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Velo Labs Launches a Connected, Solar-Powered Bike Lock

A new bike lock on the market can do a whole lot more than keep a bicycle out of the hands of thieves.

Skylock, which was built by engineers from Boeing and Jawbone, starts by bringing new features to its primary function. The U-lock uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to connect to a smartphone, so owners—or anyone they authorize—can wirelessly unlock the device. If the lock senses that someone is holding on to it for too long, potentially to try to break it, it can send an alert, according to NPR.

There are other smart bike locks on the market, but none that rely almost completely on renewable energy. The Skylock, developed by startup Velo Labs in San Francisco, claims to be the first-ever to be equipped with a small solar panel and rechargeable battery system, which will “virtually eliminate manual charging,” the company says in a statement.

Even riders in foggy San Francisco shouldn’t need to plug in. Velo Labs says just an hour of sunlight will charge it for an entire week and a full charge can last about a month. “So unless the rider lives in a cave with little or no sunlight,” the company says, “the Skylock will always be ready to go.”

But that’s just the beginning.

“We wanted to take on the challenge of bringing cycling into the future,” Velo Labs co-founder Jack Al-Kahwati, who was formerly an engineer at Boeing, said in a statement. “I have spent years working on tanks, helicopters and aircraft, and while these forms of transportation have made huge leaps in safety and connectivity, the bike is still stuck in the 19th century,”

Beyond preventing theft, the Skylock can also be similar to the OnStar of the cycling world. Using its wireless function, it can compare data from its built-in accelerometer to that generated by a smartphone to determine if the rider has been in an accident. In the case of an impact, the Skylock can send a push notification to make sure the rider is OK. If the person doesn’t respond, the Skylock will send for emergency responders.

The connectivity also allows Skylock to be part of the sharing economy. Users can choose to lend their bikes to people in their networks using the app. And if you don’t entirely trust your friends, or you lend it to strangers, you can also track it via the app when it’s out of your hands.

Velo Labs is currently running a crowdfunding campaign and expects to start shipments by early 2015. It will retail for US $249, but is selling for an introductory price of $159 during the campaign. Despite all of the functionality Skylock promises, it cannot change a flat tire. 

Solar Winds Spark Extra Lightning Strikes on Earth

Solar winds capable of triggering spectacular displays of the Northern Lights in the sky may also boost the rate of lightning strikes on the ground. The finding could allow researchers to use sun-monitoring satellites to improve weather forecasts of hazardous thunderstorms in the future.

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Most Technologists Upbeat About Future Internet of Things, Says Pew Survey

In the future, cars will be smart enough to communicate with each other to avoid collisions and sensors placed beneath your skin will transmit your vital signs to medical professionals. Your personal computer will be on your wrist and you will input information with your voice, rather than typing on a screen.

These are just some of the visions spun by a group of more than 1800 technologists surveyed by the Pew Research Internet Project, which released its report on the Internet of Things yesterday. There is general agreement that the Internet of Things, also called the Cloud of Things, will grow dramatically by 2025. But there were diverging opinions over how it will take shape and how much the benefits will outweigh the tradeoffs.

As you might expect, the technically savvy people interviewed for the report were bullish on the conveniences and economic productivity that widespread embedded computing and connectivity can bring. But a number expressed concerns about privacy, security, and the technical complexity of a vastly bigger network than today's Internet. Overall, 83 percent of respondents said the Internet of Things will bring beneficial effects to everyday lives by 2025, with 17 percent answering no.

With cheaper, low-power sensors attached to everything from bridges to home thermostats, computing will become ubiquitous to the point where it will be like the availability of electricity and part of our surroundings, many survey respondents said.

For individuals, the Internet of Things can mean wearable computers, which devices such as Google Glass and fitness bands have helped popularize. And as computing becomes part of our person, it opens up the possibility of an "augmented reality" to enhance people's senses with wearable or implantable technologies.

"Our ability to use nerve impulses to engage with information will expand dramatically," predicts JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for Salesforce.com. "We will see today’s connected devices become smaller and smaller and slowly merge into the part of the body from where the particular sense related to that device operates." 

As computing becomes embedded into our daily environment, it will introduce a host of new privacy and security issues, some respondents warn. Frank Pasquale, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, says that a workplace with devices connected to an Internet of Things will be more productive but it also sets the stage for a new level of employee monitoring. "It sets the stage for extraordinarily targeted monitoring and manipulation of these individuals," he said.

There is also a wide set of less-personal applications, such as monitoring energy and water infrastructure, vehicles, or the environment. For example, roadways instrumented with sensors could report maintenance issues before they threaten safety, and smart cities with pervasive sensors and high-resolution location services could smooth out traffic and advise people on the best way to commute to work. 

With many more devices producing a stream of information, collecting and analyzing all the data will be a problem. For individuals, too, wearable computers and the Internet of Things could make it harder to disconnect from the flow of available information.

"I’m not sure that moving computers from people’s pockets (smartphones) to people’s hands or face will have the same level of impact that the smartphone has had, but things will trend in the similar direction," said Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "Everything that you love and hate about smartphones will be more so.”

Can You Make the Internet Forget?

Tuesday the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that its member states can force Internet search engines to remove links to material deemed to invade the privacy of European citizens. The court argued for balancing privacy against the public's interest, and the ruling is in line with pending European legislation that seeks to establish an explicit right to be forgotten, or at least to make it harder to find unflattering personal information.

In Tuesday's case, which sets a precedent for around two hundred pending cases in Spain, Google will have to remove search results linking to 14-year-old newspaper notices about the plaintiff's home repossession. The newspaper itself is not required to remove the notices. Instead, the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) appears to have found a pragmatic choke point for helping individuals cultivate a more favorable online presence without resorting to outright censorship of published material.

Certain non-governmental organizations and journalists may look at this as a sneaky workaround, but software engineers have been trying to find ways for users to share information on a temporary basis since at least the birth of email recall requests.

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Space Hackers Prepare to Reboot 35-Year-Old Spacecraft

Early next week, a team of volunteers will use the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to see if they can make contact with a spacecraft that hasn't fired its thrusters since 1987. If all goes well, the effort could bring the 35-year-old spacecraft, the International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3), back into position near the Earth, where it could once again study the effect of solar weather on Earth's magnetosphere.

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Analysis Reveals Google Glass Costs Just $152 to Make

Owners of Google Glass pay US $1500 for a prototype that costs Google just $152.47 in hardware and manufacturing costs, according to a recently published analysis by a technology research firm. But that doesn't mean Google is getting away with a huge profit by charging ten times as much as its hardware costs for the smart glasses.

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Cobalt Could Help Ease Chip Wiring Woes

When it comes to talk of keeping Moore's Law on track, transistors seem to get all the attention. But the effort to boost the density of interconnect—the metal lines used to wire all those transistors together—is facing troubles of its own. 

On Tuesday, Applied Materials, one of the leading manufacturers of tools for semiconductor fabs, announced they'd come up with a new process that could address a few of the big stumbling blocks.

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Combining Light and Sound For Accurate, Painless 3-D Mammograms

Breast cancer screening today requires exposure to X-ray radiation. The X-ray images are difficult to interpret, causing anxiety-inducing false alarms and extensive follow-up tests that include biopsies. Besides, getting a mammogram is quite literally a pain, requiring an uncomfortable compression of the breast tissue.

Startup OptoSonics in Oriental, N.C. aims to make breast imaging more accurate, quick, painless, and radiation-free. The company’s technology relies on the photoacoustic effect—the generation of sound from light absorption—to create high-resolution 3-D images of the network of blood vessels inside the breast. “The idea is that because tumors induce the creation of additional blood vessels, you’d see a brighter spot and individual vessels feeding into the mass,” says Robert Kruger, the company’s president and co-founder. Kruger and his colleagues presented details of the technique at the Acoustical Society of America meeting last week.

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European Court Grants the Right to Be Forgotten

Mario Costeja Gonzalez's Google search results will change, thanks to a ruling today by the Court of Justice of the European Union, in Luxembourg. Costeja sought to force Google to stop linking to a newspaper announcement of a government auction of seized property of his. But even if he had not won his case Costeja's name would already return an avalanche of results related to a controversial battle in Europe over the so-called right to be forgotten. Around 200 court cases in Spain are pending this ruling, and more are sure to emerge here and across the European Union, where the ruling applies.

Costeja's battle dates to 2009, when the newspaper La Vanguardia digitized its archive, unintentionally reviving a chapter of Costeja's life he thought was resolved. The archive included a 19 January 1998 official announcement of government-seized properties on auction to settle Social Security debts, and a related March 1998 announcement.

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Aero-X Hoverbike To Go on Sale in 2017

When Aerofex showed off its "hoverbike" almost two years ago, the California firm received a flood of emails from people asking when they could buy one of their own. Now Aerofex has unveiled plans to begin selling a commercial model in 2017 for about US $85 000—but anyone eager for a head start on living the "Star Wars" dream can put down a preorder deposit of $5000 toward the final price.

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