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


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Face transplant surgeons herald the dawn of “a new era in transplant surgery”

Surgeons for the firefighter Patrick Hardison, who last year underwent the most extensive face transplant in history, have heralded the dawn of a new era in transplant surgery after reporting extremely successful results from the procedure.

“We have entered a new era in transplant surgery,” said Dr Eduardo D Rodriguez, chair Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone and lead surgeon of the 100-strong team that performed the transplant.

“The work being done, not only in face transplantation, but also in areas like hand, uterine, and penile transplantation, is pushing the boundaries of medicine and surgery and opening up new avenues to restore the lives of people like Patrick. It’s a very exciting time.”

Hardison, a former volunteer firefighter from Mississippi, the US, underwent the face transplant in August 2015, having suffered severe burns to his face and neck during a firefighting attempt 14 years previously.

The surgery, which involved the most extensive soft tissue face transplant in history, was somewhat of a new frontier for the field, meaning it was difficult to predict how well Hardison would recover. However, his recovery has been remarkable, far exceeding what his surgeons expected.

“We are amazed at Pat’s recovery, which has surpassed all of our expectations,” said Rodriguez.

Patrick Hardison's recovery over the past year, from immediately post-surgery (top left) to the start of August 2016 (bottom right). Above: Hardison has his eyes examined as part of a checkup

Patrick Hardison’s recovery over the past year, from immediately post-surgery (top left) to the start of August 2016 (bottom right). Above: Hardison has his eyes examined as part of a checkup

Transplant patients often experience some form of rejection, however Hardison not shown any such signs. His transplanted eye lids and blinking mechanisms have also begun to work fully, ensuring his eyesight has been preserved – by no means guaranteed prior to the surgery.

“Most significant is the lack of a rejection episode. We believe this has much to do with the methodical approach we took in the matching process to ensure that Patrick’s donor provided the most favourable match,” said Rodriguez. “Doing so also has allowed us to reduce the levels of certain medications that Pat takes to prevent rejection.”

The recovery has been so quick that the surgeons were able to commence a number of smaller procedures to complete the process considerably ahead of schedule. This included the removal of feeding and breathing tubes Hardison has relied on since his injury, as well as minor adjustments to his forehead, eyes, lips and chin.

Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the 100-strong team to perform the face transplant. Images courtesy of NYU Langone

Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the 100-strong team to perform the face transplant. Images courtesy of NYU Langone

Rodriguez and his colleagues have published extensive details of the case in a series of academic papers, allowing other surgeons to perform similar procedures in the future, and ultimately enabling face transplants to become a commonplace technique, rather than one worthy of international news coverage.

There have also been some efforts to improve access to such surgeries.

“Since last year’s face transplant, other initiatives have progressed,” explained Helen Irving, president and CEO of LiveOnNY, an organ recovery organisation operating in the greater New York Metropolitan area.

“To date, face transplants in the US have been supported, at least in part, by research funding. The US Department of Defense, in concert with transplant centers, is collaborating with insurance carriers to provide coverage for face transplantation. And here in New York, the state government is considering new legislation to strengthen opportunities for organ donation.”

Study finds biofuels are contributing to climate change, not mitigating it

Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are not anywhere near as environmentally friendly as previously thought.

A study by researchers at the University of Michigan, published today in the open-access journal Climactic Change, has found that biofuels actually increase the heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions responsible for global warming, despite their reputation for being a ‘clean’ fuel source.

It was previously thought that such fuels were carbon-neutral, based on the premise that the CO₂ they produce when burnt was balanced by the CO₂ the plants absorbed as they grew. However, this study has found that the crops’ CO₂ absorption only mitigated a fraction of its emissions.

Using extensive crop production data from the US Department of Agriculture, alongside data on fossil fuel production and vehicle emissions, the researchers found that during a time when biofuel use rapidly increased in the US, the biofuel crops’ CO₂ absorption only offset 37% of their emissions when burnt.

“This is the first study to carefully examine the carbon on farmland when biofuels are grown, instead of just making assumptions about it,” explained research professor and study lead author John DeCicco, from the University of Michigan Energy Institute.

“When you look at what’s actually happening on the land, you find that not enough carbon is being removed from the atmosphere to balance what’s coming out of the tailpipe.”

A vehicle owner tops up his car using the biofuel ethanol in Washington State, the US. The country has promoted biofuels as a green alternative for transport. Image courtesy of Carolina K. Smith MD / Shutterstock.com

A vehicle owner tops up his car using the biofuel ethanol in Washington State, the US. The country has promoted biofuels as a green alternative for transport. Image courtesy of Carolina K. Smith MD / Shutterstock.com

The findings have significant ramifications for climate change mitigation approaches, as biofuels have increasingly been used as a cleaner alternative to petroleum. In many parts of the world they form a vital part of government-backed plans to reduce carbon emissions; a role that may well need to be reconsidered now that such strong doubt has been cast on their effectiveness.

In the US, for example, they are recommended for transportation purposes by the US Renewable Fuel Standard, which has helped to spur growth in production in the country from 4.2 billion gallons in 2005 to 14.6 billion gallons in 2013.

The researchers have even gone so far as to argue biofuels are worse than other traditional fuel sources, due to the false sense of security they provide to policymakers.

“When it comes to the emissions that cause global warming, it turns out that biofuels are worse than gasoline,” said DeCicco.

“So the underpinnings of policies used to promote biofuels for reasons of climate have now been proven to be scientifically incorrect.”

Biofuels are often presented as environmentally friendly, such as in this concept image. This will now have to change as a result of the study's findings

Biofuels are often presented as environmentally friendly, such as in this concept image. This will now have to change as a result of the study’s findings

As a result of the shocking findings, the researchers are now recommending that policymakers reconsider their use of biofuels to mitigate climate change.

“Policymakers should reconsider their support for biofuels,” said DeCicco.

“This issue has been debated for many years. What’s new here is that hard data, straight from America’s croplands, now confirm the worst fears about the harm that biofuels do to the planet.”