Nexus S
Small commodity satellites could be built from core Nexus S technology

A team of Google engineers and University of California, Santa Cruz students recently launched a number of Samsung Nexus S smartphones into the atmosphere -- attached to helium-filled weather balloons -- to see how the devices' various sensors would hold up in "a freezing cold near-vacuum" near the edge of space, New Scientist reports.

Seven styrofoam beer coolers were fitted with a Nexus S, mounted with its camera facing outwards through a plastic cut-out in the side. Some of the coolers were also fitted with wide-angle sport cameras to capture the on-screen action of the Android-based smartphones. The coolers were then rigged up to helium-filled weather balloons and released.

The experiment was more of a do-it-yourself, "let's see what happens" one, rather than a scientific, Google-sanctioned test. Upon the return of the crafts, the team read the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass data to calculate the forces the rigs underwent. The Nexus S devices were also running apps like Google SkyMap to see how they would function further away from Earth's surface. 

After about three hours and some 32,000 feet in altitude, the balloons started to pop and fall back to the earth. Aided by small orange parachutes, the boxes took approximately 20-30 minutes to make their soft landings. Each box had been fitted with a GPS tracking device to help locate it upon completion of its trip. Two days later, all but one of the rigs were found.

The Nexus S devices, in fact, survived the trip intact and still functioning. Video of the screens shows that the apps worked properly, too. A product manager for Nexus S told New Scientist that space is in Google's future. He said Google is in discussions with a UK-based satellite manufacturer to build "commodity" satellites based on core Nexus S technology. 

Additional launches are already in the works.

In other Google news, Voice Search is getting personal. "When we launched Voice Search more than two years ago, we wanted it to “just work” right out of the box, without an initial setup process," reads a post on the Google Mobile blog. "But we always knew we could build a more accurate model by listening to your voice, and learning how you -- as a unique individual -- speak. So today we’re launching personalized recognition."

Upon launching the new version of Voice Search, users will be prompted to turn on personalized recognition, which associates recordings of words users personally want Google to recognize, and then builds a speech model based on those words. The specific speech model is tied to a Google account, and can be turned on and off through the Google dashboard. 

"This speech model enables us to deliver greater recognition accuracy. Although subtle, accuracy improvements begin fairly quickly and will build over time," the blog says.

Currently, personalized recognition is only available in English in the United States, but other languages and countries are in the works. The updated Voice Search is available to download for free from the Android Market, but it is only compatible with Android 2.2-based devices and higher. 

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer
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