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TechScape: Vint Cerf on the InterPlanet

To Mars and beyond...

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Of course they were motivated by a rather intense interest in the military, battlefield and tactical applications of such a communications technology; just as the internet held their attention for many of the same reasons.

DARPA funded the initial research into the InterPlaNet to the tune of approximately $500,000.

Cerf credits many people and initiatives for contributing to this development including The Center for Embedded Network Sensing at UCLA which is headed by Deborah Estrin a renowned figure in Silicon Valley networking circles; and some joint work done at UC Berkeley in cooperation with Intel.

Meanwhile, Cerf and crew have been looking at more Earth-bound ways to generate solutions to cosmic complications; low satellite angles to connect, for instance. Even precipitation can cause a problem when connecting. “I’ve spent some time above the Arctic Circle recently,” Cerf reveals.

It turns out that the areas around the North Pole have good potential for addressing the low satellite angle issue (not to mention the “precipitation problem”) and provided a good test bed for Cerf.

“I was working with the Sami people, a group of indigenous reindeer herders in Lapland.”

Lapland extends from northern Norway to the Kola Peninsula in Russia. The Sami are nomadic people who are always on the move; consequently there are few Sami towns but rather communities which are highly-mobile. Estimated Sami population figures are: 25,000 in Norway, 17,000 in Sweden, 4,000 in Finland and 2,000 in Russia.

Working with the University of Lulea in northern Sweden, Cerf installs laptops with 802.11 capabilities on their snowmobiles. I had to chuckle at the image of the Samis cruising around the tundra with better, more consistent access to a connection than I enjoy in London.

“Testing on Earth,” Cerf avows, “is so important, before we send something out into space which cannot be modified later.” Good point.

So Cerf’s InterPlaNet and DDTN protocol has now evolved into an integral part of the communications system for the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle while the orbiter system is in full-swing and rapidly expanding. “There will be three orbiters around Mars,” Cerf proudly exclaimed, “the last one just launched and will take seven to eight months to get there.”

In conclusion, what I thought was a pipe-dream several years ago has now turned into reality with the subsequent Mars missions by both NASA and now the European Space Agency dropping off the necessary IP hardware, software and antennae to begin to transmit data from Mars more expediently, more efficiently in terms of power consumption and more clearly in terms of interference.

Bill Robinson has appeared on CNN, PBS, Bloomberg and had his own segment on SKY News commenting on high-tech and marketing issues and has written columns and articles for FORTUNE Small Business, The Financial Times, Marketing Magazine (UK), Forbes.com, The Moscow Times, Cisco Systems iQ Magazine, United Airline's Hemispheres Magazine and Upside Magazine. Bill may be reached at: bill@relentlessmarketing.com

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