Category: Technology

Turns out Google’s undersea cables have a shark problem

There are many, many things that can go wrong as you lay thousands of miles of fiber optic cable along the ocean’s floor. Earthquakes can rip things up, as can fishing hooks. But now we know of a new threat: Shark attacks.

According to Network World, Google Product Manager Dan Belcher told folks at a Google marketing event in Boston last week that Google ensures its cable is sheathed in a Kevlar-like protective coating to keep the sharks from chomping through the line. Turns out this is standard operating procedure among undersea cable-layers, who must take a number of steps to keep aquatic life from harming (or being harmed by) data cables…

We’ve long known squirrels are a major problem to anyone laying cable, but according to a report by the International Cable Protection Committee cable bites—by sharks and other fish—remain a surprisingly persistent problem. In the 1980s, a deep-ocean fiber-optic cable was cut four times. Researchers blame crocodile sharks for those attacks after finding teeth in the cable.

The cable protection folks really have no idea why sharks bite cables either, although some suggest it may be due to “electro magnetic fields from a suspended cable strumming in currents,” they say in their report…

…Chris Lowe, the professor who runs California State University, Long Beach’s, Shark Lab, says they may simply be curious. “If you had just a piece of plastic out there shaped like a cable, there’s a good chance they’d bite that too.” But even an exploratory nibble is enough to cause some serious trouble. “Just a little bite is enough to get through the jacket, damage the fibers and then you’re screwed,” Lowe says.

Nothing to do with shark foreplay, at least.

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NASA’s “swarmies” robots designed to explore alien worlds


What could possibly go wrong?

A collection of autonomous robots designed to scuttle around on distant planets looking for resources and materials in much the same way that members of insect colonies do on Earth are currently being tested by NASA engineers. The robots, dubbed “swarmies,” are designed to individually survey an area, signal the others when they have found something of value, and then divide up the task of collecting the material and returning it back to base.

Currently, four of these robots have been built, each of which is fitted with a webcam, a Wi-Fi system to communicate with each other, and a GPS unit. Whilst the test terrain is a little less alien than they one day may encounter – the swarmies are being deployed in an empty car park at Kennedy Space Center in Florida – the tests are meant only to prove that the software is functioning as it should and that the robots are operating as expected.

In the tests the robots are searching for barcoded pieces of paper. However, in the future similar robots deployed on an asteroid, the moon or Mars could continuously scan the surface for water, fuel resources or other commodities vital to an away mission…

“Assuming this pays off, we know somebody’s going to take this and extend it and go beyond the four or five rovers we have here,” said Kurt Leucht, a Kennedy Space Center engineer working on the project. “So as we design this and work it through, we’re mindful about things like minimizing bandwidth. I’m sure there will be a team whether it’s us or somebody else who will take this and advance it and scale it up.”

A proper hive mentality, hive consciousness with complex interrelationships and specialization is an obvious avenue.

Of course, anyone who fears – or is comfortable with – the Borg will have interesting dreams. I’m not worried about any variety developed by government agencies. Redundancy will always be designed to guarantee the safety of the slow.

Now, when surplus gear becomes available on the cheap in some 22nd Century flea market – that’s a different story.

Thanks, Mike

US Navy will test Fortis exoskeletons

The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) has ordered a pair of Fortis exoskeletons from Lockheed Martin for testing and evaluation. The unpowered exoskeletons won’t give sailors superhuman strength, but they will allow them to handle heavy equipment for longer periods with less fatigue…

“Ship maintenance often requires use of heavy tools, such as grinders, riveters or sandblasters,” says Adam Miller, director of new initiatives at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “Those tools take a toll on operators due to the tools’ weight and the tight areas where they are sometimes used. By wearing the Fortis exoskeleton, operators can hold the weight of those heavy tools for extended periods of time with reduced fatigue…”

Unlike powered exoskeletons, Fortis works like a frame that increases the wearer’s strength and endurance by channeling the weight of heavy objects away from the wearer’s body and down through the exoskeleton to the ground. This allows operators to carry objects weighing up to 36 lb (16.3 kg) as if they were weightless. Lockheed says that Fortis with its Equipois ZeroG arm can reduce fatigue by 300 percent and improve productivity by 200 to 2,700 percent.

But if it sounds like something rigid, Lockheed says that Fortis is more like the steadicam rig used by filmmakers. It can be used in standing and kneeling positions, is adjustable to different heights and body types, and the joints and ergonomic design do not hinder movement or flexibility.

I’m still trying to catch up to the steadicam. I watch the camera operators trundling up and down the sidelines at Premier League football matches in awe.

US government wants to mandate motor vehicle connectivity

connectivity

The federal government is inching closer to mandating cars have the ability to communicate with each other, in a move regulators say could reduce crashes while still protecting motorists’ personal information..

Called vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V), the technology would use radio frequencies to communicate potential dangers to drivers, and the Transportation Department has begun the rule-making process of possibly making it required equipment in cars, though it could take years for a new law to take effect…

“By warning drivers of imminent danger, V2V technology has the potential to dramatically improve highway safety,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman said in a statement.

NHTSA also said vehicle communication could be used to assist in blind-spot detection, forward-collision alarms and warnings not to pass, though many of these technologies are available in today’s cars using other technologies, like radar.

Mindful of recent “hacking” incidents involving major retailers, websites and identity theft, NHTSA said the data transmitted would only be used for safety purposes, and notes the systems being considered would contain “several layers” of security and privacy protection.

On one hand, I’ve been following this development from car manufacturers who wish to use tech like this for accident prevention. Mercedes is a leader on this side of the research.

On the other, is there anyone left in America who trusts the government enough to buy into this technology. Even if security from hackers might be guaranteed, does anyone think the Feds would pass up backdoor access to keep an eye on us?

Not enough cholesterol, fats, in your diet? – Try a bacon-powered motorcycle!

It’s a well-known fact: bacon makes everything better. From martinis and ice cream to filet mignon and asparagus, there’s pretty much nothing you can include this gift of the swine to that it doesn’t improve. Being that this is an automotive enthusiast site, you may be wondering: How does bacon improve transportation? Clearly it must, if the axiom quoted at the beginning is correct (and we’ve established that it is), but how?

For the answer, we turn to the crew from Hormel, which is a name you might recognize from the chilled meats section of your favorite grocery store. The Austin-based food empire has assembled a motorcycle that runs on bacon grease that would otherwise have been discarded, with the goal in mind of traveling from Austin, MN, to San Diego, CA, in time for the International Bacon Film Festival, which we didn’t know existed, but in retrospect, of course exists.

The machine started life as an EVA Track T800CDI diesel-powered motorcycle, hailing from The Netherlands, and a bacon-grease conversion was performed by the crew from CSE Engineering, who are accompanying the procession as it crosses the western half of the United States as part of a 12-person team that is filming and documenting the adventure…And rest easy this evening with the knowledge that bacon does indeed make the world of transportation a better place to be.

The best thing about diesel engines is that you can run them on just about anything greasy enough.

Removable tattoo doubles as a battery — Huh? Wha?

Scientists continue to unveil impressive innovations at the American Chemical Society’s annual conference, currently being held in San Francisco. The latest is a removable tattoo that doubles as a miniature battery — turning human sweat into storable electricity.

The device is meant to be worn during a trip to the gym. It can monitor a person’s progress during exercise routines while simultaneously powering a small electronic device, like an iPod.

The mini tattoo tracks athletic performance by measuring levels of lactate in sweat secreted by the exerciser…

Currently, lactate testing is done via blood samples. But by installing a lactate sensor in a temporary tattoo, researchers found a way to track performance in a much less evasive way. They also found a way to produce electricity. As the sensor processes the lactate in the sweat, it strips the lactate of electrons.

Engineers designed the sensor so it could pass the stripped electrons from an anode to a cathode, just like a battery.

UC nanoengineering professor Dr. Joseph Wang said the device is “the first example of a biofuel cell that harvests energy from body fluid.”

There must be some way to make money from sex – using this discovery.

Researchers create 1,000-kilobot swarm — self-assembling collective behavior

Robot swarm
Click to see the swarm in action [no sound]

Scientists have created a swarm of over a thousand coin-sized robots that can assemble themselves into two-dimensional shapes by communicating with their neighbours.

At 1,024 members, this man-made flock — described in the 15 August issue of Science — is the largest yet to demonstrate collective behaviour. The self-organization techniques used by the tiny machines could aid the development of ‘transformer’ robots that reconfigure themselves, researchers say, and they might shed light on how complex swarms form in nature…

The robots communicate using infrared light, but they are only able to transmit and receive information with the robots nearest to them — so they cannot ‘see’ the whole collective. However…seed robots act as the point of origin for a coordinate system; information on their position propagates outward through the swarm like fire signals across the peaks of a mountain range. This allows each bot to determine where it is and whether it is inside the shape programmed by researchers. Over a period of about 12 hours, the programmed configuration — such as the letter ‘K’ or a star — takes form, robot by robot.

RTFA. Use your imagination. What might be accomplished.

FCC is requiring text-to-911 on all carriers – most 911 centers can’t receive them!

By the end of the year, carriers will be required to route all of your emergency texts to 911. The problem is most emergency services agencies aren’t yet equipped to receive them.

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to require all mobile carriers to route text messages sent to 911 to local emergency response centers — just like phone calls — by the end of the year. The decision might not have much of an impact though.

The big four operators have already implemented text-to-911 voluntarily, though many smaller operators have not. But the big issues is that only about 2 percent of 911 response centers are capable of receiving SMS, so most emergency messages just get sent into the ether (though carriers are required to notify such texters that their messages weren’t received).

The FCC also now requires over-the-top messaging apps linked to phone numbers must all support 911. That means an app that works within the phone’s SMS client such as iMessage must be able to send 911 texts, but a social messaging app like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp does not.

Always heartwarming to realize that a government agency chartered to deal with modern communications handles its tasks about as well as Congress.

Million$ in fuel stolen from pipeline running under British official residence

Chevening House Estate

Thieves have siphoned millions of pounds of fuel from a pipeline which runs under Deputy PM Nick Clegg’s official country residence in Kent.

Esso’s South East pipeline runs from Fawley Refinery, in Hampshire, to Purfleet Fuel Terminal, in Essex.

The company said it discovered a section at Chevening, near Sevenoaks, had been tampered with.

The Sun reported 30,000 litres of fuel a day were stolen over seven months, with a value of £8.3m at the pumps.

Kent Police said thieves had used “highly specialist techniques” to siphon the fuel.

Chevening House Estate is shared by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond…

An Esso spokesman said…”We strongly condemn the highly dangerous criminal action by those involved and are working closely with the police in their criminal investigations.”

Har! Can you imagine any gang in paranoid America even succeeding in splicing into Joe Biden’s cable TV at Observatory Circle?

That’s just under $14 million in fuel stolen from ExxonMobil. Half the members of the Texas delegation to Congress would go into cardiac arrest if that happened here.

NASA releases HD footage of Mars landing system

The US space agency released a spectacular video detailing the testing of an interplanetary landing system, which is designed to place more massive payloads on the surface of Mars, as it hurtled toward Earth.

In the cosmic quest to explore the surface of Mars, NASA is attempting to devise technologies that will allow it to deliver heavy payloads to the mysterious red planet. In June, NASA engineers, with the help of a massive balloon, lifted the 7,000-pound saucer-shaped test vehicle to an altitude of 190,000 feet before it was released.

The strenuous trial, which tested the so-called Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), was designed to create conditions similar to that of a Mars landing.

At this point, with rockets firing to keep the vehicle stabilized, video from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory showed the ‘flying saucer’ traveling at a speed of Mach 4.3 – or more than four times the speed of sound. Engineers then released an inflatable, life-preserver shaped device around the perimeter of the vehicle, officially known as a Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, or SIAD, which slowed the craft to Mach 2.

However, while the inflatable device proved tough enough to endure the rigors of such intense force, the 100-foot-wide parachute proved less successful, and nearly disintegrated as it attempted to slow the bulky, fast moving object on its descent toward Earth…

Project manager Mark Adler said that the videos will help his team as they continue to study how to improve the LDSD’s performance for a mission to Mars.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth about a million,” Adler said…

Gotcha!

I have to thank Ursarodinia for early prompts about this test – which didn’t have this level of video available. Thanks, Mike, for catching this new release.