Tag Archives: Dev & Design

Ancient Cambodian City Revealed in Laser Scan

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Airborne laser scanning has revealed the remnants of a vast urban structure in the vicinity of Angkor Wat, a famous temple in Cambodia. The study, which will be published soon in the journal PNAS, follows earlier research that showed Angkor Wat to have been one of the world’s most complex preindustrial cities.

Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) is making it easier for archaeologists to explore human settlements in tropical vegetation; previous LIDAR work has found evidence of new cities in Central America, in addition to further enhancing the layout of known settlements such as the Mayan city of Caracol.

For the new study, the researchers used a LIDAR setup emitting up to 200,000 laser pulses each second from a helicopter. Amazingly, the entire operation for the data collection spanned just two days in April 2012 for a total 20 hours of flight time, capturing imagery that would have taken many years to assemble from the ground, if at all. The LIDAR analysis also appears to have discovered what could be an older city beside Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat

A digital recreation of Angkor Wat temple site (top) based on raw LIDAR digital terrain data (bottom). Image courtesy of PNAS.

The study has revealed new canals, temples and still unidentified manmade features, confirming a metropolitan area that housed many thousands of people, much as the Giza Plateau Mapping Project is doing for cities surrounding the Pyramids construction in Egypt.

As LIDAR technology gets cheaper, it will accelerate our understanding of early human settlements from the lingering geographic footprints we left, traces which can be almost as shallow as a footprint itself. As the authors write in their PNAS paper:

LIDAR technology has recently matured to the point where it has become cost-effective for archaeologists with sufficient accuracy and precision to identify archaeological features of only a few centimeters in size.

Image courtesy of sam garza/Wikimedia Commons

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/18/lidar-angkor-wat/

How Footprint Recognition Software Can Revolutionize Zoology

Pawprint

New software can now ID an animal’s gender and age based just on a picture of a footprint.

This is how it works: Key elements uniquely identifying a footprint are marked on an image, as shown above with an Amur tiger print, prior to algorithmic classification.

Studying animal behavior in the wild usually starts with figuring out just where the wild animals are hiding. Field biologists can use a combination of methods for this, such as radio collars, aerial surveys, and camera traps to remotely monitor animal movement. However, to an expert eye, a well-preserved footprint can also reveal a surprising amount about an animal: its species, gender, age, even its individual identity.

The trick is being able to do the identifying accurately and quickly. Over the last decade, WildTrack, an organization founded by zoologist and veterinarian Zoe Jewell and her husband, Sky Alibhai, has been developing image processing software to detect physical footprint characteristics that are hard for an untrained eye to recognize. The organization’s software is being used to track a variety of animals in different habitats, including Amur tigers in Russia, tapirs in South America, and polar bears in the Canadian province of Nunavut.

Jewell and Alibhai call their method footprint identification technique, or FIT. Professional trackers photograph footprints (with a ruler for scale) and add GPS coordinates. The footprints are then loaded into software that allows WildTrack to match them to a large number of known footprints from captive animals of the same species. Algorithms compare elements of the photographed footprint against those in a database of animals whose age and gender are known.

Jewell and Alibhai got the idea for WildTrack while working with black rhinos in Zimbabwe in the late 1990s. It has taken years of tweaking and tinkering to develop algorithms that reliably recognize footprints of a given species.

An ongoing challenge will be FIT’s reliability (it is currently 90 percent accurate at correctly determining the sex, age, and species). Nonetheless the technique is low cost, relatively easy to use, and noninvasive compared to radio collaring, which requires darting an animal. But FIT doesn’t work well with all animals yet, and is still very much in an experimental stage.

“The zebra hoof is a big challenge because it’s hard to mark different shapes. On the other hand, a cheetah or lion footprint, where you have four toes and a heel pad, there’s lots of complexity there, making it easier to identify individuals,” Jewell says.

Image: Jiayin Gu; Jennifer C.

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/08/19/footprint-recognition-software/

Why NASA Redesigned Its Website

Nasawebsite

The new NASA.gov has a light blue color palette, one you may not immediately associate with deep space. The agency rolled out a website redesign over the weekend, which included tossing out the black background that shadowed NASA‘s website for years.

“The common complaint about our design was that there was too much going on,” NASA Internet Services Manager Brian Dunbar told Mashable via email. “The lighter color palette seemed to open things up without us having to remove too much content. So far the reaction has been mixed, as is often the case.”

Heavy text and a column of navigational buttons made NASA.gov — which had not been updated since 2007 — feel cluttered. Dunbar fixed this by grouping all those icons into one drop-down menu.

Before

NASA.gov Website 2012
NASA.gov homepage on May 13, 2012.

After

NASA Website July 2013
NASA.gov homepage on July 1, 2013.

NASA also asked the public what they wanted in a redesign, and one of the top responses was a dedicated area on the homepage for live events.

“We were able to increase the emphasis on live events on the homepage. We did an Ideascale implementation late last year to solicit input on changes to the site, and people told us more than anything they wanted to know more about what’s happening ‘right now’ at NASA,” Dunbar said. “We had it on the site, but apparently it wasn’t that visible to a lot of users.”

While the aesthetic switches may be the most obvious change to NASA’s website, the design team completely overhauled NASA.gov’s infrastructure. According to Dunbar, NASA switched from an old proprietary CMS to a customized Drupal implementation and replaced NASA’s commercial on-demand video service with a YouTube-based approach.

The most impressive figure of the redesign, however, is hidden from the eye. The redesign only took 13 weeks to complete — a highly efficient timeline for a government agency.

“We started that whole effort in earnest in late March,” Dunbar said. “We had been experimenting with the graphical changes for a few weeks before that.”

The short timeline had a catch-22, though. The team wasn’t able to optimize the website for discovering and sharing content on social media, which took a backseat in this initial rollout.

“Those considerations will be part of the upcoming redesign,” Dunbar said. “We want to be able to share our content across platforms, but we’ve also got user data that clearly shows we have a web audience that doesn’t really use social media and is distinct from our social media audience.”

As with most trickle-down redesigns, NASA.gov — which logs about 12 million visits per month — still has a long way to go. Expect to see a few 404 errors while browsing around as the team makes piecemeal changes through September.

Dunbar noted that this first transition is only a small part the massive changes to NASA.gov coming early next year. “When we’re done, we expect to have a vastly improved site, both for users and editors,” he said.

NASA.gov in 1997

NASA Website 1997
NASA.gov homepage on Jan. 5, 1997.

In 1999

NASA Website 1999
NASA.gov homepage on April 17, 1999.

In 2007

NASA Website 2007
NASA.gov homepage on Jan. 3, 2007.

Mashable composite; images courtesy of NASA/JPL

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/07/01/nasa-website-redesign/

9 Captivating Data Visualization Projects

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Can You 3D Print Your Dream Home?

Barbie-dream-cottage

If you love LEGOs, you might have imagined building a real house from them. And with the surging popularity of 3D printers, such a dream seems well within reach. Nick Johnson, a spokesman for real estate blog Movoto, decided to find out what it would take to build a 3D-printed house.

“Given that we’re due to get our own 3D printer here in the Movoto office soon, I pretty much couldn’t be more excited by the possibilities the technology introduces,” Johnson wrote in a company blog post. “So, with that, I thought I’d look into exactly how realistic it would be to print the components needed to build a house using one of these devices.”

As it turns out, if you were to use today’s 3D printing technology, you would be long dead by the time your pieces were printed. In fact, it would take 220 years, four months and 11 days for a single machine to print the 27,735 bricks required to construct a 2,500-square-foot (232 square meters), two-story house. And if you think the endeavor sounds time-costly, you should read the price tag: $332,820 in plastic alone.

Johnson based his calculations on a MakerBot Replicator 2 printer and jumbo-size bricks measuring 8 in by 3.5 in by 2.75 in (20.3 cm by 8.9 cm by 7 cm). It would take nearly three days to print a single brick, and each brick would cost about $12 in ABS material. (ABS plastic filament is a must for this project, as the alternative — PLA — would begin to melt under the heat of the sun.) You can try Johnson’s calculator for yourself:

By Movoto

But industrial 3D printing experts tell a different story.

Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor at the University of Southern California who heads the Manufacturing Engineering Graduate Program, stunned a TED Talk audience earlier this year by showing it’s possible to 3D print a 2,500-square-foot house in about 20 hours. Khoshnevis called the process “Contour Crafting,” which would use a gigantic 3D printer erected over the footprint of where a building will stand. The 3D printer extrudes a concrete mixture, building a house layer by layer, the same way a desktop 3D printer makes a plastic figurine.

Khoshnevis said it’s the cheapest form of construction — less expensive than prefabricated housing and infinitely customizable. “Every building can be very different just by changing the design,” he said. “You could execute really exotic architectural features without incurring additional costs.”

Once the basic structure was completed, finish work, tiling and even painting could also be done automatically with the kind of printers used for rendering billboards, he said.

Khoshnevis is currently working with NASA to design structures suitable for living on the moon. But long before Moon colonization becomes a reality, you may be able to print your own custom home here on Earth — imagine leasing a Contour Crafting machine at your local Home Depot.

Image courtesy of Simon Farnworth

This article originally published at TechNewsDaily
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/20/3d-print-dream-home/

Lighter-Than-Air Material Could Drastically Change Tech

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German scientists have developed a sturdy material called Aerographite made mostly of air, opening up huge implications for the future development of electronics.

The jet-black, non-transparent porous carbon material — which was created by scientists at Kiel University and Hamburg University of Technology — was detailed in the July edition of scientific journal Advanced Materials.

Since Aerographite is electrically conductive and so lightweight, the scientists hope it could be used in the future as lightweight batteries. They believe these small batteries could be used in green transportation such as electronic cars and e-bikes in the future.

It weighs in at 0.2 milligrams for each cubic centimeter, making it the lightest material in the world. It’s lighter than a nickel material that was presented to the public about six months ago.

The news comes as researchers last year at the University of California Irvine developed a material as strong as metal while 100 times lighter than Styrofoam.

“Our work is causing great discussions in the scientific community. Aerographite weights four times less than world-record-holder up to now,” Matthias Mecklenburg, co-author and Ph.D. student at the TUHH, said on Kiel University’s website.

Made by developing a linked chain of carbon nanotubes onto a zinc-oxide template, it is extremely resilient. If you were to compress Aerographite, it would bounce back to its natural state without any damage. Most other materials weaken when they undergo such stress.

“It is able to be compressed up to 95% and be pulled back to its original form without any damage,” said Professor Rainer Adelung of Kiel University. “Up to a certain point, the Aerographite will become even more solid and therefore stronger than before. Also, the newly constructed material absorbs light rays almost completely. One could say it creates the blackest black.”

How do you think this new material will impact the tech world? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Origotham

Can Crowdsourcing Resurrect Unused Patents?

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Some crowdsourcing competitions, like the X-Prize, ask people to come up with technological solutions to a problem. Marblar, a startup launching this month, is doing it backward—asking people to come up with problems that a given technology could solve.

Cofounded by three PhD students in the U.K., Marblar is a platform that aims to help universities commercialize new inventions and resurrect dusty old patents. The company is working with about half a dozen U.K. research institutions, such as the Medical Research Council and Imperial College London, to seed its website with discoveries. These range from a novel form of foam to a new kind of oxygen sensor to a probe that can drill into hard surfaces in new ways.

The crowd is assigned the task of finding market applications for such inventions. Marblar is cultivating a base of knowledgeable users who would just love to submit ideas in exchange for a cash prize (from hundreds to thousands of dollars), points on the site (marbles), and of course, bragging rights.

“There’s a massive pile of unused innovation that just isn’t going anywhere,” says CEO Daniel Perez, who estimates that 95 percent of patents filed by universities never make it to the marketplace. University technology transfer officers and, often, researchers themselves can’t know all of the potential applications for a discovery, he says. “There are too few voices in that conversation.”

Marblar has already had one success story, during a beta testing period this spring with a 4,500 person listserv. University of Southampton chemical biologist Tom Brown had found a way, called DNA click ligation, to glue together strands of DNA without using an enzyme. It was a neat trick but had no straightforward use, says Perez.

IP Group, a British venture capital firm that invests in university innovation, sponsored a prize as part of a Marblar competition. The winning entry was from a Cambridge University PhD student studying nucleotide drug delivery who believed the invention could advance his field. The idea is now being turned into a proof-of-concept prototype (Brown’s lab is advertising a job opening to help), and IP Group is evaluating the possibility of creating a spin-out company. The venture firm also has made a roughly $600,000 investment in Marblar itself.

The startup’s efforts fall in line with broader long-term efforts to speed the commercialization of innovation from universities, which is effectively the return on investments of taxpayer dollars. In the U.S., in fiscal year 2011, universities and research institutes received $40 billion in federal R&D funds, according to the Association of University Technology Managers. The organization’s survey results show that 670 startups and 591 new commercial products came out of U.S. universities and research institutes during this time.

Lita Nelsen, director of MIT’s Technology Licensing Office, says that Marblar looks like it would be a useful tool in a few cases she sees each year, but that it would be unlikely to dramatically increase the number of ideas that get commercialized. Most research discoveries, such as a treatment for a disease, do have a straightforward use, and a lack of ideas is far from the only reason why a university patent might never get licensed or make it to the market, she says. Marblar “is not going to revolutionize university technology licensing, but it may make a useful contribution,” she says.   

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/13/can-crowdsourcing-resurrect-unused-patents/

7 Space Tech Experiments to Launch Friday

Up-aerospace

Seven space technology experiments are slated to blast off Friday on a NASA-funded suborbital research flight.

A SpaceLoft sounding rocket, built by Denver-based UP Aerospace Inc., is scheduled to launch from New Mexico’s Spaceport America between 9 a.m. and noon EDT.

The 15-minute flight is expected to reach a maximum altitude of 74 miles (119 kilometers) and provide up to four minutes of weightlessness for the onboard experiments. Landing is targeted for the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, about 320 miles (515 km) from Spaceport America according to NASA officials.

Among the seven payloads aboard the 20-foot-long (6 meters) rocket is the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), a tracking device being developed for use in air traffic control systems. Current plans call for all aircraft operating in U.S. airspace to be equipped with ADS-B by 2020.

Two high school science experiments are also riding along on Friday’s flight, as is Diapason, an instrument developed by DTM Technologies in Italy to study the movement of very tiny particles in Earth’s atmosphere. Diapason could help identify and monitor atmospheric pollution and contaminants, NASA officials said.

UP Aerospace isn’t the only company with a NASA contract to make technology-testing suborbital research flights. The space agency has also signed deals with Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems, Near Space Corporation, XCOR Aerospace, Whittinghill Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace.

NASA manages such launches via its Flight Opportunities Program, which matches payloads with flights and pays launch costs (though no funds are provided for development of the payloads). The program should help the burgeoning American private spaceflight industry get off the ground, agency officials say.

“The Flight Opportunities Program fosters the development of the commercial reusable suborbital transportation industry, an important step in the longer-term path that envisions suborbital reusable launch vehicles evolving to provide the nation with much lower-cost, more frequent, and more reliable access to orbital space,” NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program website states.

Image courtesy of Leslie Williams/NASA

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/21/space-experiments-launch/

China to Launch First Space-Based Quantum Communications Experiment

Satellite

The “Chinese Quantum Science Satellite” will launch in 2016 and aim to make China the first space-faring nation with quantum communication capability.

The ability to send perfectly secure messages from one location on the planet to another has obvious and immediate appeal to governments, the military and various commercial organizations such as banks. This capability is already possible over short distances thanks to the magic of quantum cryptography, which guarantees the security of messages — at least in theory.

For the moment, however, quantum cryptography works only over distances of 100 km or so. That’s how far it is possible to send the single photons that carry quantum messages through an optical fiber or through the atmosphere.

Last year, we watched as European and Chinese physicists battled to claim the distance record for this technology with the Europeans finally triumphing by setting up a quantum channel over 143 kilometers through the atmosphere.

That distance is a good fraction of the way into space. And the reason that’s important is that it’s a stepping stone to sending quantum messages to orbiting satellites which can then route the messages to almost anywhere else on the planet.

Today, the Chinese claim another small victory in this quantum space race. Jian-Wei Pan at the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai and his fellow researchers say they’ve bounced single photons off an orbiting satellite and detected them back on Earth. That’s significant because it simulates a satellite sending single photons from orbit to the surface, crossing off another proof-of-principle milestone in their quantum checklist.

The experiment is simple in principle. These guys have two telescopes in a binocular formation which they pointed at a satellite orbiting at an altitude of 400 kilometers. This satellite is covered with reflectors capable of bouncing a laser beam from Earth back to its original location.


Image courtesy of “Experimental Single-Photon Transmission from Satellite to Earth”

They used one of the telescopes to send pulses of light towards the satellite and the other, with a diameter of 60 cm, to look for the reflection.

Of course, the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs a very high percentage of the photons transmitted from the ground. So Pan and his team produced each pulse with just enough photons so that, on average, just one would reach the satellite and be reflected back to Earth. The idea was to simulate the satellite itself sending single photons to the surface.

Each pulse began its journey from Earth with about 1 billion photons and, on average, just one started the return journey. Obviously, many of the returning photons would also be absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere. So the pulse was repeated many millions of times per second.

Pan and his team say that they were able to detect the returning photons at a rate of about 600 per second. “These results are suf?cient to set up an unconditionally secure QKD link between satellite and earth, technically,” they add in the paper that accompanies their research.

That’s a significant stepping stone. “Our results represent a crucial step towards the ?nal implementation of high-speed QKD between the satellite and the ground stations, which will also serve as a test bed for secure intercontinental quantum communication,” the team says.

However, this experiment raises something of a puzzle. The researchers say they used a German satellite called CHAMP for their experiment. The satellite launched in 2000, and its mission was to make a precise gravity map of the Earth by bouncing lasers off it.

What’s curious about the Chinese announcement is that CHAMP deorbited in 2010. So a question worth asking is when the team did this work. Clearly, the team has been sitting on this result for some time.

Why publish it now? The answer may be a small but significant detail revealed in the final paragraph of the paper. Here Pan and his colleagues announce that they plan to launch the first quantum science experiment into space. The spacecraft is called the Chinese Quantum Science Satellite and it is scheduled for launch in 2016.

A quick Google search shows that the official Chinese news agency, Xinhau, revealed in March that its scientists were planning a quantum information and technology space experiment. But the announcement did not give the name of the satellite and appears to have had little if any coverage in the west.

‘We hope to establish a quantum communication network from Beijing to Vienna,” according to Pan, a plan that will presumably require significant co-operation from their arch-competitors in Europe.

Last year, European scientists themselves proposed sending a quantum communications experiment to the International Space Station, an idea that could be beat the Chinese at their own game and would be relatively cheap and quick. But whether this plan has gained traction isn’t clear.

What is abundantly clear is that the quantum space race is rapidly hotting up. But the embarrassing truth for American science is that the U.S. isn’t yet a player in the quantum space race (at least not publicly). Perhaps that’s something that should change.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/11/china-quantum-communications/