Archive for March, 2006

Robots on the Road

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Here’s another post about people building the darndest things. On March 28th, thanks to the folks at Darpanet, you’ll be able to watch a dozen driverless vehicles — created by people ranging from entreprenuers to students and hobbyists — attempt to successfully navigate 130 miles of Mojave desert terrain on NOVA’s The Great Robot Race. NOVA’s companion site features background on the dozen teams competing for the $2 million prize, as well as videos of their vehicles, and a preview of the upcoming show. 

Sounds impressive, and you can bet that with $2 million at stake a lot of time and resources went into building these prototypes. However, my favorite robot vehicle of the day won’t qualify for the competition. It’s a wi-fi rover I found via Make  magazine, built at a cost of $103 by a high school student who won second place in a local science fair with his creation.


He’s got plans to add GPS, and other neat gadgets. After building a robot on just over $100, I wonder what this kid could do with even a fraction of the Great Robot Race prize money.

The (Private) Race for Space

Monday, March 20th, 2006

We’ve written before about the incipient space tourism industry; yesterday the AP released a story that summarizes the gathering momentum of what was, not too long ago, a "sleepy industry":

Two years after the first privately financed space flight jump-started a sleepy industry, more than a dozen companies are developing rocket planes to ferry ordinary rich people out of the atmosphere.

Several private companies will begin building their prototype vehicles this summer with plans to test fly them as early as next year. If all goes well, the first tourist could hitch a galactic joy ride late next year or 2008 – pending approval by federal regulators….

"This time, it’s personal. This space race is about getting ‘us’ into space," said space historian Andrew Chaikin.

For now, commercial space travel remains an exclusive club.

Over the past few years, three tourists have paid a reported $20 million each to ride aboard a Russian rocket to the orbiting international space station.

Instead of days in space, the commercial spaceships under development will only reach suborbital space, a region about 60 miles up that is generally considered the beginning of the rest of the universe. Since the private spaceships lack the speed to go into orbit around Earth, the flights are essentially up and down experiences – lasting about two hours with up to five minutes of weightlessness.

The article includes a summary of the major contenders in the space-tourism arena:

The biggest name is Virgin Galactic, a space tourism firm founded by British billionaire tycoon Richard Branson. Branson has partnered with Burt Rutan, whose SpaceShipOne in 2004 became the first private manned craft to reach space, to build a fleet of suborbital commercial spaceships called SpaceShipTwo….

_Oklahoma-based Rocketplane Kistler is one of Virgin Galactic’s biggest competitors. Rocketplane Kistler, whose main investor is American businessman George French, hopes to start test flights next January and fly commercially by next summer. French owns several businesses including a space education company in Wisconsin….

_Space Adventures, a Virginia-based space travel agency best known for brokering three tourists to the international space station, is the latest entrant.

Last month, Space Adventures announced a partnership with members of the Ansari family – the major funders of the $10 million X Prize won by SpaceShipOne – to develop Russian-designed suborbital rockets that would launch from a proposed spaceport in the United Arab Emirates by 2008.

You can check out Rocketplane here and Virgin Galactic here.

Maps in Greater Detail

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Wired has a good article out today on how the next-generation of commercial imaging satellites is going to change, er, the way we view the world– or at least the details of our view:

Critics of overhead imagery services like Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth generally fall into two categories: government agencies who say the services show too much, and users who lament they can’t see more.

As the next generation of commercial imaging satellites moves closer to launch, the first camp may be out of luck.

Forthcoming features such as enhanced zoom capabilities, higher-resolution views and faster updates of stock imagery will reveal far more detail of Earth’s surface than anything visible on a computer screen today. While satellite imagery won’t be real-time, or capable of distinguishing individuals, it will be good enough to pinpoint ground-level details too blurry to identify using today’s technology.

"We’re just starting," said Matthew M. O’Connell, CEO of GeoEye (formerly Orbimage), which plans to launch a satellite in early 2007 that can show images of objects as small as 1.3 feet across. "At that resolution, we can literally count the manhole covers in Manhattan."

Just a few years ago, the idea of zooming in from a PC screen to any point on Earth would have seemed like the stuff of fantasy. Now that it’s reality, satellite and aerial mapping applications are drawing millions of addicted users. Hardly a week goes by without news of some strange or scandalous finding: Last week amateur astronomer Emilio González of Spain used Google Earth to find what might be a previously unknown impact crater in Chad.


Read the whole story here



Podcast Numbers Overtake Radio Stations

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Although the reach of radio remains infinitely larger, a major milestone in the distribution of new media content was hit when the number of podasts exceeded the number of radio stations recently. SiliconRepublic:

There are now more podcasts than there are radio stations worldwide, matching a prediction made on an Irish blog site last year….

Podcasts cover a range of areas; the most popular is science, followed by religion, audio blogs, technology and talk radio. Other common categories include news, arts, movies and TV, sport, health, travel and food….

“[Podcasts] not equal in size or money or importance but it’s about choice,” Greene added, suggesting that the alternative listening choice now available to the public via podcasting would mean the end for what he calls “wallpaper radio”. Unlike many mainstream radio stations which take their playlists from a narrow selection of music formats, podcasts are designed to appeal to niche audiences.

Want to find out if you own the most expensive house in your neighborhood?

Friday, March 17th, 2006

Better yet how about getting information for houses in your neighborhood or any neighborhood? Get a bird’s eye view of house or neighborhood.

Go to to find out more.

EchoStar, DirecTV Possible Partners

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

Joyzelle Davis reports in the Rocky Mountain News:

EchoStar Communications’ Chief Executive Charlie Ergen gave the strongest indication yet that the satellite-television provider would team with larger rival DirecTV to establish a broadband service.

DirecTV, whose controlling shareholder is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., is working on technology that could allow it to offer services including phone and wireless high-speed Internet to homes and mobile devices. That would give satellite-TV providers a way to counter cable companies’ bundle of video, high-speed Internet and phone service….

A partnership would allow EchoStar to split the "excessive" costs of building the network and help craft standards for the industry, Ergen said…

If such a partnership were to occur, it would mark the first strategic alliance between the companies that sought to merge four years ago.

 Read more about the plan here.

TV: To-Go vs. Terrestrial

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

Imagine for minute that you want to watch, say, the Super Bowl or some other big television event. But it’s only available on your phone.  That’s right. None of the "terrestrial" networks are carrying it. Hard to imagine?  It happened in South Korea

Cable TV and other media that are considered as "non-mainstream" are threatening the realm of conventional terrestrial TV.

The latest case was a challenge made by a one-year-old sports channel Xports, which is buying up broadcasting rights for matches of the South Korean national team.

On Wednesday night, Xports exclusively aired the national team’s match with Syria. It was the first time a national team match was not shown on the three terrestrial TV channels _ KBS, SBS and MBC. Adding insult to injury was the fact that the Korea-Syria match was also viewed on versatile mobile phones with satellite DMB functions, another emerging medium of entertainment.

Satellite TV on a cell phone? Evidently, it’s spread so widely in other parts of the world that it’s starting to rival traditional — "terrestrial" — TV. Well, it’s here. And though you may not find it’s your only option for some television events, it’s set to offer more options. It’s expanding into Europe and other countries, through companies like Pantech and Samsung. It’s also coming to Canada and Latin America. Now, I find out that my wireless carrier launched its own video service a week ago, along with two new phones to go with it. 

Boy, am I behind. I haven’t even gotten a video iPod yet.  Now my phone is outdated, and have to choose which new phone to get; never mind deciding what to watch once I get it.

Google Goes to Mars

Monday, March 13th, 2006

Having already been to the the moon, Google goes to Mars and takes us there with Google Mars.

 Google Mars

Besides looking at the pretty pictures via the elevation map, you can check out the "visible" and "infrared" views, as well as the mountains, ridges, plains and  craters of the red planet, as tagged by Google. And clicking on the stories link will lead you to some background information on various sites, like the Bacolor Crater.  

Via Warping it up!

Technorati Profile

Wanna Buy a Space Shuttle?

Monday, March 13th, 2006

Well, you’re too late and about $98,000 short if — like most of us — you don’t happen to have that kind of change lying around. But if you had it to spare and had happened across a particular Ebay posting over the weekend, you could have bought a Soviet Space Shuttle

 Soviet Shuttle

OK, OK. So it’s not an actual space shuttle. It’s a 1/8 model that was used in various flight tests for the Soviet’s Buran space shuttle.

 The BOR-5 is a 1400 kg exact 1/8 scale model of the Soviet space shuttle Buran. The BOR-5 is 15’6" Long (17′ w/trailer) X 9’10" Wide (wingtip to wingtip) X 5’10" Tall (8’10" Tall on trailer). It was used to validate the aero-dynamic characteristics of the Buran at hypersonic speeds, between 1983 and 1988. The BOR-5 was launched on probably five sub-orbital trajectories from Kapustin Yar, in the direction of Lake Balkhash, using SL-8 (Cosmos) rockets (Russian designation: K65M-RB5). BOR is the abbreviation for Bezpilotnyy Orbitalnyy Raketoplan (Unmanned Orbital Rocketplane).

BOR-5 flights tested (amoung other things) carbon-based and quartz fiber heat-shield material paving the way for the Buran Shuttle. Russian sources are contradictory as to the number of BOR-5 flights. An except from one report reads: " … At an approximate altitude of 110-120 km height, the Cosmos booster pitched down, driving at full thrust for several minutes, accelerated the model to Mach 18.5 at 45 degrees, before separation. The craft landed using a parachute landing system after a flight of 2000 km.

 But those are just details, really. How cool would it be to start conversations with, "So, you know, I own a space shuttle"? If you happen to have $25,000 to spare between now and April you still have shot at an original NASA space shuttle prototype. Sure it’s only .008 scale, but it’s still a space shuttle, right? Anyway, if that’s too big of a hit to the wallet, you can always bid on about a ton of other space memorabilia.

Via Gizmodo and Random Good Stuff.

Mars Probe Set for Arrival

Friday, March 10th, 2006

"The tension is mounting for scientists and engineers of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) mission as their spacecraft heads toward a red planet rendezvous today," reports:

 MRO is expected to enter Mars orbit after a 27-minute maneuver around the planet’s southern hemisphere, completing a seven-month trek. That burn is set to begin at 4:25 p.m. EST (2125 GMT) this afternoon, with MRO swinging back into communications range by 5:16 p.m. EST (2216 GMT).

NASA will broadcast MRO’s Mars approach and orbital arrival live on NASA TV beginning at 3:30 p.m. EST today. You can watch it here

Technorati Tags:  Science, Space, technology, Cool Stuff, NASA, Planetary