The Wrap - Hacked airplane, POTUS on Twitter, WiFi by balloon

IDG News Service | May 21, 2015

A United plane is hacked by a security researcher, President Obama joins Twitter and we take a closer look at two ambitious projects from Google.

President Obama has a new way to connect with citizens and an airplane gets hacked.

We'll start with our Tech Top Three and what you need to know this week. A security researcher hacked a United plane's in flight entertainment system, overwrote code on the plane's thrust management system and issue a climb command, which caused the airplane to move laterally. It's not clear when the incident happened or if the plane was in danger. The FBI has seized the researcher's equipment, but hasn't charged him.

The European Commission will not require any back doors or ways around communications encryption. It's a subject of heated debate in the US and Europe and if back doors were built in, then law enforcement agencies would be able to easily access communications. The US FBI has asked congress to make back doors mandatory to help fight crime.

After six years, welcome to Twitter, President Obama. He'll now be able to tweet from the official POTUS account. President Obama said the handle comes with the house, in response to former President Bill Clinton's question on behalf of a friend in reference to his wife Hillary who is running for president. The account has more than 2 million followers so far.

In focus we take a closer look at two ambitious ideas from Google. The company's Project Loon is an attempt to provide Internet service by balloon. The idea could be particularly helpful where connectivity is a challenge - think rural areas or places that don't have strong infrastructure. Hundreds of these have been launched as part of tests and we got to take a closer look at the payload container at Maker Faire near San Francisco. The batteries are at the top, then some control electronics. The bottom is where the cellular equipment would be, but Google didn't want to reveal it. The signals reach 40 kilometers from each balloon. The balloons can stay aloft at up to 90,000 feet for up to six months at a time. The solar panels keep it powered. Google is close to launching thousands of balloons, which is how many would be required to provide reliable Internet access.

Staying in the air, Project Wing is the company's attempt at a delivery drone. This one is unique because it can take off like a helicopter and then fly like a plane. Rather than land to deliver the package, Project Wing hovers, then uses a winch system to lower the payload. We've heard about a similar idea from Amazon. Regulations in the US aren't quite there yet, but the FAA is loosening its restrictions. There's still a lot of work to be done, mainly with crash avoidance. With the amount of innovation from companies like Amazon and Google and the additional pressure on lawmakers, it looks like drones might be making deliveries sooner than we thought.


I'm Nick Barber and that's a wrap.