China’s Launch of First Quantum Satellite Major Step in Space Race

China's Launch of First Quantum Satellite Major Step in Space Race China’s launch of the first quantum satellite Tuesday will push forward efforts to develop the ability to send communications that can’t be penetrated by hackers, experts said.

The satellite launched into space from the Jiuquan launch base in northwestern China’s Gobi desert will allow Chinese researchers to transmit test messages between Beijing and northwestern China as well as other locations around the world.

If the tests are successful, China will take a major step toward building a worldwide network that can send messages that can’t be wiretapped or cracked through conventional methods.

“It moves the challenge for an eavesdropper to a different domain,” said Alexander Ling, principal investigator at the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore. “Lots of people around the world think having secure communications at a quantum level is important. The Europeans, the Americans had the lead, but now the Chinese are showing the way forward.”

Quantum communications use subatomic particles to securely communicate between two points. A hacker trying to crack the message changes its form in a way that would alert the sender and cause the message to be altered or deleted.

Researchers around the world have successfully sent quantum messages by land. But a true satellite-based network would make it possible to send quickly encrypted messages in an instant around the world and open the door to other possible uses of the technology.

 Cyber-security has been a major focus in recent years for China, which has pushed regulations aimed at limiting technology imported from the US in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread surveillance by the US through the use of American hardware.

China has in turn been repeatedly accused by the US of hacking into computer systems to steal commercial secrets and information that could harm American national security. China has rejected claims that it runs a state-sponsored hacking program and says that it is among the leading victims ofcybercrime.

Quantum messaging could become a major defense against hackers and have applications ranging from military and government communications to online shopping.

The biggest challenge, Ling said, is being able to orient the satellite with pinpoint accuracy to a location on Earth where it can send and receive data without being affected by any disturbances in Earth’s atmosphere. The results of China’s tests will be closely watched by other research teams, he said.

“It’s very difficult to point the satellite accurately,” Ling said. “You’re trying to send a beam of light from a satellite that’s 500 kilometers (310 miles) above you.”

Hoi Fung Chau, a professor and quantum communications researcher at Hong Kong University, said that it was too soon to say if the tests will succeed, but added he expected quantum messages by satellite to become the global standard eventually.

“The theory is already there, the technology is almost there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

The launch is a major triumph for China, which has spent years researching quantum technology and developing the satellite and other uses for it. China has previously announced the construction of a quantum link between Beijing and Shanghai that would be used by government agencies and banks.

Pan Jianwei, chief scientist on the satellite project, was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying the launch proved China was no longer a follower in information technology, but “one of the leaders guiding future IT achievements.”


Nasa Mulls Russia’s Idea to Cut Staff at International Space Station

Nasa Mulls Russia's Idea to Cut Staff at International Space Station

Nasa is weighing a Moscow proposal to cut the number of Russian cosmonauts at the International Space Station from three to two, particularly its potential risk to the crew, an official said Monday.

Typically, six crew members live at the orbiting outpost, a hallmark of global cooperation that is meant to stay in operation until at least 2024.

Asked during a news conference about media reports that Russia was considering reducing its staff there to two, Nasa’s Kenneth Todd said the ISS partners – which include Canada, Japan and theEuropean Space Agency – are aware of the proposal.

“They are exploring the option of going down to two crew on the Russian segment,” said Todd,International Space Station Operations Integration manager.

“They have made that known to the partnership.”

Russian media reports have quoted a Roscosmos official as saying the proposal comes as Russia is sending fewer cargo ships to the ISS, and could be a cost-cutting measure.

Meanwhile, the United States is ramping up its supply missions to the orbiting lab, with US astronauts preparing a spacewalk Friday to install a commercial docking adaptor at the ISS so that more private spaceships can park at the research lab in the years to come.

Todd said the ISS partners are aware that Russia has committed to the ISS program at least through 2024.

“There is no doubt they are keeping that in mind as they work through whatever challenges they have with their system,” Todd said.

“We will look at it, as we do with all these kinds of things. We will trade it against whatever risk that might put into the program,” he said.

“First and foremost, the risk to our crew on board and the station itself.”

Next, Todd said the international partners will see “what we can do as a partnership to try to either accommodate it, or help them realize why that is a bad thing.”

For now, he cautioned that “it is strictly a proposal they have put on the table and we will look at it.”

The first section of the ISS station, called Zarya, or Dawn in Russian, was launched into space on November 20, 1998.

From two modules, the space station has grown to 15 modules, occupying a space the size of an American football field and representing around $100 billion (roughly Rs. 6,69,155 crores) in investment.

Since 2000, the station has been continuously occupied by a rotating staff of astronauts who typically stay for six months at a time before returning to Earth.

Researchers Develop Stretchable, Wearable Touchscreens

Researchers Develop Stretchable, Wearable Touchscreens

Researchers have developed a wearable touch screen panel that is highly stretchable and can be used to write words and play electronic games.

The thin flexible ionic touchpad that is highly transparent, can be placed on one’s arm to play video games, draw, write words as well as to play the piano, the study said.

The touchpad is made of hydrogel, a network of hydrophilic polymers that are soft and very stretchable, unlike the hard materials such as carbon nanotubes and metal nanowires earlier explored for the stretchy touchpads.

Moreover, the touchpad was still able to operate when it was stretched to more than 1,000 per cent of its normal area.

However, the resistance was found to increase slightly after 100 cycles, which may be due to water evaporation in the gel, said Chong-Chan Kim from the Seoul National University in South Korea, in a paper published in the journal Science.

For the stretchy touchpad, the team used a polyacrylamide hydrogel containing lithium chloride salts, which act as conductor and help retain water in the hydrogel.

Electrodes on the ends of the hydrogel panel apply similar voltages, which creates a uniform electrostatic field across the system.

When a finger touches the panel, it closes the circuit within the hydrogel, allowing current to flow from both ends of the strip to the touch point.

At each corner of the strip, meters that capture current detect the electrical signals.

Because human-computer interactions are increasingly important, touch panels may require stretchability and biocompatibility in order to allow integration with the human body, the researchers said.

The team also developed a controller board to facilitate communication between the ionic touch panel and a computer.

Flooded Canyons Found on Saturn’s Moon Titan

Flooded Canyons Found on Saturn's Moon Titan: Nasa

US space agency Nasa on Wednesday said its Cassini spacecraft has found deep, steep-sided canyons on Saturn’s largest moon Titan that are flooded with liquid hydrocarbons.

“The finding represents the first direct evidence of the presence of liquid-filled channels on Titan, as well as the first observation of canyons hundreds of meters deep,” Xinhua quoted Nasa as saying.

The discovery, published in the US journal Geophysical Research Letters, was based on data collected from a close flyby Cassini made over Titan in May 2013, during which the spacecraft’s radar instrument focused on channels that branch out from the moon’ s second largest hydrocarbon sea Ligeia Mare.

Previously, the branching channels appear dark in radar images, much like Titan’s methane-rich seas, but it was not clear if the dark material was liquid or merely saturated sediment, which at Titan’s frigid temperatures would be made of ice, not rock.

So during the 2013 pass, the Cassini spacecraft pinged the surface of Titan with microwaves, and the returned signals indicated the surface of the channels is extremely smooth, meaning they are currently liquid filled.

 The Cassini observations also revealed that the channels – in particular, a network of them named Vid Flumina – are narrow canyons, generally a bit less than a kilometre wide, with slopes steeper than 40 degrees.

The canyons also are quite deep with those measured 790 to 1, 870 feet (240 to 570 meters) from top to bottom, Nasa said.

The presence of such deep cuts in the landscape might be the result of uplift of the terrain, or changes in sea level, or perhaps both.

“It is likely that a combination of these forces contributed to the formation of the deep canyons, but at present it is not clear to what degree each was involved,” said Valerio Poggiali of the University of Rome, a Cassini radar team associate and lead author of the study.

“What is clear is that any description of Titan’s geological evolution needs to be able to explain how the canyons got there,” Poggiali added.

Maharashtra Government to Deploy Drones to Monitor Traffic

Maharashtra Government to Deploy Drones to Monitor Traffic

Maharashtra government is considering the use of drones to monitor, identify and control vehicles breaking traffic rules.

Minister of State for Home (Urban) Deepak Kesarkar said initially, drones would be put in place on a pilot basis on the Mumbai-Pune expressway.

A meeting was held between officials of the Home department and Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation earlier this week at the Mantralaya in Mumbai, which was attended by Kesarkar and PWD (undertakings) minister Eknath Shinde.

Kesarkar said Mumbai-Pune expressway has become a “death trap” with a large number of road casualties reported lately.

“Incidents of road accidents have increased due to indiscipline and rash driving. We do not have control over rash driving as the length of the express way is long and there is insufficient police staff for surveillance,” Kesarkar said.

He said while there is a need to control vehicular traffic, doing so by using a CCTV camera has its own limitations. Thus, the idea of using drones has been mooted.

“The drones will be used at load line of the ‘ghat’ on expressway where setting up of CCTV cameras is not possible,” he said.

“Mostly heavy loaded trucks jump lanes to overtake other big vehicles. This causes a traffic jam. The drones would click photos of such instances and the the Transport department will take action against errant drivers,” he added.

The minister said that even small vehicles would not be spared if found violating lane discipline.

He said the site of using drones has not been decided as yet but the MSRDC would submit its report suggesting requirement within the next 15 days.

“Initially, four to five drone will be hired from private companies for the expressway. Depending upon the result, the Home department is considering to use drones across Mumbai,” he said.

Along with CCTVs, usage of drones in the island city would take the burden of traffic police riddled with various woes, Kesarkar said.

Nasa Selects Six Firms to Develop Habitats for Mars Mission

Nasa Selects Six Firms to Develop Habitats for Mars Mission

Nasa has selected six US companies to help develop prototypes and concepts of deep space habitats for future manned missions to Mars.

Habitation systems provide a safe place for humans to live as we move beyond Earth on our journey to Mars, Nasa said.

“Nasa is on an ambitious expansion of human spaceflight, including the journey to Mars, and we’re utilising the innovation, skill and knowledge of the both the government and private sectors,” said Jason Crusan, director of Nasa’s Advanced Exploration Systems.

“The next human exploration capabilities needed beyond the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule are deep space, long duration habitation and in-space propulsion,” said Crusan.

“We are now adding focus and specifics on the deep space habitats where humans will live and work independently for months or years at a time, without cargo supply deliveries from Earth,” he said.

The selected companies are Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems and NanoRacks.

 The six partners will have up to about 24 months to develop ground prototypes and conduct concept studies for deep space habitats.

Nasa has estimated that the combined total of all the awards, covering work in 2016 and 2017, will be about $65 million.

Selected partners are required to contribute at least 30 percent of the cost of the overall proposed effort.

The ground prototypes will be used for three primary purposes: supporting integrated systems testing, human factors and operations testing, and to help define overall system functionality.

These are important activities as they help define the design standards, common interfaces, and requirements while reducing risks for the final flight systems that will come after this phase.

The selections are part of a phased approach that will catalyse commercial investment in low-Earth orbit and lead to an operational deep space habitation capability for missions in the area of space near the moon, which will serve as the proving ground for Mars during the 2020s.

These missions will demonstrate human, robotic and spacecraft operations in a true deep space environment that is still relatively close to Earth and validate technologies for the longer journey to Mars.

The activities of these awards will inform the acquisition and deployment approach for the next phase of flight systems for deep space including important aspects, such as standards and interfaces, module configurations, and options for deployment.


Meizu Mix Smartwatch With Analogue Display Launched

Meizu Mix Smartwatch With Analogue Display LaunchedMeizu started off with manufacturing mp3 players, and has since then overhauled its strategy to launch smartphones and audio accessories as well. Now, the company has extended its portfolio further, and launched its first smartwatch. The Meizu Mix smartwatch features an analogue display and is scheduled to be made available in China by October.

The Meizu Mix smartwatch comes in Black and Silver colour options; and comes in denim, leather, and steel straps. The denim strap sets you back by CNY 1,000 (roughly Rs. 10,100), the leather strap is priced at CNY 1,300 (roughly Rs. 13,100), and the steel strap is priced at CNY 1,500 (roughly Rs. 15,100).

As mentioned, the Meizu Mix smartwatch does not feature a digital display, and sticks to the mechanical analogue display. It has a 42mm case and the innards are protected by a sapphire glass screen at the front. It has a notification LED light, a vibration mode, is waterproof, and offers Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. To pair it with a smartphone, the user must have the Meizu app installed. It comes with an accelerometer and gyroscope, and has a 270mAh battery that the company claims can last up to 240 days (standby time, presumably).

Meizu is crowdfunding the smartwatch on Chinese site Taobao, and looks to raise CNY 500,000 (roughly Rs. 50 lakhs) before it begins production. There is no information on when the company plans to bring the smartwatch to international markets. Just to recall, Meizu also launched the MX6 smartphone in China last month. The Meizu MX6 is priced at CNY 1,999 (approximately Rs. 20,000), and features a 5.5-inch (1080×1920 pixels) LCD, a 2.3GHz deca-core MediaTek Helio X20 processor paired with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of inbuilt storage.

Apple Watch Successor Said to Sport GPS but No LTE Connectivity

Apple Watch Successor Said to Sport GPS but No LTE Connectivity

Apple has hit roadblocks in making major changes that would connect its Watch to cellular networks and make it less dependent on the iPhone, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The company still plans to announce new watch models this fall boasting improvements to health tracking.

The updated versions will also be able to integrate GPS-based location tracking, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

Apple shipped its first watch in April 2015, hoping for a new blockbuster product amid slowing iPhone sales, which contribute almost 60 percent of revenue. While the company shipped 1.6 million watches from April to June, that was less than half as many as during the same period in 2015, according to IDC.

With investors expecting a revenue decline this fiscal year, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook is banking on a slew of new gadgets, including a new iPhone with a faster chip and improved cameras, and a slimmer MacBook Pro laptop, to reignite growth in 2017.

Ever since its inception, network carriers have been urging Apple to release a version of the watch that can connect to data networks independent of the iPhone, and the Cupertino, California-based company had been working to untether it from the handset, one of the people said. As it is now the watch must be synced with an iPhone to download most types of content and consistently track location.

Apple had been in talks this year with mobile phone carriers in the U.S. and Europe to add cellular connectivity to the watch, according to people familiar with the talks. A cellular chip would have theoretically allowed the product to download sports score alerts, e-mail and mapping information while out of an iPhone’s reach.

During the discussions, Apple executives expressed concern that the cellular models may not be ready for release this year and that the feature may be pushed back to a later generation, according to the people. Apple warned that, even on an aggressive schedule, the earliest possible shipment time-frame for cellular models would have been this December, one of the people said.

The source of the delay is that current cellular chips consume too much battery life, reducing the product’s effectiveness and limiting user appeal, according to three of the people. Apple has begun studying lower-power cellular data chips for future smartwatch generations.

Even without cellular connectivity, Apple still anticipates shipping models of the watch that can more precisely determine a user’s location by way of GPS chips that communicate with satellites. This technology would allow the device to track running and walking distances more precisely and improve the accuracy of data submitted to health tracking applications, two of the people said. The GPS would also make navigation on the watch more accurate, the people said.

Apple said in June that it’s adding health features, such as a new app to track breathing, and watch faces with integrated activity statistics, to the device’s software this fall. The update also launches apps more quickly, allows users to more easily move between different watch faces, and adds a new swipe-up menu to access battery and audio controls.

While the plan for this year had been to at least partially untether the watch from the iPhone, Apple’s ultimate goal is to eliminate any need to connect the two devices, according to a person familiar with the company’s strategy. That ambition is currently stymied by technological limitations.

Nokia Cuts Price of Ozo Virtual Reality Camera

Nokia Cuts Price of Ozo Virtual Reality Camera

Nokia has cut the price of its Ozo virtual reality camera by 25 percent from its initial launch price, the Finnish company said on Thursday.

Nokia, whose main business is now telecoms network equipment, started selling the camera earlier this year as the first device to be produced for its digital media business, one of its new hopes for future growth.Having launched the device at $60,000 in the United States and Europe, Nokia has now priced it at $45,000, saying it was also taking the camera to the Chinese market next month.

The spherical camera features eight sensors and microphones and is designed for making 3D movies and games that can be watched and played with virtual reality headsets.

Nokia said the virtual reality market was developing quickly and the new price reflected that.

Last year, GoPro introduced a VR camera system using Google’s software, while several other technology companies such as Facebook and Samsung have also announced new products.

 Nokia, known for its once-dominant phone business which it sold to Microsoft in 2014, is also bringing its name back to the handset market after a new company backed by its former executives teamed up with Foxconn to buy the rights to the brand.


USB-IF Announces Charger Certification Programme for USB Type-C Devices

USB-IF Announces Charger Certification Programme for USB Type-C Devices
  • Certification to be provided if products comply with specifications
  • Issued logo to also carry power capability of product in watts
  • Manufacturers can send their products to organisation for certification

There are many USB chargers available on the Internet, but sadly there has been no standard certification that can notify the users if the charger indeed produces the power delivery specifications that are listed on the product. Now, the non-profit body that determines USB specifications and standards – the USB Implementers Forum – has announced that it will perform the standardisation and give the certified logos if the products meet its USB Type-C and USB Power Delivery specifications.

The USB-IF was created to “provide a support organization and forum for the advancement and adoption of Universal Serial Bus technology” as per the organisation’s website. As a part of organisation’s new certification and compliance programme (Certified USB Charger Logo and Compliance Program), manufacturers will submit their products and the certifications will be given on the basis of USB Power Delivery and USB Type-C specifications.

The logo on the product, issued by the organisation on compliance with the required qualities, will also carry the power capacity of the products in watts. The program is meant to certify USB chargers for USB Type-C devices, including laptops, tablets, smartphones, docking stations, displays, and other products.

“Certified USB Chargers will give users an interoperable power source and a seamless experience. From displays, to smartphones and docking stations, the industry is aligning behind USB Type-C and USB Power Delivery as the last wire you’ll ever need for faster charging,” organisation’s CTO Rahman Ismail was quoted as saying in a press statement.

Standardisation in any field is a good thing but when it comes to electronics, its importance cannot be overstated as a product with poor quality can potentially damage or even destroy other devices that are associated with it.