The promise and politics of the Internet of things

When U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene and a Republican colleague set up a congressional caucus focusing on the Internet of Things, also known as IoT, some of her colleagues were puzzled.

Suzan DelBene

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene

“We got many responses back to our office saying, ‘What’s the ‘Eye-Ott’ project?’” the Washington state Democrat recalled today during a Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce roundtable about “Eye-Ott” … that is, IoT.

Even now, a year after the IoT caucus was formed, a lot of policymakers aren’t up to speed about the implications of having everything from airplanes and refrigerators to the assembly lines where they’re made connected to the internet.

“Technology is moving quickly,” DelBene said. “Policy is not moving as quickly.”

You could say that about a lot of technological issues, of course, but the Internet of Things is a particularly tricky and fast-moving concept. The engineers at Kymeta – a venture that has its headquarters in Redmond, Wash., and has the backing of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates – are finding more and more things that can be connected to the Internet of Things. Some experts estimate that as many as 38 billion devices around the world could be part of the IoT by 2020.

“IoT is a moving target,” Cate van Oppen, Kymeta’s business development manager, told GeekWire.

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Facebook shows off its solar-powered drone

Facebook Aquila drone

Facebook’s Aquila drone soars over Arizona’s Yuma Proving Ground. (Credit: Facebook)

After more than a year of development, Facebook unveiled a video showing the first flight of its full-scale Aquila drone, which is designed to stay aloft for months and potentially connect billions of users to the internet.

A one-fifth-scale version of the pilotless plane has been undergoing flight tests for months, but the full-scale Aquila – with a wingspan wider than that of a Boeing 737 jet – had its first outing over the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona on June 28. The details came out today in a posting by Jay Parikh, Facebook’s global head of engineering and infrastructure, and in an inside report from The Verge.

“This first functional check was a low-altitude flight, and it was so successful that we ended up flying Aquila for more than 90 minutes — three times longer than originally planned,” Parikh said.

Eventually, the Aquila is meant to fly for as long as three months at a time, powered day and night by solar cells and batteries. Facebook says it weighs only a third as much as an electric car, and is designed to use a mere 5,000 watts of power to stay in the air and relay data.

“When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000 feet using laser communications and millimeter wave systems,” Parikh said.

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Elon Musk unveils new Tesla master plan

Image: Tesla and Powerwall

Tesla’s lines of business include the Model S electric sedan as well as the Powerwall home battery system, seen at left. (Credit: Tesla)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has just shared his once-secret master plan for the electric-car company, which he now casts as a solar power and energy storage company as well. Here is the plan, as summarized by Musk in a post on the Tesla site.

  • Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  • Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  • Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
  • Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it

The expansion of Tesla’s product line will include “heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport,” Musk says in the post. “Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year. We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.”

Story by Todd Bishop and Alan Boyle

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This new map doubles the brain’s domains

Image: Brain map

This map highlights distinct brain regions associated with three of our senses – hearing in red, touch in green, and vision in blue – as well as opposing cognitive systems in light and dark shades. The map is based on data from resting-state fMRI scans performed as part of the Human Connectome Project. (Credit: Matthew Glasser and David Van Essen / WUSTL)

The number of separate domains recognized in the human cortex has doubled, thanks to a newly developed map based on functional MRI brain scans.

The mapping effort, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health through its Human Connectome Project, is detailed today in research published by the journal Nature.

Previous studies charted 83 brain regions in each hemisphere of the brain – for example, Broca’s Area, which is thought to be responsible for speech production. The mapping of those regions was typically based on just one measure, such as examining tissue samples under a microscope. The boundaries of the regions were often uncertain.

“The situation is analogous to astronomy, where ground-based telescopes produced relatively blurry images of the sky before the advent of adaptive optics and space telescopes,” study lead author Matthew Glasser, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a news release.

To produce a sharper image, Glasser and colleagues at seven research centers conducted fMRI scans on 210 healthy study participants. They looked for similarities and differences in cortical architecture, activity, connectivity and topography – and then fed those readings into software that produced a map of regions with similar qualities.

That map identified 97 additional cortex areas per hemisphere, for a total of 180. The analysis was verified by checking the map against an independent set of readings from 210 other participants.

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Jeff Bezos touts Blue Origin flight test results

Image: Blue Origin's bumpers

A photo taken after last month’s flight test of Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship highlights the ring of crushable bumpers on the underside of the crew capsule. (Credit: Blue Origin via Jeff Bezos)

Last month’s test flight of a Blue Origin rocket ship to space and back was aimed at seeing how safely it could land even if one of its three parachutes went out. Today, the results got a thumbs-up from Jeff Bezos, who’s the founder of the Blue Origin space venture as well as the Amazon online retailing giant.

“We’ve designed the capsule to ensure astronaut safety not just for the failure of one parachute, but even for the failure of two parachutes,” Bezos said in an email update that was addressed to fans and potential spacefliers.

The rocket ships are built at Blue Origin’s production facility in Kent, Wash., and then shipped down to the company’s suborbital launch complex in West Texas.

The uncrewed flight test was conducted June 19. New Shepard rocketed up just beyond the 100-kilometer (62-mile) boundary of outer space. Then the booster fired up its rocket engine again for a vertical landing, while the crew capsule made a separate descent to Earth.

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Here’s how Jeff Bezos looks as ‘Star Trek’ alien

Image: Jeff Bezos in "Star Trek Beyond"

Jeff Bezos wears a Starfleet uniform (and heavy makeup) in “Star Trek Beyond.” (Credit: Justin Lin)

You’d hardly recognize Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos in the super-heavy makeup he wears as an alien Starfleet official in “Star Trek Beyond,” the latest big-screen voyage of the Starship Enterprise.

But just to make sure you’re able to spot him, Bezos posted a Vine video in which you can see him getting a bite while waiting for his scene. “Cheers,” he says into the camera.

In a Twitter update, Bezos said the “Star Trek” appearance checked off an item on his bucket list. He also gave a shout-out to director Justin Lin, the cast and the crew.

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SpaceX delivers new door to space station

Image: SpaceX Dragon

SpaceX’s Dragon is firmly in the grip of the International Space Station’s robotic arm during the berthing operation. (Credit: NASA TV)

Two days after its launch, SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule was pulled in for its hookup to the International Space Station today as the spacecraft soared 252 miles above the California-Oregon state line.

Among the nearly 5,000 pounds of cargo were the first DNA sequencer destined for use in space, and a 5-foot-wide docking adapter that will accommodate future commercial space taxis – including an upgraded version of the uncrewed Dragon that pulled in today.

“We’ve captured us a Dragon,” said NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, who grappled the capsule with the station’s robotic arm. “We look forward to the work it brings.”

Dragon’s arrival marked the week’s second orbital delivery: A robotic Russian Progress cargo ship docked with the station on Monday night, bringing another 5,300 pounds of food, water, air, propellant and other supplies. It’ll take weeks to unload all the goodies.

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