Friday, February 29, 2008

Mobiles 'Speaks to The Human Heart'

This article in the Washington Post titled 'Our Cells, Ourselves' takes a look at how the mobile 'cell' phone has become a central part of life and has been the 'fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history':

The human race is crossing a line. There is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth.

From essentially zero, we've passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history -- faster even than the polio vaccine.

"We knew this was going to happen a few years ago. And we know how it will end," says Eric Schmidt, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Google. "It will end with 5 billion out of the 6" with cellphones. "A reasonable prediction is 4 billion in the next few years -- the current proposal is 4 billion by 2010. And then the final billion or so within a few years thereafter.

"Eventually there will be more cellphone users than people who read and write. I think if you get that right, then everything else becomes obvious."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Future of social networking

This project from the University of Washington takes a practical look at placing the 'Internet of Things' through tagging people:

If you need information, the Internet offers a wealth of resources. But if you're hunting down a person or a thing, a computer's not much help. That may soon change. Electronic tags promise to create what some call the "Internet of things," in which objects and people are connected through a virtual network.

To see what this future world would be like, a pilot project involving dozens of volunteers in the University of Washington's computer science building provides the next step in social networking, wirelessly monitoring people and things in a closed environment. Beginning in March, volunteer students, engineers and staff will wear electronic tags on their clothing and belongings to sense their location every five seconds throughout much of the six-story building. The information will be saved to a database, published to Web pages and used in various custom tools. The project is one of the largest experiments looking at wireless tags in a social setting.

The RFID Ecosystem project aims to create a world that many technology experts predict is just on the horizon, said project leader Magda Balazinska, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering. The project explores the use of radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tags in a social environment. The team has installed some 200 antennas in the Paul Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering. Early next month researchers will begin recruiting 50 volunteers from about 400 people who regularly use the building.

Question is - is this the type of future we really want to be heading towards? Or an inevitable progression of present technological trends?

Read the article - 'Future of social networking explored in UW's computer science building'

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

U.K. student records to be databased

CNet News reports how British students aged 14 to 19 will have their school records permanently placed on an electronic database accessible to prospective employers:

The project, called Managing Information Across Partners (MIAP), will launch in September. The record will include personal details and exam results and will remain with the pupil for life. More than 40 partners, including the Learning and Skills Council, the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, and the Department for Work and Pensions, are involved in the project.

The system will be based on a Unique Learner Number. "The Unique Learner Number, necessary to acquire a learner record for the diploma is a unique identifier that can be used by a learner for life," MIAP said on its Web site. "It is a national number that is validated and is therefore deemed to be unique."

The aim is to expand the system to include other information and to allow details already available but scattered across many databases to be brought together, it said. The pupil would have control over the record and would be able to restrict the information shared. It is envisaged that the information could be transferred if the pupil changes school, goes to college or applies for work, MIAP said.

Necessary for increased efficiency? Or another example of the transition towards a surveillance-database society?

Read in full - 'U.K. student records to sit in accessible database'

Read in conjunction with - 'Lockheed wins 10-year FBI biometric contract'

Monday, February 25, 2008

Brain control headset for gamers

BBCNews reports on a new device on the market that will allow 'Gamers' to interact with the virtual world using their thoughts and emotions alone:

A neuro-headset which interprets the interaction of neurons in the brain will go on sale later this year.

"It picks up electrical activity from the brain and sends wireless signals to a computer," said Tan Le, president of US/Australian firm Emotiv. "It allows the user to manipulate a game or virtual environment naturally and intuitively," she added.

The brain is made up of about 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons, which emit an electrical impulse when interacting. The headset implements a technology known as non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG) to read the neural activity.

Ms Le said: "Emotiv is a neuro-engineering company and we've created a brain computer interface that reads electrical impulses in the brain and translates them into commands that a video game can accept and control the game dynamically."

This is something which has been blogged about previously here and is a move towards an immersive technological environment. The signs have now been posted...

Read full article - ' Brain control headset for gamers'

Friday, February 22, 2008

Love Tech Goes Long Distance

Forbes has an interesting look at intimate communications over distance via technology. They look at this from both sides of the coin:

The Internet is the perfect example of what Robert Metcalfe, a founder of 3Com, called the "network effect." An unconnected phone, Metcalfe observed, is useless. Connect it to another phone, however, and both devices become significantly more useful. Keep adding phones, and the power of the network keeps growing...

However, some cases, communicating more often can even push long-distance couples apart, Guldner says. In the military, for instance, tools like satellite phones have broken down some barriers that would have better been left standing. "Technological communication can interfere with the separate worlds that people are trying to maintain," says Guldner, who spent four months as an emergency physician in Iraq. "When a soldier is pinned down in combat and his wife is at home trying to deal with a broken dishwasher, they can't really relate to one another."

Follow the story... Read article - 'Love Tech Goes Long Distance'

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Travelers to Europe May Face Fingerprinting

The Washington Post is following the story of how the European Commission plans for all foreign travelers entering and leaving Europe, including U.S. citizens, to be fingerprinted: 'If approved by the European Parliament, the measure would mean that precisely identifying information on tens of millions of citizens will be added in coming years to databases that could be shared by friendly governments around the world':

The United States already requires that foreigners be fingerprinted and photographed before they enter the country. So does Japan. Now top European security officials want to follow suit, with travelers being fingerprinted and some also having their facial images stored in a Europe-wide database, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by The Washington Post.

The plan is part of a vast and growing trend on both sides of the Atlantic to collect and share data electronically to identify and track people in the name of national security and immigration control.

Very soon there will be no movement with 'digital permission' - are we sleepwalking into this?

Read in full - 'Travelers to Europe May Face Fingerprinting'

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Emission-free Cars

Georgia Tech researchers envision a zero emission car, and a transportation system completely free of fossil fuels. (Credit: Image courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology)

ScienceDaily reports that researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a strategy to 'capture, store and eventually recycle carbon from vehicles to prevent the pollutant from finding its way from a car tailpipe into the atmosphere. Georgia Tech researchers envision a zero emission car, and a transportation system completely free of fossil fuels':

Technologies to capture carbon dioxide emissions from large-scale sources such as power plants have recently gained some impressive scientific ground, but nearly two-thirds of global carbon emissions are created by much smaller polluters — automobiles, transportation vehicles and distributed industrial power generation applications (e.g., diesel power generators).

The Georgia Tech team’s goal is to create a sustainable transportation system that uses a liquid fuel and traps the carbon emission in the vehicle for later processing at a fueling station

Read in full - 'Carbon Capture Strategy Could Lead To Emission-free Cars'

Also of relevance, read TechReview's piece on 'A Better Way to Capture Carbon'

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A mobile future is in your hands

BBCNews has an article discussing how sales of smartphones are expected to overtake those of laptops in the next 12 to 18 months as 'the mobile phone completes its transition from voice communications device to multimedia computer':

Convergence has been the Holy Grail for mobile phone makers, software and hardware partners, as well as consumers, for more than a decade..."We see mobile phones evolving into multi-functional devices that now support consumer electronics, multimedia entertainment and mobile professional enterprise applications; all converging,"...

...Symbian is working on technology called Freeway to give phones the ability to move seamlessly between wireless networks, like wi-fi and cell networks like 3G and 4G.

Read article in full - ' Why the future is in your hands'

The Problem with Shipping

This is something which has concerned this blog before - the issue of transnational cargo shipping and the environmental impacts. It seems that most of the media spotlight is on car emissions because individual drivers can be taxed heavily, yet new reports are now stating that shipping emissions are much higher than originally thought (and they were already high!). This article states that:

When the world's largest merchant ship ferries its monthly cargo of 13,000 containers between China and Europe it burns nearly 350 tonnes of fuel a day. The Emma Maersk supplies Britain with everything from toys and food to clothes and televisions, but its giant diesel engine can emit more than 300,000 tonnes of CO2 a year - equivalent to a medium-sized coal power station.

Until now reducing CO2 emissions from the world's fleet of almost 90,000 large ships has not been a priority for governments or shipowners. Previously, the accepted figure for shipping emissions - drawn from information supplied by the industry - has been a maximum of 400m tonnes of CO2, or around 1.8% of global emissions.

But with today's disclosure that emissions from shipping are three times higher than previously thought, many experts will be asking why the industry has escaped the attention of governments and environmental campaigners alike.The world's burgeoning shipping fleet currently emits 1.21bn tonnes a year, the draft UN report seen by the Guardian says, constituting nearly 4.5% of world emissions.

Of course, with cargo shipping accounting for much of the West's cheap imports, and thus keeping down inflation rates, its a tricker subject to get all hot about... perhaps more tax on motorists can offset these emissions?

Read article - 'Shipping boom fuels rising tide of global CO2 emissions'

Monday, February 18, 2008

BAA luggage-tracking trial begins

BBCNews reports that London's heathrow Airport has begun its 6-month trial on RFID luggage tracking:

The £150,000 project involving the Dubai-based airline Emirates is likely to track some 50,000 bags a month. Stephen Challis of BAA Heathrow said it "could significantly improve efficiency" at Heathrow.

He said BAA was committed to "innovative baggage handling solutions".

"[It] could significantly improve the efficiency of Heathrow's baggage system, delivering an improved service to both passengers and airlines alike."

RFID is already used in a variety of ways such as the Oystercard used by travellers in London and also in pet passports....

Passengers who give their mobile phone number could receive a text letting them know the location of their bag when they land at the airport.

This has been on the cards for a long time... it is similar to trials on putting RFID tracking into airline tickets at check-in. Soon this technology is likely to be pervasive.

Read in full - ' BAA luggage-tracking trial begins'

Mayor of London Unveils Major Walking and Cycling Programs

GreenCarCongress reports that the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has announced a major package of 'five programs to create a new network of quick, simple, and safe routes for cyclists and pedestrians that represents the largest investment in walking and cycling in the city’s history. The plan also makes cycling a fully-funded part of the public transport network for the first time':

The city of London is implementing these measures with the aim of having one in ten round trips in London each day made by bike, and saving some 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 per year as Londoners increasingly walk or cycle for short trips instead of taking their cars.

The aim of this programme is nothing short of a cycling and walking transformation in London. We will spend something like £500 million (US$975 million) over the next decade on cycling—the biggest investment in cycling in London’s history, which will mean that thousands more Londoners can cycle in confidence, on routes that take them quickly and safely to where they want to go.

Read in full - 'Mayor of London Unveils Major Walking and Cycling Programs'

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Novel location-based services

This article discusses a range of 'novel technologies and end-to-end solutions for indoor and outdoor geo-location scenarios' such as needed for emergency services and taxi firms. Lots of innovation and development underway in Europe at the moment:

It's late on Saturday night. Hundreds of revellers empty out of the bars and restaurants in town and call for cabs to get home. But can the taxi firm meet such a sudden demand?

Amazingly, taxis turn up at the stand within minutes, as if they have all been waiting just around the corner. In actual fact, they have been using one of the most recent applications of geographic positioning technology, known as location based services (LBS).

Once a request for a cab comes through to the control room, the LBS platform notifies vehicles that ‘best fit’ the booking request, based on criteria such as proximity to the pick-up point, customer preferences, or dispatcher policies. Such geographic targeting helps cabs use less fuel and reach their customers faster. The Taxi-on-Demand system is just one LBS solution developed by the EU-funded LIAISON project

Read more - 'Taxi! Novel location-based services hailed'

Ship kites in to port

Is it a ship pulling a kite?? Nope - it’s a giant kite towing a cargo ship!! And it helps to save engine power and fuel.

The company behind the kite, SkySails, based in Hamburg, Germany, claims that freight ships, and even cruise liners, could reduce fuel consumption by up to 50% under optimal conditions:

The cargo ship MS Beluga SkySails sailed into the port of Guanta, Venezuela, completing its 2-week long maiden voyage from Germany, and the successful testing of the giant kite system. It is the first commercial vessel to use the SkySails kite system.

Read in full - 'Ship kites in to port'

Thursday, February 14, 2008

SatLav website for those moments when you get called short!

Yep, you never need to feel desperate again as you walk the streets with a pounding bladder: MizPee, created by San Francisco-based Yojo Mobile, provides location details of toilets and allows users to rate them - based on the number of toilet rolls they would award the facility for its cleanliness:

The company, which has been running the service across a clutch of American cities for the past six months, has added Barcelona to its roster of locations in time for the MWC. It also has information about facilities in Paris, London and Rome.

The site - which can be easily accessed on an internet-enabled mobile phone by going to - also provides downloadable 'reading materials' under the banner of 'Looisms' for anyone who wants a distraction.The site has information about whether the toilet is public or connected with a restaurant or pub and for patrons only, whether there is a charge and if there are disabled or nappy-changing facilities.

The site relies on users to help populate its directory of toilets by uploading information about loos they have used and rating them.

Read article - 'SatLav website tells you where to go when you need to go'

Mini-laptop sweeps through schools

The Guardian discusses the new PC trend at schools in the UK is the mini-laptop.... the one you can put inside your lunch box! The article writes that 'It weighs less than a bottle of Coke, is smaller than an A5 pad and is so cheap the odd one left on a bus wouldn't break the bank':

The computers, inspired by attempts to design a cheap laptop for the developing world, are being plugged into school networks, then given to pupils to take home in their satchels to do their homework. Ministers have backed a pilot scheme in which the laptops are sold to year groups in eight schools; 1,600 pupils are taking part, with parents contributing to the cost of the computers, and discounts for children who receive free school meals.

RM, the company supplying the Minibook computer to schools, sold out its first order of 6,000 within weeks, and is now projecting school sales of 30,000 by the end of the year. They are attracting the attention of IT teachers, and with them a multimillion-pound market in school computing so far dominated by Microsoft, the Goliath to RM's David.

Read more - 'Mini-laptop sweeps through schools'

Take a walk - and charge up your phone

The Guardian has a post on a new energy device: a knee brace which can generate electricity as you walk - it can apparently create enough power to charge mobile phones and medical devices:

The device is inspired by technology used in hybrid cars which store the power from braking to generate electricity. So-called regenerative brakes can collect energy that would otherwise be dissipated as heat when a car slows. In the same way, the knee brace uses the energy dissipated at the knee as the leg slows after a step.

In tests, volunteers generated five watts of power when they wore a brace on each leg. The researchers said it was enough to operate a portable GPS navigation unit, a robotic prosthetic joint or a heart pacemaker.

Read article - 'Take a walk - and charge up your phone'

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Digital maps on the mobile phone

It seems like the next major step in mobile phone hardware is in navigation tools and digital mapping as you walk. Nokia is stepping into this arena big time:

The firm's next generation of digital maps gives real-time walking directions on the mobile phone screen, just like sat-nav systems which guide drivers. "Nokia is taking navigation services out of the car so it can always be with you," said Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, president and CEO of the firm.

"Struggling with oversized paper maps will become a thing of the past."

Nokia's Maps 2.0, for its Series 60 and 40 phones, is part of the firm's push into location and context-aware technologies.

Mr Kallasvuo said: "Navigation is one of the foundations of the context-aware mobile phone. We believe it will be as important as voice capability was 20 years ago.

Read full article - 'Nokia aiming to banish paper maps'

2040 Mobility Scenario Development Tool

GreenCarCongress discusses how a California-based Art Center College of Design has 'released a scenario- and solution-building tool which is designed to be used in design workshops to address possible futures in the year 2040 as they relate to issues of sustainable mobility':

The tool, which is called Mobility Vision Integration Process (mVIP), is in public beta in the form of a deck of 109 cards, each representing a situation that affects the design of sustainable mobility solutions. A “hand” of eleven cards is drawn from two types of cards. One type of card establishes the design context and consists of four categories: enterprise, axiom, customer, and constraint. The other type deals with ambient trends & issues that together describe the future within which the design context is placed. There are seven categories of trends and issues: energy, economy, society, ecology, technology, policy, and wildcard.

An online version can be played at

Read more - '2040 Mobility Scenario Development Tool'

Monday, February 11, 2008

What are the Sustainability Implications of Peak Population?

Alex Steffen over at Worldchanging has been having some thoughts on the issue of 'peak population and its social issues:

How we design our answers to the immediate crisis will have, it seems to me, much to do with the conditions faced by our great-great grandchildren in the next couple centuries. Just as we're learning that the Great Wager is a one-time shot (that we only have enough resources and biocapacity to build this new civilization once, so we'd better get it right the first time), barring some magical technological breakthrough (and pinning our hopes on that seems a bad bet for reasons we'll pick up another time) those to follow after probably will have, to some large extent, work within a tighter set of ecological limits and with the already-embedded energy and resources of the civilization we design this century. It seems to me extremely unlikely, in other words, that humanity in the 22nd century will be in a position to toss it all and start over (instead, their frontier may be the ruins of the unsustainable aspects of the world we're building today, their resource base our dumps and disaster zones).

Worth having a read/browse - perhaps add a comment or two....

Read article - 'What are the Sustainability Implications of Peak Population?'

The new hypersonic plane?

The Guardian reports on a new hypersonic plane project - the A2 - which designers believe could carry 300 passengers at a top speed of more than 3,000mph:

The project is part of an EU drive to push forward the boundaries of air travel. Scientists were asked to find out if it was possible to build a commercial plane that used the sort of technology more closely associated with travel to the edge of space and beyond.

Read article - 'The hypersonic plane designed to reach Australia in under five hours'

Friday, February 08, 2008

A UK call for electric cars

Ex-government environment minister Michael Meacher writes in the Guardian that in the UK cars are still the fastest rising cause of greenhouse gas emissions - producing 38m tonnes a year - and look set to increase their lead as road traffic continues to grow by 2% a year. Meacher continues by writing

Yet there is no policy in place to get cars off the road to contain or reverse the trend. But this does not mean that the government's goal to cut emissions by 60% by 2050 is doomed. An obvious way out of the car impasse is to encourage a switch away from petrol-driven internal combustion engines to electric cars.

It has been well understood since the early 1990s that widespread adoption of plug-in electric drive technology could be practical. The only barrier to implementation was the lack of safe and affordable high-power batteries with a vehicle lifetime service rating. But now, as a result of materials innovations, high-power, long-life batteries that recharge in 10 minutes and can power electric plug-in vehicles and hybrids are being manufactured in the US.

Naturally, Meacher asks 'So why are electric cars not taking the market by storm?'

Good question...

Read in full 'The state holds the key to driving up electric car use'

UK sent 57 billion text messages

The Guardian reports on the British love affair with text messaging as figures recently out reveal people in the UK sent a staggering 57bn messages last year, with almost 5,000 sent every second in December:

Statistics from the Mobile Data Association also show that five years after launch picture messaging is starting to take off. Roughly half the mobile phones used in the UK are capable of sending a picture message and although it became possible to send a photo to a user on another network only a few years ago, more than 448m were sent in the UK last year. That is equivalent to 19m rolls of film.

The figures also show that making it easy - and cheap - to access the internet on a mobile phone has greatly increased usage.

Read article - 'Texts leap 40% amid newer varieties of mobile traffic'

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Satmobs - Spying on spy satellites

SmartMobs has picked up on a story about people who track/follow spy satellites for a hobby:

These folks aren’t government employees, but private citizens. The article introduces this world of popular sousveillance, describing it as apolitical.

Mr. Locker, who favors a telescope for his camerawork, said that people like him and Mr. Molczan were not, as he put it, “nerdy buffs who lie on our backs and look into the sky and try to undermine governments.” Spotting, he said, is simply a hobby...

...“If Ted can track all these satellites,” Mr. Pike said, “so can the Chinese.”

I didn't know the Chinese had such hobbies?!?

Read more - 'Spying on spy satellites: satmobs'

Smart Badges Track Human Behavior

TechReview has posted recently on 'Smart Badges Track Human Behavior' which discusses how MIT researchers used conference badges to collect data on people's interactions to help visualize their social network:

New research from MIT's Media Lab has shown that a sensor-laden conference badge might be able to help people venture out, form new connections, and gain insight into how they interact with others at such events.

Ben Waber, an MIT researcher who worked on the project (and blogged about it here), gave souped-up badges to 70 participants at a Media Lab event. These badges use an infrared sensor to gather data about face-to-face interactions, a wireless radio to collect data regarding proximity to other badges and send it to a central computer, an accelerometer to track motion of the participant, and a microphone to monitor speech patterns. At the event, the data from the infrared sensors was wirelessly transmitted to a computer that crunched the numbers, producing a real-time visualization of the event's social graph.


Mobile phones to monitor highway traffic

Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends reports that on February 8, 2008, about 100 UC Berkeley students will participate in the Mobile Century experiment, using GPS mobile phones as traffic sensors:

During the whole day, these students carrying the GPS-equipped Nokia N95 will drive along a 10-mile stretch of I-880 between Hayward and Fremont, California. 'The phones will store the vehicles' speed and position information every 3 seconds. These measurements will be sent wirelessly to a server for real-time processing.' As more and more cellphones are GPS-equipped, the traffic engineering community, which currently monitors traffic using mostly fixed sensors such as cameras and loop detectors, is tempted to use our phones to get real-time information about traffic.

Read - 'Cellphones to monitor highway traffic'

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Mobilities: Volume 3 Issue 1

We are pleased to announce the contents of the forthcoming issue of Mobilities: Volume 3 Issue 1. This new issue contains the following articles:

Driving and 'Passengering': Notes on the Ordinary Organization of Car Travel p. 1
Authors: Eric Laurier; Hayden Lorimer; Barry Brown; Owain Jones; Oskar Juhlin; Allyson Noble; Mark Perry; Daniele Pica; Philippe Sormani; Ignaz Strebel; Laurel Swan; Alex S. Taylor; Laura Watts; Alexandra Weilenmann

Towards a Discursive Analytics of Movement: On the Making and Unmaking of Movement as an Object of Knowledge p. 25
Authors: Birgitta Frello

Sustaining Livelihoods in Multi-local Settings: Possible Theoretical Linkages Between Transnational Migration and Livelihood Studies p. 51
Authors: Susan Thieme

Mutant Mobilities: Backpacker Tourism in 'Global' Sydney p. 73
Authors: Fiona Allon; Kay Anderson; Robyn Bushell

Mobility and Market Research: Outdoor Advertising and the Commercial Ontology of the City p. 95
Authors: Anne M. Cronin

Motion/Emotion: Picturing Translocal Landscapes in the Nurturing Ecologies Research Project p. 117
Authors: Divya P. Tolia-Kelly

Practices and Flows of Digital Photography: An Ethnographic Framework p. 141
Authors: Jonas Larsen

International Airports: Passengers in an Environment of 'Authorities' p. 161
Authors: Aharon Kellerman

Thinking About Tomorrow

The Wall Street Journal has a post titled 'Thinking About Tomorrow' that looks at how technologies will change future social habits and lifestyles. As an example:

Commuters will still carry newspapers to work but will likely download them to a pocket-size computer that can also show TV news broadcasts. Shoppers will still be greeted at Wal-Mart, but a computer may be the one saying hello -- and reminding them of what they bought on their last visit. Friends will still send each other birth and wedding announcements, but the process will be virtually automated, thanks to alerts on social-networking sites.

Most of these changes will spring from a couple of rapidly improving technologies. Mobile devices will get smaller and more powerful, and will connect to the Internet through high-speed links. The result: People will be able to do anything on a hand-held that they can now do on a desktop computer...

..Privacy will come under further strain as social-networking sites and blogs become more pervasive. People will post ever more details of their lives online -- and let hosts of people know about them with automatic updates.

Interesting to read potential trends here, although no big surprises...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Baby GPS geolocation

IFTF FutureNow blog has a post on the latest developments in research in the UK to track babies with GPS... eerie...:

New research from the University of Bristol shows for the first time that global positioning systems technology (GPS) can be used to show how children as young as three find their way around. GPS, the technology used in sat-navs, is a navigation system based on satellites that allows a user with a receiver to determine precise coordinates for their location on the earth's surface.

Using things around us to regain our bearings is known as reorientation and the process has been widely studied in non-human animal species. More recent research, looking at the development of this ability in children, suggests that we do not accurately use landmarks to orient ourselves until about the age of six. However, all studies to date have taken place in artificial laboratory environments rather than the real world.

Read post - 'Kids and GPS'

Urban Futures

Jamais Cascio over at Open the Future has an informative post on various urban future scenarios, with links to several analyses, including:

Ultradense Cities in Science Fiction

Saudi Arabia: Urban Experimentation in the Heart of Islam

SimCity Goes Open Source

Worth a read - over at 'Data Points: Urban Futures'

See also Cascio's article on weather warfare and political/military geoengineering over at 'Battlefield Earth' (another great article).

Monday, February 04, 2008

The "Evolution of Security" blog

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the US has set up the "Evolution of Security" blog to deal with complaints and questions about such issues as airport security and passenger checks: promises those complaints and suggestions won't vanish into thin air.

"This will just make it easier for them to receive complaints for them to ignore in the name of national security," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association...

...By late Wednesday there were 29 comments on the blog, mostly from TSA employees and moderators. One anonymous poster asked why some airport body scanners stop him due to a hip replacement while others do not.

Read - 'Air Your Security Gripes on TSA Blog'


Why are we going into space?

Why the sudden rush by people like Richard Branson not only to put people in space but to colonise space for a possible future? Here's Branson's words on the matter, taken from the recent SpaceShipTwo unveiling:

Our population is now heading to 9 billion people by the middle of this century — that’s three times more than when I was born. With the end of the oil era approaching, and climate change progressing faster than most models have been predicting, the utilisation of space is essential not only for communications but also for the logistics of survival through things such as weather satellites, agricultural monitoring, GPS and climate science.

I also believe that someday we will be able to use space as a source of energy for the planet, through solar power satellites, using the most sustainable source available – our Sun. In the unscientific view which people unfortunately sometimes take about the problems we face on this planet, aviation has often been singled out as a key component of climate change.

While, as you know, I believe that aviation has to get much more carbon efficient than it is today, it is important that people begin to realize that seemingly benign industries such as IT have in fact overtaken aviation in terms of their CO2 output.

Interesting also that he singles out IT energy consumption.

Read - 'Richard Branson’s Remarks at the SpaceShipTwo Unveiling'

Microchips Everywhere: a Future Vision

Washington Post has an extensive article on a not-so-distant future...where everything will be tagged:

Microchips with antennas will be embedded in virtually everything you buy, wear, drive and read, allowing retailers and law enforcement to track consumer items _ and, by extension, consumers _ wherever they go, from a distance. A seamless, global network of electronic "sniffers" will scan radio tags in myriad public settings, identifying people and their tastes instantly so that customized ads, "live spam," may be beamed at them.

In "Smart Homes," sensors built into walls, floors and appliances will inventory possessions, record eating habits, monitor medicine cabinets _ all the while, silently reporting data to marketers eager for a peek into the occupants' private lives. Science fiction?

In truth, much of the radio frequency identification technology that enables objects and people to be tagged and tracked wirelessly already exists _ and new and potentially intrusive uses of it are being patented, perfected and deployed. Some of the world's largest corporations are vested in the success of RFID technology, which couples highly miniaturized computers with radio antennas to broadcast information about sales and buyers to company databases.

Already, microchips are turning up in some computer printers, car keys and tires, on shampoo bottles and department store clothing tags. They're also in library books and "contactless" payment cards (such as American Express' "Blue" and ExxonMobil's "Speedpass.")

Read article - 'Microchips Everywhere: a Future Vision'


Friday, February 01, 2008

Welcome to the indoor positioning system (IPS)

Scientific American has an interesting post on how the global positioning system (GPS) has its limits in that roofs, walls and floors shield satellite signals and keep them from locating GPS receivers indoors. So - enter the indoor positioning system (IPS):

a budding technology that IPS manufacturers envision as one day tracking the movement of firefighters battling blazes inside burning buildings, patients in hospitals and even retail merchandise swiped from store shelves. Although this has sparked invasion-of-privacy fears in some, the technology itself is designed to deliver useful locator services that pick up where GPS leaves off.

Why can IPS go where GPS cannot? GPS technology relies on signals from multiple satellites and employs a triangulation process to determine physical locations with an accuracy of about 33 feet (10 meters); the most common forms of IPS, both in use and under development, employ radio, ultrasound or infrared signals to home in on enclosed locations.

Read in full - 'A Positioning System That Goes Where GPS Can't'

Mobility in 2100?

Jeroen van der Veer, Chief Executive of Royal Dutch Shell, has posted a short article on what he sees as 'Two Energy Futures', in terms of how new energy systems will transform the world, and how our 'mobility' is powered:

By 2100, the world’s energy system will be radically different from today’s. Renewable energy like solar, wind, hydroelectricity, and biofuels will make up a large share of the energy mix, and nuclear energy, too, will have a place. Humans will have found ways of dealing with air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. New technologies will have reduced the amount of energy needed to power buildings and vehicles.

Indeed, the distant future looks bright, but much depends on how we get there. There are two possible routes. Let’s call the first scenario Scramble. Like an off-road rally through a mountainous desert, it promises excitement and fierce competition. However, the unintended consequence of “more haste” will often be “less speed,” and many will crash along the way.

The alternative scenario can be called Blueprints, which resembles a cautious ride, with some false starts, on a road that is still under construction. Whether we arrive safely at our destination depends on the discipline of the drivers and the ingenuity of all those involved in the construction effort. Technological innovation provides the excitement.

Read 'Two Energy Futures'