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In a series of posts on his blog, military theorist John Robb outlines what he thinks will be the next big thing — "as big as the internet," as he puts it. It's DRONENET: an internet of drones to be used as an automated delivery service. The drones themselves would require no futuristic technology. Modern quadrotor drones are available today for a few hundred dollars, and drone usage would be shared across an open, decentralized network. Robb estimates the cost for a typical delivery at about $0.25 every 10 miles, and points out that the drones would fit well alongside many ubiquitous technologies; the drone network shares obvious parallels with the internet, the drones would use GPS already-common GPS navigation, and the industry would mesh well with the open source hardware/software community. Finally, Robb talks about the standards required for building the DRONENET: "Simple rules for drone weight, dimensions, service ceiling, and speed. Simple rules for battery swap and recharging (from battery type, dimension, etc.). Simple rules for package containers. Simple rules for the dimensions and capabilities of landing pads. ... Decentralized database and transaction system for coordinating the network. Rules for announcing a landing pad (information from GPS location and services provided) to the network. Rules for announcing a drone to the network (from altitude to speed to direction to destination). Cargo announcement to the network, weight, and routing (think: DNS routing). A simple system for allocating costs and benefits (a commercial overlay). This commercial system should handle everything from the costs of recharging a drone and/or swapping a battery to drone use."

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New submitter cellurl writes "I run wikispeedia, a database of speed limit signs. People approach us to mirror our data, but I am quite certain it will become a one-way street. So my question is: How can I give consumers peace of mind in using our data and not give up the ship? We want to be the clearing house for this information, at the same time following our charter of providing safety. Some thoughts that come to mind are creating a 'Service Level Agreement' which they will no doubt reject, or MySQL-clustering, or rsync. Any thoughts, (technically, logistically, legally) appreciated."


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Hear the idea of creating a car sound, and you might imagine a sound designer working on a video game or film. Imagining that person producing a sound for an actual car could sound like a joke. But as today’s vehicles go silent – whisper-quiet electric cars to human-powered bicycles – the problem of imagining noises for them to make becomes deadly serious.

Our brains are wired to respond quickly to sound, so when cars suddenly don’t make any noise, alerting us to their presence is a serious issue. Audi’s engineers are working on that problem in the video here (thanks to reader Vadim Nuniyants for the tip!):

Audi’s future e-tron models will cover long distances powered by practically silent electric motors. To ensure that pedestrians in urban settings will hear them, the brand has developed a synthetic solution: Audi e-sound.

Audi’s not alone, either; it’s a safe assumption that many electric makers are working on this problem. Cyclists may want to consider it, too, though mechanical solutions (letting the wheels produce a click) and the old-fashioned bell aren’t a bad start. Before the TV show Portlandia poked fun at Portland, readers chuckled at an open source synth out of PDX that produces sounds for a bike – but now, automaker Audi is basically doing just that with real cars. The video of that solution (which isn’t really such a bad idea – now we just need extra lights):

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Hugh Pickens writes "Wheels are the archetype of a primitive, caveman-level technology, and we tend to think that inventing the wheel was the number one item on man's to-do list after learning to walk upright. But LiveScience reports that it took until the bronze age (3500 BC), when humans were already casting metal alloys and constructing canals and sailboats, for someone to invent the wheel-and-axle, a task so challenging archaeologists say it probably happened only once, in one place. The tricky thing about the wheel isn't a cylinder rolling on its edge, but figuring out how to connect a stable, stationary platform to that cylinder. 'The stroke of brilliance was the wheel-and-axle concept,' says David Anthony, author of The Horse, the Wheel, and Language. To make a fixed axle with revolving wheels, the ends of the axle have to be nearly perfectly smooth and round, as did the holes in the center of the wheels. The axles have to fit snugly inside the wheels' holes, but not too snug, or there will be too much friction for the wheels to turn. But the real reason it took so long is that whoever invented the wheel would have needed metal tools to chisel fine-fitted holes and axles. 'It was the carpentry that probably delayed the invention until 3500 BC or so, because it was only after about 4000 BC that cast copper chisels and gouges became common in the Near East.'"


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New submitter gmrobbins writes "The Seattle Times profiles avionics engineer Don Bateman, whose Honeywell lab in Redmond, Washington has for decades pioneered ground proximity warning systems. Bateman's innovations have nearly eliminated controlled flight into terrain by commercial aircraft, the most common cause of fatal airplane accidents."


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In this video from the NYC subway, a singer named Jessica Latshaw, bearing a small uke, finds herself sitting across from a gentleman with a fine pair of bongos. The two begin an impromptu jam session, emceed by a random gregarious stranger and captured for posterity by a subway rider with a camphone. The performance is just fine, and it's clear from the footage that the rest of the car is having a fine time.

In theory, it's possible that the whole thing is a fix, "buzz marketing" from Latshaw and co, and if so, well, it's an extraordinarily nonobnoxious example of the form.

okay- what you are about to watch is a true new york experience. what originally started out as a typical nyc subway ride (sitting across from guy who smelled like urine) turned into an awesome performance by two people who have never met before. i captured the whole thing on video.

never a dull moment on the nyc subway

(Thanks, z7q2!)

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My new obsession: Cockpit landing videos taken during approaches into technically challenging airports. 

Yesterday, Phillip Bump posted a link on Twitter to a detailed rant, written by a pilot, about why pilots don't like to land at (or take off from) Washington DC's Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. That post is pretty  interesting, especially if you've ever wondered—as I had, while waiting on the tarmac at National last fall—how large jets manage land and take off from that airport while simultaneously avoiding all the no-fly zones that are very, very close by. (Hint: It is difficult, and occasionally terrifying.) But the money shot is at the end, where you can watch a video that will show you the pilot's eye view of a National Airport landing approach. 

Turns out, there is a whole, beautiful genre of YouTube videos devoted to this kind of thing. The video above is one of my favorites, showing the approach in to Hong Kong's old Kai Tak airport. Closed in 1998, Kai Tak had one of the most challenging landing approaches in the world. It involved flying at heights of less than 1000 feet over the top of crowded neighborhoods and close to nearby skyscrapers, then executing a sharp right-hand turn, while continuing to lose elevation. Oh, and, the turn had to be done without the help of the Instrument Landing System. Instead, pilots made the turn based on a checkerboard marker painted on the side of a hill. And the runway ended in water. And the wind was often less than favorable to this kind of maneuvering. Fun! 

The video above is a bit long, but if you fast forward to about 3:00 minutes in, you'll see the best parts. By that point, you can see the checkerboard marker off to the left and get a feel for just how low these planes had to be. Although, frankly, I'm having a hard time deciding which is freakier: What these landing looked like from the sky, or what they looked like from the ground

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adeelarshad82 writes "Researchers at MIT have developed an algorithm that determines which drivers will run a red light, within one to two seconds before a potential collision. The research, based on 15,000 cars at a busy intersection, monitored various factors to determine which cars were were likely to run a red light. They found that their predictions were correct about 85 percent of the time, which is about 15-20 percent better than existing traffic prediction algorithms."

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UnknownSoldier writes "Wired reports that researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered you can 'lock' a magnetic field into place with a superconductor. They have a very cool demonstration of a frozen puck and some of the neat things you can do with it while its orientation remains locked but its location is movable. Might we someday see high speed trains that will be 'impossible' to tip over, or a new generation of batteries with this technology?"

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