News in Brief

Mobile usage, a PTO nominee and NASA's data swap

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch, September 2014

NASA captured data from SpaceX's recent launch of the private space firm's Falcon 9 rocket.

Mobile usage continues to narrow digital divide

Using data from previous Census Bureau surveys, a report by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration found that increased use of mobile devices has nearly bridged the "digital divide," the technology gap traditionally found between socioeconomic groups.

The report, "Exploring the Digital Nation: Embracing the Mobile Internet," found that mobile phone use among families with incomes below $25,000 and among disabled Americans each increased by 4 percentage points, increasing from from 73 percent to 77 percent and from 68 percent to 72 percent, respectively.

"The whirlwind rise of sophisticated mobile devices and high-speed wireless networks is transforming the Internet and how our society interacts with it," the report said. "Americans are rapidly embracing mobile technologies and the opportunities they create. In fact, adoption of mobile Internet is proceeding faster than earlier technologies, including the television."

Differences in mobile phone adoption between minorities and whites were all but non-existent from 2011 to 2012 -- the report found that 87 percent of African Americans and Hispanics used mobile phones, compared with 88 percent of whites.

Similarly, older generations increased their mobile phone usage by 4 percentage points, and rural populations increased by 5 percentage points.

New director tapped for Patent Office

Michelle Lee, deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as director of the agency. The post has been vacant for about two years.

In the post, subject to Senate confirmation, Lee would be in charge of PTO's 10,000 employees and inherit a 600,000 patent application backlog.

Lee came to the PTO in January from California, where she was serving as the first director of the Silicon Valley office.

Prior to joining PTO, Lee served as deputy general counsel at Google, and was the company's first head of patents and patent strategy.

NASA, SpaceX team up to share data

NASA has forged an "innovative partnership" with SpaceX that gives the agency an early "look at what it would take to land multi-ton habitats and supply caches on Mars for human explorers," Aviation Week & Space Technology reports.

NASA engineers are collecting data "on supersonic retropropulsion that may one day lower payloads the size of two-story buildings to the surface of Mars." The private firm, in turn, gets infrared imagery to help it develop a reusable launch vehicle.

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