Solar-powered computer for $35 or less

Developers in India have announced an iPad clone that costs only $35. Capable of basic web surfing, video conferencing, and word processing and using a Linux operating system, the cut-rate computer is targeted at India’s student population.

India has been undergoing an information technology boom for more than a decade now, and the most popular degree for students is in computer science.

Since the computer is still a prototype, it’s not clear what the cost will be when it finally goes on the market. The target is $35, but that may go as low as $10 with a few tweaks and the help of mass production.

The Indian Institute of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science, who developed the device, announced that international investors are interested in producing it for commercial distribution.

This could make the perfect travel computer–cheap enough that it doesn’t matter if it gets broken or stolen, and no need for a power converter and voltage regulator. Could this be the essential travel tool of the future? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

Photo of an iPad is courtesy Glenn Fleishman via Wikimedia Commons.

Museums scramble for retiring space shuttles

NASA has set the date for the last Space Shuttle launch at February 26, 2011, and as an era comes to a close, museums around the country are fighting to get their hands on one of the retiring vessels.

The Space Shuttle Discovery is earmarked for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. It has graciously agreed to give up the shuttle it already has–the Enterprise, which was used for testing but never flew into space. Besides the Enterprise, Shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour will also be available for museums.

The scramble for a Shuttle has not always been polite. A total of twenty-one institutions in almost as many states are competing for them, and Congressmen from Florida and Texas tried to get wording put in NASA’s latest funding bill that would give their states preferential treatment. The House Committee on Science and Technology rejected that move.

What museums do you think should get a shuttle? Give us your vote in the comments section!

Photo of the Space Shuttle Atlantis taken from above courtesy of NASA.

Solar plane flies nonstop for a week

We recently reported on the historic flight of the Solar Impulse, the first solar-powered plane to fly through the night. Now another barrier has been broken. The Zephyr solar plane has flown nonstop for seven days.

Unlike the Solar Impulse, which carried a pilot, the Zephyr is an unmanned drone built by the UK defense firm Qinetiq. Drones have seen extensive service in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years but are hampered by the need to return for refueling and thus losing sight of targets. Drones that never need to land have an obvious advantage. The civilian potential is obvious too, with researchers already thinking up applications for using them for scientific observation.

This development also marks another step forward for potential solar-powered commercial flight. The Zephyr has solar cells along its 22.5 meter (74 ft) wingspan that drive the propellers and fill batteries that are robust enough to power the plane from sunset to sunrise. Will we one day see solar-powered commercial flights? It may be a long way off, but considering the rapid pace of technological change, it’s unwise to say that anything is impossible.

The Zephyr is still in the air near the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona and its support team plans to leave it flying for another week.