Search This Blog

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Future Smartphones Won’t Necessarily Need Cell Towers to Connect

Qualcomm, Facebook, and other tech companies are experimenting
with technology that lets smartphones use their LTE radio to
connect directly to other devices up to 500 meters away. 
As reported by MIT Technology Review: A new feature being added to the LTE protocol that smartphones use to communicate with cellular towers will make it possible to bypass those towers altogether. Phones will be able to “talk” directly to other mobile devices and to beacons located in shops and other businesses.

Known as LTE Direct, the wireless technology has a range of up to 500 meters, far more than either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. It is included in update to the LTE standard slated for approval this year, and devices capable of LTE Direct could appear as soon as late 2015.

LTE Direct has been pioneered by Qualcomm, which has been working on the technology for around seven years. At the mobile chip manufacturer’s Uplinq conference in San Francisco this month, it announced that it’s helping partners including Facebook and Yahoo experiment with the technology. 

Researchers are, for example, testing LTE Direct as a way to allow smartphones to automatically discover nearby people, businesses, and other information. Some see the technology as a potential new channel for targeted promotions or advertising.

Despite its long range, LTE Direct uses relatively little power, so a phone could be constantly looking for nearby devices without significantly draining its battery life. A device with LTE Direct active might discover other phones using the technology or communicate with beacons—fixed devices installed in businesses or integrated into the infrastructure of an airport or train station.

“You can think of LTE Direct as a sixth sense that is always aware of the environment around you,” said Mahesh Makhijani, technical marketing director at Qualcomm, at a session on the technology. “The world around you is full of information, and the phone can use that to predict and to help you in your everyday life.”

Beacons using LTE Direct could broadcast useful information as well as special offers. A beacon installed in an airline check-in desk, for instance, might offer information on delays to people nearby who are booked on an affected flight.

Facebook is exploring how the technology could be used with its mobile app. “LTE Direct would allow us to create user experiences around serendipitous interactions with a local business or a friend nearby,” said Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure engineering. “You could find out about events or do impromptu meet-ups.”

LTE Direct can be used much like the iBeacons announced by Apple last year, which retailers including Macy’s are testing as a way to track and connect with shoppers’ mobile devices. However, iBeacon devices use the Bluetooth protocol, which has a much shorter range, and which not everyone leaves switched on.

Yahoo has also begun developing apps that use LTE Direct, says Beverly Harrison, a principal scientist at Yahoo Labs. One is a kind of digital tour guide. If you tell the app how long you have to spare, from 10 minutes to two hours, it will suggest a route past nearby points of interest, drawing on online information about places detected using LTE Direct. Harrison says Yahoo plans to start testing the app in January.

LTE Direct could also help smooth out the network glitches that occur when large numbers of users are trying to connect to the same cell tower. R/GA, an ad agency in New York whose clients include Nike and Beats, is designing a system that would use LTE Direct to serve up to a million people in or around Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Roman Kalantari, a creative director at RG/A, says LTE Direct is the only wireless technology that could keep devices online under such conditions.

RG/A and another ad agency, Control Group, are also interested in using LTE Direct to serve targeted promotions. A smartphone could use LTE Direct to signal to nearby businesses what types of foods or products a customer is interested in so that it can offer customized deals, says Kalantari. “The idea that every retailer could be observing purchase intent is extraordinary valuable,” he says.  

In theory, LTE Direct could be used to create communication apps that route all data from device to device. Some chat apps can already use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to link up nearby phones (see “The Latest Chat App for iPhone Needs No Internet Connection”), but LTE Direct could offer extended range and better performance. However, carriers will control which devices on their networks can use LTE Direct because it uses the same radio spectrum as conventional cellular links. Wireless carriers might even gain a new stream of revenue by charging companies that want to offer services or apps using the technology, Qualcomm says. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Virtual Repo Men - Miss a Payment? Your Car Could Stop Running

As reported by SlashDot: Auto loans to borrowers considered subprime, those with credit scores at or below 640, have spiked in the last five years with roughly 25 percent of all new auto loans made last year subprime, a volume of $145 billion in the first three months of this year.

Now the NYT reports that before they can drive off the lot, many subprime borrowers must have their car outfitted with a so-called starter interrupt device, which allows lenders to remotely disable the ignition. By simply clicking a mouse or tapping a smartphone, lenders retain the ultimate control. Borrowers must stay current with their payments, or lose access to their vehicle and a leading device maker, PassTime of Littleton, Colo., says its technology has reduced late payments to roughly 7 percent from nearly 29 percent. "The devices are reshaping the dynamics of auto lending by making timely payments as vital to driving a car as gasoline."

Mary Bolender, who lives in Las Vegas, needed to get her daughter to an emergency room, but her 2005 Chrysler van would not start. Bolender was three days behind on her monthly car payment. Her lender remotely activated a device in her car's dashboard that prevented her car from starting. 

Before she could get back on the road, she had to pay more than $389, money she did not have that morning in March. "I felt absolutely helpless," said Bolender, a single mother who stopped working to care for her daughter. Some borrowers say their cars were disabled when they were only a few days behind on their payments, leaving them stranded in dangerous neighborhoods. 

Others said their cars were shut down while idling at stoplights. Some described how they could not take their children to school or to doctor's appointments. One woman in Nevada said her car was shut down while she was driving on the freeway. 

Attorney Robert Swearingen says there's an old common law principle that a lender can't "breach the peace" in a repossession. That means they can't put a person in harm's way. To Swearingen, that would mean "turning off a car in a bad neighborhood, or for a single female at night."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Woman Bound in Trunk Uses Phone, GPS to Summon Rescuers

As reported by the NY Post: A woman bound in the trunk of her car in the Los Angeles area managed to call emergency responders on a cell phone to say she had been kidnapped, and was rescued with the help of a GPS tracker, an official said on Tuesday.

California Highway Patrol officers located the car on an off-ramp from Interstate 10 freeway in Pomona, a short time after the woman made the call on Monday night, said Highway Patrol spokesman Officer Juan Galvan.

The officers opened the trunk and found the woman with her hands and feet tied, Galvan said. No one else was found around the vehicle, and the Highway Patrol turned over the probe to the major crimes bureau of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The woman, whose identity was not made public, was taken to a hospital with minor scrapes, according to the Highway Patrol. Sheriff’s officials said they could not immediately provide information on the case.

A Highway Patrol report on the incident said the woman had reported she was kidnapped when she called emergency responders. She used the GPS setting on her phone to provide dispatchers with her location so officers could find her, the report said.

Los Angeles area television station KNBC reported that police had said the woman knew her attackers, but Galvan could not confirm that or provide any details about how she ended up in the trunk of the car.

Iridium's Next Generation Satellite Network will Search for Missing Planes at No-Charge

As reported by GigaOM: When Iridium’s new satellites will start blasting into orbit next year on top of SpaceX and Dnepr rockets, they’ll be carrying a special payload: an aircraft tracking system that will be able to locate a plane anywhere in the world once Iridium’s 66-satellite constellation is fully operational in 2017.

The service is run by Aireon, a joint venture between Iridium and government aviation agencies in Canada and Europe, and it plans on charging airlines for its core flight monitoring services. But Aireon said it would open the network up gratis to international rescue agencies during emergencies, allowing them to home in on missing aircraft.

In the case of Malaysia Airlines 370, which disappeared in March, the emergency service could have helped in locating and the possible rescue of the still-missing flight by plotting its exact GPS coordinates every few seconds. The technology behind it is called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), and transponders using it are being installed in new and old commercial aircraft.

Iridium birds won’t be the only ones listening for ADS-B signals either, both Inmarsat and Globalstar are putting the locator tech on their aircraft and will be offering competing flight monitoring services. Iridium, however, has the slight advantage of offering pole-to-pole coverage, which given the artic great circle routes taken by many transcontinental flights, would be very handy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

SpaceX Launches Dragon Cargo Ship for NASA

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with a science-packed Dragon spacecraft on the fourth NASA-contracted resupply mission for the International Space Station, Sept. 21, 2014.
As reported by The private spaceflight company SpaceX lit up the night sky over Florida early Sunday (Sept. 21) with the spectacular launch of Dragon spacecraft packed with supplies -- including the first 3D printer in space and a troop of 20 mice -- for the International Space Station.

The unmanned Dragon space capsule launched into orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 1:52 a.m. EDT (0552 GMT). Ten minutes later, Dragon reached orbit and separated from the Falcon 9. It should reach the space station on Tuesday, Sept. 23.

"Nothing like a good launch -- it's just fantastic," Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president of mission assurance, said during a post-launch briefing. "Everything was really perfect." 

Dragon is carrying about 2.5 tons of cargo to the space station for NASA. The mission is SpaceX's fourth of 12 delivery missions for the U.S. space agency under a $1.6 billion deal. Sunday's flawless launch occurred one day after rain and thick clouds forced SpaceX to delay the launch on early Saturday (Sept. 20).

But skies were clear and the stars were out during the pre-dawn launch on Sunday morning. Sam Scimemi, NASA's International Space Station director, told reporters that the Falcon 9 appeared to be soaring though the constellation Orion after it took off.

"It was a beautiful night," Scimemi said.

Of Mice and more
Food, care packages and provisions for NASA's astronauts make up more than a third of the cargo onboard Dragon. But the spacecraft also has experiments and equipment that will eventually help scientists complete 255 research projects in total, according to NASA. In Dragon's trunk, there's an instrument dubbed RapidScat, which will be installed outside the space station to measure the speed and direction of ocean winds on Earth. Among the commercially funded experiments onboard Dragon is a materials-science test from the sports company Cobra Puma Golf designed to build a stronger golf club.

Dragon is also hauling the first space-grade 3D printer, built by Made in Space, which will test whether the on-the-spot manufacturing technology is viable without gravity.

Jeff Sheehy, senior technical officer of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said it is " a certainty" that NASA will eventually rely on 3D-printed tools and replacement parts that are made in space instead of traditional equipment sent up from Earth.

"If we're really going to set up shop on Mars, we have to get there," Sheehy told reports during a briefing Friday morning. "We really can't afford to bring everything we need."

A new X-ray machine called the Bone Densitometer, developed by Techshot, will arrive at the space station aboard Dragon. The system is designed to measure bone density loss, but not in humans. Instead, it will be used to examine mice.

The 20 female mice inside Dragon will live inside NASA's new Rodent Research Hardware System to be installed on the space station. Before the launch, scientists said the mice would be just fine during the 10-minute trip to low-Earth orbit, even without cushy seats.

"They move to the bottom of the cage and they hang tight until the ride is over," said Ruth Globus, a project scientist for the new rodent habitat at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

Reusable Rocket test
After launch, SpaceX performed a reusability test with the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket. After separation, the booster reignited out over the Atlantic Ocean and went through a couple burns to bring it down into the water gently. SpaceX officials said they didn't expect to recover the first stage nor did they anticipate they would be able to see much of the nighttime test.

SpaceX's goal had been to recover a Falcon 9 first stage with a touchdown on land by the end of 2014. But Koenigsmann said that type of demonstration was unlikely to happen during the next mission.

"We're working actively with range safety to make this safe and also reliable in terms of public safety," Koenigsmann told reporters Friday.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has long-term ambitions to develop a fully reusable rocket will lower the cost of launching vehicles into space — and eventually enable travel to Mars.

Four weeks at the space station
If all goes according to plan, Dragon will perform a series of carefully timed thruster firings to catch up to the space station on the morning of Tuesday (Sept. 23). Astronauts will use the space station's robotic arm to grab Dragon and attach it to a docking port.

Dragon will spend about four weeks at the space lab to allow astronauts to unload the new cargo and refill the capsule with about 3,800 lbs. (1,723 kg) experiments and other equipment to be returned to Earth.

Orbital Sciences is the only other private American company besides SpaceX that NASA has hired to fly unmanned resupply missions to the space station. The Dulles, Virginia-based company has a $1.9-billion contract to fly eight missions total using its own Cygnus spacecraft and Antares rockets. Orbital Sciences launched its second official delivery flight to the space station in July, with its next mission set for October.

Unlike Orbital Sciences' disposable spacecraft, which burn up in Earth's atmosphere at the end of their mission, Dragon has a heat shield that protects it from the brutal re-entry. About five and a half hours after Dragon leaves the space station in mid-October, it will deploy its parachutes and splash down off the coast of Baja California. A recovery boat will scoop the capsule out of the Pacific Ocean. Eventually, SpaceX also wants its Dragon capsules to make soft landings on the ground.

Just this week, the Hawthorne, California-based spaceflight company was hired to help keep the space station fully staffed as well.

SpaceX won $2.6 billion of NASA's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability award to launch American astronauts to the space station from U.S. soil by 2017 using a modified, manned version of Dragon. NASA, which announced the deal Tuesday (Sept. 16), gave Boeing a $4.2 billion slice of the award to provide the same space-taxi service with its CST-100 capsule. The United States lost the capability to send its own astronauts into space when NASA retired the space shuttle program in 2011.

"This is kind of a crazy busy week for us here at NASA," Ellen Stofan, NASA's chief scientist, told reporters Friday (Sept. 19).

In addition to the commercial crew announcement and the SpaceX launch, NASA's Mars-bound spacecraft MAVEN entered orbit around the Red Planet late Sunday night.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Smartphone Movements Could Reveal Empty Parking Spots

As reported by MIT Technology Review: Researchers have come up with a novel way to find parking spots with your smartphone. It promises to be much easier than driving around looking for an empty space, and doesn't require the installation of pricey sensors or other methods for tracking available spots.

At the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers built an app called PocketParker that does what they’re calling “pocketsourcing”—essentially, turning smartphones into passive sensors that track the location and movements of other users who've installed the app. A remote computer crunches the aggregate user actions and determines the likelihood that a lot has an open space. A paper about PocketParker was presented at the ubiquitous computing conference UbiComp in Seattle last week.

While some parking lots employ sensors to gather information about capacity, PocketParker works without any such infrastructure. It pulls parking lot data from OpenStreetMap and calculates the number of spaces in a given lot based on its dimensions. During a study, researchers found that they could predict the number of spaces to within 6 percent of the actual number.

The app uses the smartphone’s accelerometer to determine where a user is and gauges whether he’s looking for a parking spot based on his movements. If a user drives slowly through a parking lot without stopping, that signals that the lot is full. If a user displays movements typical of walking and then suddenly speeds up and leaves the lot, that signifies that he likely just got into his car and drove away. The app calculates this in the background. “There should be no interaction required,” says SUNY Buffalo computer science professor and paper coauthor Geoffrey Challen.

For their study, the researchers had 105 smartphones users around Buffalo test out the app over a month and a half, generating a total of 10,827 car arrivals and departures. Checking their work with cameras they installed at the lots they tracked in the study, the researchers found they were able to correctly predict how many spaces were available 19 out of 20 times. “Our goal is to prevent people from circling,” Challen says.  

There are a few problems with the approach. One obvious one is that PocketParker can’t account for drivers who aren’t using the app. Another is that a user might leave his phone in the car, drop his car off and get in another car, or he might not be searching for a parking space at all but be picking up a friend. “Until you have enough people using it, apps like this tend not to work well,” Challen says. “It’s stuck in this chicken-and-the-egg problem.”  

Because of this, Challen doesn’t envision PocketParker as a standalone app. Instead, it could be featured within a mapping app—similar to the way Google Maps integrates traffic data into its app. Challen believes that if a feature like PocketParker were flipped on in the background, it would quickly collect enough data to make far better assumptions about parking spot availability.

BlackBerry has yet Another Porsche Design Smartphone Coming Next Month

As reported by The Verge: BlackBerry is launching its next Porsche Design-branded smartphone, the P'9983, in October. Unlike the P'9982, its Porsche-emblazoned predecessor, the new P'9983 has a QWERTY keyboard — but just like a real Porsche, the P'9983 will likely be sold at a monumental markup.

The P'9983 has a 3.1-inch screen, 720 x 720 resolution display, and 64GB of internal storage. In an attempt to live up to its luxury branding, BlackBerry has used costly sapphire glass for the P'9983 — but only for the phone's pea-sized camera lens, not its display.

It also has its own PIN ID group, meaning fellow BlackBerry users can identify the person in the room they should be pointing and laughing at. BlackBerry hasn't set a price for the new model, but previous phones in the weirdly named series cost more than $2,000 when they launched.  Expect the P'9983 to cost similar.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scientists Twist Radio Beams to Send Data at 32 Gigabits Per Second, 30 Times Faster than 4G LTE

As reported by IB Times: Scientists from three international universities have succeeded in twisting radio beams in order to transfer data at the speed of 32 gigabits per second, which is 30 times faster than 4G LTE wireless technology in use today.

The researchers, led by Alan Willner, an electrical engineering professor with the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, successfully demonstrated data transmission rates of 32 gigabits per second across 2.5m of free space in a basement laboratory.

"Not only is this a way to transmit multiple spatially collocated radio data streams through a single aperture, it is also one of the fastest data transmission via radio waves that has been demonstrated," said Willner.

The research, entitled "High-capacity millimetre-wave communications with orbital angular momentum multiplexing" is published in the latest issue of journal Nature Communications.

An image showing the intensity of the radio beams after twisting
Of course this transmission speed is not as fast as what you can achieve if you twist light - Willner did this too, two years ago, and achieved data transmission speeds of 2.56 terabits per second - which is why the world is now moving towards fibre-optic internet networks. However, the scientists say radio is more reliable.

"The advantage of radio is that it uses wider, more robust beams. Wider beams are better able to cope with obstacles between the transmitter and the receiver, and radio is not as affected by atmospheric turbulence as optics," Willner said.

Millimetre waves occupy the 30GHz to 300GHz frequency bands.. They are found in the spectrum between microwaves, which take up the 1GHz to 30GHz bands, and infrared waves, which are sometimes known as extremely high frequency (EHF).

EHF can only be used over short distances such as a few kilometres due to high free space loss and atmospheric absorption.

However, more and more mobile operators are becoming interested in millimeter waves as they seek to create faster 4G LTE networks and beat congestion from too many users accessing the internet on their phones at one time. 

To achieve the high radio transmission speeds, the researchers passed each radio beam, which was carrying its own independent stream of data, through a "spiral phase plate" to twist it.

The radio beam turned into an orthogonal DNA-like helical shape which was untwisted at the other end of the room by the radio receiver.

"This technology could have very important applications in ultra-high-speed links for the wireless 'backhaul' that connects base stations of next-generation cellular systems," said Andy Molisch, a wireless systems researcher at USC Viterbi who co-designed and co-supervised the study with Willner.  

Next, the researchers will attempt to extend the twisted radio beams' transmission range and capabilities. The technology could have potential applications in data centers, where large bandwidth links between computer clusters are required.

Cell-Phone Data Might Help Predict Ebola’s Spread

As reported by MIT Technology Review: A West African mobile carrier has given researchers access to data gleaned from cell phones in Senegal, providing a window into regional population movements that could help predict the spread of Ebola. The current outbreak is so far known to have killed at least 1,350 people, mainly in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

The model created using the data is not meant to lead to travel restrictions, but rather to offer clues about where to focus preventive measures and health care. Indeed, efforts to restrict people’s movements, such as Senegal’s decision to close its border with Guinea this week, remain extremely controversial.

Orange Telecom made “an exceptional authorization in support of Ebola control efforts,” according to Flowminder, the Swedish nonprofit that analyzed the data. “If there are outbreaks in other countries, this might tell what places connected to the outbreak location might be at increased risk of new outbreaks,” says Linus Bengtsson, a medical doctor and cofounder of Flowminder, which builds models of population movements using cell-phone data and other sources.

The data from Senegal was gathered in 2013 from 150,000 phones before being anonymized and aggregated. This information had already been given to a number of researchers as part of a data analysis challenge planned for 2015, and the carrier chose to authorize its release to Flowminder as well to help meet the Ebola crisis.

The new model helped Flowminder build a picture of the overall travel patterns of people across West Africa. In addition to using data from Senegal, researchers used an earlier data set from Ivory Coast, which Orange had released two years ago as part of a similar conference (see “Released: A Trove of Data-Mining Research from Phones” and “African Bus Routes Redrawn Using Cell-Phone Data”). The model also includes data about population movements from more conventional sources, including surveys.

Separately, HealthMap, a team based at Boston Children’s Hospital, has produced an animation of the epidemic’s spread since March, based on records of when and where people died of the disease.

Bengtsson cautions that the model is essentially a first draft, and that it’s based on historical movements, so it does not take into account how people may have changed their behavior in response to the recent crisis. Ideally, he adds, it would include real-time data. But “in countries that already have epidemics,” he says, “this is the best estimate we can do of what mobility will look like. This can give the sense of the radius people tend to travel around.”

Ebola is transmissible via bodily fluids during an incubation period of between two and 21 days, during which victims may not know they are infected. That makes it particularly important to know where people are going and where they’ve been.

Mobile phones—which are ubiquitous even in poor countries—can play a key role. All cell phones “ping” nearby towers with a unique ID number to announce their presence. In this way, mobile carriers amass huge databases containing fine-grained information on population movements and social patterns.

The application to public health is compelling. Caroline Buckee, a Harvard epidemiologist who also worked with Flowminder to develop the West African model, has demonstrated how such data can show where people have gone after leaving a hot spot, suggesting where a disease cluster will crop up next (see “35 Innovators under 35: Caroline Buckee” and “Big Data from Cheap Phones”).

Last year Buckee demonstrated how cell-phone data could aid in fighting malaria by revealing where to focus mosquito eradication efforts. Previously, researchers trying to model mobility relied on techniques like counting heads at bus stations and asking sick people where they’d been traveling.

There’s no indication thus far that health officials are using the Flowminder model, which was released Wednesday. While public health agencies are interested in the topic, Bengtsson says that agencies such as the World Health Organization didn’t ask the researchers to develop the model or work with them to do so.

Emmanuel LetouzĂ©, cofounder and director of Data-Pop Alliance, which is working on similar projects, says the approach holds promise. “If mobile carriers provide all the data at a very granular level, the value you can extract is huge,” says LetouzĂ©, a visiting scholar at MIT’s Media Lab. Nevertheless, he says, “the privacy concerns are even more salient.” That is because such data reveal detailed social and business connections and location information, which can often be linked back to individuals.

GPS Technology Shaves Minutes Off Emergency Response Time

As reported by KRCU: Rural fire departments have found a way to improve their emergency response time by using GPS technology. By having the GPS coordinates of fire hydrants and other crucial tools, volunteer firefighters are able to shave minutes off their emergency response time.

Missouri’s acting state fire marshal Greg Carrell said firefighters in rural areas deal with the same type of challenges as firefighters is metropolitan areas.

“You cover a very large area, an area that changes frequently and so it’s very difficult to know every location in your jurisdiction and know exactly where it’s located, even based on a street address,” Carrell said.

He added that in cases of natural disaster, such as the tornado in Joplin, landmarks and street signs may be gone and the use of GPS becomes crucial in order to save lives.

Frank Wildeman, natural resources engineer with the University of Missouri Extension, worked with a Boy Scout troop in Fredericktown, Mo. to create a fire hydrant map. The project, using GPS units and computer mapping, located about 300 fire hydrants.

“The ability to be able to put in a coordinate, and know that you are responding to an area where a fire hydrant is without having to guess whether it’s at the corner of a certain street or halfway down the block is one of the great uses for GPS,” Carrell said.

By having all the fire hydrants GPS located, emergency responders can find them more easily and this information allows them to leave the firehouse with the right equipment they need to go to work.

“With that information loaded on to a computer map, they could tell which fire hydrants were located close to the fire call, how much hose it would take to get there, they also had information on what type of fire hydrant it was and what kind of hose connector it would take to hook up to it,” Frank Wildeman said.

The fire hydrant map helps volunteer firefighters  in Fredericktown and emergency personnel in nearby communities whenever they are deployed to bring additional help.

The GPS helps reduce the response time because the firefighters receive the information on their pagers and on their smartphones. Volunteer firemen can save time getting to the site and the fire truck can leave the fire house a little bit quicker.

“Just a couple of minutes make a big difference on a big fire,” Wildeman said.

Property owners benefit from the improved response time because their insurance rates decrease.

“By having the GPS locations of fire hydrants and being able to use GPS to deploy themselves and get on site several minutes quicker, it improves their fire insurance rating in the community and the homeowners end up paying a lot less for their homeowner insurance,” Wildeman explained.

Search and rescue techniques using GPS units have also been developed. It allows rescuers to deploy themselves to a particular location where they can plan the direction of travel they use during their search activity.

“We can actually, on the GPS units, record where they have traveled so that we can make sure that we actually did search the area that we planned to search,” Wildeman said.

Most current cellphones have a GPS chip that transmit the location of a person when they call 911.

“The firefighters are able to take that location from the call for help and plan their approach to that location and plan how they are going to search for that person once they get closer to the location,” Wildeman said.  

Without that, the rescuers have to do a much broader search. As an example, Wildeman said the Cherokee Pass Volunteer Fire Department now use only 25 percent of the time they used to take for search and rescue interventions. While it used to take them four times longer to find someone, the fact that the GPS signals are sent directly to the emergency dispatch allow them to find a lost person much faster.

Fire departments in Madison County are looking at using, in addition to pagers, text messages to alert their volunteers that they have an event to report to. The text will give them the event’s location and allow them to send a signal back to the firehouse to let them know how far away they are from the event and how long it will take them to respond to that call. This helps firefighters quickly arrive at the scene.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New Amphibious Marine Corps Vehicle Can Carry 3 Tanks Up To 200 Nautical Miles

As reported by Industry TapThe Ultra Heavy-Lift Amphibious Connector (UHAC) is the latest innovation from the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, in conjunction with the Office of Naval Research, which is essentially a monster amphibious assault vehicle.  

The UHAC began testing in early July and can do a whole slew of things, including landing multiple tanks at once and bringing ashore equipment, vehicles and troops.
UHAC Features:
  • Carry payloads up to 190 tons
  • Speeds up to 20 knots
  • Climb sea walls up to 10 feet in height
  • Capable of carrying three battle tanks up to 200 nautical miles
Cpl. Matthew J. Bragg/USMC
Cpl. Matthew J. Bragg/USMC
Cpl. Matthew J. Bragg/USMC
Cpl. Matthew J. Bragg/USMC
Cpl. Matthew J. Bragg/USMC
Cpl. Matthew J. Bragg/USMC
Cpl. Matthew J. Bragg/USMC

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Space Race: NASA Awards Contracts to Boeing, SpaceX

As reported by ABC News: NASA awarded contracts today to Boeing and Elon Musk's SpaceX to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, signaling the agency's return to manned spaceflight after the end of the space shuttle program.

"This is the fulfillment of the commitment President Obama made to return human space flight launches to U.S. soil and end our reliance on the Russians," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said.

The winning designs will end U.S. dependence on the Russian Soyuz for transportation back and forth to the International Space Station.

The announcement came after an expensive and ferocious competition to determine which companies would be tasked with building the next era of spacecraft.

Boeing’s contract could have a value of $4.2 billion while SpaceX’s deal is valued at $2.6 billion, according to Kathy Lueders, the program manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Lueders said having two contracts will help NASA make sure it stays on track to meet its 2017 goal of manned spaceflights.

The Commercial Crew Program was designed by NASA to replace the retired space shuttle, which was the workhorse of the agency's space program for over 30 years.

Boeing has invested in the CST 100 capsule, which would launch on an Atlas V rocket -- almost a turnkey proposition for NASA when you consider the company’s history in aerospace.

SpaceX has the advantage of already launching cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station and hopes to parlay that experience into a human version of its Dragon spacecraft.

Lueders said each company will be paid on the performance of key milestones. The biggest one: Boeing and SpaceX will have to successfully make manned flights to the International Space Station, where they will have to demonstrate their ability to deliver cargo, dock and then return safely to Earth.