Science & Technology

By November 5, 2014 Read More →

Cruise ships take a Quantum leap forward

QuantumJust last week Royal Caribbean International took delivery of their newest cruise ship, Quantum of the Seas, from Meyer Werft Yard.

Now you may well be wondering why we’re talking about a cruise ship, and to be honest, when Royal Caribbean invited us aboard a few weeks ago, I too wondered

But Quantum of the Seas is all about technology and is the most technologically advanced cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean say it’s the world’s first Smart Ship, with “boatloads of bandwidth” which allow the cruise line to offer unprecedented connectivity – 500 times more than any other cruise ship; easy-to-use systems that expand guest choices and simplify schedules, plus, RFID technology that speeds up the boarding process and allows guest to track their luggage every step of the way.

Tracy and I were able to spend two nights on Quantum, to experience all of this technology for ourselves. This equated to two days of liberally using words like ‘Awesome’, ‘Amazing’, ‘Incredible’ and ‘Brilliant’.

So let’s starts with a few facts and figures…

  • Registry: Nassau, Bahamas
  • Built at Meyer Werft, Papenburg, Germany
  • 168,666 GRT
  • 1,141 feet (348 meters) long
  • 136 feet (41 meters) wide
  • 28 feet (8.5 meters) draft
  • 22 knots cruising speed
  • 16 guest decks
  • 18 total decks
  • 16 guest elevators
  • 4 bow thrusters with 4,694 horse power each  
  • 4,180 guests (double occupancy)
  • 4,905 guests total
  • 2,090 of Royal Caribbean’s largest and most advanced staterooms ever
    • 375 Virtual Balcony staterooms — interior staterooms offering expansive real-time views of the ocean and exciting destinations through virtual balconies
    • Up to 16 Family-Connected staterooms — perfect for multi-generational families or groups of friends, these staterooms provide separate bedrooms and bathrooms for all 
    • 12 new Studio staterooms with balconies and 16 Studio Interior staterooms, both for single travelers  

  

The use of technology starts before you even step aboard

About 10 days before we were due to set sail, Royal Caribbean sent me my “reservation number” and asked if we would complete the online check in. This process is very similar to online check in for an airline where they go through and take all your relevant information including passport and visa details. Although, as we were going on a cruise-to-nowhere, a visa was not required.

During the process you are also asked to take or provide a headshot which is then used as part of the boarding process. If you were going on a cruise which stopped at other ports the photo is used to identify you when you leave and board the ship as they scan you in and out with your WOWband or smart card. If you are not happy providing your own photo they can also take one at the port as part of the check in process. The last part of the online check in was to set up your onboard charging account. Once you have this set up it means that once onboard just a quick scan of your band and you can pay for anything!

The other big part of the pre-planning Royal Caribbean have introduced comes from their change from a traditional main dining room to their new ‘dynamic dining’ system. Once I was checked in I could then go and make restaurant reservations for our 2 nights along with entertainment reservations for the shows. The system will also handle the shore excursions and spa appointments in the future. What’s really nice is once you have something booked it tells you if you are going to have a clash and you can view everything in the really well laid out planner. Once onboard all these reservations will then transfer to your Royal iQ app and will also save guests from standing in lines and trudging from place to place on the first day of the cruise. As Royal Caribbean say, ‘you get the first day of your vacation back’.

Royal Caribbean guests can go from “sidewalk to ship” in 10 minutes with no check-in counter, no forms to fill out and no lines to stand in. The average check in time on the day we boarded was just 7 minutes!

 

RFID Technology

WOWBand

WOWBand

RFID technology is becoming more commonplace and Royal Caribbean are certainly using this to its advantage in a number of key ways.

During the boarding process, RFID tags are placed upon your luggage. This allows guests to track their luggage in real time on their smartphones and monitor their bags’ progress through key points en route to the stateroom.  On departure, the process is reversed.   

Quantum of the Seas also has new RFID ‘WOWband’ wristbands, which can be used as your room key or can be used to pay for onboard purchases, make reservations, find your photos in the onboard photo shop etc.

Simplicity and efficiency are also at the heart of two new apps that put guests in charge of their cruise choices: Cruise Planner, which allows guests to research and book dining reservations, shore excursions, spa appointments and more before their vacation begins; and Royal iQ, available as a downloadable app and provided at freestanding iQ stations around the ship.  Royal iQ allows guests to manage details during the cruise, includes a convenient calendar that provides at-a-glance views of their program, and keep in touch with one another and home via phone and text capabilities.

 

WiFi onboard

Connectivity on cruise ships has always been hit or miss and bandwidth is a big issue. This is set to change with Quantum of the Seas though, as Royal Caribbean International teamed up with O3b Networks, a global satellite provider, who developed a new technology. This new satellite network delivers “fiber-optic bandwidth.” Quantum of the Seas features O3b fiber-like Internet service which will provide more than 500 times the bandwidth that you’d experience from a regular on-board connection.

The O3b fiber-like Internet service was first piloted on Oasis of the Seas in December 2013 and has also been since introduced on Allure of the Seas. The new system fitted to Quantum of the Seas will provide O3b coverage as the ship approaches the east coast of the United States.

Royal Caribbean International is now testing a variety of pricing. While the prices are highly subject to change, the current pricing offers guests $29.95 per hour, $99.95 per day, and $189.95 for unlimited usage on a 7-night cruise for one device.

You may read elsewhere in the press that there was ‘no Wifi coverage’ on Quantum during the inaugural sailing but that’s just sensationalism. There was indeed WiFi on board but there isn’t O3b satellite coverage in Europe as yet. This will be ready in time for the launch of the next Quantum Class ship, Anthem of the Seas, when she commences service from Southampton in April of 2015.   A fact that was made clear to members of the press both before and during the inaugural sailing.

 

 

Ripcord

Ripcord by iFly is just awesome! This offers guest the chance to experience skydiving in a wind tunnel and is the first of such to be installed on sea-going vessel.

Following a short briefing video and time with an instructor, guests are provided with a jumpsuit, goggles, helmet and ear protection. Your group is then taken to the wind tunnel where you get to take it in turns to experience what it’s like to freefall skydive.

With a series of hand gestures and physical guidance from an instructor it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of the basic positions but it looks like a lot of training would be needed to get really good at it. Fortunately, you’ll be able to buy packages to give you a certain number of training sessions with an expert.

I’d recommend keeping each session fairly short to begin with though, it takes a lot out of you!

DSC_0233 IMG_5406 DSC_0281

 

North Star

If skydiving seems a little bit too energetic for you then there’s another way to experience some sights aboard Quantum of the Seas with North Star.

North Star is “an engineering marvel that transports guests more than 300 feet above the ocean”. Guests board a large glass capsule at the end of a large boom arm and are then hoisted high in to the air for unique views of both the ocean and the ship itself.

Here you can take some exceptional photographs and I’m sure it will be even more amazing to be able to take photos of some of the cruise destinations and North Star is able to operate both at sea and in port.

 

DSC_0229 DSC_0245

IMG_5415 IMG_5518

 

Sea Plex

So heights may not be your thing but if you’re still looking for some fun then there’s plenty to be had at Sea Plex.

Sea Plex offers the largest indoor active space at sea and is a distinctive and flexible sporting and entertainment venue offering more first at sea experiences, guests can experience a circus school with flying trapeze, or play basketball on a full-size regulation basketball court. By night, the first-ever bumper car and roller skating offerings deliver fun and excitement. Or, guests can dance to music orchestrated from a floating DJ booth which hovers above the activity below.

 IMG_5400 IMG_5401 

 

Bionic Bar

One of the coolest additions to Quantum of the Seas are the robot bartenders at the Bionic Bar.  

These masterpieces of technology can create and pour your favorite mixed drink in just a few seconds right before your eyes. Tablet computers allow patrons to select their desired drink for an extensive list while electronic screens at either side tell you how long you’ll have to wait for your drink and where you are in the queue.

Unfortunately the Bionic Bar was plagued with teething problems during our time on Quantum of the Seas but we were able to see it operational on a number of occasions and it certainly is a talking point. It also ensures that you get your turn to order from the bar fairly and the robots don’t ask for tips!

Quantum of the Seas launch photos

 

Of course, it takes far more than a bionic bartender and skydiving to make a truly smart ship and items mentioned in this post are just a few of the more obvious, customer-facing innovative technologies that you’ll find aboard Quantum of the Seas. Below the surface there’s plenty more to talk about from the on-board waste reclamation to the air-lubrication system…

Tracy and I were lucky enough to see much of what goes on behind the scenes on Quantum of the Seas and spent some time with Captain Patrik Dahlgran, Capt. (Felix) Srecko Ban, Captain Gus Andersson and Richard Pruitt (Vice President of Safety and Environmental Stewardship).  But that’s all for another post!

 

By October 14, 2014 Read More →

The most hackable luxury cars of 2014

8856128220_21eef475e1_zTechnology always seems to come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. Recently the media has been reporting on ‘hackable’ cars, not in terms of being physically hacked into, but technologically. The ability to hack into a car may not yet be fully possible, but is it only a matter of time?

Does the thought of buying a new luxury car seem less appealing due to the fact that there is a chance that it may be ‘hacked in to’ in the future? This may make it more appealing to buy a second-hand luxury car but, from the study, “A Survey of Remote Automotive Attack Surfaces” some older cars may still be at risk.

We’re all aware of the drawbacks and data security risks of modern technology, but one industry where we don’t tend to think in terms of cybersecurity is the motor trade. “Connected cars” are becoming standard; new vehicles come laden with GPS, Bluetooth and there’s a general trend towards software based management systems. This has led to the study above attempting to highlight the ‘most hackable cars’ on the market.

‘Hackability’ was judged in terms of three key areas: Network Architecture, Attack Surface, and Cyber Physical Features. Roughly, the network architecture is the location, build and design of each of the computers within a car.  The attack surface is any location where a hacker can try to modify, alter or enter anything into the system, such as any accessible ports, or points where malicious code can be entered.  Cyber physical features include how the computer networks, and interacts or measures its environment, such as in collision detection within cars.

The 2006 Ford Fusion illustrated how anyone interested in older model used cars have far less to worry about in terms of connectivity and ‘hackability’. The 06 Fusion scored double minuses in all categories, but more to the point, this score shows how cars have come on technologically in the last eight years.

The 2006 Prius and the 2006 Range Rover also scored very low, further serving as benchmarks for old car safety. Contrast this with the 2014 Range Rover Evoque and the 2014 Prius which both scored plenty of +’s.

In reality, we tend to err towards technology despite its pitfalls, and it’s not often we’ll get cybercriminals with a laptop invading our car for unknown gain; but the study does provide food for thought. Those who wish to stay on the safe side of technology could probably do well to buy older versions of marks like the Audi A8. A 2005 version of the Audi A8 on Carmony.co.uk can easily sell for a lot less than the 2014 version with very little risk of software malfunction.

 

By October 8, 2014 Read More →

Is your Belkin broken?

F9K1113_AC1200_herowb_116It would appear that for some reason Belkin routers can no longer connect to the Internet. As of midnight EDT many Belkin router owners took to Twitter to all point out their Belkin routers were suffering from some sort of fault or demonic possession. At 9:30am PDT Belkin acknowledged the issue and an hour later, issued a workaround. Belkin has not yet revealed the cause of the mass outage. There are many, many annoyed users out there furious at Belkin and their ugly side can be seen on Twitter. One thing is for sure you can take away power, gas and water but don’t meddle with someone’s internet connection.

Update #2: Belkin says all routers should now be fixed.

We have confirmed that the internet connectivity issue is now resolved.

If your service has not yet been restored, please unplug your router and plug it back in after waiting 1 minute. Wait 5 more minutes and the router should reconnect. If you have any further issues, please contact our support at (800) 223-5546.

We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience to our customers. We are taking a number of actions to eliminate this sort of incident from reoccurring

Update #1: Belkin’s official statement.

 

Starting approximately midnight on October 7, Belkin began experiencing an issue with a service configured in certain Belkin router models that causes a failure when it checks for general network connectivity by pinging a site hosted by Belkin. We know this issue has affected select older Wireless-N Belkin router models including F9K1102, F9K1105, F9K1113 and F9K1116. We are continuing to investigate other possible routers that may have been affected. We are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. Until there is a fix in place, we have identified a workaround for customers that are using the F9K1102 and F9K1105 routers to regain internet connectivity. That work-around as well as ongoing updates can be found at our outage status page for more information:http://www.belkin.com/outage

By June 9, 2014 Read More →

ZX-Uno bringing the Spectrum back

1905-zx-uno-zx-spectrum-hardware-fgpa-cloneWhat is the ZX-Uno?  Essentially it is a fan-made clone of the ZX Spectrum hardware, set to offer retro gamers an alternative to getting their 8-bit game-on.

The ZX-Uno has no release date just yet, the official website shows the hardware is already at quite an advanced stage of development . The FPGA based board not only behaves exactly like a ZX Spectrum, but also offers several new features the micro-computer could only dream of having.

Coming equipped with an SD Card slot, gamers will be able to load .TAP files directly into memory for use on the system – allowing easy access to the likes of Jet-Pac, Manic Miner and just about everything else. Designed to fit inside a Raspberry Pi case, the ZX-Uno also offers a rather snazzy audio-in 3.5mm jack port, allowing those who really want to stay true to the hardware the ability to boot up original cassette tapes.

According to the team behind this device, the ZX-Uno is estimated to cost a mere 30 Euros. So should you be a fan of the British micro-computer or need a good alternative to the dated hardware, keep a close eye on the ZX-Uno.

By May 24, 2014 Read More →

Nvidia stepping back from mobile tech

Nvidia-WallpaperIt seems oddly strange timing, NVIDIA’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has announced the company’s plans to take a step back from developing technology specifically for the mainstream tablet and smartphone markets. NVIDIA is currently preparing their next-gen Tegra K1 chip. It’s extremely powerful and recently destroyed the competition by a wide margin in some artificial benchmarks. 

This is why NVIDIA’s move seems a bit puzzling at first. After reading Huang’s perspective on the subject, it seems a bit more sensible. NVIDIA has realized their higher-end technology isn’t meant to compete with the menagerie of mediocre mobile models available. While NVIDIA was striving to take on their biggest rival, Qualcomm, the smaller MediaTek was swooping in to dominate in the low-end markets. This was basically rushing NVIDIA from two sides. 

To be clear, NVIDIA is not at all abandoning mobile. On the contrary, they are instead refocusing their efforts on future tech and on markets they have always been good it. That is automotive mobile and mobile gaming respectively. Huang indicated he does not want NVIDIA’s flagship Tegra brand conforming to inferior standards. NVIDIA sees the Tegra as a powerful line which should not have its standards sacrificed in the name of more efficient chipsets. In other words, NVIDIA wants to be the Lamborghini or Ferrari of mobile chipsets, instead of catering to mass production markets eventually relegating the Tegra line to that of a value sedan. 

In retrospect, this move makes a great deal of sense. NVIDIA has always been one of the two big titans in the gaming world. They are experts at fighting in that market. Of course, the mobile auto industry is new, but if NVIDIA can get there first, they can get a leg up on the rest of the mobile industry while their competitors’ focus on smartphones and tablets.

It sounds like NVIDIA will still have chipsets for tablets, but they will more than likely be geared towards gaming. Of course, the NVIDIA Shield device is also their baby, and Huang renewed their commitment to that product. In fact, Haung made it clear that he believes NVIDIA Shield will be the device which transforms Android into a great gaming platform.

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By May 2, 2014 Read More →

Windows Phone getting a Smartwatch wearable

windows-phone-smartwatch-premium-wellness-watch-WellographWindows Phone is joining the Smartwatch mob. Wellograph are releasing a Windows Phone 8.1 compatible smartwatch with a sapphire crystal display. The Wellograph watch features a heart rate monitor, activity tracker, and running watch. 

The official app will be optimized for Windows Phone 8.1, and syncs directly to the Wellograph watch, transferring all data over Bluetooth. The Windows Phone app will utilise the operating system’s most unique feature Live Tiles, allowing users to see information such as total steps and exercise score directly on the phone’s Start screen. The company will make an official Wellograph app for Windows Phone 8.1 available alongside both an iOS and Android app.

Nick Warnock, president of Wellograph, Inc says

We’re excited to be bringing Wellograph to the millions of users who love and enjoy their Windows Phones. Wellograph represents the first fitness tracking device dedicated to Windows Phone users and we’re committed to supporting our customers using the growing platform.

 

By April 11, 2014 Read More →

Work emails illegal after 6pm!

eFrance is such a strange place. An aluring draw is felt with thinking of french bread, wine and le romancing! Another addition might just be a winner for those who hate the bleep of a blackberry when relaxing at home with a Bourgogne Chardonnay and a saucy french movie. If working in Franceland you will no longer be bothered by your beret wearing boss, a deal has been signed between employers federations and unions to say that employees will have to switch off work phones and avoid looking at work email, while firms cannot pressure staff to check le massages.

Michel de La Force, chairman of the General Confederation of Managers, has said that “digital working time” would have to be measured. Some emailing outside of office hours would be allowed but only in “exceptional circumstances”. Obviously there has to be exceptions however the move echoes Volkswagen’s rule to stop sending emails to their employees 30 minutes after their shift ends and only resume 30 minutes before. 

Some will be hoping for an opt in, opt out policy as 24 hour sales and self employment could potentially suffer, however for those in big business with pressure from Le Grande Fromage, this will be a breath of fresh air.

 

 

By April 9, 2014 Read More →

EU court rejects requirement to keep data of users by telecom companies

government-surviellenceOn Tuesday the European Union’s highest court overthrew a rule that required telecoms companies to store the communications data of EU citizens for up to two years, on the grounds that it infringed on basic rights. The court ruled that the directive “exceeded the limits” of proportionality.

“The Court takes the view that, by requiring the retention of those data and by allowing the competent national authorities to access those data, the directive interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data,” it said.

“Furthermore, the fact that data are retained and subsequently used without the subscriber or registered user being informed is likely to generate in the persons concerned a feeling that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance,” the court added in a statement.

The rule had required telecoms service providers to keep traffic and location data as well as other information needed to identify a user, but not the content of the communication. This directive was introduced by Brussels in March 2006 after bombings on public transport in Madrid and London.

The UK government says it is carefully considering the implications of the ruling so you can guarantee they will take their time and drag their feet.

Source [BBC]

By April 8, 2014 Read More →

Snapdragon Reveals 808 and 810 Chips for Next Year

qualcomm-snapdragon-810-2It looks like Qualcomm is just never satisfied with impressing mobile tech geeks. They continue to push the envelope, even when we are already blown away by the amazing tech they show off. Their latest creations scheduled to debut next year are the Snapdragon 808 and 810. Here’s a quick spec breakdown of these powerhouse chipsets, 

Snapdragon 808 MSM8992: (The 808 differs from the 810 primarily with a different core arrangement and slightly slower GPU and memory interface.)

  • CPU: 2 Cortex A57 cores + 4 Cortex A53 cores (hexa-core, big.LITTLE arrangement)
  • ISA: 32-bit/64-bit ARM v8-A, 20nm
  • GPU: Adreno 418
  • Memory bandwidth: 64-bit LPDDR4-933
  • LTE: Cat 6/7 LTE, built-in
  • eMMC interface: 5.0
  • Wi-Fi: no (requires separate Wi-Fi module)
  • Camera ISP: 12-bit dual-ISP
  • H.256 encode/decode: no/yes

Snapdragon 810 MSM8994: (The 810 is the higher-end of the two chipsets, and is designed to follow-up the Snapdragon 805, which is coming later this summer.)

  • CPU: 4 Cortex A57 cores + 4 Cortex A53 cores (octo-core, big.LITTLE arrangement)
  • ISA: 32-bit/64-bit ARM v8-A, 20nm
  • GPU: Adreno 430
  • Memory bandwidth: 64-bit LPDDR4-1600
  • LTE: Cat 6/7 LTE, built-in
  • eMMC interface: 5.0
  • Wi-Fi: no (requires separate Wi-Fi module)
  • Camera ISP: 14-bit dual-ISP
  • H.256 encode/decode: yes/yes

It looks like Qualcomm is now starting to make excellent use of the big.LITTLE architecture, which makes their stuff a bit more similar to Samsung’s Exynos. Regardless of how things are evolving in the mobile tech world, Qualcomm seems to be on the leading edge.

By March 25, 2014 Read More →

Google working on smart contact lenses

google-patentGoogle Glass could be a thing of the past. There is a rumour that Google is now working on smart contact lenses. The USPTO patent application filed by the search giant doesn’t look to be quite as capable as Google Glass, instead a “multi-sensor contact lens” working as a basic input device. This would connect to either a watch or Smartphone and this would provide the brain of the operation. 

Intomobile are reporting that Google have filed such a patent as illustrated on the right. They theorise this lens could also be able to pick cues from the environment, bundling a number of sensors for light, pressure, temperature, conductivity and electric field, all of which would be combined with a control circuit and power source embedded outside the user’s physical field of vision. So no brains would be included in this lens with all computing happening at a different location (smartphone?).

It does not seem so long ago that Google Glass seemed like a crazy dream that we wouldn’t see until 2020. However, time and tech are on our side for this and this really doesn’t seem to be to far out of reach. Next up, the Google Underpants!

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