What Does It Take to Drive a Laser Cross-Country? A Lot, It Turns Out.

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Last month, NASA took a key component of its $ 96.6 million Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) on a cross-country road trip.

That component, called the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), is a laser that measures precisely how long it takes for light particles to bounce off the Earth and return to the satellite. ATLAS was designed, constructed, and tested at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. But it needed to travel some 2,000 miles to reach the Orbital ATK’s facility in Gilbert, Arizona, where it will be attached to the ICESat-2.

Previously, NASA has flown equipment from one side of the country to the other — the Curiosity rover, for instance, took an Air Force C-17 transport plane when it traveled from California to Florida prior to its 2011 launch. However, the Smart Car-sized ATLAS required special procedures to ensure it arrived intact, which meant flying was not an option.

NASA technicians attached probes to the laser in order to monitor its temperature, humidity, and the strength of vibrations affecting it throughout the journey. ATLAS was then wrapped in two layers of anti-electrostatic discharge film to prevent shocks.

A full convoy made the journey: A scout car that checked for accidents or debris, the transport truck that followed a quarter-mile behind, a trail vehicle, and other support cars. The journey was further complicated by convoy logistics — the group couldn’t drive through state capitals or large cities at rush hour, they couldn’t drive at night without special approvals, and they required further permits for certain stretches of road. The high maintenance road trip lasted more than four and a half days.

Quality assurance personnel and technicians traveled in a support car, monitoring the environment inside the truck in real-time. ATLAS is so sensitive that they needed to adjust the interior airflow to ensure that dust particles didn’t settle on the instrument.

Now safely in Arizona, ATLAS will soon be mounted on the ICESat-2 and undergo further testing before the completed satellite is delivered to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and sent into orbit.

The post What Does It Take to Drive a Laser Cross-Country? A Lot, It Turns Out. appeared first on Futurism.


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Intel is Trying to Make Smart Glasses a Thing, And Hit Your Retinas with a Laser

First there was Google Glass, then, Snapchat Spectacles. Both were supposed to change the world by bringing the power of the internet as close to our faces as technology can get without actually being inside of it. Both ultimately failed — too expensive, too easy to steal, too ugly — disappearing softly into the graveyard of failed technology, alongside Segways and K-cups.

Now, another company stands at the foot of the mountain upon which so many others have failed. Intel, maker of (sometimes problematic) computer chips recently announced its own set of smart glasses.

There is, of course, a chance Intel could succeed where others found failure. According to The Verge, the Vaunt doesn’t have a camera, speakers, microphones, buttons, or an LCD screen — the goal isn’t to have a smartphone on your face. All of the Vaunt’s electronics are confined to a small area right above the ear. They respond to commands given via head nods, which hopefully will have some sensitivity to not, say, text your ex when you’re nodding along to some tunes in your headphones.

The glasses are flexible and feather-light, weighing in at just 50 grams (just shy of 2 ounces), the equivalent of five Oreos.

The Vaunt may not weigh much, but that doesn’t mean it’s light on tech. The Vaunt is packed with a processor, accelerometer, Bluetooth, and a compass, according to Tech Crunch.

A closer look at the electronics found on the stem of Intel's Vaunt smart glasses. Image Credit: Vjeran Pavic/The Verge
A closer look at the electronics on the stem of Intel’s Vaunt Glasses. Image Credit: Vjeran Pavic/The Verge.

It also has a laser that projects a tiny image directly onto the corner of your retina. That image acts as a screen, presenting notifications from your phone, showing you walking directions, or reminding you to call your mother on her birthday. And if having a laser shot on your eyeball doesn’t hold appear, Mark Eastwood, industrial design director for Intel’s New Device Group, assured skeptics: “It is so low-power that it’s at the very bottom end of a class one laser.” That means, according to standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it’s 100 percent safe to stare into this kind of laser for extended periods of time.

Perhaps more importantly, the Vaunt doesn’t look like a pair of smart glasses. They’re more James Bond than Robocop. It’s pretty much doing the work of a smartwatch, but on your face, saving you the milliseconds it takes to raise a wrist to a face.

Whether or not they’ll sell isn’t the question so much as whether or not Intel will even be able to bring these successfully to market — the company has not yet set a release date, nor a price. But Intel said it’s more likely to partner with other companies to do the actual marketing and selling, rather than trying to shill the glasses itself. Really, it might be one of the cannier moves from Intel’s corner, which is to say, better to let someone else take this whole lasers-in-your-eyeballs press situation off them.

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Apple grants Finisar $390M for research & production on laser tech used in iPhone X

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Apple on Wednesday announced plans to pay U.S. firm Finisar — which manufactures the VCSELs (vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers) used in the iPhone X’s TrueDepth camera — $ 390 million out of its $ 1 billion Advanced Manufacturing Fund.
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Rear-Facing 3D Laser Camera System Rumored for 2019 iPhones

Following the successful launch of its high-end and TrueDepth camera-equipped iPhone X, Apple has reportedly shifted its focus towards developing a next-generation 3D depth-sensing camera technology.

According to people familiar with the company’s plans who were cited in a Bloomberg report on Tuesday, not only will Apple’s new 3D camera tech be more advanced than the TrueDepth camera on iPhone X, but it will bring a wide range of Augmented Reality (AR) capabilities exclusively to the rear-facing camera system on all of its iPhone models due out in 2019.

“Apple is evaluating a different technology from the one it currently uses in the TrueDepth sensor system on the front of the iPhone X,” sources say, while going on to describe how Apple’s existing TrueDepth system “relies on a structured-light technique that projects a pattern of 30,000 laser dots onto a user’s face and measures the distortion to generate an accurate 3D image for authentication.” Whereas the next-generation 3D laser technology that Apple is planning for the rear-facing camera of future iPhone models will instead rely on a “time-of-flight approach,” which is designed to “calculate the time it takes for a laser to bounce off surrounding objects to create a three-dimensional picture of the environment.”

Sources went on to confirm that Apple will retain its current, Face ID-assisted TrueDepth camera on the front-side of its future iPhone models — at least for the foreseeable future, according to KGI Securities analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo, who previously noted how the iPhone-maker’s inherent technology is years ahead of its closest competition. And so this new and highly-advanced 3D laser system, which will reportedly be the “next step forward” in regards to turning iPhone into a leading AR device, will be implemented into the handset’s rear-facing camera module so as to bring these capabilities to both sides of iPhone for the first time.

What’s interesting about this report is that it would appear Apple is rushing right along with its plans, thinking way ahead into the future and, perhaps, not considering the many challenges it faced when producing its 3D camera sensors. Indeed, multiple reports have converged around the fact that Apple has had trouble manufacturing TrueDepth components from the get-go, mainly due to the precision accuracy required in their fabrication, which has resulted in much lower-than-expected yield rates.

Fortunately, sources say, while this new “time-of-flight” 3D camera technology is much more advanced than Apple’s current TrueDepth tech, it reportedly does not require the same level of precision in its procurement, which means that yield rates are likely to be much higher in comparison.

Of course, as with all rumors pertaining to Apple, we highly recommend taking this one with a grain of salt, too, especially since even Bloomberg’s sources admit the company could ultimately scrap its plans at any time.

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Laser Dog’s Lovely ‘Ava Airborne’ Is Looking for Beta Testers

Laser Dog has given us some fun games in the past, including Don’t Grind, Pktball, and Hopiko, but I think the upcoming Ava Airborne looks like it’s going to be my favorite. Ava Airborne is the story of a young girl called (you guessed it) Ava who wants nothing more in life than to fly. So, she decides to get in her shed and build all kinds of flying contraptions, which she tests by jumping off a cliff, as one would do. Her goal is to go as far as possible, avoiding all kinds of obstacles and using other ones as ways to fly farther. The game has plenty of fun contraptions, like a jetpack made from a saxophone, and charming visuals and music.

Laser Dog has been documenting the game’s development from its first moments during a train back from London to today, and it’s definitely worth following. It’s always fun to see the seed behind a game and trace how it became a playable game. Ava Airborne is looking for testers, so if you want to help Ava build her crazy contraptions and fly like a bird, head over here.


The Air Force Has Invested $26.3 Million in a High-Energy Laser for Fighter Jets

A Laser SHiELD

Having successfully equipped a ship with a laser weapon system, known as LaWS, the United States Air Force (USAF) is looking to send laser weaponry to literal new heights. The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), the USAF scientific research wing has invested $ 26.3 million dollars with Lockheed Martin to design, develop, and build a laser weapon system to place on the military branch’s fighter jets. This initiative is a part of the AFRL’s Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program.  The USAF is looking to begin tests by 2021.

A statement from Lockheed Martin weapons expert, Rob Afza, says, “We have demonstrated our ability to use directed energy to counter threats from the ground, and look forward to future tests from the air as part of the SHiELD system.”

The weapon will be a defensive tool designed to blast missiles launched from the air or the ground out of the sky, preventing them from reaching their intended target.

Limited Scope

While fundraising for futuristic weaponry may be a cakewalk for military contractors, some experts doubt the efficacy of such weapons and question whether the immense cost is worth paying. According to a report from the Strategic Culture Foundation, “Lasers are no substitute for guns and missiles. They can add to the defensive capabilities but cannot be used as primary strike weapons.” Conventional weapons exist that can perform the same tasks and cost much less than developing new laser-based weaponry.

Futuristic Weapons: How We Will Fight in the Future
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Other hurdles with which the new technology will have to contend include having to be able to withstand vibrations, temperatures, and G forces, all while not hindering the performance of the aircraft to which it is attached.

As seen in the LaWS system, there is still hope for these weapons to carry a benefit for future applications. Conventional missiles could cost millions of dollars to launch, while the “rounds” used by LaWS only cost about a dollar.

In an increasingly volatile climate, the ability to defend innocent human lives around the world is of vital importance to the international community. Hopefully continued scientific development will equip peacekeepers with the best technology to ensure this goal.

The post The Air Force Has Invested $ 26.3 Million in a High-Energy Laser for Fighter Jets appeared first on Futurism.


World’s quickest laser pulse can track electrons in slow motion

The race to produce ever-faster laser pulses has set a new record, and it could lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of atom-level physics. A team at ETH Zurich has shortened an X-ray pulse to just 43 attoseconds (10-18 seconds), which is quick…
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Hisense’s $10,000 ‘Laser TV’ is a true home cinema in box

Hisense announced a new theater system today — the 100-inch 4K Ultra HD Smart Laser TV — which is essentially a projector with speakers. The company says it uses movie theater technology to provide crisp, bright images that don't depend on the ligh…
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