05 September 2017

Carbon nanotube “yarn” generates electricity when stretched

A new option for harvesting environmental energy that relies on internal static.

Spare energy is all around us, from the pressure exerted by every footfall to the heat given off by heavy machinery. In some cases, like regenerative braking in cars, it's easy to harvest, and the equipment needed to do so is simple and economic. In many others, however, we're not there yet.

It's not that we don't have the materials to do so. Piezoelectric generators can harvest stresses and strains, while triboelectric generators can harvest friction, to give two examples. The problem is that their efficiency is low and the cost of the materials is currently high, making them bad fits for any applications.

But a study in today's issue of Science describes a "yarn" made of carbon nanotubes that can produce electricity when stretched. Its developers go on to demonstrate its use in everything from wearable fabrics to ocean-based wave power generators. Given that the raw material for carbon nanotubes is cheap and there are lots of people trying to bring their price down, this seems to have the potential to find some economic applications.

Spinning yarns

The idea behind the new material is simple. The authors started with a collection of carbon nanotubes and spun them into a thread, much as you would with wool. There are several ways of spinning threads, and the authors chose one that created an internal structure that distributed stress evenly among the nanotubes. They then twisted the thread until it formed a coil similar to the ones you'd see on the headset cord of old land-line telephones.

When this coil is stretched, the internal strain and friction liberates charges from the carbon nanotubes. Which, of course, isn't particularly useful unless you can harvest them. To do so, the team dunked the whole thing in water with dissolved ions (they used hydrochloric acid but tested other salts). These would ferry the charges to nearby electrodes.

The most impressive thing is how many charges were liberated. During periods of peak strain, the yarn pumped out 250 watts per kilogram. For comparison, a professional bicyclist can only do peak exertions that are about 10 percent of that. And the yarn could sustain this when subjected to 30 stretch/relax cycles a second. Across the full cycle, the yarn could generate more than 40 joules of energy, although it was distributed unevenly, as the stretching and relaxation created a sine wave of alternating current.

One neat thing about this is that the researchers could also spin the yarn in the opposite direction. These strands produced currents at different points of the stretch-relaxation cycle. By mixing the two types of yarn in a single device, it would even out the current production (although it eliminated the smooth alternating current of a homogeneous device).

There’s an app(lication) for that

Having to keep the yarn submerged in an ionic solution the whole time it is operating is obviously a bit of an inconvenience. Unless, of course, the place you're looking to harvest energy from is one giant ionic liquid. The authors made a salt solution that mimicked the concentration found in the ocean. The setup worked just fine, and it had a peak power output of more than 90 watts/kg. So, they put a length of yarn between a weight and a float, and they dumped it into the ocean off South Korea. As waves rolled through, the device generated electricity, though it required a platinum electrode, given the corrosive nature of seawater.

In one of the weirder applications, the researchers hooked up some of the yarn to what they call an artificial muscle: a polymer that contracts when heated. The yarn produced electricity with every heating/cooling cycle.

But the most challenging application was incorporating the yarn into fabrics. Since the yarn needs an electrolyte and an external electrode to work, this isn't as simple as the word "yarn" implies. To manage this, the team put an electrolyte in a gel and used a conducting (but uncoiled) nanotube yarn as the electrode. All of these were bundled together to make a flexible material that could be incorporated into fabrics. When placed in a shirt, the device produced electricity every time someone wearing it breathed.

Overall, the material isn't exceptionally efficient at converting mechanical energy to electricity. But it is quite efficient when the incredibly light weight of the yarn is taken into account. It's also rare in that it can scale anywhere between individual fibers in clothing up to full-scale wave power generators. There seems to be a good chance that somewhere in that range is an effective, economical application provided the price of carbon nanotubes keeps dropping.

Science, 2017. DOI: 10.1126/science.aam8771  (Source).

03 September 2017

New Molten Salt Thorium Reactor Powers Up for First Time in Decades

Nuclear power was headed for something of a resurgence a few years back, but then the 2011 meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima reactor happened. Governments and investors around the world got cold feet, but there’s now renewed interest in a type of nuclear power that’s potentially much safer. A team from the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) the Netherlands has built the first molten salt reactor powered by thorium in decades.

There are several basic facts of nuclear power that have made it a tough sell around the world. For one, the uranium needed for nuclear power plants is rare and expensive. The uranium used in power plants can also be turned into weapons-grade material, requiring tight regulation. The other waste byproducts of nuclear energy are less useful, but still extremely dangerous. We don’t even know what to do with all that waste yet. Lastly, a nuclear power plant, no matter how well designed, could experience meltdown under certain circumstances.

You need different fissile material if you’re going to change any of that, and now we come to thorium (atomic number 90). Unlike uranium, thorium is abundant, and it’s not nearly as dangerous. Enrichment is not necessary, and thus it’s extremely difficult to create nuclear weapons with a thorium-based reactor. Most importantly, meltdowns aren’t possible with thorium reactors because the reaction is not self-sustaining.

That last safety advantage is also the main drawback of thorium. You need a little uranium and a neutron source to get the reaction kick started. Oak Ridge National Laboratory ran molten salt thorium reactor experiments from the 1960s until 1976. Now, the European team is giving it another shot.

Pure thorium salt
Pure thorium salt being loaded into a sample container.

When bombarded by neutrons, thorium becomes radioactive uranium-233, which is shorter-lived and less dangerous than the uranium-235 used in conventional reactors. The molten salt design being developed at NRG is known as the Salt Irradiation Experiment (SALIENT). This radioactive slurry could potentially reach very high temperatures, which translates to a lot of energy generation. However, the molten salt isn’t just the fuel; it’s the coolant as well.

There are still several problems that need solving before NRG’s thorium reactor designs will be scaled up to industrial levels. While the waste is safer, scientists still need to figure out how much of it there will be and what can be done with it. The environment inside a molten salt reactor is also extremely corrosive. So, some creative materials might be needed. If it works, we could generate more power without pumping more carbon into the atmosphere a win for everyone.

Source: Extremetech

07 January 2017

Lab-grown stomach gets scientists one step closer to a ‘human on a chip’

Lab-grown stomach

More people are affected by stomach diseases than heart disease. While in most cases this is in relatively minor ways, such as overproduction of acid or gastritis, in a growing number of instances it’s linked with gastric cancer which affects around 26,370 people a year in the United States alone.

To find out more about stomachs and the effect of bacteria such as helicobacter pylori, researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center created a “Petri dish stomach,” complete with the ability to produce acid and digestive enzymes.

“What my lab has been doing for over a decade is trying to generate human organ tissues in a Petri dish,” Dr. James Wells, lead investigator, told Digital Trends. “Organ tissues represent a really good way of investigating human disease on a level that you can’t do by studying patients.”

The work, published in the journal Nature, describes how a functioning “organoid” model of a mini stomach can be grown from pluripotent stem cells, which can be grown into any tissue in a person. By “growing” a stomach, researchers get to watch how exactly diseases affect that particular part of the body from what happens when too much acid builds up to how certain experimental drugs are able to help deal with inflammation.

human on a chip

A lab-grown piece of human stomach, as seen under a microscope.

“We turn the stem cells into something which is effectively a functioning mini-stomach,” Wells continued. “It’s only a few millimeters in size, but it can produce acid, digestive enzymes, and respond to the cues that trigger your stomach to respond in different ways. In other words, while they are small, [Petri dish stomachs] have the same physiological properties as an actual stomach.”

The eventual goal, he said, is to develop a “human on a chip,” which would take the form of a credit card-sized device containing similar organoids for every organ in the human body. Eventually, these could be used to help treat patients.

“Organs that have to be removed because of damage or disease are very hard to replace, outside of organ donors, who there are a real shortage of,” he said. “In the future, we think it should be possible to scale up these mini organs into something that is a therapeutic transplant. That is the direction we’re headed in.”


25 December 2016

Artificial leaf could make a medicinal mini-factory

artificial leaf medicine

Inspired by a leaf, researchers at TU Eindhoven have developed a "mini-factory" that can use sunlight to manufacture chemical products such as drugs.

Leaves are kind of like nature's power plants, converting incoming sunlight into energy for the plant to thrive on. Inspired by the real thing, scientists have previously created artificial leaves that function in much the same way as their natural counterparts to produce electricity and even liquid fuels. Now a team at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) is using a similar system to produce chemicals, which could one day lead to solar-powered "mini-factories" that can produce drugs, pesticides and other chemicals almost anywhere.

To mimic the light-capturing molecules in leaves, the researchers turned to luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs), materials seen in solar-harvesting window technology and used to catch and amplify laser beams carrying data in Facebook's drone-mounted internet project. These LSCs absorb incoming light, convert it to specific wavelengths and then guide the photons to the edges of the device.

The TU/e team's take on the idea was to create a leaf-shaped device, made from a silicon rubber LSC, with a thin channel running through it like the veins in a leaf. As chemicals are pumped through the channel, the LSC material directs sunlight towards it, and the high intensity of the sunlight can trigger a chemical reaction with the liquid in the channel. Essentially, one substance enters, and by the time it comes out the other end, the device will have converted it into a different chemical, which may be useful as a drug, fuel or other agent.

artificial leaf medicine

"Using a reactor like this means you can make drugs anywhere, in principle, whether malaria drugs in the jungle or paracetamol on Mars," says Timothy Noël, lead researcher on the study. "All you need is sunlight and this mini-factory."

These devices could prove a useful alternative to other means of drug production, which can require toxic chemicals and plenty of energy usually produced by fossil fuels. In early tests, the mini-factories exceeded the team's expectations for efficiency.

"Even an experiment on a cloudy day demonstrated that the chemical production was 40 percent higher than in a similar experiment without LSC material," says Noël. "We still see plenty of possibilities for improvement. We now have a powerful tool at our disposal that enables the sustainable, sunlight-based production of valuable chemical products like drugs or crop protection agents."

The research was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie. The team explains the device in the video below.

Source: Eindhoven University of Technology, newatlas

24 December 2016

This app gives every last corner of Earth an address


Imagine being lost on the side of a mountain, or on a remote ski slope, and being able to tell rescuers your actual location in just three words. Or a system that could get mail to people in the favelas, or nomads on the Mongolian steppes, or places like the Faroe Islands (long on sheep, short on maps and roads). British startup What3Words has an app for that. More precisely, they have an algorithm with a GUI draped on top of it for user convenience, and an API so that others can integrate with the system.

Here’s how it works: They started by dividing the entire globe up into 57 trillion 3 x 3m squares (10′ on a side). Then they assign each square a fixed, permanent and unique 3-word address, using a sanitized pool of 25-40,000 dictionary words, depending on which of its nine currently supported languages the user prefers. Their algorithm converts each region of lat-long values into a value associated with a single 3-word string that really looks like the name of a niche IRC channel.

For example, the choice spot under the rain shelter at the metro station outside the science building at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam has an address: it’s (somewhat fittingly) searched.final.ambient. The decommissioned fire tower at the top of Hurricane Mountain, in the Adirondacks of New York, is corrosive.sculpture.assumed. With What3Words’ algorithm, it’s possible to address so specific a place. This means that you really can get mail to the cupboard under the stairs. It’s even possible to precisely address a place where the roads aren’t named and the houses aren’t numbered or a place in the wilderness, where there aren’t roads or houses at all.

what3words algorithm

The whole idea behind using words instead of lat-long is that it profoundly simplifies giving extremely specific locations. Lat-long coordinates are a mouthful, and they’re really unpleasant if you have to give them over a crappy audio channel. But combining extreme specificity with user-facing simplicity is the niche What3Words is seeking to fill.

Latitude and longitude are still better when computers are talking to one another, but when you involve humans, it gets messy. “If you have an injury on the slopes,” chief marketing officer Giles Rhys Jones told Magenta, “it’s incredibly difficult to describe where you are. The problem with using GPS coordinates is that if I’m trying to shout 18 digits on a telephone while I’m incredibly stressed, errors creep in.” The free What3Words app works without a data connection, and it’s tiny less than 10 MB so it’s lightweight enough for basically any mobile phone.

what3words callout

The system works well enough for the Mongolian government to wager their postal system on its quality. The World Bank estimates that a quarter of the Mongolian population lives a nomadic lifestyle. Many of them live on the steppes, where there are no roads, no permanent structures, and certainly no numbers to tell a bewildered postal worker where to go. But those people are still citizens who deserve representation, and especially the right to vote, which they can do by mail. This algorithm lets everyone have an address, because every place on the planet can be concisely described. (Boreholes, skyscrapers and the Hive from Resident Evil excluded, for the curious; adding another word, though, for a string of four, could allow for this kind of vertical-axis specificity… devs, are you listening?)

Santa clearly has a bespoke GPS app that uses an overlay based on the What3Words API, to enable present routing. For us mere mortals, there’s already a mapping app that speaks What3Words; it’s called navmii.


05 September 2016

Sheep puns reach critical mass as Google finally gets involved in Sheep View

Google Sheepview

Somehow managing to badger Google both incessantly and without snark, Durita Dahl Andreassen has finally seen it happen: Google got formally involved in her homebrew project to put the heretofore unnoticed Faroe Islands on Street View.

There are 50,000 people in the Faroe Islands, but more than 70,000 sheep. The place is pretty rural, and up til now it hasn’t exactly been a hot property on the Google Street View acquisition list. There’s been a Street View camera inside the White House, at CERN, down Diagon Alley and even inside the TARDIS but never yet to the Faroe Islands. But with her campaign to get Street View making the news all over the web, suddenly that has changed. Where there’s a wool, there’s a way.

Andreassen started her project by teaming up with other Islanders to build bespoke camera harnesses that she then strapped to her sheep. Loosing them at particularly important or picturesque places around the Faroe Islands archipelago, she then collected the images and turned to the Internet for help. The project even received official endorsement from the tourism bureau of the Faroe Islands, making its way onto their website. They’ve been calling it Sheep View 360, after the 360 cameras the sheep are carrying.

Sheep aren’t really supposed to be on the roads, though, which presents an obvious difficulty when trying to get the roads mapped using Street View.

Google obviously heard about Sheep View 360, and it didn’t take long for them to figure out how to respond. They sent a Street View trekker and 360 cameras via their Street View camera loan program, and even dispatched a Google Maps team to the Faroe Islands to help train the locals, ensuring that the humans and sheep will both be capturing the absolute best images they can get.

Better still, it won’t just be sheep anymore. Faroe Islanders and tourists both can help collect Street View imagery of the remote, beautiful islands using “selfie-sticks, bikes, backpacks, cars, kayaks, horses, ships and even wheelbarrows.” This, too, has received official approval: the Visit Faroe Islands office in Tórshavn (hilariously, not yet findable on Street View), along with Atlantic Airways at the airport, will be lending out Street View 360 cameras to those willing to help out with the mapping adventure.

Only a true connoisseur of sheep-based humor will be able to make it out alive from Google’s blog post about Sheep View. Be thankful I wasn’t feeling clever when writing this, or the sheep puns would surely have killed you (ewe? Ed) by now.

source: extremetech

10 August 2016

BAE Systems wants to grow military aircraft in chemical vats

grow military aircraft in chemical

BAE Systems and the University of Glasgow foresee a time when new aircraft can be designed and chemically grown in a matter of weeks (Credit: BAE Systems)

Modern military aircraft are so complex that fighters like the F-35 Lightning II or the Typhoon take 20 years to go from drawing board to deployment at phenomenal costs. With design work already starting on next-generation fighters for the 2040s, BAE Systems and the University of Glasgow are looking at a faster, cheaper way to produce unmanned air vehicles (UAV), where they aren't constructed, but grown in computer-controlled chemical vats in a matter weeks.

This vision of the future of aircraft design and manufacturing was outlined ahead of the upcoming Farnborough International Airshow, which runs from July 11 to 17. The purpose of this concept isn't just to cut cost and the painfully long development cycle of military aviation hardware. It's also a reflection of the growing emphasis on swarms of smaller drone aircraft that can be built to custom specifications for specific missions over manned aircraft.

Such use of bespoke UAVs would require radically shorter development and manufacturing cycles, which inspired BAE's vision of growing them in huge chemical vats to create near-complete airframes and systems.

The key to this is the "Chemputer" a combination of the computer with chemical manufacturing. Originally developed by Regius Professor Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow, and Founding Scientific Director at Cronin Group PLC, it's a sort of advanced 3D printer that works on a molecular level. It's original purpose was to use simple, locally-available chemicals to produce pharmaceuticals quickly and cheaply. Now, the technology is being envisaged as a way to produce full-blown aircraft and their electrical systems.

For the BAE concept, the Chemputer would be part of a system to enable the building of UAVs or multi-functional parts for large manned aircraft on a molecular level out of environmentally sustainable materials using advanced chemical processes. The result would be be to allow mission specific drones to be built in a very short timeframe. Developers could choose from a menu of capabilities and the Chemputer would bring together the necessary technologies and grow them.

In this way, fleets of small drones that could be made quickly to carry out a variety of missions. They could drop supplies to special forces, carry out surveillance, or operate at speeds and altitudes that would make them invulnerable to anti-aircraft missiles.

"This is a very exciting time in the development of chemistry," says Cronin. "We have been developing routes to digitize synthetic and materials chemistry and at some point in the future hope to assemble complex objects in a machine from the bottom up, or with minimal human assistance. Creating small aircraft would be very challenging but I'm confident that creative thinking and convergent digital technologies will eventually lead to the digital programming of complex chemical and material systems."

The animation below shows how the warplanes of the future might be created.

Source: BAE Systems, gizmag

10 July 2016

Computer coughs up passwords, encryption keys through its cooling fans

hackers can hear what you speak using cpu cooling fan

Here’s a security update to haunt your dreams, and to make the FBI’s quest for un-exploitable cryptographic backdoors look all the more absurd: a team of Israeli researchers has now shown that the sounds made by a computer’s fan can be analyzed to extract everything from usernames and passwords to full encryption keys. It’s not really a huge programming feat, as we’ll discuss below, but from a conceptual standpoint it shows how wily modern cyber attackers can be and why the weakest link in any security system still involves the human element.

In hacking, there’s a term called “phreaking” that used to refer to phone hacking via automated touch-tone systems, but which today colloquially refers any kind of system investigation or manipulation that uses sound as its main mechanism of action. Phone phreakers used to make free long distance phone calls by playing the correct series of tones into a phone receiver but phreaks can listen to sounds just as easily as they can produce them, often with even greater effect.

curiosity hackers

That’s because sound has the potential to get around one of the most powerful and widely used methods in high-level computer security: air-gapping, or the separation of a system from any externally connected network an attack might be able to use for entry. (The term pre-dates wireless internet, and a Wi-Fi-connected computer is not air-gapped, despite the literal gap of air around it.)

So how do you hack your way into an air-gapped computer? Use something that moves easily through the air, and which all computers are creating to one extent or another: Sound.

One favorite worry of paranoiacs is something called Van Eck Phreaking, in which you listen to the sound output of a device to derive something about what the device is doing; in extreme cases, it’s alleged that an attacker can recreate the image on the screen of a properly mic’ed up CRT monitor. Another, more recent phreaking victory showed that it is possible to break RSA encryption with a full copy of the encrypted message and an audio recording of the processor as it goes through the normal, authorized decryption process.

chinese military at computers possibly hacking

Note that in order to do any of this, you have to get physically close enough to your target to put a microphone within listening range. If your target system is inside CIA Headquarters, or Google X, you’re almost certainly going to need an agent on the inside to make that happen and if you’ve got one of those available, you can probably use them to do a lot more than place microphones in places. On the other hand, once placed, this microphone’s security hole won’t be detectable in the system logs, since it’s not actually interacting with the system in any way, just hoovering up incidental leakage of information.

This new fan-attack actually requires even more specialized access, since you have to not only get a mic close to the machine, but infect the machine with a fan-exploiting malware. The idea is that most security software actively looks for anything that might be unusual or harmful behavior, from sending out packets of data over the internet to making centrifuges spin up and down more quickly. Security researchers might have enough foresight to look at fan activity from a safety perspective, and make sure no malware turns them off and melts the computer or something like that, but will they be searching for data leaks in such an out of the way part of the machine? After this paper, the answer is: “You’d better hope so.”

Stuxnet virus life cycle

A diagram of the life-cycle of the Stuxnet virus.

The team used two fan speeds to represent the 1s and 0s of their code (1,000 and 1,600 RPM, respectively,) and listened to the sequence of fan-whines to keep track. Their maximum “bandwidth” is about 1,200 bits an hour, or about 0.15 kilobytes. That might not sound like a lot, but 0.15KB of sensitive, identifying information can be crippling, especially if it’s something like a password that grants further access. You can fit a little over 150 alpha-numeric characters into that space that’s a whole lot of passwords to lose in a single hour.

There is simply no way to make any system immune to infiltration. You can limit the points of vulnerability, then supplement those point with other measures that’s what air-gapping is, condensing the vulnerabilities down to physical access to the machine, then shoring that up with big locked metal doors, security cameras, and armed guards.

But if Iran can’t keep its nuclear program safe, and the US can’t keep its energy infrastructure safe, and Angela Merkel can’t keep her cell phone safe how likely are the world’s law enforcement agencies to be able to ask a bunch of software companies to keep millions of diverse and security-ignorant customers safe, with one figurative hand tied behind their backs?


On the other hand, this story also illustrates the laziness of the claim that the FBI can’t develop ways of hack these phones on their own, a reality that is equally distressing in its own way. The FBI has bragged that it’s getting better at such attacks “every day,” meaning that the only things protecting you from successful attacks against your phone are: the research resources available to the FBI, and the access to your phone that the FBI can rely on having, for instance by seizing it.

Nobody should be campaigning to make digital security weaker, to any extent, for any reason as this story shows, our most sensitive information is already more than vulnerable enough as it is.


"Wearable" for plants to let you converse with a chrysanthemum

plant speaks

The Phytl Signs device picks up the tiny electrical signals emitted by plants.

Houseplants have never been known as great conversationalists, but it's possible we just can't hear what they're saying. Swiss company, Vivent SARL, is hoping to rectify that with its Phytl Signs device that picks up the tiny electrical signals emitted by plants and broadcasts them through a speaker. The ultimate goal is to translate what the plants are actually "saying."

chat with plantschat with plants

speak with plantsspeak with plants

The system, which is currently the subject of a crowdfunding campaign, features two receptors – a stake that is inserted into the soil next to the plant, and a clip that gently connects to a leaf. These measure the voltage coming from the plant, which feeds into a signal processor. From there the plant-speak is output through a built-in speaker. A smartphone app can also receive raw data from a plant, allowing analysis of the signals using data analysis software.

Unlike current plant monitors on the market that measure environmental metrics like soil moisture and sunlight, the Phytl Signs device is claimed to pick up on whether your plant is thriving or stressed, active or quiet, or besieged by pests. The plant responds immediately to a change in lighting or the cutting of a leaf with a spike in sound, which is an electronic howl akin to a theramin. But decoding what the audio output means is still being worked out by the company.

To that end, the company encourages device owners to share their data with an online community of fellow users, allowing the company to crowdsource the data to help them decode and translate the plant signals so they can be understood.

Ultimately, if and when the signals are translated, it would allow plant owners to provide the best growing conditions possible. The company also envisions using the devices for agriculture research, and on a commercial scale to monitor crops and potentially improve yields and minimize water use. It can be used on any plant as long as the leaf is wide enough for the clip to connect.

The company has launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce its gadgets, improve its software and further study what the plant signals mean. The minimum pledge level for an Explorer kit is CHF129 (approx. US$130), with shipping slated for April, 2017 if everything goes as planned.

Source: Phytl Signs, gizmag

Google’s ‘FASTER’ undersea cable goes online with 60 Tbps of bandwidth


You probably have a wireless network at home, but for some applications a wired connection is still more reliable. It’s the same in internet backbone communications satellites help keep the world in sync, but the best connections across the globe rely upon undersea fiber optic cables. A new undersea cable constructed with Google’s backing has just gone online linking the US west coast with Japan.
The cable, which has the fitting name “FASTER,” can transmit 60 terabytes of data per second, more than any other active undersea cable. It’s about 10 million times faster than your home broadband connection on a good day. The new cable will benefit users near one end or the other when they need to ping a server on the other end. It doesn’t boost their own bandwidth, but it could allow them to take fuller advantage of it. FASTER also includes an additional connection from Japan to Taiwan, which has 20 Tbps of bandwidth and is owned completely by Google.

Google joined this ambitious construction project back in 2014 when it partnered with five other companies: NEC, China Mobile, China Telecom, Global Transit, and KDDI. The project has cost about $300 million to complete, but it will offer huge speed increases for data transmission between Asia and North America. Google’s participation in the project guarantees it 10 Tbps of dedicated bandwidth on the FASTER cable. Google is also planning to launch its Google Cloud Platform East Asia in Tokyo this year. The dedicated bandwidth from FASTER will result in faster transfers and lower latency for its customers.

Google FASTER undersea cable map

FASTER stretches some 9,00 kilometers (5,592 miles) across the ocean. The US end is in Bandon, Oregon, and the Japanese end plugs into Shima and Chikura. The US cable location places it very near to Google’s data center in The Dalles. FASTER uses six fiber pairs to push all that bandwidth using 100 different wavelengths of light. Every 60 kilometers, there’s a repeater that re-energizes the data to ensure no data is lost along the way, according to Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure Urs Hölzle.

This cable might be the speed king right now, but that won’t be the case for long. Earlier this year, Microsoft and Facebook announced they would be laying a cable from the US to southern Europe with a capacity of 160 Tbps across eight cable pairs. I guess Google will just have to limp along with FASTER.

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