How Cutting-Edge Technology & Science Are Powering The Future TPM Idealab

Google on Wednesday released a substantial update to its periodic Transparency Report, a public tally of the number of requests for users' private information Google receives from various government agencies and law enforcement bodies around the globe.

The update is significant primarily for U.S. users of Google's many websites and services, from Gmail to YouTube to Google's Chrome browser, as it now shows in detail the exact types of government requests for user information it has received, categorizing them as "Subpoena," "Search warrant," or "Other."

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Mozilla, the company best known for its Firefox Web browser, on Tuesday finally unveiled the design of the first two smartphones that will run its upcoming Firefox mobile operating system (Firefox OS).

Named "Keon" and "Peak," the two smartphones are created by a Spanish mobile phone company called Geeksphone and will debut in Europe and Latin America in "the first half of 2013," according statements a Mozilla spokesperson provided to TPM. But they're not going to be sold on the mass market. Instead, Mozilla and Geeksphone are restricting them to software developers who want to build apps for Mozilla's new Firefox OS, a Web-based platform that aims to be even more "open source," and thus more permissive and flexible for development, than Google's own Android operating system.

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Updated 12:58 p.m. EST, Monday, January 28

The race is officially on to mine the first asteroids in outer space.

On Tuesday, a new American spacefaring company, Deep Space Industries, Inc., publicly unveiled its plans to mine near-earth asteroids, develop a "microgravity foundry" to produce metal parts from ground up asteroid ore, and eventually, construct entire outer space refineries to produce fuel for spacecraft from the other volatiles contained in asteroids.

"Our overall plan is to get into this field [asteroid mining] as it begins and it is beginning today," said Rick N. Tumlinson, chairman of the board of Deep Space Industries, during a press conference held at the Santa Monica Museum of Flying in California on Tuesday.

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Toyota and Audi turned heads earlier this month by announcing that they were following in Google's tracks and developing partially self-driving, or "autonomous" vehicle technology systems of their own.

At that time, Toyota noted in press materials that it has been testing one such semi-autonomous vehicle system -- the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), which uses short wave radio signals to have cars communicate with other vehicles and surrounding infrastructure to avoid collisions -- at a simulated city inside its Higashi-Fuji Technical Center in Susono City, Japan.

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Many of the controversial full-body airport security scanners that generated images of passengers described as "naked," or "nearly naked" by critics and the press, will be removed from U.S. airports as of June, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced on Friday, ending a $5 million contract.

But the approximately 250 scanners that the TSA has pledged to remove won't go unused for long: The TSA has entered into an agreement with Rapiscan Systems, the company that makes them, to redeploy the devices "to other mission priorities within the government," as the TSA put it in an official blog post.

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January 18 marks an online holiday: Internet Freedom Day, or #InternetFreedomDay.

In 2012, the day was heralded as a "political coming of age for the tech industry" by the New York Times, following a massive online protest in which Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and numerous other popular websites censored their homepages to successfully protest two bills in the U.S. Congress -- the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA), both similarly written and designed by legislators to fight online piracy. Popular Web brands and their users had scored an unlikely but unmistakable victory over legislation that critics argued would have effectively handicapped the Internet as we know it.

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Bigelow Aerospace, the private spacefaring company that NASA is paying to develop and launch an inflatable space module to the International Space Station in 2015, already has plans on how it will separately commercialize the balloon-like craft for its own space operations.

"We have motivations as a company to see the BEAM project be successful outside of the NASA mission," said Robert T. Bigelow, creator of his namesake commercial space company, which he started from his fortune accumulated as the owner of the Budget chain of hotels, in a phone interview on Thursday.

NASA's plans call for the inflatable test module, known as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), to remain connected to the station for two years -- with astronauts entering and leaving as deemed fit -- then detached and destroyed, burned up in Earth's atmosphere.

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Optical invisibility cloaks -- those that make objects undetectable to the human eye -- are still the stuff of science fiction. But scientists are getting closer every day: The latest advance in cloaking comes out of China, where scientists at Southeast University in Nanjing have developed a "nearly perfect" cloaking device for hiding DC current, a building block toward optical invisibility.

The "nearly perfect" DC cloak is also ultrathin -- only 1 cm thick, which is the absolute limit for thinness of this type of practical demonstration, according to an article published on the advance on PhysOrg on Thursday. The original results of the demonstration were published in the journal Applied Physics Letters on January 10.

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NASA on Wednesday announced it had awarded $17.8 million to Bigelow Aerospace, a North Las Vegas private spacefaring company, to test a new inflatable habitat for the International Space Station over a 2-year-period beginning in 2015.

The inflatable module, a balloon-like cylindrical structure called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is made of multiple layers of Vectran, a bullet-resistant polymer, coated with the same type of shielding foil used to encase other hard spacecraft material, as New Scientist previously reported.

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