Th Dutch Postal Service (PostNL) has introduced a kind of post stamp: digital post stamps. In the Netherlands, people are sending fewer and fewer letters and so fewer people have post stamp in-house. So if you has to send a letter, you need to go a shop to buy an entire sheet of post stamps (the last time I have bought post stamps, has been five years ago or so). It’s not possible to buy single stamps.
However, PostNL has come with a solution. People can now download an app on their cell phone. With this app they can buy a code, instead of putting a stamp you write that code on your letter’s envelope. The code is scant at the post center and recognised as stamp. The code is made up of nine numbers and letters (which gives more than 10 billion combinations, so the chance to guess a valid code are nill).
For those who are able to read Dutch: http://nos.nl/artikel/509787-postzegel-niet-meer-nodig-met-app.html (If you cannot read Dutch, you can use Google Translate; although this wouldn’t give you a fully correct translation, however it’s mostly understandable).
A few days ago I read in my newspaper an article about the use of smart phones in satellites. According to the article, engineers of NASA during a brainstorm session were contemplating that an on board computer of the new generation of small satellites, the smart spheres, should be small, efficient with energy, should have integrated sensors and a usual operating system. The story goes that at a certain moment someone, while the engineers were checking their email on their cell phones, came with the suggestion that modern mobile phones just fit the requirements of said on board computer.
In order to make the smart spheres, of which three are now on board of the ISS, the engineers removed the GSM chip (there is no need that they should be able to make phone calls anyway). The smart ones selected by NASA are based on the android operating system of Google. Because this platform can easily be connected to external components, building a functional satellite is in reach of almost everyone. Another advantage of this approach is that there are tens of thousands people who are android app developers.
The question is whether this “break through” is beneficial for space colonization. The answer is simple: yes. Because smart phones are mass produced, they are relatively cheap. According to the article, the production of the phonestat 2 (a related project, also build around a smart phone computer), costed only 8,000 dollar. Further, this approach is fully in compliance of our policy of using off the shelve components as much as possible. The philosophy behind this policy, is that by using off the shelve components space colonization will not be only cheaper, it will also be faster. This because we do not have to waste our time be developing every part we need, and why reinventing the wheel over and over again?
Modern smart phones, especially those with an open source operating system (this also will help to lower costs), will help to make space colonization reality.