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DARPA And Google Developing A Modular Military Smartphone

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military phoneGiven how susceptible smartphones are to hacking, if the military switches from radio to those devices, it will need to take measures to become more secure, among other things, and load them with apps and utilities that soldiers can use on the battlefield. The Institute for Software Integration Systems (ISIS—not to be confused with the other ISIS you’ve been reading about on the news these days) is working on just that as part of DARPA’s Transformative Apps program, which seeks to “develop a diverse array of militarily-relevant software applications using an innovative new development and acquisition process.” The problem is that TransApp funding is about to run out, which means DARPA and ISIS are looking for other projects that might help them fulfill the military’s app needs. Right now, the frontrunner seems to be Google’s (formerly Motorola’s) Project Ara.

The concept behind Project Ara is that of a modular smartphone with an open hardware platform that will cost somewhere around $50. It began with Motorola’s ATAP (Advanced Technologies and Products) program, which Google retained after it sold the company. At the helm of ATAP is a former DARPA director, who has helped with the cohesion between ATAP, ISIS, and DARPA to create a modular phone that can be assembled and changed on the fly as determined by the military’s needs.

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New Battery Technology Coming For Smartphones

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batteryIt’s happened to everyone — you’re lost and need to make a call or access the GPS function on your smartphone, except the damn thing is dead. Again. You just plugged it in the day before and hadn’t used it much since then; how could its juice be gone already? I’ve noticed a threshold for battery life — for the first few months, my phone or iPad or whatever holds a decent charge, but then there comes a point where that drops off rapidly, and I suddenly notice that everything drains it three times faster than it used to. Maybe it’s a ploy from the manufacturer to get us to buy replacement batteries, or maybe they just don’t really know how to make batteries last. But that may be changing.

There are a couple of solutions in the works that might dramatically extend the life of a smartphone battery. One strategy is being developed by Eesha Khare, a Harvard student who invented an energy storage device that garnered her a top award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Khare’s storage device is a supercapacitor that can fully charge an LED in 20-30 seconds. The tiny nanotech, comprised of carbon fiber and metal oxides, can also maintain a charge for a lot longer. Her goal is to get the supercapacitor charging mobile devices in under a minute, which means Nyan Cats for all! Apparently she was recently approached by Google, so we’ll see how long she holds out.

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Blackphone: The Smartphone That Helps Protect Your Privacy

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blackphoneOne of the reasons I refuse to get a smartphone is the resulting lack of privacy and their susceptibility to hacking. I’m no Angela Merkel and wouldn’t talk or text about state secrets on my smartphone, but I also don’t want to deal with push notifications, GPS, or any other app that indicates where I am or what I’m doing. Now, there’s a smartphone that actually appeals to people like me — the Blackphone, which touts privacy as its most valuable service.

Blackphone’s default setting is not to share your information or preferences unless you go in and manually change it. It will also stop any pings, advertisements, or Wi-Fi signals attempting to harvest information about your whereabouts or activities. In conjunction with preserving privacy, Blackphone is also particularly careful about user information — it’s all stored in Switzerland in a vault somewhere. It may sound kind of sketchy, but in light of the NSA revelations, maybe this is the new normal. The Blackphone was developed by an ex-Navy NEAL sniper who is fed up with the government and corporations comprising our privacy and selling, or obtaining via hacking, our private information. Of course, the NSA could almost certainly still hack a Blackphone if it really wanted to, but the phone’s security would at least put up a fight and reduce the likelihood that anyone else could infiltrate it.

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Angry Birds Are Angry At The NSA

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Angry BirdsLargely because I refuse to get a smartphone, I’ve never played Angry Birds. The latest round of NSA news that reveals that it has developed ways to exploit “leaky” apps to access users’ private information—all the usual stuff, but also information about gender, location, and sexual orientation—doesn’t affect me all that much. That is, other than giving me another reason to shake my head at the organization that day by day descends another level deeper into the inferno. If you’re one of the millions of people who play Angry Birds on a regular basis, you’ll probably be…well, angry. Rovio, the Finnish company behind the game, say it’s right there with you.

Rovio launched the game in 2009, and it has been downloaded nearly two billion times and has hundreds of millions of active monthly users. Reports from the company show that 50% of new device purchasers download the game. They’ve assured consumers that the company didn’t know about, and wasn’t complicit in, the spy agency’s gathering of information, and maintains that it doesn’t allow advertisers to sell or use personal information. In fact, their main webpage says, “Rovio does not provide end user data to government surveillance agencies.”

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Smart Bike Wheel Takes The Sweat Out Of Your Bike Commute

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FlyklyAs a biker commuter and general cycling enthusiast, I’m excited to see a spate of bike-related gadgets hit the scene. First we had the smart bike lock, which I really wish had been around a couple years ago (RIP, best bike ever). Then we got the awesome, if pricey (though still cheaper than a new noggin), invisible bike helmet. And because good things come in threes, there’s now a smart bike wheel that will help us get to wherever we’re going without getting sweaty.

I’ll admit that the sweat factor is somewhat of a deterrent to biking, and while helmets are obviously important, standard helmets make bike rides even warmer. In the spring and early fall, I show up to work at least 10 minutes early so I have ample time to stop sweating and to make myself look presentable. I also never use one of those old overhead projectors.

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Smart Bike Lock Will Thwart Bicycle Thieves

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BitlockAny invention that will help keep my bike safe immediately gets my attention. Sure, Kryptonite locks are all well and good, but they’re not foolproof and I’m always scared about losing the key. It was only a matter of time in this age of smartphones and smartwatches that someone would come up with a smart bike lock.

BitLock uses Bluetooth technology so riders can lock and unlock their bikes with their smartphones. Bitlock’s keyless system connects to a user’s smartphone and ascertains proximity so a user can simply press a button on the Bitlock to lock or unlock it without even taking the smartphone from a pocket or purse. Users can also use the smartphone application to lock or unlock Bitlock if they prefer.