Scientists urge governments to turn old TV frequencies into free “super WiFi”

Governments should sack plans to auction off old television frequencies to the highest bidder and instead use the bandwidth for free super-frequency WiFi if they want to boost the economy, scientists have said.

Old television frequencies are becoming available for other uses around the world, thanks to a switch from analogue to digital transmission.

However, while governments are for the most part auctioning these off to whoever is prepared to pay the most – usually mobile phone networks – they should instead be using the frequencies to create free-to-use, wide-range WiFi, scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany have said.

This new “super WiFi” would have a far wider range than existing WiFi networks, which are mostly transmitted over wireless local area networks (WLAN) at frequencies of 2GHz or above.

laptop-wifi

WiFi transmitted over old TV frequencies could be transmitted at lower frequencies than traditional WiFi, resulting in a far wider area covered. This super WiFi’s coverage area could even be as big as several kilometres in radius, a massive improvement on existing networks.

This would mean that pricey mobile services such as 4G were no longer required, which the scientists believe would lead to more mobile internet use, and a wealth of economic benefits.

“Implementation of our approach would have far-reaching consequences,” said Arnd Weber of the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) at KIT.

“Individuals, institutions and companies would be far less dependent on expensive mobile communications networks in conducting their digital communication. This would also be of great economic benefit.”

In addition to providing direct, measurable cost savings, the technology could, according to the researchers, result in the development of a host of new technologies just as existing WiFi has.

It could also provide direct benefits during disaster scenarios, as a means of providing updates and enabling communication.

tablet-wifi

However, the big challenge here is convincing governments that this is the right move.

Many have argued they these frequencies are common property and therefore should be made available to the public free of charge, a view that has been opposition from a number of people, including the late Nobel Prize winning economist Ronald Coase.

Coase argued that the frequencies should be auctioned off to ensure they are most effectively used, and the money used by governments to fund other services.

Others have also argued that congestion would make these lower frequency networks unworkable, however Weber and his colleague Jens Elsner argue that it is possible to avoid such congestion with the right technological approach.

Ultimately, convincing governments will be a matter of showing that long-term economic benefits greatly outstrip the short-term financial gains of an auction.

While Weber and Elsner plan to make this case at the UN World Radiocommunication Conference next year, they will no doubt struggle to get many governments onboard.

In the long run, though, those of us living in areas where auctions have gone ahead could find ourselves quite jealous of the countries that choose the super WiFi option.


Featured image courtesy of gunes t, inline images courtesy of Mr. Theklan


Planetary Resources’ Ceres project to deliver affordable Earth intelligence

Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources has secured $21.1m in funding to deploy and operate Ceres, an advanced Earth observation business.

The project, which will feature the first commercial infrared and hyperspectral sensor platform, aims to better understand and manage humanity’s natural resources. The company’s operations will include Earth observation, as well as prospecting and mining asteroids.

Based on the company’s vision to explore and utilise asteroid resources, Ceres will use the Arkyd spacecraft to deliver affordable Earth intelligence of natural resources anywhere on the planet.

The advantage that Ceres has over typical satellite imagery – which only provides a picture – is in its ability to provide actionable data with higher spectral resolutions (i.e. beyond what the human eye can see). This is made possible by measuring thermographic properties and detecting the composition of materials on the Earth’s surface.

Images courtesy of Planetary Resources

Images courtesy of Planetary Resources

Ceres will use a midwave-infrared sensor, which is the first ever commercial capability from space to offer thermographic mapping and night-imaging. It will also feature a hyperspectral sensor, which includes 40 colour bands in the visible to near-infrared spectrum – an unprecedented feature.

The imaging technology will be integrated onto the Arkyd spacecraft and arranged as a constellation of ten satellites in low-Earth orbit. This constellation will then provide global monitoring capabilities, benefitting industries from agriculture to oil and gas.

For example, Ceres will be able to analyse the spectral signatures of crops, identify energy and mineral resources, and monitor pipelines and remote infrastructure. It can track toxic algae blooms, monitor global water quality and enable the detection of early-stage wildfires.

The company is currently testing Ceres’ sensor platform, and will demonstrate the technology in space with a scheduled launch of its Arkyd 6 spacecraft. The mission aims to validate the thermographic sensor and supporting technologies.

“As we continue toward our vision of the expansion of humanity and our economy into the Solar System, our team has been working on the critical technologies required to detect and identify the most commercially viable near-Earth asteroids and their resources,” said Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources president and CEO.

“To characterize these resources, it required more than just a picture, and our team has developed advanced spectral sensors to serve this need. We have also created new technologies for onboard computing, low-cost space platforms, and are now applying these transformative technologies in additional markets.”

Bryan Johnson, founder of OS Fund, one of the companies funding the project, added: “With Ceres, Planetary Resources has leapfrogged traditional imagers for monitoring Earth’s natural resources, creating far-ranging opportunity.

“It’s a seismic shift for the new space economy.”

Funding for the Ceres project was led by Bryan Johnson and the OS Fund, with support from Idea Bulb Bentures, Tencent, Vast Ventures, Grishin Robotics, Conversion Capital, The Seraph Group, Space Angels Network, Larry Page and a syndication of investors from Angel.co.

Major electronics manufacturer is replacing human staff with robots

Samsung and Apple's supplier, Foxconn, is investing heavily in automated manufacturing and is planning to replace 60,000 workers with robots. The number of employees working for the company has been reduced to 50,000 from 110,000 as a result.

Source: Si News

Israeli biotech firm is on the verge of printing organs

Israeli biotech firm Accellta Ltd has successfully lab-tested a 3D bioprinter for stem cells, paving the way for the potential printing of large tissues and organs. Its adapted printer is capable of making large volumes of high resolution cells quickly.

Source: Reuters

Researchers are teaching robots how to feel pain

Researchers from Germany are developing an artificial nervous system aimed at teaching robots how to feel pain. As well as allowing robots to quickly respond to potential damage to their systems, it could also protect humans who are increasingly working alongside them.

Source: BBC

China is about to start trialing a "straddling" bus

A model for an elevated bus has been unveiled at the Beijing International High-Tech Expo. Prototypes are currently being made and five Chinese cities — Nanyang, Qinhuangdao, Shenyang, Tianjin and Zhoukou — have signed contracts with the bus's makers to participate in pilot projects.

Source: New York Times

Dubai unveils world's first 3D printed building

Dubai has opened the first 3D-printed office building in the world. The building has been built to develop design and construction technology in the country as well as showcasing a modern model for construction. The building was printed using a 20ft 3D-printer that features an automated robotic arm.

Engineers have developed a flexible and wearable biosensor device

University of California, San Diego engineers have developed a flexible wearable device that monitors both biochemical and electric signals in the human body. The Chem-Phys patch records electrocardiogram (EKG) heart signals and tracks levels of lactate, and could be used to measure athletes workouts.

Source: Science Daily

Virtual reality social network lets you take friends inside your memories

An update to vTime, the leading virtual reality app for social interactions, is enabling users to meet up and socialise inside their own photographic memories, taking family holiday photo viewing sessions to a whole new level.

The update, a VR first, enables users to upload both 360° and flat images, which can either form the virtual world they meet friends and family in, or be displayed on a virtual screen within The Archive, a specialist virtual viewing room.

The move adds to vTime’s aim to be a VR sociable network, encouraging personal interactions with small groups of people, rather than the bellowing-to-the-world approach that other social networks take.

“Being sociable isn’t just about chatting,” said vTime CEO Martin Kenwright.

“It’s also about sharing your personal memories with others. So now, we’re letting you do just that; by giving you access to The Archive, and the freedom to upload your own images to the 360 Gallery.”

The Archive, where vTime users can share flat images with friends and family. Images courtesy of vTime

The Archive, where vTime users can share flat images with friends and family. Images courtesy of vTime

The update, dubbed vTime 2.0, adds to the company’s already impressive offering, which includes a stunning range of virtual worlds where users can meet up using avatars to chat and interact.

Among those available is an Arctic scene, where users see their virtual breath freezing in front of them, a space station, where users can watch asteroids and spaceships fly past Earth, and an underwater scene, where users appear to produce bubbles when they talk.

Perhaps the most jaw dropping, however, is the cliff-face scene, where users can chat while sitting half way up a cliff, with a giddying cavernous drop below. It’s an incredible sight, as long as you don’t have a fear of heights.

At present vTime is available for Google Cardboard and Gear VR, but will soon also be available for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The company also plans to make the software available for Playstation VR at launch.

vTime has a firm policy of device agnosticism, so we anticipate the app will also be available on Google’s new VR mobile platform Daydream when it is launched later this year.

Several hundred thousand people have already downloaded vTime, with users in more than 170 countries.

As a result, the product is fast cementing itself as the answer to social interaction in VR, with expressive avatars and interesting environments going a long way to making users feel as if they really are in a room with friends who live halfway round the world.