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January 25th, 2011

Smart phones are out of this world

Smart phones are out of this world

A new perspective for smart phones

What is the true value of ubiquity, standardisation, commonality? In journalism and copywriting, we tend to throw the phrase ‘ubiquitous technology’ around with careless abandon, when in reality it’s usually nothing of the sort.

Social media platforms are just the latest recipients of such plaudits – Facebook and Twitter, we hear, are ubiquitous. Some commentators have even gone as far as to say that those without a Facebook account these days are somehow deviant.

But you don’t have to leave the industrialised world to witness a dramatic drop-off in the aura of social networking – there are thousands of communities across the UK in which tweets remain strictly for the birds. The editor of Wired UK, the screenwriter behind film ‘The Social Network’ and um, the Pope might all agree.

But what about mobile phones, then? Surely there’s no argument there? Even I’ve seen people from eight to 80 wrestling with their mobiles from Norfolk to the Ngorongoro Crater, across hugely diverse economic and social landscapes. But when can we truly class this technology as ubiquitous (without any fear of contradiction from, say, Hollywood or the Vatican)?

Well, here’s something to throw into the mix. According to the BBC, British engineers are planning to put a mobile phone in space. A team at SSTL and the Surrey Space Centre in Guildford want to see if the smarts of today’s phones will function in the most challenging environment of all. The mobile will run on Google’s open source Android OS and will be used to control a 30cm-long satellite to take pictures of the Earth in the mission later this year.

Of course this mission doesn’t really further the penetration of mobile phone technology. We all know that many people still can’t get a signal on the train let alone a rocket. But what it does perhaps demonstrate, is that there is a true value to ubiquity and economy of scale when coupled successfully with open standards and collaborative development. This venture is actually part of a serious quest to find more inexpensive, off-the-shelf electronics that can be used to lower the cost of space explorations.

As Chris Bridges from SSC told the BBC: “If a smartphone can be proved to work in space, it opens up lots of new technologies to a multitude of people and companies for space who usually can’t afford it. It’s a real game-changer for the industry.”

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