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2014 December

December 19, 2014

The Hyperloop Idea: One year (and a bit) later.

Hyperloop concept art near the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point in San Francisco.

Hyperloop concept art near the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point in San Francisco. (Image via Wired.com)

In August 2013, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, released a 57 page alpha white paper on a high-speed mass transit system that uses a series of low pressure air tubes and turbine powered aluminum passenger pods called the Hyperloop. Much of the design is based off of existing technology: the tubes would be powered by solar panels and the electric motors for each passenger pod would be based on the inductive motors used in the Tesla S car. However due to his responsibilities with his other companies, Musk decided to not take up this project but hoped that “[i]f someone else did it, [the project could become reality] in 3 to 4 years.”

Sixteen months later, a California-based startup company called JumpStartFund has taken up the charge and has made some promising work towards Musk’s idea with some modifications. The company is not one in the standard sense: it combines some elements of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to make ambitious ideas into reality. It is a group of about 100 engineers from all across the country exchanging ideas while working on portions of the project based on their skills and interests. A lot of the work is being done in partnership with 25 students at UCLA’s SUPRASTUDIO design and architecture program.

For more information about the alpha white paper by Elon Musk: click here for a PDF at the Tesla Motors blog.

For more information about the current progress of this project, check out this article from Wired.com

December 8, 2014

Sen. Wyden puts forward a bill to ban data “backdoors”

Security locksArs Technica reported on a bill authored by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon that will seek to prohibit federal agencies from mandating the deployment of vulnerabilities in data security technologies. This bill follows the remarks by FBI director, James Comey expressing his concern over Apple’s and Google’s announcements to encrypt or allow for the encryption of their latest operating systems. For the iOS 8 release, the encryption feature is enabled by default. With the release of the Android “L” operating system due early in 2015, encryption will become default.

One loophole to the potential benefits of encryption regards cloud storage. Cloud storage will offer protections if a device is stolen or resold but any data stored and connected to your account there is nothing preventing law enforcement from search with a warrant.

For the bill authored by Sen. Wyden, click here.
For the article from Ars Technica about the new bill, click here.
For the article from Ars Technica regarding the FBI director’s remarks, click here.

The Washington Post also reported on device encryption for Apple and Google as well.

December 2, 2014

Intel, Stephen Hawking aim to spur assistive technology development

Stephen Hawking with his caretaker Pete. Photo from Intel press release.

Stephen Hawking with his caretaker Pete.
Photo from Intel press release.

Intel on Tuesday outlined a new system that will replace Stephen Hawking’s communication platform that enables him to communicate and provided a toolkit for developers to tailor the software for the 3 million people with motor neuron diseases.

Hawking, who has a motor neuron disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), has relied on his previous communications platform for the last decade. Intel is providing an update and will provide a customized version to researchers and technologists in January.

The news, outlined at an event in London, could enable developers to better create systems to improve the lives of those with motor neuron diseases and quadriplegia.

Hawking’s life is the subject of the movie The Theory of Everything. Intel Labs researchers have been working with Hawking for three years to replace his communications system with more modern technology. Hawking provided feedback as Intel iterated.

Intel’s interface allows Hawking to type twice as fast and to complete common tasks such as browsing, editing, navigating documents and the Web 10x faster.

For more information, click here for the article on ZDNet.com or the press release from Intel (with video).