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Now even gliders can take off from the ground

agosto 10, 2010 Technology No Commenti

As gliding lovers know very well, flying a glider can be lots of fun, as well as being environmentally friendly, and it puts a pilot’s ability to the test, in having to find the right winds to make their flight longer or reaching higher altitudes. All this, though, has its inconveniences, namely during takeoff.

In fact, as they do not have an engine, gliders must be “hooked” to another plane, from which they are launched once in the air. This makes operations slightly more complicated, while limiting also their flexibility.

All this might soon be a thing of the past, though, thanks to the concept of motorized glider, designed by the New Mexico-based Desert Aerospace. Before hardcore gliders among you start yelling, let’s clarify the fact that the definition of a glider with an engine is not a contradiction in terms.

In fact, it uses a retractable jet engine, which is used only during takeoff to provide the necessary boost to lift our glider from the Earth, just like a conventional aircraft would do. It can also be useful in the air in case of emergency, or to gain altitude in case of need.

The necessary boost is supplied by an engine that weighs no more than 20 kilos, and which provides a 110-kilo thrust. Currently Desert Aerospace is waiting for its glider to be approved by the FAA. According to the designers’ words, the glider was inspired by… a cartoon! In fact, the inspiration for creating this vehicle comes from Wile E. Coyote’s countless (and unsuccessful) attempts at catching Beep Beep the roadrunner. Of course, Desert Aerospace has all our most sincere wishes of a better luck!

Autonomous quadricopters, your eyes can fly

agosto 10, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Approximately a week ago, we posted an article about a miniature quadricopter which can be controlled remotely thanks to an iPhone application, and that can be used for perimeter video surveillance, around parks or buildings, or even indoors thanks to the hulled rotors.

Now we just heard that aerial surveillance in small spaces has moved one more step forward, thanks to the creation of an autonomous quadricopter, that is, a flying object capable of carrying out its mission automatically, for example by taking off by itself when its motion detection sensors notice a movement within its surveillance range.

Designed by the GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception) laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, this miniature helicopter, a spinoff of what was initially a military project, can be used, for example, as an addition to anti theft systems, for example inside a storage warehouse, where using fixed cameras and live patrolling personnel may not be enough.

To provide a better viewpoint, the Quadrotor is equipped with spikes that allow it to perch on surfaces like walls or trees to better explore the area around it from a static point of view, search for suspicious movements and zoom on points of interest.

In case of difficult landing or perching, like on the branches of a tree, Quadrotor is programmed to try perching again until it finds a satisfactorily stable position.

Recently, we are pleasantly surprised in noticing how technology originally designed for the military is making its way towards civilian and commercial applications. This shift is certainly something to be appreciated, because security and protection are not an exclusive trademark of the military, but are a goal and a right for each and every citizen.

BlackBerry resumed operation in Saudi Arabia

agosto 10, 2010 Technology No Commenti

As you will certainly know, not only through us but also from newspapers all over the world, the government of Saudi Arabia, following a similar decision by the UAE, had recently ruled that all BlackBerry phones be suspended from service, since according to an official statement, they were not compliant with some not specified parameters in terms of phone calls security.

This ban was supposed to be effective as of today, August 6. Apparently though, the BlackBerry suspension from service lasted just a few hours, and phones resumed working in the afternoon, although apparently the ban has not been officially lifted yet, nor there has been an official confirmation of rumors according to which Research In Motion (RIM), which produces those smartphones, has found a solution to the problem.

According to authorities in Arabia and the Emirates, the BlackBerry system is not compliant to local standards since it is using an encryption which can not be originally decoded, therefore any calls placed via that platform are not subject to eavesdropping by police or government agencies.

The fact that the ban was not completely put into effect arises, if possible, even more questions. If service has been resumed because RIM has granted the Saudi government a privileged access to its security codes, other countries which have placed or are considering the idea of placing a ban on BlackBerry, such as India, Algeria and Indonesia along with the UAE, might soon claim the same kind of rights.

On the other hand, though, RIM maintains that no matter who is requesting it, a third party would never be able to obtain a copy of any encryption key, as these keys are not set by RIM itself, but by each individual user, and the network provider does not have a copy.

In a few words, what looks like a spy story about mobile phone privacy seems to get bigger every day, and all we have to do is wait for the next move.

Amphibious planes are still riding the tide, with a new design

agosto 10, 2010 Technology No Commenti

In the field of air transport, we are used to hear about something new on a daily basis about manned or unmanned aircraft, powered by conventional fuel, electricity or solar energy. There is, actually, a kind of aircraft which does not make the headlines as an example of technological innovation, and that is the seaplane, at least until today.

In fact, after approximately 60 years during which no big changes have been noted in this specific type of aircraft for tourism and small cargo transportation, we can now finally mention the Privateer, an amphibious aircraft which promises to redefine the standards, both in terms of look and design, and most of all for performance and security.

Built entirely in corrosion-resistant carbon fiber, it is equipped with a central rotor mounted in the rear, and a central wing in the back which joins the two sponsons and makes it vaguely resemble some sort of flying catamaran. The unique design and low gravity center allow for higher maneuverability and stability, especially when the plane is on the water, reducing the risk of being capsized because of the waves.

Privateer can carry, along with its pilot, up to 6 passengers, and is powered by a Water 601 turbine engine, which thanks to the hulled rotor also keeps noise pollution very low, while improving efficiency and reducing fuel consumption. Its total weight, when empty, is just over as little as 1600 kilos, and can reach an altitude of approximately 7700 meters, with an operating range of 1600 kms and a cruise speed between 195 and 215 knots depending on flight altitude and fuel tank capacity, which may vary with different configurations.

For now, though, Privateer is just a prototype, therefore no information about expected availability and price has been disclosed.

Encrypted mobile phones, for safe calls in the face of the Government

agosto 5, 2010 Technology No Commenti

As we have seen in some recent posts, when they are not busy throwing accusations (or even missiles) at each other, the administrations of the Western and Eastern hemispheres are best friends when it comes to keeping their citizens’ freedom of expression and communication under control.

If on one hand the US Government sets up secret centers in charge of monitoring online activities of millions of American users under the pretext of looking for a potential threat to national security (as if terrorists are so naive as to leave electronic tracks…), on the other side, Asian and Middle Eastern countries, with the same excuse, wage a war on mobile phone calls placed with the BlackBerry phones and technology, which have just one imperfection: they use an encoding individually controlled by each user, therefore the network administrators are not in possession of such a key, and would not be able to provide conversation data to any court that should request it.

To avoid running the risk of having some censor or governmental officer waking up one day and deciding to listen to everyone’s calls, or in any case to prevent our conversations from being bugged or listened to, be it with clean or malicious intentions, fortunately there is a solution, and it is not affected by the telecommunication system or network one uses.

In fact, by using an encrypted mobile phone, you can add one further layer of security on top of the (vulnerable) one provided by proprietary encoding used by the GSM operator of your choice.

To encrypt any communication from your mobile phone, all you have to do is install a special software on your handset, and it will make your calls impossible to listen to. In fact, even in case the conversation between two phones equipped with the Safe & Talk encryption software is intercepted, a hidden listener would only be able to hear a white noise instead of two voices.

In short, once the encryption software is installed, all you have to do is enter a secret key and call freely. If your counterpart uses the same software and secret key, your calls are safe.

All calls placed with a mobile phone equipped with this protection are encrypted with a 256-bit key, which makes them virtually attack-proof. Furthermore, it is also possible to encrypt SMS messages, which would therefore be illegible for anyone who should ever intercept them.

Along with the Safe & Talk software, there are several other ways to keep your phone calls safe, for example by using an interception-free untraceable phone, which protects itself against malicious attempts by dynamically changing its IMEI number, the number that uniquely identifies each mobile phone equipment.

For more information on encrypted mobile phones and on several methods to make sure that your private phone calls stay private, we suggest that you visit the Endoacustica website.

Your GPS navigator? In your glasses

agosto 5, 2010 Technology No Commenti

During the recent Wireless Japan expo, the Tokyo UEC (University of Electro-Communications) has presented the prototype of a wearable personal navigation system, which can easily be worn as it is contained inside a pair of special glasses.

In fact, we are not talking about a normal pair of glasses, but rather a microscopic GPS navigator which only sports the shape of a pair of glasses. Inside the frame there are LEDs, mounted following a circular pattern, which would turn on according to movements of the wearer’s head.

When the head moves, in fact, a LED positioned in the direction of the final destination would light, therefore showing the glasses’ wearer the direction of the road to take to reach their home, their workplace, the hotel of their holidays and so on.

The frame contains, along with LEDs and direction sensor, also a GPS antenna, a battery to power the whole system and a miniature computer. All that the user has to do is enter the final destination, and when the GPS antenna detects the position of its current location and that of the destination, direction sensors will guide him to reach it along the right way, in the fastest possible time.

Developed by UEC’s Nakajima Laboratory, the GPS navigator in a pair of glasses has been put to the test during a test run on pedestrians in the Tokyo traffic, and the test was successfully passed.
The advantage of this navigation system, if compared for example to mobile phones equipped with GPS, lies in the fact that while with the latter one always has to keep an eye on the handset to follow the road, thus increasing the risk of small accidents, with these glasses they would just have to follow the direction shown by the LED inside the frame, without losing touch with dangers of the road and keeping eyes fixed on the direction to take.

Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to put a ban on BlackBerry

agosto 5, 2010 Technology No Commenti

As we have repeatedly seen lately, often governments love to stick their noses in their citizens’ private lives and businesses, with the all-round pretext of “national security reasons”, such as, for example, screening of phone calls in the quest for a possible terrorist threat. By doing this, they are actually limiting individual liberties, from freedom of expression to freedom of communication.

In this exact direction goes the latest decision made by Saudi Arabia to ban usage of BlackBerry cellphones on its territory. Just like the United Arab Emirates had done a few days ago, imposing a deadline by the middle of October, the Saudi kingdom has ordered connections to be shut down as of tomorrow, August 6.

According to official sources, the ban is due to the fact that the protocol used by these smartphones does not comply with standard in terms of security. In fact, Rim, which produces the BlackBerry technology, is the only one that can directly control its communication network, unlike other mobile phone manufacturers.

BlackBerry users, over a million in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are afraid that, in order to control their communications, the government will force them to use other mobile phones. Authorities, on the contrary, claim that the protocol would infringe some not specified rules; the governments have requested Rim to make communication data available, but they received a negative reply, because encoding of BlackBerry conversations is made by using a unique encryption key, generated not by the mobile phone operator, but rather by each individual user.

Therefore, Rim would not be able to make its conversations available to any government that should request it. Along with Gulf countries, the anti-BlackBerry league has recently seen the addition of India and Indonesia, although the Indonesian government has stated that they are not against BlackBerry networks, but they just request that data handling be done locally.

Indeed, the governments which placed a ban on encrypted phone calls are fighting terrorist threats, either because cells of groups such as Al Qaeda are hiding in their countries or using them as logistic or financial bases, or because (for example in India) there is a constant threat by extremists of both sides in the disputed regions at the border with Pakistan.

In any case, BlackBerry users and not only are sure that there is much more behind this, and that it has to do not only with prevention of terrorist activities and threats, but most of all with controlling individual freedom of expression, a kind of control that, in theocratic monarchies of the Gulf region, has always been very strict.

Anti theft phone, for a quiet holiday time

agosto 3, 2010 Technology No Commenti

In the summer months, when you leave your home for your well deserved holidays, what may keep you awake at night on the seaside or in the country, is the thought that your home may not be 100% protected from malicious intrusions. This worry may end up destroying an otherwise perfect holiday, and must be taken seriously.

To be able to sleep well at night, technology comes to the rescue, with remote monitoring tools that give us the opportunity to keep eyes on our home and our belongings, no matter where we are. A good example of this kind is certainly the anti theft phone, an ordinary home phone set which conceals on the inside a powerful motion detection sensor.

Along with the normal functions you may expect of your home phone, this device can notify you directly on your mobile phone, as soon as it detects any intrusion inside your home. In fact, you just have to store the number to call, and as soon as the sensor detects something wrong within its 10 meter operating range, it will call you automatically.

Furthermore, anti theft phone is equipped with a microphone, which gives you the opportunity to listen in real time to what happens, and figure out whether, for example, a cat sneaked into your house, or something more serous is going on; in the latter case, you can promptly call the police to intervene, restore the order and allow you to enjoy the rest of your holidays.

To receive more information about how an anti intrusion phone works, we recommend that you visit the Endoacustica website, where you can request help from your experts, who will be able to give you the best advice for your needs in home and personal security.

Online privacy is no more

agosto 3, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Just in case no one has noticed it yet, nowadays all our online activities are under control, and can be analyzed and thoroughly inspected anytime, with the all-seasons excuse of not better specified “national security reasons” which, especially in the US, allow the government to temporarily keep aside its citizens’ personal freedom, scrutinizing their behaviors, habits and online acquaintances to keep them under surveillance.

In practice, the US Government is capable of unbinding all the legal ties that do not allow it to gather information on its citizens, and thanks to this it has set up Project Vigilant, a group of some sort of electronic cops which operate in absolute secrecy, without having to abide by the laws governing privacy protection and freedom of information.

This group is made up of approximately 500 experts in data security and electronic surveillance, coming from the top roster in names such as Department of Justice, New York Stock Exchange and the like; these guys exploit holes in Internet contract legislation to monitor our every online step.

Project Vigilant is just another example of how the US Government has absolutely no qualms in sticking their nose into honest citizens’ private business, when it comes to preserving and protecting national security; privacy laws are at best bent according to their needs, and blatantly ignored at worst.

And if someone thinks that the Obama administration has dramatically changed direction in comparison with George W.’s times, well they are tragically wrong, as this nosy attitude has actually gotten worse, and all your online activities, the pages you visit, your Facebook posts, the emails you sent and your purchase information are out there to see for anyone wishing to take a look.

Hybrid planes, the future of passenger transport

agosto 3, 2010 Technology No Commenti

As we have seen often recently, big names of aircraft manufacturing are turning their attention towards the field of aerial vehicles powered by alternative and renewable sources of energy, such as for example the light of the sun, used to power planes which, either with a human pilot or without, can fly even through the night thanks to the energy harnessed bi their solar cells during the day.

With an eye to energy saving, it is natural that the next step is studying the possibility of bringing similar solutions to the world of passenger transport.
Of course, takeoff of a commercial airliner, with its weight and size several times bigger than that of a glider, requires usage of fuel powered engines, but solutions that have been taken into consideration, for example, last week during the World Symposium of Electric Aircraft, may dramatically decrease energy consumption and air pollution.

During the symposium, Boeing has presented its SUGAR Volt, a concept of hybrid plane, equipped with two engines that may run on fuel or electricity, allowing it to carry 154 passengers at a 3500 nautical miles range, reaching a Mach 0.79 speed and taking off on shorter runways than its equivalent conventional aircraft, and all this while reducing energy consumption by 70 per cent.

The concept was developed in teaming with NASA; it features two elongated and trussed wings and was designed for a possible application on commercial airliners starting from 2030 or so, therefore it will still take a long time before we can actually fly an hybrid plane from our airports.

The idea is certainly captivating, and would save a lot of power on mid-haul flights, thus reducing the relevant contribution to pollution from aircraft, which are already much cleaner than our cars.

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