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‘Fibre in the sky’ makes 10 000 laser connections

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The SpaceDataHighway system – the world’s first ‘optical fibre in the sky’ based on cutting-edge laser technology – has achieved 10,000 successful laser connections. The reliability rate has reached 99.8 percent, and during the first one and a half years of routine operations these successful connections have downloaded more than 500 terabytes of data.

The system’s satellites are designed to lock on to low-orbiting satellites via laser and collect their data as they travel in low Earth orbit scanning the Earth. From its position in geostationary orbit, the SpaceDataHighway acts as a relay, transmitting the large quantities of data acquired by these observation satellites down to Earth in near-real time at a speed of 1.8 Gbit/s, instead of storing the data on board until the satellites pass over their own ground station.

The establishment of the laser connections is controlled by the SpaceDataHighway’s Mission Operation Centre which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week at Airbus premises near Munich. Operators receive transmission requests from customers, programme the space and ground segment and monitor the performance of communications.

“While 2017 has been a year of ramp-up for the system, we have now reached more than 1,000 connections per month in 2018 with a very high level of reliability,” said 

Hughes Boulnois, Head of the SpaceDataHighway programme at Airbus Defence and Space. “The total amount of data transferred is equivalent to around 100 million MP3 music files, but the transmission capacity of the SpaceDataHighway goes far beyond that.”

Each day, the SpaceDataHighway is capable to relay up to 40 terabytes of data acquired by observation satellites, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or aircraft, to Earth. It is currently used by the European Union’s Copernicus programme, but its capacities could be used by many more customers.

In 2019, the system will also relay information from the Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS). From 2020 the Pleiades Neo satellites will begin to use the SpaceDataHighway.

The SpaceDataHighway is a public-private partnership between the European Space Agency and Airbus, which today owns and operates the system, with the laser communication terminals developed by Tesat-Spacecom and the DLR German Space Administration. EDRS-A, the first SpaceDataHighway relay satellite launched in 2016, offers coverage from the American East Coast to India. A second satellite, EDRS-C, will be launched in 2019. It will double the system’s capacity and extend the coverage and redundancy of the system. Airbus intends to expand the SpaceDataHighway with a third node, ERDS-D, to be positioned over the Asia-Pacific region.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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