Plus: Microsoft's public appeal for Abbott government to reconsider FTTN.
By Jason Imms on November 8, 2013 at 2:38 pm
Welcome to the Friday Tech Roundup! Contained herein is your weekly dose of some of the best tech news from across the Internet, rounded up for your edification and entertainment. Read on for all the details of Western Digital’s new helium-filled hard drives, the NSA tapping Google and Yahoo data, and the spherical camera that will bring StreetView-like video capturing to consumers.
Western Digital announces monstrous 6TB helium-filled hard drives
The science involved in the design of modern hard drives is really quite interesting. In order to increase storage space, scientists needed to find ways to add more platters, increase their density, and make use of both sides. Hard drive platters spin at incredible speeds, and are read by minuscule read-heads which are so small, that even collision with a fleck of dust could cause catastrophic failure. Western Digital have developed a method for moving from the current five-platter standard to seven, adding a further two terabytes of capacity, while simultaneously reducing power consumption to less than that of current five-platter drives. The answer, it seems, is replacing air with helium.
By producing a hermetically sealed drive that is filled with helium instead of air, Western Digital have significantly reduced drag on the platters, allowing the drive motor to run much more efficiently. While these improvements will not have a significant effect on the consumer market at release, they are hugely important when used on a mass-scale. Datacentres are desperate to increase storage capacity and reduce power consumption and heat generation, concepts which are generally held to be mutually exclusive. Helium filled drives provide both benefits in a single package, and are currently being trialled by Netflix, CERN, and elsewhere. The fact that the drives are truly hermetically sealed also makes them suitable for use in immersion-cooling datacentres.
Bublcam aims to bring StreetView-like 360⁰ cameras to consumers
Google StreetView is an impressive tool, and one that makes scouting routes and locations a much simpler affair. The technology that enables the result is bespoke, and likely incredibly expensive. Tech startup Bubl Technology Inc. out of Toronto, Canada aims to miniaturise the technology for the consumer market, and is initially doing so via Kickstarter. The Bublcam is made up of four cameras in a tetrahedral arrangement, and is capable of streaming video directly to a computer, which can then be used for storage and editing, or to pass the feed through to the livestreaming service of the user’s choice.
When used in conjunction with proprietary software, users can pan around a live scene at will, adding an intriguing interactive element to streaming video. The Bublcam starts at $449CAD, plus $30 international shipping, and is estimated for delivery in May 2014.
NSA taps into optical cables between Google and Yahoo datacentres
A recent article from The Washington Post reported that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had intercepted data from Google and Yahoo systems by tapping into the fibre optic cables between two datacentres overseas. Not long after the story went live, during a Bloomberg Government cybersecurity event, a reporter asked NSA Director Keith B. Alexander about the allegations. Alexander responded to say “That’s never happened. […] This is not the NSA breaking into any databases. It would be illegal for us to do that. And so I don’t know what the report is, but I can tell you factually we do not have access to Google servers, Yahoo servers.”
Soon after, a press release was issued to defend against the allegations, claiming that the original article had “misstated facts, mischaracterized NSA’s activities, and drawn erroneous inferences about [NSA] operations.” In response, The Washington Post posted another article which issues more supporting evidence of the NSA-led intrusion, and notes that the article didn’t accuse the NSA of accessing databases, merely that the operation syphoned information from optical cables. In response to the WaPo findings, Google has opted to encrypt all traffic sent between its datacentres.
Motion controller with haptic grip aims to close the loop on immersion
Dr. William Provancher of the University of Utah has been working on a game controller that is designed to provide detailed haptic feedback to the user. The Reactive Grip motion controller uses a clever trick to imply to the user that what they are holding in-game has real physical properties. Four sliding bars embedded in the handle are capable of moving up or down independently of one another, giving the user a sensation of the item shifting in the hand. Firing a gun causes the front and back plates to violently move in opposite directions, simulating recoil. Heavy objects cause the bars to move downward, as though the object is pressing into the palm. The Reactive Grip controller is compatible with Nintendo Wii, Playstation Move, and Microsoft Kinect controllers, and is currently seeking funding via Kickstarter.
Microsoft appeals to Abbott government regarding fibre-to-the-node
In the wake of the news that the Abbott government intends to move forward with the cheaper fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) NBN rollout method, Microsoft Australia managing director Pip Marlow has publicly voiced the company’s appeal for the Liberal government to reconsider. Microsoft’s primary argument is quite simple: fibre-to-the-home will provide much faster network speeds to end users. “Ultimately, if you don’t get fibre to the home, the biggest impact really is the upload speeds,” said Marlow at an event staged by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. “We’re encouraging the government to be looking at all the options and really understanding how businesses, how schools, how individuals will be using this technology.” Marlow is reportedly lobbying new communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.