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Thursday, September 17, 2015

T-Mobile Expands Simple Global Coverage to All of Europe and South America

As reported by MacRumorsT-Mobile has announced the expansion of its Simple Global coverage to an additional 20 countries to now cover all of Europe and South America. Simple Global is now available in the Bahamas and 145 total countries worldwide, covering more than 90% of the areas that Americans travel abroad each year. 

Simple Global provides Simple Choice postpaid customers with unlimited low-speed data and texting at no extra cost, and flat-rate calls for 20 cents per minute, outside of the United States. It is complemented by Mobile Without Borders, which allows full talk, text and 4G LTE data usage in Canada and Mexico at no extra cost.
“We’ve just made your traveling even easier in 20 more destinations around the world, expanding Simple Global to cover all of Europe and all of South America,” said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile. “The carriers have made billions overcharging consumers who just want to stay connected overseas, and we’ve changed all that! Today, we made it even simpler to text, search or keep up on social media in a total of 145 countries and destinations, all at no extra cost!”
Simple Global is now available in these additional countries and destinations: 
  • Caribbean: Bahamas, Haiti
  • Europe: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Monaco, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Guernsey, Alderney, Jersey, Sark, Isle of Man
  • Others: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan
Simple Global provides a standard data speed of 128 Kbps. No tethering is allowed.

The Air Traffic Control Tower Of The Future Doesn’t Include Humans

As reported by Americans.orgSweden is trying to make flying safer by testing an unmanned control tower that will remove some of the human element out of guiding airplanes.

At the Ornskoldsvik Airport, one control tower has nobody inside. However, the tower continues to perform its job of guiding planes to the ground safely. The person who controls the landing is in another complex, roughly 90 miles away. That individual has access to cameras which reportedly function better than the average human eye.
The system was developed by Saab, best known for its sporty cars and even sportier fighter planes.
Experts in the industry are thrilled about the recent technology upgrade. Searidge Technologies representative Pat Urbanke says, “There is a lot of good camera technology that can do things that the human eye can’t.”
This camera technology can supposedly see better than humans in troubling conditions, such as in the dark and in fog.
There are still legal hurdles that must be crossed before this technology can be fully put into place. However, the Ornskoldsvik Airport is serving as a useful testing ground.
Utilizing this technology is expensive, as it costs an average of $175,000 per year for one controller. It would cost six times this amount to put it to use full-time at Ornskoldsvik, which still mostly uses traditional manned control towers. After the initial cost the operating expenses are minimal relative to their human counterparts.
The 80 foot tall unmanned tower at the airport houses 14 high-definition cameras. Video from the cameras is transmitted to Sunvsal Airport, where a controller guides the planes.
Potential future plans include grouping every airport controller together at distant facilities in order to save costs of running multiple air traffic control towers.
According to experts at the LVF Group, computers are quicker than humans at recognizing differences in the transmission by about one second, a critical amount of time in the high stakes world of passenger aviation. Saab representative Niclas Gustavsson thinks that “eventually there will be no (manned) towers built at all.”
The cameras include microphones which transmit the sound of the airplane yet air traffic controllers testing the equipment are still getting used to the lack of real airplane sounds at the distant facility.
High-pressure wind is pumped over the lenses of the cameras in order to keep them clean of debris, such as insects and dust. The cameras are able to withstand extreme temperature shifts as well.
Saab, the company responsible for this technology, says that the company plans to expand this program beyond Sweden, eyeing Norway and Australia next. The United States will also become a testing ground, as Leesburg in Virginia already has an unmanned tower in place. Trial runs at Leesburg began early last month.
Meanwhile, Searidge Technologies, a rival of Saab, has goals of building an unmanned tower for Hungary’s main airport in Budapest. This airport has around 8.5 million customers on an annual basis. Searidge hopes to have the tower constructed and operating by 2017.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Why The LAPD's Tesla Model S Might Not Be A Great Police Car (Yet)

As reported by IBTimesThe Tesla Model S may be one of the fastest cars on the road, but its speed doesn't automatically make it a good cop car.

The Los Angeles Police Department recently acquired two electric vehicles for its enforcement fleet: a BMW i3 and a Tesla Model S. The i3 will handle light duty like traffic enforcement and neighborhood patrols, but the Tesla has been painted as the ultimate destroyer of police pursuits; vehicle pursuits are one of the LAPD’s greatest challenges, but the Tesla Model S won’t eliminate car chases. In fact, it really shouldn’t even be involved.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Model S is a fantastic car by just about all accounts -- the P85D version recently broke Consumer Reports’ grading scale -- but it doesn’t belong as a police pursuit vehicle. Just because the Model S is faster than most things on the road, that doesn’t make it fit for police pursuits.

The Price
First and foremost, the Tesla Model S is a luxury car. This is by no means a cheap vehicle, even at its cheapest civilian price ($70,000). Add to that all of the specialized equipment and systems a police cruiser requires, and you’ve got a very, very expensive tool, with equally pricey repair costs; by way of comparison, a fully loaded Dodge Charger Police Package when new typically cost about $45,000 a few years ago.

The quickest Tesla Model S, the one that would “end all pursuits,” starts north of $100,000 and that’s without any police equipment. Will the LAPD really want to put such a prominent vehicle in harm’s way, knowing the enormous repair cost? It would become a PR nightmare, once the local press discovers the costs (which would be paid with public funds, after all).

The Ability
Yes, the Model S is extremely fast. In P85D and P90D guise, it’ll rocket to 60 mph in under three seconds, and it would continue to outpace and outrun most conventional vehicles well into triple-digit speeds. But should a criminal pursuit become a high-speed battle of attrition, the Model S would lose some of its quick-acceleration advantage. Prolonged acceleration heats the battery systems of the Model S, and the car automatically reduces power. Unlike the traditional highway patrol cars, the Model S can’t be fast for the entire pursuit.

Not that it will be allowed to reach those speeds very often. Extremely high speed pursuits are already spearheaded by law enforcement helicopters, to give fast-moving suspects breathing room for an inevitable mistake. Never mind that there’s not much out there that can outrun a basic LAPD helicopter (the Eurocopter AS350B2, with a top speed of 178 mph).

The Procedure
Typical high-speed freeway chases usually end with a cavalcade of LAPD Ford Crown Victorias or Dodge Chargers following the suspect from a distance. Through the streets, pursuing officers often have to get aggressive, charging over medians and physically pushing suspects into submission. The Tesla Model S is a fantastic car, but it’s just not built to withstand the kind of abuse that police vehicles typically see.

Old Ford Crown Victorias, new Ford Tauruses, Dodge Chargers, Chevrolet Impalas and Caprices were built specifically to handle these law enforcement duties, en masse and (comparably) inexpensively. When one is broken, it’s not a particularly complicated matter to fix it or replace it, but despite Tesla’s popularity surge, they’re rare and expensive vehicles.

It’s good that the LAPD has added a couple of EVs to its fleet, but this doesn’t spell the end for police pursuits. Not yet.

Horses aren't great police pursuit vehicles either, but the NYPD keeps mounted units for visibility and public relations. So think of the LAPD's Model S as the Los Angeles equivalent: a community relations tool or statement about a more efficient car-based society.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New York is Getting Wired With Traffic Signals That Can Talk to Cars

As reported by The VergeBehind self-driving, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication is one of the biggest sea changes in transportation technology on the horizon — it could have an enormous impact on driving safety, if it's implemented quickly and correctly. The concept is pretty simple: cars, signs, and traffic signals all communicate to one another over Wi-Fi-like airwaves, so that drivers (and automatic safety systems built into cars) have more information about the traffic and environment around them. (Here is a compelling demo of V2V tech put on by Ford at CES a couple years ago, and I can say that the promise is pretty huge.)
There's no federal rule in place for requiring V2V yet, but the US Department of Transportation is hoping to get those rules in place by the end of this year — and in the meantime, it's rolling out huge new pilot programs to put the technology to the test. In the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, traffic signals will be equipped with V2I hardware, while up to 10,000 city-owned vehicles will be outfitted with V2V. (It's unclear whether drivers of these vehicles will have access to the data through instrumentation, or whether it's just being collected as part of the DOT's ongoing V2V research.)
As part of the same announcement, the DOT is awarding $17 million to Tampa to try to alleviate rush hour congestion with V2V tech and "to protect the city's pedestrians by equipping their smartphones with the same connected technology being put into the vehicles," while the state of Wyoming will be spinning up a pilot program to track heavy-duty trucks along Interstate 80. 
The promise of V2V is pretty huge: imagine being warned of a chain-reaction collision several cars in front of you that you can't see, for instance, or a disabled truck that can let you know to stay clear of the right lane ahead. And it might not be that far off — even though the rules aren't set in stone yet, GM has already committed to starting its roll-out to production cars sometime in 2016. In fact, the DOT's press release is even more optimistic, saying we could see V2V in "early 2016."

Monday, September 14, 2015

Google's Latest Hire Could Take Its Driverless Cars To Market

As reported by GizmodoGoogle just hired a man who’s worked in the automotive industry for 25 years, John Krafcik, to lead the company’s self-driving vehicle project as Google Auto’s CEO. This hire is big. Why? Because it’s the first major hire from the automaker side of the road.

Picking Krafcik to lead Google Auto is a sign that Google may be preparing to push the driverless car project outside the Google X safety bubble eventually. There have been other signs too, like the aggressive testing Google’s done on the streets of California. Plus the project was recently given the green light to test in Texas.
It’s no cross-country trek, but these tests do prove just how serious the company is about getting these driverless cars ready for mass production. It’s still not clear whether or not Google will be doing the actual producing, but the company is setting up an infrastructure to lead its experiment into the realm of a real company: Krafcik used to be the CEO for Hyundai Motor America and was with Ford before that. Currently he’s the president of a auto sales and pricing site called TrueCar. He’ll be joining the Google Auto later in September.
The company has said it doesn’t plan on taking its driverless cars out on their own anytime soon. But Krafcik’s hire definitely means the project now has the option to do so when the time is right.

A Group of Wireless Execs Aim to Build a Nationwide Network for the Internet of Things (IoT)

As reported by FortuneSeveral big names in the cellular communications industry are backing a company called Ingenu that this week launched what it hopes will be a nationwide wireless network dedicated to the Internet of things.

Richard Lynch, the former CTO of Verizon Communications, is chairman of the Ingenu board. John Horn, the former CEO of Raco Wireless, a machine-to-machine (M2M) company that worked closely with T-Mobile  and was purchased by Kore Wireless, is the CEO.
On the board and acting as advisors for Ingenu are Ivan Seidenberg, former CEO of Verizon Communications, and Dr. Andrew Viterbi, former CTO of Qualcomm. So what do these men see in Ingenu, which was formerly marketing the same technology as On Ramp Wireless? The company has raised more than $100 million from GE Ventures, ConocoPhillips, NRG Energy, Third Wave Ventures, and others to build a wireless data network using a technology called RPMA, which stands for random phase multiple access. Without delving too deeply into the exciting world of spectrum management and modulation, they are building a network for low-bandwidth data transmissions using the same frequency band as Wi-Fi.
The idea behind what Ingenu calls The Machine Network is that companies can use the network to transmit very small amounts of data over fairly long distances at a low cost and be assured that they will arrive. The network also uses pretty significant security on the packets, which means that the data transmissions will be secure. The network will compete with similar low-data-rate networks for the Internet of things, such as those being built by SigFox in Europe and San Francisco. It will also compete with the LTE and 3G cellular networks that the carriers offer, although the argument against cellular networks is that those networks have so much more capacity and are generally more expensive, so using them for small scale transmissions from Internet of things is akin to using a firehose when a faucet will do.
Ingenu has built test networks in Dallas and Phoenix, which are popular places in the U.S. to test wireless networks of all kinds. It’s physically easy to set up wireless networks in those cities because of the lack of water and topography to interfere with the spectrum. The company has an ambitious plan and lots of capital, but what it is attempting is a big bet. History is littered with failed attempts to build new wireless networks. And while Ingenu has experienced executives on its side, there are several issues that could stand in its way.The first is the network infrastructure. Ingenu says that it will need towers every 300 square miles to deliver a signal, which is actually not that bad. Most cellular networks require towers to be far closer together. However, on the receiving side, any device that wants to receive the Ingenu signal will require a special radio. Ingenu plans to license the radio technology out to other vendors since it doesn’t want to be in the hardware business. Still, any specialized radio product is going to add costs no matter who manufactures it.
There’s also an issue about how the Ingenu describes the RPMA technology in its technical white paper. It explains that it can distance its towers (which lowers its tower-siting costs) so much because it turns up the power on its antennas, which essentially makes them “shout” louder to be heard over many miles. This is fine for the towers, which have an external power supply, but for the receiving device, this could lead to problems when they are trying to send messages back to the tower. The louder a device “shouts” to be heard the bigger a drain the signal is on the battery, which means that any device on this network needs both a proprietary radio and significant battery power. That may limit the types of devices this network could be used for to larger items or those that don’t need to communicate as often.
That’s not a deal killer, but there’s also a philosophical issue with these low-data rate networks—will they be enough over time? The Machine Network offers 624 kbps download speeds, which is enough for tiny instructions and 156 kbps upload speeds, which is enough for basic time, temperature, and other sensor data. However, the network’s planned capacity could quickly become eclipsed by the needs of future products connected to the Internet of things. Take what happened with OnStar for example. It was once enough to have basic 2G cellular radios in cars for OnStar service, but once faster access was available software updates, real-time navigation, and streaming music all became must-have features.
A sensor that today reports temperature data may be repurposed tomorrow with a lens to deliver images or a mic to send sound. At that point, the low-data-rate networks look pretty old-fashioned.
Ingenu plans to offer its services to smart city, smart grid, and other Internet of things customers. It has not disclosed any customers at this time, but it says it has more than 35 networks across the globe in operation.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

SpaceX Unveils New Interior of Crew Dragon Spacecraft

As reported by MashableIt was about time: Crew Dragon, SpaceX's new spacecraft designed for crewed missions to the International Space Station and beyond, finally gives astronauts the level of comfort they deserve.
The first photos and video of Crew Dragon's interior, published Thursday, show a sleek, modern space with four windows, seats made of "highest-grade" carbon fiber and Alcantara cloth, and plenty of displays to provide the crew with real-time info on the spacecraft's situation.
According to SpaceX, the astronauts aboard the Crew Dragon will be able to set the interior temperature to between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, using the built-in Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS). The capsule also has an advanced emergency escape system (which was tested in May), and all of its functions can be controlled both autonomously, by astronauts on board, or by SpaceX's mission control on Earth.

SpaceX currently holds a contract with NASA to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, with the first flights expected to start by 2017.
Boeing, which also holds a contract to fly crew to the Space Station for NASA, gave a new name to its spacecraft for crewed missions just last week, calling it the CST-100 Starliner. The Starliner is designed to carry seven astronauts, and is expected to make its first flight to the ISS in 2017.

Crew Dragon

Crew Dragon has a multitude of displays, providing the capsule's passengers with vital, real-time info.

Right now, NASA buys seats for American astronauts on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to get to the ISS. The Commercial Crew Program will hopefully change that, though the funding for the program has not yet been fully sorted out, causing NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to send a sternly worded letter to Congress back in August.