Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Festive Wishes

Wishing All Readers of the NEW MOBILITIES blog many healthy & happy festive wishes.

And - importantly






Monday, December 22, 2008

The hands-free future for transport

Euronews has a good video post on a new breed of transport that is being developed to relieve the congestion which is choking Europe’s city-centres:

Researchers are looking for answers to ease the inner-city jams, and clear the air. And their prototypes are cleaner and safer, even though they drive themselves.

Watch video post here: 'The hands-free future for transport'

See also


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Study shows hotels' Internet connections unsafe reports that travelers who use a hotel's Internet network risk the possibility of data theft, citing a new study from Cornell's School of Hotel Administration:

The analysis of the networks in 46 hotels and a survey of 147 U.S. hotels found that a majority of the hotels do not use all available tools to maintain network security.

For example, about 20 percent of the hotels surveyed still use simple hub-type systems, which are most vulnerable to hacking. The findings of the firsthand analysis of 46 hotels were no more encouraging.

"Even with hotels that required authentication, I found helpful employees who got me past that barrier," said Josh Ogle '08, a Cornell Hotel School graduate, president of TriVesta LLC. and a co-author of the study. "So, authentication is not as effective as we think, and then I found that of the 39 hotels that offered WiFi connections, only six used encryption to help protect the system."

Read post at - 'Study shows hotels' Internet connections unsafe'


Thursday, December 18, 2008

India's Highway

National Geographic has an interesting piece on India's new 'superhighway' that links four of its major cities - bringing 'old and new India into jarring proximity'. Here's what the article says:

yellow sari under bridge

India's new national highway, part crushed rock and asphalt, part yellow brick road, swings through Bangalore as it races across southern India bearing the turbocharged hopes of a billion people from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. In downtown Bangalore the wheels roll to a stop, briefly, beside an ornate, 50-foot-high Hindu temple where every night a cheerful little man in horn-rimmed glasses named R. L. Deekshith, the temple priest, delivers the Hindu equivalent of curbside service. His specialty is the ritual called a puja, in which he spreads the munificence of the god Lord Ganesh upon a parade of newly purchased vehicles—cars, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, and auto rickshaws, along with the occasional bicycle or bullock cart—whose owners wouldn't think of hitting the road without the blessings of a happy, four-armed god with the head of an elephant who brings prosperity and good fortune, particularly to machines and those setting out on something new.

Read original post - 'India's Highway'


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Atlas of the Real World

UK's The Telegraph is hosting what it calls 'The Atlas of the Real World' which uses software to depict the nations of the world - 'not by their physical size, but by their demographic importance on a range of subjects'. On their site they select a series of travel- and news-related maps:

The Atlas of the Real World

See images at 'The Atlas of the Real World'


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Observing urban drivers in their natural habitat

Here's a post from Kevin Harris over at the Neighbourhoods blog, on a somewhat humourous, somewhat disturbing, real-life ditty of human urban driving habits:

Short trip I was walking up the road this afternoon and heard a car start up nearby. The driver pulled out of the drive, rather closely in front of an oncoming car, then after a short distance drew in alongside a post box. I watched a woman get out and post a letter. She was clearly able-bodied. She got back in, turned the car round and headed back the way she came. I thought, well I suppose you might do that if you're off somewhere. So I turned round to see if she was. But she drove straight back into the driveway of the house.

I crossed the road to take this pic of the house, from beside the post box. It's about 75 metres away I reckon.

Read original post at 'Observing urban drivers in their natural habitat'

Thanks to Kevin for the heads-up on this one!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Growing Vertical: Skyscraper Farming

Scientific American has a post on how cultivating crops in 'downtown skyscrapers might save bushels of energy and provide city dwellers with distinctively fresh food'. The article goes on to say that

Why not grow grains, vegetables and fruits right where the expanding crowds of consumers are: in the middle of a city, inside a tall glass building? Poultry and pork could be reared there, too. A vertical farm would drastically reduce the fossil-fuel use and emissions associated with farm machinery and trucking, as well as the spread of fertilizer and its runoff. Crops could grow and be harvested year-round instead of at the end of one season, multiplying annual yield by at least four times. Urban agriculture could also convert municipal wastewater into irrigation water, reducing a city’s refuse problem. And consumers would get the freshest food possible, without pesticides.

Is this such a fanciful notion?

Read more at - 'Growing Vertical: Skyscraper Farming'


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Filmmaker Plans to Install Camera in His Eye Socket

Wired's blog has an unusual post about a Canadian film-maker who's planning to become a 'lifelong' film-maker - by putting a camera in his eye!


Rob Spence looks you straight in the eye when he talks. So it's a little unnerving to imagine that soon one of his hazel-green eyes will have a tiny wireless video camera in it that records your every move.

The eye he's considering replacing is not a working one -- it's a prosthetic eye he's worn for several years. Spence, a 36-year-old Canadian filmmaker, is not content with having one blind eye. He wants a wireless video camera inside his prosthetic, giving him the ability to make movies wherever he is, all the time, just by looking around.

"If you lose your eye and have a hole in your head, then why not stick a camera in there?" he asks.

Spence, who calls himself the "eyeborg guy," will not be restoring his vision. The camera won't connect to his brain. What it will do is allow him to be a bionic man where technology fuses with the human body to become inseparable. In effect, he will become a "little brother," someone who's watching and recording every move of those in his field of vision.

If successful, Spence will become one of a growing number of lifecasters. From early webcam pioneer Jennifer Kaye Ringley, who created JenniCam, to Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell, to commercial lifecasting ventures and, many people use video and internet technology to record and broadcast every moment of their waking lives. But Spence is taking lifecasting a step further, with a bionic eye camera that is actually embedded in his body.

Read in full - 'Filmmaker Plans to Install Camera in His Eye Socket'


Friday, December 12, 2008

A Tour of Tesla Motors

Another post from the Worldchanging retrospective month - this time a post about the rise of the Tesla electric speed cars:


You've heard about Tesla Motors already--the silicon valley startup that's making the next generation in electric cars, a roadster that can go from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds, and that looks like a million bucks. (It'll also cost nearly $100K, but that's cheap compared to a Lamborghini, and you just might beat it off the line.) There have been plenty of great articles on the company and the car, from Wired, The Guardian, and others. As it happens, I know several of their engineers, so I was able to get a tour of the company a few weeks ago...

Tesla's motor is a high-performance induction motor; not revolutionary new technology, but top-of-the-line. In fact, it's the same one the EV1 and AC Propulsion's tZero prototype cars used. Tesla's innovation is in the way it is manufactured, keeping performance quality high but reducing costs. I also asked whether they thought about using in-wheel motors, since putting a small motor in every wheel instead of having one big motor with a drivetrain connecting it to the four wheels can greatly reduce mechanical complexity and weight, as well as improving reliability.

Read more at - 'A Tour of Tesla Motors'


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Train 'n Wheels: the Perfect Commute?

Wired's Autopia blog has a good story on what is being dubbed 'the benefits of bicycle transit trips':


We love public transportation. We also love bikes. Judging by a recent increase in bike rides to and from public transportation known as "transit trips," American commuters are starting to feel the same way. "Transit trips are way up," Tim Blumenthal, head of the national bike advocacy group Bikes Belong, told "More buses have racks on the front, and more light rail and subways are allowing bicycles on board even during peak hours." According to Blumenthal, the benefits of bicycle transit trips are huge: commuters lose weight while the air gets cleaner, and highways get less crowded while America starts to recover from its oil addiction.

San Francisco's Caltrain commuter rail service was one of the pioneers in bringing "bikes on board," dedicating certain cars of each train for bikes and allowing up to 64 bike commuters to ride their own bikes to and from work (video after the jump). The program took off, and also took some cars off the road: 80% of cyclists who started taking Caltrain only did so after they could bring their bikes along. "Caltrain has for awhile now provided exemplary bike service," Andy Thornley, Program Director for the San Francisco Bike Coalition (SFBC) told"Other systems have accommodations, but its usually one or two bikes per car."

The program was so successful that demand soon surpassed the supply of bike cars, and non-biking passengers began to complain that their train was overrun by a peloton of two-wheeled commuters. "The success of the program is outstripping the system," Thornley said.

Read more at - 'Train 'n Wheels: the Perfect Commute?'


Monday, December 08, 2008

Using your voice to pilot your computer

Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends has a post on how a team of scientists of the University of Washington (UW) has developed Vocal Joystick, a software which enables people with disabilities to control their computers using the sound of their voice and without the need to use a mouse:
Their virtual computer mouse driven by sound has already been tested at the UW Medical Center with spinal-cord-injury patients and other participants with varying levels of disabilities. The researchers, who developed their own voice-recognition technology, hope to have a prototype available online this fall. But read more...

UW Vocal Joystick

You can see above "the mapping of the vowel sounds recognized by the Vocal Joystick engine to the radial direction resulting in a mouse pointer movement. The VJ engine also captures loudness and pitch information, which can be used to control the speed of the pointer movement." (Credit: UW) Here is a link to a larger version of this diagram.

Read original post - 'Using your voice to pilot your computer'


Friday, December 05, 2008

Revolutionary Virtual Reality Training Originally Designed For The Army

The capacity of virtual reality simulation is rapidly expanding - no wonder then it is increasingly being used for real-life training. Here's some latest news:

Development studio Intelligence Gaming is behind a different kind of game, dubbed “serious gaming” - games that are designed to teach users rather than entertain them. The company has previously created games for the United States Navy, and has now been contracted by the Army to develop a new kind of game that is part virtual reality, part movie. The company teamed with development and design firm EffectiveUI to create a technology called RealityV based on Adobe’s upcoming Flash 10 platform. The result: 3D interactive simulations that could revolutionize training in the military, health care, retail stores, and any number of other industries.

At the core of each RealityV experience is a a full motion movie shot in 360 degrees. This movie is projected into a special headset that strongly resembles the “Virtual Reality” googles of yore. As the user rotates, their perspective in the video rotates as well (they can only rotate around a single point, as the technology doesn’t yet support movement). During the videos users are forced to make quick decisions that affect the scene’s outcome - it’s sort of like a ‘Choose your own adventure’, except you feel like you’re actually there. Users can also use RealityV from their browser, but this effect is lost.

The first application of the technology is “Immersive Cultural Simulation Product”, a game created for the Army that teaches soldiers how to handle cultural differences in Iraq. Soilders are forced to make decisions in real time as they watch the people surrounding them, paying attention to gestures and facial expressions to decide who to pay attention to and look for any possible threats.

Read more at - 'RealityV: Revolutionary Virtual Reality Training Originally Designed For The Army'


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

IBM builds online version of China's famed Forbidden City

The ultimate in 'virtual tourism', and this time it's a forbidden city!

IBM on Friday opened online doors to an interactive, animated replica of the 178-acre (720,000 square-meter) walled fortress of the famed Forbidden City in China, which served for centuries as an exclusive realm for the nation's emperors.

"Forbidden City: Beyond Space & Time" is billed as a first-of-a-kind, fully immersive, three-dimensional virtual recreation of "this Chinese cultural treasure."

Visitors to the virtual Forbidden City can explore it as animated avatars, able to chat with others or take part in activities such as archery, cricket fighting, or a board game called Weiqi.

Read more at - 'IBM builds online version of China's famed Forbidden City'


Monday, December 01, 2008

The revolution of paperless paper

Is it finally going to arrive? Are we still not convinced? Well, the BBC looks into the 'revolutionary' electronic newspaper:

At Plastic Logic's factory in Dresden, British engineer Dean Baker shows me a new kind of newspaper.

What's new about it? Well, for a start there's no paper - it's electronic.

The device looks just like a table mat, it's as light as a magazine.

But onto it you can download hundreds of newspapers and - at the touch of a button - browse through them quite safely, without elbowing anyone ever again.

"It's very robust," says Mr Baker.

To prove it he whacks the screen with his fist. Not a scratch.
The machine's so tough, because everything, from the screen to the electronics inside, is made of plastic.

That's why the electronic newspaper is so light, flexible and revolutionary.

Mr Baker believes the device will help consign ordinary paper to the rubbish bin of history.

"There's a huge amount of waste," says Mr Baker.

"We have paper being distributed all over the country which is consumed on that day and then discarded into the bin. This doesn't need to be the case.

"All of that contact could be transmitted electronically and stored on a single e-reader, with the same visual appeal as paper. "

Read original post at - 'The revolution of paperless paper' - video on site.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

iPod and Bluetooth Taking Over New Cars

The Autopia blog has a nice post on how the automotive industry has woken up to people's love of gadgets and connectivity whilst driving - so get ready for in-car entertainment as standard!


Manufacturers of aftermarket iPod adapters and cigarette-lighter speakerphones take note: Your days are numbered. Automakers have finally figured out that people love gadgets, and just about every 2009 model will have iPod and Bluetooth connectivity.

With the auto industry in a tailspin, automakers are scrambling to make their vehicles as attractive as possible. One way to do that is offer the connectivity consumers crave. iPod and Bluetooth integration, once the domain of luxury vehicles, has grown increasingly common and the 2009 model year marks the first time more than half of all new cars will be gadget-ready. The tech analysts at iSuppli say 58 percent of all cars sold in 2009 will offer iPod connectivity, while Bluetooth technology will be offered in 82 percent of all vehicles. What's more, one-third of all cars will feature USB ports — up from just 16 percent this year.

Read more at - 'iPod and Bluetooth Taking Over New Cars'


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Homeland Security's Space-Based Spying Goes Live

Following on from the UK data laws, the US are close to implementing a controversial satellite-surveillance program:

While America's attention has shifted to the economic meltdown and the presidential race between corporate favorites John McCain and Barack Obama, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) National Applications Office (NAO) "will proceed with the first phase of a controversial satellite-surveillance program, even though an independent review found the department hasn't yet ensured the program will comply with privacy laws...

It will provide federal, state and local officials "with extensive access to spy-satellite imagery--but no eavesdropping--to assist with emergency response and other domestic-security needs, such as identifying where ports or border areas are vulnerable to terrorism," the Wall Street Journal reported.

Read more at - 'Homeland Security's Space-Based Spying Goes Live'


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

UK trails überdatabase plans

The UK authorities are at it again - increasing dataveillance (and losing data at the same time!). The Home Secretary has recently warned that the government 'will legislate to collect more data on internet communications because it believes it will help fight serious crime and terrorism':

Jacqui Smith trailed the forthcoming Commmunications Data Bill in a speech this morning to the Institute for Public Policy Research. MI6 and GCHQ have pushed hard for the Bill to mandate a huge central database to retain details of who contacted whom online, where and when.

Currently the major telcos have arrangements in place to provide intelligence and law enforcement with call data on request. It's been argued at Whitehall that the rise of IP-based communications services such as VoIP, chat, email and the web are eroding authorities' ability to monitor and investigate crime. New laws are needed to "maintain capability", hawks insist.

"That is not a government policy that is somehow optional. It is a reality to which the government must respond," Smith said tody, referring to the growth of internet services.

Read more at - 'Jacqui Smith trails überdatabase plans'


Monday, November 24, 2008

Personal Pod Transport Coming Soon

Wired has a post on personal rapid transport (PRT) - the subject that inspires and never seems to go away... yet hasn't fully delivered yet either. Although take a look at Heathrow's Ultra below:


Stuck in rush hour traffic one night about ten years ago, my friend Andre turned to me and predicted that someday people would zip around above traffic in their own personal pods. I told him it was one of the dumbest things I had ever heard.

But it looks like Andre was on to something. For years transportation types have been debating the viability of what is known as Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), and now several projects are underway that indicate the age of the pod may be upon us.

PRTs are systems of independent vehicles that provide private, on-demand, nonstop travel for people or small freight, riding on small, overhead guideways. The cars run above existing roads and are powered entirely by electricity. Advocates of pod transport say it offers the convenience and personal experience of an auto without the gasoline, insurance, pollution, accidents, or congestion.

Read original post - 'Personal Pod Transport Coming Soon to a City Near You'


Friday, November 21, 2008

MI6 pokes Facebook for new spy recruits

Well, it's nothing new but it is still good to see it being confirmed - how Facebook is fast becoming a head-hunting domain:

Britain's overseas security service, MI6, has turned to social networking website Facebook to help recruit new agents...

..."The open recruitment campaign continues to target wide pools of talent representative of British society today," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

"A number of channels are used to promote job opportunities in the organisation. Facebook is a recent example."

MI6 launched Facebook job advertisements a few weeks ago to try and reach a larger variety of people, she added.

Read more here - 'MI6 pokes Facebook for new spy recruits'


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Google Funds Startup to Bring Cheap Satellite Internet to 3 Billion People

Google is fundingO3B, a company that plans to bring the Internet to those people so far outside of coverage:

Now a new company is seeking to change that. The company, O3B, draws its name from the phrase "other 3 billion" to describe the world's population with no internet coverage. The company, located in U.K.'s Channel Islands, is building 16 satellites thanks to $65M USD in funding from HSBC Principal Investments, a private equity provider; Liberty Global, a service provider for phone and Internet access in 15 countries; and Google. Greg Wyler, O3B's founder and CEO states, "Usage is growing and the demand is growing, but there isn't the infrastructure to support the demand."

Wireless operators spend up to 40 percent of their costs in developing networks, according to O3B. This is evident when problems play out, such as AT&Ts recent insufficient 3G coverage to meet bug-exacerbated demand from iPhones.

O3B's unique plan is to launch medium-earth orbit (MEO) satellites, which orbit at 5,000 miles and only have 120 millisecond latency and are less expensive compared to geosatellites which orbit at 22,500 miles, have a latency of up to 600 milliseconds, and cost more. The new satellites are predicted to cut costs down to around $500 USD per megabit per month, much more affordable.

Read more at - 'Google Funds Startup to Bring Cheap Satellite Internet to 3 Billion People'


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sci-Fi Show Future of Travel

Now here's an interesting post - a website that shows how science-fiction has influenced artists' impressions of future travel:

Future worlds described by science fiction visionaries like Philip K. Dick, William Gibson and Robert Heinlein often included wildly inventive methods of transportation to other planets, galaxies and dimensions.

These brief glimpses into the possible future of travel were left largely to the readers' imaginations, but a flourishing group of dreamers, designers and illustrators are bringing those creations to life -- at least online.

The website run by Igo Tkac showcases these artists' renditions of spaceships and other fantastical creations. From retro-futuristic aerial attack machines to automated deep-sea treasure hunters, here are some of the coolest.

Read original post - 'Sci-Fi-Inspired Concept Ships Show Future of Travel'


Monday, November 17, 2008

A Face-Finding Search Engine

TechReview has a post on new developments in face-recognition software: in other words, how to identify a person's face in a low-resolution video:

Today there are more low-quality video cameras--surveillance and traffic cameras, cell-phone cameras and webcams--than ever before. But modern search engines can't identify objects very reliably in clear, static pictures, much less in grainy YouTube clips. A new software approach from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University could make it easier to identify a person's face in a low-resolution video. The researchers say that the software could be used to identify criminals or missing persons, or it could be integrated into next-generation video search engines.

Today's face-recognition systems actually work quite well, says Pablo Hennings-Yeomans, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon who developed the system--when, that is, researchers can control the lighting, angle of the face, and type of camera used. "The new science of face recognition is dealing with unconstrained environments," he says. "Our work, in particular, focuses on the problem of resolution."

Read more at - 'A Face-Finding Search Engine'


Friday, November 14, 2008

GM Builds a Plug-In Hybrid ... in 1969

Now here's a blast from the past: Autopia blog has a piece on how GM experimented with a plug-in hybrid... in 1969! Looks like an old Vauxhall Viva to me....


Toyota and General Motors are neck-and-neck in the race to put a plug-in hybrid in your driveway, but they're recycling an idea GM explored almost 40 years ago and tossed aside like a depleted battery.

The concept car with the cumbersome designation XP-883 was nothing more than an experiment relegated to history, but it worked a lot like the Toyota Prius and Saturn Vue plug-in hybrids the two companies are working on today. It was sufficiently ahead of its time for Popular Science to call it "radical" and ask, "wouldn't it be great to have a car that changed from electric drive for use around town to gasoline power for highway driving?"

"It makes so much sense," the magazine wrote in July, 1969, "that we feel they're missing a bet if they don't put it in production."

The XP-883 looked like an Avanti hatchback or the AMC Gremlin's prettier sister. At 122.2-inches long, 57.3-inches wide and 46.3-inches high, it was a little bigger than a Smart ForTwo and a little smaller than a Honda CRX. It had a fiberglass body for light weight, but just what it weighed has been lost to history.

See original post - 'GM Builds a Plug-In Hybrid ... in 1969'


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Big Brother tracking comes to Second Life

Here is news on a new development in ever-expanding Second Life: RFID tagging in medical environments:

Students at the University of Arkansas have created a couple of full-sized hospitals inside Second Life to experiment with the use of RFID tagging in medical environments, and ride on flying cats.

The idea of the project is to see if delivery and consumption of medical supplies can be tracked around a working hospital if everything is tagged and logged by monitors placed around the building. Two hospitals have been created - one hypothetical model and one based on Washington Regional Hospital right down to the contents of shelves and storerooms. Both models include delivery equipment and allow the placement of RFID readers with limited range.

Read more at - 'Big Brother tracking comes to Second Life'


Monday, November 10, 2008

Google takes to the seas

The Times has a nice scoop on how Google has taken out a patent to deploy their servers not 'overseas' but 'on the seas' - that's right, on mobile 'data' barges:

Google may take its battle for global domination to the high seas with the launch of its own “computer navy”. The company is considering deploying the supercomputers necessary to operate its internet search engines on barges anchored up to seven miles (11km) offshore.

The “water-based data centres” would use wave energy to power and cool their computers, reducing Google’s costs. Their offshore status would also mean the company would no longer have to pay property taxes on its data centres, which are sited across the world, including in Britain.

In the patent application seen by The Times, Google writes: “Computing centres are located on a ship or ships, anchored in a water body from which energy from natural motion of the water may be captured, and turned into electricity and/or pumping power for cooling pumps to carry heat away.”

A great idea!?

Read more at - 'Google takes to the seas'


Friday, November 07, 2008

More EV and Hybrid Concepts for Paris

GreenCarCongress has reported on new developments in electric concept vehicles which carry their own renewable recharging tools:

Venturi Automobiles and Michelin are working together to produce a new-generation electric concept vehicle. The partners will unveil the concept at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, which opens on 2 October for the press.

The partnership allows Michelin to demonstrate the capabilities of its latest innovations on a high-performance vehicle. Venturi has built cars such as the Fetish electric sports car and a low-speed electric vehicle that can be recharged via roof-mounted solar panels or with a personal wind turbine (earlier post).

Venturi is also partnering with PSA Peugeot Citroën to supply electric vans based on the Citroën Berlingo First / Peugeot Partner Origin in response to a tender from the French Post Office, La Poste.

Read more at - 'More EV and Hybrid Concepts for Paris'


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Computer games drive social ties

BBCNews has this post on a recent report from a Pew Internet study about how certain video games can help young people engage with friends and community - and play 'air-guitar':

The Pew Internet study of US teenagers found that few play alone and most join up with friends when gaming. It found that many used educational games to learn about world issues and to begin to engage with politics. The report also found that gaming had become an almost universal pastime among young Americans.

The survey of 1,102 teenagers aged 12-17 revealed that 99% of boys and 94% of girls across the socio-economic spectrum play some kind of computer or video game.

The most popular title was Guitar Hero, followed by Halo 3, Madden NFL, Solitaire, and Dance Dance Revolution.

Read more at - 'Computer games drive social ties'

Monday, November 03, 2008

Caterpillar plans 600 tonne lorry robots

In what appears a 'robotic move' too far the recent US military-funded driverless car contest technologies are finding their first real world applications:

To be precise, American droid chiefs plan soon to unleash titanic, 600-tonne automated trucks capable of squashing flimsy human vehicles like bugs.
The existing, human crewed Caterpillar 797B

The invincible godzilla-lorry plan is the brainchild of robotics boffins at Carnegie Mellon University, teamed with huge roaring machinery company Caterpillar. First-catch credit goes to the excellent Ares war-tech blog.

The intention is to add robo-driver mode to Caterpillar's most outrageously enormous trucks, such as the 600-tonnes-all-up 797B model.

Huge beasts...

Read original post - 'Caterpillar plans 600 tonne godzilla-lorry robots'


Friday, October 31, 2008

Virtual Worlds Get Real About Punishment

The Washington Post reports on how a new virtual world for mobiles is meeting out justice - Ouch! We're being put behind virtual bars...the beginning of virtual jails??

Virtual worlds have often been called the digital equivalent of the Wild West, where animated alter egos can live in a fantasy frontier. But in some of these universes, a sheriff has come to town.

Slipping a four-letter word into an instant message now could land a user in a virtual timeout. Repeated attempts to make friends with an uninterested character could result in a loss of blogging privileges. And if convicted of starting a "flame war," or an exchange of hostile messages, a user may endure the ultimate punishment -- permanent exile.

A virtual world for mobile devices, called Cellufun, has established a courthouse, where rule-breakers are indicted by their peers and tried by a jury of other community members. If found guilty of a charge, such as using profanity, users must carry out varying levels of sentences, from being mute for 20 minutes to being banished.

For the duration of punishment, a user's avatar -- a cartoon version of his or her real-life self -- is pictured behind bars.

In the online community Cellufun, troublemakers found guilty by other users get their virtual alter egos placed behind bars.
In the online community Cellufun, troublemakers found guilty by other users get their virtual alter egos placed behind bars.

Read more at - 'Virtual Worlds Get Real About Punishment'


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tourism and the politics of culture

Tim Winter over at the Post-conflict Heritage site has done some interesting work examining post-colonial tourism in terms of post-conflict reconstruction, nation building, and socio-economic rehabilitation. The blog has also been following the dispute on the Thai/Cambodian border over the temple world heritage site of Preah Vihear:

An extract from 'Thai-Cambodian Border Spat Heats Up' in Time Magazine:

Thai soldiers take position after clashes with Cambodian soldiers at the disputed border area of the Preah Vihear temple, Si Sa Ket province, Thailand, 15 October 2008

Gunfire crackled across the border between Thailand and Cambodia on October 15, reigniting tensions between the two Southeast Asian nations over a disputed swathe of land near an ancient Hindu temple. For days, troops from both countries have flooded the area near the Preah Vihar temple, and each side claims the other fired Wednesday's first shot.

A blog of great interest to readers of Tourism issues especially - Post-conflict Heritage


Monday, October 27, 2008

Planning Post-Oil Towns

Worldchanging, as part of a month-long retrospective, are re-publishing some of their excellent past posts. And here is an example of a worthwhile one from October 2006 about the beginning of the Transition Town movement:

word.jpg The story of the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan is an extraordinary one. A mid-thirties Englishman with a penchant for permaculture and an interest in peak oil moves to rural Ireland, starts teaching at the local further education college, and ends up writing, with his students, a ground-breaking document: the first timetabled strategy for weaning a town off fossil fuels. And what is more, that small Irish town actually adopts the action plan and starts to implement it.

Kinsale is a seaside town of 7000 inhabitants renowned as Ireland’s gourmet food capital, as well as the home of a well-known jazz festival. Kinsale 2021 is the title of the document: Rob Hopkins is the man, who persuaded Kinsale Further Education College to start the first full-time two year course in Europe training in people in Practical Sustainability.

He had a simple idea for his students: to ask them to think practically about all the aspects of a town that would need to be changed if a low-energy future was to happen, and how they could do so over a fifteen-year period.

Read original post - 'Planning Post-Oil Towns'


Saturday, October 25, 2008


Here's an opportunity worth taking up - anyone??


BBC ONE are looking for a vibrant village, town or area of a city to
take part in a new series called "Dom on the Case of Cars" with presenter
Dominic Littlewood.

The series is seeking residents of all ages who are ready to take on the
challenge of living car free for 5 days to explore the alternative
modes of travel on offer in their area. The successful place will be the first in
Britain to undertake this amazing mission with participating residents
taking centre stage in this high profile documentary.

The BBC is looking for a street, district or whole village willing to
experience the joys and frustrations of car-free living and in return
we'll show you how your area could be made safer, how you could save money
and how easy it could be to live without your car.

The BBC will of course be providing lots of help and information to
those who take part. What is really important is that the community is
ready to embrace the challenge and lead the way for the rest of the country.

So are you ready to take on the Car-Free challenge and get your
village on BBC ONE?

Please contact:

Mish Evans
Assistant Producer, Dom's on the case of cars


Friday, October 24, 2008

Place Your Bids: Airline Tickets on eBay!


Photo by Flickr user procrastinet.

Now here's a novel way to increase sales of airline tickets - auction them! That's exactly what US carrier JetBlue have been doing lately. According to Autopia:

JetBlue's opened an eBay store to auction tickets and vacation packages to some of its 50 destinations, and early bidding has been strong despite a technical glitch that shut the store down for a few hours.

The store features seven-day auctions for more than 300 one- and two-person round-trip flights. Bidding starts at a nickel and there is no reserve, but it's tough to say how much shoppers will save -- or JetBlue might lose. Still, it could be a smart move for the airline.

"It's a way for the airline to bolster its direct sales, and it's different from a traditional fare sale in that other airlines can't simply match it," Henry Harteveldt, an analyst with Forester Research, tells us. "From that standpoint it's a very smart idea."

This afternoon the high bid on a flight from Chicago O'Hare to Long Beach was $202.50 versus $300 when booked on the JetBlue website, but with six days left in the auction, it's anyone's guess how much higher the bidding will go. Round-trip tickets for two from New York to Vegas on Sept. 26 were going for $620, compared to a maximum of $349 through the airline's website, further proving the best deals aren't always on eBay.

Read original post - 'Place Your Bids: JetBlue Auctioning Tickets on eBay'


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Maps from mobiles to alert multitudes

Smartmobs has a post on new technology applications that are being used to mitigate human crises - 'Mobile local information gathering and digital mapping are collaborating':

A post at iRevolution titled Flood Warning, Mobile Phones and Dynamic Mapping of India describes the goals and methods being tried in the Monsoon Project:

In Mumbai and Ahmedabad, we will see what kind of qualitative data people have reported. The next step is to to expand the data collection exercise to discreet objective data points that may expedite rescue and response in real-time. Can farmers sitting atop roofs in the flooded villages of Orissa use their cell phones to transmit simple, discreet, data points that would help plot a real-time map of events as they unfold? Can such a platform be created? How far are we in terms of technology and collaboration? At HHI, the Crisis Mapping Project is well underway, with small projects at multiple locations in different stages of development. . . .

The Conflict Early Warning and Crisis Mapping projects at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is supporting these smart mob era endeavors that are essentially brand new opportunities of the 21st century

Read original post - 'Maps from mobiles to alert multitudes'


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Box - A global journey begins

Container with BBC News logo

Now here's an interesting project from the BBC. It's called 'The Box' and is a unique project telling the story of international trade by tracking a shipping container around the world for a year!

Worldchanging comments on this by saying:

The folks at the Beeb have started a project with shipping line NYK designed to allow readers to track the movements of a single container over the course of a year. The container has been painted with a BBC URL and fitted with a GPS transponder, but otherwise will function as an ordinary container, carrying loads from one port to another. Its voyage will be visualized on a web map, giving viewers a sense for the vagaries of international trade. (Depending on whether BBC stacks the deck or not, this could also be a stunningly boring voyage, if the container simply cycles between Southhampton and Bruges.)

Read original post - 'The Box - A global journey begins'

And read more here


Monday, October 20, 2008

Passports will be needed to buy mobile phones

Breaking News! Plans are afoot to increase Britain's status as a surveillance nation by requiring all those wishing to purchase a new mobile phone to register on a national database. The Times reports that:

Everyone who buys a mobile telephone will be forced to register their identity on a national database under government plans to extend massively the powers of state surveillance.

Phone buyers would have to present a passport or other official form of identification at the point of purchase. Privacy campaigners fear it marks the latest government move to create a surveillance society.

A compulsory national register for the owners of all 72m mobile phones in Britain would be part of a much bigger database to combat terrorism and crime. Whitehall officials have raised the idea of a register containing the names and addresses of everyone who buys a phone in recent talks with Vodafone and other telephone companies, insiders say.

The move is targeted at monitoring the owners of Britain’s estimated 40m prepaid mobile phones. They can be purchased with cash by customers who do not wish to give their names, addresses or credit card details.

Read in full - 'Passports will be needed to buy mobile phones'


Microbes for Off-the-Grid Electricity

Here's a post about a company - Lebone Solutions - which aims to use microbial fuel cells to provide power to Africans who are off the grid. Could be a move in the right direction:

Lebônê Solutions, a startup based in Cambridge, MA, aims to use microbial fuel cells to provide power to Africans who are off the grid. In some parts of Africa, a small amount of energy is enough for a few hours of lamp light in the evening, or for powering the ubiquitous cell phones--something that some residents will walk five hours to a generator to do, says Aviva Presser, a cofounder of Lebônê. The company is made up largely of Harvard University alumni and current Harvard students originally from African countries.

With funding from the Harvard Institute for Global Health, the team has recently completed a pilot study in Tanzania, where members brought six basic microbial fuel cells and taught residents how to use them. The team organized village meetings where team member and Tanzanian native Stephen Lwendo explained how to make the fuel cells...

...In some parts of Africa, only a small amount of energy is enough for a few hours of lamp light in the evening, or for powering the ubiquitous cell phones--something that some residents will walk five hours to a generator to do.

Read more at - 'Microbes for Off-the-Grid Electricity'


Friday, October 17, 2008

Tata's Building EVs For Norway

Before hitting the Indian market Tata will offer their 'cheap as chips' car as an electric version... only for Norway:


Tata Motors, which already produces the world's cheapest car, is building an electric version of its (slightly) more upscale Indica hatchback it says will be rolling around Norway within a year.

The Indian automaker joins what's becoming a crowded field racing to bring EVs and plug-in hybrids to market, and it reportedly is working on five prototypes based on the Indica (pictured). "This is one of the technologies we're looking at, as you know that electric cars are almost zero emissions," Ravi Kant, Tata's managing director, told Reuters.

Kant says the car will make its debut in Norway because that country has the infrastructure needed to support EVs in big numbers, but the car could be offered in India sometime next year. That's good, because auto ownership in India is set to explode.

Read original post - 'Tata's Building EVs For Norway'


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Should we take cheap-as-chips RFID on trust?

The Guardian asks whether we should take the new generation of cheap RFID chips on trust:

RFID began appearing in passports, US payment cards and the UK's Oyster cards, used to make payments on London's Tubes and buses, in 2005. Many papers published in 2005 and 2006 highlight flaws in the chips' implementation. A 2005 RFID Journal paper from Johns Hopkins University and RSA Laboratories exposed weaknesses in the cryptography implemented in the Texas Instruments chip used in automobile keys and the "Speedpass" keyfob contactless payment device used in petrol stations. In 2006, Ross Anderson, author of Security Engineering, outlined the chips' vulnerability to "man-in-the-middle" attacks. More recently, the cipher used in Oyster cards has been broken and researchers have bypassed the public key infrastructure needed to manage the cryptographic keys for RFID passports.

Another problem: data stored on today's chip and pin cards is not encrypted.

Read more at - 'Should we take cheap-as-chips RFID on trust?'


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The World's First Hybrid SUV Limo

The Autopia blog has a visual post on this crazy trend in stretch limos now going over to the SUV:

'A California company has chopped a Chevrolet Tahoe hybrid in half and added more than 13 feet of steel, several flat-screen TVs and two fiber-optic illuminated cocktail bars to create what's believed to be the world's first gas-electric SUV limo. '

The pics say it all:



Read original post at - 'The World's First Hybrid SUV Limo'


Monday, October 13, 2008

Self Surveillance

Here is 'fitbit' - a wearable unobtrusive sensor that can track a person’s activity 24 hours a day and send the data to a website for analysis. Data is wirelessly uploaded to the Web so that users can monitor their activity and compare it with that of their friends. Convenient.... or worrying?

Credit: Fitbit

James Park, cofounder of Fitbit, says that one of the main goals was to make the sensor so small that it will go unnoticed no matter what a person is wearing. The device can be put in a pocket, attached discretely to a bra, or slipped into a special wristband during sleep. It is meant to be worn 24-7, and each device can run for 10 days on a single battery charge...

At the conference, the gadget impressed a panel of judges that included Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media. He says that Fitbit is tapping into an important field of wearable sensors and personal health monitoring: "It's completely on trend in terms of this idea of sensors driving the next generation of interesting applications."

Read more - 'Self Surveillance'


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Internet traffic grows 53 percent from mid-2007

More on the speedy rise of Internet traffic:

Internet traffic grew 53 percent from mid-2007 to mid-2008, down from a growth rate of 61 percent in the previous 12 months, according to a study by TeleGeography Research.

Growth on long-haul lines in the U.S. was even slower, at 47 percent. The big increase came in regions where the Internet is less mature. Traffic between the U.S. and Latin America more than doubled.

Meanwhile, international Internet capacity on ocean-spanning optical fibers increased 62 percent. On average, Internet traffic now uses just 29 percent of the available bandwidth.

Read more at - 'Internet traffic grows 53 percent from mid-2007'


Friday, October 10, 2008

Surveillance made easy

A NewScientistTech post reports that

Governments around the world are developing increasingly sophisticated electronic surveillance methods in a bid to identify terrorist cells or spot criminal activity.

German electronics company Siemens has gone a step further, developing a complete "surveillance in a box" system called the Intelligence Platform, pooling data from sources such as telephone calls, email and internet activity, bank transactions and insurance records. It then sorts through this mountain of information using software that Siemens dubs "intelligence modules."

Read more at - 'Snoop software makes surveillance a cinch'


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Cloud-seeding ships could combat climate change

This recent post looks at cloud-seeding techniques from fleets of ships at sea (not running on regular ship fuel I hope?!)

It should be possible to counteract the global warming associated with a doubling of carbon dioxide levels by enhancing the reflectivity of low-lying clouds above the oceans, according to researchers in the US and UK. John Latham of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, US, and colleagues say that this can be done using a worldwide fleet of autonomous ships spraying salt water into the air...

...Latham and colleagues calculate that, depending on exactly what fraction of low-level maritime clouds are targeted (with some regions, notably the sea off the west coasts of Africa and North and South America, more susceptible to this technique than others), around 1500 ships would be needed altogether to counteract a carbon doubling, at a cost of some £1m to £2m each. This would involve an initial fleet expanding by some 50 ships a year if the scheme is to keep in step with the current rate of increase in atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels.

Read original post at - 'Cloud-seeding ships could combat climate change'


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Plug In and Drive

Worldchanging has this post on the 'Plug In and Drive' ambitions of Shai Agassi who claims that his electric cars can save the world!:


There’s a lot to chew over in Wired’s profile of Shai Agassi, the entrepreneur engaged in an audacious experiment to electrify an entire nation’s transportation system, and in the process rewrite the automotive industry’s business model.

The nation in question is Israel, with Denmark and Hawaii possibly to follow. Agassi’s idea is that electric cars should be sold on a subscription model, like cell phones, with fees used to underwrite a network of intelligent electric outlets that ensure batteries are always topped up.

The plan is quite a bit more complicated than that, but in essence Agassi is trying to solve the same problem that plug-in hybrids and the Chevy Volt are meant to address: batteries have a limited capacity and take a long time to charge up. Hybrids work around the problem by bolting a gasoline engine on top of the electric motor. Agassi’s start-up, Better Place, hopes to cut gasoline out of the picture altogether by remaking the electrical grid. It’s an audacious vision, and the company has the financing and the partnerships in place to upgrade their prospects from pipe dream to long shot. They hope bring their all-electric cars to market in 2011.

Read more over at - 'Plug In and Drive'


Monday, October 06, 2008

TV's future stars will come from the web

The Guardian discusses the Internet as a medium for new 'snippet' types of TV, served through social networks, for example. The new generation?:

I have been watching a trailer for Chelsey OMG, a TV series for 16- to 25-year-olds to be shown next month on the social network Bebo, which has more than 80 million users. It is full-length for its genre - three minutes an episode. This is so as not to strain the attention-span of today's teenies and it allows episodes to be viewed secretly at work without reducing the nation's productivity.

Chelsey, a young American, has landed in planet London trying to navigate her way among dysfunctional people, helped by suggestions from the audience. It is full of interactivity, including intrusions into real lives with the option for viewers to become "friends" of the stars. If it takes off after a few episodes, the production company Channel X will know the numbers watching - including what sort of people they are - so they can try to finance the rest of it through a sponsor. The dream is that it will run and run, becoming a web hit then a film and then a book as the fairy tale is completed.

I have no idea whether it will succeed. It is the latest of a growing number of Generation Web soaps - cue in MySpace's Quarterlife and Endemol's The Gap Year, for a start - as the net becomes a medium for television. If kids won't go to the television set then television must come to them wherever they are - probably networking on Facebook, MySpace or Bebo. There may be a lesson for newspapers here.

Read more at - 'TV's future stars will come from the web'


Friday, October 03, 2008

Barrier-Free Beijing Subway is Wheelchair-Friendly

The Autopia blog has a piece on how Beijing has introduced improvements allowing disabled riders of the underground/metro to travel without barriers:


...Beijing has become less of a Forbidden City for the disabled. Even though more than one million disabled people live within its city limits, Beijing's crowded subway was practically inaccessible to anyone not able to rush to the front of the platform on their own two feet. Now, according to the official Chinese government information site, the improvements made in preparation for the Games will become permanent, allowing disabled riders to travel without barriers.

"I can't believe this is true. Three hours ago I was at home, and now I'm here with all these others watching Paralympic Games competitions," randomly-selected wheelchair-bound Beijing citizen Wang Shufen said. "The volunteers and subway and bus workers were really helpful. Without them, I would never have made it." Of course, made sure to note that the 70-year-old Wang was smiling all through her interview, and never mentioned whether she lived ten feet or ten miles from the stadium.

Read original post - 'Barrier-Free Beijing Subway is Wheelchair-Friendly'


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Gravity-mapping satellite will help predict climate change

Well, that's the plan! The Guardian reports on how scientists are preparing to launch a new satellite to make more precise measurements of the Earth's gravitational field and so help improve predictions about global warming:

The €330m (£265m) project aims to provide an extremely accurate map of the planet's gravitational field. Its main mission is to help climate scientists improve their predictions by enabling them to produce a more precise picture of the ocean currents.

By comparing the surface shape of the oceans with the undulations in the gravitational field, scientists can arrive at a more accurate picture of the oceans' currents - the flows that transport vast amounts of heat around the planet and so have a profound impact on the global climate.

The satellite will complete a map of the gravitational field once every 70 days and stay in operation for about 18 months.

Read more at - 'Gravity-mapping satellite will help predict climate change'


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Airport GPS: Because Pilots Get Lost, Too

More 'airplane' news coming out - this time its GPS for planes to navigate their own runways!


Sometimes, while waiting for my plane to pull back from the gate, marking the start of another insufferable domestic flight, I find myself getting scared. I look out the window at the rows of planes jamming the taxiways and gate areas and I think to myself, I don't know how the pilot is going to find his way out of this mess. Evidently, he's not always sure either.

Navigating America's gridlocked airports is like trying to keep track of Angelina Jolie's pregnancies, which is why Alaska Airlines is equipping its entire fleet with what is essentially a GPS system for planes. The Honeywell designed technology helps guide pilots around airport runways and taxiways, and is a software update to a system that is already used to keep planes from crashing into mountains and what Honeywell refers to as "other obstacles."

Much like a car navigation system, RAAS uses GPS to pinpoint the location of planes on the ground at a crowded airport.

Read more at - 'Airport GPS: Because Pilots Get Lost, Too'