NASA is making a data modem driven by light

Now that photonic (that is, light-based) chips are a practical reality, they’re going to get their ultimate test: space. NASA is developing an integrated photonics modem that will be used to test high-speed laser communications between Earth and spacecraft that are in low and geosynchronous orbits. And unlike the LADEE laser data test from 2013, this is very much intended for practical use — the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) should be fully operational two years after its initial deployment.

The technology has a long way to go. NASA’s modem won’t go into service aboard the International Space Station until 2020, and it’s currently very bulky (the size of two toaster ovens). However, it promises to dramatically improve how spacecraft talk to ground crews and each other. With 10 to 100 times more bandwidth, vehicles could deliver more advanced measurements and video across interplanetary distances — imagine if a Mars rover sent back movies instead of the occasional photo. Photonics will ultimately require less power and physical space, too, so even the tiniest probes could transmit gobs of data.

Source: NASA

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Google plans to beam 5G internet from solar drones

Google has a new top secret project by the same team that brought us Project Loon, according to The Guardian. It’s called Project Skybender, and it aims to deliver 5G internet from solar drones. Mountain View has reportedly begun experimenting with millimeter wave-based internet in Virgin Galactic’s Gateway to Space terminal at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Millimeter waves are believed to be capable of transmitting data 40 times faster than LTE and could become the technology behind 5G internet. DARPA began working on an internet connection based on it for remote military bases in 2012.

University of Washington professor Jacques Rudell told The Guardian that "[t]he huge advantage of millimetre wave is access to new spectrum because the existing cellphone spectrum is overcrowded. It’s packed and there’s nowhere else to go." The problem with millimeter wave transmissions, though, is that they fade after a short distance and can’t compare to a mobile phone signal’s range. That’s likely one of the issue’s Google is trying to solve if it aims to beam internet from the sky.

Project Skybender is currently using an "optionally piloted aircraft (OPA)" called Centaur and a solar-powered drone called Solara 50 made by Titan Aerospace, which the Big G snapped up in 2014, for its tests. Google has permission from the FCC to continue testing the drone-internet system in New Mexico until July. We’ll most likely hear more details as its development progresses, the same way that Google regularly announces the latest details about Project Loon.

[Image credit: Wikimedia]

Source: The Guardian

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Google and Lenovo’s 3D-scanning smartphone costs less than $500

Google and Lenovo have partnered to create a smartphone that uses the Project Tango platform, meaning your little handheld computer will be able to read the physical world to overlay digital information and objects on it. The phone will launch in summer 2016, and while the industrial design isn’t finalized, it’ll be under 6.5 inches. What you’re seeing here probably won’t be what you’ll see later this year.

Project Tango’s tech will allow users to measure a room in 3D, recognize places the phone has been before, overlay augmented reality-style worlds on the screen and track movement through indoor spaces like shopping malls.

Google and Lenovo today also launched a Project Tango incubator, inviting developers to submit game and app ideas based on the 3D-scanning technology. The companies will select their favorite ideas, and provide funding and support to make them reality. Well — augmented reality. The finished apps will launch on the new Lenovo-Google smartphone. Submissions close on February 15th, so enter your ideas right here as soon as possible.

Google held a similar contest last year and the "game" winner was a 3D puzzler that relies on actual, physical motion rather than screen tapping.

Intel is getting in on the Project Tango game as well, with a $400 phone-slash-dev kit that includes the company’s RealSense technology. That phone is available for pre-order now. We can thank another Google partnership, this one with Qualcomm, for squeezing Project Tango into a smartphone in the first place.

Mat Smith contributed to this report.

Source: Google, Business Wire

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