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NASA Gives All-American Space Taxi Contracts to Boeing, SpaceX

NASA has taken a big step toward restoring U.S. space launch capabilities for human astronauts by awarding a total of $6.8 billion in commercial crew contracts to Boeing and SpaceX. The move comes at a time when some U.S. lawmakers have been urging NASA to reduce its current reliance on Russian rockets to send astronauts to the International Space Station.

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Valencell's Optic Sensors Take Your Pulse From Your Ear

human os icon There are lots of ways to get a sense of how hard you’re working out—wearable pedometers, heart rate monitors built into treadmills, and much more. But getting precise readings from these devices can be difficult. If your treadmill has ever reminded you to hold the handles for heart rate, you’ve gotten a first hand look at how difficult it is to track biometrics during a vigorous workout. North Carolina-based Valencell is using infrared light sensors to measure biometric data with a new degree of accuracy.

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How an iPhone 6 App Puts a Health Coach in Your Pocket

human os iconWith the launch of Apple's new iPhone 6 and the announcement of the forthcoming Apple Watch, the company signaled its intention to play a major role in how we manage our health. Apple has presented the watch as a fancy fitness tracker and has plugged the iPhone's Health app, which serves as a dashboard for all the user's health and fitness data. The company also created the HealthKit API to allow developers to build apps that share data with the phone's health app. 

But all the buzz hasn't answered the real questions: What will consumers do with all that data? What will iPhone-enabled health care look like?

It might look a lot like the forthcoming app RevUp, from the San Diego startup MD Revolution. The company's founder, cardiologist Samir Damani, told Spectrum that the app has the potential to really change people's behavior because it combines the data with personalized coaching. "The data is only as good as what you do with it," he says.

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True Random Numbers From Your Smartphone Camera?

Apple hopes its new iPhone can replace credit cards, but many fear mobile transactions are vulnerable to digital pickpockets. New research now suggests that smartphone cameras could help keep credit card data, phone calls, and email secure with just an app.

The cryptographic systems that help protect digital transactions rely on random numbers, which are used to create "keys" to encrypt and decrypt confidential data. However, "if you want to break these cryptographic systems, the random number generator is one of the weakest links," says lead study author Bruno Sanguinetti, a quantum physicist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. That’s because computer programs are completely deterministic, designed to do things predictably, and so cannot easily generate truly random numbers by themselves.

One could produce truly random numbers by monitoring intrinsically random quantum phenomena, such as when radioactive atoms decay. Now Sanguinetti and his colleagues reveal that smartphone cameras can serve as the basis of such a quantum random number generator.

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Formula E Opens With A Crash

The first race in the ten-race electric Formula E series ended with a crash this past Saturday in Beijing. e.dams-Renault driver Nico Prost held the lead toward the end of the race, but as he approached the final lap, Venturi driver Nick Heidfeld passed Prost on the inside. Prost bumped Heidfeld, sending the Venturi car into a crash barrier and into the air. After landing upside down, Heidfeld scrambled out of the car and accosted Prost. Audi Sport ABT driver Lucas di Grassi passed the pair and took first place.

Though Formula E cars are heavier than the Formula One cars that inspired them, and much quieter, race organizers are betting that they can put on enough of a show to attract a new generation of race fans (see "Electrifying Formula One" 24 October 2013, IEEE Spectrum). The inaugural race showed that Formula E, in which drivers put single-seat electric race cars through their paces, can deliver much of the same drama as competitions featuring cars with internal combustion engines. Before the final-lap dust-up, other drivers grazed each other, damaging one car. Other cars suffered technical problems, forcing them out of the race.

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Solar Storms Strike Earth in One-Two Punch

Two recent solar eruptions hurled writhing ribbons of magnetic field and plasma at the Earth. Luckily, the planet's own magnetic field helped to deflect most of the energy and limit the damage. But scientists say that the arrival of these solar storm events could have played some mild havoc with GPS satellites and terrestrial communications systems this past weekend.

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Google's First Quantum Computer Will Build on D-Wave's Approach

Most quantum computing labs hope to slowly build universal "gate-model" machines that could perform as super-fast versions of today's classical computers. Such labs have tended to cast a skeptical eye upon D-Wave, the Canadian company that has rapidly developed a more specialized type of quantum computing machine for lease to corporate customers such as Google and Lockheed Martin. In the latest twist, Google has hired an academic team of researchers to help build the first Google quantum computer based on the specialized D-Wave approach rather than on a universal gate-model blueprint.

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Quantum Photonics on a Single Chip?

Researchers from Nanjing University, Beijing Institute of Aerospace Control Devices, and Southeast University, Nanjing, in China have demonstrated the creation of entangled photons and their manipulation on a single chip. The group reported this research last week in Physical Review Letters.

The researchers used lithium niobate (LN) as the material for the chip. LN, widely used in cellphones and modulators in telecommunications, is a material with a highly nonlinear response to light. Because of these optical properties it allows the integration of a number of quantum devices, and it is becoming the material of choice for the fabrication of photonic chips.

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Satellite Links Help Speed Up Cancer Screening

In the United Kingdom, a fleet of vans patrol rural areas of the nation daily, providing breast cancer screenings for residents. These screenings are a boon to residents in far-flung areas, who may have a hard time accessing care otherwise, especially for procedures like cancer screenings, which can seem less than urgent much of the time.

Now, the nearly 30-year-old service is getting an upgrade to its data delivery system, using satellites to transmit patient data to hospitals from the remote areas where it is often gathered. The dedicated satellite links could help speed up diagnoses and let vans return to hospitals less frequently, allowing them to serve more patients each day.

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