Category: Events (page 1 of 2)

Project Wing – Drone Delivered Burritos in Blacksburg VA

drone_deliveryAn autonomous flying robot delivered burritos to me and a bunch of other Rackers for lunch today. I don’t know if I should be giddy with geek joy or fearfully completing my HERFgun in the basement. Either way, cool cutting edge drone research is happening here in Blacksburg VA as a part of Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) is doing  “as part of an initiative to push research and safety measures for unmanned flight.”[1]

How does Blacksburg rate as one of the limited six “FAA-sanctioned drone test sites”[1]? In a word, Virginia Tech.  VT happens to be the home of the Virginia Center for Autonomous Systems (VaCAS), “an ICTAS/College of Engineering research center which facilitates interdisciplinary research in autonomous systems technology.”[2]  They even have their own drone test landing strip at Kentland farms just outside the town limits called the Kentland Experimental Aerial Systems (KEAS) laboratory.

But enough about research, let’s talk burrito-drones!

Being one of the larger software dev centers in Blacksburg, Racksburg (our nickname for Rackspace Blacksburg) was invited to come out and partake is this limited, by-invitation-only, test bed research event…and boy was it cool! They are not only researching and solving technical issues with the drone delivery tech itself, but are also figuring out things like: what kinds of orders are doable via drone, what kinds of prices consumers are willing to pay, what level of delivery fees people are most responsive to, and how often the sample clientele are most likely to use such a service (after the new/coolness factor has faded).

So here’s how the test incarnation of this unique food delivery trial run worked.

  1. drone_taking-ordersPlace your order:
    This will not be typical once implemented commercially, but in this test run we (the customers) drive to the delivery test venue, take a number to be called to the order kiosk (they’re making an App for this) and place your drone-burrito order. You can order burritos or burrito-bowls (around $6-7 ea). There is also a $6 fee per delivery. While a 100% surcharge is rather steep, a drone can fly two orders at a time so it’s good to find a partner to share the delivery fee.
  2. Relax and Snack While You Wait:
    drone_waiting1drone_waiting2While you wait for your order to be filled and delivered (which only takes between 6-10 minutes), you’re invited to sit and nosh on free chips, guac and drinks at either their canopy shielded picnic tables or their adirondack chair lounge area where you can watch the drones come and go. Pretty sweet!
  3. “Look! Here it Comes!”
    burrito-joy_captionI’ve got to say.. Drones are awesome, and most everyone loves a good burrito. But together , as one Racker expressed it you will “Experience Pure Burrito Joy!” He was so happy about getting to partake in this über yummy/geeky research project, that he rendered this intricate drawing of the experience. What more can I say!?  Oh, I guess we could show a narrated video of the experience:

     

  4. Enjoy!
    drone_eatingSo I don’t know if it was the burrito, the Garlic Cholulas they had on the table, or the whole drone-burrito-joy experience — but the Alphabet/Project Wing/Chipotle[3] experience  was truly magical. Here’s a selfie of my Racker buddy Dave Williams and I noshing on our air-mail delivered lunch (we split the drone delivery fee and so paid just $3 ea).
  5. Survey Research
    drone_surveysOf course as participants in Project Wing, we wanted to do our part by spending the 8-10 minutes needed for filling out their consumer research questionnaire. I recognized their multi-question, market research format by how they really drilled in to how much consumers would be willing to pay for such services, combined with a NPS style closing question formatted in a 0-10 scale of “would you recommend this service to a friend”.  I shared that I would be willing to pay $3-4 for such a service, but not more than that (even if it really was this quick), but that I would consider a $2 delivery fee to be a “good deal”. Here’s a shot of some other Rackers filling out their survey, still glowing with “pure burrito joy”.

Over all, Alphabet Inc’s Project Wing burrito drop was a really cool experience, and I was honored that Rackspace was invited to participate. I hope the university and Project Wing folks are able to use our feedback to refine this delivery system of the future…although there was a tongue and cheek joke when one Racker asked, “Can we get lounge chairs that hover so we don’t have to get up to pick up our burrito?” (a cutting narrative reference to what these types of services ultimately led to with regards to human narcissistic laziness in the futuristic Disney film Wall-E).drone_wall-e

Let’s all hope that projects and services like these end up bettering mankind and that our future mechanistic overlords don’t take advantage of this new dependency on them. 😉

All joking aside, most technology innovations like these make our lives that much more efficient and convenient. It’s up to us to make sure that we remember to use this extra time to get out, experience and enrich the amazing world in which we live— not use it to turn inward.

 

 

 

 

[1] “Delivery Drones to Be Tested in U.S.“, Bloomburg
[2]  VaCAS homepage
[3]  “Alphabet Teams Up With Chipotle For Project Wing Test: Drones Will Deliver Burritos To Virginia Tech “, Tech Times

 

 

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eLog Refugee Software Wins “Peoples Choice” Award in International Startup Competition in Blacksburg

IMG_9638_cEver year Rackspace Blacksburg supports an international team in the VT KnowledgeWorks Global Student Challenge. This year we hosted and worked with “Team eLog“, a couple of young UK entrepreneurs who had the idea of creating a software app and back-end system to help international refugees and immigrants track the voyage from their home land to their destination country.  It’s been determined that almost 90% of refugees actually have and use smart phones. This being the case, the would-be-immigrant simply downloads the eLog app,  inputs their vital stats, state and personal ID, birth certificates and documents.. and then uses the app to track their voyage to their destination. Once arriving at the destination country’s immigration or refugee processing office, they grant the immigration office access to their eLog account, GPS tagged travel history, country of origin, travel photos and other journey data, thus greatly reducing the work and delays of immigration processing while saving the destination country much of the time and labor of traditional paper-trail tracking and security checks.

IMG_9568_ccRackspace helped team eLog refine their pitch, think about other revenue models, and how to present their app as not just a war-time, distressed-country refugee tracking tool, but also as a peace time tool for moving standard immigrant documentation services from the 20th century into the 21st century paperless/GPS based journey and personal-ID documentation.

IMG_7596

Is that someone’s upside down head (bottom)?

After the competition and awards ceremony, eLog along with all the other international (and US) college teams all came back to Racksburg to party down and mingle with our local young professionals group. It was an awesome, rocking party that ended up being super eclectic (music wise) and a lot of fun.

If you’re interested in being a host company for a VT KnowledgeWorks student team, or would personally like to be a host family and invite a team into your home late next summer, contact the VT KnowledgeWorks folks and let them know. It’s a really fun and enlightening experience, not just for the students but for everyone involved.

 

 

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Performance Case Study Talk of Migrating to the Cloud

2016-09_CRC-Sig-Talk_Jimmy-cloud

For more info, see the VT-CRC Event Calendar Listing here: http://www.vtcrc.com/events/itsig9-16/

 

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Encryption Keysigning Party

 

 

 

2016-09_Keysigning-Poster

n00bs:  If you’ve never created an encryption keypair before (required  
before step-1), then you’ll first want to follow these easy step by step
directions for creating a solid set of encryption and signing keys.
(one should do this from the command line to grok what’s going on)

  1. RSVP Link: https://keyparty.vtcsec.org/ (please paste, do not type, your key fingerprint)
  2. Bring two forms of photo ID (one must be state/government issued)
  3. Print and bring the fingerprints roster:  https://keyparty.vtcsec.org/fingerprints.html (after verifying your own fingerprint is correct)

NOTE: Please do not bring a laptop. We do not actually sign keys at the party,
but only match and verify keys to identification. You will take home your
fingerprints paper sheet to download,
double check and sign all keys from home.

 

Background:

For the uninitiated, strong encryption is what allows one to secure their personal files, communications and papers. For example, if one wants to be able to email themselves or loan officers sensitive banking documents, correspond with the press or international co-horts securely, or just use strong encryption to protect personal files from prying eyes on their laptop or  thumb drive, then strong encryption is key.  Personal strong encryption is also what allows people like Edward Snowden, political dissidents, or other oppressed persons to securely communicate and prove the authenticity of their communications ( through authentication and non-repudiation) via “digital signatures“.

Keysigning is the action of one entity or person to validate (or sign) the public encryption key of another, therefore validating their identity as to be trusted.  The more keys you sign and who sign your key, the more “connections” you have to trust by extension.  Keysigning parties are the backbone activity required for those who desire to have/utilize this Web-of-Trust, to be used along with personal strong encryption.

 

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Tech Talk: Implementing Two-Factor Authentication at Virginia Tech – A Case Study

Abstract:
Two-factor authentication is a way of replacing simple passwords (something you know) with, for example, something you know plus something you have, such as a cell phone, electronic key or security device.  Two-factor auth is being implemented at Virginia Tech because higher education is increasingly becoming a target for hackers. They are after intellectual property, personal information, and financial information; and the attacks are more sophisticated than in the past. The goal of Virginia Tech’s 2-Factor Authentication Program is to increase security surrounding online systems and applications by implementing 2-factor authentication for “everyone, everything.” 2-factor will be the default, and one-factor the exception. 40,000+ users are expected to enroll by Fall, 2016.

Where: Rackspace in the CRC, 1691 Innovation Dr, Blacksburg VA 24060  (map)
When: May 26th, 5:30pm
Cost: Free (RSVP here)

 

Speaker Bio:

Dunker_IMG_9190A graduate of Hollins University, Ms. Dunker began her IT career as a systems programmer at Virginia Tech in 1978.  With an extensive background in operating systems support, she became involved in efforts to secure the university’s information technology infrastructure as Director of Secure Enterprise Technology Initiatives (SETI) in 2003, earning the SANS GIAC Security Essentials Certification in 2004. Today, she directs Secure Identity Services and is responsible for setting direction for initiatives that include identity management and assurance, secure middleware and authentication, Enterprise Directory integration and support, PKI, and software development testing.

Mary chaired the InCommon Assurance Advisory Committee in 2012 and 2013. She has co-chaired the EDUCAUSE Higher Information Security Council Information Security Guide Editorial Board and the EDUCAUSE/Internet2 Security Task Force Effective Practices and Solutions Working Group.

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Behind The Scenes of Robert Scoble’s Tour of Blacksburg Tech Companies

Our regional tech community was honored to recently have internet blogger and technology futurist Robert Scoble come to town. While here he gave a “Beyond Mobile” technology talk for the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council and toured several of our region’s many technology success stories – or success stories in the making.
Aeroprobe Logo-01

First up in our technology tour was Aeroprobe, the well established aeronautical instrumentation and materials research lab located in the Falling Branch Corporate Park in Christiansburg. The company CEO Nanci Hardwick was our host and showed us the two hot areas of technical innovation that her company invented:

Aeroprobe_omniprobe0

  • Unique air flow measurement instrumentation for aerospace, automotive, and other airflow test industries
  • 3D deposition metal printing (using Additive Friction Stir Deposition technology)

IMG_20160125_101237_404_cAeroprobe is already well known in the industry for their cutting edge aerospace and innovative  air speed and turbulence detection probes, however their new innovative 3D additive metal printing technology yields almost all the advantages of caste and milled metal parts without all the time and expense of tooling parts out of block stock materials. Additionally, their technology can now also print very large custom parts that previously would have been unfeasible or impossible.  These advantages not only bring together a huge savings in time, costs and a new level of custom parts flexibility, but also introduces new areas of mixed metals research that could not even be explored until now. Continue reading

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RBTC and Rackspace Present Robert Scoble, “Beyond Mobile” Talk, Jan 25th

scoble_BW

Talk Summary:

Over the next decade we will look at our smartphone screens less and less as we use things like Magic Leap more and more. Augmented Reality is coming. Virtual Reality will take entertainment minutes away. Even if you use your mobile phone’s screen to watch a virtual reality event, it will be quite a different experience than staring down at a mobile phone in your hands.

Plus, you will look at, and interact with your world quite differently thanks to beacons, Internet of Things, new kinds of sensors and artificial intelligence systems to fuse data, analyze it, and present it in new ways.

Think this is science fiction? I’ll bring you a number of companies that are bringing futuristic technologies to you today, including in airports, football stadiums, and shopping malls.

We will talk about how cloud is everywhere in this new world and the trends that are soon to be hitting us, whether in self driving cars or augmented reality glasses, and how our businesses need to prepare now.

Continue reading

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titanfall1Last month Jon Shiring of Respawn Entertainment gave a Public Tech Talk about online game servers and system design, as well as what it took to create a popular (scalable) online multiplayer game in the cloud with Titanfall. Among the topics he covered:

  • Client vs datacenter hosted servers, bandwidth, server CPU, and why it matters
  • Cloud vs “bare metal” hosting for games
  • How Titanfall used the Azure cloud and Xbox Live Compute to exclusively power a AAA online game
  • How Respawn’s custom backend allows cloud servers to fluidly scale up and down
  • How Titanfall’s matchmaking works
  • The value of speed in updating an online game
  • Patching a live game with no scheduled downtime
  • How game certification on patches can create worse experiences, and how you can benefit by sidestepping certification

Please enjoy this video replay of the event and stay tuned to the Racksburg blog for news of upcoming events!

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Public Talk: Security for ‘Internet of Things’: Physical Attacks and Countermeasures

Abstract:
mobilelockchain+cutters

As our culture begins buying more and more Internet enabled devices for our person, in our cars, homes and office systems; we are  wading deeper and deeper into the vulnerable, untested waters of “Internet of Things” (IoT) security.  We are now seeing in the news that the safety of our embedded devices are at higher and higher risk of being “hacked”, and little is being with regards to IoT device security until after such systems are hacked and in the news.In this talk, we will cover several types of Physical Attacks that IoT hardware designers and users should all know about.

nest-p0wn3dIn this talk, we will cover several types of Physical Attacks that IoT hardware designers should know about. Physical attacks are a type of cryptanalysis, or the analysis of information systems in order to discover the hidden aspects of devices and systems using their implementation properties. Fault Injection is the force used to change the physical behavior of the running device to discover additional security information or ways into the system. Physical attack
and fault injection research is critical because it is a preferred low cost attack method used by both black hats to discover new IoT/hardware/software attack vectors, as well as by white hats to help discover and address these vulnerabilities early in the design cycle before the get to market.
The more physical attack research that is done on IoT devices, the safer we all will be.

Speaker Bio:
Nahid-photo
Nahid Farhady Ghalaty is a fourth year PhD. candidate at the Bradley department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Virginia Tech. Her research is mainly focused on physical cryptanalysis, secure embedded systems, new directions in hardware security, specifically fault attacks and side channel attacks and countermeasures. She received her BS degree in software engineering from Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz, and her MS degree in computer architecture from Sharif University of Technology. Her MS research was on reliability and fault tolerant embedded system designs. She has been the recepient of the best paper in session award at SRC TECHcon 2015. She has been also the recipient of the best poster and presentation award in the Center for Embedded Systems for Critical Applications (CESCA) at 2014 and 2015. She is the author of several papers in international conferences including DATE, FDTC, HOST, COSADE, etc. She has also served as a reviewer to several conferences and journals including FDTC, DAC, CHES and DATE.

 

 

 

 

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Public Talk: Multiplayer Games in the Cloud

titanfall1

Jon Shiring of Respawn Entertainment is going to be talking about online game servers and system design, as well as what it took to create a popular (scalable) online multiplayer game in the cloud with Titanfall. He will be covering:

  • Client vs datacenter hosted servers, bandwidth, server CPU, and why it matters
  • Cloud vs “bare metal” hosting for games
  • How Titanfall used the Azure cloud and Xbox Live Compute to exclusively power a AAA online game
  • How Respawn’s custom backend allows cloud servers to fluidly scale up and down
  • How Titanfall’s matchmaking works
  • The value of speed in updating an online game
  • Patching a live game with no scheduled downtime
  • How game certification on patches can create worse experiences, and how you can benefit by sidestepping certification

Where: (map) https://goo.gl/pauYMi 

When: 6-8pm

Cost: Free

 

About Jon:
jon_headshot_belgiumAfter graduating from Virginia Tech in 2000, Jon started working in games in 2001. Fairly in-over-his-head, he managed to ship a multiplayer-only game called Savage: The Battle for Newerth in 2003 at S2 Games, and then joined Infinity Ward in 2004. At Infinity Ward he worked almost exclusively on multiplayer and shipped Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Modern Warfare 2. In 2010, Jon and large group of Infinity Ward employees started Respawn Entertainment, where he is now a Lead Programmer. He shipped Titanfall in 2014 on Xbox One and PC, which used a massive amount of Azure cloud-based servers to host the game servers. He is eager to talk about Titanfall’s online tech and ready to answer your meanest questions as best as he can.

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