Monday, September 29, 2008

Welcome to the Hotel 747

Now here's a novel way of getting into the hotel business. Move over Easyjet holidays, this is a better way of combining the airplane and the hotel - as the same thing! Swedish entrepreneur Oscar Dios has bought an old 747 and turned it into a hostel:

Dios is stuffing 85 beds into a gutted Boeing 747 he's dubbed Jumbo Hostel and parked right outside Stockholm's Arlanda Airport. It's got 25 rooms, with some of the nicest on the plane's upper floor. But if you're looking for a romantic evening with someone special (or someone you picked up a few hours ago), you'll want the deluxe cockpit suite. It's bigger, it's got its own bathroom and it offers a stunning view of the runway.

While most of the rooms have shared bathrooms and showers, they've all got heat and air conditioning, WiFi and -- in a nod to the airplane geeks surely making reservations -- flatscreen televisions that double as departure/arrival monitors.



Read full post (including youtube video) at - 'Welcome to the Hotel 747'


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Segway - a step to happiness ?

The Guardian has a brief piece on supporting the Segway ss a 'clean, quick, safe and simple solution to our transport problems' and asks - 'So why can't we use them on UK roads?' Lib Dem Lembit Öpik argues the case:

Tourists in Washington DC move about the city's historical sites aboard the Segway Personal Transporter. Photograph: AP/J Scott Applewhite

(Photograph: AP/J Scott Applewhite)

The Segway PT (personal transporter) has the potential to do for personal transport what the mobile phone did for personal communication. It's a funny looking device, with two wheels side by side, handlebars in front of you, and an on/off button. When you switch it on, two huge gyroscopes power up beneath your feet, and keep the Segway upright and more stable than an ordinary bicycle.

To move forward or back, you just lean, well, forward or back. To move left or right you simply move the handlebars accordingly. And that's it. The average training time required is 90 seconds. Yes, in one and a half minutes you'll be competent to use a Segway PT.

It's range is 24 miles - good for most urban journeys, though I also use it in a rural area from village to village.

Read more - 'Segway to happiness'


Friday, September 26, 2008

Look Ma, No Hands! Automated Bus Steers Itself

Wired's Autopia blog has a piece on a self-steering bus! They claim it could 'cut the cost of rapid transit systems':

For any of you who get nauseated as your bus driver lurches crazily from lane to lane in rush hour traffic, UC Berkeley researchers have tested a bus that steers itself, and it actually works.

The self-steering bus developed by California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways follows magnetic strips embedded in the road, although drivers still handle acceleration and braking and can take full control of the bus at any time. The technology could make life better for passengers by increasing efficiency, and could cut the cost of rapid transit systems.

"The magnetic guidance system developed at UC Berkeley can both improve safety and provide a smoother ride for our passengers," says Chris Peeples, president of the board of directors for the Bay Area transit agency AC Transit. "The system has the potential to make bus rapid-transit routes -- particularly those that involve bus-only lanes -- as efficient as light rail lines, which in turn will make buses more efficient in getting people out of their cars."

The test used a 60-foot research bus traveling along a one-mile stretch of East 14th Street in San Leandro, near San Francisco. During the demo, the coach traveled in a perfectly straight line before pulling into a bus stop and stopping one centimeter from the curb.

Read more at - 'Look Ma, No Hands! Automated Bus Steers Itself'


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where can I hire a 'green' car?

The Guardian has a short article on one woman's search in the UK for an environmentally responsible hire car:

When a £260 bill for three days' eco car hire arrived, I was surprised. I'd filled up the tank once for £50 and my nifty low-emission VW Bluemotion was, I thought, not much more than £30 a day. Was it a computer error? Nope. I just hadn't read the smallprint: after 30 miles there was a charge of 23p a mile.

Labels like "ethical" "green" or "responsible" can be misleading – and can carry a weighty price-tag too. Green cars are no exception and the jargon can be confusing..

So is it possible to rent an "eco car" under a standard rental agreement, that doesn't end up costing a fortune? Digging about online I discovered Hertz and Avis will deliver a Prius to my central London hotel for £75 a day, which is handy for someone, but not me. And Holiday Autos have eco-friendly cars in locations all over Europe, but I couldn't find one in the UK.

Wading through Google I stumbled across Green Motion, a small company based in the south east. They have two hybrids: a Toyota Prius or Honda Civic for £45 a day.

Read original post - 'Where can I hire a 'green' car?'


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'Autonomous' helicopters that teach themselves to fly

Despite the civilian uses it seems that more and more the military implications are being drawn from 'autonomous' vehicles (ie. unmanned - very useful). Here's some latest developments:

Computer Science Professor Andrew Ng (center) and his graduate students Pieter Abbeel (left) and Adam Coates have developed an artificial intelligence system that enables these helicopters to perform difficult aerobatic stunts on the their own. The a ...

Stanford computer scientists have developed an AI system that enables robotic helicopters to teach themselves to fly difficult stunts by watching other helicopters perform the same maneuvers.

The result is an autonomous helicopter than can perform a complete airshow of complex tricks on its own. There is interest in using autonomous helicopters to search for land mines in war-torn areas or to map out the hot spots of California wildfires in real time, allowing firefighters to quickly move toward or away from them.

Read more at - 'Stanford's 'autonomous' helicopters teach themselves to fly'


Monday, September 22, 2008

Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass the U.S.

Is the era of the American Internet ending? It is according to the New York Times:

Engineers who help run the Internet said that it would have been impossible for the United States to maintain its hegemony over the long run because of the very nature of the Internet; it has no central point of control. And now, the balance of power is shifting. Data is increasingly flowing around the United States, which may have intelligence — and conceivably military — consequences.

American intelligence officials have warned about this shift. “Because of the nature of global telecommunications, we are playing with a tremendous home-field advantage, and we need to exploit that edge,” Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2006. “We also need to protect that edge, and we need to protect those who provide it to us.”

Indeed, Internet industry executives and government officials have acknowledged that Internet traffic passing through the switching equipment of companies based in the United States has proved a distinct advantage for American intelligence agencies. In December 2005, The New York Times reported that the National Security Agency had established a program with the cooperation of American telecommunications firms that included the interception of foreign Internet communications.

Read more at - 'Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass the U.S.'


Friday, September 19, 2008

'Space Cube' could be world's smallest PC

The computer always was a 'space-age' device: now it's heading back, yet as a teeny-weeny cube:

Shimafuji Corporation has developed the Space Cube, a 2x2 inches PC designed for use in space to control various electronics and manage an "interstellar computer network."

First, the Space Cube´s metal chassis is "utterly rock solid," enabling it to withstand cosmic encounters. As might be expected, it has very low power requirements, running on just 5 watts.

Inside the tiny computer, there´s a CPU with a top speed of 300 MHz, and 16 MB of on-board flash memory - low by today´s standards, but impressive for its size. The PC runs on a Linux OS from a 1GB CompactFlash card that fits into a slot in its side. The Space Cube´s hard drive is a 64MB SDRAM card, and it also comes equipped with a LAN port, USB port, Ethernet port, and a VGA monitor connector. A pair of jacks even accommodates speakers and headphones.

In addition to the normal computer features, the Space Cube also has some more unique characteristics. It has a SpaceWire port, which is an extremely thin socket that serves as an interface used by NASA, ESA, and JAXA, the space agencies of the U.S., Europe, and Japan, respectively. When the Space Cube goes into space, it can link up to each agency´s systems, where the SpaceWire acts as a common interface for linking together different kinds of devices.

Read more at - ''Space Cube' could be world's smallest PC'


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wireless sensors learn from life

A recent post reports on how European and Indian researchers are applying principles learned from living organisms to design self-organising networks of wireless sensors suitable for a wide range of environmental monitoring purposes:

In the WINSOC project, European and Indian researchers are applying principles learned from living organisms to design self-organizing networks of wireless sensors suitable for a wide range of environmental monitoring purposes,robust against node failures and capable of being implemented on large scales.

They developed mathematical models of biological systems and translated them into algorithms to determine how the sensor nodes should interact with each other, using self-organization. The sensor nodes communicate with their neighbors to arrive at a consensus on what has been sensed. The network then finds the best path through the available nodes to relay this information to the control centre.

Read original post - 'Wireless sensors learn from life'


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mexicans get microchipped over kidnapping fears

A NewScientistTech post reports on a 'worrying' trend of microchipping fears:

Affluent Mexicans worried by soaring kidnapping rates are spending thousands of dollars to implant tiny transmitters under their skin so satellites can help find them even when stuffed in the boot of a car.

Kidnapping jumped almost 40% between 2004 and 2007 in Mexico, according to official statistics. Mexico ranks with conflict zones like Iraq and Colombia as one of the worst countries for abductions. The recent kidnapping and murder of Fernando Marti, 14, the son of a well-known businessman, sparked an outcry in a country already hardened to crime.

More people, including a growing number of middle-class Mexicans, are seeking to have a microchip implanted under their skin by Xega, a Mexican security firm whose sales jumped 13% this year. The company claims to have more than 2,000 clients.

Detractors say that the chip is little more than a gimmick that serves no real security purpose. The company injects the crystal-encased chip, the size and shape of a grain of rice, into clients' bodies with a syringe.

A transmitter in the chip communicates with a larger GPS-enabled device carried by the client.

Read more at - 'Mexicans get microchipped over kidnapping fears'


Monday, September 15, 2008

Googlephone to land 'within weeks'

The first handset to run Google’s Android platform will arrive much earlier than anticipated - or so the claims go! The Reuters news agency has been informed that T-Mobile will start selling the Googlephone on 23 September. According to the New York Times:

T-Mobile will be the first carrier to offer a mobile phone powered by Google’s Android software, according to people briefed on the company’s plans. The phone will be made by HTC, one of the largest makers of mobile phones in the world, and is expected to go on sale in the United States before Christmas, perhaps as early as October.

The high-end phone is expected to match many of the capabilities of Apple’s iPhone and other so-called smartphones that run software from Palm, Research in Motion, Microsoft and Nokia to access the Internet and perform computerlike functions.

The HTC phone, which many gadget sites are calling the “dream,” will have a touch screen, like the iPhone. But the screen also slides out to expose a full five-row keyboard. A video of the phone has been posted recently on YouTube.

Read more - 'Googlephone to land 'within weeks''


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Alaska - warming in the balance

The Independent has a strong piece about the environmental credentials of the Governor of Alaska... and this is 'mobility' as it's about the mobility of ice to melt and the mobility of beluga whales to near extinction:

The Palin administration has allowed Chevron to triple the amount of toxic waste it pours into the waters of Cook Inlet. This, even though the number of beluga whales in the bay has collapsed from 1,300 to 350 – the point of extinction – because of pollution and increased ship traffic.

On the Republican convention floor she said: "We Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas and take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska: We've got lots of both."

The fact that drilling won't solve every problem "is no excuse to do nothing at all", she said, putting the country on notice that "starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we're going to lay more pipelines ... build more nuclear plants ... create jobs with clean coal ... and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative sources".

Read more at The Independent here

Also, see coverage at 'Concerned Citizens • against • Climate Change'

Friday, September 12, 2008

A phone that buys you lunch?!

The Guardian reports on how Barclaycard and Oyster have further secured their partnership to bring you the wallet-phone:

Passengers on London Underground could be using their mobile phones to get through the ticket barriers and even pay for their lunch within the next two years, after a trial in the capital by O2 and Transport for London.

O2 incorporated Oyster card technology and a Barclaycard into a Nokia 6131 handset and gave it to 500 testers, who spent six months using it as an electronic wallet. They made more than 50,000 tube journeys and bought items from shops such as Eat, Yo Sushi and Krispy Kreme.

Claire Maslen from O2 said the company was putting together a consortium to launch a full service within two years. "The 2012 Olympics are an obvious target to aim for, but I think that is a very conservative timeframe," she said.

The trial used near-field communications (NFC) technology, as used in the Oyster card. The "e-wallet" can be topped up from a bank account and used to pay for items under £10. In Japan similar phones have been used for more than four years.

I expect the phone will be used to pay the congestion charge too!

Read original post - 'Successful trial for phone that buys you lunch'


Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Small World - but only for the eilte...

The Guardian reports on 'ASW' - or A Small World to the uninitiated. It is an invitation-only social networking site for the international jetset that lets only the most elite, connected, and moneyed into its ranks:

Sipping on a mojito and looking through the window at the line of hopefuls standing miserably outside, Nicola Cavallo, an investment banker from Milan, explained the attraction. "Everyone gets access to Facebook, but only a small number are invited to join ASW," he said. "ASW is the best place to find the best people and the best parties."

Julia Hausman, an investment analyst from German, explained that she recently skipped the waiting list for a £4,000 Hermes Birkin bag thanks to her ASW membership. "I still use Facebook, but to be honest ASW is just a little more exclusive," she said.

Apparently it's now become common as muck!

Read more at 'Small World that may be getting too big'


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Channel 4's new website to inspire social change

The Guardian reports on how Channel 4 and social networking website Bebo have created a campaigning project 'aimed at inspiring teenagers to use the web "as a canvas for social change"' - is this just another social networking site/gimmick?

Battlefront profiles 19 young people, including knife crime campaigner Alexander Rose, giving a platform to a range of social issues and providing free tools such as blogs badges and discussion forums.

Another campaign by Troy Kennedy aims to persuade Coca-Cola to use its vast corporate infrastructure in the developing world to distribute condoms in the battle against the Aids epidemic; while Zoe Draper hopes to encourage a healthy body image among teenagers in the UK.

Matt Locke, Channel 4 commissioner for new media education, said TV had "polarised political action" into something that either needed to be led by a rock star with a wristband or a direct action campaign.

"On the web there are lots of ways to co-ordinate change. We wanted to show teens how to get involved and make those changes happen in your life, showing what those campaigns need," Locke added. "This is really about teens teaching other teens about these issues."

Read more at - 'Channel 4 and Bebo launch Battlefront website in bid to inspire young people'


Monday, September 08, 2008

A 60,000-Ton Solar Car Carrier

News in from Wired's Autopia blog about how Japanese firms are 'building a solar power system to augment the diesel engines aboard a cargo ship that carries new Toyotas to America, a fuel-saving move that makes solar panels on a Prius look like a drop in the bucket.'

Well, we need a shift on cargo emissions - will it come from the sun?

Slapping photovoltaic cells on a 60,000-ton boat will cut fuel consumption by 6.5 percent, which seems paltry until you realize the average cargo ship burns 120 gallons per mile. The system Nippon Yusen KK is paying Nippon Oil Corp. $1.4 million to develop will save about 46,800 gallons of fuel carrying all those cars 6,000 miles from Japan to Califonia.

To put that in perspective, if you bought a Toyota that arrived on a solar ship with 4,999 other cars, it would have saved nine gallons of fuel before you ever even saw it.

But solar ships do more than save fuel. They also clear the air. Cargo ships burn "bunker fuel," the truly nasty stuff that literally comes from the bottom of the barrel. It's kind of like the Milwaukee's Best of fossil fuels.

A study published in Environmental Science and Technology found emissions from the bunker fuel cargo ships burn may cause 60,000 deaths worldwide. Subsequent research found ship exhaust contributed as much as 44 percent of the sulphate found in fine particulate matter in the atmosphere of coastal California. Anything that cuts the amount of bunker fuel ships burn is nothing to sneeze at.

Read original post - 'Toyota's 60,000-Ton Solar Car Carrier'


Saturday, September 06, 2008

An end to spaghetti power cables

The end for cables seems to be getting nearer and nearer. Intel envisions a new type of 'wireless world':

This picture of a world without wires is one long dreamed of and came a step closer following significant progress made by Intel. It said it has increased the efficiency of a technique for wirelessly powering consumer gadgets and computers.

"The notion of disappearing energy sources is a powerful one," Justin Rattner, Intel technology boss, told the BBC.

"Wouldn't it be fantastic if we didn't think about where the power was coming from and the power was everywhere?" he said. "No cords, no batteries anymore."

Mr Rattner envisaged a scenario where a laptop's battery could be recharged when the machine gets within several feet of a transmit resonator which could be embedded in tables, work surfaces, picture frames and even behind walls.

Read article - 'An end to spaghetti power cables'


Friday, September 05, 2008

A new virtual econmy for developing nations

BBC News reports that 'nearly 500,000 people in developing nations earn a wage making virtual goods in online games to sell to players'. A study has found that...

Research by Manchester University shows that the practice, known as gold-farming, is growing rapidly. The industry, about 80% based in China, employs about 400,000 people who earn £77 per month on average.

The practice is flourishing despite efforts by games companies to crack down on the trade in virtual goods.

Professor Richard Heeks, head of the development informatics group at Manchester who wrote the report, said gold farming had become a significant economic sector in many developing nations.

Read original post - 'Poor earning virtual gaming gold'


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Using Xbox for US voting

Well, here's a way to try to boost youth votes... through their gaming consoles. Yes, it's no joke: according to the BBC:

Americans will soon be able to use Xbox Live to register to vote in the November presidential elections.

Microsoft has signed a partnership with activist group Rock The Vote to boost interest in the upcoming election among young people.

As part of the tie-up Xbox Live members will also be able to take part in polls to gauge their voting intentions.

A forum on Xbox Live will also be used to gather opinions from gamers that will be shared with candidates.

"To realise our goal of registering two million young Americans by this fall, we need to go where young Americans are," said Heather Smith, executive director of Rock the Vote, in a statement. "There's no doubt in our minds that many are on Xbox 360 and Xbox Live."

Microsoft said that the Rock The Vote campaign to use Xbox Live would begin on 25 August.

Read more at - 'Xbox Live in youth voting drive'


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tongue Drive Technology

Photo of Maysam Ghovanloo (left) pointing to a small magnet attached to tongue of graduate student.

This article posted by The National Science Foundation describes a new mobility-enhancing technology whereby the human tongue can be used to control such objects as wheelchairs and computers:

Researchers have developed an experimental tongue-based system that may allow individuals with debilitating disabilities to control wheelchairs, computers and other devices with relative ease and no sophistication.

Because the tongue is directly connected to the brain via cranial nerves, it usually remains mobile when other body parts lose function to disease or accidents. That mobility underlies the new system, which may one day provide greater flexibility and simplicity to individuals who would otherwise use sip-and-puff controls or brain implants.

Electrical engineer Maysam Ghovanloo developed the Tongue Drive system in collaboration with graduate student Xueliang Huo and presented the findings June 29 at the 2008 Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.

"Tongue Drive is inherently wireless and touch-free because it relies on a tiny magnetic tracer attached to the tongue with no power consumption," said Ghovanloo. "Tongue movements are also fast, accurate and do not require much thinking, concentration or effort."

Read original article - 'Tongue Drive Technology'


Monday, September 01, 2008

Palm Scanning: Better Than Fingerprints

This post speculates that the future of biometrics could shift from fingerprinting to scanning palms.

The PalmSecure scans the veins in the user's palm, which are as distinctive as fingerprints. (Credit: Fujitsu)

At least, that's the message from Fujitsu Computer Products of America, which recently unveiled palm-scanning technology for the U.S. market that's already in widespread use in Asia. Hiroko Naito, Fujitsu's business development manager, said that the firm's PalmSecure technology uses near-infrared scanning to identify people by the pattern of veins in their palms, which are as distinctive as fingerprints.

"It's a contactless device — you just hold your hand over the sensor, so it's hygienic and easy to use," Naito said. "We have heard so many times from customers that the reason they were hesitant about biometrics is that it could be intrusive."

Scanning systems, offered by third parties using Fujitsu components and software, should retail for less than $1,000, she said.

Read original post - 'Palm Scanning: Better Than Fingerprints'