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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Roger Easton, GPS Developer for Satellite Navigation, Dies at 93

As reported by BloombergRoger Easton, one of the lead inventors of the Global Positioning System, the satellite-based navigation technology used by everything from mobile phones to guided missiles, has died. He was 93.  

He died May 8 at his home in Hanover, New Hampshire, according to a statement by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, where he worked for 37 years.

Easton helped create some of the most significant space systems, including Project Vanguard, which in 1958 launched the first solar-powered satellite, and the U.S. Naval Space Surveillance System, which tracked thousands of man-made objects orbiting Earth through a nationwide network of detectors.
His contributions to the Global Positioning System, or GPS, grew out of his earlier work and were the source of his greatest fame. The system today involves two dozen orbiting satellites, called Navstar, that send out precisely timed signals. The transmissions are detected by mobile phones, aircraft, cars and ships at sea to enable accurate navigation.
Originally deployed for the military, GPS has come to encompass entire industries involving navigation, surveying, communication and time-keeping. Services related to the technology generate annual revenue of $150 billion to $270 billion globally, according to a 2013 study by Oxford, U.K.- based Oxera Consulting Ltd.
At the Navy lab starting in 1964, Easton developed the Timation system (named for time-navigation) which featured satellites carrying highly accurate clocks in orbit.
Other Contributors
Easton isn't the only scientist credited for the development of GPS. Ivan Getting, a Raytheon Manufacturing Co. scientist who envisioned a version of GPS in the 1950s, and Bradford Parkinson, an Air Force colonel who developed it in the 1970s, were both inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for their contributions to satellite-based navigation.
Easton held 11 U.S. patents including patent 3,789,409 for “navigation systems using satellites and passive ranging techniques” for timation, according to the Navy lab statement.
Roger Lee Easton was born on April 30, 1921, in Craftsbury, Vermont, to Frank Birch Easton, a physician, and Della Donnocker Easton, a homemaker. He graduated from the Craftsbury Academy in 1939 and Middlebury College in Vermont in 1943. Later that year, after one semester at the University of Michigan, he joined the Navy lab.
His initial work was on radar beacons and instrument landing systems. In the 1950s, at Whites Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico, he was involved in rocket experiments, according to the Navy lab’s statement. He also helped coordinate tracking of Sputnik after the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite in 1957.
Lab Retirement
In 1980, Easton retired as head of the Space Applications Branch at the lab.
He moved to Canaan, New Hampshire, and served two terms in the state legislature. In 1986, he ran in the Republican gubernatorial primary, focusing on his opposition to the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant, then under construction.
“The only thing worse than losing would be winning,” he told his family, according to the statement.
In 2004, President George W. Bush presented him with the National Medal of Technology. In 2010, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Alexandria, Virginia.
Survivors include his wife of 68 years, the former Barbara Coulter; a daughter, Ruth Easton; two sons, Roger Easton Jr. and Richard Easton, and five grandchildren, according to the Navy lab statement.

Solar Roadways Project Blows Past $1M Crowdfunding Goal

As reported by ComputerWorld: A project to develop solar power-generating panels that can snap together and form roadways and other surfaces has far exceeded its $1 million crowdsourcing goal.

With three days left to go, Solar Roadways has attracted more than 35.000 donors who've shelled out more than $1.5 million toward the project.

Solar Roadways
Hexagonal solar panels being laid into place to form a parking lot (Image: Solar Roadways)
The Solar Roadways Indiegogo crowdfunding project even surpassed the previous record holder for the most Indiegogo contributors; that record had been held by Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal), whose project was to create a museum for Nikola Tesla (33,000 funders).

The Sagle, Idaho-based Solar Roadways company founders, Scott and Julie Brusaw, believe that if deployed on most roadways their technology has the potential to generate three times more electricity than is now used in the U.S.

The hexagonal panels can melt snow and ice to keep road surfaces safe and have LED lights embedded in them that can be used to reconfigure traffic patterns and issue warnings to drivers.

The Solar Roadway panels are made up of four layers. There's a half-inch thick glass surface, followed by a layer of LED lights, an electronic support structure (circuit board) and a base layer made of recyclable materials.

Solar Roadways prototypes have already received federal funding, and the Brusaws now hope to use the crowdsourcing money to ramp up production.



German Scientists Successfully Test Brain-Controlled Aircraft

As reported by Aerospace TechnologyScientists from the Institute for Flight System Dynamics at Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany have demonstrated the feasibility of flying a brain-controlled aircraft.


Led by professor Florian Holzapfel, the team is researching ways that brain-controlled flight works in the EU-funded project 'Brainflight'.
TUM project head Tim Fricke said a long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people.
"With brain control, flying, in itself, could become easier," Fricke said. "This would reduce the workload of pilots and thereby increase safety.
"In addition, pilots would have more freedom of movement to manage other manual tasks in the cockpit."
To facilitate humans and machines communication, brain waves of the pilots are measured with the help of electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes connected to a cap.
An algorithm developed by Team Physiological Parameters for Adaptation (PhyPA) of the Technische Universit├Ąt Berlin (TU Berlin) allows the program to decipher electrical potentials and converts them to useful control commands.
However, the brain-computer interface recognizes only the very clearly defined electrical brain impulses required for control.
"With brain control, flying could become easier. This would reduce the workload of pilots and increase safety."
The German researchers conducted flight simulator tests on seven subjects with varying levels of flight experience, including one person without any practical cockpit experience.
"One of the subjects was able to follow eight out of ten target headings with a deviation of only 10°," Fricke added.
Several of the pilots who participated in the tests managed the landing approach under poor visibility, while one test pilot even landed within only few meters of the center-line.
Following the tests, scientists are now studying how the requirements for the control system and flight dynamics have to be altered to accommodate the new control method.
During general flights, pilots feel resistance in steering and must apply significant force when the loads induced on the aircraft become too large.
As this feedback is missing in brain control, researchers are looking for alternative methods of feedback to signal when the envelope is pushed too hard.

Friday, May 30, 2014

NASA's New Mega-Rocket, Orion Capsule on Track for Future Test Flights

As reported by Space.comA new era of space exploration — supported by a history-making new mega-rocket and a spacecraft designed to deliver humans into deep space — could be on the horizon for NASA.  

The space agency is gearing up to build the largest and most powerful rocket in history. The huge launcher, called the Space Launch System (SLS), will move a new spacecraft dubbed Orion, designed to send up to four astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before. A short list of destinations includes the moon, nearby asteroids and, eventually, Mars.

Everyone is looking forward to 2021, the year when the first manned launch will occur. But before that happens, the rocket and spacecraft will have to pass a number of tests. [NASA's Space Launch System Rocket in Pictures]

SpaceX Unveils Manned Dragon ‘Space Taxi’

As reported by Universe TodaySpaceX CEO, founder and chief designer Elon Musk is set to unveil the manned version of his firms commercial Dragon spaceship later this week, setting in motion an effort that he hopes will soon restore America’s capability to launch US astronauts to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017.


Musk will personally introduce SpaceX’s ‘Space Taxi’ dubbed ‘Dragon V2’ at what amounts to sort of a world premiere event on May 29 at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, according to an official announcement this evening (May 27) from SpaceX.
“SpaceX’s new Dragon V2 spacecraft is a next generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts into space,” according to the SpaceX statement.

The manned Dragon will launch atop the powerful SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket from a SpaceX pad on the Florida Space Coast.

Dragon was initially developed as a commercial unmanned resupply freighter to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of supplies and science experiments to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

Musk is making good on a recent comment he posted to twitter on April 29, with respect to the continuing fallout from the deadly crisis in Ukraine which has resulted in some US economic sanctions imposed against Russia, that now potentially threaten US access to the ISS in a boomerang action from the Russian government:
“Sounds like this might be a good time to unveil the new Dragon Mk 2 spaceship that @SpaceX has been working on with @NASA. No trampoline needed,” Musk tweeted.
“Cover drops on May 29. Actual flight design hardware of crew Dragon, not a mockup,” Musk added.

The ‘Dragon V2’ is an upgraded, man rated version of the unmanned spaceship that can carry a mix of cargo and up to a seven crewmembers to the ISS.
NASA astronauts and industry experts check out the crew accommodations in the Dragon spacecraft under development by SpaceX. The evaluation in Hawthorne, Calif., on Jan. 30, 2012, was part of SpaceX's Commercial Crew Development Round 2 agreement with NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Credit: NASA
NASA astronauts and industry experts check out the crew accommodations in the Dragon spacecraft under development by SpaceX. The evaluation in Hawthorne, Calif., on Jan. 30, 2012, was part of SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Development Round 2 agreement with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Credit: NASA
Dragon is among a trio of US private sector manned spaceships being developed with seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public/private partnership to develop a next-generation crew transportation vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS by 2017 – a capability totally lost following the space shuttle’s forced retirement in 2011.

Since that day, US astronauts have been totally dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsules for ferry rides to orbit and back.

The Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser ‘space taxis’ are also vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around late summer 2014.
All three company’s have been making excellent progress in meeting their NASA mandated milestones in the current contract period known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP) under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

However, US progress getting the space taxis actually built and flying has been repeatedly stifled by the US Congress who have severely cut NASA’s budget request for the Commercial Crew Program by about half each year. Thus forcing NASA to delay the first manned orbital test flights by at least 18 months from 2015 to 2017.

The situation with regard to US dependency on Russian rocketry to reach the ISS has always been awkward.

But it finally took on new found importance and urgency from politicos in Washington, DC, since the ongoing crisis in Ukraine this year exposed US vulnerability in a wide range of space endeavors affecting not just astronaut rides to the ISS but also the launch of the most critical US national security surveillance satellites essential to US defense.

US space vulnerability became obvious to everyone when Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin. who is in charge of space and defense industries, said that US sanctions could “boomerang” against the US space program and that perhaps NASA should “deliver their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo capsule bound for the ISS launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL.   File photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo capsule bound for the ISS launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. File photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Rogozin also threatened to cut off exports of the Russian made RD-180 rocket engines which power the first stage of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket used to launch numerous US National Security spy satellites.

“Moscow is banning Washington from using Russian-made rocket engines, which the US has used to deliver its military satellites into orbit,” Rogozin said at a media briefing held on May 13.

NASA is also a hefty user of the Atlas V for many of the agency’s science and communication satellites like the Curiosity Mars rover, MAVEN Mars orbiter, MMS, Juno Jupiter orbiter and TDRS.

Musk and SpaceX have also filed lawsuits against the US Air Force to legally block the importation of the RD-180 engines by ULA for the Atlas V as a violation of the US economic sanctions.

So overall, US space policy is in a murky and uncertain situation and Musk clearly aims for SpaceX to be a central and significant player in a wide range of US space activities, both manned and unmanned.

Read my earlier articles about the Atlas V controversy, Rogozin’s statements, Musk’s suit and more about the effects of economic sanctions imposed by the US and Western nations in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea; herehere,herehere and here.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec 3, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec 3, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The 3rd operational Dragon cargo resupply mission completed the 30 day SpaceX-3 flight to the ISS with a successful Pacific Ocean splashdown on May 18.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The First Driverless Cars Will Be Electric, Thanks to Google & Tesla, And That’s Important

As reported by GigaOmMentioned very briefly, and with far less emphasis than the many descriptions of the tiny size of Google’s new driverless car, is that Google’s new experimental fleet of robotic cars are electric.

That’s important because as one of the leaders of developing the software and artificial intelligence that will move autonomous cars through the streets, Google is now also helping set the path for the hardware of the future industry, and it’s skewing that path toward electric vehicles.  

Google has a long history of tinkering with electric cars. They built up a large fleet of plug-in cars for Google employees to use years ago. The program was called theRechargeIT Initiative and was funded with $10 million. I met one of the leaders of that group at an event over six years ago. Today if you go walk around Google’s campus it’s got one of the largest employee fleets of plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars out there.
Google self-driving car
We already knew that Google was interested in exploring pairing autonomous cars with electric cars. I had heard that Google and Tesla were collaborating on some kind of tech around EVs and robotic cars awhile  back, and both Google and Tesla have confirmed that they’d had discussions, though there were no concrete plans here. The leaders of both companies have big-picture end games to make transportation more sustainable in general. I asked Tesla if they had contributed any work to Google’s recently announced robotic car fleet, and I’ll update this when I hear back.
Electric car company Tesla has also maintained that it wants to do its own autonomous car technology for its cars perhaps by 2016. The first driverless tech in a Tesla car will likely be a mode that is like a very good cruise control — picture auto pilot in a plane. But Tesla’s entire goal is to make its cars cheaper, so likely it would need to build its own system that is much less expensive than the current Google one.
Tesla's Garden State Plaza store in New Jersey
That the two most important companies building autonomous car tech will implement their products in electric cars is a big step for the future of personal transportation and an early important market for getting the next generation of cars off of using oil for a fuel. Will robot cars help push electric cars out there, or vice a versa? I can envision both.
It also just makes sense from a technology perspective. Internal-combustion cars, which have a lot of moving parts and create a lot of heat waste, are far more complex than electric cars. Electric cars are like large gadgets, that (obviously) run on electricity, making them a more natural fit with an all-computer powered car. Tesla CEO Elon Musk even called the internal combustion engine a ridiculous way to make a car at an event recently.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Google’s Next Phase in Driverless Cars: No Brakes or Steering Wheel

As reported by the New York Times: Humans might be the one problem Google can’t solve.

For the past four years, Google has been working on self-driving cars with a mechanism to return control of the steering wheel to the driver in case of emergency. But Google’s brightest minds now say they can’t make that handoff work anytime soon.

Their answer? Take the driver completely out of the driving.

The company has begun building a fleet of 100 experimental electric-powered vehicles that will dispense with all the standard controls found in modern automobiles. The two-seat vehicle looks a bit like the ultracompact Fiat 500 or the Mercedes-Benz Smart car if you take out the steering wheel, gas pedal, brake and gear shift. The only things the driver controls is a red “e-stop” button for panic stops and a separate start button.

The car would be summoned with a smartphone application. It would pick up a passenger and automatically drive to a destination selected on a smartphone app without any human intervention.

Google won’t say if it intends to get into the car manufacturing business or simply supply technology to carmakers, but it says there are plenty of possibilities if it can persuade regulators to allow cars with no drivers. One potential use: driverless taxi cabs.

In an interview at Google’s headquarters here, Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder who is actively involved in the research program, said the company decided to change the car project more than a year ago after an experiment in which Google employees used autonomous vehicles for their normal commutes to work.

There were no crashes. But Google engineers realized that asking a human passenger — who could be reading or daydreaming or even sleeping — to take over in an emergency won’t work.

“We saw stuff that made us a little nervous,” said Christopher Urmson, a former Carnegie Mellon University roboticist who directs the car project at Google.

The vehicles will have electronic sensors that can see about 600 feet in all directions. Despite that, they will have rearview mirrors because they are required by California’s vehicle code, Dr. Urmson said. The front of the car will be made from a foamlike material in case the computer fails and it hits a pedestrian. It looks like a little bubble car from the future, streamlined to run by itself — a big change from the boxy Lexus SUV Google has been retrofitting the last few years with self-driving technology.

The new Google strategy for autonomous cars is a break from many competing vehicle projects. Mercedes, BMW and Volvo have introduced cars that have the ability to travel without driver intervention in limited circumstances — though none completely eliminate the driver.

That feature, which is generally known as Traffic Jam Assist, allows the car to steer and follow another vehicle in stop-and-go highway driving at low speeds. In the Mercedes version, the system disengages itself if the driver takes his hands off the steering wheel for more than 10 seconds.

Volvo said that by 2017 it planned to have the cars in the hands of ordinary consumers for testing in the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden, where the company has its headquarters.

In the interview, Mr. Brin acknowledged those advances, but said they were incremental. “That stuff seems not entirely in keeping with our mission of being transformative,” he said.

A self-driving car Google has worked on for four years out for a spin in Mountain View, Calif.CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

The current plan is to conduct pilot tests in California, starting with ferrying Google employees between buildings around its sprawling corporate campus here.

Laws permit autonomous vehicles in California, Nevada and Florida. But those laws have generally been written with the expectation that a human driver would be able to take control in emergencies.

Google executives said the initial prototypes would comply with current California automated-driving regulations, issued on May 20. They will have manual controls for testing on California public roads.

In the future, Google hopes to persuade regulators that the cars can operate safely without driver, steering wheel, brake or accelerator pedal. Those cars would rely entirely on Google sensors and software to control them.

So where might the driverless cars be used besides at Google’s offices?

Last year, Lawrence D. Burns, former vice president for research and development at General Motors and now a Google consultant, led a study at the Earth Institute at Columbia University on transforming personal mobility.

The researchers found that Manhattan’s 13,000 taxis made 470,000 trips a day. Their average speed was 10 to 11 m.p.h., carrying an average of 1.4 passengers per trip with an average wait time of five minutes.

In comparison, the report said, it is possible for a futuristic robot fleet of 9,000 shared automated vehicles hailed by smartphone to match that capacity with a wait time of less than one minute. Assuming a 15 percent profit, the current cost of taxi service would be about $4 per trip mile, while in contrast, it was estimated, a Manhattan-based driverless vehicle fleet would cost about 50 cents per mile.

The report showed similar savings in two other case studies — in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Babcock Ranch, a planned community in Florida.

Google is one of the few companies that could take on a challenge like that, said John J. Leonard, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology roboticist. But he added: “I do not expect there to be driverless taxis in Manhattan in my lifetime.”

Mr. Brin said the change in Google’s car strategy did not mean that the company was giving up on its ultimate goal of transforming modern transportation.

“Obviously it will take time, a long time, but I think it has a lot of potential,” he said. “Self-driving cars have the potential to drive in trains much closer together and, in theory, in the future at much higher speeds.

“There is nothing to say that once you demonstrate the safety, why can’t you go 100 miles per hour?”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Should the Unlicensed be Allowed to ‘Drive’ Autonomous Cars?

As reported by RoboHubEarlier this month, when we asked people about your general thoughts on autonomous cars, we found that one of the main advantages of autonomous cars is that those who are not licensed to drive will be able to get to places more conveniently. This led us to wonder more about who should be able to drive an autonomous car.  

We asked three questions through Robohub to find out more. 
q111
Should a child under the legal driving age be allowed to ride driverless cars alone?
Remember the first time your parents handed you their car keys, or took you out for your very first driving lesson? For some of us, that moment came with our parents beaming aloud expressions of uncertainty, anxiety, and worry. Some of this adult/parental psyche may be at play with this question.
About half of the participants (52%) said that children under the legal driving age should not be able to ride driverless cars. This is not entirely surprising. Currently, under driving regulations, children under a certain age (typically late teen years) are not allowed to drive cars because we have reasons to believe that it is not entirely safe to let them drive. By allowing a child to ride autonomous cars alone, people may be concerned about scenarios where the car makes an error or requires the assistance of a human decision-maker during an emergency situation. Interestingly, 38% of the participants believe that children should be able to ride driverless cars alone and the other 10% also think that children should be able to drive autonomous cars with proven technology and specific training. This brings us to a fairly even split in opinion on the issue of children driving autonomous vehicles.
The results may not mean that 48% of the participants would be comfortable putting a newborn baby in an autonomous car to be delivered to his/her grandparents’ house. But it could mean that with a proven technology and some training, the legal driving age could be lowered for ‘driving’ autonomous cars. It makes sense that a shift in driving age would depend on the capability and reliability of the technology. For example, if all cars today had a high probability of breaking down in the middle of the road, then our driver’s license exams may have included a preliminary car mechanics test.
For now, it seems that people are more hesitant to put children in autonomous cars alone. It would be interesting to see if this will change as the technology drives out onto the road and demonstrates its safety and reliability.
q22
Should a senior who no longer has a legal driving license be allowed to ride driverless cars alone?
Compared to the case of the underage drivers, it seems that the majority of the participants (67%) consider it acceptable to have a senior with no legal driver’s license ride an autonomous vehicle alone. Perhaps our participants expect a senior who has had a driver’s license to be able to better handle any emergency or unexpected situations than children, since they have driving experience to rely on if necessary. However, it is possible that some of the seniors are without license due to low cognitive and/or physical capabilities. In such cases, the concerns over the rider being able to handle emergency/unexpected situations is not different from the above unlicensed child rider situation.
This may be one of the reasons why 26% of the participants are not in support of unlicensed seniors riding the autonomous cars alone. However, similar to the responses to the first question, 7% of the participants thought that they would answer yes to this question only if there are limitations placed on where the senior would be allowed to ride the vehicle and whether they would have to pass some type of training to ride the vehicle.
q33
Should a legally blind person be allowed to ride driverless cars alone?
Interestingly, the split of the votes for this question lies somewhere between the above two questions. 58% of the participants answered “yes” while 37% said “no” and the remaining 5% answered with a conditional “yes”. So why is a significant portion of the responses affirmative considering that being able to see is one of the most essential functions we rely on when we drive?
Perhaps people expect the legally blind driver to be able to receive enough information and be able to make informed driving decisions to handle emergency or unexpected situations. It maybe that people are in support of the blind driver scenario because the benefits of driving outweigh the risks for legally blind persons, more so than for a child or a senior. Compared to the case of the underage driver, a legally blind person (assumed adult) is deemed to have better decision making abilities and able to take responsibilities, which are both important requirements for a driver besides being able to perceive the environment.
Drawing a line on who should and should not be able to ride an autonomous vehicle seems to depend on a number of factors, and that doesn’t really include whether the individuals are legally licensed to drive under today’s regulations. Based on the results, the capability and reliability of the autonomous vehicles and the cognitive and physical ability of the rider are likely to change the way we allow different individuals to ‘drive’. One thing is for certain: regulations on who can drive will have to be reconsidered once autonomous vehicles start roaming the streets.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Segway Just Started a Three-Wheeled Vehicle War

As reported by The Verge: Segway's claim to fame is its two-wheeled scooters' balancing act, but today it's introducing a product that stands a bit more firmly on the ground: the three-wheeled SE-3 Patroller. As its name suggests, the Patroller is meant for law enforcement and public safety uses. It doesn't really have any special tricks like the traditional Segway does, but it's being pitched as a natural extension of the scooter's product line nonetheless. Their obvious connections are pretty limited though: they're both battery powered, and they both have wheels.
  
The real reason that Segway is introducing the SE-3 isn't because it's so natural of an extension though. It's likely doing it because its competitor T3 Motion has been taking market share away from traditional Segways with three-wheeled vehicles of its own. In fact, following the SE-3's introduction today, T3 Motion even made an effort to counter Segway with an announcement that it was working on an even more advanced three-wheeled vehicle.  

"We began this development more than a year ago on the heels of our former CEO joining Segway and announcing they were going to move towards a three wheel platform," William Tsumpes, CEO of T3 Motion said in a statement. Shipments of the SE-3 will begin in June, at $11,999, at which point you may just start to see how they stand up to T3 Motion's vehicles.

Friday, May 23, 2014

SpaceX Plans DragonFly Landing Tests

As reported by NBC News: Billionaire Elon Musk's high-flying space venture, SpaceX, has provided fresh details about its plan to test a Dragon capsule that can use retro rockets to make a soft landing on Earth — and perhaps eventually on Mars.  

The prototype test project, code-named DragonFly, would be conducted at SpaceX's test facility near McGregor, Texas, according to a draft environmental assessment released by the Federal Aviation Administration. The document is part of the regulatory requirements for issuing an experimental permit for the tests.

In the 76-page FAA document, the DragonFly RLV is described as a 7-ton Dragon capsule equipped with eight SuperDraco thrusters, an integrated trunk and up to four landing legs. The program calls for a series of increasingly ambitious tests, starting with a parachute-assisted landing and proceeding to a full propulsive landing and rocket-powered hops.

DragonFly is just one of several initiatives being pursued by Musk's California-based venture to turn SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule into a fully reusable space transport system. The Texas facility is already being used for tests of a rocket prototype called the Falcon 9R, which is designed to fly itself back to a landing pad after sending up its payload.

Unmanned versions of the Dragon capsule have made four round trips to the International Space Station, including one resupply mission that wound up last weekend. Last month, Musk announced in a Twitter update that the hardware for the Dragon 2 would be unveiled on May 29. That would pave the way for the DragonRider, a version capable of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

The DragonFly prototype's landing technology would eventually be incorporated into a future version of the seven-person DragonRider capsule. It also could be used on interplanetary trips, including a Mars mission code-named "Red Dragon" or Icebreaker. Last weekend, the 42-year-old Musk reported that he was making progress on a plan to send colonists to Mars during his lifetime.         
         

A Leak Seems To Have Let A 'Significant' Amount Of Seawater Into SpaceX's Dragon Cargo Ship

As reported by Business Insider: A "significant amount of water" was found inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship after it came back to Earth from the International Space Station on Sunday, Aviation Week reports.  

The Dragon capsule, currently the only spacecraft that can bring items from the space station back to Earth, splashed down into the Pacific Ocean about 300 miles west of Baja California on May 18.

The capsule returned to Earth with more than 3,500 pounds of science experiments and other items, including a freezer filled with research samples, NASA said.

Although the source of the water was initially thought to have come from some of the samples, NASA officials now believe there was some kind of breach in the spacecraft, causing seawater to spill inside.
The discovery was made when the Dragon hatch was opened at the port in California, space station deputy manager Dan Hartman said in a mission overview briefing. "It has not caused us any impacts that we know of," Hartman said.

There were "several gallons" of water in the cargo ship, according to SpaceFlightnow. Sources told Aviation Week there was more water "than could be accounted for by a burst water-transport bag," which is why officials think the water may have come from the ocean.  


The bulk of the cargo is now on its way back to handling facilities in Houston and the Dragon spacecraft is headed for McGregor, Texas.

The Dragon was launched on a Falcon 9 rocket to the space station on April 18, fulfilling its third of 12 resupply missions required under their $1.6 billion contract with NASA.

A NASA official confirmed to Business Insider that water was found inside the capsule, but said there was no indication of damage to any of the NASA cargo or other payload inside.

"When we started unloading cargo, we noticed our bag was intact," Hartman told Spaceflightnow. "They had some kind incursion through a port or a relief valve. They're off investigating it." 

According to Spaceflight, "Hartman said the Dragon returned in rough seas, which may have contributed to the water spilling inside."


Thursday, May 22, 2014

China Plans to Complete BeiDou GNSS Satellite Launches Ahead of Schedule

As reported by InsideGNSS: China’s BeiDou will accelerate the pace of its development, even as the world’s other three GNSS systems are experiencing delays and difficulties, according to speakers in the opening session of the China Satellite Navigation Conference (CSNC 2014) today (May 21) in Nanjing.

Ran Chengqi, director of the China Satellite Navigation Office, announced that with the launch of a new generation of satellites beginning next year, BeiDou expects to complete its planned Phase III several years ahead of schedule — by 2017 rather than 2020.

BeiDou Phase III includes the migration of its civil Beidou 1 or B1 signal from 1561.098 MHz to a frequency centered at 1575.42 MHz — the same as the GPS L1 and Galileo E1 civil signals — and its transformation from a quadrature phase shift keying (QPSK) modulation to a multiplexed binary offset carrier (MBOC) modulation similar to the future GPS L1C and Galileo’s E1.

The faster completion of China’s GNSS seems less surprising in the context of its rapid development of its ground and space segment since announcing BeiDou in 2007.

Meanwhile, launch of the first GPS III satellite with the L1C signal will not occur until 2016, and completion of the next-generation operational control segment  (OCX) is now slated for 2017, a couple of years later than originally planned. Galileo has also reduced its expectations for launch of its full operational capability (FOC) satellites to four by the end of this year, with the first launch date slipping from June to August and the second now expected in the November/December time-frame.

In a brief update on Russia’s GNSS, Sergey Karutin, head of the GLONASS PNT Information and Analysis Center, said GLONASS an interface control document (ICD) will be published this year describing the “full family of CDMA signals in all three [frequency] bands” that will be broadcast as part of the system’s modernization. One of those bands will be centered at the same 1572.42 MHz slot as GPS L1, Galileo E1, and Phase III BeiDou B1, while the legacy FDMA signals will continue in a relatively wide swath of spectrum at 1602 MHz and higher.


The second GLONASS K1 satellite will launch before the end of this year and the first of the K2 generation that will transmit the CDMA signals is now in production, Karutin said.

David Turner, deputy director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology, reported that the United States and China had established a bilateral working group on GNSS cooperation as one of the outcomes of a meeting of delegations from the two countries in Beijing on Monday (May 19, 2014). The working group will address such issues as civil service provision issues such as interoperability, service monitoring, interference detection, spectrum protection, and civil aviation applications. 

California OKs Self-Driving Car Rules

As reported by PCMag: The California Department of Motor Vehicles this week approved new rules that govern autonomous vehicle testing in the state.

Come Sept. 16, local residents may see more self-driving cars on California roadways, but don't expect to spot cars rocketing down the highway with an empty driver's seat just yet. For now, any company testing an autonomous vehicle must have a trained driver behind the wheel, ready to take over in the event of a malfunction, and at least $5 million worth of liability insurance.

The rules—and there are many of them—are almost textbook-like in their rigidity, but do a fair job of covering all aspects of state and test driver responsibilities.

An operator must be in the driver's seat, monitoring the vehicle's operations "and able to take over physical control of the vehicle." So, no napping, reading the paper, or FaceTiming.  

Additional requirements include extensive identification of the autonomous vehicle, as well as proof that the "driver" is on the company's payroll and has met all state-required qualifications—including passing the training program.

And, just like earning a traditional driver's license, all self-driving cars must first be tested in a controlled environment before hitting the open road.

The California DMV will start accepting applications for the program on July 1. A $150 annual processing fee covers up to 10 self-driving cars and 20 test drivers. Additional cars or warm bodies are $50.

This week's announcement has been in the works since December, when the DMV first circulated regulations for public use of autonomous vehicles. It held a public hearing in January, and on Monday approved the rules.  

The rules only cover manufacturer testing of self-driving cars. Rules regarding public use of autonomous vehicles are still in development at the DMV and are expected to be adopted by Jan. 1, 2015.

Mountain View-based Google has been one of the most prominent supporters of self-driving car tech. Recently, the search giant said it had logged almost 700,000 autonomous miles.  

Google was a big supporter of California legislation passed in 2012 that allows the technology. With Google execs present, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that established safety and performance standards for self-driving cars in the state; Nevada also passed similar legislation.