The quest to break the world land speed record is a long and winding road that leads to South Africa – and is designed to inspire school kids everywhere with a love of science and technology, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
There can be few more desolate places in the world than Hakskeen Pan, a flat, endless dried-out lake bed in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, near the border with Botswana and Namibia.
But that is precisely what has propelled it into the international spotlight. It is one of the few places in the world that is isolated enough, flat enough, and with the right terrain to support a bold quest.
The crust of the lake bed at Haksteen Pan is ideal for an attempt not only on the world landspeed record, but for the first land vehicle to travel at 1 600 kilometres per hour. Project Bloodhound will stretch the limits of a vehicle on wheels far beyond what was ever thought possible.
The man behind the project, the crusty British racing veteran Richard Noble, is no stranger to absurdly extreme feats like this.
“We’ve got a long history of doing it,” he said in an interview last week. “I broke the world land speed record in 1983. After that, we were up against the Americans to achieve the first ever supersonic ride in 1997, and we succeeded. In this case, we’re increasing the land speed record by a whopping 30%, and we’re convinced we can do it.”
The pilot will be Andy Green, but a vast team of engineers, researchers and other specialists has come together in pursuit of the vision.
“We’ve gone through a very difficult phase,” he said. “The weakness of a project like this is the finances. It’s a long-term project because of its considerable investment in terms of engineering. There have been a whole lot of financial setbacks, but the team has held together. In a lesser organisation people would have just walked, but they’ve absolutely stuck together.”
In the next two weeks, the car will go through its most critical test yet.
“We’ve got to get the car into what we call runway form, and where we work in Bristol is unsuitable for running a jet engine. So we will be running it in Newquay in Cornwall to prove that the car works and runs, but at this stage we will go no faster than 200 miles per hour.”
Part of the challenge is that the project is no longer only about engineering, as it was back in 1983 and 1997.
This time round, it remains as important, but is joined by technology that had barely arrived back then: the Internet, high-speed mobile connectivity, database software, and a wide variety of environmental sensors.
This combination means that the Bloodhound SSC (for supersonic car) will produce a massive amount of data that will be accessible instantly, worldwide. And that, in turn, will be used for one of the most ambitious global attempts inspire schoolchildren to want to learn about the STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
The car is being built and tested in the United Kingdom, but the project depends on Hakskeen Pan.
While the terrain provided the needed long, flat landscape and the right surface, it was also littered with rocks and stones. So the first essential piece of work was to clear the area by hand. The local Mier community was employed to do the job. Last year, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) presented certificates of recognition to over 300 members of the community for “the largest area of land ever cleared by hand for a motorsports activity”. They had removed 16 000 tonnes of rock from 22 million square metres of dry lake bed.
Project Bloodhound announced: “Their amazing work has been a vital part of building the world’s fastest race track and means that next year Andy Green can drive Bloodhound SSC at over 1400kph in Northern Cape, South Africa, without worrying about a single stray rock damaging the Car.”
The attempt, set for 2018, should have been made during 2017, but ran into a hitch and, Noble admitted in an interview last week, it was not a technical one. He had just presented a keynote address on the project at Oracle OpenWorld, a massive annual conference in San Francisco, where more than 60 000 people come to learn about the latest offerings from global database software giant Oracle. The company had already committed to providing the technology platform needed to share the car’s massive data output with the world.
At the event, Oracle’s president of product development, Thomas Kurian, announced that the company’s educational arm, Oracle Academy, would partner with Project Bloodhound to popularise STEM subjects.
“Effectively, Oracle is educating the world,” said Noble. “The idea came from the US manned space programme. When you study what happened with the Apollo programme, you see this enormous growth in the emergence of scientists, engineers and mathematicians as a result of interest in space flight.
“We were working so hard taking project Bloodhound forward, we didn’t have time to look over shoulder to see what we’d achieved. We asked the University of Swansea, which is working with us on the aerodynamics of Bloodhound, for a letter telling us what had happened as a result of the project.
“They said their engineering applications and intake were up 150% directly as a result of their work on Bloodhound. Intake of aerodynamics students was up 350%. The value of Bloodhound, to them, was 5-million pounds every year. Kids were coming from the USA to study at Swansea.”
Another research partner in the project, the University of Western England, saw even greater benefit: they valued the benefits of their work on Bloodhound over ten years at 77-million pounds.
“We were staggered. We had no idea this was the scale of what we were doing. The STEM education system had all but collapsed and the kids all wanted to be singers and dancers. They saw physics as impossible and teachers were really struggling. Inspiring children is the unique selling proposition of Project Bloodhound.”
- Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.
Bring your network with you
At last week’s Critical Communications World, Motorola unveiled the LXN 500 LTE Ultra Portable Network Infrastructure. It allows rescue personal to set up dedicated LTE networks for communication in an emergency, writes SEAN BACHER.
In the event of an emergency, communications are absolutely critical, but the availability of public phone networks are limited due to weather conditions or congestion.
Motorola realised that this caused a problem when trying to get rescue personnel to those in need and so developed its LXN 500 LTE Ultra Portable Network Infrastructure. The product is the smallest and lightest full powered broadband network to date and allows the first person on the scene to set up an LTE network in a matter of minutes, allowing other rescue team members to communicate with each other.
“The LXN 500 weighs six kilograms and comes in a backpack with two batteries. It offers a range of 1km and allows up to 100 connections at the same time. However, in many situations the disaster area may span more than 1km which is why they can be connected to each other in a mesh formation,” says Tunde Williams, Head of Field and Solutions Marketing EMEA, Motorola Solutions.
The LXN 500 solution offers communication through two-way radios, and includes mapping, messaging, push-to-talk, video and imaging features onboard, thus eliminating the need for any additional hardware.
Data collected on the device can then be sent through to a central control room where an operator can deploy additional rescue personnel where needed. Once video is streamed into the control room, realtime analytics and augmented reality can be applied to it to help predict where future problem points may arise. Video images and other multimedia can also be made available for rescuers on the ground.
“Although the LXN 500 was designed for the seamless communications between on ground rescue teams and their respective control rooms, it has made its way into the police force and in places where there is little or no cellular signal such as oil rigs,” says Williams.
He gave a hostage scenario: “In the event of a hostage situation, it is important for the police to relay information in realtime to ensure no one is hurt. However the perpetrators often use their mobile phones to try and foil any rescue attempts. Should the police have the correct partnerships in place they are able to disable cellular towers in the vicinity, preventing any in or outgoing calls on a public network and allowing the police get their job done quickly and more effectively.”
By disabling any public networks in the area, police are also able to eliminate any cellular detonated bombs from going off but still stay in touch with each other he says.
The LXN 500 offers a wide range of mission critical cases and is sure to transform communications and improve safety for first responders and the people they are trying to protect.
Kaspersky moves to Switzerland
As part of its Global Transparency Initiative, Kaspersky Lab is adapting its infrastructure to move a number of core processes from Russia to Switzerland.
This includes customer data storage and processing for most regions, as well as software assembly, including threat detection updates. To ensure full transparency and integrity, Kaspersky Lab is arranging for this activity to be supervised by an independent third party, also based in Switzerland.
Global transparency and collaboration for an ultra-connected world
The Global Transparency Initiative, announced in October 2017, reflects Kaspersky Lab’s ongoing commitment to assuring the integrity and trustworthiness of its products. The new measures are the next steps in the development of the initiative, but they also reflect the company’s commitment to working with others to address the growing challenges of industry fragmentation and a breakdown of trust. Trust is essential in cybersecurity, and Kaspersky Lab understands that trust is not a given; it must be repeatedly earned through transparency and accountability.
The new measures comprise the move of data storage and processing for a number of regions, the relocation of software assembly and the opening of the first Transparency Center.
Relocation of customer data storage and processing
By the end of 2019, Kaspersky Lab will have established a data center in Zurich and in this facility, will store and process all information for users in Europe, North America, Singapore, Australia, Japan and South Korea, with more countries to follow. This information is shared voluntarily by users with the Kaspersky Security Network (KSN) an advanced, cloud-based system that automatically processes cyberthreat-related data.
Relocation of software assembly
Kaspersky Lab will relocate to Zurich its ‘software build conveyer’ — a set of programming tools used to assemble ready to use software out of source code. Before the end of 2018, Kaspersky Lab products and threat detection rule databases (AV databases) will start to be assembled and signed with a digital signature in Switzerland, before being distributed to the endpoints of customers worldwide. The relocation will ensure that all newly assembled software can be verified by an independent organisation and show that software builds and updates received by customers match the source code provided for audit.
Establishment of the first Transparency Center
The source code of Kaspersky Lab products and software updates will be available for review by responsible stakeholders in a dedicated Transparency Center that will also be hosted in Switzerland and is expected to open this year. This approach will further show that generation after generation of Kaspersky Lab products were built and used for one purpose only: protecting the company’s customers from cyberthreats.
Independent supervision and review
Kaspersky Lab is arranging for the data storage and processing, software assembly, and source code to be independently supervised by a third party qualified to conduct technical software reviews. Since transparency and trust are becoming universal requirements across the cybersecurity industry, Kaspersky Lab supports the creation of a new, non-profit organisation to take on this responsibility, not just for the company, but for other partners and members who wish to join.