As I blogged about last year in relation to the mysterious town of Argleton, Lancashire, England, there are known errors in Google Maps. A recent error is now reported to have caused an international incident between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

The whole episode is a bit murky, so bear with me.

According to news reports like this one from MSNBC, Eden Pastora, a former and shall we say colorful Nicaraguan guerrilla leader allegedly led an incursion into Costa Rican territory on the 1st of November. The territory in question, Isla Calero, has been part of a 160-year border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan troops allegedly took down a Costa Rican flag on the island and replaced it with a Nicaraguan flag.

Costa Rica immediately demanded the Nicaraguan troops withdraw. BTW, Costa Rica has no army.

MSNBC reported that Nicaragua initially said the incursion was an accident due to a "bug" in Google maps that Mr. Pastora had used.

However, Mr. Pastora, who apparently has not left the island, says that he wasn't relying on Google maps at all, but was using a map associated with an 1858 treaty between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, reports the Toronto-based The Star.  It is also unclear if Mr. Pastora was operating on his own or under orders of the Nicaraguan government.

The Organization of American States (OAS), the UN Security Council and the U.S. Department of State have gotten involved in trying to sort out the mess. You can go to the OAS web site for more details of what the organization is trying to do diplomatically. 

Google, after consultation with the US State Department, said that indeed it had made an error, and gave a long explanation trying to rationalize it.

Google apologized to everyone involved and subsequently made changes to its map of the disputed territory. Google also said, in a bit of an understatement that:

"By no means should they be used as a reference to decide military actions between two countries."

However, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santosreportedly has told Google that its map was "absolutely correct" and shouldn't be changed.

With no one being happy, expect this incident to drag on for quite some time.

In related Google Map news, there was report last week that a Google app to help US voters find their correct polling station had a glitch that sent voters to the wrong polling station in at least 12 states.

And for most of last September, the city of Sunrise, Florida didn't exist in Google maps. According to this AOLnews story, it was the third time since August 2009 that Sunrise, with a population of 90,000, had vanished from Google maps.

The AOL story also points out that Google says that it makes some 10,000 corrections or additions to its Google Map data an hour.

Best to keep that in mind the next time you use Google Maps.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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