South Korea Blankets Country With Free WiFi On All Public Transit

Wrapping up a multi-year project to provide free WiFi on all public transportation, South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Information and Communications Technology (MSIT) announced that a total of 35,006 buses had been equipped nationwide.

Previously, subscriber-based WiFi had been installed on subways and in subway stations. It was provided privately by two phone carriers and free only for their subscribers. The coverage was spotty and slow, and in 2017 the government took over and implemented a better system. With this announcement, the whole public transportation system is now covered with stable and free WiFi.

We also noticed that the government has released the details of the 220,000 WiFi access points to the public. This includes the location, IP address, and RSSI data for use by people and companies wanting to develop location-based services. What is the state of free WiFi access points in your region, and does it extend to public transportation? Do you find it reliable, or do you use your data plan when out and about?

Twenty Seconds At 100 Megakelvins

The Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) magnetic fusion reactor claimed a new record last month — containing hydrogen plasma at 100 megakelvins for 20 seconds. For reference, the core temperature of the Earth’s Sun is a mere 15 megakelvins, although to be fair, it has been in operation quite a bit longer than 20 seconds.

South Korea is a member of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) team, a worldwide project researching the science and engineering of nuclear fusion. One of their contributions to the effort is the KSTAR facility, located in the city of Daejeon in the middle of the country (about 150 km south of Seoul).

It is a tokamak-style fusion research reactor using superconducting magnets to generate a magnetic flux density of 3.5 teslas and a plasma current of 2 megaamperes. These conditions are used to confine and maintain the plasma in what’s called the high-confinement mode, the conditions currently favored for fusion reactor designs. Since it went into operation in 2008, it has been creating increasingly longer and hotter “pulses” of plasma.

For all the impressive numbers, the toroidal reactor itself is not that huge. Its major diameter is only 3.6 meters with a minor diameter of 1 meter. What makes the facility so large is all the supporting equipment. Check out the video below — we really like the techniques they use in this virtual tour to highlight key components of the installation.

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Smart Screen Heal Thyself

The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) have announced a transparent, self-healing polyimide material designed for smart phone screens. A KIST team from the Composite Materials Applications Research Center led by Dr Yong-chae Jung and a team at Yonsei University’s Electronics Materials Lab led by Dr Hak-soo Han collaborated on this project. While the goal was to improve the material used in folding smart phone screens, the results seem applicable to all glass screens that are prone to cracks and scratches.

This new material can heal itself in 12 hours at room temperature, even faster under UV light. As we understand it, many micro-balloons of flaxseed oil are impregnated on the surface and break open if the material is damaged. Thus liberated, the oil is now free to flow into and fill up the cracks. We imagine it’s like repairing windshield cracks, but on a much smaller scale.

The idea is to eliminate the need for user-added screen protection films and increase the life of your phone screen. But cynical people might wonder if smart phone manufacturers will embrace this new technology with much enthusiasm — after all, if people use their phones longer it might cut into sales. Those with access to academic journals can read the report here.

Social Networking Robot Actually Respects Privacy

[Fribo] the robot is a research project in the form of an adorable unit that hears and speaks, but doesn’t move. Moving isn’t necessary for it to do its job, which is helping people who live alone feel more connected with their friends. What’s more interesting (and we daresay, unusual) is that it does this in a way that respects and maintains individuals’ feelings of privacy. To be a sort of “social connector and trigger” between friends where every interaction is optional and opt-in was the design intent behind [Fribo].

The device works by passively monitoring one’s home and understands things like the difference between opening the fridge and opening the front door; it can recognize speech but cannot record and explicitly does not have a memory of your activities. Whenever the robot hears something it recognizes, it will notify other units in a circle of friends. For example, [Fribo] may suddenly say “Oh, one of your friends just opened their refrigerator. I wonder what food they are going to have?” People know someone did something, but not who. From there, there are two entirely optional ways to interact further: knocking indicates curiosity, clapping indicates empathy, and doing either reveals your identity to the originator. All this can serve as an opportunity to connect in some way, or it can just help people feel more connected to others. The whole thing is best explained by the video embedded below, which shows several use cases.

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