News

The biggest telescope on earth; hacking Oysters; a buzzword buster; more green cars; Brazilian brains drive innovation; Malaysia's hydroelectric power drive and more. 

'Mega-science' telescope will be biggest on Earth

By James Hayes

The first phase of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project - billed as the most significant astronomical project of the next 20 years - was formally launched in July.

Offering greater sensitivity than any existing telescope, the SKA will provide valuable information to astronomers and physicists for most of this century, with the first data starting to flow within ten years. It will be used to address a range of questions in astrophysics and cosmology, such as the evolution of galaxies, dark matter and dark energy, black holes and stars and the evolution of cosmic magnetism.

With a wave collection area equivalent to a million square metres, SKA will be an aperture synthesis instrument: signals from a large number of separated antennas will be combined via high-speed digital links to a supercomputer, giving the angular resolution of a conventional telescope having a diameter of over 3,000km.

SKA will operate over a frequency range of 70MHz to 10GHz, with a telescope data output rate of 1Tb per minute. "It looks like we'll need the most powerful computer on the planet to run this telescope once it gets going," said Professor Richard Schilizzi, director of the SKA Program Development Office.

Shortlisted sites for SKA are in Australia and South Africa. Avoiding radio frequency interference will be a determining factor in choosing its location. SKA demands low ionospheric and tropospheric interference, and even in the world's most isolated areas, interference from satellites is still a problem that needs to be overcome.

SKA's development network is as wide as its capacity, involving 55 institutes in 19 countries; however, SKA has been "conceived in the UK, but with strong European DNA", said Professor Peter Wilkinson of Jodrell Bank Observatory, one of the project's founders.

Construction is set to start in 2012, with use of the first 10 per cent of the build-out expected within five years. Completion of SKA for operation at frequencies below 10GHz is goaled for 2020, with system design and construction of above-10MHz frequencies scheduled to roll-out over the following 20 years.

Following completion around 2035-2040, SKA is expected to have an operational life of around 50 years. Target costs are also truly astronomical: €1.5bn for the implementation phases, with projected operating costs of €100m per year.

Initial funding is from the Technology Strategy Board. In association with the Board's Electronics Knowledge Transfer Network, the Manchester-based SKA Program Development Office is inviting partners from the commercial sector to become core project stakeholders: the scope of SKA embraces many technologies and industrial processes, insisted Professor Peter Drewdney of the SKA Development Office.

"Radio telescopes are multi-disciplinary," he added. "We have to attract industries that are new to radio astronomy. The nature of the project requires new applications and fresh thinking."

Details of Oyster card hack to be made public

Dutch academics plan to release details of a hack which allowed researchers to clone an Oyster card like those used by millions every day in London.

Semiconductor manufacturer NXP, which makes the Mifare chips used in many smartcard systems, had sought to prevent Dutch researchers from publishing details of the hack.

But a court in the Netherlands overturned an earlier injunction that would have blocked the publication - allowing academics from Radboud University to detail how they gained access to London's Underground network free for a day with a cloned Oyster card and also entered Dutch government buildings unnoticed.

Full details of the findings are to be presented at a conference in October, but E&T has learned that all that was required was a laptop and equipment costing £75 - and the procedure can be carried out in a matter of minutes.

In April, the Dutch government posted armed guards outside all its buildings, and postponed the introduction of a transport payment system similar to the Oyster card until the security issues were addressed by NXP.

Professor Bart Jacobs, who led the team behind the hack, had stated that he would postpone publishing his findings until NXP had had a chance to make their systems more resilient.

On overturning the injunction, the Dutch court said: "It is of great importance that the results can be published - and that society can thus be informed about the shortcomings of a product, so that action can be taken."

In a statement on its website, NXP stated: "Although a residual risk remains, there are techniques and countermeasures to detect cards and data which have been tampered with."

Web security threats shift to social networking sites

By James Hayes

Internet-borne security threats rose to new levels in the first six months of 2008, with 16,173 new malicious Web pages appearing each day.

According to the 'Security Threat Update' from Sophos, at least 90 per cent of Web pages that are propagating Trojans and spyware are legitimate websites - some belonging to top brands and Fortune 500 companies - that have been hacked through SQL injection attacks.

The Internet is the primary vector by which hackers infect business computers with malware, said Graham Cluley, Sophos' senior technology consultant, but "the number one host for malware is Blogger (Blogspot.com), the Google-owned blog publishing system", Cluley added. "Hackers set up malicious blogs, and inject dangerous Web links and content into innocent blogs."

The Security Threat report also highlights campaigns by hackers and spammers to exploit the popularity of Web 2.0 social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and LinkedIn. Users appear to be less cautious when messages arrive via routes other than their own Inbox, added Cluley. "Industry networking site LinkedIn has been used by phishers and scammers to target business users," he said. "And Twitter has just admitted that it has a spam problem."

The rise of non-Windows plat--forms in enterprise networks means that non-Windows operating systems have been targeted. In February, Sophos discovered a Flash-based Trojan - Troj/Gida-B - designed to scare users into buying bogus security software. And in June, the OSX/Hovdy-A Trojan can infect Mac OS X machines, attempting to filch passwords, breach firewalls, and disable security settings. Linux attacks are also resurgent.

Buzzword buster

Malware: Software designed to infiltrate and/or damage computers.

Phishing: Fraudulent process to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.

Spyware: Software surreptitiously installed in a computer to intercept or take some control over user interaction without permission.

SQL injection: Exploits a security vulnerability occurring at the database layer of a website application to inject malicious code.

Trojan/Trojan horse: Malware that appears to perform a desirable function but actually performs undisclosed malicious functions.

Clean cars dominate motor show

By Bob Cervi and Lorna Sharpe

Major manufacturers pledged a greener future for cars as they wheeled out a range of hybrid and electric vehicles at the 2008 British International Motor Show in London.

Japanese car maker Honda said at the show that 10 per cent of its global sales would be hybrid cars by 2010: not only the established Civic hybrid, but a 'more affordable' hybrid promised for next year and the confirmed-for-production CR-Z sports coupé.

The company also showed its FCX Clarity fuel cell car, which went into production this year, and unveiled a concept low-emissions sports car, the OSM (Open Study Model), which was designed at the company's R&D centre in Offenbach, Germany.

US giant General Motors (GM) said it may build its new Flextreme plug-in hybrid vehicle at its Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, UK, but declared that it wanted support from the British government.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who held talks with auto industry executives while visiting the show, said the UK government was looking at ways of creating incentives for greener driving, with more support for low-emission and electric cars, including wider provision of on-street chargers for electric vehicles.

GM said it aimed to launch the Flextreme in the US in 2010. The car uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and an engine that runs on standard or bio-diesel. GM also plans to launch an electric vehicle, the Volt, in two years' time.

US rival Ford unveiled what it billed as "Britain's greenest family car", the Fiesta ECOnetic, which uses conventional fuel but maximises its efficiency, achieving 76.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 98g/km.

A dedicated 'village' at the show highlighted both the concept and production vehicles of a number of niche electric car makers that use electricity to directly power the car via rechargeable batteries without the use of a combustion engine.

TH!NK, the Norwegian company (E&T Vol 3 #12, p22), said it would put its plastic-bodied electric car on sale in Britain next summer.

Zero Emission Vehicles, part of the Glasgow-based Allied Vehicles group, is eyeing up the commercial market. Managing director Paul Nelson told E&T that ZEV will launch electric taxis and vans this September, based on standard Peugeot platforms. Unlike the smaller cars at the show, these would be charged from a depot-based 410V supply. An independent manufacturer, Axeon Holdings, has developed cutting-edge lithium-ion batteries, designed to withstand over 1,000 recharging cycles. Allied says the E7 electric taxi has a range of up to 100 miles from a single charge and a top speed of 60mph.

Electric vehicles have lower running costs than their conventional counterparts, as well as tax advantages in the UK, and are exempt from the London congestion charge. Unfortunately for Allied, Transport for London's taxi licensing division has refused to approve the E7.

On the other hand, the congestion charge exemption has encouraged London commuters to think electric. The NICE car company, which represents a number of niche manufacturers, gets half its enquiries from London.

Just two years ago NICE launched its first vehicle, the Mega City, at the 2006 show. This year it unveiled no less than three new models: an Italian-designed two-seater priced at just £8,995, a five-door family car and the Micro-Vett e500, described as an exclusive limited-edition version of Fiat's iconic small car.

NICE co-founder Julian Wilford told E&T that the company sells on average about one car a day in the capital, and he insisted that electric vehicles would eventually become the norm.

"Are they mainstream now? No. They're currently more expensive than equivalent petrol vehicles and it's still a niche market," he said. "But they are going to become mainstream."

Good infrastructure will be key to that vision becoming reality, according to Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Paul Everitt.

But he added that there are "a whole bunch of very low-emission vehicles available" at the moment and said: "There is a recognition that we need to start now so we can introduce things in the next 10 to 15 years."

Green machine

Visitors who thronged to drool over the brand-new Lotus Evora sports car might have missed a rather different Lotus in the Greener Driving area.

Resulting from an initiative by staff at Lotus's Norfolk headquarters, the Eco Elise technology demonstrator incorporates locally-farmed hemp in its composite body panels and spoiler, while natural wool and sisal have been used for the seat covers and carpet. Solar panels in the roof support the electrical systems, and water-based paints are part of a cleaner manufacturing process.

Special lightweight wheels and other measures have cut the car's weight to 32kg less than the already light Elise S, reducing fuel consumption. A green shift display in the instrument panel prompts the driver to change gear at the optimum point for fuel economy - a feature the car shares with Ford's ECOnetic Fiesta.

LabView goes parallel

By Mark Langdon

National Instruments is introducing parallel programming for the first time in the latest version of its LabView graphical software platform for control, test and embedded system development.

LabView 8.6 offers new tools to help users take advantage of the benefits of multicore processors, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and wireless communication.

Engineers now have a single platform to increase test and control system throughput with multicore processors, reduce the development time of high-performance FPGA-based advanced control and embedded prototyping applications and more easily create distributed measurement systems to acquire data remotely.

"To meet the performance and efficiency demands of cutting-edge applications such as controlling robotic systems and designing hybrid vehicles, users must have the ability to quickly incorporate the latest technologies," said Dr James Truchard, chief executive of National Instruments. "LabView offers the shortest path to apply these technologies using parallel programming while providing the flexibility to define solutions with application-specific optimisations."

The new release expands on the built-in multi-threading technology of the LabView platform to offer supercomputing performance through multicore-optimised features increasing the amounts of measurement data processed to meet advanced control application challenges.

The new version allows engineers without digital design expertise to customise measurement and control systems with FPGA technology for increased performance in applications.

It is easier now to incorporate wireless connectivity into PC-based measurement and control systems, enabling engineers to extend their applications into new areas of data acquisition.

LabView 8.6 also allows engineers to convert their applications into Web services on desktop and real-time hardware that they can access remotely from any Web-enabled device.

Further information:
www.ni.com/labview86

Easing air travel with RFID

A consortium involving EADS Innovation Works and led by Airbus is using RFID technology to improve the logistics processes involved in flying.

The objectives of the E-Cab (E-enabled Cabin Services) research are to improve air travel for passengers and provide a paperless information management system of the future, for greater passenger comfort, crew convenience and airline, transportation and airport efficiency.

In the first step, EADS Innovation Works used new modelling methods to analyse existing processes at airports and airlines. The second step required working with research partners Siemens, TNO and Ultra Electronics Airport Systems to identify new concepts for improving the handling of passengers and baggage.

Part of the project involves the use of RFID technology in tickets. Everyone will have heard announcements calling for a named passenger to report to departure gates. RFID technology will identify the passenger's location, allowing the gate staff to determine whether he or she can get to the gate in time. If not, their baggage can be offloaded so that the flight is delayed no longer than necessary.

Brazil puts nature into the knowledge economy

By Dominic Lenton

Brazil's position as the world's leading producer of biofuels is the tip of an innovation iceberg that has seen the number of postgraduate students increase tenfold in the past two decades and the country leap up the league table of published research, a new report has found.

'Brazil: The Natural Knowledge Economy' is the first result of phase two of The Atlas of Ideas, an IET-backed project that is reviewing the state of innovation across the world.

The study, carried out by UK-based think tank Demos in collaboration with its Brazilian counterpart the Centre for Strategic Studies and Management, included more than 100 interviews with Brazilian policy makers, entrepreneurs, scientists and economists.

Report author Kirsten Bound, a senior researcher at Demos, acknowledges that Brazil's innovation capabilities are less well understood in Europe than those of China and India, both of which have been the subject of earlier 'Atlas of Ideas' research.

"While a fine-grained picture of science and innovation in Brazil is inevitably diverse, this report argues that it is helpful to think of Brazil as a "natural knowledge economy", Bound writes. "By this we mean that its innovation system is in large part built upon its natural and environmental resources, endowments and assets."

The number of PhDs in science has grown by around 12 per cent a year for the past decade, and Brazil is now the world's 15th-largest producer of scientific publications, up eight places in less than ten years.

That growth is having an impact in areas from software to stem cell technology, the report says, with companies like oil producer Petrobras investing upwards of $1bn a year in research and development.

It is biofuels, however, that highlight some of the challenges the country is facing. Having been prompted to set up its ProAlcool bioethanol policy in 1975 in response to the global oil crisis, Brazil now accounts for almost 43 per cent of the world's supply of ethanol. More than 80 per cent of the country's new cars are capable of running on biofuels and 2005 saw the unveiling by aviation company Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica of a model of its Ipanema agricultural aircraft which is the first commercially produced aircraft capable of running solely on biofuels.

With this success come three challenges, Bound suggests. The first is that of competition, and how Brazil will cope with the current backlash against biofuels having spent five years of 'ethanol diplomacy' building up its reputation for innovation.

Second is the issue of inequality, something that is evident from distribution of land ownership. The country is working to address this, Bound claims, with elite science being developed side by side with appropriate technology to benefit the poor.

For example, near the University of Campinas the Ministry of Technology plans to open a new centre for bioethanol science and technology as part of its high-tech Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory.

A short distance away, a team of young entrepreneurs from the start-up Agricef are working on designs for a new sugar-cane harvesting device that has an inbuilt requirement for manpower, in an attempt to improve efficiency at the same time as providing sorely needed jobs.

Thirdly, and inevitably with most of the Amazon rainforest lying within Brazil's borders, is the question of environmental sustainability. "The Amazon is a crucial factor in the global climate equilibrium, and its biodiversity is regarded as one of the most significant resources for the active ingredients for new medicines and cures," says Bound. "How can [Brazil] ensure that economic growth and innovation are not achieved at the expense of its most important assets?"

Brazil, she believes, challenges the traditional view of knowledge economies and natural resources economies as being at two ends of a continuum of economic development. "The alternative trajectory it offers is one in which growing scientific and technological capability is not separate from, or in opposition to, natural resources and endowments, but integrally linked to them.

"From oil and hydropower to biofuels and agriculture, from biodiversity development to the climate change properties of the Amazon rainforest, Brazilian innovation is at its best when applying the ingenuity of its people to its natural assets."

Now showing on IET.tv: "Presentation from Brazil: The Natural Knowledge-Economy: The Atlas of Ideas 2.0", presented by Kirsten Bound - http://tv.theiet.org/channels/news/1549.cfm

View from Brussels: product laws hit US firms

By Pelle Neroth

American journalists, and therefore public opinion, are generally behind the curve on what is happening in the EU.

There's one US journalist who takes Brussels very seriously indeed. Mark Schapiro, author of a book on how EU regulations will affect American lives, ought to be required reading for Americans interested in international affairs.

Schapiro's point is that the EU is top dog when it comes to setting global regulatory standards. In 2005, the US was overtaken as the world's largest single market by the EU, whose population of 490 million people is far larger than that of the US, and "approximately equal in affluence and education".

American firms were accustomed to look only to Washington for their health and environment legislation. But the enlargement of the EU, a growing self-confidence, and a recent spate of tougher restrictions covering its single market, has shocked American policymakers into realising that the boot is on the other foot. With globalisation increasingly affecting the way transnationals operate, US companies need the markets of Europe to remain profitable.

So when the EU started demanding removal of chemicals from cosmetics, lead and mercury out of electrical gadgets, and cars to be recycled, the US transnationals' instinct was to hire the big Washington public relations firms with offices in Brussels to roll back the legislation. The European reaction - with perhaps just a little bit of false innocence - went along the lines of: "We're talking about what we're doing to protect Europeans. We're not here to worry about your problems."

A growing number of American companies have duly started applying European rules to their products, including those sold in the US. China is also complying.

Some might say Europe is applying good old-fashioned protectionism, since incumbent European firms are helping to write the legislation, but tougher rules may reflect philosophical differences in the approach to consumer risk. America looks at a broad cost-benefit analysis that balances risk against a range of factors, including effects on jobs and economic growth. There is a presumption that bad firms will be punished by the market. Europe applies a "precautionary principle" that calls for preemptive action against a hazard, even before the level of risk can be measured.

Some might say the European approach reflects the Napoleonic political heritage that "everything that isn't allowed is forbidden," whereas the US instinct is "everything is allowed unless forbidden".

It might make sense to have tough rules, since it's hard to pin down responsibility.

Europeans have public-funded healthcare, which means the state pays when corporate pollution affects health, so governments are keen to push costs back on to the polluter. In the US, private health plans effectively subsidise corporations, argues Schapiro: "The cost of environmental contamination is borne by the citizen."

In the future, America's light touch could change, as US companies that spend money to adapt to European standards may insist that the same stricter rules apply to their competitors at home.

'Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power' by Mark Schapiro

Asia news

William Dennis reports from Malaysia on developments in the Asia-Pacific region

Nokia Siemens Networks wins China contract

China Mobile has awarded a contract worth $870m to Nokia Siemens Networks to design, build, maintain and optimise its radio and core network in key provinces and cities across China.

NSN, which is based in Espoo, Finland, said in a statement that the solutions will help China Mobile increase its network capacity and enhance the customer experience.

A tailored and optimised network design will help China Mobile minimise its capital expenditure while achieving the best possible performance.

No details were given of when the project will start.

Thai airline grounded

Thailand's Civil Aviation Department (CAD) has grounded privately-owned low-cost carrier One-Two-Go Airlines for a minimum 30 days from 22 July for blatantly overlooking safety and maintenance requirements.

CAD has also revoked the licences of seven foreign pilots of the airline - six Indonesians and a Venezuelan. The licences of two Thai pilots were suspended indefinitely.

One-Two-Go's parent company Orient Thai Airlines, which operates charter and scheduled flights to Hong Kong and Seoul, was warned to give its pilots sufficient rest in between flights, failing which the carrier's air operating certificate (AOC) would be revoked.

According to CAD director general Chaisak Angsuwan, checks carried out on One-Two- Go revealed that the carrier had several flaws in its operations.

"It had violated safety regulations, has a poor training programme for its MD80 pilots and overlooked maintenance requirements," Chaisak said in Bangkok.

One-Two-Go had also submitted false documentation for the pilots' base-checks (six-monthly proficiency checks).

The eight MD80s operated by One-Two-Go will be grounded until defects on the aircraft are rectified and CAD engineers have certified that the aircraft are airworthy once more.

Chaisak stressed that if the regulatory body is not satisfied with the condition of the eight MD80s after the defects had been rectified, CAD will revoke One-Two-Go's Air Operator Certificate.

CAD will file criminal charges against One-Two-Go's parent company Orient Thai, the seven foreign pilots and the airline's engineers who certified that the eight MD80s were airworthy.

CAD's action against One- Two-Go follows investigations into the crash of the airline's MD82 at Phuket International Airport on 16 September 2007, when 89 passengers died and
41 were injured. The crash raised concerns about the safety of the airline.

Sarawak to build 12 hydroelectric dams

Malaysia's Sarawak state government is to build 12 hydroelectric dams to meet future consumer and industrial power requirements.

The 12 dams will have a total output of almost 4,800MW by 2020, when the entire project is completed. The Baleh dam will have the greatest capacity, at 1,400MW, followed by Baram (1,000MW), Murum (900MW), Metjawah (300MW), Linau (290MW), Belaga (260MW), Tutoh (220MW), Limbang (150MW), Belepeh (110MW), Batang Ai extension (60MW), Ulu Air (55MW) and Lawas (50MW).

With the Bakun Dam, which is currently under construction on the Balui River, 60km outside the town of Belaga, Sarawak will have total capacity of 7200MW.

Sarawak currently has an output of 930MW. The Bakun Dam will be the tallest rockfill dam in the world, and the second largest in Asia outside China.

Joseph Salang Gandum, Sarawak state Deputy Minister for Energy, Water and Communi-cation, said the government is pursuing the project to meet growing demand for power.

Construction of the 12 dams will be funded by the state government, but Gandum declined to reveal the cost of the project, saying that it is still being worked out.

Construction will start with the Murum dam in October.

Intel to double Penang headcount

Intel plans to invest further in the Embedded Communications Group (ECG) in Penang, Malaysia over the next three to five years as part of its plan to tap a global market that is expected to be worth over $10bn by 2011.

This would include doubling the present headcount of 220 in the facility, which is the larger of Intel's two offshore ECG sites, the other being in Shannon in Ireland. Both are expected to expand more than the main US site in Arizona, which has a workforce of about 600.

Speaking to reporters in Penang, Intel Corp's Digital Enterprise Group vice president Doug Davis said the facility in Penang is responsible for silicon design and validation, software engineering, modular computing board development, planning, operations, product and technical marketing and business development.

Davis noted that Penang has done well for Intel's operations in product development and customer support.

Intel Malaysia is the group's largest operation outside the United States, with bases in Penang, Kulim and Kuala Lumpur. The Penang campus is a high-tech assembly and testing site with ten buildings and 6,000 employees.

Lightweight GSM node aids disaster relief

By Luke Collins

European researchers have built a GSM network node and satellite link into a 10kg package that can be carried into disaster-struck areas to provide vital communications. The package also provides location-based services for use in triage.

The EU-funded WISECOM project (Wireless Infrastructure over Satellite for Emergency Communications) was led by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) with other partners in Germany, France, Norway and Estonia.

The team members developed two versions of their satellite-linked GSM mobile-phone node.

The 10kg version uses the BGAN satellite telephony standard, and integrates a GSM pico-cell with a 300m radius for voice and data. It can be carried onto a normal flight and deployed by non-technicians in minutes.

The second version weighs 60kg and uses the DVB-RCS satellite-broadcast standard to offer higher bandwidth on the satellite uplink and greater GSM range. It comes in a box the size of two large suitcases, most of which contains a 1.2m satellite antenna. Deployment takes longer than for the less powerful version because of the time it takes to set up the antenna. Both versions also offer Wi-Fi.

"The system works anywhere there is satellite coverage, which is to say almost everywhere in the world," said Matteo Beriloli, WISECOM's coordinator.

The project has also developed location-tracking software so emergency crews can track their workers, as well as using it as an aid to the triage process, in which rescuers decide who to help and in what order. The system allows rescuers to note the location of victims in most urgent need of medical attention, so that help can get to them as quickly as possible.

The system has been tried out in a live demonstration in Germany with 150 people and 25 rescue vehicles and is now being considered for commercialisation by some of the project partners.

See 'Here, there and everywhere' feature elsewhere in this issue.

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