PopMech: first color HD Earth video from space

Yesterday at a press conference in the Flatiron district in NYC, I and a few other journalists were treated to a showing and presentation of some spectacular video footage of the Earth from space by UrtheCast.

From my report for Popular Mechanics, published today:

They are billed as the first color HD videos of the Earth from space, and they’re startling. These shots of Boston, Barcelona, and London are rock-steady, with cars clearly visible moving on highways. Only the subtle swaying of buildings gives away the fact that the videos were shot from the International Space Station, which flies 250 miles overhead at 17,000 miles per hour.

UrtheCast managed to get a pair of cameras installed on the outside of the Russian side of the International Space Station early last year. The $90 million Vancouver-based startup plans to start distributing pay-per-view video-from space imagery to government agencies, corporations, media outlets…and, of select areas, for free to everyone else.

Here’s the shot of Boston released by the company this morning:

Boston, U.S.A. from UrtheCast on Vimeo.

Read my full report and see two additional videos plus a couple of stills on popularmechanics.com.

Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE enters final round

Science fiction can do more than predict the technologies of the future. It can inspire them as well. Case in point, the medical diagnostic devices built for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE. The competition seeks to recreate the gizmo of the Star Trek TV and movie franchise that can get a quick read on a patient’s vital signs and show a user what’s ailing him or her.

I profiled three of the 10 teams who made it to the final round of judging in the Tricorder XPRIZE competition in an article this month in Desktop Engineering.

The head of one of those teams, team Final Frontier, is headed by Pennsylvania emergency room doc Basil Harris. From my article:

For Basil Harris, the challenge posed by the competition comes down to synthesizing his knowledge of emergency medicine, creating the right algorithms to codify it, and then spitting it back out in response to input from a patient. As far as he’s concerned, data-collection devices like heart monitors are secondary in importance to the algorithms. “They’re actually good in a number of categories,” he says of the algorithms, which run on an iPad app. “They’re not perfect across the board. But that’s even without taking the objective data.”

In other words, the artificial intelligence being developed by team Final Frontier can diagnose some conditions on its own simply by asking the right questions. The team has been able to fine-tune the system by conducting trials in the best possible environment — the ER itself.

All ten teams are due to submit working prototypes of their devices in June. From there, actual patients will get to test them for the next six months.

The team whose design does the best job of diagnosing a given set of ailments will score the $7 million top prize. Two runner-ups will get $2 million and 1$ million each.

The ultimate goal of the contest: commercial products that give patients unprecedented control over their own healthcare.

Another of the team leaders whom I interviewed for my article is another physician, Eugene Chan, who also heads the DNA Medicine Institute in Boston. Kara Miller, the host of PRI’s Innovation Hub also interviewed him recently, in a piece that aired last week.

Businessweek: hybrid drones

Bloomberg Businessweek has my writeup in the May 11-17, 2015 issue on Top Flight’s hybrid power drones.

A gasoline engine on board charges the batteries that run the rotors, giving the drones 2 hours or more of flight time versus the 15-30 minutes more typical of electric-only drones. They can also carry a lot more weight—20 pounds of gear or other cargo versus a more common 10 pounds or so for the most powerful all-electric drones.

The company plans to ship the first test units to customers this year, and hit the market in earnest next year.

At a $50,000 price point, these are aimed squarely at the industrial market, but, like any other new tech, if successful, they should drop in price, especially as regulatory issues get cleared up over the next two or three years.