Saturday, 30 October 2010

Adroid Voice Boost.

Google on Thursday introduced the next generation of interaction with its Android operating system: voice-driven actions.

Google executives outlined 12 new "Voice Actions for Android," including phone calls, reminder e-mails, direction search, and music search. (Searching for generic links, a traditional function of Android, is number 13.) The app is called "Voice Search," requires Android 2.2, and is available in the Android Market now, Google executives said.

A second improvement, dubbed "Chrome to Phone," allows users to click on a new "mobile phone" icon to send links, YouTube videos, even directions, to the phone.

So far, the features are exclusive to Android phones and U.S. English, although the capabilities will be moved to other languages and other operating systems (including the iPhone) in the future, executives said. "It's probably, on Android, the easiest," said Hugo Barra, director of product management for Google.

Voice actions can be triggered by clicking the "microphone" icon on the screen. Saying "call John Smith at home" will trigger the contacts list and voice dialer, "find art museums in Amsterdam" would launch a Google Maps application, and "listen to Ace of Base" will search for music from the artist on Pandora,, or another music application. A "note to self" command, meanwhile, will send an automated e-mail to a default e-mail address. If Android is confused about which application to use, or a location, it will present a list of choices.

Within the phone, the microprocessor can power just hundreds or thousands of MIPS, a measure of processing power. But connecting the phone to the cloud allows the phone to basically put a supercomputer in your pocket, Barra said.

Voice actions allow the user to essentially command the phone's actions, where previous iterations have focused on looking for links. Google has no plans to add sponsored search listing, and the company will use your location if you provide it. Barra said that there is a roadmap to increasing the capabilities of the voice actions, including the possibility for adding a scripting language.

"There's a place where you want to type, and there's a time and place where you want to use voice," said Dave Burke, an engineering manager at Google and the author of the "Chrome to Phone" function. About 25 percent of the data Google processes via Android is search data, Barra said.

"Chrome to Phone" is as described: within Chrome, clicking the "phone" icon sends a search result, a YouTube link, or directions directly to an Android 2.2 phone. The Chrome to Phone capability is a Chrome extension, and is available on the App Market, Burke said.

For now, the transfer is one-way; data can not be sent from the phone to the PC, Barra said. The phone-to-PC capability may be added in the future, Barra said.

Click here to see demo video!

Friday, 29 October 2010

NASA DARPA-funded ‘Hundred Year Starship’ Program.

NASA Ames Director Simon Pete Worden revealed Saturday that NASA Ames has “just started a project with DARPA called the Hundred Year Starship,” with $1 million funding from DARPA and $100K from NASA.

“You heard it here,” said Worden at “Long Conversation,” a Long Now Foundation event in San Francisco. “We also hope to inveigle some billionaires to form a Hundred Year Starship fund,” Dr. Worden added. “I absolutely will be on board.” (No further details on this are available from NASA at this time.)

“The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds,” he explained. “Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.” (Worden was in fact fired by President George W. Bush, he also revealed.)

New propulsion ideas

Worden also mentioned some nearer-term ideas that NASA is exploring (and that are not necessarily related to the Starship program). One new propulsion concept is electric propulsion, said Worden. “Anybody that watches the [Star Trek] Enterprise, you know you don’t see huge plumes of fire. Within a few years we will see the first true prototype of a spaceship that will take us between worlds.”

Worden said NASA is also funding a new program to develop microwave thermal propulsion for getting to orbit. “The idea is if you can beam power to the spaceship, so you don’t have to carry all the fuel; and then you use that energy from a laser or microwave power to heat a propellant; it gets you a pretty big factor of improvement. I think that’s one way of getting off the world.”

The principal investigator of this program is Dr. Kevin L.G. Parkin, who invented the technology and described it in his PhD thesis. He is assisted by Creon Levit and David Murakami. Caltech grad student Dmitriy Tseliakhovich has also formed a company called Escape Dynamics LLC to commercialize the microwave thermal propulsion project. (Tseliakhovich’s team project at Singularity University this past summer grew out of Parkin’s work.)


“The microwave thermal thruster using beamed propulsion is an excellent idea,” said Dr. Narayanan M. Komerath, a professor at Georgia Tech College of Engineering and a NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts Fellow. “[Kevin Parkin] picks the 140 GHz window, which apparently offers strong advantages in absorption by the materials that he uses in the propulsion system.”

Space settlements and electric planes

But Worden warned that in settling on other worlds, we need to be cautious. “How do you live in another world? I don’t have the slightest idea,” he said. “If you’re a conservative, you worry about it us; if you’re a liberal, you worry about us it. I think things like synthetic biology have lot of potential for that. I think rather than make an environment on Mars like Earth, why don’t we modify life … including the human genome … so it’s better suited to [Mars]?”

Worden also thinks we should go to the moons of Mars first, where we can do extensive telerobotics exploration of the planet. “I think we’ll be on the moons of Mars by 2030 or so. Larry [Page] asked me a couple weeks ago how much it would cost to send people one way to Mars and I told him $10 billion, and his response was, ‘Can you get it down to 1 or 2 billion?’ So now we’re starting to get a little argument over the price.”

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Worden says NASA Ames is exploring another radical new concept: a heavy-lift airship that could carry hundreds of tons. “I think that could revolutionize air transport, because it becomes very cheap and still goes 100 knots. The idea is that you could easily go to Hawaii overnight, for example… with a lot less fuel.

“The long-term answer [to the rapidly accelerating growth of travel in the developing world and the increase in greenhouse gas] is a “Tesla in the air” — using high-density batteries powered off ground-based solar grids, so your airliner stays plugged in overnight, and it’s got an electrical engine rather than a chemical engine. I think within ten years we’ll have small-scale business-level ones, and within 20, they’ll be the airliners.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Body Organs with IP Address!

For cardiac patients too much excitement can be a shocking experience. If their heart rate gets too high an implanted defibrillator in their chest can think their having a heart attack and give them a friendly remedial shock. But such nasty surprises could soon become less of a concern for people like me – by giving our hearts their very own IP addresses.

Dutch research organisation IMEC, based in Eindhoven, this week demonstrated a new type of wireless body area network (BAN). Dubbed the Human++ BAN platform, the system converts IMEC's ultra-low-power electrocardiogram sensors into wireless nodes in a short-range network, transmitting physiological data to a hub – the patient's cellphone.

From there, the readings can be forwarded to doctors via a Wi-Fi or 3G connection. They can also be displayed on the phone or sound an alarm when things are about to go wrong, giving patients like me a chance to try to slow our heart rates and avoid an unnecessary shock.

Besides helping those already diagnosed with chronic conditions, BANs could be used by people at risk of developing medical problems – the so-called "worried well" – or by fitness enthusiasts and athletes who want to keep tabs on their physiological processes during training.

In the current design, the ECG electrodes are connected to a small necklace that contains the transmitter and battery. The next step will be to use an ultra-low-power radio transmitter, still in development at IMEC, to improve the stamina and portability of the sensors.

With around 18 million people in the UK living with chronic disease, ‘Telehealth' monitoring like this is the way things are going. Devices already exist that allow people with pacemakers and defibrillators to send telemetry from their implants via a landline to doctors. But using mobile phones would be the next step.