In today’s Bulldog wrapup of technology and science news:
- AT&T revamps wireless plans
- A giant helium-filled airship takes to skies
- “Mr. Robot” now a videogame (watch video)
- Railroad safety upgrades lacking
AT&T hikes prices for some plans, but raises data caps
AT&T is joining Verizon in raising the prices of some of its data plans.
As with Verizon, AT&T is going to great lengths to avoid calling the changes a price hike, as the higher prices come with more data, reducing the cost per gigabyte for many customers. Indeed many customers will benefit, and those who won’t can keep their existing plans.
The price increase underscores how wireless companies see data as a way to boost revenue. Most plans now come with unlimited calls and texts.
The new rates take effect Sunday. AT&T customers who want to keep their existing plansdon’t need to do anything. They can still add lines to their account, but won’t be able to change data levels without switching to the new rates.
AT&T’s efforts to simplify its plans include standardizing the “access charge” that customers pay on top of data charges. That’s the voice and text portion of the monthly service bill. Now, customers will pay $20 a month per line, unless they still have a discounted phone under two-year contracts, which wireless companies are phasing out. Before, the access charge was $25 for smaller data plans and $15 for larger ones.
Customers on larger data plans will now pay more for access, but will get comparable or greater reductions in the data rates. In fact, families on plans of 20 gigabytes or more will likely see signification reductions in their phone bills.
That’s not the case with smaller plans, as phone companies try to push customers into larger tiers to boost revenue. Those on smaller data plans will generally pay $10 a month more for data, offset by a $5-per-line reduction in the access charge. That’s a net increase of $5 for individuals, though those prices come with at least 20 percent moredata.
But there’s one case where customers get less. For $30, customers used to get 2 gigabytes of data. Now, that price comes with 1 gigabyte. Those customers will still benefit from the $5-per-line reduction.
Regardless of the data level, Dallas-based AT&T Inc. is eliminating charges for exceeding monthly data caps, at least for those who do switch to the new rates. The charge was typically $15 per gigabyte over. Now, AT&T will slow down speeds instead after the capis reached. The slower speeds will be fine for email and basic status updates on Facebook, but photos will be difficult and streaming video nearly impossible.
Verizon also eliminated charges for exceeding caps when it raised prices last month, though for those on smaller data plans, customers have to pay a $5 a month “safety” fee to avoid such charges. There’s no extra fee with AT&T. Sprint and T-Mobile also slow down speeds instead of charging for exceeding caps, without imposing any safety fee.
Last year, T-Mobile raised its rates as well, while calling them greater values with more data.
- Giant helium-filled airship Airlander takes off
A blimp-shaped, helium-filled airship considered the world’s largest aircraft flew for the first time Wednesday with a short but historic jaunt over an airfield in central England.
Engines roaring, the 302-foot (92-meter) Airlander 10 rose slowly into the air from Cardington airfield, 45 miles (73 kilometers) north of London.
A hybrid of blimp, helicopter and airplane, it can stay aloft for days at a time and has been nicknamed the “flying bum” because of its bulbous front end.
The stately aircraft performed a circuit of the area — watched by hundreds of local people who had parked their cars around the perimeter of the airfield — before touching down about half an hour later as dusk fell.
The Airlander is designed to use less fuel than a plane, but carry heavier loads than conventional airships. Its developer, Hybrid Air Vehicles, says it can reach 16,000 feet (4,900 meters), travel at up to 90 mph (148 kph) and stay aloft for up to two weeks.
“It’s a great British innovation,” said chief executive Stephen McGlennan. “It’s a combination of an aircraft that has parts of normal fixed-wing aircraft, it’s got helicopter, it’s got airship.”
The aircraft was initially developed for the U.S. military, which planned to use it for surveillance in Afghanistan. The U.S. blimp program was scrapped in 2013 and since then Hybrid Air Vehicles, a small British aviation firm that dreams of ushering in a new era for airships, has sought funding from government agencies and individual donors.
The vast aircraft is based at Cardington, where the first British airships were built during and after World War I. That program was abandoned after a 1930 crash that killed almost 50 people, including Britain’s air minister.
- ‘Mr. Robot’ mobile game launches
“Mr. Robot” is now a video game.
A fake messaging app inspired by the USA Network hacker drama was released Wednesday for mobile devices.
“Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltratiOn” casts players as a stranger who finds a mysterious smartphone and begins communicating with the show’s characters through an apppublished by the fictional E-Corp.
The game was developed by “Oxenfree” creators Night School Studio and published byTelltale Games . The app’s developers worked on “1.51exfiltratiOn” with “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail and show writer Kor Adana.
“Working hand in hand with Sam, series writer Kor Adana and Universal Cable Productions, we’ve created an opportunity for players to meaningfully interact with characters like Elliot, Darlene and Cisco, truly feeling like they’re joining the hack at a critical moment in the TV series,” said Night School Studio co-founder Sean Krankel. “As fans, it’s nothing short of a dream come true for us.”
The developers say the game takes place over the course of a week.
The popular moody hacker series stars Rami Malek as anti-social computer programmer Elliot Alderson and Christian Slater as the cryptic Mr. Robot. The show is currently in its second season.
Watch a video at:
- Railroads show little progress on key safety technology
Many commuter and freight railroads have made little progress installing safety technology designed to prevent deadly collisions and derailments despite a mandate from Congress, according to a government report released Wednesday.
The technology, called positive train control or PTC, uses digital radio communications, GPS and signals alongside tracks to monitor train positions. It can automatically stop or slow trains to prevent them from disobeying signals, derailing due to excessive speed, colliding with another train or entering track that is off-limits.
The Federal Railroad Administration report shows that while some railroads have made substantial progress, others have yet to equip a single locomotive or track segment with the technology, or install a single radio tower.