SpaceX launches and lands its Starship prototype for the first time

7 Aug 2020

SpaceX Starship launch. Image: SpaceX/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This week in future tech, SpaceX’s Starship takes flight and Dublin City Council has an IoT solution to the problem of stolen ring buoys.

SpaceX has successfully completed a test flight of its SN5 Starship prototype, climbing to an altitude of 150m above the company’s test site in Texas before landing safely on the ground near the launchpad.

The Starship is designed to carry up to 100 crew members on interplanetary journeys throughout the solar system, starting with a planned trip to Mars in 2024.

The vehicle, powered by a single Raptor engine, appeared to give promising results in this week’s test, showing the engine is capable of thrust-vector control. Following the test flight, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said: “Progress is accelerating.”

IoT botnets could disrupt energy markets

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have discovered that hackers could use high-wattage IoT botnets to tamper with energy markets in the US.

According to Wired, the researchers used real, publicly available data from the New York and California markets between May 2018 and May 2019 to study fluctuations in both market forecasts and real-time market data.

High-wattage botnets would essentially be made up of several power-sucking smart devices such as smart air conditioners and electric vehicle chargers.

The study suggested that attackers could potentially alter energy demand on a grid if they can compromise and control enough high-wattage IoT devices, which would in turn affect prices and manipulate the market. The researchers also worked out how far these attacks could go without raising any red flags.

Could IoT reduce the number of stolen ring buoys?

While ring buoys can save lives without technology, technology might help save ring buoys. Dublin City Council manages approximately 130 ring buoys in its district, but says approximately 15 go missing or are stolen every week.

Now, in a bid to reduce theft of these ring buoys, the council is looking to roll out a pilot programme that would use low-cost, low-power sensors to monitor the buoys. The sensors require significantly less power than standard cellular solutions, which have been trialled in the past. This means they could be deployed for up to 10 years on a battery.

According to The Irish Times, each of the four local authorities in Dublin have agreed to trial the sensors with plans to then roll them out nationwide.

Facial recognition far from foolproof

While facial recognition is often heralded as a strong method of biometric authentication, a team of researchers at cybersecurity firm McAfee has shown how the technology can be duped.

Using adversarial machine learning, which is the concept of exploiting weak spots in machine learning algorithms, McAfee researchers were able to create an image that looked like one person to the human eye but was recognised as someone else via facial recognition software.

In a company blog post, McAfee’s head of advanced threat research, Steve Povolny, said biometrics are an increasingly relied-upon technology to verify individuals.

“However, the reliance on automated systems and machine learning without considering the inherent security flaws present in the mysterious internal mechanics of face-recognition models could provide cybercriminals unique capabilities to bypass critical systems such as automated passport enforcement.”

SpaceX Starship launch. Image: SpaceX/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic