch’ On Every Car

As reported by ReutersThe EU is considering mandatorily equipping of all cars sold in the union with devices, which would allow police to remotely disable engines, according to leaked documents.  

If the plan goes as planned, European law enforcers will be able to stop fugitives, suspected criminals and even speeding drivers with a simple radio command from a control room.

The technology is part of a six-year development plan by the ‘European Network of Law Enforcement Technologies’, or Enlets, a working group for police cooperation across the EU, reports the Telegraph.
"Cars on the run can be dangerous for citizens," the newspaper cites a document leaked by state power watchdog Statewatch.
"Criminal offenders will take risks to escape after a crime. In most cases the police are unable to chase the criminal due to a lack of efficient means to stop the vehicle safely," it says.
Remote control of car electronics is far from novel. A modern car is equipped with a network of microcomputers, which monitors and controls everything from ignition and flow of fuel to radio station being played. And increasingly cars can communicate wirelessly, a technology called telematics.
Loan firms and car dealerships has been using the benefits of electronically-controlled cars for years. A vehicle sold in subprime market can be equipped with a black box, which reminds the client of overdue payments with honking horns and flashing lights and would disable the engine completely a few days later, unless the money is paid. And a GPS receiver would tell the dealership the exact location where the car can be collected.
Remote tracking and control is also used as anti-theft measure. Services like General Motors’ Stolen Vehicle Slowdown can force a stolen car to drop speed and stop on a remote command from the service provider.

Giving police the ability to do the same to any car in the EU does not thrill some rights advocates cautious of giving the government more authority.
"We need to know if there is any evidence that this is a widespread problem. Let's have some evidence that this is a problem, and then let's have some guidelines on how this would be used," Statewatch told the Telegraph.
Apart from that, there is a concern of possible hacker attacks, which could use the remote kill switch for nefarious ends. In March 2010 Texas police arrested a former car dealership employee, who used its car tracking and repossession system to disable some 100 vehicles in Austin in revenge for being laid-off.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Washington University tested how much harm hacking can do to a car’s electronic controller. The study conducted in 2010 showed that a criminal can relatively easy interfere with safety-critical systems like brakes.
The security of connected cars has not become hacker-prof since. At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show this month, technology firm Harman warned that hacking problems for modern cars very serious because the infrastructure of their electronic components was not designed with networking in mind, so they are not ready for the level of exposure to cyber-attacks that internet connectivity brings.

Repurposing Technology: GPS Used To Help Predict Hazards

As reported by GCNWhile necessity may be the mother of invention, tight budgets are the mother of innovative repurposing of technologies. 
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have teamed up to take advantage of a network of hundreds of GPS stations in Southern California, originally installed to measure tectonic movements and to monitor and predict hazardous events such as earthquakes and flash floods.
While the scientific-level GPS stations bounce signals off satellites to record very small changes in location, those signals can also be used to measure water vapor in the atmosphere.
"A GPS receiver fundamentally is measuring the amount of time it takes signals to travel from the GPS satellites to the receiving antenna on the ground," explained Angelyn W. Moore, a scientist on JPL's Geodynamics and Space Geodesy Group. "That travel time is modified by the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. The upshot is that whenever we measure a geodetic-quality GPS station's position, we are also measuring the delay due to water vapor. That delay can be related to precipitable water vapor with a surface pressure and temperature measurement."
When this moisture data is combined with data from barometers and thermometers, it can give forecasters greater accuracy in predicting rainfall and flash floods. According to Moore, there are approximately 40 stations providing water-vapor estimates every half hour. "We are evaluating hardware to provide water vapor [data] at 5 minutes or less at a test site, and plan to install that at approximately 25 sites," she added.
While forecasters are currently accessing the system's water-vapor estimates via a Web interface, said Moore, "We are pursuing integration into their standard forecaster displays."
According to Moore, the network in Southern California consists of 475 GPS stations, about 175 of which are operating in real time and 17 of which have been equipped with accelerometers. While GPS measurements can be used to measure large movements during an earthquake, accelerometers can measure smaller movements. More importantly, accelerometers can measure primary waves, or P-waves, which can be help seismologists predict the arrival of the secondary waves, which signal the phase of violent shaking during an earthquake. Since P-waves move through the earth faster than S-waves, data from P-waves could be used to provide an early-warning system.
While Moore doesn't know of imminent plans to expand the system, she says doing so would offer important data. "Certainly the spatial extent can be extended," she said. "Existing real-time GPS stations tend to be located in California more than in Arizona, so north is the most obvious opportunistic direction at present. That would enable use of the GPS water vapor [data] for other weather conditions such as atmospheric rivers." Atmospheric rivers are relatively narrow regions in the atmosphere in which relatively large amounts of water vapor are transported horizontally. According to NOAA, "While ARs come in many shapes and sizes, those that contain the largest amounts of water vapor, the strongest winds, and stall over watersheds vulnerable to flooding, can create extreme rainfall and floods."
In fact, NOAA already has several hundred GPS-equipped weather stations scattered throughout the nation. Although the density of that network is not sufficient for the kinds of system being developed by the JPL/NOAA/Scripps team, they could be incorporated into an expanding network.

Northrop to Help Sustain Air Force Embedded GPS System for $200M

As reported by GovConWire: Northrop Grumman has been awarded a potential four-year, $200 million contract to help the Air Force integrate and sustain a GPS navigation system.

Up to 45 percent of the contract ceiling could include unclassified foreign military sales agreements, with the first two confirmed orders covering sales to Iraq and Thailand, the Defense Department said Friday.

According to the Navy, the Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation System is designed to offer users a single standard electronic module for GPS and inertial navigation.

The company will be responsible for platform integration, modernization, diminishing manufacturing sources, flight test support, technical support following integration efforts, training, engineering support and studies, contractor depot repair, spares and data.

Who Carries the GPS/GNSS Gold Standard Now?

As reported by GPS WorldChina’s BeiDou system claimed a user range error (URE) of 2.5 meters zero age of data (ZAOD) 95% recently.  The parallel GPS specifications commit to 6 meters 95% ZAOD and 7.8 meters 95% all AODs.  Does this mean that BeiDou is more accurate than GPS? Not so fast.  

In late December, director Ran Chengqi of China’s Satellite Navigation System Management Office announced the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) Public (or Open) Service Performance Standard. The document details the public service performance parameters of the BeiDou system, including service area, accuracy, integrity, continuity, and availability. It is a basic commitment to customers from BDS providers, but also an important basis for customers to choose, use, and evaluate the system performance.

A few important qualifications of BeiDou’s performance standard first:
According to the foreword of the document, “This document specifies the BDS open service performance standard at the current stage.” This is as it should be.
A paragraph on service volume, however, highlights the fact that BeiDou is as yet a regional service.
“4.4 BDS OS Service Volume
The BDS OS service volume is defined as the OS SIS coverage of the BDS satellites where both the BDS OS horizontal and vertical position accuracy are better than 10 meters (probability of 95%). At the current stage, the BDS regional service capability has been achieved, which can provide continuous OS to the area as shown in Figure 2 & Figure 3, including the most part of the region from 55°S to 55°N, 70°E to150°E.”
The BDS Service Area.
The BDS Service Area.
This means that BeiDou commits to 2.5 meter accuracy in China, as well as neighboring countries — and importantly, trading partners — in Southeast Asia plus Australia.
Does this mean that once BeiDou attains global status, it will provide 2.5 meter accuracy everywhere, on its basic single frequency, open service?  Hard to tell.  Much of its strength, its core strength, one might say, comes from 5 geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) satellites and 5 Inclined Geosynchronous Satellite Orbit (IGSO) satellites. The GEOs  hover over the Equator more or less permanently, south of but in the general longitude of  China’s sovereign national territory. The IGSOs move back and forth from the northern to the southern hemispheres in the same area.
When BeiDou achieves its planned global reach, an event scheduled for 2020, the constellation will consist of 35 satellites: 5 GEOs, stationed at longitudes so their footprints cover China,  27 medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites encircling the globe in continuous paths as do those of GPS, and 3 IGSOs over the East and Southeast Asian regions.
Will globally available accuracy at that point match what is achievable in China?  It takes a better geometric mind than mine to fathom this.
Even disregarding the geographic limit of the 2.5-meter claim, and ignoring for the moment the mathematical conundrum outlined above, there are reasons to scrutinize the BeiDou Performance Standard more closely, as John Lavrakas of Advanced Research Corporation has done.  His notes, and an illuminating table, follow below after a bit more introduction and background on the general topic.
The publishing of the Public Service Performance Standard, a common practice among GNSS operators, is also a prerequisite for BeiDou system involvement in international civil aviation, international maritime, 3rd Generation Mobile [phone] System, and other international standard-setting organization activities.
The document has Chinese and English versions. Because document download from the BDS government website can be difficult, Richard Langley has made them available at the University of New Brunswick website:
John Lavrakas of Advanced Research Corporation posted the following comment to the an earlier online article announcing the Performance Standard document.
“I took a quick look at comparing the BeiDou Open Service Performance Standard with the GPS Standard Positioning Service Performance Standard and obtained mixed results.”
Table 1. Coded to show green for the GNSS service committing to a more stringent standard over the other. Courtesy of Advanced Research Corporation.
Table 1. Coded to show green for the GNSS service committing to a more stringent standard over the other. Courtesy of Advanced Research Corporation.
“In some cases, the commitments from BeiDou were stronger (URE accuracy, vertical position), and in other cases the commitments from GPS were stronger (continuity of service, advance notice of outages).
“The good news is that GNSS systems are documenting the service levels that users can expect. What we will need next is monitoring to verify these service levels are being met.
“Here is a link to my quick look:
Thank you, John.
A final note.  As the GPS stewards from the U.S. Air Force carefully and proudly remind us at each GNSS conference where they deliver a briefing, actual GPS performance has almost always bettered its specs over the last decade or two — often by a considerable margin.
And with that, I think we may all return to our various pursuits, secure in the knowledge that while the gold standard may — repeat, may — at times pass in limited special circumstances or under particular conditions, from system to system, overall GNSS Things Are Getting Better All the Time.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Trains Turn to Natural Gas to Cut Fuel Costs, Compete with Trucks

As reported by Environmental LeaderGeneral Electric’s locomotive division and other companies are testing natural gas equipment as rail companies look for ways to take advantage of natural gas production, which has halved the price of fuel, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

The savings could be in the billions, the publication reports. Union Pacific, the nation’s biggest freight railroad, spent more than $3.6 billion on fuel in 2012, about a quarter of its total expenses.
GE’s NextFuel kits (pictured) allow railroads to use liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a fuel source, reducing emissions and fuel costs. Caterpillar’s Electro-Motive Diesel has also developed an LNG prototypes; both will be tested by Union Pacific, CSX, BNSF and Canadian National railroads this year.
Natural gas could help railroads improve their profits and better compete against trucks, the Christian Science Monitor reports. However, any changes will happen slowly as they would require expensive new fueling stations and infrastructure across the US’ 140,000-mile freight-rail system.
The natural gas truck market experienced a growth spurt in late 2013 driven by lower fuel costs and environmental benefits over diesel, according to an analysis by Navigant Research published last month. The report forecasts this trend will continue this year as new engines and vehicles are introduced. Overall, the markets for natural gas trucks and buses are expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12.6 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively, between 2013 and 2022, the report says.
New emissions regulations coupled with low LNG costs are also driving commercial maritime firms to LNG-powered fleets.
Shell, GE and Clean Energy Fuels will this year begin construction on the US’ first fuel station for liquefied natural gas-fueled cargo ships in Jacksonville, Fla.

New "Look And Link" Wireless Technology Enables Device-to-Device Links By Pointing

As reported by Spectrum IEEEResearchers from South Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute demoed a new wireless technology this week that could enable better device-to-device (D2D) communications, allowing smart gadgets such as phones to link to one another without going through a base station. Many researchers believe that D2D capability will be a key feature in the next generation of wireless networks after 4G LTE and LTE-Advanced. It could help decongest overloaded base stations and usher in new applications, such as screening a video clip on a big screen while it's actually stored on your phone, or downloading the service manual directly from your smart car.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Don’t D2D technologies already exist? Sure they do. You may be scrolling through this story using a Bluetooth-connected mouse. Perhaps you bought a cup of coffee this morning by tapping your smartphone to a near field communication (NFC)-enabled cash register. Other D2D standards already available or in the works include Wi-Fi Direct, LTE Direct, and Peer Awareness Communications.
But these technologies have yet to catch on in a big way. And maybe for good reason. Surveys show that users don’t particularly like touching their phones to things or scanning a list of available devices to connect with the one they want, which Wi-Fi Direct and most other D2D technologies require. Most people find all that tapping, scrolling, and clicking to be physically demanding, annoying, or just plain awkward. Given the choice, we would much rather engage with smart objects simply by pointing our smartphones or tablets at them—or better yet, by looking at them, such as with smart glasses.
But here’s the problem: In order to connect with, say, a smart poster or with your friend’s television, your phone must know its ID, such as an IP address or a given nickname. Without knowing this information or making you select it from a list, how would your phone identify the device you’re pointing it at?
The South Korean team, led by Young-Hoon Kim, devised a solution using a novel beamforming technique. Dubbed “Look And Link,” it uses an array of antennas to direct a phone’s transmissions toward the correct receiving device. The demo took place on Wednesday at an IEEE wireless standards meeting in Los Angeles.
So how does Look And Link work? Imagine, for instance, that you are strolling down the street, and you see a restaurant that you think you might want to try. But this is the future, so rather than walk in and ask for a menu, you simply stare through your smart glasses at the smart sign in the window. Using a built-in antenna array, your smart glasses form a directional beam to transmit a query toward the smart sign, thus avoiding querying other nearby devices.
But not just any beam pattern will do the trick. Conventional techniques, for instance, would create a beamform that, while concentrating most of its gain toward the smart sign, would also radiate in unintended directions. So devices that you’re not looking at, but that are close to you, might receive a signal that’s just as strong—or stronger—than the signal received by the smart sign. In the below figure, for example, both the device you’re pointing at (Device A) and a nearby device (Device B) will receive your query quite strongly.
Kim and his team solved this problem by randomly varying the shape of the beam over short time intervals—a technique they call jittering. Only the gain in the direction of the target device stays the same. The effect is that while the smart sign receives a signal of consistently high strength, other nearby devices see huge gain changes. The researchers illustrate the concept nicely in the figures below:

So now, when your smart glasses send out a query to the smart sign, nearby devices know not to answer. Meanwhile, the smart sign transmits back its ID, allowing your glasses to connect with it using some other wireless standard, such as LTE Direct. Then you can download information from the sign, such as menus and operating hours. Maybe you even decide to make a reservation for later that evening.
Kim points out that another advantage of Look And Link, besides enabling device identification through pointing, is that it allows devices to link with one another quickly. Using Look And Link, he says, two devices can connect in a just a few seconds, compared to almost a minute using Bluetooth.
At Wednesday’s demo, the researchers used a prototype transmitter with four antennas, according to Byung-Jae Kwak, one of the team members. He concedes that four or more antennas may not fit into today’s smartphones, which currently have no more than two. But, he says, cellular carriers as well as unlicensed device makers are beginning to look toward higher frequencies, which require smaller antennas. The South Korean team demoed Look And Link, for instance, using 5 GHz spectrum. “We are also interested in using 60 GHz,” Kwak said in an e-mail. “In that case, we can easily put eight antennas in the space of a finger nail.”

One Billion Smartphones Were Shipped In 2013—And That’s Not Even The Interesting Part

One way to boost growth: Convince people they need two phones.
As reported by Quartz: In 2013, the world’s phone manufacturers shipped (as opposed to sold) just over a billion smartphones according to IDC

Strategy Analytics, a competing research firm, puts the number for smartphones slightly lower at 990 million. Either way, what’s interesting isn't the nice round ten-digit number—it’s the suggestion that the big manufacturers at the top are running out of road.  

Start with Apple. It accounted for 15.3% of all smartphone shipments in 2013, even though it makes only a handful of very expensive models. That’s down 3.4 percentage points from the previous year. Samsung looks to be in slightly better shape, growing market share a smidge from 30.3% to 31.3%. But both companies announced disappointing numbers over the past week, with Samsung’s fourth-quarter handset sales down 9% (paywall) on the previous quarter and Apple selling 10% fewer iPhones than expected.  

Then look a bit further down the rankings The next three biggest companies by shipments—Huawei, LG, and Lenovo—together grew their market share to 14.2%, up from just 10.9% last year.  

The numbers point to an inescapable conclusion: The era of high-margin, high-growth smartphone sales is over. Huawei, LG and Lenovo make good phones, but few of their handsets aspire to be the very top of the market where the iPhone competes with Samsung’s Galaxy S series. Indeed, Samsung’s growth can probably be attributed to the lower-priced models it peddles in emerging markets, rather than its flagship phones.  

Despite the astronomical numbers, smartphone growth is slowing in percentage terms, up a mere 38% in the past year compared to 46% between 2011 and 2012. One reason is that much of the low hanging fruit has been picked; many people in the developed markets of the west who were going to buy smartphones already have. Now comes the more difficult task of convincing them to keep buying new ones every couple of years, and digging into the lower end of the market where most of Earth’s less prosperous residents reside.

 The low-end still has quite a way to go: smartphones remain prohibitively expensive for vast numbers of people. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Unmanned U.S. Aircraft Plunges Into Pacific

As reported by NBC MontanaU.S. Customs and Border Protection grounded its fleet of unmanned aircraft Tuesday after losing one worth $12 million in the Pacific Ocean.

The unarmed aircraft had a mechanical failure while on patrol of the southern California coast.
The crew determined that it wouldn't make it back to Sierra Vista, Ariz., "and put the aircraft down in the water," the agency said in a statement.  It's unknown what caused the failure.
The majority of the aircraft is submerged. The Coast Guard is assisting in recovering any floating pieces, an official said.
Unmanned aircraft systems are technically not "drones," which operate under preprogrammed instructions, Customs and Border Protection said.  They are piloted remotely.
Customs and Border Protection's fleet of 10 is now down to nine, all grounded, an agency official said.  The one lost Tuesday cost about $12 million, plus another $6 million for the ground system.  The agency lost a smaller unmanned aircraft in 2006. It ultimately crashed about 200 yards from a home, the official said.
Last November two sailors were treated for minor burns after a drone malfunctioned and crashed into a guided missile cruiser off the coast of Southern California.  The ship was testing a combat weapons system.
The drone was being used to test the ship's radar tracking when it malfunctioned, veered out of control and struck the cruiser, the military said.

Why GPS Is A Productivity Booster And Liability Reducer For Vending Operators

As reported by Vending TimesOwners and managers in the vending industry are aware that it's essential to monitor and manage their fleets. In an industry that relies on drivers servicing their routes in company vehicles, operators know that overseeing those vehicles and drivers is a necessary task. Fleet and asset tracking are becoming more common than ever, as fleet managers look to increase efficiency and cut back on costs in their fleets during a tough economy.

Vending operators today are using a range of new information technologies to improve efficiency and boost profit in a tough economy. State-of-the-art automated vehicle location can contribute substantially to this effort. Less "windshield time" makes drivers more productive while reducing fuel expense, and the ability to monitor route trucks remotely can enhance security, improve safety and cut maintenance costs. The global positioning system (GPS) is the key to deploying a versatile set of tools for intelligent vehicle tracking.

While a GPS fleet-tracking solution can go a long way toward doing that, managers are often reluctant to employ such a solution because of concern over employee resistance. Just as with route drivers asked to use data-retrieval devices instead of their familiar manual route cards, securing employee "buy-in" by explaining the benefits to them and involving them in the implementation of the system can go a long way toward overcoming this.

And it is worth doing. A comprehensive GPS fleet tracking solution is an essential business tool for fleet-based route delivery companies as it cuts back on costs and liability in a number of ways.

In an industry that relies heavily on vehicles, fuel costs are a major concern for vending operators. A GPS fleet-tracking solution can assist in reducing these costs in two ways: efficiency and vehicle reporting. According to AAA's 2013 Your Driving Costs study, the cost of owning and operating a vehicle in the United States has risen by 1.96% from 2012.

Additionally, fuel costs have increased 1.93%, on top of a 14.8% increase in the previous year. All these rising costs affect a business's financial performance, and controlling them directly bolsters the bottom line.

The routing feature of a GPS fleet-tracking solution not only ensures your driver arrives at the next stop on time, but it also ensures that he or she has the most direct route to the location, reducing fuel consumption and saving time. Some solutions integrate with personal navigation devices (PNDs) such as Garmin. The ease of use of these consumer systems has encouraged their adoption for fleets. 

A GPS fleet tracking solution that integrates with a PND can offer advantages besides a quick adoption rate. Integrating these technologies can cut down on unnecessary driving in a fleet by providing voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. By taking advantage of this integration's routing feature, vending fleets are able to increase driver productivity and reduce fuel costs and wear and tear on trucks.

In addition to increasing route efficiency, a comprehensive GPS fleet tracking solution can reduce costs by providing detailed reports on vehicle usage. These can contain a wealth of information about how and where a vehicle is being used, through idle reports and detailed activity reports. This information allows fleet managers to analyze fuel use and identify fleet inefficiencies or incidents of fuel slippage, which directly affect operating costs. A comprehensive GPS fleet-tracking solution can provide actionable data based on these reports, showing managers clear ways to improve processes.

A study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that trucks left idling for long periods of time waste approximately 960 millions of gallons of diesel fuel each year -- and commercial vehicles left idling often invite complaints about air pollution. Variable costs, such as idling, can be monitored through the real-time data collection and alerts provided by a comprehensive GPS fleet-tracking solution. Companies are increasingly tracking their fleets so that they can report on key metrics, including idling time, fuel consumption and driving speeds.

When selecting a GPS solution, it makes sense to choose one that offers reports on vehicle status and provides the option to implement maintenance schedules. These features offer two major benefits: extending vehicle life and reducing repair costs, both of which contribute to cost savings. Proper vehicle maintenance keeps assets running with optimum fuel efficiency.

AAA's Your Driving Costs reported that the costs associated with maintaining a vehicle showed the single largest percentage increase from 2012 to 2013, growing by 11.23%. With the increasing cost of maintaining and operating a vehicle, fleet managers should consider a solution that can help bring that cost down. Automated vehicle maintenance reports allow fleet managers to decease the frequency of major repairs, saving money not only on the repair itself, but also on loss of productivity from vehicle downtime.

In the vending industry, companies own and manage a number of expensive vehicles, assets and equipment. If an asset is stolen or lost, the cost of replacing it is a major concern -- as is the effect on productivity. A fleet-management solution that provides GPS-asset tracking features enables the operator to monitor, track and recover assets quickly, returning operations to normal as soon as possible.

A solution also can ensure that vehicles and their associated assets are being used appropriately. Drivers using their vehicles for personal errands unrelated to the job concern fleet managers. A comprehensive package includes a provision that can send an alert to the manager if a vehicle is moving after hours or on the weekends. Advanced solutions also can allow managers to place "geofences" around specific areas to monitor vehicles within them and alert the manager if a vehicle leaves its designated area. And drivers are glad to know that if the truck is stolen, it is easy to locate and coordinate a rescue with the police.

Fleet-tracking and vehicle-maintenance reports can also have a very positive effect on cost and company image by reducing liability. By knowing where their vehicles are located and how fast they're going, fleet managers can be confident in both the driver and the vehicle, should an accident occur. A GPS fleet-tracking solution allows operators to ensure that their employees are obeying the rules of the road, that accident risk is reduced, their liability exposure is less and their trucks are improving their companies' professional image in the community.

Google Ad Patent May Offer Consumers Free Cab Rides To Businesses

As reported by Red OrbitTechnology giant Google has acquired a patent for a free (or highly discounted) taxi service that would provide transportation to an advertiser’s business location. This could include restaurants, shops and other entertainment venues, and could possibly encourage consumers to respond more often to location-based special offers.  

The technology is based around algorithms that would determine a customer’s location, find the best route and desired form of transport.

The search giant described this patent as a “Transportation-aware physical advertising conversions.” It was actually filed on January 11, 2011 and received publication on January 14 of this year. Luis Ricardo Prada Gomez, Andrew Timothy Szybalski, Sebastian Thrun, Philip Nemec and Christopher Paul Urmson were listed as the inventors. These same individuals were among those previously responsible for Google’s patent for a driverless car and numerous other innovations.
“The present invention relates generally to arranging for free or discounted transportation to an advertiser’s business location,” Google noted in the abstract on the company’s official patent website. “More specifically, the invention involves automatically comparing the cost of transportation and the potential profit from a completed transaction using a number of real-time calculations. For example, the calculation may consider various factors including a consumer’s current location, the consumer’s most likely route and form of transportation (such as train, personal car, taxi, rental car, or shared vehicle), the consumer’s daily agenda, the price competing advertisers are willing to pay for the customer to be delivered to alternate locations, and other costs. In this regard, the customer’s obstacles to entering a business location are reduced while routing and cost calculations are automatically handled based on the demand for the advertiser’s goods and potential profit margins.”
Google has found that for many brick-and-mortar shops the most difficult part is getting people to their actual physical locations. Google’s invention could help bring those customers in. According to the patent this technology in essence works by determining a user’s location, the route and potential forms of transport to an advertiser’s business. It also looks to determine the price that advertisers might be willing to pay for the customer to be delivered to a particular location.
To accomplish this could involve advertisers calling upon databases that record people’s various habits, including likes and preferences so that the ads could be more highly targeted. It would combine that information with location data that could be gathered from Wi-Fi, cellular and GPS tracking that would in turn enable businesses to truly tailor very specific ads and special offers to customers. This could also be based on the daily habits of would-be consumers so the time of day and schedules are taken into consideration.
Those in the ad game seem to believe that this invention has merit.
“This is trying to turn advertising into a utility and remove barriers for consumers,” Gregory Roekens, chief technology officer at the advertising firm of AMV BBDO, told BBC on Sunday. “It’s a really interesting idea.”
The key part is ensuring the offers come when people are closer to the business trying to lure them in.
“Travel takes a huge amount of people’s time,” Roekens added. “So if people can use this time more productively and interactively while in the vehicle, there’s another opportunity for advertisers.”