The Smallest Astronomical Satellite Ever Built Launched Today

One of the BRITE nano-satellites, as it was being assembled in Toronto

One of the BRITE nano-satellites, as it was being assembled in Toronto

At the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India this morning (Feb. 25), the smallest astronomical satellite ever built was launched into orbit aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle C20 rocket. In fact, it wasn’t just one satellite, but two – each of the twin BRIght Target Explorer (BRITE) spacecraft take the form of a cube that measures just 20 cm (7.8 inches) per side, and weighs in at under seven kilograms (15.4 lbs).

The BRITEs were designed at the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies. One of the two nano-satellites launched today, known as UniBRITE, was assembled at SFL and funded by the University of Vienna. The other, called BRITE-Austria, was assembled in Austria and funded by that country’s Technical University of Graz – it is being promoted as “Austria’s First Satellite.”

The twin BRITE satellites aboard the PSLV-C20 rocket this Monday morning

The twin BRITE satellites aboard the PSLV-C20 rocket this Monday morning

Once in orbit, the satellites will work together to monitor changes in brightness of some of the largest, brightest stars in the sky. Their relatively small onboard telescopes limit their ability to monitor dimmer stars, or to take “pretty pictures.” Unlike ground-based telescopes that could be used to view those same stars, however, the satellites won’t be limited by scintillation – the visual distortion of celestial bodies, created by turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere. They will also be able to image their target stars day and night, and won’t be thwarted by weather conditions such as cloud cover.

Because such large stars oscillate more slowly than smaller ones, the satellites won’t have to monitor them continuously. Instead, they can just check in on the stars at regular intervals, taking note of what changes in brightness have occurred. This, in turn, means that the satellites don’t need to be placed in one “right” orbit, where they can see their chosen star at all times. As a result, future BRITEs could hitch a ride into space on any available rocket, and placed into orbit wherever it was convenient – within reason.

Along with their telescopes, each of today’s two satellites contain three computers: one for instrument processing, one for housekeeping (keeping the satellite running), and one for attitude control. Approximately six watts of electrical power is provided by onboard solar cells.

Plans call for two other pairs of BRITE satellites to join the pair launched today, forming a “constellation” of six nano-satellites that will work together. Two of them will be Canadian, while two will be Austrian and two will be Polish.

“Big bright stars lead short and violent lives and deaths (supernovas) and in the process seed the universe with heavy elements without which life on Earth would be impossible,” the University of Toronto stated in a press release. “To better understand these stars is to better understand how life arose on our planet.”

More information on the construction of the nano-satellites is available in the video below.

Source: Gizmag

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AT&T Snags OnStar Wireless Contract From Verizon

AT&T Inc. is scoring a win over rival Verizon Wireless as it takes over the contract to supply wireless connections to cars with General Motors’ OnStar service.

Verizon Wireless and its predecessor companies have supplied the network for OnStar since the service launched in the 1990s, but AT&T will take over with the 2015 model year, AT&T and GM said Monday.
The news comes as cellphone companies are jostling to connect non-phone devices to their networks. Now that nearly everyone has a phone, the phone companies have to look elsewhere for growth. Dallas-based AT&T has been particularly aggressive in this area, garnering, for instance, the contract to connect Amazon Kindle e-readers.

AT&T will connect OnStar cars to its new “4G LTE” network, which can supply much higher data speeds than current OnStar connections. That means GM could deliver car software updates wirelessly, instead of making owners take their cars  to the shop. It could also enable video streaming for passengers, in-vehicle Wi-Fi “hotspots” and give GM a better view of what’s going on inside a car, and whether it needs maintenance. Owners might even be able to call up views from their car’s cameras, remotely.

“They’re basically smartphones on wheels,” said Glenn Lurie, head of AT&T’s “emerging devices” division.

Verizon has an LTE network that delivers speeds similar to AT&T’s, with wider coverage. Lurie said that by the time AT&T takes over the contract, its LTE network will cover 300 million Americans, or 96 percent of the population. It also has older, slower networks as a backup.

Verizon Wireless said it was looking forward to continuing to provide service to current OnStar customers.

AT&T and GM made the announcement just before the opening of Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest wireless trade show, in Barcelona. The companies didn’t reveal financial terms. The 6 million current OnStar users pay $19 per month or $199 per year, plus per-minute calling fees. Turn-by-turn GPS navigation costs extra, too.

British automotive research firm SBD believes that 100 million cars worldwide will have built-in wireless capabilities by 2015

Source: AP

Scanther Offers Merchant Tags Via QR, SMS and NFC-Enabled Signs

US startup Scanther is raising funds on Indiegogo for a combined mobile website plus NFC tag package for independent retailers.

The service is designed to enable small merchants to market their businesses via QR, SMS and NFC-enabled counter signs, window decals and table top signs that link directly to a custom mobile-optimized website.

Source: NFC World

SecureKey Signs with Enstream to Provide Mobile Credentials

Customers of Canadian mobile operators Bell Mobility, Rogers and Telus will be able to use NFC for secure authentication and identification after the EnStream mobile commerce joint venture signed a deal with credential issuer SecureKey.

SecureKey recently launched an authentication service for the Government of Canada that enables Canadians to use their bank authentication credentials to obtain access to online government services like pension, tax and benefits. The initiative is part of the Canadian government’s Federated Identity Management strategy, which promotes the interoperability of security credentials to create a lower cost, more convenient, and more secure authentication ecosystem for consumers and business.

“Our partnership with SecureKey gives Canadians an innovative and valuable solution that can be used with services from government, healthcare providers and financial institutions,” said Enstream’s Almis Ledas. “SecureKey is the first credential issuer to announce that it will make use of our ability to deploy secure credentials on SIM-based secure elements for mobile carriers in Canada.”

Source: NFC World

Microchip Implant Lets Blind Patients See Shapes

An eye-implanted chip from Retina Implant has restored patients’ ability to discern light during its latest trial, according to German researchers.

The device works in a similar fashion to the newly FDA approved Argus II retinal prosthesis to return limited vision in patients with photoreceptor cell diseases like retinitis pigmentosa.

Unlike that system, however, light is picked up via 1,500 pixels on a retinal implant instead of an eyeglass-mounted camera. The signal is boosted by a coil implanted in skin behind the ear and sent back to so-called bipolar cells still active on the retina, which in turn send an image to the brain through regular neural circuits. A small battery mounted behind the ear — the only external sign of the device — contains controls for brightness and contrast.

The recent trial let 8 out of 9 patients see in varying degrees, with three in the study even able to read letters and see the faces of family members. Given that the Argus II finally crossed the FDA’s bionic eye barrier, hopefully we won’t have to wait nearly as long for research like this to become a product.

Source: Engadget

How Artificial Intelligence Could Revolutionize Healthcare

Could supercomputers like IBM’s Watson one day replace human physicians? It’s a question that’s been swirling for years, and one that receives more thorough treatment from Jonathan Cohn, in a recent essay for the Atlantic.

As Cohn explains, researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York are currently using Watson to help train physicians, in the hopes of one day deploying it in hospitals to help doctors make diagnoses — something that could potentially mitigate costly human errors.

IBM says Watson is still a few years away from wide deployment, but its ability to learn and process information has already sparked dreams of a doctor-less future, with some enthusiasts saying artificial intelligence may disrupt healthcare in the same way that the internet revolutionized the media.

“Specifically, they imagine the application of data as a ‘disruptive’ force, upending health care in the same way it has upended almost every other part of the economy—changing not just how medicine is practiced but who is practicing it,” Cohn writes. “In Silicon Valley and other centers of innovation, investors and engineers talk casually about machines’ taking the place of doctors, serving as diagnosticians and even surgeons—doing the same work, with better results, for a lot less money.”

Source: The Verge

Argus II Becomes First “Bionic Eye” to Gain Approval for Sale in U.S.

While the word prosthesis usually evokes images of artificial legs, arms, and these days even sophisticated thought-controlled hands, an entirely new class of replacement body part has now become a reality – the bionic eye. One of the pioneers in this field is California-based Second Sight and the company has now announced that its Argus II System has received U.S. market approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The result of two decades of R&D and US$200 million in public and private investment, the Argus II System began clinical trials in the U.S. back in 2007 and won approval for sale in Europe in 2011.

The system is designed to treat near blindness caused by retinitis pigmentosa – a degenerative disease said to affect approximately 100,000 Americans. It consists of a tiny video camera mounted in glasses that is wirelessly linked to a receiver and microelectrode array implanted onto the patient’s retina. This microelectrode array, which spans 20 degrees of the visual field, then stimulates the remaining cells in the retina with electrical pulses that travel down the optic nerve to the brain. While it does not restore normal sight, patients can learn to interpret these signals and gain a significant increase in visual capabilities to the point where they can perceive colors, recognize large letters and locate objects.

“It is incredibly exciting to have FDA approval to begin implanting the Argus II and provide some restoration of vision to patients blinded from RP. In the patients that have been implanted to date, the improvement in the quality of life has been invaluable,” said Mark Humayun, MD, PhD, Cornelius Ping’s Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Ophthalmology, Biomedical Engineering, Cell and Neurobiology, Doheny Eye Institute at University of Southern California. “The fact that many patients can use the Argus implant in their activities of daily living such as recognizing large letters, locating the position of objects, and more, has been beyond our wildest dreams, yet the promise to the patients is real and we expect it only to improve over time.”

The Argus II is expected to become available later this year. “With this approval, we look forward to building a strong surgical network in the United States and recruiting new hospitals that will offer the Argus II retinal implant,” said Robert Greenberg, MD, PhD, President and CEO of Second Sight.

The Second Sight video below runs us through how the Argus II system works.

Source: Gizmag

Another, New iOS Lock Screen Vulnerability Uncovered

Hot on the heels of a vulnerability that gave snoopers the ability to bypass the iPhone’s passcode in iOS 6 and make calls, view and modify contacts, and even access to photos via the Contacts app, is a new one that allows the entire contents of the handset to by synced with iTunes.

“The vulnerability is located in the main login module of the mobile iOS device [applies to iPhone or iPad] when processing to use the screenshot function in combination with the emergency call and power button,” said Vulnerability Lab, who initially discovered the flaw.

The vulnerability allows anyone with physical access to the iOS device the ability to easily bypass the passcode lock and use  a USB cable to get access to the data stored on the iPhone or iPad from a Mac or PC.

Below is a video demonstrating the vulnerability.

This is a very serious vulnerability indeed, as it means that someone could get access to data stored on an iOS device without leaving a trace. While home users might not like the idea of family and friends snooping through their data, it’s businesses who use iPhones and iPads that need to be really worried. This vulnerability means that storing sensitive information on an iOS 6 is not a good idea, and additional steps need to be taken to protect the data.

Source: Forbes

Which ISPs Are Providing The Speeds They Advertise?

Once again, the FCC has put a wide range of Internet service providers to the test to see whether or not they are delivering on the speeds they advertise to customers. And while it the majority of ISPs are not far off, with a few actually over-delivering, some still have a way to go.

The above chart doesn’t indicate which of the ISPs was fastest or slowest, merely how each ISP fared in delivering the speeds promised in its advertising to consumers. So while you can’t look at it and say that Cablevision provides a faster service than AT&T, you can use this info to decide how willing you are to accept a company’s advertising claims.

The chart at the bottom of this post shows in greater detail the actual sustained download speeds per tier per provider.

This is the first time that the FCC has included a satellite broadband provider in its Measuring Broadband report, and ViaSat, which we told you about when we got a hands-on demo at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, made a pretty good rookie showing. Not only did it deliver speeds faster than the advertised 12 mbps downstream that ViaSat advertises, it had the highest actual/advertised ratio of all the ISPs in the study.

“While latency for satellites necessarily remains much higher than for terrestrial services,” writes the FCC, “with the improvements afforded by the new technology we find that it will support many types of popular broadband services and applications.”

Here is the per-provider, per-tier breakdown of actual sustained download speeds:

You can check out the full test results and report Here.

Source: The Consumerist

Facebook Hacked, Claims “No Evidence of User Data Compromised”

Facebook announced on Friday that it had been the target of a series of attacks from an unidentified hacker group, which resulted in the installation of malicious software onto Facebook employee laptops.

“Last month, Facebook security discovered that our systems had been targeted in a sophisticated attack,” the company said in a blog post. “The attack occurred when a handful of employees visited a mobile developer website that was compromised.”

Facebook says that these employees then had malware installed on their laptops as a result of their visiting the web site. The hack used what is called a “zero-day Java exploit,” a known vulnerability in Oracle’s software which has gained much attention in recent months. Essentially, anyone visiting a website using this attack who also has Oracle’s Java enabled in their browser was vulnerable. As a result, hackers inserted malware onto the laptops of multiple Facebook employees.

“As soon as we discovered the presence of malware, we remediated all infected machines, informed law enforcement, and began a significant investigation that continues to this day,” the post read.

In the company’s post, Facebook notes that it had “found no evidence that Facebook user data was compromised.”

Facebook did not say what the hackers did have access to, however, after the installation of said malware.

Facebook’s announcement comes on the heels of a string of recent attacks on other major Web sites. Twitter, the microblogging social network that hosts more than 200 million active users on its service, announced it had been hacked two weeks ago, and that upwards of 250,000 user accounts may have been compromised as a result.

Other targets have included the Washington Post, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, all of which have said they believe that the Chinese government was somehow involved in their system infiltration.

But both Facebook and Twitter, in their respective blog posts, make no direct comparison or accusation to the hacks made on the Times, the Journal or the Post.

Facebook declined to comment when asked if the company suspected the Chinese government was involved.

Something to note, however; Facebook directly points to the zero-day exploit, which takes advantage of Oracle’s Java vulnerability, as the root cause of the attack. While Twitter did not detail the exact methods of how its systems were infiltrated, Twitter director of information security Bob Lord reminded users that security experts strongly recommend turning off the problematic Java inside of their browsers.

That could suggest that the two attacks were connected, though neither company says as much outright. But both Facebook and Twitter included language in their posts that their respective companies were part of a larger series of attacks on multiple companies over the past few months.

“Facebook was not alone in the attack. It is clear that others were attacked and infiltrated recently as well,” the company’s post says.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The string of hacks also come as U.S. President Barack Obama recently released an executive cybersecurity order during his State of the Union address earlier this week, which would better allow government agencies to share information related to cyber-espionage and attacks within the private sector, while avoiding many of the unpopular concessions that the previously proposed CISPA made.

For now, however, Facebook will continue its investigation with law enforcement, as well as pursue its own “informal” cooperative investigation with others in the space.

“As one of the first companies to discover this malware, we immediately took steps to start sharing details about the infiltration with the other companies and entities that were affected. We plan to continue collaborating on this incident through an informal working group and other means.”

Source: All Things D