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Facebook drone passes first test for airborne data

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Facebook has announced the successful first test flight of Aquila, a high-altitude, long-endurance solar airplane that provides Internet access to those in its flight path. 

This flight was the first in a series of tests called “functional checks,” designed to verify Aquila’s operational models and overall structure. During the low-altitude flight, Aquila remained in the air for 96 minutes — more than triple the minimum planned mission length — and gathered valuable data to help improve its designs.

At cruise altitude, Aquila was consuming only 2 000 watts of power — that’s as much as a hair dryer or a high end microwave. On its next flights, says Facebook, it will fly faster, higher and longer, beaming connectivity down to people.

Aquila in position prior to take-off. (From left: Kathryn Cook, technical program manager for Aquila; Yael Maguire, head of Connectivity Lab; Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO; Jay Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure)

Aquila in position prior to take-off. (From left: Kathryn Cook, technical program manager for Aquila; Yael Maguire, head of Connectivity Lab; Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO; Jay Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure)

“Facebook is accelerating its efforts to bring internet connectivity to the four billion people around the world who are not yet online, with the goal of contributing to prosperity, progress and development around the globe'” it said inm a statement. “The company’s Connectivity Lab has reached a major milestone in this ambition with the first full-scale test flight of Aquila, an unmanned solar-powered airplane that can be used to bring affordable internet to hundreds of millions of people in the hardest-to-reach places.

“Internet access can offer life-changing opportunities, information, and experiences, but 1.6 billion people today live in remote locations with no access to mobile broadband networks. Facebook is building new technologies like Aquila to help address this challenge.”

 Aquila moments after take-off.

Aquila moments after take-off.

When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 100km in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 18 000 metres using laser communications and millimetre wave systems. Aquila is designed to fly for up to three months at a time.

The aircraft has the wingspan of an airliner, but at cruising speed it will consume only 5 000 watts — the same amount as three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave. Facebook has flown a 1/5th-scale version of Aquila for several months, but this was the first flight of the full-scale aircraft.

Aquila in flight, wing view.

Aquila in flight, wing view.

To reach the goal of being able to fly over a remote region and deliver connectivity for up to three months at time, Facebook will need to break the world record for solar-powered unmanned flight, which currently stands at two weeks. This will require significant advancements in science and engineering to achieve. It will also require Facebook to work closely with operators, governments, and other partners to deploy these aircraft in the regions where they’ll be most effective.

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Mark with some key members of the team at the test site. (From left: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO; Jay Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure; Kathryn Cook, technical program manager for Aquila; Yael Maguire, head of Connectivity Lab)

Facebook’s mission is to connect the world. With its growing team of aerospace, optical physics, RF communications and other world experts, and existing relationships with the technology community, telcos, governments, and communities that use Facebook, it says, the company is uniquely positioned to do this work.

To date, Facebook’s connectivity efforts, which include initiatives like Free Basics, are estimated to have brought more than 25 million people online who wouldn’t be otherwise.

 

 A map showing the distribution of 4G, 3G and 2G connections around the world (as of February 2016).

A map showing the distribution of 4G, 3G and 2G connections around the world (as of February 2016).

Connectivity and population distribution maps.

Connectivity and population distribution maps.

Connectivity Lab is working on a range of new technologies to make internet access available and affordable, ranging from terrestrial solutions (Terragraph and ARIES) to UAVs (Aquila) to satellites for the most remote areas (AMOS 6).

Connectivity Lab is working on a range of new technologies to make internet access available and affordable, ranging from terrestrial solutions (Terragraph and ARIES) to UAVs (Aquila) to satellites for the most remote areas (AMOS 6).

Aquila Infographic.

Aquila Infographic.

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Epic Games brings a
Nite-mare to Android

Epic Games’ decision to not publish games through Google Play inadvertently opens a market to Android virus makers, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, decided to take the high road by skipping Google Play’s app distribution market and placing a third-party installer for its games on its website. While this is technically fine, it is not recommended for the average user, because allowing third-party installers on one’s smartphone opens up the possibility of non-signed and malicious software to be run on the smartphone. 

In June, malware researchers at ESET warned Android gamers that malicious fake versions of the Fortnite app had been created to steal personal information or damage smartphones. A malware researcher demonstrated how the fake applications works in the Tweet below.

While the decision to bypass Google Play was a bold move on Epic Games’ part, it has been a long time coming for app developers to move their premium apps off Google’s Play Store. The two major app distributors, Google Play and Apple’s App Store, take a 30% cut of every purchase made through their app distribution platforms. 

The App Store is currently the only way to get apps on a non-modified iOS device, which is why Epic Games had no choice for Fortnite to be in the App Store. On the other hand, Android phones can install packages downloaded through the browser, which makes the Play Store almost unnecessary for the gaming company. 

The most interesting part of this development is that Google is not the “bad guy” and Epic Games is no saviour to other game developers. Epic Games is a company with a multi-billion dollar valuation and has resources like large-scale servers to distribute and update its games, a big marketing budget to ensure everyone knows how to get its games, and server security to protect against malware. 

Resources of this scale allow the game company to turn a cold shoulder to Google’s Play Store distribution and focus on its own, in-house solution. 

That said, installing packages without the Google Play Store must be done carefully, and it is essential to do homework on where a package is downloaded. Moreover, when a package is installed outside of the Google Play Store, a security switch to block the installation of third party apps must be turned off. This switch should be turned back on immediately after the third party package is installed. 

This complex amount of steps makes it less worthwhile to install third party apps, in favour of rather waiting for them to reach the Play Store.

From a consumer perspective, ESET recommends not installing packages outside of the Google Play Store and to ignore advertisements to download the game from other sources.

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How to take on IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming, whether you like it or not and organisations today will look to platforms and services that help them manage and analyse the streams of data coming from connected devices, says RONALD RAVEL, Director B2B South Africa, Toshiba South Africa.

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Today, we are witnessing an explosion in IoT deployments and solutions and are moving towards a world where almost everything you can imagine will be connected. While this opens the door to many possibilities it also comes with its own challenges such as privacy and security.

The Internet has become an integral part of everyday life; it has been a free for all on a daily basis. IoT is a difficult concept for many people to wrap their minds around. Essentially, nearly every business will be affected.

Managing vast quantities of data across increasingly mobile workforces can be tremendously beneficial if done well, but equally can be cumbersome and ineffective if not managed properly. This is why technologies such as mobile edge computing are becoming increasingly popular, helping to increase the prevalence of secure mobile working and data management in the age of IoT.

Unlocking IoT

The evolution of IoT, despite rapid and ongoing technological innovation, is still very much in its fledgling stages. Its potential, though, is demonstrated by the fact that by 2020, Bain anticipates a significant shift in uptake, with roughly 80 per cent of adoptions at that point to have progressed to the stage of either ‘proof of concept’ or extensive implementation. This means that technological innovation in IoT for the enterprise is progressing at a similarly fast rate with many of these solutions being developed with utilities, engineering, manufacturing and logistics companies in mind.

Processing at the edge

For IoT to be adopted at the rate predicted, technology which does not overwhelm current or even legacy systems must be implemented. Mobile edge computing solves this. Such solutions offer processing power at the edge of the network, helping firms with a high proportion of mobile workers to reduce operational strain and latency by processing the most critical data at the edge and close to its originating source. Relevant data can then be sent to the cloud for observation and analysis, thereby reducing the waves of ‘data garbage’ which has to be processed by cloud services.

A logistics manager can feasibly monitor and analyse the efficiency of warehouse operations, for example, with important data calculations carried out in real-time, on location, and key data findings then sent to the cloud for centrally-located data scientists to analyse.

The work of wearables

The potential of IoT means it not only has the scope to change the way people work, but also where they work. While widespread mobile working is a relatively new trend in industries such as banking and professional services, for CIOs in sectors where working on the move is inherent – such as logistics and field maintenance – mobility is high on the agenda.

Wearables – and specifically smart glasses – have started to gain traction within the business world. With mobile edge computing solutions acting as the gateway, smart glasses such as Toshiba’s assisted reality AR 100 viewer solution have been designed to benefit frontline and field-based workers in industries such as utilities, manufacturing and logistics. In the renewable energy sector, for example, a wind turbine engineer conducting repairs may use assisted reality smart glasses to call up the schematics of the turbine to enable a hands-free view of service procedures. This means that when a fault becomes a barrier to repair, the engineer is able to use collaboration software to call for assistance from a remote expert and have additional information sent through, thereby saving time and money by eradicating the need for extra personnel to be sent to the site.

The time is ripe for organisations to look to exploit the age of IoT to improve the productivity and safety of their workers, as well as the end service delivered to customers. In fact, Toshiba’s recent ‘Maximising Mobility’ report found that 49 per cent of organisations believe their sector can benefit from the hands-free functionality of smart glasses, while 47 per cent expect them to deliver improved mobile working and 41 per cent foresee better collaboration and information sharing. Embracing IoT technologies such as mobile edge computing and wearable solutions will be an essential step for many organisations within these verticals as they look to stay on top of 21st century working challenges.

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