Branch Networks Powers Maritime RobotX Competition in Hawaii

rbo

How do you keep 15 autonomous catamarans in constant communication while they navigate, translate, and recover objects over eight days off the coast of Hawaii?

You build a network — a really good one.

This was the task set before Branch Network’s Nick Casassa at last month’s Maritime RobotX competition in Honolulu, Hawaii. Casassa is the Chief Technology Officer of Branch Networks, a Panama City Beach-based network and internet provider and a TechFarms tenant. RobotX is the most complex competition of RoboNation, a nonprofit that provides robotics education internationally.

During the eight-day competition, 15 collegiate teams from three continents converged on Hawaii’s Sand Island. Their goal: produce the boat that can best dodge obstacles, identify symbols, navigate courses, recover objects and more — all autonomously. For months, each team had been preparing a twin-hull catamaran, to which they affixed an array of sensors, hardware, and software to complete the autonomous tasks.

To enable all of that communication, RoboNation required a solid network. That’s where Branch Networks came in.

“It was go design the network, order the equipment, pre-configure the network, as well as document, and then get out there, build the network,” said Casassa, who got his feet wet during RoboNation’s RoboBoat competition in July 2018. “When things were appearing — the staff trailers, the competitors’ tents, the tents for the competition — as those were all being built and set up, I would build my network into those elements.”

The end result was more than 4,000 feet of fiber and several thousand feet of Cat 6A cable — “the standard for all Ethernet communications” Casassa said — providing access points up and down half a mile of beach.

“There are multiple wireless connections, multiple wired connections, there are several radios all running and operating at 2.4 GHz, 5.8 GHz, as well as other frequencies that are used for all kinds of communication and automation for each one of these worldwide teams,” Casassa said.

Also heavily involved in the competition was another Panama City Beach resident, Bill Porter, an engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division.

“The competitor course was Bill’s job,” Casassa said. “Everything from how they operate their radio communications to how they decide what tests they have to do. But the boats that were out there that were autonomous were able to communicate because of the network I built.”

It might not have been the typical beach vacation — Casassa worked about 15 hours a day — but the work paid off. The only “issue” to hamper Casassa’s network was someone inadvertently unplugging a piece of equipment.

“I had one lady with RoboNation come up to me and tell me, ‘I am so impressed,’” Casassa said. “’We’re always so nervous about something going down with the network. But you met all of our needs and then some. We never had anyone complain about the internet.’”

Casassa said a common problem with such “pop-up networks” — think large outdoor concerts, for example — is that providers fail to understand the density required to accommodate all of the data being transmitted.

“What that means is a lot of access points, a lot of infrastructure because you have a lot of users trying to do stuff in a very little bit of space,” he said.

“That internet connection needs a way to reach all of the people that are in a venue. So we have to kind of lay the tracks the rest of the way so that everybody can travel on those tracks. Everyone wants to have a train that goes really fast, but nobody realizes you have to have the tracks.”

Up next for Branch Networks is another kind of pop-up network: emergency communications after a disaster such as Hurricane Michael in October 2018. After the storm hit Bay County, Florida, Branch Networks made headlines by using an existing internet connection to prop up a large Wi-Fi network for about 300 nearby residents. That same kind of network is possible on a much larger scale, Casassa said.

“If there is no power, that complicates things but doesn’t make it impossible,” he said. “One of the things we’re talking about making is a new kind of tower, basically a trailer with a large-capacity generator, and an extendable mechanical tower, that we could park and prop up and give people Wi-Fi access.”

The technology exists but is prohibitively expensive and is used mostly for military applications. Branch hopes to make its mobile Wi-Fi networks accessible for both the emergency and government sectors.

“We realize that there’s a huge need for this in city and local governments,” Casassa said. “We have plans, and we hope to be able to build and deploy these systems when needed.”

EntreCon 2018 Draws Record Attendance

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EntreCon 2018 was an exciting and rewarding event for entrepreneurs, business owners, and employees who gathered to receive training and network with hundreds of other like-minded business professionals throughout the region. This popular entrepreneur conference has developed over the years into a learning experience where attendees receive insightful presentations from featured speakers and panelists from around the country who share their strategies for starting and growing their businesses. This year there were 8 EntreCon Award winners in 8 different categories ranging from Startup Business of the Year to Entrepreneur of the Year.

Hosted by the Studer Community Institute, EntreCon focuses on three core ideologies: better jobs, better lives, and better communities. For the Northwest Florida region, EntreCon continues to be an awesome event and is doing its part to help grow jobs and build a better community for all residents.

entrecon

 

TechFarms CEO to Attend Landmark White House STEM Education Summit

 

White House Summit will help inform next 5-year STEM education strategy 

PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA, June 12, 2018 – TechFarms CEO, Steve Millaway, has been invited to attend the first-of-its-kind State-Federal Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education Summit hosted by The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on June 25-26, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Millaway was recently nominated by Florida Governor Rick Scott to represent Florida. “It’s an honor to attend such an important event and help formulate our country’s future STEM Education strategy,” said Millaway. “It is vitally important that we continue to emphasize K-20 STEM education as the demand for these high-paying jobs continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. From a global perspective, our country’s leadership position in the STEM fields is rapidly declining as countries such as China are accelerating their efforts to close the gap.”

According to the OSTP, the State-Federal STEM Education Summit will convene a diverse group of State STEM leaders, including officials from governors’ offices, K-20 educators, workforce and industry representatives, State policy experts, and non-government organization executives. These attendees will participate in the development of a new Federal 5-Year STEM Education Strategic Plan in compliance with America COMPETES Act of 2010.

“This event is the first time an administration has asked for this level of State input when developing a Federal STEM education strategy,” said Jeff Weld, senior policy advisor and assistant director for STEM education at OSTP. “Top-down approaches to STEM education can often yield wonderful ideas, but it’s at the State and community level where the momentum happens. State leaders know best what kinds of programs will work in their communities, and where they need the power of the Federal government to help drive success in this field. STEM education is critical to preparing our students for the jobs of the future. We must do everything we can to ensure that Federal, State, local, and tribal governments, communities, educators, and private industry partners are united for the long-term success of our Nation.”

Alongside OSTP in planning and carrying out this Summit are the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Smithsonian Institution. STEM leaders from all 50 states, as well as U.S. territories and tribes, will attend the Summit to illuminate and advance State-Federal STEM alignment.

About TechFarms:  Located in Panama City Beach, FL, TechFarms is a technology incubator that provides office space, prototyping equipment, business and technical mentoring, and a host of other amenities to assist entrepreneurs. For more information visit: TechFarms.com

Media Contact:
Steve Millaway, Founder/CEO TechFarms, &
Managing Director, TechFarms Capital
c: (850) 896-2871, e: smillaway@msn.com

 

EU to conclude Google antitrust cases in next few months

A man holds his smartphone which displays the Google home page, in this picture illustration taken in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

A man holds his smartphone which displays the Google home page, in this picture illustration taken in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

By Foo Yun Chee | OXFORD, ENGLAND

EU antitrust regulators will rule in the “next few months” whether Alphabet’s Google abused its dominance of internet searches and other areas, a senior European Commission official said on Monday, an outcome that could lead to a hefty fine.

The world’s most popular internet search engine has been in the Commission’s crosshairs since 2010 over the promotion of its own shopping service in internet searches at the expense of the services of rivals.

The EU competition enforcer opened a second front against Google last year as it charged the company with using its dominant Android mobile operating system to squeeze out rivals.

It has since leveled a third charge, that of blocking rivals in online search advertising. This relates to Google’s “AdSense for Search” platform, in which Google acts as an intermediary for websites such as online retailers, telecoms operators or newspapers. These searches produce results that include search ads.

“In the next few months, we will reach a decision on the Google cases, Google search, AdSense and to me the most interesting is Android,” Tommaso Valletti, the Commission’s chief competition economist, told a conference organized by the University of Oxford Centre for Competition Law and Policy.

The Commission has already warned Google that it would be fined if found guilty of breaching EU antitrust rules. Sanctions could reach 10 percent of annual global turnover for each case.

Alphabet made consolidated revenues of around $90 billion in 2016.

Google has in the past rejected the accusations, saying that its innovations had increased choice for European consumers and promoted competition.

It made three unsuccessful attempts to settle the internet search case without any finding of wrongdoing and sanctions with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s predecessor, Joaquin Almunia.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Mark Potter)

Use Your Phone as a Digital Magnifying Glass

The Magnifier tool in iOS 10 can make fine print easier to read. (Credit: The New York Times)
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The App Store has several programs that borrow the iPhone’s camera and use it to display a magnified view of objects in front of the device, but the current iOS 10 system software comes with its own Magnifier function. This tool is part of Apple’s suite of Accessibility features.

To use the Magnifier on an iOS 10 device, open the Settings icon and select General. On the General settings screen, choose Accessibility and then Magnifier. On the next screen, tap the button to the On position. Press the Home button to return to the iPhone’s main screen.

Now, when you want to read the fine print on the page or need to get a close-up look at something, press the iPhone’s Home button three times quickly. This triple-click action (also known as the Accessibility Shortcut) brings up the Magnifier and any other preconfigured functions geared toward users with impaired vision, hearing or motor skills.

When you have the Magnifier open in a dark restaurant, tap the lightning bolt icon on the screen to turn on the iPhone’s flash for a steady stream of bright light. Tap the Filters icon to change the color cast on the screen. You can zoom in by dragging the slider on the screen and tap the padlock icon to lock the camera’s focus.

If you want to freeze the frame, tap the round camera shutter button. Once the frame is frozen, you can zoom to the part you want to see better. Press your finger on the screen and select Save Image if you want to keep a copy in your Camera Roll. Tap the shutter button to unfreeze the frame, and press the Home button to leave the Magnifier.

The iOS Accessibility settings have a Zoom feature for making things larger on the iPhone screen itself. For Android users, Google includes a similar feature, and Microsoft’s software for its Windows Phones has a Magnifier too.

U.S. top court tightens patent suit rules in blow to ‘patent trolls’

 

The application icons of Facebook, Twitter and Google are displayed on an iPhone next to an earphone set in this illustration photo taken in Berlin, June 17, 2013.  REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

The application icons of Facebook, Twitter and Google are displayed on an iPhone next to an earphone set in this illustration photo taken in Berlin, June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

By Andrew Chung | WASHINGTON

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday tightened rules for where patent lawsuits can be filed in a decision that may make it harder for so-called patent “trolls” to launch sometimes dodgy patent cases in friendly courts, a major irritant for high-tech giants like Apple and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

The justices sided 8-0 with beverage flavoring company TC Heartland LLC in its legal battle with food and beverage company Kraft Heinz Co, ruling that patent infringement suits can be filed only in courts located in the jurisdiction where the targeted company is incorporated. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the decision.

The decision overturned a ruling last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a Washington-based patent court, that said patent suits are fair game anywhere a defendant company’s products are sold.

Individuals and companies that generate revenue by suing over patents instead of making products have been dubbed “patent trolls.”

The ruling is likely to lessen the steady flow of patent litigation filed in a single federal court district in rural East Texas because of its reputation for having rules and juries that favor plaintiffs bringing infringement suits.

The dispute began when Heartland, a subsidiary of Heartland Consumer Products Holdings, sought to transfer a patent infringement suit Kraft filed against it in Delaware federal court to Heartland’s home base in Indiana.

Heartland said it has no presence in Delaware and 98 percent of its sales are outside of that state, but the appeals court denied the transfer last year.

Even though the lawsuit was not filed in Texas, the arguments in the case touched on the peculiar fact that the bulk of patent litigation in the United States flows to the Eastern District of Texas, far from the centers of technology and innovation in the United States.

More than 40 percent of all patent lawsuits are filed in East Texas. Of those, 90 percent are brought by “patent trolls,” according to a study published in a Stanford Law School journal.

Limiting patent lawsuits to where a defendant company is incorporated would potentially make it harder to get to trial or score lucrative jury verdicts.

The Federal Circuit denied the transfer by relying on one of its precedents from 1990, which loosened the geographic limits on patent cases. Heartland urged the Supreme Court to overturn that decision, arguing that the high court’s own precedent from 1957 held that patent suits are governed by a specific law allowing suits only where defendants are incorporated.

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed with Heartland. Writing the opinion for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said that, contrary to the Federal Circuit’s rationale, the U.S. Congress did not change the rules over where patent suits may be filed since the 1957 decision.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Facebook leaked documents show types of content it allows: Guardian

FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is displayed on the company’s website in Bordeaux, France, February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is displayed on the company's website in Bordeaux, France, February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

Leaked Facebook Inc (FB.O) documents show how the social media company moderates issues such as hate speech, terrorism, pornography and self-harm on its platform, the Guardian reported, citing internal guidelines seen by the newspaper.

New challenges such as “revenge porn” have overwhelmed Facebook’s moderators who often have just ten seconds to make a decision, the Guardian said. The social media company reviews more than 6.5 million reports of potentially fake accounts a week, the newspaper added.

Many of the company’s content moderators have concerns about the inconsistency and peculiar nature of some of the policies. Those on sexual content, for example, are said to be the most complex and confusing, the Guardian said.

Facebook had no specific comment on the report but said safety was its overriding concern.

“Keeping people on Facebook safe is the most important thing we do. We work hard to make Facebook as safe as possible while enabling free speech. This requires a lot of thought into detailed and often difficult questions, and getting it right is something we take very seriously”, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management Monica Bickert said in a statement.

Facebook confirmed that it was using software to intercept graphic content before it went on the website, but it was still in its early stages.

The leaked documents included internal training manuals, spreadsheets and flowcharts, the Guardian said.

The newspaper gave the example of Facebook policy that allowed people to live-stream attempts to self-harm because it “doesn’t want to censor or punish people in distress.”

Facebook moderators were recently told to “escalate” to senior managers any content related to “13 Reasons Why,” the Netflix original drama series based on the suicide of a high school student, because it feared inspiration of copycat behavior, the Guardian reported.

Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the documents published on the Guardian website.

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Hay)

WannaCry attack is good business for cyber security firms

FILE PHOTO: A hooded man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

By Joseph Menn | SAN FRANCISCO

For Kris Hagerman, chief executive of UK-based cyber security firm Sophos Group Plc, the past week could have been bad. The WannaCry “ransomware” attack hobbled some of its hospital customers in Britain’s National Health Service, forcing them to turn away ambulances and cancel surgeries.

The company quickly removed a boast on its website that “The NHS is totally protected with Sophos.” In many industries, that sort of stumble would likely hit a company’s reputation hard.

Yet on Monday, three days after the global malware attack was first detected, Sophos stock jumped more than 7 percent to set a record high and climbed further on Wednesday after the company raised its financial forecasts.

As for most other cyber security firms, highly publicized cyber attacks are good for business, even though experts say such attacks underscore the industry’s failings.

“We are making good progress and are doing a good job,” Hagerman said in an interview this week. “People ask ‘How come you haven’t solved the cyber crime problem?’ and it’s a little like saying ‘You human beings have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, how come you haven’t solved the crime problem?'”

Hagerman pointed out that his company only claimed to protect 60 percent of NHS affiliates and that other factors contributed to the disaster at the hospitals.

“They have their own budgets. They have their own approach to IT generally and IT security,” Hagerman said of individual hospitals, which pick their own operating systems, patching cycles and network setups. Microsoft Corp had issued a patch in March for the flaw WannaCry exploited in Windows operating systems.

Yet Hagerman acknowledged that Sophos did not update its basic antivirus software to block WannaCry until hours after it hit customers.

HIGH STAKES

Security experts say hospitals, where the stakes are especially high, represent a case study in how legacy industries need to up their cyber security game.

“We’ve tolerated a pretty poor level of effectiveness, because so far the consequences of failure have been acceptable,” said Josh Corman, a cyber security industry veteran now working on related issues at the Atlantic Council and a member of a healthcare security task force established by the U.S. Congress.

“We are going to see failure measured in loss of life and a hit to GDP, and people will be very surprised.”

Some long-lived medical devices have more than a thousand vulnerabilities, Corman said, and perhaps 85 percent of U.S. medical institutions have no staff qualified for basic cyber security tasks such as patching software, monitoring threat advisories and separating networks from one another.

Increasingly serious cyber security problems are partly an inevitable consequence of the growing complexity of digital technology.

But there are other causes too, including a lack of accountability that stems from the wide range of technology handlers: computer software vendors, antivirus suppliers, in-house professionals, consultants and various regulators.

Ultimately, Corman said, hospitals need to hire solid cyber security people instead of another nurse or two.

GOOD FOR BUSINESS

“What’s needed is punishment of the negligent,” said Ross Anderson, a University of Cambridge pioneer in studying the economics of information security, referring to the hospitals that did not stop WannaCry.

“This is not about technology. This is about people fouling up in ways people would get a pink slip for” in less-insulated environments, he said, meaning they would lose their jobs.

For now, though, there are few signs of any revamp in large institutions’ approach to cyber security – and little incentive for contractors in the cyber security industry to change.

Sophos was not the only company whose stock rose on Monday, as the global scale of WannaCry became apparent. Shares of U.S.-based FireEye Inc and Qualys Inc both rose more than 5 percent.

But Sophos stood out, aided by higher expectations for a product the company introduced last year to fend off ransomware – so called because the authors of the malware demand a ‘ransom’ to restore a user’s infected computer – which worked at the hospitals that had installed it.

“It’s good news for our business,” one Sophos employee, who asked not to be named, told Reuters this week. “We were so inundated with people calling us.”

(Reporting by Joseph Menn; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Bill Rigby)

TechFarms’ Graduate MSI Wins $10,000 in Florida’s Most Lucrative Business Plan Competition

Panama City Beach, FL, April 14, 2017 – TechFarms is pleased to announce that Mine Survival, Inc., a graduate of the technology incubator, has been awarded first place in the veteran category of the 2017 Innovation Awards. 

Designed to reward startups that demonstrate clear paths to profitability and local job creation, the Innovation Awards provide cash prizes to businesses located in or willing to relocate to Northwest Florida. This year saw a marked increase in submissions, with a total of 61 organizations entering, including companies from as far away as Colorado, New York and New Jersey. The competition was divided into four categories: student, veteran, pre-revenue and post-revenue. Just three entries in each category were selected as finalists.

At the two-day event in Pensacola Beach on April 12-13, finalists gave presentations before a panel of experts, and were then subjected to “Shark Tank”-style questioning by the judges. Rob Moran, president of MSI, presented his company’s emergency escape vest which provides coal miners with an emergency oxygen supply. In describing the experience, Moran says, “I was excited going into it, and only a little bit nervous.” He added, “I want to thank TechFarms – especially Steve Millaway – for all the assistance leading up to this event.” He also expressed appreciation to Innovation Coast for providing the opportunity to enter the competition.

Incorporated in 2014, MSI entered the TechFarms incubator to jump-start their development. The professional services, mentoring and other resources provided helped MSI to become a thriving, independent company, now employing five full-time staff. The $10,000 prize money, Moran says, will be dedicated to research and development of their second product.

About MSI: Mine Survival, Inc., based in Panama City Beach, is the premier manufacturer of cutting-edge surface rebreathers, devices designed to be used by miners in the event of a mine collapse or other emergency. More information is available at MineSurvival.com.