A Drone That Can Intercept your Cell Signal from the Air

Scary New Drone Can Hack Your Phone From the Air

Imagine you’re walking around, enjoying the early spring sunshine, and looking for a Wi-Fi network. You hear a whirring sound above you, look up, and there’s a drone, just chilling. Did that drone just take your picture? Nah. It just stole all the precious passwords from your smartphone.

This is a real—however somewhat distant—possibility. We know that it’s technically possible thanks to some London-based SensePost security researchers who built new software called Snoopy that turns drones into data thieves. Essentially, Snoopy works on drones that seek out the signal that your smartphone broadcasts when it’s looking for a Wi-Fi network to join. The drone intercepts the signal and tricks the phone into thinking it’s a trusted network, then Snoopy gains access to all kinds of data on the phone.

It’s not just passwords. The researchers say that Snoopy can retrieve credit card numbers, location data, and usernames, too. They’ve successfully stolen Amazon, PayPal, and Yahoo credentials from random Londoners. The technology is not dissimilar to some of the gadgets in the NSA’s spy gear catalog that enable them to break into Wi-Fi networks from a distance. Whereas the NSA can do it from eight miles away, however, Snoopy evidently needs to be as close as two feet.

So the data-stealing drone is real, but it’s not like they’re flying all over cities around the world right now. SensePost did the drone project in the name of better security and are presenting their findings at the Black Hat Asia conference next week in Singapore. In the meantime, maybe it’s best to just turn off that automatic Wi-Fi network-finding feature. It’s clearly vulnerable. Furthermore, it drains your battery like whoa. [CNN Money via ThinkProgress]


These High-Flying Drones Almost Hit Satellite Status

Low earth orbit is becoming increasingly crowded with satellite traffic and, as Gravity showed us, increasingly treacherous. So rather than try to squeeze yet another spacecraft into the mix, a French consortium has begun development on a super-high altitude, autonomous dirigible that will skim along the edge of the stratosphere.

The Stratobus, which is still in its early concept stages, is being developed by a team from Thales Alenia, Airbus, Zodiac Marine, and CEA-Liten, is designed to perform a variety of roles—from border monitoring and surveillance to communication and navigation signal relaying—at the stratospheric height of 13 miles.

The prototype, which the team expects to be operational within five years, will be 300 feet long and 75 feet wide with a carbon fiber envelope supported by a semi-rigid frame. A pair of thrust vectoring electric fans won’t so much provide propulsion as counter the stratosphere’s strong winds, keeping the dirigible locked in a fixed position over the Earth. Its rotating solar panel array should generate enough power to hoist payloads of up to 450 pounds.

And since the StratoBus will operate autonomously, it will be able to stay aloft for up to a year at a time. Its overall service life expectancy, however, is a startlingly brief five years, barely half of the 10-15 year endurance of the average geostationary communications satellite currently in orbit. There’s no word yet on how much each will cost to construct, but they should prove significantly less expensive to operate given the astronomical cost of ruggedizing, testing, and launching traditional geostationary satellites—even with their abbreviated life spans. [Thales viaWired]


Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Aerogel must be one of the strangest supermaterials to ever exist. Ghostly and shimmering in appearance, it’s insanely light, incredibly strong, and an amazing thermal insulator. And its tricks look absolutely impossible when you see them up close.

Made for Fun

Aerogel material—often referred to as frozen smoke, solid smoke, solid air or blue smoke—is actually, like all the best things, the result of a wager. It was first created by Samuel Stephens Kistler in 1931, after he bet Charles Learned that he could replace the liquid in a jelly with gas, without causing shrinkage. Turned out, he was right!

To produce an aerogel, you take a normal gel and then—very slowly and carefully—remove the liquid, leaving behind just the solid structure. That process varies depending on the gel in question, but invariably requires some complex chemistry to facilitate removal of the liquid bysupercritical drying, which carefully avoids the liquid-gas transition by using pressure and temperature variation to go from liquid to solid to gas instead. Otherwise, the evaporation process can destroy the structure. The result is a substance that looks like the original gel but feels like expanded polystyrene to the touch.

And the material properties! Oh, the material properties. Just look at what it can do.

Aerogel Is an Amazing Insulator

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

All the trapped air in aerogel makes it a remarkable insulator. In fact, silicon aerogel has a thermal conductivity of about 0.03 W/mK in atmospheric pressure down to 0.004 W/mK in modest vacuum—values similar to those exhibited by air itself. Hold it to a flame, and you won’t notice much happen, either—silica aerogel doesn’t melt until it reaches upwards of 2,000 °F. No, really. Look.

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Aerogel Is Insanely Light

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

It’s not all silica gel, though. Yes, graphene aerogel sounds like someone combined the twobuzziest of materials buzzwords—but the results are amazing. In fact, this graphene aerogel snatched the title of the world’s lightest material just a few of months ago—with a density lower than that of helium and just twice that of hydrogen at 0.16 mg/cm3. This stuff practically floats. (Incidentally, it’s got air inside, which means that it doesn’t.) The material was created using a new technique which involves freeze-drying solutions of carbon nanotubes and graphene to create a kind of carbon sponge. The resulting material is both strong and elastic, as well as incredibly light.

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

And It’s Surprisingly Strong, Too

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Silica aerogel is also oddly strong. Just look at this image: it shows a 5-pound brick supported by a piece of aerogel which weighs just 0.07 ounces. That strength is a results of—brace yourself for this—its dendritic microstructure. All that means is that it’s made up of roughly spherical, nanoscale particles which are fused together in clusters. Those clusters are strung together in 3D shapes which are almost fractal, providing an endlessly complex and strong structure. It can even support the weight of a car:

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

For all of these amazing properties, though, aerogel is still insanely expensive to manufacture, which is why there aren’t any consumer products made using the stuff. Yet. In the meantime, let’s just daydream of super-light, flame retardant, bullet-proof suits of armor. Not bad for a little bit of frozen smoke.


The ReconCraft Riverine Shallow Draft Vessel (RSDV) is a boat for super-shallow water


Say you’re a member of a search and rescue team. You get an alert that a kid is missing somewhere out there in your waterways, but the record-setting drought this year has left your rivers and streams impossibly shallow. Whatever. As long as you have four inches of water, you’re golden.

The ReconCraft Riverine Shallow Draft Vessel (RSDV), uses a uniquely designed hull-shape that essentially helps funnel water into its water-jet intake. This means the boat has an extremely minimal draw because it’s sucking all the water it needs for propulsion right off the surface. Just four inches (or 10 centimeters, for those of you playing the metric game) is all it needs. Not only that, it tops out at a very speedy 45 knots, which translates to 51.8 miles per hour. Dayum.

These Insane Boats Can Go 50MPH in Just Four Inches of Water

Outfitted with ReconCraft’s new weed/debris grate, the RSDV can reportedly blast through most of the common stuff you’d find floating around after a flood or storm and not get clogged up. But it gets better. Is a big floating log blocking the way? Whatever, we’ll just ride over that. How about a fully exposed shoal or gravel sandbar? Yeah, we’ll jump that like some boat version of the General Lee, no prob.

The hull is made of reinforced aluminum and is painted with proprietary “Hardkor” coating that supposedly increases hull strength while reducing friction on contact points. There’s also, “trade secret adherence techniques for ultra high molecular weight (UHMW) polyethylene to allow boats to slide across obstructions and barriers with little resistance,” which sounds mysterious but cool and also possibly made up.


Roomscan app draws floorplan by tapping phone on the wall

If you’ve ever been in a situation where you needed to draw up a floor plan or recreate a room’s dimensions, then you’ll appreciate what RoomScan can do for you. This deceptively simple iOS app can do all that for you and all you need to do is tap on the walls.

RoomScan includes voice prompts to instruct you on what to do, but it’s all rather simple. You simply walk around the room, tapping the Apple device to the wall and waiting for the beep before you proceed to the next wall. You have to be careful though to include each wall that you want to be detected, meaning all those angled walls and corners that matter.


The seemingly magical ability is thanks to an oft underrated feature in most devices today: the motion sensor. RoomScan notes the data recorded by the motion sensor every time it is placed on a wall. From this data, the position, orientation and distance of each wall is calculated to draw up an accurate floor plan, more or less. Of course, there will be some inaccuracies, but the app allows you to input your own figures into the floor plan afterwards.

RoomScan comes in two flavors, free and pro. The free version allows you to scan a single room, while the paid pro version opens up more possibilities. You can scan multiple rooms and have RoomScan stitch them up together to create one whole floor plan. You can even pick your own colors. Also in the Pro version, you can add doors as you go instead of dragging and dropping them to the finished floor plan like in the standard version. The timelapse video below demonstrates how to use RoomScan to quickly recreate a floor plan. Other demos can be found here.

RoomScan is available on iTunes but is only compatible with Apple devices that have motion sensors in them. It also requires that they be running iOS 7 or higher. To unlock all the features that this app has to offer, better purchase the Pro version that costs $4.99.

VIA: RoomScan

via Slashgear

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

These days, we think of tall buildings as profitable, if predictable, tools of real estate. But at one time, skyscrapers were as technologically exciting as the Space Race. The eVolo Skyscraper Competition, now in its ninth year, aims to recapture some of that excitement.

The annual competition asks designers to imagine new ways in which tall buildings could benefit societies—no matter how far fetched. The winners of this year’s competition, which were announced last night, take the idea to the extreme: One scrapes trash from the great Pacific garbage patch. Another serves as an electromagnetic vertical accelerator to launch planes into the sky, lessening the dependence on jet fuel. Still another harvests waste from abandoned mines for building.

It’s a pretty cool—if totally pie-in-the-sky—crop of projects. Check out a few of the highlights below, along with the designers’ descriptions.

Car And Shell Skyscraper: Or Marinetti’s Monster by Mark Talbot, Daniel Markiewicz

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

A massive, block-like housing tower designed for Detroit would put “suburbia in the sky,” say its authors, saving space and promoting community:

This project proposes a city in the sky for Detroit, MI. The new city is conceived as a vertical suburban neighborhood equipped with recreational and commercial areas where three main grids (streets, pedestrian pathways, and structure) are intertwined to create a box-shaped wireframe.

Propagate Skyscraper: Carbon Dioxide Structure by YuHao Liu, Rui Wu

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

Buildings that capture pollution are so 2012. Instead, this team proposed capturing smog and then compressing it into a useable building material:

We hypothesized a material capable of assimilating carbon dioxide as a means to self-propagate. Employing such a material allows air capture of carbon dioxide and the resultant production of a solid construction material capable of supporting load. Channeling its properties, we propose a skyscraper that grows.

Sand Babel: Solar-Powered 3D Printed Tower by Qiu Song, Kang Pengfei, Bai Ying, Ren Nuoya, Guo Shen

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

Using a solar-powered 3D printer, these designers envision a sustainable desert tower printed from sand:

Sand Babel is a group of ecological structures designed as scientific research facilities and tourist attractions for the desert. The structures are divided into two parts. The first part, above ground, consists of several independent structures for a desert community while the second part is partially underground and partially above ground connecting several buildings and creating a multi-functional tube network system.

Climatology Tower by Yuan-Sung Hsiao, Yuko Ochiai, Jia-Wei Liu, Hung-Lin Hsieh

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

A thin skin protects this biodome-esque space from the surrounding city:

If you feel ill, you seek medical assistance. If the city is sick, what should we do? The Climatology Tower is a proposed skyscraper designed as a research center that evaluates urban meteorology and corrects the environment through mechanical engineering. The skyscraper analyses microclimates within cities as a result of the use of industrial materials, the accumulation of buildings, and the scarceness of open spaces.

Launchspire by Henry Smith, Adam Woodward, Paul Attkins

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

Designed to lessen our dependence on jet fuel, this tower uses an electromagnetic accelerator to launch planes, like a massive stationary slingshot:

A cylindrical matrix of super tall structure centered on an electromagnetic vertical accelerator to eliminate the hydrocarbon dependency of aircraft during takeoff. The radical re-interpretation of the skyscraper format provides hyper density in an organic and adaptive habitat.

An electromagnetic vertical accelerator, utilizing the technological principles developed at CERN’s LHC and maglev train propulsion, provides a method for commercial aircraft to be accelerated to cruising speed using renewable electrical energy sources from ground based infrastructure.

Rainforest Guardian Skyscraper by Jie Huang, Jin Wei, Qiaowan Tang, Yiwei Yu, Zhe Hao

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

More research station than skyscraper, this tower becomes a part of the rainforest canopy:

The Rainforest Guardian Skyscraper consists of a water tower, a forest fire station, a weather station, and scientific research and education laboratories. It stands still at the Amazon’s frontier, preventing fires effectively by capturing rainwater in the rainy season and irrigating the land in the dry season.

The New Tower Of Babel by Petko Stoevski

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

The skin of this building acts as a massive energy-producer:

The New Tower of Babel is a steel construction built over the desert surface with multiple levels planned depending on the landscape’s topology. The top two panels are made of glass, and the air contained in between is warmed up by the sunlight… The updraft power channels the warm air into the chimney tower, propelling the wind turbines located in the base of the building, thus converting kinetic energy into electrical power.

Project Blue by Yang Siqi, Zhan Beidi, Zhao Renbo, Zhang Tianshuo

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

Another building that captures polluted air—in this case, to turn it into green energy:

The purpose of Project Blue is to transform suspended particles into green energy by creating an enormous upside down cooling tower with a multi-tubular cyclic desulfurization system that produces nitrogen and sulfur. When both elements are combined with the atmospheres surplus of carbon monoxide the result is water coal that would later be transformed methane and used as green energy through a low-pressure reaction called low pressure efficient mathanation–a physical-chemical process to generate methane from a mixture of various gases out of biomass fermentation or thermo-chemical gasification.

Liquefactor: The Sinking City by Eric Nakajima

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

Rather than fight the soil liquification that occurs due to earthquakes, these designers propose a tower that sinks with the soil:

With bigger and worse natural disasters appearing on the news with no signs of slowing down, we need to rethink how cities should rebuild…. Christchurch, New Zealand is one city that has recently been devastated by an earthquake. With citywide liquefaction destroying infrastructure, it is clear that the typical method of construction is not suited for such soil condition.

The proposal is a system that adapts into the current environmental conditions without the need for tweaking, alteration or correction. For the new city, unstable soil becomes a necessity and not a burden as the structure buries and sinks into the ground by exploiting the phenomenon of liquefaction.

Skyvillage For Los Angeles by Ziwei Song

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

LA’s freeways aren’t going anywhere in the near future—so why not build a better community above them?

Los Angeles freeway system segregates the city’s fabric restricting urban activities to single locations. Similarly, skyscrapers exacerbate this condition of segregation instead of encouraging urban integration. The envisioned vertical city would bridge over freeway interruptions and connect the four quadrants around 101 and 110 freeways as a single architectural organism while boosting cultural exchange, urban activities, and social interaction.

Here.After: The Material Processing Machine by Tsang Aron Wai Chun

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

This inverted structure sinks down into abandoned mines to reuse the waste products left behind:

The project is designed in the copper Ruashi mine in Lubumbashi, Congo which is predicted to stop production in 2020. The mine would then be abandoned and left as an enormous urban void surrounded by a rapidly expanding city.

The Here-After projects seeks to make use of the left over space, waste soil, and sulfuric acid from the mine drainage and former copper production. A machine will reuse the waste soil to neutralize the sulfuric acid, which in turn will be used to erode the land to be used as raw buildings blocks for the project.

Seawer: The Garbage-Seascraper by Sung Jin Cho

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

A floating superstructure that’s hungry for trash would act as a recycling station for the ocean:

Seawer proposes to install a huge drainage hole 550 meters in diameter and 300 meters in depth in the middle of the GPGP. The project would engulf all kinds of floating trash filled with seawater. Seawer consists of five layers of baleen filters, which separate particles and fluids. The plastic particles collected from filters are taken to a recycling plant atop of the structure while seawater is filtered and stored in a large sedimentation tank at the bottom to be further cleaned and released into the ocean.

Infill Aquifer by Jason Orbe-Smith

This tall building isn’t designed for humans—rather, it’s a vertical sanctuary for nature:

The Infill Aquifer is a floating mass, exposing the ground and soil to natural processes while accommodating the density required by growing cities and world populations. The Infill Aquifer is an optimistic proposal that humanity and nature can coexist and flourish.

14 Radical Skyscrapers That Are More Than Just Buildings

Made In New York: Vertical Urban Industry by Stuart Beattie

Designer Stuart Beattie proposes a solution to industrial sprawl: Vertical factories that use urban space more efficiently:

The project aims to investigate, in a world of free trade and rapid globalization, the possibility of flexible alternatives to inefficient industrial sprawl by considering the prospect of vertical manufacturing towers. Vertiginous manufacturing structures would be proposed in former areas of prominent industrial activity; where struggling businesses are being forced further away from their consumers due to higher rents and potential re-zoning uncertainty–Williamsburg, Long Island City, Newtown Creek and Red Hook amongst others.

Check out the full list here.


Animals UV spectrum vision allows them to see electricity on power lines

Animals See Power Lines as Terrifying Bursts of Light

We’ve known that most critters try to avoid power lines, but until recently, scientists were pretty much in the dark when it came to why. Now, it turns out that to animals, power lines and pylons look like terrifying bands of glowing, flashing bursts of light.

This revelation came about as the result of a recent study on wild reindeer in Norway. Apparently, reindeer’s eyes are able to detect ultraviolet light, which means they can see when power lines give off flashes of UV light—a phenomenon human eyes are completely blind to. What’s more, for those sensitive to it, these ultraviolet bursts are even visible in total darkness.

As Professor Glen Jeffrey of University College London explained to The Independent:

Reindeer see deep into the UV range because the Arctic is especially rich in UV light. Insulators on power lines give off flashes of UV light. The animals potentially see not just a few flashes but a line of flashes extending right across the horizon.

This is the first bit of evidence that explains why we think they are avoiding power lines.

The UV glow itself comes from a build up of ionized gas that commonly occurs at various points in high-voltage power cables. These build-ups—known as coronas (and seen below)—will eventually dissipate, causing the UV flash of light that can scare critters on the ground. But it’s not just reindeer, another recent study revealed that about 35 different species are sensitive to ultraviolet radiation.

Still, the problem isn’t just the fact that these glowing power lines can be unsettling; they may actually be causing animal communities to fragment.

Animals have always had a tendency to avoid power lines and related structures, but the reason behind their avoidance wasn’t clear—power lines are neither a physical barrier nor necessarily associated with humans. Now that we know animals can see in UV, though, it looks like we finally have our answer.

The videos above and below were captured by electric utility-owned helicopters with mounted UV cameras. Since flashes of ultraviolet light can be a symptom of conduction problems, companies regularly use this method as part of routine inspections. These cameras only capture a limited range of of UV light though, so what we’re seeing here barely begins to compare to what more highly UV-sensitive animals are witness to. It’s not hard to see how sudden explosions of light could frighten any number of forest creatures.

Now that we know what’s causing these animal communities to scatter, we can actually begin to require utility companies to consult with herders before the construction process begins. But more than that, this will hopefully act as a wakeup call—because whether or not we realize it, as cities expand, it’s often the displaced animals that end up paying the price. [The GuardianThe Independent]

Gizmodo.com, from The Independent and The Guardian