Optical broadband to be rolled out to the solar system

Internet usage on Earth become more and more data heavy as new applications and uses are found for the digital network.  The same problem exists up in space as more sophisticated probes and missions are sent to the far reaches of the solar system.

To address an inevitable future data-bottleneck of the current RF-based communication systems, NASA is to launch a research mission to trial and investigate the characteristics of a light-based comms network.

It will not be able to reduce the time that is required to receive a signal from, for example, Mars – which at best is just over 3 minutes but can be as much as 22 minutes when the planets are furthest apart.  But it will be able to increase the amount of data that can be transmitted – multiplying it by a factor of between 10 and 100.  This will allow for more and higher-resolution imagery and data packets from future missions.

Read the press article at NASA here: Laser Communications Relay Demonstration



Pulsar consumes star to leave planet-sized diamond

A hyper dense pulsar circles a massive star – pulling the upper atmosphere and gases away and throwing them out in to the cosmos.  Despite its size, the star is helpless – locked as it is in a gravitational dance with the pulsar.  Year by year the star’s atmosphere of hydrogen and helium is stripped away until all that is left is its crystalline carbon-rich core – left to circle the now dominant pulsar.

This is a scenario that may have preceded the recent discovery by scientists, led by Matthew Bailes at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, reported in Science this week.  The diamond planet is only 5 times the size of the Earth but has a mass greater than that of Jupiter.  It orbits the pulsar in little more than 2 hours.

Read the press release from the Swinburne University of Technology here: A planet made of diamond

Read the Science relese here: Diamond planet orbits a pulsar


Applied artificial intelligence – speech recognition at Microsoft Research

Artificial intelligence is a field as wide as the endeavours of humankind itself.  One of the best ways to handle such a complex subject is to find niche areas that can be investigated in depth.  Then, at a later point, to abstract away from these areas to find patterns of common solution.

Speech recognition is one such area.  Microsoft Research has recently announced progress in building a general-purpose speech recognition capability – which does not require the hours of training typically needed to adapt the software to your way of speaking.

Their approach, presented during Interspeech 2011, breaks down the problem to use the finer-grained yet more numerous senones, rather than the traditional phonemes.  This has led to an improvement in word-recognition of more than 30%.

Read the article at Microsoft Research here: Speech Recognition Leaps Forward


The greatest clock of all time?

Time is an ephemeral thing, moving like grains of rice through the fingers – each second passing to be replaced by the next.  But devices that can measure time do not need to be so temporary, they do not need to rust and be thrown away.  This is a vision that is conjoured up by the 10,000 year clock which is starting to be constructed in the Sierra Diablo mountains.  It is a monumental project to build a device that could run for a length of time that would allow a beam of light to travel almost a quarter of the way to the center of the galaxy.

It is an idea first conjured up by Danny Hillis in Wired magazine and has been sparked in to life by funding provided by Jeff Bezos.  It has an admirable goal of attempting to convince people to start thinking about the long term and to take actions that will provide benefit to mankind over centuries, not just quarters.

Learn more about the clock here: http://www.10000yearclock.net/

Read a longer article in Wired here: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-06/24/10000-year-clock


Dwarf star lurks in close proximity to the sun

Dimly glowing, unseen in the interstellar void lurks a newly discovered Dwarf star.  A Y dwarf that is much cooler than most known stars, it barely reaches room temperature.  It is 9 light-years distant from us – meaning that the dim light we receive from it is less than a decade old.

It was discovered by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission – which has also revealed many more Y dwarfs further afield.

Visit NASA for more details about these stars: Y Dwarf artists impression

Press release: NASA’s WISE mission discovers coolest class of star


Sci-Fi author Bruce Sterling augments reality with Dead Drop

Mobile devices are starting to cause the digital world to seep through in to the real world.  Initially it was data and markups that started to appear to users of Layar.  Now caches of digital content, including stories from Bruce Sterling are out there – waiting to be found and feverishly consumed.

Bruce’s Dead Drop service is an augmented reality Layar that is available to iPhone, Android and Symbian device owners.  Users get directions to one of the many Dead Drops that have been seeded in to the augmented reality – where they can find a data access point to connected and gain access to the digital content.

More on Dead Drop is available at wired.com:

Augmented reality – Science fiction writer becomes augmented reality developer

Happy hunting.


Robots capture space station, eye the Moon

Robonaut 2 has come alive on the international space station.  Persuing its goal of claiming the moon for robot-kind it has made its first move.

Arriving on the space station in February, it initially kept a low profile, by remaining powered off.  But recently has been activated.  The other occupants of the space station seem unconcerned by its activation, and have engaged it in what the robot must consider to be play and games.

Robonaut 2 will demonstrate its prowess in space over the coming months and has already started to expand in to the sphere of social networking with a twitter account @AstroRobonaut and a Facebook account at http://www.facebook.com/NASArobonaut

Find out more about Robonaut 2 at Robonaut @ NASA


NASA partners with Tor-Forge to inspire science through sci-fi

A great piece of news for lovers of hard Sci-Fi.  NASA has partnered with publisher Tor-Forge to create a series of NASA-inspired works of science fiction.  They promise to be based on hard science – with NASA scientists and engineers linking up with the writers at Tor-Forge.

The stories will be fiction, so should contain engaging plots, but will also have technological elements checked by NASA’s scientists.

Full press release at NASA site here:

NASA And Tor-Forge Books Partner In Themed Science Fiction Works

If you are in to hard science fiction, and want a taste of realistic sci-fi, can I humbly suggest my own novel “Agencies” available on Kindle and soon in paperback.  (Not written in association with NASA – but hopefully the sort of story they would enjoy.)

(“Agencies” at Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon DE)


Researching AI by building systems modelled on the brain at IBM

IBM have made a lot of noise in the AI space, with their recent remarkable Watson victory – using a massive compute power and sophisticated algorithms to beat humans at natural language knowledge tasks.

Another of their projects has just received a $21m injection from everyone’s favourite future-tech funding source DARPA.  The money supports the SyNAPSE project which links IBM staffers with a host of researchers at top universities.

I’ve dabbled in research in this area myself and fully appreciate the challenge and complexity of even trying to frame the problem correctly.  I look forward to seeing the outcome of the SyNAPSE project – if not today, then at some point in the future.

If you want to check out the SyNAPSE project, then visit the IBM page:

SyNAPSE: A cognative computing project from IBM research