Sunday, January 6, 2013

Toyota, Audi driverless demos will pull up to CES - Phys.Org

(â€"While the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas starting January 8 will be full of mobile-computing gadgetry next week, autonomous driving demonstrations will also capture visitors' attention, and will raise awareness that autonomous driving technologies are to shape the future of road transport, sooner than later. Toyota has delivered a video clip that shows a self-drive prototype with gear on its grille and on its roof, ahead of CES.

The car is a 2013 Lexus LS carrying equipment that includes on-board radar and to monitor the road and the driver. Toyota's driverless features involve car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure technologies.

The cameras and radar equipment can detect , lane lines and other vehicles. The technology aims to prevent crashesâ€"a Toyota spokesman said zero collisions are the goal. The car can be driver-assisted or completely self-driving. When a driver is at the wheel, Toyota's technology could boost safety by detecting obstacles or alerting the driver if the driver is falling asleep.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Lexus advanced active safety research vehicle

Toyota refers to its "Intelligent Transport Systems" technology. As part of the ITS concept, beacons detect the positions of pedestrians and obstacles and relay information to the vehicle, on whether a traffic light is green or red. Toyota plans to say more about its autonomous driving technology at a press conference at CES. The vehicle will be shown at the Lexus display.

Toyota's announcement indicates how car-makers want to follow the limelight that was already captured by Google in its development of a fully tested on . Last year, the granted Google a license to test its self-driving on its roads. In addition to Toyota, the CES event will include a demonstration by Audi on its autonomous driving developments, including a feature that allows a car to find a parking space and park itself.

Last year, Volvo tested a self-drive convoy on a Spanish motorway, completing a 125-mile trip, in the first public test of such convoy vehicles.

At the Continental Automotive Group, system suppliers, Dr. Elmar Degenhart, chairman of the executive board, said that it is clear that mobility in the future will include automated driving. As a system supplier, he said, the company is positioned to launch solutions for partially automated systems for customers by 2016.

A report from KPMG and the Center for Automotive Research similarly said that driverless cars are coming sooner than consumers may think. "The next generation of driver-assist systems will likely offer greater vehicle autonomy at lower speeds and may reduce the incidence of low-impact crashes. For example, traffic jam assist solutions work at speeds up to 37 mph."

While car manufacturers working on driverless features emphasize the upside of safety and a reduction in collisions, 's Larry Page recently brought up another reason why driverless cars may be a beneficial development in the future of cars. He brought up economics. "Do you really want to use all your concrete and steel to build parking lots? It seems pretty stupid. If we have automated cars, or even if we have some fraction of automated cars, we'll save hundreds of millions of dollars on parking," he told Fortune. In his suggested scenario, the autonomous car can drop the driver off to the office, then park itself. Later, the worker's smartphone detects when the driver is leaving the office and proceeds immediately to pick up the driver.

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© 2013

CES 2013: Microsoft notably absent from Las Vegas show - The Guardian

Workers at the Las Vegas convention centre prepare for the opening of CES 2013
Workers at the Las Vegas convention centre prepare for the opening of CES 2013. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters

The brash promise of Las Vegas - what happens there, stays there - never seems apposite for the Consumer Electronics Show which opens this week in the city of sin. The whole idea of CES is that manufacturers such as Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and LG show off their brightest, noisiest, and coolest gadgets, and that the press then trumpets these triumphs to a world eager for the latest on OLED 55-inch smart TVs with integral ethernet.

The reality, however, is two giant aircraft hangars full of bright sales people whose enthusiasm bounces off an increasingly weary army of corporate buyers, journalists and bloggers looking for the next big thing. The problem is that every year the next big thing turns out not to be what consumers end up buying.

Last year, for example the NBTs were ultrabooks (shiny, thin, light laptops), 3D TVs and TVs that could run apps and connect to the internet. But ultrabooks made little impact (people kept buying cheaper, bulkier laptops) and as for 3D TVs â€" well, have the headaches from the time you tried it in the shop eased yet? Smart TVs have actually sold, but the research group NPD found only 15% were then plugged directly into the internet, and barely any were used for apps.

But that's par for the course. In 2011 it was Motorola's "iPad killer" Xoom tablet, Motorola's Atrix phone which - gasp! - was so powerful it could also work as a desktop PC, and BlackBerry maker RIM's "iPad killer" PlayBook tablet. The Atrix has vanished, the Xoom and the PlayBook almost have, while the iPad has sailed on. Only in 2012 did it get real competition from Amazon's Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus 7.

When it comes to really big things, nothing beats Samsung's stand, which is more a football field. Every year the Korean electronics company vies with Asian rivals LG, Sony and Panasonic to get the biggest space, and makes sure the comparison is blatant by pitching close by. Samsung spent about $11bn (£6.8bn) worldwide on marketing last year, compared with $3bn for Coca-Cola and around $1bn for Apple. At CES, it shows.

This year's show will be the first since 1995 in which the head of Microsoft - once Bill Gates, now Steve Ballmer - isn't giving the keynote speech. In fact, Microsoft won't even exhibit at the show, a definite sign of the times in which the PC is giving way to the smartphone and tablet. The launch of Windows 8 last October seems to have got off to a slow start, and the big thing announced by Microsoft in 2011 - a version of Windows that would run on smartphone-style chips - has only just sputtered into view with the Surface tablet, of which about 700,000 are reckoned to have sold. In a market where millions are the starting gambit, that's not good.

Where, you might wonder, are other big names such as Apple or Google? Apple has never exhibited there. Until 2009, it used to announce its new gewgaws down the road at exactly the same time as CES, leaving the Vegas press room a ghost town for the first few days. But Google will be there as Android smartphones and tablets continue their assault on the mobile computing world. CES used to be Microsoft's fiefdom, but it might turn into Google's.

Inevitably, no gathering of more than three people and a TV camera is complete without an appearance by He appeared last year for Intel to tout ultrabooks and this time he's got his own keynote, alongside various grandees from Panasonic and mobile chipmaker Qualcomm.

Roulette, blackjack, giant shows, a replica of the Eiffel tower - Vegas truly has it all. Until last year, it also had CES overlapping with the Adult Entertainment Expo - in other words, the world's biggest (in most senses) porn stars. Now it's the week after - a serious disappointment to some tech executives who liked to get away from the show floor. The bus drivers are happy though: no chance of getting assigned to the "wrong" conference and missing out on the "fun" passengers.

What's this year's big thing? As is clear from tech news site ZDNet's preview, nobody knows. Smart vacuum cleaners? Mobile apps to control your home? A new top-end smartphone from Samsung? (Probably not. It will save that for Mobile World Congress at the end of February.)

And what is last year's big thing that will actually turn out to be this year's big thing? On the basis that you have to look back a year or two, the growth of apps is a surefire one. Tablet apps that connect to home automation and your car seem a good guess. And as an outlier, it's just possible that 3D printing, which can "print" replacement plastic parts for broken items or entire items at home, may just start to edge into use. It could be the next big thing that's actually just a little thing.

Library of Congress Twitter Collection: 170 Billion Tweets Strong - PC Magazine

Twitter Logo

When future generations look back to get a general sense of the zeitgeist from the past six years or so, they'll have plenty of digital information to look at – it'll just be limited to 140 characters or less.

At least, that's the premise put forth by the "Twitter collection" at the Library of Congress. If you've been curious about how much data the Library has amassed as part of its plan to archive all public tweets, first announced in April 2010, the Library has a pretty beefy number that it's now able to announce: 170 billion tweets.

Just to put that number into a bit of perspective, the Library received around 140 million tweets for archiving – each day – in Feb. 2011. The pipe expanded to approximately half a billion daily tweets by Oct. 2012, and it stands to reason that the Library will likely be processing even more tweets on a daily basis going forward.

"The Library's first objectives were to acquire and preserve the 2006-10 archive; to establish a secure, sustainable process for receiving and preserving a daily, ongoing stream of tweets through the present day; and to create a structure for organizing the entire archive by date," wrote director of communications Gayle Osterberg in a Friday blog post.

With those goals achieved, the Library now plans to tackle the equally large elephant in the room: How to process and display this volume of Twitter posts so they can be accessed by researchers, "in a comprehensive, useful way." Interest in the Library's Twitter archives – ranging from research about citizen journalism and elected officials tweets to stock market predictions – has generated approximately 400 inquiries from researchers thus far, and that's even before the Library has been able to grant any kind of access to its 170 billion-large tweet archive.

"Twitter is a new kind of collection for the Library of Congress but an important one to its mission," Osterberg wrote. "As society turns to social media as a primary method of communication and creative expression, social media is supplementing, and in some cases supplanting, letters, journals, serial publications and other sources routinely collected by research libraries."

For more tech tidbits from David Murphy, follow him on Facebook or Twitter (@thedavidmurphy).

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CES expects to be evolutionary - San Francisco Chronicle

More than 150,000 people are expected to descend on Las Vegas this week, all hoping to find which of the 20,000 new products at the world's biggest consumer electronics trade show is the next latest, greatest revolution in technology.

Yet the 2013 International CES figures to be more of a showcase for incremental evolutions of TVs, phones, tablets and other gadgets rather than the start of any revolution.

"We'll see no breakthrough product," said Silicon Valley analyst Tim Bajarin, a veteran of many a CES.

Organizers of the four-day show, which opens Tuesday, expect attendance to be at least the same as last year, when a record 156,000 people crowded into Las Vegas, even though the Consumer Electronics Show is also undergoing an evolutionary transition.

Last year, Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer delivered the last of the company's 15 consecutive CES kickoff speeches. Whether it was from Ballmer or Chairman Bill Gates, the Microsoft presentation was always the glamour event, meant to set the stage for the rest of the show.

This year, that honor belongs to Paul Jacobs, CEO of wireless technology giant Qualcomm, a brand average consumers probably know only because the San Diego company bought the naming rights to the football stadium in its hometown.

Mobile focus

Jacobs' theme is "Born Mobile," which fits with the trend of consumers rapidly shifting away from Microsoft's desktop PC domain to technology they can hold in their hands and take anywhere.

Like tablet computers. Each of the past three or four years, tech pundits have predicted that tablets would be everywhere at CES (and yes, even we called the 2011 show "the year of the tablet").

Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies of Campbell, said this year's CES could even be "the pinnacle tablet show" because of an influx of about 70 tablets, many from China, costing $79 to $99.

"These are no-name tablets, but what that suggests is there is a massive move toward low-cost tablets this year," he said.

And that, in turn, could wipe out interest in some of the 7-inch e-book readers that were darlings of CES past, because tablets are "pretty much affordable for everybody," he said.

Sometimes technology evolves so quickly, one blinks and it's over. It was only a few years ago, at the 2010 CES, that 23 companies were generating buzz in a new exhibit dedicated to e-readers. Those included companies like Mountain View's Plastic Logic, which never even got a product into the hands of consumers.

Auto tech

It's not all about gadgets. The organizer of the show, the industry trade group Consumer Electronics Association, expects about 20,000 products, including cloud-based services, to be introduced at the show. And there are more automakers at the show than ever to present technology that connects the data cloud to those cars.

One area featuring health and fitness technologies has expanded by 25 percent and will include more than 220 companies offering health-monitoring devices and apps. Also larger than last year is an area called Eureka Park, which showcases startups and entrepreneurs.

As always, it wouldn't be CES without TV manufacturers promising products that are bigger, smaller, brighter, faster, sharper, thinner and smarter, although probably not cheaper.

The big push this year is Ultra HD, supposedly the next generation of HDTV technology. Also known as 4K, Ultra HD displays use about 4,000 pixels, compared with the 1,080 pixels on the now-common 1080p monitors. Westinghouse has already said it plans to unveil a 110-inch Ultra HD monitor at CES.

One major drawback is that there's not enough content available to watch in Ultra HD.

But "once you get to that high level of resolution, you can do interesting things with the glass itself," said Bajarin. Picture, he said, an ultra-thin glass monitor with all the electrical circuits hidden in the base.

Vertical TV

South Korea's Samsung has teased tech pundits by posting a hint of what it will present: a photo of a translucent TV monitor in portrait mode, that is, positioned vertically instead of the standard horizontal mode of an HDTV screen.

The Verge website translated the blog post to read, "A true innovation of TV design is coming up with an unprecedented new TV shape and timeless design."

What that means is anyone's guess, but Samsung is already benefiting from the hype. And hype is part and parcel of CES.

The show is not open to consumers. In fact, the CEA has renamed the 45-year-old event "International CES" to emphasize the fact that it is meant for tech industry analysts, retail electronics buyers and executives and investors. There are more than 5,000 journalists registered to cover it. To put that in context, the NFL says there were 5,200 media credentials issued for last February's Super Bowl.

That forces the 3,000 CES exhibitors spread out across 1.87 million square feet of the show's floor - which is itself spread across the Las Vegas Convention Center and several hotels - to vie for attention to land those lucrative sales contracts, financial investments or free publicity.

New products

So for the past few weeks, public relations representatives have been sending a deluge of press releases on behalf of their clients, whether they make iPhone cases or Ultra HD monitors.

One press release, for example, breathlessly alerted us that a client would be showing "the biggest product of 2013 at CES and this would be a great opportunity for you to get special sneak peak before it goes public!"

That is, of course, if it ever does go public.

Follow The Chronicle's coverage of the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show on the Tech Chronicles blog:

Benny Evangelista is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

CES 2013: Tech world prepares for Las Vegas launches - BBC News

CES 2013: Tech world prepares for Las Vegas launches

Samsung at previous CESMore than 3,000 firms will sprawl their wares across conference centres and hotels

The devices promise to be slimmer, bigger and faster - but is CES itself still relevant?

A onslaught of new gadgets and software is about to be unleashed at the latest Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

It is a chance for tech makers, big and small, to highlight the innovations and trends they think are about to take off.

Things do not always develop as planned - past promises of smart TV services and 3D screens going mainstream have failed to pan out.

But never mind, say the organisers, there is another round of next-generation technologies such as 4K ultra-high definition televisions and bendy phones ready for a go.

New displays will definitely be one of the year's big themes.

Pebble smartwatchThe crowdfunded Pebble smartwatch will be shown off at the event

But other tips include:

  • a flood of devices and apps focused on making us healthier
  • a push towards the connected home with all our various devices talking to each other
  • self-driving cars and other technologies to make journeys safer for the driver and more entertaining for passengers
  • and wearable computing including augmented reality glasses and smart watches.

"We have over 150,000 people coming," the man responsible for the event, US's Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro, tells the BBC.

"We have retailers, manufacturers, distributors, the financial community and everyone who matters in the ecosystem. It's all about the innovation industry getting together in one place each year."

Some questioned whether CES's days were numbered after Microsoft announced it was pulling its annual mega-budget presentation and booth last year. It was seen as part of the trend of firms hosting one-off events to suit their own timetables rather than rushing to meet a January deadline.

In addition, sales of many devices - such as digital cameras, camcorders and MP3 players - are tumbling. Smartphones and tablets are cannibalising the market, and firms have typically held back New Year launches of these products until February's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

But for now CES seems to be in rude health - 2013's event is bigger than ever. Microsoft's floor space was snapped up within minutes - much of it, tellingly, by a Chinese company: HiSense.

And CES has embraced mobile, boasting that this year's event will be the biggest app showcase the world has ever seen. Furthermore Sony, LG, Huawei, and ZTE will be among those unveiling new flagship smartphones at the event.

Keep fit

It is not just about the big names. One of this year's first-time attendees is Paul Landau, chief executive of the British firm Fitbug.

His company makes a range of activity tracking devices that transmit details to computer servers detailing how much exercise their owners do, allowing the business to provide feedback such as congratulating them on their efforts, or giving them a nudge to do more.

Fitbug AirFitbug's activity trackers will compete with other health tech for attention

The company recently expanded to the US and Mr Landau is now trying to drum up attention for new products to be launched at the show.

"The stall alone is about $25,000 [£15,390] and that's before you've printed a banner or a leaflet or flown over staff and booked hotels," he says.

"But it's probably the show of the year where the tech writers are all there, looking for the emerging trends and the new technologies coming out.

"Not many people have heard of us because we're a small British company who have jumped into a very big pond over in the US. We feel this will be a great showcase to spread the word."

CES 2012 showroom floorCES traces its history back to 1967 when it was a spin-off from the Chicago Music Show

One floor above Fitbug in the Las Vegas Convention Center's South Hall, a much bigger UK-based tech firm will be showing its wares.

Imagination Technologies' Pure division has a stand to promote its latest internet radio streamers and TV set top boxes.

But its newly knighted boss will be spending most of his time in nearby private meeting rooms where he will focus on his company's core business: licensing its graphics processor chip designs to tablet, smartphone and TV manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and LG.

"I don't enjoy the location," reveals Sir Hossein Yassaie.

Sir Hossein YassaieSir Hossein says he has morning-to-evening meetings scheduled throughout CES

"In my view, to go to Las Vegas once to see what it's all about is probably enough. But the reason I appreciate it is that you can go to one location and see a lot of customers, prospects and partners, which saves travelling around the world, which I already do plenty of."

Sir Hossein is a CES veteran. He reckons this will be his 17th year and despite his lack of love for Sin City's attractions he would not entertain the idea of skipping a year.

The commitment underlines the point that while the hi-spec stands and flashy presentations dominate press coverage, much of the real work that goes on at CES takes place out of sight.

"It's chock-a-block," says Sir Hossein.

"We have three to four rooms and we have almost continuous meetings all the way through the show. To be honest, the deals never get concluded at the show - they get concluded by the sales and contract people later - but it moves discussions forward significantly,"

The 'babes' are back

One other fixture returning to CES are the "booth babes".

The BBC's booth babe video caused discomfort for Mr Shapiro last year

Last year, a BBC video exploring the widespread use of scantily-clad women to promote tech on the show floor stirred controversy, prompting a rash of op-eds and blog posts calling for them to be banned.

It proved a low point for Mr Shapiro, who initially tried to dismiss the issue as being "irrelevant" before promising to address it after his judgement was attacked. So why are the models back?

"We went out to a group called Women In Consumer Electronics, we had a separate team of our female staff put together and we've let our exhibitors know that there are certain expectations that attendees have and that they may be offensive to them," he explains.

"We heard back from both our staff team and the Women In Consumer Electronics that we should not change our rules, that they like the marketplace as it is.

"It is a free market out there. If companies make marketing decisions and part of their calculation is that they want to offend some people - and some people are offended - that's a decision that they make."

Expect much more on this as well as details about the estimated 20,000 product launches to dominate the tech press over the coming days.

The Fifth Horsemen: Samsung - TechCrunch

We all know the “four horsemen” of tech: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. These are the companies that pretty much everyone agrees will shape the foreseeable future of the tech sector. In some circles, that list makes waves for who is not included: Microsoft. But any rational thinker (meaning those outside of Redmond or anyone who hasn’t made a career as a .Net developer) knows that Microsoft simply no longer belongs on that list.

But that doesn’t mean the list is perfect. In fact, I do think there’s an omission that’s becoming a glaring one: Samsung.

Sure, Samsung is not an American company (it’s South Korean). Nor did it start as a scrappy technology startup that set out to change the world (it started in 1938 as a local produce trading company). Nor does it operate like an American technology company (the entire company is and has been run largely by one family, even through national scandals). Hell, Samsung isn’t even just a technology company (but Samsung Electronics, which I’m clearly going to focus on here, is by far the largest subsidiary of the Samsung Group).

But trying to suggest that Samsung is not one of the most important companies in technology is increasingly folly. In fact, there’s a decent chance that it will end up being the most important tech company of 2013.

This week, Bloomberg reported that Samsung would start selling Tizen-based phones in 2013. According to Jungah Lee’s sources, this is at least in part due to Google’s purchase of Motorola last year. This is important because Samsung is by far the most important Android partner. Not only does it dominate from a market share perspective, it’s really the only Android OEM that is actually making any money. (Motorola, by comparison, is a total dog that is actually losing money.) And it’s making a ton of it.

The company (again, just the Samsung Electronics group) posted about $155 billion in revenue in 2011. That’s almost exactly the amount of revenue that Apple posted in 2012. Samsung should come in closer to $190 billion when its fiscal 2012 comes to a close.

Not only is it bigger than Apple from a revenue standpoint, it’s almost twice as large as the three other “horsemen” combined ($190 billion versus what should be about $100 billion for Amazon, Facebook, and Google in 2012). And unlike Amazon and Facebook which make little or no profit, Samsung is hugely profitable. $12 billion in profit for 2011 should move closer to $20 billion in 2012. That’s not a ton compared to Apple ($55 billion in profit in 2012), but it should be roughly twice as much profit as Google pulls in for the year.

But let’s forget the money and go back to Android. Samsung is so important and deserves a place with the other horsemen because it is the most important piece of the Android ecosystem beyond Google. And it seems that the company is at least exploring the possibility of taking a step back from that ecosystem, or hedging its bet. That could be the story of 2013.

Imagine Samsung, with 40 to 50 percent of the Android market, breaking away to focus on Tizen. Or perhaps more realistically, imagine Samsung forking Android for its own purposes while exploring the Tizen possibilities. Not only can the company afford to do it, there may be several incentives to do so.

Amazon is closing in on its own phone running a forked version of Android in a similar manner to its Kindle Fire tablets. The first iterations of that tablet weren’t great, but they’re getting better. And because it now has its own forked Android app store, Amazon is going to be in control of the entire ecosystem. Samsung has no such control if it remains a loyal Android partner.

Maybe it’s okay with that, but Samsung must be looking at how profitable Apple is as a result of its total control. Shitty mobile skins only give the illusion of control, Samsung needs to control the full stack. And given its position of power, the company has the leverage to do that if it chooses to.

And it’s not just an offensive imperative, it’s a defensive one too. Google continues to say the right things publicly about maintaining distance from its Motorola unit with regard to Android. Of course, it says this with the Google X phone project well underway. A true Google phone.

Perhaps it’s a project meant less to scare Samsung and more to fight back against Google’s true bane: its carrier partners. Or maybe it’s Google hedging against Samsung’s position of power. It doesn’t matter. The Google/Samsung relationship is starting to show signs of strain, and they’re only going to get more pronounced â€" exhibit A.

Beyond mobile devices, the hot topic for 2013 is the future of television. Most of this is focused around Apple with a little bit reserved for Google’s TV projects. But it’s once again Samsung that is already the leader in the space. Sure, it’s the old school (shitty margin) television space, but why doesn’t anyone think that Samsung can translate its success in smartphones here as well? It simply hasn’t really tried yet.

Perhaps that’s another part of the Tizen equation. Or maybe a forked Android will find its way here as well. But Samsung has a huge head start on Apple, Google and everyone else.

And Samsung isn’t stopping with phones and televisions (or memory chips and flat-panel displays where it is also the global leader). Chairman Lee Kun Hee recently gave a speech to employees underscoring the need to venture into new businesses. The son of the man who started the produce trading company knows that the future of his company will be products that don’t even exist today. Samsung is in this for the long haul.

It feels as if the recent Apple/Samsung legal battles have branded the South Korean company as little more than a copycat in this country. But that’s a dangerous underestimation of a company that is quickly becoming one of the most important ones in tech right now by pretty much every metric. A fifth horsemen.

Looking for life on Mars: What's next - CNN (blog)

James Wray is an assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. He is a collaborator on the Curiosity rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter science teams. His research explores the chemistry, mineralogy and geology of Martian rocks as records of environmental conditions throughout the planet’s history.

In less than a month, the Opportunity rover will begin her 10th year on the surface of Mars. She has already outlived her 90-day warranty 35 times over, like a human living 2,500 years instead of 70 â€" an astonishing engineering achievement.

But how has Mars science advanced during this period?

Opportunity and her twin sister, Spirit, went to Mars to determine whether, where, and how liquid water ever flowed across the Martian surface. Before their missions, we knew Mars had dry river valleys, but how could we be sure that water carved them? Where were the minerals that liquid water leaves behind: the clays that dominate our tropical soils on Earth, or salts deposited after evaporation?

Opportunity landed on Mars and opened her robotic eyes to a paradise of salt-rich rocks, with the frozen ripples of 3-billion-year-old ponds confirming that water once was there. But as the years passed on, like any Eden, the paradise felt more like a prison, and a heretical plan emerged to journey a seemingly impossible distance in pursuit of new knowledge.

Meanwhile, an international orbital armada was beaming back crucial new insights. Infrared spectrometersâ€"first on the European Mars Express, and later the American Mars Reconnaissance Orbiterâ€"showed that sulfate salt deposits like those found by Opportunity are widespread across the Martian tropics. NASA’s veteran Mars Odyssey found that chloride (table salt?) flats were widespread across other regions, implying that the short-lived Martian water was diverse in its chemistry.

And perhaps most importantly, the orbiters found clay minerals, which on Earth typically form when water interacts with rocks over millennia or longer. These were found in the oldest terrains of Mars, such as the rim of Endeavour crater, a “mere” dozen miles from where Opportunity landed. So we set out for that far horizon, making “landfall” over a year ago.

Opportunity probably sits atop the clays right now, but her two instruments that could directly confirm their presence are now defunct. Ironically, a study published this month suggests that clays may also have been present in the sulfate-rich rocks that Opportunity was so eager to escape. If they were there all along, yet went undetected, then how can we avoid such an outcome in the future?

NASA’s newest rover, Curiosity, was sent to Gale crater partly because clay minerals are inferred there, too. Curiosity can identify clays, but only if they are well crystallized; if they are instead non-crystalline or amorphous, as up to half of Martian soils appear to be, then Curiosity’s Chemistry & Mineralogy instrument will provide few new constraints.

But Europe is planning another Mars rover to launch in 2018, and NASA recently announced a new Mars rover set to launch two years later. Europe’s rover will (and NASA’s rover should) carry an infrared spectrometer able to locate clays in the same way they are identified from orbit: by analyzing how much light is reflected (not absorbed) by the surface. The relative proportions of each color that are reflected constitute a unique fingerprint for clays and for many other minerals.

Ultimately, our mission is not only to explore strange new worlds, but to seek out new life. Curiosity is searching for life’s organic building blocks, and clay minerals seem a promising target: They could not be there if Martian water had been too scarce or too acidic, and organics naturally bind to their “sticky” surfaces. An infrared spectrometer that looks even farther beyond the visible range of colors could detect both clays and organics.

But to seek evidence of life itself, for now the consensus is that we’d do best by bringing the Mars rocks back to Earth, where we can unleash all manner of sophisticated lab experiments on them for negligible cost. The first step toward sample return would be for the 2020 rover to store a piece of each auspicious rock it encounters in a “cache,” a bucket that could one day be picked up by another missionâ€"one with the unprecedented capability to not only visit Mars, but to launch back off its surface and return to Earth.

Over the past decade we have witnessed truly astronomical progress in our understanding of Mars, from wondering whether it was ever wet, to detailed characterization of the chemistry and habitability of water that we know was there over long time periods. We must not forget that potentially habitable worlds await our attention in the outer solar system and beyond. But for now, it is time to cash (or cache?) in on our decade-long investment in Mars.