Scientists in the Netherlands have moved a step closer to overriding one of Albert Einstein’s most famous objections to the implications of quantum mechanics, which he described as “spooky action at a distance.”
In a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science, physicists at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at the Delft University of Technology reported that they were able to reliably teleport information between two quantum bits separated by three meters, or about 10 feet.
Quantum teleportation is not the “Star Trek”-style movement of people or things; rather, it involves transferring so-called quantum information – in this case what is known as the spin state of an electron – from one place to another without moving the physical matter to which the information is attached.
Classical bits, the basic units of information in computing, can have only one of two values – either 0 or 1. But quantum bits, or qubits, can simultaneously describe many values. They hold out both the possibility of a new generation of faster computing systems and the ability to create completely secure communication networks.
A forest of optical elements that was part of the quantum teleportation device used by the team of physicists in the Netherlands. Credit Hanson lab@TUDelft
Moreover, the scientists are now closer to definitively proving Einstein wrong in his early disbelief in the notion of entanglement, in which particles separated by light-years can still appear to remain connected, with the state of one particle instantaneously affecting the state of another.
They report that they have achieved perfectly accurate teleportation of quantum information over short distances. They are now seeking to repeat their experiment over the distance of more than a kilometer. If they are able to repeatedly show that entanglement works at this distance, it will be a definitive demonstration of the entanglement phenomenon and quantum mechanical theory.
Succeeding at greater distances will offer an affirmative solution to a thought experiment known as Bell’s theorem, proposed in 1964 by the Irish physicist John Stewart Bell as a method for determining whether particles connected via quantum entanglement communicate information faster than the speed of light.
“There is a big race going on between five or six groups to prove Einstein wrong,” said Ronald Hanson, a physicist who leads the group at Delft. “There is one very big fish.”
In the past, scientists have made halting gains in teleporting quantum information, a feat that is achieved by forcing physically separated quantum bits into an entangled state.
Researchers teleported quantum information between two distant atoms for the first time in 2009.
Click on image below to open interactive graphic
But reliability of quantum teleportation has been elusive. For example, in 2009, University of Maryland physicists demonstrated the transfer of quantum information, but only one of every 100 million attempts succeeded, meaning that transferring a single bit of quantum information required roughly 10 minutes.
In contrast, the scientists at Delft have achieved the ability “deterministically,” meaning they can now teleport the quantum state of two entangled electrons accurately 100 percent of the time.
They did so by producing qubits using electrons trapped in diamonds at extremely low temperatures. According to Dr. Hanson, the diamonds effectively create “miniprisons” in which the electrons were held. The researchers were able to establish a spin, or value, for electrons, and then read the value reliably.
In addition to the possibility of an impregnable quantum Internet, the research holds out the possibility of networks of quantum computers.
To date, practical quantum computers, which could solve certain classes of problems far more quickly than even the most powerful computers now in use, remain a distant goal. A functional quantum computer would need to entangle a large number of qubits and maintain that entangled state for relatively long periods, something that has so far not been achieved.
A distributed quantum network might also offer new forms of privacy, Dr. Hanson suggested. Such a network would make it possible for a remote user to perform a quantum calculation on a server, while at the same time making it impossible for the operator of the server to determine the nature of the calculation.
Four men paralyzed after bad spinal cord injuries can all move their legs again, thanks to an electrical stimulator.
Astonished researchers say they’d hoped for some result, but nothing like what they got. They think the stimulator is retraining the mens’ nerves to work with the brain again, despite the terrible damage.
“This is wonderful news. Spinal cord injury need no longer be a lifelong sentence of paralysis,” said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, one of the National Institutes of Health. “It is just downright marvelous.”
Rob Summers, now 28, was the first patient implanted and his case made international headlines in 2011 when he was first able to stand using the stimulator. Summers now exercises for three hours a day and says his life has been transformed.
“It has changed my life on a day-to-day basis,” said Summers, who was paralyzed from the chest down after a hit-and-run driver plowed into him as he stood in his own driveway. “It’s given me the ability to travel alone and come and go as I please.”
Summers says he does an hour of abdominal exercises daily, reversing the gradual wasting of muscles that normally comes with paralysis.
“I can now feel soft touch, hard touch. I can feel pinpricks,” Summers, who lives in Portland, Ore., told NBC News. “I can feel the wind on my legs.”
None of the four men can walk again, but researchers believe the stimulator is retraining the damaged nerves in their spinal columns to communicate once again with the brain. They’re not sure why – it may be some connection remained after their injuries or it is slightly possible the nerves are re-growing.
“We have uncovered a fundamentally new intervention strategy that can dramatically affect recovery of voluntary movement in individuals with complete paralysis even years after injury,” the researchers, led by Dr. Susan Harkema of the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute and the University of Louisville, write in their report, published in the journal Brain on Tuesday.
Because all four men tested have regained movement, including two who were completely paralyzed, it’s likely that many people who believed they were permanently paralyzed may be able to move again, says Reggie Edgerton, distinguished professor of integrative biology and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who developed the approach.
“It tells us that the information from the brain is getting to the right place in the spinal cord, so that the person can control, with fairly impressive accuracy, the nature of the movement,” said Edgerton. “We don’t have to necessarily rely on regrowth of nerves in order to regain function. The fact that we’ve observed this in all four patients suggests that this is actually a common phenomenon in those with complete paralysis.”
The stimulator was originally developed by Medtronic to treat chronic pain. It’s a pacemaker-sized device implanted under the skin of the abdomen, connecting to electrodes placed near the spinal cord. When turned on, it delivers a low pulse of electricity.
For patients with chronic pain, the electricity interrupts the pain signal before it can reach the brain. The researchers adapted it to try on patients with paralysis.
“The next generation will be more precisely controlled and noninvasive,” says NIBIB’s Pettigrew, whose institute helped pay for the research, along with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.
Pettigrew says the results are no flash breakthough. They are based on decades of work. He says researchers are already working with a fresh batch of volunteers and will report new findings soon.
“It is why we come to work every day,” Pettigrew said.
The next step is to try and make the approach work without having to implant electrodes, Pettigrew said. The hope would be for an external device, with electrodes simply stuck onto the skin to stimulate the nerves.
“The implications of this study for the entire field are quite profound and we can now envision a day where epidural stimulation might be part of a cocktail of therapies used to treat paralysis,” said Susan Howley, executive vice president for research at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.
The accident cost Summers a promising possible career in baseball. He’d been a top pitcher for Oregon State University and he was struck a month after his team won the college world series.
But he’s happy now that going out to dinner is no longer an ordeal that required hours of preparation. He’s strong enough now to hop into his wheelchair and just go.
“Not only has this benefited me with the confidence to go out and do what I want to do… I can continue to live my life as I choose and not be restricted or limited,” Summers said. His doctors say he has regained continence, sexual function and even the lost ability to sweat.
“I truly believe this is the greatest thing out there,” Summers said.
Summers says he can feel the device working. “The best way to describe it is like a strong tingling sensation,” he says, almost like a limb feels after it’s “fallen asleep.” “It almost feels like pins and needles.”
The three other men whose cases are described in the report are all in their 20s and 30s now and, like Summers, had been paralyzed for years before trying the device.
Kent Stephenson of Mount Pleasant, Texas, was 21 when he was paralyzed in a motocross accident in 2009. He cannot move his leg without the stimulator, but with it on can pull his leg up to his chest, straighten it, and slowly lower it again.
Andrew Meas of Louisville was injured when his motorcycle and a car collided in 2007, while Dustin Shillcox of Green River, Wyo. was 26 when a company van he was driving blew out a tire and wrecked. Stephenson and Meas both have resumed outdoor activities such as snow machining and fishing.
Each has a little different level of function with the device. “I have mentored all the other guys using it,” Summers says. “We have been like a brotherhood bonding on this.”
The US Navy has developed a radical new fuel made from seawater.
They say it could change the way we produce fuel – and allow warships to stay at sea for years at a time.
Navy scientists have spent several years developing the process to take seawater and use it as fuel, and have now used the ‘game changing’ fuel to power a radio controlled plane in the first test.
The development of a liquid hydrocarbon fuel is being hailed as ‘a game-changer’ because it would allow warships to remain at sea for far longer.
The US has a fleet of 15 military oil tankers, and only aircraft carriers and some submarines are equipped with nuclear propulsion.
All other vessels must frequently abandon their mission for a few hours to navigate in parallel with the tanker, a delicate operation, especially in bad weather.
The ultimate goal is to eventually get away from the dependence on oil altogether, which would also mean the navy is no longer hostage to potential shortages of oil or fluctuations in its cost.
The predicted cost of jet fuel using these technologies is in the range of $3-$6 per gallon, and with sufficient funding and partnerships, this approach could be commercially viable within the next seven to ten years.
Pursuing remote land-based options would be the first step towards a future sea-based solution, the Navy says.
Vice Admiral Philip Cullom declared: ‘It’s a huge milestone for us.
‘We are in very challenging times where we really do have to think in pretty innovative ways to look at how we create energy, how we value energy and how we consume it.
‘We need to challenge the results of the assumptions that are the result of the last six decades of constant access to cheap, unlimited amounts of fuel,’ added Cullom.
‘Basically, we’ve treated energy like air, something that’s always there and that we don’t worry about too much.
‘But the reality is that we do have to worry about it.’
They hope the fuel will not only be able to power ships, but also planes.
The predicted cost of jet fuel using the technology is in the range of three to six dollars per gallon, say experts at the US Naval Research Laboratory, who have already flown a model airplane with fuel produced from seawater.
Dr Heather Willauer, an research chemist who has spent nearly a decade on the project, said:
‘For the first time we’ve been able to develop a technology to get CO2 and hydrogen from seawater simultaneously, that’s a big breakthrough,’ she said, adding that the fuel ‘doesn’t look or smell very different.’
Now that they have demonstrated it can work, the next step is to produce it in industrial quantities.
But before that, in partnership with several universities, the experts want to improve the amount of CO2 and hydrogen they can capture.
‘We’ve demonstrated the feasibility, we want to improve the process efficiency,’ explained Willauer.
Collum is just as excited.
‘For us in the military, in the Navy, we have some pretty unusual and different kinds of challenges,’ he said.
‘We don’t necessarily go to a gas station to get our fuel, our gas station comes to us in terms of an oiler, a replenishment ship.
‘Developing a game-changing technology like this, seawater to fuel, really is something that reinvents a lot of the way we can do business when you think about logistics, readiness.’
A crucial benefit, says Collum, is that the fuel can be used in the same engines already fitted in ships and aircraft.
‘If you don’t want to reeengineer every ship, every type of engine, every aircraft, that’s why we need what we call drop-in replacement fuels that look, smell and essentially are the same as any kind of petroleum-based fuels.’
Drawbacks? Only one, it seems: researchers warn it will be at least a decade before US ships are able to produce their own fuel on board.
FREE ONLINE COURSES
FREE ONLINE BOOKS
As you probably know, President Obama announced his decision to end NASA’s space shuttle program Constellation back in 2010. Since then, the US has been paying to transport astronauts to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz capsules. NASA designed the four-person Space Launch System, a heavy launch vehicle, to replace the retired shuttles. So I’ve just been waiting patiently for that to come to fruition, somehow unaware of the Dream Chaser spacecraft, a commercial spaceflight transport system that will be able to take a crew of seven astronauts to the ISS, despite being about 1/3rd the size of a conventional shuttle.
The Dream Chaser will ride aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, which will propel the craft into low Earth orbit, potentially ferrying astronauts to the ISS. Service – or some kind of crewed mission – is expected to begin in 2017, with the first orbital crewless flight in late 2016. Dream Chaser’s first unmanned flight occurred in 2013, when it flew successfully but crashed due to a malfunction in its landing gear. Actually, the vehicle flipped over at the very end, coming to rest in an upright position, after which the malfunctioning left landing gear deployed. I like a spacecraft with a sense of humor. Despite the rocky ending, the flight was regarded as an overall success.
Dream Chaser was built by the Sierra Nevada Corporation, and it’s one of three potential commercial transport systems that are part of the space agency’s Commercial Crew Development process. NASA is expected to choose one or two of the these systems to take astronauts to the ISS. SpaceX’s Dragon is one, and Boeing’s CST-100 is the other, and so far all three have met target milestones. The teams are vying for the privilege of becoming NASA’s main mode of near-Earth orbit transit, kicking off the era of private commercial spaceflight for both crews and cargo.
That shift will also usher in another change, with the privatization of spaceflight beyond near-Earth orbit, to places such as Mars and asteroids. SpaceX, after all, is planning on taking people to colonize the Red Planet, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there are still more milestones to meet, and lots of fun to be had watching it happen.
Later this month, if all goes well, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, will achieve a spaceflight first.
After delivering cargo to the International Space Station, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket used for the flight will fire its engines for the second time. The burn will allow the rocket to reenter the atmosphere in controlled flight, without breaking up and disintegrating on the way down as most booster rockets do.
The launch was originally planned for March 16, but the company has delayed the launch until at least March 30 to allow for further preparation.
The machine will settle over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of its Cape Canaveral launchpad, engines roaring, and four landing legs will unfold from the rocket’s sides. Hovering over the ocean, the rocket will kick up a salt spray along with the flames and smoke. Finally, the engines will cut off and the rocket will drop the last few feet into the ocean for recovery by a waiting barge.
Future flights of the so-called F9R rocket will have it touching down on land. For now, a water landing ensures maximum safety in case the rocket goes off course.
The test of SpaceX’s renewable booster rocket technology will be the first of its kind and could pave the way to radically cheaper access to space. “Reusability has been the Holy Grail of the launch industry for decades,” says Jeff Foust, an analyst at Futron, a consultancy based in Bethesda, Maryland. That’s because the so-called expendable rockets that are the industry standard add enormously to launch costs – the equivalent of building a new aircraft for every transatlantic flight.
SpaceX began flying low-altitude tests of a Falcon 9 first stage with a single engine, a rocket known as Grasshopper, at its McGregor, Texas, proving grounds in 2012. The flights got progressively higher, until a final test in October, when the rocket reached an altitude of 744 meters. Then, following a flight to place a communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in November, a Falcon 9 first stage successfully restarted three of its nine engines to make a controlled supersonic reentry from space.
The rocket survived reentry, but subsequently spun out of control and broke up on impact with the Pacific Ocean. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a call with reporters after the flight that landing legs, which that rocket lacked, would most likely have stabilized the rocket enough to make a controlled landing on the water. The March 16 flight will be the first orbital test with landing legs.
After recovering the rocket from the water on Sunday, SpaceX engineers and technicians will study it to determine what it would take to refurbish such a rocket for reuse. SpaceX also has plans to recover and reuse the second stage rocket, but for now, it will recover only the first stage and its nine Merlin engines, which make up the bulk of the cost of the rocket.
Even without reusable rockets, SpaceX has already shaken up the $190-billion-a-year satellite launch market with radically lower launch costs than its competitors. The company advertises $55.6 million per Falcon 9 launch. Its competitors are less forthcoming about how much they charge, but French rocket company Arianespace has indicated that it may ask for an increase in government subsidies to remain competitive with SpaceX.
Closer to home, SpaceX is vying for so-called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, or EELV, contracts to launch satellites for the U.S. Air Force. Its only competitor for the contracts, United Launch Alliance, charges $380 million per launch.
Musk testified before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense meeting on March 5 that his company can cut that cost down to $90 million per launch. He said the higher cost for a government mission versus a commercial one was due to a lack of government-provided launch insurance. “So, in order to improve the probability of success, there is quite a substantial mission assurance overhead applied,” Musk said in the hearing. Still, SpaceX’s proposed charge for the Air Force missions is a mere 23 percent of ULA’s.
SpaceX is counting on lower launch costs to increase demand for launch services. But Foust cautions that this strategy comes with risk. “It’s worth noting,” he says, “that many current customers of launch services, including operators of commercial satellites, aren’t particularly price sensitive, so thus aren’t counting on reusability to lower costs.”
That means those additional launches, and thus revenue, may have to come from markets that don’t exist yet. “A reusable system with much lower launch costs might actually result in lower revenue for that company unless they can significantly increase demand,” says Foust. “That additional demand would likely have to come from new markets, with commercial human spaceflight perhaps the biggest and best-known example.”
Indeed, SpaceX was founded with human spaceflight as its ultimate mission. It is now one of three companies working with NASA funds to build ships capable of sending astronauts to the International Space Station. Musk plans to take SpaceX even further—all the way to Mars with settlers. And colonizing Mars will require lots of low-cost flights.
Michael Belfiore (michaelbelfiore.com) is the author of Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space.
Updated on March 14, at 3 p.m. EST, to include mention of the delay.
The basic principle behind hydrogen fuel cells is fairly simple: Hydrogen atoms are stripped of their electrons to generate electricity and then combined with oxygen to form water as a by-product. Mainstream deployment of fuel-cell vehicles, though, has proved to be complex. Compared with liquid fuels, hydrogen is tough to transport and store. And without a meaningful number of vehicles on the road, there’s been no incentive to build hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Now new initiatives in California and across the U.S. are pushing for a long-awaited expansion of the refueling network. And with the debut of three promising hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles from Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota, consumers will have new options beginning in 2014. Are we finally seeing the dawn of the hydrogen age? Not so fast.
The current hydrogen push has less to do with consumer demand than with government incentives that treat fuel-cell vehicles (FCV) as equal to or better than electric vehicles. In California the combination of 300-mile range and fast refueling gives fuel cells the maximum available zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) credits. That makes it easy for a manufacturer to meet the state’s ZEV mandate with fewer cars. On the federal level, both FCVs and EVs get an EPA credit multiplier of 2.0 beginning in 2017, which means that sales of either type of car confer a disproportionate benefit on the ledger for an automaker’s entire fleet. In response, manufacturers have formed several high-profile partnerships, including Ford/Daimler/Renault-Nissan, BMW/Toyota, and GM/Honda to develop the vehicles. On the fueling side, a recent infusion of $20 million of funding per year has expanded the California Fuel Cell Partnership’s plan to 100 statewide refueling stations. The Department of Energy’s H2USA organization wants to use California’s efforts as a blueprint for the rest of the nation.
CAN I BUY A FUEL-CELL CAR?
In the past, fuel-cell vehicles have only been available in the hundreds. The three new FCVs slated for production this year and next will increase the volume to thousands, but they will be available primarily in California, where most of the country’s hydrogen stations exist. According to Alan Baum, an automotive analyst at Baum and Associates, even if the stations proliferate, fuel-cell vehicles, like EVs, won’t dominate the market. “It’s not going to be a widespread technology, and for that matter it doesn’t need to be,” he says. “We’re doing an all-hands-on-deck strategy.”
ARE THE PRACTICAL?
Not according to Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who says fuel cells are more of a marketing ploy than a realistic solution. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn agrees: “Knowing all the problems we have with charging [EVs], where is the hydrogen infrastructure?” Both men have a bias toward electric vehicles, but the infrastructure issue is a big one. With the current cost of a hydrogen filling station at more than $1 million, neither the government nor the corporate world has any plans for a rapid expansion of the filling network. “We’ve got electricity everywhere,” Baum says. “Putting in 240-volt charging units requires some effort and expense, but it’s not game changing. Putting in hydrogen is.”
WHERE DOES THE POWER COME FROM?
Here’s the abridged version: Compressed hydrogen from the storage tank (A) is stripped of its electrons in the fuel-cell stack (B), creating electricity. A power-control unit (C) orchestrates the flow of energy from the stack to the battery (D), which powers the electric motor that moves the car. The battery ensures full power during acceleration until the fuel cell reaches peak voltage. Got all that?
ARE THEY SAFE?
Yes. Stringent requirements established by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) ensure that the technology is safe. Automakers are required to build robust hydrogen storage tanks that not only hold the fuel at up to 10,000 psi but also withstand arcane-sounding trials such as “bonfire” and “gunshot” tests by the DOT. Tanks are usually made of several layers of carbon fiber wrapped around aluminum or polyethylene liners, and many are also protected by external layers of steel. Regulations covering PRDs (pressure-relief devices) govern both temperatures and pressures at which gas is released, typically well below what is standard for safe operating conditions.
HOW GREEN ARE FUEL CELLS?
It depends on where you look. The only tailpipe emission from an FCV is water, but the process of creating hydrogen fuel – just like that of formulating gasoline or generating current for an electric vehicle – has an environmental impact. More than 90 percent of hydrogen today is created using a natural-gas-reforming process involving steam and methane, which reduces CO2 emissions from “well to wheel” by approximately 60 percent, compared with the process of creating gasoline. So, carbon dioxide is still released into the atmosphere – it just happens before the liquid hydrogen gets to your tank. Incentives and mandates encourage a cleaner hydrogen-creation process: The state of California requires that 30 percent of H2 supplied for transportation come from renewable sources, which can include wind, solar, and biomass material.
WHAT ABOUT REFUELING?
One advantage of FCVs is that they can travel farther and restore range faster than most current EVs. Refueling is simple: Once a nozzle with a snap collar is securely mated and locked to your car, the transfer of hydrogen begins with a brief hissing sound, followed by a 3- to 5- minute fill-up. However, it takes considerably longer for a filling station to restore the pressure required to service the next vehicle, so current setups can only refuel six or so cars per hour.
SO, IS HYDROGEN HAPPENING?
“When you have several major carmakers saying we’re going to invest in this, that’s significant,” Baum says. But vehicles are just one piece of the puzzle. Every other player in the hydrogen supply chain, such as the service station industry, needs to invest heavily. Until then, refueling options and vehicle choices will remain extremely limited, with no guarantee of expansion. Which is to say that hydrogen-fuel-cell cars will be a minor footnote in terms of overall vehicle sales for the foreseeable future. For all but the earliest of adopters, hydrogen as a prominent fuel alternative remains somewhere on the horizon.
Contact lenses that allow the wearer to see high-definition virtual screens are to be unveiled in Las Vegas next week.
Dubbed iOptik, the system allows the users to see projected digital information, such as driving directions and video calls.
The tiny ‘screens’, which are the invention of Washington-based group Innovega, sit directly on a users’ eyeballs and work with a pair of lightweight glasses.
Together, they provide an experience equivalent to watching a 240-inch television at a distance of 10 feet, according to Innovega’s chief executive Steve Willey.
The glasses are fitted with micro-projectors and nothing else. The contact lenses, however, are more complicated devices.
They can be worn on their own and only function with the iOptik software when a user looks through the company’s paired glasses.
The system can work with smartphones and portable game devices to deliver video – or switch to a translucent ‘augmented reality’ view, where computer information is layered over the world we know it.
‘Whatever runs on your smartphone would run on your eyewear,’ Innovega chief Stephen Willey said in an interview with CNET. ‘At full HD. Whether it’s a window or immersive.’
Crucially, the device can be worn while moving around in a similar way to Google Glass.
Innovega customised the standard contact lens manufacturing process with a unique filter to make the contact lenses.
‘All the usual optics in the eyewear are taken away and there is a sub-millimeter lens right in the centre,’ Mr Willey told CNET.
‘The outside of the lens is shaped to your prescription if you need one and the very centre of the lens is a bump that allows you to see incredibly well half an inch from your eye.’
An optical filter also directs the light. ‘Light coming from outside the world is shunted to your normal prescription. Light from that very near display goes through the center of the lens, the optical filter,’ Mr Willey said
The contacts are due to be previewed at the Consumer Electronics Show and promise to provide a much more immersive experience than other head-work wearable devices.
The company unveiled a prototype of the technology at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, but plans to show a more advanced, working version next week.
Innovega could also license the technology to other vendors, who may add elements such as audio, touch control, motion control, and other hardware seen in gadgets such as Google Glass.
Last year, South Korean scientists created soft contact lenses fitted with LEDs, bringing the possibility of transparent, flexible materials that can be programmed to take pictures a step closer to reality.
Unlike the iOptik, which requires glasses to work, these contact lenses can be used as standalone systems capable of performing tasks such as taking pictures.
Microsoft and the University of Washington have also been working on similar projects that seem more like a prop in movies such as Mission Impossible 4.
In 2012, they created a prototype of a hard augmented reality contact lens capable of receiving radio signals and transmitting them to the brain through optical nerves.
For years, automakers have worked to push fuel economy beyond 100 miles per gallon. Reaching that mark typically meant three things: cutting weight, maximizing aerodynamics, and improving powertrain efficiency. In 1999, Volkswagen engineers got close with the Lupo 3L, a three-cylinder coupe that could go 78.4 miles on one gallon of diesel. Not satisfied, VW tasked star engineer Ulrich Hackenberg, whose résumé includes work at Bentley and Bugatti, with breaking the 100mpg barrier. Hackenberg’s team crushed that goal – and then some. In tests, their new XL1 got a mind-bending 261 mpg.
The team designed nearly every part of the XL1 from scratch. To trim weight and add strength, they replaced some steel components, such as the chassis, with carbon-fiber ones. To reduce drag, they removed side-view mirrors and sculpted the body into a smooth, low-riding shape. With the car lighter and slipperier, the 830cc, two-cylinder diesel engine and the 20kW electric motor can propel the XL1 well over 500 miles on a single 2.6-gallon tank of fuel.
The XL1, Exploded View (Courtesy Volkswagen)
VW is producing a limited run of 250 XL1s for sale in Europe. U.S. safety regulations make importing the car tricky, but Hackenberg says that Americans may see the XL1’s efficient engine in future VWs.
Fuel economy: 261 mpg
Weight: 1,753 pounds
Horsepower: 47 diesel, 27 electric
Top speed: 99 mph
The Obamacare insurance marketplace is even more vulnerable to security breaches since the administration “fixed” Healthcare.gov, according to a cyber security expert.
Health and Human Services (HHS) released a progress report on Sunday following its self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline to repair the website, saying that the “team has knocked more than 400 bug fixes and software improvements off the punch list.”
The administration said that the “site capacity is stable at its intended level,” though the site continued to crash on Monday.
The eight-page report made no mention of the website’s numerous security flaws, which experts say put Americans’ personal information at risk.
“It doesn’t appear that any security fixes were done at all,” David Kennedy, CEO of the online security firm TrustedSec, told the Washington Free Beacon.
Kennedy said fundamental safeguards missing from Healthcare.gov that were identified by his company more than a month ago have yet to be put in place.
“There are a number of security concerns already with the website, and that’s without even actually hacking the site, that’s just a purely passive analysis of [it],” he said. “We found a number of critical exposures that were around sensitive information, the ability to hack into the site, things like that. We reported those issues and none of those appear to have been addressed at all.”
After warning Americans when testifying before Congress on Nov. 19 to stay away from Healthcare.gov, Kennedy now says the situation is even worse.
“They said they implemented over 400 bug fixes,” he said. “When you recode the application to fix these 400 bugs – they were rushing this out of the door to get the site at least so it can work a little bit – you’re introducing more security flaws as you go along with it because you don’t even check that code.”
“I’m a little bit more skeptical now, and I would still definitely advise individuals to not use the website because it’s definitely something that I don’t believe is secure and neither did the four individuals that testified in front of Congress,” Kennedy said. “I think there’s some major security concerns there around privacy and information, and they haven’t even come close to being addressed, and won’t be in the short term.”
Security exposures are not limited to the federal health exchange, but the 14 state marketplace websites as well. A breach has already been cited in Vermont, where a user was given access to another’s Social Security Number.
“That’s a whole other front of hacking,” Kennedy said. “That’s what’s actually going to contain all the sensitive information for residents in those states.”
“States are required to notify in the event of a breach, the federal government is not,” he added. “So in the event that Healthcare.gov gets compromised and all their information gets taken out of it they don’t have to notify anybody.”
Kennedy said the team working on Healthcare.gov is more likely to hide its security flaws than address them. When it was revealed that the most popular searches on the website were hack attempts – confirmed by entering a semicolon in the search bar – the website simply removed the tool.
“The top results were hacker attempts,” Kennedy said. “Their fix for it wasn’t, ‘Hey let’s restrict people from inputting malicious code into the website,’ – because that’s how hackers break into websites – it was, ‘we’re just going to completely disable that entire function completely, and not even show the search results back.’”
CMS did not respond to requests for comment.
Amazon.com is testing delivering packages using drones, CEO Jeff Bezos said on the CBS TV news show 60 Minutes Sunday.
The idea would be to deliver packages as quickly as possible using the small, unmanned aircraft, through a service the company is calling Prime Air, the CEO said.
Bezos played a demo video on 60 Minutes that showed how the aircraft, also known as octocopters, will pick up packages in small yellow buckets at Amazon’s fulfillment centers and fly through the air to deliver items to customers after they hit the buy button online at Amazon.com.
The goal of the new delivery system is to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less, the world’s largest Internet retailer said. Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take “some number of years” as Amazon develops the technology further and waits for the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with rules and regulations, the company added.
Bezos told 60 Minutes that the service could be up and running in as few as four years – although he noted that he is an optimist when it comes to such things.
“One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” the company said.
This is the latest futuristic effort by Bezos, who was an e-commerce pioneer in the 1990s and more recently popularized the e-reader – while pursuing personal projects such as private spaceflight and a 10,000-year clock built inside a mountain.
Drones have mostly been used by the U.S. military to shoot missiles at enemy combatants in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the cost of these unmanned aircraft has dropped precipitously in recent years, making them more accessible to commercial users, such as companies, small businesses and entrepreneurs.
However, the FAA currently limits the use of drones in the U.S. to public entities such as police forces and hobbyists, meaning the devices cannot be used in return for payment. The regulator said recently that it plans to have regulations governing commercial use in place by 2015.
“The FAA would not let Amazon do this now,” said Ryan Calo, an expert on robotics, privacy and the law at the University of Washington. “But this is precisely the type of application that Congress had in mind when it told the FAA in 2012 to come up with rules for commercial unmanned aircraft.”
Amazon will be able to petition the FAA to show them how its drone delivery technology works and the company can also apply to test its drones to make sure they are air worthy,he added.
“Amazon will not be able to darken the skies of Seattle with drones. They will need a plan for safety,” Calo said. “But I see no reason why this application won’t fly.”
If drone delivery takes off, it could be a threat to FedEx and UPS, which Amazon uses for a lot of its deliveries now. Indeed, FedEx founder Fred Smith told Wired magazine in 2009 that the company wanted to switch their fleet to drones as soon as possible but that it had to wait for the FAA to regulate such activity.
“We’ll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place,” Amazon said Sunday. “Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards.”
Engineers at Duke University have designed a breakthrough gadget that ‘harvests’ background microwave radiation and converts it into electricity, with the same efficiency as solar panels.
The development, unveiled on Thursday, raises exciting possibilities such as recharging a phone wirelessly and providing power to remote locations that can’t access conventional electricity.
And the researchers say that their inexpensive invention is remarkably versatile. It could be used to capture ‘lost’ energy from a range of sources such as satellite transmissions, sound signals or Wi-Fi.
The Duke engineers used metamaterials, which their press release describes as ‘engineered structures that can capture various forms of wave energy and tune them for useful applications.’
They say the device harvested microwaves with an efficiency of 36.8 percent, similar to modern solar cells that capture light energy.
A report that will appear in the journal Applied Physics Letters in December states that this invention is capable of converting microwave signals to enough direct current voltage to recharge a cell phone battery.
The gadget, created by undergraduate engineering student Allen Hawkes, graduate student Alexander Katko and lead investigator Steven Cummer, consists of five fiberglass and copper conductors wired together on a circuit board.
It is capable of providing 7.3V of electricity. As the press release points out, current USB chargers provide around 5V.
Hawkes said: ‘We were aiming for the highest energy efficiency we could achieve. We had been getting energy efficiency around 6 to 10 percent, but with this design we were able to dramatically improve energy conversion to 37 percent, which is comparable to what is achieved in solar cells.’
His colleague, Katko, added: ‘It’s possible to use this design for a lot of different frequencies and types of energy, including vibration and sound energy harvesting.
‘Until now, a lot of work with metamaterials has been theoretical. We are showing that with a little work, these materials can be useful for consumer applications.’
Possible uses for the new technology include building metamaterial into homes to ensure Wi-Fi signals are not just lost.
Electrical products could also have a device attached to increase efficiency by ensuring that excess power is not wasted.
In theory, the invention could also be used to beam signals from phone towers that could then be converted into electricity.
Electronic devices could be recharged wirelessly or electricity sent to remote areas without power cables.
The researchers explained that a series of the power-harvesters could even capture signals from satellites passing overhead.
This could allow for electricity in hostile environments such as mountaintops or deserts. Cummer said: ‘Our work demonstrates a simple and inexpensive approach to electromagnetic power harvesting.
‘The beauty of the design is that the basic building blocks are self-contained and additive. One can simply assemble more blocks to increase the scavenged power.’
This video is a must see. The newest high resolution televisions hitting the market today display an image so realistic that one of them was used to convince people that a meteor was smashing into earth just outside the “window”. Hilarity/panic ensues.
Web-users who want to protect their privacy have been switching to a small unheard of search engine in the wake of the ‘Prism’ revelations.
DuckDuckGo, the little known U.S. company, sets itself aside from its giant competitors such as Google and Yahoo, by not sharing any of its clients’ data with searched websites. This means no targeted advertising and no skewed search results.
Aside from the reduced ads, this unbiased and private approach to using the internet is appealing to users angered at the news that U.S. and UK governments (the National Security Agency (NSA) in the U.S. and GCHQ in the UK), have direct access to the servers of big search engine companies, allowing them to ‘watch’ users.
Within just two weeks of the NSA’s operations being leaked by former employee Edward Snowden, DuckDuckGo’s traffic had doubled – from serving 1.7 million searches a day, to 3million.
‘We started seeing an increase right when the story broke, before we were covered in the press,’ said Gabriel Weinberg, founder and CEO, speaking to The Guardian.
Entrepreneur Mr Weinberg had the idea for the company in 2006, while taking time out to do a stained-glass making course. He had just sold successful start-up Opobox, similar to Friends Reunited, for $10million (£6.76million) to Classmates.com.
While on the course he realised that the teacher’s ‘useful web links’ did not tally up with Google’s search results, and realised the extent of the personalised skewing of results per user.
From there he had the idea to develop a ‘better’ search engine, that does not share any user information with any websites whatsoever.
Search data, he told the paper, ‘is arguably the most personal data people are entering into anything. You’re typing in your problems, your desires. It’s not the same as things you post publicly on a social network.’
DuckDuckGo, named after an American children’s tag game Duck Duck Goose (though not a metaphor), was solo-founded by Mr Weinberg in 2008, in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
He self-funded it until 2011 when Union Square Ventures, which also backs Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare and Kickstarter, and a handful of angel investors, came on board.
The team has expanded to a few full-time people, many part-time contributors and a bunch of open-source contributors.
‘If you’re wondering how you would turn that into a verb… Duck it!’ he says on the company website.
The 33-year-old CEO, who lives in Paoli, a suburb of Philadelphia, PA, with his wife and two children, explains that when other search engines are used, your search terms are sent to that site you clicked on; this sharing of information is known as ‘search leakage’.
‘For example, when you search for something private, you are sharing that private search not only with your search engine, but also with all the sites that you clicked on (for that search),’ he points out on his website.
‘In addition, when you visit any site, your computer automatically sends information about it to that site (including your User agent and IP address). This information can often be used to identify you directly.
‘So when you do that private search, not only can those other sites know your search terms, but they can also know that you searched it. It is this combination of available information about you that raises privacy concerns,’ he says.
The company offers a search engine, like Google, but which does not traffic users, which has less spam and clutter, that showcases ‘better instant answers’, and that does not put users in a ‘filter bubble’ meaning results are biased towards particular users.
Currently, 50 per cent of DuckDuckGo’s users are from the U.S., 45 per cent from Europe and the remaining 5 per cent from Asia-Pacific (APAC).
On June 3, the company reported it had more than 19million direct queries per month and the zero-click Info API gets over 9million queries per day.
It has partnerships with apps, browsers and distributions that include DuckDuckGo as a search option: Browsers, distributions, iOS, and Android. Companies can use DuckDuckGo for their site search, and the firm offers an open API for Instant Answers based on its open source DuckDuckHack platform.
Speaking on U.S. radio channel, American Public Media, Mr Weinberg said: ‘Companies like DuckDuckGo have sprung in the last couple years to cater to the growing number of data dodgers.
‘There’s pent up demand for companies that do not track you,’ he says.
User feedback on the company website say the search engine reminds them of the early days of using Google; it’s like an ‘honorable search site to complement Wikipedia’; and other are ‘amazed’ that a search engine company is ‘doing exactly the right thing’.
Critics of the company remain cautious of the sudden surge in success, however, pointing out that 3million searches per day is just a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared with the 13billion searches Google does every day.
Writing on his website, Danny Sullivan, who runs the Search Engine Land site and analyses the industry, said big companies like Ask.com and Yahoo had tried pro-privacy pushes before and failed to generate huge interest.
Perhaps in the wake of the NSA and GCHQ revelations, however, users may think twice about their search engine provider.
Chinese hackers have gained access to designs of more than two dozen major U.S. weapons systems, a U.S. report said on Monday, as Australian media said Chinese hackers had stolen the blueprints for Australia’s new spy headquarters.
Citing a report prepared for the Defense Department by the Defense Science Board, the Washington Post said the compromised U.S. designs included those for combat aircraft and ships, as well as missile defenses vital for Europe, Asia and the Gulf.
Among the weapons listed in the report were the advanced Patriot missile system, the Navy’s Aegis ballistic missile defense systems, the F/A-18 fighter jet, the V-22 Osprey, the Black Hawk helicopter and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The report did not specify the extent or time of the cyber-thefts or indicate if they involved computer networks of the U.S. government, contractors or subcontractors.
But the espionage would give China knowledge that could be exploited in a conflict, such as the ability to knock out communications and corrupting data, the Post said. It also could speed China’s development of its defense technology.
In a report to Congress this month, the Pentagon said China was using espionage to modernize its military and its hacking was a serious concern. It said the U.S. government had been the target of hacking that appeared to be “attributable directly to the Chinese government and military.”
China dismissed the report as groundless.
China also dismissed as without foundation a February report by the U.S. computer security company Mandiant, which said a secretive Chinese military unit was probably behind a series of hacking attacks targeting the United States that had stolen data from 100 companies.
AUSTRALIAN “SECURITY BLUNDER”
In Australia, a news report said hackers linked to China stole the floor plans of a A$630 million headquarters for the Australia Security Intelligence Organization, the country’s domestic spy agency.
The attack through the computers of a construction contractor exposed not only building layouts, but also the location of communication and computer networks, it said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about the Australian report, said China disapproved of hacking.
“China pays high attention to the cyber security issue and is firmly opposed to all forms of hacker attacks,” Hong said at a daily briefing.
“Since it is very difficult to find out the origin of hacker attacks, it is very difficult to find out who carried out such attacks,” Hong said. “I don’t know what the evidence is for media to make such kinds of reports.”
Repeating China’s position that every country was susceptible to cyber attacks, Hong said nations should make joint efforts towards a secure and open Internet.
Australia security analyst Des Ball told the ABC that such information about the yet to be completed spy headquarters made it vulnerable to cyber attacks.
“You can start constructing your own wiring diagrams, where the linkages are through telephone connections, through wi-fi connections, which rooms are likely to be the ones that are used for sensitive conversations, how to surreptitiously put devices into the walls of those rooms,” said Ball.
The building is designed to be part of an electronic intelligence gathering network that includes the United States and Britain. Its construction has been plagued by delays and cost over-runs with some builders blaming late design changes on cyber attacks.
The ABC report said the Chinese hacking was part of a wave of cyber attacks against business and military targets in the close U.S. ally.
It said the hackers also stole confidential information from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which houses the overseas spy agency, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, and had targeted companies, including steel-manufacturer Bluescope Steel, and military and civilian communications manufacturer Codan Ltd.
The influential Greens party said the hacking was a “security blunder of epic proportions” and called for an inquiry, but the government did not confirm the breach.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the reports were “inaccurate”, but declined to say how.
Despite being one of Beijing’s major trade partners, Australia is seen by China as the southern fulcrum of a U.S. military pivot to the Asia-Pacific. In 2011, it agreed to host thousands of U.S. Marines in near-permanent rotation.
Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei was last year barred from bidding for construction contracts on a new Australian high-speed broadband network amid fears of cyber espionage.
The Reserve Bank of Australia said in March that it had been targeted by cyber attacks, but no data had been lost or systems compromised amid reports the hackers had tried to access intelligence negotiations among a Group of 20 wealthy nations.
Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old University of Texas law student and founder of the non-profit group Defense Distributed, invented a 3D-printed handgun made of ABS plastic whose only metal is its firing pin. The group tested the gun–and it passed.
He named it the “Liberator,” after the single-shot pistol air-dropped in Europe during World War II, and the group made the plans available for download. Wired reported that Wilson used a single .380 caliber bullet. He does have barrels in 9mm and .22 in the works, but the design needs to be more stable. It is not perfect and Wilson thinks it is too big, but it is easy to fire. The gun was built with an $8,000 Stratasys Dimension SST 3-D Printer.
“The design is based on two to three features that worked first. We had been testing barrels for almost two months, and we used the barrels and ABS that worked,” he told Wired. “We used 60 to 70 different springs, not all separate designs, but just trial and error. We cannibalized a spring off a toy on Thingiverse, a wind-up car toy.”
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) passed 3-D printed handguns should be banned.
“Guns are made out of plastic, so they would not be detectable by a metal detector at any airport or sporting event,” said Schumer. “Only metal part of the gun is the little firing pin and that is too small to be detected by metal detectors, for instance, when you go through an airport.”
Schumer said the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which expires next year, should be updated to include printable gun magazines. Defense Distributed possesses a federal firearms manufacturers license, but only after Wilson was sought out by the ATF.
“There’s no reason for a rifle receiver or a magazine to be, quote unquote, detectable,” Wilson says. “And to make this even worse, they’ll say: we’ll it’s okay for manufacturers to make an undetectable receiver, but it’s just not okay for you to make it. It’s an attempt to regulate some gun parts under the guise of security.”