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Broadband prospect out; county considers ‘Plan B’

FTS Fiber of Monkton, Md., last year proposed to build a 129-mile fiber optic network that would reach the far corners of Fauquier.

The Cedar Run District supervisor had hoped that by now construction would begin on a fiber optic network to extend broadband internet service throughout rural Fauquier.

But the county’s only prospect to build that system[1] — Maryland-based Freedom Telecom Services Inc.[2], doing business as FTS Fiber — last fall underwent a “restructuring” that cast doubt on its ability to get the job done, Supervisor Rick Gerhardt said. The company’s reorganization involved the resignation of CEO Brett Hill and the December sale of the fiber optic network — worth an estimated £20 million — it built for Kent County, Md. Because no other company submitted a proposal to build Fauquier’s fiber network, the board of supervisors Thursday probably will cancel the project.

And because of uncertainty about FTS, the board plans to withdraw its acceptance[3] of the company’s proposal to construct a 129-mile fiber optic cable network here. Those decisions represent a big setback for Mr. Gerhardt, who with the county staff has spent almost two years studying how to provide broadband to Fauquier’s “unserved and underserved” areas.

But the freshman supervisor believes his “Plan B,” which would involve cash incentives to wireless providers, might soon make broadband available to more Fauquier residents. Mr. Gerhardt first grew concerned about FTS late last year.

“I started seeing things that were being said, articles from Kent County, etcetera,” he explained. The Kent County News[4] on Sept.

26 reported that some citizens said construction of the network there had stopped and that “rumors are that FTS is bankrupt and that employees are being asked to return equipment.” Construction resumed, but FTS sold the incomplete 110-mile network to Kent FOS, a startup company.

FTS Chief Commercial Officer Adam Noll and Mr. Hill, the company’s former CEO, failed to return phone messages seeking comment. Dee-Anna Sobczak, chief executive of Kent FOS, declined to discuss details of her company’s deal to buy the Kent County network.

Calling the FTS turn of events a “kick in the teeth” and “a gut punch,” Mr. Gerhardt said: “I thought we were on the right track here. This was a pretty big disappointment for me.”

Mr. Gerhardt, Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall) and Deputy County Administrator Katie Heritage in January 2017 visited Kent County to hear about the broadband network FTS would build there. They came away impressed.

“We were very encouraged,” Mr. Gerhardt recalled. “It was a great concept, and it was working.” Kent County’s system represented a model he believed FTS could replicate in Fauquier.

Under FTS’s proposal, the company would run 129 miles of fiber optic cable throughout Fauquier — from Goldvein to Upperville and Remington to Catlett. > Document at bottom of story The network would have connected schools, libraries, fire/rescue stations and other public buildings directly to the cable.

FTS would have sold network access to “last-mile” providers to serve homes and businesses throughout Fauquier. The county’s capital improvements plan includes £20 million to build a countywide fiber optic network — money that would be spent, as needed, on a system generating enough revenue to cover Fauquier’s investment. But because of doubts about the FTS proposal, lack of response from companies willing to build the network and Fauquier’s fiscal 2019 budget demands, all or some of the £20 million reserved for broadband might get pulled from the county’s construction plan, Mr.

Gerhardt said. “I just don’t know when it all shakes out whether the other board members are going to have the stomach to make that type of investment, given what we’re looking from a budgetary perspective this go round,” he added. Fauquier’s broadband consultant, Design Nine Inc. of Blacksburg in 2016 estimated it could cost £19.7 million to build a network to serve almost the entire county.

To restart the process, somehow attracting companies that would install a fiber optic network, would take too long and again might prove fruitless, Mr. Gerhardt said. “We spent a year looking at this infrastructure, only to come to this conclusion, based on things completely out of our control,” he said. “What our constituents want right now — particularly those constituents who are in unserved and underserved areas — they want broadband.”

He believes “the quickest way” to accomplish that would be to “incentivize” wireless internet service providers using existing fiber, telecommunication towers and other technology to make “the last-mile” broadband connections to homes and businesses. “We gotta go to ‘Plan B’,” Mr. Gerhardt said of that approach.

The Herndon-based Center for Innovative Technology has agreed to help the county create such a plan, which should be completed in six to eight weeks, Mr. Gerhardt said. “I fully expect it to look something like: ‘We have this pot of money we’re willing to throw at you as a subsidy . . . .

Give us a proposal on what you can do and how many people it’s going to affect’.” That “pot of money” would include county and Warrenton-based PATH Foundation funds, said Mr. Gerhardt, who serves on the nonprofit’s board.

“They already have £100,000 in their budget for broadband for 2018,” said Mr. Gerhardt, chairman of the county’s broadband authority. “Along with them, we’re going to try to come up with a solution, financially anyway. “I can assume they will follow our lead.

I’ve had conversations that clearly lead me to believe that.” “If the county proposes a cost-sharing, dollar-for-dollar match approach to funding that would incentivize providers to improve broadband services for local residents, we would look at such a proposal very favorably,” PATH Foundation Communications Director Amy Petty wrote in an email. Internet access “is important” to health, education, “home businesses” and telecommuters, Ms.

Petty added. “Like our county government, the PATH Foundation is committed to helping with this major countywide infrastructure need.” An incentive plan would include “controls” over money given to companies selected to provide wireless service, Mr. Gerhardt said.

“Obviously, we’re not going to just say, ‘Here’s a £500,000 check. Do what you want with it.’ There will be controls put in place whereby we know exactly how it’s being spent and that it is in fact being spent.” He wants the county to advertise the project for competitive bids by April.

“My goal is sometime before the end” the first quarter this year, “which is a bold goal.” When could wireless companies chosen to participate in an incentive project begin providing additional broadband internet service? “That’s a question for them, not for me,” Mr.

Gerhardt replied. Ultimately, he considers a fiber optic cable network critical to Fauquier’s future. But, “frankly, at this point, who knows what we’ll do with the infrastructure,” Mr.

Gerhardt said. “In my personal opinion, you still need the infrastructure to support commerce in this county, to bring additional commerce in this county — whether it’s data centers, whether its cell towers, whether its wireless internet service providers.”

References

  1. ^ only prospect to build that system (www.fauquiernow.com)
  2. ^ Freedom Telecom Services Inc. (www.ftsfiber.com)
  3. ^ withdraw its acceptance (agenda.fauquiercounty.gov)
  4. ^ Kent County News (www.pressreader.com)

Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg

South Africa has a rich music scene, which boasts impressive artists, shows, and venues. An integral aspect of putting together a good track is a high-quality, controlled environment – such as Universal Music South Africa’s studios in Rosebank, Johannesburg. MyBroadband was lucky enough to visit the studios recently and sit in on a recording session with singer-songwriter Dominic Neill.

Neill is a local artist who appeared on Idols SA, starred in the hit song Love You Still[1] with DJ Kent, and released the album Out of My League[2]. We also spoke to studio engineer Donovan Leon about the impressive technology and design behind the studio. From high-end analogue workstations to full live stages, Universal Music South Africa is packed with great tech and devices.


Studio control rooms

The studio comprises neighbouring recording and control rooms, connected via a sophisticated cable routing system.

This allows a studio engineer to control the sound from any of the recording rooms in the studio. The studio control rooms feature digital and analogue workstations, along with powerful desktop machines for audio processing and instruments for production work. Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg

Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg

Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg

Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg

Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg


Recording rooms

The studio’s recording rooms feature soundproofed walls and elevated floors to minimise vibrations and acoustic interference. The padded wall segments operate on hinges with wooden panels on the other side, allowing a studio engineer to tweak the acoustics of the room and produce the desired recording environment. Microphones and other recording hardware can also be swapped out, depending on the needs of the artist in session.

Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg

Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg


Recording

Neill was in session at Universal Studios and allowed us to sit in on the recording process. Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg

Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg

Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg

Inside Universal Music’s awesome studios in Johannesburg


Now read: Inside the biggest music and tech store in Africa – Photos[3]

References

  1. ^ Love You Still (youtu.be)
  2. ^ Out of My League (play.google.com)
  3. ^ Inside the biggest music and tech store in Africa – Photos (mybroadband.co.za)

How robotic furniture can transform your tiny apartment

Imagine living in a cramped studio apartment in a large city — but being able to summon your bed or closet through a mobile app, call forth your desk using voice command, or have everything retract at the push of a button. MIT Media Lab spinout Ori aims to make that type of robotic living a reality. The Boston-based startup is selling smart robotic furniture that transforms into a bedroom, working or storage area, or large closet — or slides back against the wall — to optimize space in small apartments.

Based on years of Media Lab work, Ori’s system is an L-shaped unit installed on a track along a wall, so can slide back and forth. One side features a closet, a small fold-out desk, and several drawers and large cubbies. At the bottom is a pull-out bed.

The other side of the unit includes a horizontal surface that can open out to form a table. The vertical surface above that features a large nook where a television can be placed, and additional drawers and cubbies. The third side, opposite the wall, contains still more shelving, and pegs to hang coats and other items.

Users control the unit through a control hub plugged into a wall, or through Ori’s mobile app or a smart home system, such as Amazon’s Echo. Essentially, a small studio can at any time become a bedroom, lounge, walk-in closet, or living and working area, says Ori founder and CEO Hasier Larrea SM ’15. “We use robotics to … make small spaces act like they were two or three times bigger,” he says. “Around 200 square feet seems too small [total area] to live in, but a 200-square-foot bedroom or living room doesn’t seem so small.” Larrea was named to Forbes‘ 2017 30 Under 30 list for his work with Ori. The first commercial line of the systems, which goes for about £10,000, is now being sold to real estate developers in Boston and other major cities across the U.S. and Canada, for newly built or available apartments.

In Boston, partners include Skanska, which has apartments in the Seaport; Samuels and Associates, with buildings around Harvard Square; and Hines for its Marina Bay units. Someday, Larrea says, the system could be bought directly by consumers. Once the system catches on and the technology evolves, Larrea imagines future apartments could be furnished entirely with robotic furniture from Ori and other companies.

“These technologies can evolve for kitchens, bathrooms, and general partition walls. At some point, a two-bedroom apartment could turn into a large studio, transform into three rooms for your startup, or go into ‘party mode,’ where it all opens up again,” Larrea says. “Spaces will adapt to us, instead of us adapting to spaces, which is what we’ve been doing for so many years.”
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Architectural robotics

In 2011, Larrea joined the Media Lab’s City Science research group[1], directed by Principal Research Scientist Kent Larson, which included his three co-founders: Chad Bean ’14, Carlos Rubio ’14, and Ivan Fernandez de Casadevante, who was a visiting researcher.

The group’s primary focus was tackling challenges of mass urbanization, as cities are becoming increasingly popular living destinations. “Data tells us that, in places like China and India, 600 million people will move from towns to cities in the next 15 years,” Larrea says. “Not only is the way we move through cities and feed people going to need to evolve, but so will the way people live and work in spaces.” A second emerging phenomenon was the Internet of Things, which saw an influx of smart gadgets, including household items and furniture, designed to connect to the Internet. “Those two megatrends were bound to converge,” Larrea says. The group started a project called CityHome[2], creating what it called “architectural robotics,” which integrated robotics, architecture, computer science, and engineering to design smart, modular furniture.

The group prototyped a moveable wall that could be controlled via gesture control — which looked similar to today’s Ori system — and constructed a mock 200-square-foot studio apartment on the fifth floor of the Media Lab to test it out. Within the group, the unit was called “furniture with superpowers,” Larrea says, as it made small spaces seem bigger. After they had constructed their working prototype, in early 2015 the researchers wanted to scale up.

Inspiration came from the Media Lab-LEGO MindStorms collaboration from the late 1990s, where researchers created kits that incorporated sensors and motors inside traditional LEGO bricks so kids could build robots and researchers could prototype. Drawing from that concept, the group built standardized components that could be assembled into a larger piece of modular furniture — what Ori now calls the robotic “muscle,” “skeleton,” “brains,” and the furniture “skins.” Specifically, the muscle consists of the track, motors, and electronics that actuate the system. The skeleton is the frame and the wheels that give the unit structure and movement.

The brain is the microcomputer that controls all the safety features and connects the device to the Internet. And the skin is the various pieces of furniture that can be integrated, using the same robotic architecture. Today, units fit full- or queen-size mattresses and come in different colors.

In the future, however, any type of furniture could be integrated, creating units of various shapes, sizes, uses, and price. “The robotics will keep evolving but stay standardized … so, by adding different skins, you can really create anything you can imagine,” Larrea says.

Kickstarting Ori

Going through the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship’s summer accelerator delta V (then called the Global Founders Skills Accelerator) in 2015 “kickstarted” the startup, Larrea says. One lesson that particularly stood out: the importance of conducting market research. “At MIT, sometimes we assume, because we have such a cool technology, marketing it will be easy. … But we forget to talk to people,” he says.

In the early days, the co-founders put tech development aside to speak with owners of studios, offices, and hotels, as well as tenants. In doing so, they learned studio renters in particular had three major complaints: Couples wanted separate living areas, and everyone wanted walk-in closets and space to host parties. The startup then focused on developing a furniture unit that addressed those issues.

After earning one of its first investors in the Media Lab’s E14 Fund in fall 2015, the startup installed an early version of its system in several Boston apartments for renters to test and provide feedback. Soon after, the system hit apartments in 10 major cities across the U.S. and Canada, including San Francisco, Vancouver, Chicago, Miami, and New York. Over the past two years, the startup has used feedback from those pilots to refine the system into today’s commercial model.

Ori will ship an initial production run of 500 units for apartments over the next few months.

Soon, Larrea says, the startup also aims to penetrate adjacent markets, such as hotels, dormitories, and offices. “The idea is to prove this isn’t a one-trick pony,” Larrea says. “It’s part of a more comprehensive strategy to unlock the potential of space.”

MIT News[3]

Now read: E-cigarettes may cause cancer and heart disease – Study[4]

References

  1. ^ City Science research group (www.media.mit.edu)
  2. ^ CityHome (www.media.mit.edu)
  3. ^ MIT News (news.mit.edu)
  4. ^ E-cigarettes may cause cancer and heart disease – Study (mybroadband.co.za)