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


If you had to retake control of a driverless car would you be ready?

Researchers from Stanford University have concluded that drivers who retake control of an autonomous car are more likely to be involved in an accident.

The study, published in the first issue of Science Robotics, found that roads could become especially dangerous when drivers made the transition back to being in control of autonomous vehicles due to changes in speed and other changes in driving conditions.

“Many people have been doing research on paying attention and situation awareness. That’s very important,” said lead author of the research and former graduate student in the Dynamic Design Lab at Stanford University, Holly Russell.

“But, in addition, there is this physical change and we need to acknowledge that people’s performance might not be at its peak if they haven’t actively been participating in the driving.”

Featured image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson

Featured image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson

During testing all drivers were given advance warning that they would be put back in control of a driverless car and were given the opportunity to drive around the testing track a number of times, so they could feel for themselves changes in speed or steering that may occur while the car drives itself.

However, during the trial itself, the drivers’ steering manoeuvres differed significantly from their ability when in control of the car from start to finish.

“Even knowing about the change, being able to make a plan and do some explicit motor planning for how to compensate, you still saw a very different steering behaviour and compromised performance,” said co-author of the research and research associate in the Revs Program at Stanford, Lene Harbott.

driverless-cars

Although no driver was so thrown off by the changes in steering that they drove off-course, the fact that there was a period of altered steering behaviour increased the likelihood of an accident occurring.

However, the Stanford study only addressed one specific example of the autonomous car to human driver handover; there is still a lot to learn about how people respond in other circumstances, depending on the type of car, the driver and how the driving conditions have changed.

“If someone is designing a method for automated vehicle handover, there will need to be detailed research on that specific method,” said Harbott. “This study is tip of an iceberg.”

Cosmic dust discovered in urban areas for first time

Scientists have discovered cosmic dust in urban areas for the first time. The team sifted through 300kg of sediment trapped in the rooftop gutters of buildings in Paris, Oslo and Berlin and managed to find 500g of cosmic dust particles.

The study came about when Dr Matthew Genge of Imperial College London teamed up with Norwegian amateur scientist Jon Larsen, who had contacted Genge in 2011 to suggest it was possible to find cosmic dust particles in urban landscapes. Due to the magnetism of minerals in cosmic particles, it is possible to separate them from other particles under the microscope.

“When Jon first came to me I was dubious. Many people had reported finding cosmic dust in urban areas before, but when they were analysed scientists found that these particles were all industrial in origin,” said Genge, from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial.

“We’ve known since the 1940s that cosmic dust falls continuously through our atmosphere, but until now we’ve thought that it could not be detected among the millions of terrestrial dust particles, except in the most dust-free environments such as the Antarctic or deep oceans. The obvious advantage to this new approach is that it is much easier to source cosmic dust particles if they are in our backyards.”

A cosmic dust particle under a microscope. Image courtesy of Imperial College London

A cosmic dust particle under a microscope. Image courtesy of Imperial College London

The samples that the team analysed showed the comparatively big cosmic dust particles that have recently, in geological terms, fallen on Earth. The study reported that the particles they found were larger than those previously recovered, measuring around 0.3mm.

Based on this size, analysis suggests they were formed by melting during atmospheric entry at speeds of around 12km per second, making them the fastest-moving dust particles found on Earth.

Additionally, the research team suggested that the cosmic dust arriving on Earth has changed over the last million years. The particles found in cities contain fewer feather-like crystals than the older particles found in Antarctica, which have accumulated in ice over the last million years. However, it is similar to cosmic dust that fell on Earth during medieval times.

The dust particles were found in Paris, Oslo and Berlin

The dust particles were found in Paris, Oslo and Berlin

Genge believes that the differences between the samples are a result of the planets’ changing orbits in the Solar System. As planetary orbits shift over millions of years, they cause a disturbance in the gravity they exert, and this influences the trajectory of the microscopic particles as they hurtle through space. This in turn affects the speed at which the dust falls and how much it is heated, revealed in crystals grown in the dust.

“This find is important because if we are to look at fossil cosmic dust collected from ancient rocks to reconstruct a geological history of our solar system, then we need to understand how this dust is changed by the continuous pull of the planets,” added Genge.

This study was undertaken in collaboration with researchers from the Natural History Museum, London, UK, and Project Stardust, Oslo, Norway.