Mars Rover Opportunity: Mars Rover Anniversary

January 28, 2016 by  
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Mars Rover Opportunity: Mars Rover Anniversary, The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s greatest minds expected its two identical Mars Exploration Rovers to last 90?days before dust clouded their solar arrays and drained their power.

On Sunday, one of those NASA rovers, Opportunity, rolled into its 12th anniversary on Mars. It’s now a veteran of surviving the harsh Martian landscape that most believed would limit its lifespan to months, not years. Opportunity’s sibling, Spirit, landed weeks earlier and lasted six years.

“Twelve years is a very long time to have this sort of a continuous presence,” said Matt Golombek, Mars rovers project scientist. “For a science team to be this involved, on a daily basis, for this long on Mars, is pretty much unprecedented.”

The golf-cart sized solar-powered robot is showing its age. Its joints ache and lock, two of its scientific instruments no longer work, and it suffers bouts of amnesia caused by faulty flash memory.

Opportunity moves at a turtle’s pace, and maybe slower now in its old age, but it keeps moving. In the past two years, it broke the record for the longest distance traveled on another planet and completed a full marathon’s distance. Today, its odometer is just shy of 27?miles total.

Opportunity, the precursor to the car-sized and equally resilient Curiosity Rover, launched in late 2003 and arrived on Mars on Jan.?24, 2005. No other rover mission operated as long in NASA’s history, yet its team members still find it enthralling.

“Every day, you’re looking at images that no one has ever seen before,” said John Callas, project manager. “In that sense, it’s always new, it’s always fresh.”


Walmart’s $10 phone: Walmart Sells $10 Android Phone

November 17, 2015 by  
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Walmart’s $10 phone: Walmart Sells $10 Android Phone, What a difference a year makes. This time last year, we were blown away by the fact that you could get a smartphone for $35. Sure, you were stuck running Firefox OS, but it was amazing to get a functional pocket computer for that much money. Walmart’s latest smartphone selection makes that $35 Firefox phone look positively expensive, though: America’s biggest retailer is now selling an Android phone for ten bucks.

Two phones, actually-the LG “Sunrise” L15G and LG “Lucky” LG16 are GSM and CDMA versions of the same basic $10 TracFone prepaid phone. They have a 3.8-inch 480×320 LCD, a quad-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 200 SoC, a 3MP rear camera, a 1540 mAh battery, and 4GB of storage with “up to 1.15 GB” of usable space.

The RAM isn’t listed on LG’s spec sheet. We’re going to guess it’s more than “zero gigabytes,” but not much more. The devices have microSD slots and even come with a 4GB SD card. You get Wi-Fi B, G, and N, along with Bluetooth 4.0. There’s no NFC, 4G, or front-facing camera.

The phones run Android 4.4, a two-year-old version of Android, along with LG’s Android skin and access to Google Play. The phones will be grossly insecure, but at least Google Play is rather good at bringing new features to old versions of Android. It shouldn’t be too bad for $10.

The $10 price is a sale price, and Amazon lists the MSRP as $60. The device will be locked to Tracfone service, so we suspect there is some subsidizing going on here. There is no contract, though, so you could pick up a (supposedly) completely functional, working Android device for $10.


‘Major’ Mars news?: NASA Mars Announcement

September 27, 2015 by  
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‘Major’ Mars news?: NASA Mars Announcement, NASA has set the world on alert it’s making a big announcement on Monday.

So far, all we know is the announcement has to do with Mars and a mystery that NASA says is now “solved.”

“NASA will detail a major science finding from the agency’s ongoing exploration of Mars during a news briefing at (10:30 a.m. CST) on Monday, Sept. 28 at the James Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The event will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency’s website,” the space agency said.

What’s the big announcement? No one really knows but here are 3 predictions:

NASA will announce its found water – maybe even flowing water – on Mars:

According to the announcement sent out by NASA, one of the participants in the Monday event is Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Ojha has previously worked on studies about the possibility that water flows on Mars during its warmer months.

Ojha’s inclusion has many people speculating NASA will announce it has found water on the planet. And with water could come life…

NASA will explain the strange Stonehenge-like formation on the planet

NASA has already identified a massive Stonehenge-like formation on top of a Martian hill. It’s one of several strange images seen on the planet, news of what exactly the outcropping is could be part of the announcement.

Mars’ outcroppings have prompted plenty of discussion before, especially in 1976 after NASA’s Viking 1 spacecraft revealed a formation that looked like a human face carved in stone.

NASA will say it has found life on Mars

Don’t get too excited. We’re not talking Marvin the Martian here, thought that would be pretty awesome.

In January, there was talk that NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity had discovered sedimentary rock with structures that are known to be created by microbial lifeforms. In other words, life – albeit of the microscopic type- was on Mars at some point.

Much of these discoveries were seen on what apparently is an ancient lake bed. Any discovery of fossilized life or – gasp! – living beings – would be huge.


Apple iPhone 6s (7) & 6c Release Date

August 28, 2015 by  
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Apple iPhone 6s (7) & 6c Release Date, Ever since last year’s iPhone 6 launch, leaks and reports have become grist to the rumour mill about the next Apple handsets to land on the market – likely to be called the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6c (but also known as the iPhone 7 at the moment).

Sifting through the mountains of speculation, half-truths and outright falsehoods can be a daunting task, so we’ve handily summarised everything you need to know about the next handset right here.

Apple iPhone 6s (7) & 6c: At-a-glance

28/08/2015: Apple will discontinue the iPhone 5c, according to reports, with the budget handset set to be replaced with the rumoured iPhone 6c following the company’s special launch event taking place on 9 September.

The report comes from a source quoted by 9to5Mac, which says production of the iPhone 5c could cease in late September, around the same time the iPhone 6s (iPhone 7) is widely slated to go on sale.

28/08/2015: Invites have gone out for the next Apple event, which will be held on 9 September in San Francisco.

The event is widely expected to see the release of new iPhone variants, including the iPhone 6s.

However, clues in the invitation indicate that we could also see a new iPhone 6c, as has also been rumoured.

The fringes of the Apple logo as seen on the invite are embellished with a pastel-coloured waveform pattern that almost exactly matches the range of colours that the iPhone 5c initially launched in.

Elsewhere, there are further clues to the event’s programme. The tagline on the invitations is “Hey Siri, give us a hint”, which point to the release of iOS 9 and its increased voice command features.

There have also been rumours, though, that an updated Apple TV is in the works, with Siri functionality built in to the remote in much the same way as Amazon Fire TV.

Whatever ends up getting launched in September, it’s bound to be big – Apple has hired out San Francisco’s 7,000-seat Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

This is a substantial contrast to its usual launch location, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which seats under 800.

The massively upgraded choice of venue indicates that Apple is planning to have either a huge amount of floor space for demonstrations or a large number of attendees.

Some have been predicting a new iPad launch as well, but given the usual schedule of these events, we’re expecting the new iPad to receive a standalone launch in October.

27/08/2015: Clues in the iOS 9 source code indicate that the new iPhone’s keyboard will have trackpad features, activated via Force Touch.

The telltale code snippets were revealed by perennial Apple hacker Hamza Sood in a tweet, who has previously dug around in the Apple WatchOS and OSX El Capitan source code.

This particular string appears to be designed to turn the keyboard into a trackpad for easier and more intuitive text selection.

The code also mentions that the feature is activated via ‘Deep Press’, seemingly confirming the inclusion of Force Touch on Apple’s forthcoming devices.

Whether or not this apparent trackpad feature will make it into the finished release, however, is still up for debate.

Of course, iOS 9 is still an unfinished beta, and as such, any insights gleaned from its code should be viewed with a measure of scepticism.

26/08/2015: A new video unearthed on YouTube yesterday by MacRumors appears to show a semi-functional iPhone 6s (also known as the iPhone 7) boot up, while leaked photos feature its constituent parts.

The handset does not load the iOS operating system, but it does display Apple’s gear icon, and MacRumors published the video along with pictures showing apparent upgrades in the new device’s hardware.

Parts like the rear camera are missing in the handset featured in the video, but the gloved hand of an unknown Apple employee reveal an iPhone 6s logic board and display, alongside the rear casing and battery.

MacRumors also pointed to one of the photos, which allegedly confirms the 6s will boast better network performance by including Qualcomm’s WTR3925 radio frequency transceiver chip.

The chip is built on a 28-nm process, compared to the 6 and 6 Plus’s WTR1625L chip built on a 65-nm process, which MacRumors said negates the need for another chip that helps connect to different spectrums.

“By combining the functions of two chips into one on the iPhone 6s, power efficiency and performance are improved while taking up less space on the logic board,” wrote the site.

21/08/2015: Apple’s next device could be available to pre-order from 11 September, according to French source Phone Arena.

The publication also claimed that shipments will begin a week after this, on 18 September, matching previous rumours from Apple Insider.

As rumours circulate, news that Apple’s stock price has fallen have also emerged, according to USA Today, with smartphone sales reportedly falling by four per cent year on year for the second quarter of 2015.

Ken Winans, of Winans International, told the publication: “There’s still denial going on, but this is what happens in late stages (of bull markets). The darling stocks start to get hammered.”


Self-driving car tests: Apple Self-Driving Car

August 15, 2015 by  
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Self-driving car tests: Apple Self-Driving Car, Apple is building a self-driving car in Silicon Valley, and is scouting for secure locations in the San Francisco Bay area to test it, the Guardian has learned. Documents show the oft-rumoured Apple car project appears to be further along than many suspected.

In May, engineers from Apple’s secretive Special Project group met with officials from GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre former naval base near San Francisco that is being turned into a high-security testing ground for autonomous vehicles.

In correspondence obtained by the Guardian under a public records act request, Apple engineer Frank Fearon wrote: “We would … like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it].”

Apple declined to comment.

GoMentum Station is on the old Concord naval weapons station, a disused second world war-era facility with 20 miles of paved highways and city streets. The base is closed to the public and guarded by the military, making it, officials claim, “the largest secure test facility in the world” for the “testing validation and commercialization of connected vehicle (CV) applications and autonomous vehicles (AV) technologies to define the next generation of transportation network infrastructure.” Mercedes-Benz and Honda have already carried out experiments with self-driving cars behind its barbed-wire fences.

This security is bound to appeal to Apple, which has hundreds of engineers quietly working on automotive technologies in an anonymous office building in Sunnyvale, four miles from its main campus in Cupertino. Details of the project are still unknown but it seems that Apple has a self-driving car almost ready for the road. In late May, Jack Hall, program manager for autonomous vehicles at GoMentum Station, wrote to Fearon to postpone a tour of the facility but noted: “We would still like to meet in order to keep everything moving and to meet your testing schedule.”

Apple has been rumoured to be working on a self-driving electric car, codenamed Project Titan, but this is the first time its existence has been documented. In May, Apple senior vice-president Jeff Williams called the car “the ultimate mobile device” and said that Apple was “exploring a lot of different markets … [in which] we think we can make a huge amount of difference”.

The move comes as Google, Uber and other tech companies are pouring cash into robot cars. Apple chief executive Tim Cook has held a series of meetings with car executives in recent months and the company has poached automotive experts from established players, including the head of Mercedes Benz’s Silicon Valley research arm.

Cook has met with Fiat-Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne and may have toured BMW’s i3 electric car assembly line in Germany last year. The company has also been recruiting automotive experts from Silicon Valley and beyond, hiring engineers from Tesla Motors and Mercedes-Benz, as well as power experts from electric car battery maker A123 Systems. Fearon previously worked on an innovative electric motorbike at Silicon Valley start-up Lit Motors, and helped to build an autonomous robotic paraglider while studying at Georgia Institute of Technology.


Another Earth-Like Planet Found

July 24, 2015 by  
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Another Earth-Like Planet Found, A planet believed to be remarkably similar to Earth has been discovered orbiting a distant sun-like star, bolstering hopes of finding life elsewhere in the universe, U.S. scientists said on Thursday.

The planet, which is about 60 percent bigger than Earth, is located 1,400 light years away in the constellation Cygnus. It was discovered by astronomers using NASA’s Kepler space telescope and circles a star that is similar in size and temperature to the sun, but older.

“In my mind, this is the closest thing we have to another planet like the Earth,” astronomer Jon Jenkins, with the U.S. space agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, told reporters on a conference call.

The planet, dubbed Kepler-452b, orbits a star that is about 6 billion years old, compared to the 4.6 billion year age of the sun.

“It’s simply awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star,” Jenkins said.

“That’s considerable time and opportunity for life to arise somewhere on its surface or in its oceans should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet,” he said.

Kepler-452b is positioned about as far from its parent star as Earth is from the sun, completing an orbit in 385 days, compared to Earth’s 365-day orbit.

At that distance, surface temperatures would be suitable for liquid water, a condition believed to be critical for life.

Scientists previously have found Earth-sized planets orbiting in stars’ so-called “habitable zones,” but those stars are cooler and smaller than the sun, a G2 type yellow star.

NASA launched the Kepler telescope in 2009 to survey a sampling of nearby stars in an attempt to learn if planets like Earth were common in the galaxy.

“This is great progress in finding a planet like Earth that is similar in size and temperature around a sun-like star,” said Kepler scientist Jeff Coughlin, with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

Based on its size, scientists believe Kepler-452b should be rocky, like the Earth, though that theory is based on statistical analysis and computer modeling, not direct evidence.

“With a radius 60 percent larger than the Earth, this planet has a somewhat better than even chance of being rocky,” Jenkins said.

If so, Kepler-452b could be about five times as massive as Earth and have gravity that is twice as strong as what exists on Earth’s surface. The planet also could have a thick atmosphere, cloudy skies and active volcanoes, Jenkins said.

With the discovery of Kepler-452b, the telescope has found 1,030 confirmed planets and identified about 4,700 candidate planets. The list of potential planets includes 11 other near-Earth twins, nine of which circle sun-like stars.


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