Monday, 31 January 2011

Pirate Box – Mobile File sharing network

Essentially the PirateBox is an open WiFi network that anyone nearby can anonymously join. Once connected, users can upload and download any files they please, creating a temporary and portable file sharing network.

The system utilizes Free, Libre and Open Source software (FLOSS) to create mobile wireless file sharing networks where users can anonymously share images, video, audio, documents, and other digital content.

The device, originally called Freedrop was built by David Darts a professor at NYU Steinhart for his students to share files. Quickly the students started sharing non class related material such as music or images. The device was placed in a pirate themed lunchbox, which led to the name Pirate Box.

(Credit: David Darts)

Making one of these devices yourself isn’t hard. The components needed can be bought for around US 100$.
Detailed instructions on how to make this device can be found in the Pirate Box Wiki.

Similar things can be achieved in many phones running android or symbian already, as in essence this is mostly a free wireless web server in a box. The important thing is that there is no connection to the rest of the internet. The Pirate box is a network in itself.

Does anyone know of any other projects similar to this?

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Privatisation of Spaceflight is coming fast

A lot of space companies have begun making headlines over the last two years.

First and foremost would be SpaceX, the company that wants to make the new NASA lauch vehicle, and seems to be succesful so far. The Falcon 9 vehicle developed by SpaceX has completed a number of test launches and flights last year. In December it carried the also SpaceX made crew capsule Dragon into space, making it the first ever commercial spacecraft in orbit to also be returned safe.
The main challenge now will be to satisfy NASA's safety requirements, which are now more then ever in the minds of people, 25 years after the Challenger accident.

Another interesting company to emerge is Excalibur Almaz. The company plans on using spacecraft based on the Soviet Space Programmes's TKS spacecraft and the Almanaz space stations (better known as Solyut 2, 3 and 5). The TKS spacecraft is unique in that it can launch atop any of several rockets of various spacefaring countries meaning that Excalibur Almaz has several possibilities for launching their vehicles.
The company plans to first flights in 2012 and begin making profit as early as 2013.
Solyut 5 (Anyone know where this image is from? I would like to give credit)

There are however also critics of commercial spaceflight saying that the industry has little experience, and that safety will be comprimised as a result. The problem with spaceflight is that it is inherently dangerous. Small errors can destroy whole spacecraft or kill crews. In 1979 a small valve opened in the returning capsule of the soviet spacecraft soyuz 11, and the 3 crew members suffocated.
With experience and testing however space flight should slowly become safer and then eventually more accessible. In the early years it will be massively expensive to even go on a "space holiday", but in years to come the price should come down slowly as technology advances and becomes more readily available.

What's your stance on privatising space exploration or "space companies"?
Would anyone else really like to live in a space station for a while? Or for a holiday? ;)

Friday, 28 January 2011

Touch screens made of Carbon

At the moment touch screens are everywhere: Phones storage devices such as iPods, computer screens. The future seems to belong to touch screens. However there are problems. At the moment the material that is used to make touch screens is indium-tin-oxide, ITO, a rare material on earth. Manufacturers are afraid that in the future prices could be artificially driven high by suppliers, or that supplies might even run out.
ITO is the perfect material for the job. It is good at conducting slight electric currents but at the same time it lets the light of the display pass through unhindered.

Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have now come up with a material that is much cheaper while being on a level with the properties of  ITO. It is composed of two layers. One is the carrier, a thin foil made of the inexpensive polymer  polyethylenterephthalate PET which is also used for making plastic bottles. The second one is a mixture of carbon-nanotubes and electrically conducting polymers that is applied to the PET as a solution and forms a thin film when it dries.

(Credit: Copyright Fraunhofer IPA)

In the past these materials have been unstable in UV light or in humidity, but adding carbon-nanotubes has improved stability and made the material durable. Although they have a slightly higher resistance than traditional touch screens they are still perfectly usable in electrical devices. Also due to the fact that the touch-"foil" is flexible it could potentially be used on uneven surfaces.

The new technology will be presented at the nano tech 2011 fair in Tokyo from February 16-18.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

NASA deploys its first solar sail in Low Earth Orbit.

Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., confirmed on Friday the 21st of January that the NanoSail-D nanosatellite deployed its 100-square-foot polymer sail in low-Earth orbit and is operating as planned. Actual deployment occurred on Jan. 20 at 10 p.m. EST.
Artist concept of a solar sail in space. (Credit: NASA)

"This is tremendous news and the first time NASA has deployed a solar sail in low-Earth orbit"
said Dean Alhorn, NanoSail-D principal investigator and aerospace engineer at the Marshall Center.

On the 10th of June 2010, half a year earlier the Japanese Space agency successfully unfolded their first live testing of a Solar Sail, a project called Ikaros.

The principle behind solar sailing is relatively simple. Photons, or particles of light, falling on a highly reflective, ultra-thin surface will exert a pressure. This pressure will in turn push the spacecraft forwards. This relatively simple technology has the potential to save vast amounts of fuel, potentially for interplanetary exploration, and already now it helps geostationary satellites around the earth keep their orbit at correct altitudes and saves them bringing extra fuel.

There are currently two main problems facing this relatively new method of propulsion.

  • One is the fact that the area of the sail has to be huge. Unfolding it is a challenge, as due to the fact that it has to be ultra-thin, the sail rips easily
  • The other big problem is the fact that the material is not efficient enough at the moment and a lot of potential propulsion is lost. 
Should these issues however be overcome, then in the future more satellites and space probes will be propelled using solar sails.