Tag Archives: military

Laser gun Navy.

First operational laser weapon set to safeguard US ships from menacing drones

The world’s first operational laser weapon will be protecting US Navy ships from drone attacks, other vessels.

Laser gun Navy.

Image via CNN.

Something named the (arguably not very creative) Laser Weapons System, or LaWS for short, may seem to be pulled out of the realm of hard sci-fi, but it’s actually very real. The weapon is entirely functional and fully capable of shooting down rapid targets such as drones. LaWS is currently deployed aboard amphibious transport ship USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf, the US Navy told CNN.

“It works just like a laser pointer,” explained Lt. Cale Hughes, one of the officers operating LaWS, for CNN.

“There’s a chamber inside with special materials that release photons.”

Somewhat like your average laser pointer, the LaWS beam is invisible and completely silent. Similarly, it also travels at the speed of light, some 300,000 km (186,000 miles) per second. What sets it apart from your run of the mill laser pointer is what happens when the beam hits something. Instead of a harmless red point on a powerpoint slide you’re not going to pay attention to anyway, the LaWS’ beam will heat a target to thousands of degrees in a fraction of a second, turning it into a fireball that’s guaranteed to capture your full attention.

It’s also quite cheap on a ‘per pop’ basis. The whole system costs a bit over US$40 million, needs a crew of three, a small generator for power, and will destructify stuff for “about a dollar a shot,” according to Lt Hughes.

Its prey includes airborne threats as well as water-borne foes. Because it’s so accurate, the US Navy hopes that the weapon will help keep combat casualties low on both sides. For example, when engaging a boat, the LaWS can pinpoint the engine and disable it, something conventional weapons can’t do as they tend to cause quite a lot of collateral damage.

Which comes in very handy as the rules set down at the Geneva Conventions preclude armed forces from using laser weapons directly against people, Optics.org reports. Limiting collateral damage will allow navy forces to abide by that protocol, Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, said in 2014 at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

Now, work is underway on second-generation laser weapons systems which could be used against even more varied targets.


Unmanned US plane lands after two-year secret mission

After circling our planet for an unprecedented 718 days doing classified scientific experiments, an unmanned plane landed at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Air Force’s secret X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle landed at NASA ‘s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility Sunday, setting off a sonic boom that surprised residents. Image credits: Secretary of the Air Force.

It was an unusual sight at the Kennedy Space Center — the first space plane to land there since Atlantis in 2011. People from Orlando and other places in Florida reported hearing sonic booms just like during the golden days of NASA’s space shuttle program, but this was a different kind of mission: a secret, military one.

It was one of the military’s two X-37 space plane vehicles. The Boeing X-37, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), is a reusable unmanned spacecraft which can launch vertically and land horizontally, but the more interesting feature is that it can fly for so long without a recharge. Officials were thrilled to see the plane intact and functioning properly.

“Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing as we continue to break barriers,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the 45th SW commander, said in a statement. “Our team has been preparing for this event for several years, and I am extremely proud to see our hard work and dedication culminate in today’s safe and successful landing of the X-37B.”

So what exactly is the purpose of the X-37? Well… we don’t really know. The official U.S. Air Force statement is that the project is “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force”. However, speculations have gone much further. Various allegations have been made, from delivering weapons from space to spying on China’s Tiangong-1 space station module. The Guardian suggested that its purpose was “to test reconnaissance and spy sensors, particularly how they hold up against radiation and other hazards of orbit,” while International Business Times stated that the U.S. government was testing a version of the EmDrive electromagnetic microwave thruster. However, all these claims were denied by The Pentagon and Boeing subsequently. While the mystery hasn’t really been explained, at this point, there’s little reason to doubt the claims of officials. It’s unlikely that the X-37 is doing something aggressive in space, but it is quite possible that it’s testing out sensors or other developing technologies — somewhere at the science-military border.

“Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control; thermal-protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal, reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems; and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing,” Capt. AnnMarie Annicelli, an Air Force spokeswoman, told Space.com via email in March. “Also, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (AFRCO) are investigating an experimental propulsion system,” she said.

It’s certainly a bit unnerving that we’re already toying with the idea of militarizing space, especially given the scale of such projects. Military space programs “are as big as NASA,” astrophysicist and astronomer Jonathan McDowell told NPR’s Here and Now back in 2015, when X-37 started this mission. McDowell also said that at this point, there are at least 20 “full-fledged spy satellites or other really secret vehicles” orbiting the Earth and that’s a scary thought.

This was the fourth and lengthiest mission from the project, also notable for the plane’s autonomous landing. It’s unclear what the project’s further objectives are. The US Air Force has at least confirmed that they are actively researching reusable space vehicles and establishing a space test platform for themselves.

Sci-fi buffs everywhere, rejoyce! The UK military is developing laser weapons

The UK military is betting a lot of money on lasers. The Ministry of Defence has officially signed a £30m contract to produce a prototype directed energy weapon, to be tested by the end of the decade.

Image credits Patrice Audet / Pixabay.

Why go through the effort of producing bullets, boxing, transporting, then shooting them, when you can fire pure science at the enemy? That’s a question the UK Ministry of Defence is willing to pay £30m to answer. A consortium led by Stevenage-based missile company MBDA which includes QinetiQ, Leonardo-Finmeccanica, GKN, Arke, BAE Systems and Marshall has been awarded the contract to build the prototype for the laser weapon system, named “Dragonfire”.

Ahead of the curve

The contract has been in the making for a few months now, but the MoD has finally put the seal of approval on the consortium. Delivery of the prototype is expected for 2019, when the military will test its ability to lock onto and track targets at various distances in all weather conditions for land and water applications.

The MoD’s endgame goal, however, is loftier than “Dragonfire” alone — they want to know if ‘energy’ could become the next ‘ammo’. As Peter Cooper of the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) said:

“This is a significant demonstration program aimed at maturing our understanding of what is still an immature technology.”

“It draws on innovative research into high power lasers so as to understand the potential of the technology to provide a more effective response to the emerging threats that could be faced by UK armed forces.”

MBDA spokesman Dave Armstrong said that the project will propel the UK to “the forefront of high energy laser systems”.

“Furthermore, it advances the UK towards a future product with significant export potential, as well as providing opportunities for partnerships with other nations’ armed forces that have similar requirements,” he added.

Harriet Baldwin, the Minister for Defence Procurement, thinks projects such as this one will “keep this country ahead of the curve”. But this isn’t the first time a country has toyed with the idea of directed energy weapons. The US has been experimenting with laser weapons for decades now. Their efforts culminated with the testing of a weapon dubbed ‘Laws’ on the USS Ponce in the Arabian Gulf in 2014. The system successfully targeted a small boat directed towards the ship and shot down a small drone. Still, no-one has had the technological oomph to bring such guns on the front line up to now.

If it proves itself reliable, weapons such as the Dragonfire could be used to take down drones, jets, or strategic missiles, as well as point defense systems against mortar shells, missiles, roadside bombs and various other threats.

Bringing a laser to a knife fight

Laws Gun

The Laws system during tests in 2014.
Image credits John F. Williams / US Navy.

The MoD said that the weapon isn’t being developed to counter any specific threat, only to see what advantages such weapons could bring to their armed forces. But with growing global instability, tensions rising in eastern Europe, and Russia’s much publicized recent improvements in armament and weapon systems (such as the RS-28 ICBM, dubbed ‘Satan 2’), the Dragonfire could have a more specific purpose in mind than simple research.

I’ve always been a military technology buff, and I nerd out over anything from copper daggers to tanks, battleships, and Star Destroyers — and the Dragonfire is bound to be a solid piece of technology and applied science. But no matter how much I’ve enjoyed the laser-drenched dogfight scenes in Star Wars, I can’t help but feel saddened to see science twisted into destroying things and killing people. Especially in a time when disarmament and working together to solve greater problems should come at the forefront.

But the contract is signed and the proverbial wheels are turning. Time will tell if the Dragonfire will turn out to be just another straw, or a lit match, thrown in the haystack.

The US is rolling out superhuman hearing for its soldiers

Wearable tech could save the hearing of thousands of soldiers.

The hearing system costs $2,000. Image via US Army.

Among many other things, war is loud – especially for infantry. Gunshots, explosions, booms and bangs are part of a soldiers’ life, and even a single gunshot can be devastating to hearing. Prolonged exposure to gunshots often causes irreparable harm, and when you consider that the US has over 20 million veterans, the scale of this problem takes on dramatic proportions.

With that in mind, the US Army has developed a hearing aid that not only boosts the hearing of troops in the field but also filters out unwanted noise from the battlefield. The system, known as Tactical Communication and Protective System (TCAPS), will be rolling out soon to soldiers in the field.

In the past, ear protection was quite rudimentary, and it came at an obvious disadvantage: soldiers lost the ability to hear other useful sounds, like commands. Ear protection also impeded hearing to the point where soldiers couldn’t figure out where sounds were coming from, a vital ability in the heat of battle.

TCAPS is smarter than this – it picks up sounds through a system of microphones and dampens it for the wearer, but in such a way that you can still hear it clearly and figure out where it comes from. At the same time, the decibel cap allows TCAPS-equipped soldiers to hear the voices of others around them, including radio commands.

According to Engadget, about 20,000 TCAPS units have been deployed Army-wide, at a price of about $2,000 a piece.

This sounds like an excellent idea, and to be honest I’m surprised something like this hasn’t been introduced before. But what I’d really like to see is the Army roll out a system like this for veterans as well. I’d like to see them take care of soldiers after their service is done, something which the US seems to be still struggling with.

Here’s a video depicting how it works:

A Russian deep-diving miniature submarine is lowered from the research vessel Akademik Fyodorov moments before performing a dive in the Arctic Ocean beneath the ice at the North Pole in 2007. Photograph: Vladimir Chistyakov/AP

“Climate change is a security risk,” Pentagon report reads

On Wednesday, the Department of Defense issued a report in which it highlights the global security implications of climate change. In the report, the authors note that climate change will exacerbate current world problems like ” poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries.”

A Russian deep-diving miniature submarine is lowered from the research vessel Akademik Fyodorov moments before performing a dive in the Arctic Ocean beneath the ice at the North Pole in 2007. Photograph: Vladimir Chistyakov/AP

A Russian deep-diving miniature submarine is lowered from the research vessel Akademik Fyodorov moments before performing a dive in the Arctic Ocean beneath the ice at the North Pole in 2007. Photograph: Vladimir Chistyakov/AP

The report was ordered by the Pentagon to identify the most serious and likely climate-related security risks for each combatant command, but also new opportunities. For instance, the melting Arctic is opening new shipping routes through the notorious Northwest Passage which is historically known for trapping ships in the ice. As such, traffic and tourism will intensify in the region. Economic development in the area will also intensify, primarily oil drilling. “Future Arctic offshore drilling will also create a resource demand and the need for emergency response, risk reduction measures, and environmental protections,” the report said.

In the Middle East, the greatest climate change risk is water scarcity, while in Africa – an area where the U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) is responsible – humanitarian crisis is the primary risk. Namely, severe drought and disease has time and time again provoked suffering and made the local population fragile. In Hawaii, the Pentagon is concerned with the resilience of its military installations, whether or not these will hold against rising sea levels and more weather calamities.

“The National Security Strategy, issued in February 2015, is clear that climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water,” the report said. “These impacts are already occurring, and the scope, scale, and intensity of these impacts are projected to increase over time.”

“The Department of Defense’s primary responsibility is to protect national security interests around the world,” officials said in a news release announcing the report’s submission. “This involves considering all aspects of the global security environment and planning appropriately for potential contingencies and the possibility of unexpected developments both in the near and the longer terms.

“It is in this context,” they continued, “that the department must consider the effects of climate change — such as sea level rise, shifting climate zones and more frequent and intense severe weather events — and how these effects could impact national security.”

The Pentagon is very apt at identifying threats. No one can deny this. Personally, I feel that it would be a lot more constructive and helpful if the Pentagon also took steps to help curb the problem. The US Military is the primary polluter in the world’s second highest polluting country.

“Many conflicts throughout our history have been based on resource competition,” said General Charles Jacoby, who was the commander of the US North Command – the primary line of defence against invasion for the US mainland – until last year. He said that this competition would only intensify in the future, with energy and water supply at the top of the list.


Cicada, the "paper airplane with a circuit board". Image: © AFP Laurent Barthelemy

Military wants to use swarms of disposable “Cicada” drones: dropping flies behind enemy lines

A mini-drone that fits in the palm of your hand could give the military an upper hand on the battlefield by providing key intelligence readings. Hundreds of these small, plastic drones could be dropped off a flight and left to scatter across the battlezone. Though they don’t have any engines, these “Cicada” drones are equipped with sensors that help adjust the gliding pattern, directing the drone towards a dropzone with an accuracy within a couple of feet. These are hard to spot since they easily disguise as a bird from afar and once behind the lines can use their sensors and microphones to spy on enemy positions. These can also prove very useful for civilian missions, most notably for gathering meteorological data.

The name “Cicada” is after a species of insect that lays dormant underground for a couple of years, before it bursts through by the swarms. Once outside the insects quickly reproduce, then drop to the ground dead. Researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory  felt inspired and wondered if they could design and deploy drones that are so tiny and numerous, that’s impossible for the enemy to shoot down every single one them. This is how the military’s Cicada, or Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft, was born. It’s the smallest and cheapest of any military drone developed thus far. The prototype cost only a thousand dollars, while a full scaled manufactured model could drop to about 250 USD a piece.

It only contains 10 moving parts and no engine, but it makes no difference since it can make its way by gliding just as well. A built in GPS receiver tells the little drone, which looks more like a paper airplane than a military-grade aircraft, where it needs to land, so it constantly adjusts its wings and rudder to get there. In a test about three years ago in Yuma, Arizona, Cicada drones were released from 57,600 feet (17,500 meters). After dropping and gliding for about 11 miles, the drone landed within 15 feet of its target. This could be refined even further, so later versions might land right atop, with pinpoint accuracy.

“It looks like a bird flying down,” said Daniel Edwards, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory. But, he said, “it’s very difficult to see.”

“They are robotic carrier pigeons. You tell them where to go, and they will go there,” Edwards said.

An airplane or balloon could drop hundreds of Cicadas behind enemy lines. Image: NAVAL RESEARCH LABORATORY

An airplane or balloon could drop hundreds of Cicadas behind enemy lines. Image: NAVAL RESEARCH LABORATORY

It would’ve been nice if the Cicada was also fitted with some cameras, but this would have severely compromised the design and entire scope of the drone. Once you have a camera, you also need a storage medium and hardware that can handle serious bandwidth. But it does have ears, which are often more than enough. For instance, a Cicada dropped behind enemy lines in key points near a road can eavesdrop using its built-in microphone. Based on the noise and ground vibration, you can then learn when, how many, and what kind of vehicles are using the road. Cicada is also equipped with  temperature, air pressure and humidity sensors.

What’s more, the Cicada is extremely robust. In test flights, the engineers flew prototypes through all sorts of obstacles. Sometimes it would get hit pretty hard, but came out in working condition nevertheless.

Edwards said. “You can thrown them out of a Cessna or a C-130,” he said.

“They’ve flown through trees. They’ve hit asphalt runways. They have tumbled in gravel. They’ve had sand in them. They only thing that we found that killed them was desert shrubbery,” he said

According to Edwards, both the Pentagon and intelligence agencies are very interested in the Cicada and closely following the research.


Laura Major of Draper Laboratory holds an Android device with the airstrike app open. (Draper Laboratory)

Mobile app lets soldiers order an airstrike via their android smartphone

Laura Major of Draper Laboratory holds an Android device with the airstrike app open. (Draper Laboratory)

Laura Major of Draper Laboratory holds an Android device with the airstrike app open. (Draper Laboratory)

Yeah, I know – for heaven’s sake is there an app  for this too now? It seems so. Draper Laboratory, a not-for-profit research and development lab based in Cambridge, Mass, is currently testing a mobile app that may one day actually see the battlefield and help soldiers order airstrikes simply by using their smartphones. The better communication between the various parties involved in an airstrike ( field soldiers and engineers, desktop technicians surveying information and pilots) could help reduce the amount of friendly or civilian casualties during combat operations.

The Android Terminal Assault Kit or ATAK for short is currently developed to work with Android, and besides calling for airstrikes it will help soldiers by offering them navigation, spatial awareness and a means to control drone systems. The system’s high card is that it will relay real-time information about what’s happening in a combat zone during the delicate and crucial moments before and after an airstrike.

A screen shot from the Android Terminal Assault Kit (ATAK). (c) Draper Laboratory

A screen shot from the Android Terminal Assault Kit (ATAK). (c) Draper Laboratory

Typically, troops on ground and in the heat of action use GPS receivers and laptops to organize their airstrike. This still involves taking notes of friendlies, actual targets, civilians and other key points, all while calculating the time it takes for the airstrike to hit. The information is relayed to overhead pilots, but occasionally there are transcription, communication or memory errors.

“It’s one thing for a user behind a desk in a climate-controlled office to toggle back and forth between 10 windows, deal with system crashes, and wait 60 seconds for booting up,” Laura Major, who leads Draper’s human-centered engineering work, said in a statement. “It’s another thing to deal with those issues while someone is shooting at you or if you’re jumping out of a plane. That’s where ATAK comes in.”

As troops designate points on ATAK’s map as enemy targets, friendly forces or civilians, Major said, they can say whether the points are artillery, tanks or a church or school, for example. The program will then automatically generate detailed information, such as grid coordinates and elevation, that are crucial for an airstrike. And to make sure troops aren’t about to call in an airstrike on themselves, or on a hostile force that is dangerously close to their position, ATAK will then display that information with hostile forces in red, and friendly forces in blue, including distance and bearing to the closest friendly force.

[NOW READ] Drones capture amazing climbing sights from the Karakoram mountain range [AMAZING PHOTOS]

A prototype has already been tested during military exercises. Results so far have been promising, according to the developers who have used this information to test how efficient and reliable their ATAK app is on the field.

“Operators who used the app during the exercises also indicated that by keeping all of the information in a well-organized, easy to access display, the likelihood of friendly fire accidents, civilian casualties and collateral damage would be significantly reduced,” Draper officials said in a statement.


Zapping lasers: German military 50 kW laser can shoot down mortar projectiles from 2km away


We’re all familiar with laser weapons from SciFi movies and novels, but how far away is laser warfare from reality? Very close, if we’re to judge from the recently publicized test run of Rheinmetall Defense‘s 50kW high power laser that can melt through thick armor a kilometer away and shoot tiny mobile targets at twice the distance.

The German company laser is actually comprised of two combined laser modules mounted on Oerlikon Revolver Gun air defense turrets with additional modules for the power supply. Using their Beam Superimposing Technology (BST), the two lasers (20kW and 30Kw respectively) work together to focus on the same target for a combined power output of 50kW that wreaks havoc.

For instance, during a test at the company’s demo ground facility in Switzerland, the laser sliced through a 5mm- (~0.6 inches) thick steel girder from a kilometer away. But this was too easy. In a second run, the laser’s in-built radar was put to the test and used to detect drones nose diving at 50 meters per second (164 ft/s) from 3km away; the drones were then targeted and shot down from 2km away. Next, a crucial feature in the defense system’s projected application (air defense, asymmetric warfare and Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) operations) was also tested: steel balls 82mm in diameter traveling at 50 meters per second, designed to simulate mortar projectiles, were honed in and obliterated instantly.

It’s important to note that performances were in no way altered by weather. In fact demonstrations were carried out with the same success rate during ice, rain, snow and/or extremely bright sunlight.

Only last year Rheinmetall tested a mere 10 kW version, while for next year the company plans on expanding to a 60kW laser and also upgrade the present system so that it can be fitted on top of a military SUV for mobility. If you found this impressive, remember that this information has been publicly handed out to the press and the media and was developed by a rather medium sized defense company; consider then what kind of laser weaponry the likes of China, Russia or the US dispose of, hidden away.

via Rheinmetall Defense

Not your ordinary video game. (c) DARPA

DARPA’s new threat detection system: one 120-megapixel camera + one supercomputer + one EEG strapped soldier

Boy, oh boy. Here’s a run for your dollar – DARPA’s latest ultimate threat detection system seems like it’s stripped from a bad war movie, but crazy as it may sound, it works and very well, according to officials.

The system, called Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS), consists of an extremely high resolution camera of 120-megapixels, which captures its surroundings. These images are then fed to a supercomputer which runs cognitive visual processing algorithms, on the lookout for threats like a sniper scope or a camouflaged tank nozzle. The output is then interfaced through a display where a soldier is stationed, tasked with confirming these threats. The soldier, however, has an EEG (electroencephalogram) strapped to his scalp.

Not your ordinary video game. (c) DARPA

Not your ordinary video game. (c) DARPA

As the soldier’s brain rules out threats, the brain signals are registered by the EEG and then processed. With enough data to make it statistically viable, the system will soon be able to accurately detect threats on its own. Spotting threats is tiresome, but with such a system already built-in for a scout helicopter or directly in the headset display of a foot-soldier, these could be interfaced terminator-style.

“DARPA set out to solve a common challenge for forward troops: how can you reliably detect potential threats and targets of interest without making it a resource drain?” said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager.  “The prototype system has demonstrated an extremely low false alarm rate, a detection rate in the low nineties, all while reducing the load on the operator.”

The whole system works around our brain’s P300 response – a signal triggered when your brain recognizes something important. This can be a face, a football or a threat, doesn’t really matter. Your brain is wired to recognize familiar features, especially when they’re out of place with the scenery. No computer can recognize patterns, spatial ones especially, like the human brain, and by correlating data gathered by human intervention the system learns along, becoming smarter and smarter.

In tests so far, the system generated 810 false alarms per hour. That may seem like much, but according to DARPA the human operator can handle the 10 images per second it’s fed by the CT2WS display. Overall accuracy of the system is 91%, but expect it to improve as it moves past the prototype phase.


Air Force Blue Horizons

The U.S. Air Force’s “Welcome to 2035… the Age of Suprise” [VIDEO]

In 1996, hundreds of US Air Force specialists, scientists and affiliates established an extensive study called Air Force 2025, in which the emerging technologies that will shape the battlefield in the next 25 years were outlined. The study went pretty well, since it was continued with Blue Horizons in 2007, in the same lines, which eventually transformed into a series of annual long range vision studies.

Air Force Blue HorizonsThe studies themselves are extremely interesting, and the forward vision of the Air Force is remarkably impressive, as it discusses both threats (with an apparent emphasis on cyber war) and how the innovative tradition and resources of the Air Force can benefit the civilian populace at peace time. Similarly, the Air Force also released Energy Horizons, a vision study which  measures the institution’s plans to meet in order to reach its energy goals, reduce demand and change military culture in sight of rapidly developing missions.

Now, the studies themselves, which are publicly available, make for an interesting lecture, especially for those of you passionate about military technology and security; however, something else caught my attention. Apparently, the Air Force produced a short, fast paced, action thriller …heck I don’t even know what to call it , and released it on the web via YouTube.

The video itself, a spin-off from the Blue Horizons missions and titled “Welcome to 2035… the Age of Surprise”, is exactly the panicking sort of production you’d expect NOT to see from behalf of a governmental institution. Now, I won’t go down to how all the typical Hollywood dime a dozen action movie trailer elements are present here, from low attention span graphics to bombastic bylines to cheap national pride inserts. It’s the actual message, white on black, that’s conveyed and is of particular interest to me. Here it is, since the Air Force believes spelling it as fitter.

“We can predict broad outlines, but we don’t know the ramifications,” the video says. “Information travels everywhere; anyone can access everything — the collective intelligence of humanity drives innovation in every direction while enabling new threats from super-empowered individuals with new domains, interconnecting faster than ever before. Unlimited combinations create unforeseen consequences.”

There you have it folks. A take-down justification of the Air Force’s budget to the American public, complete with iPhones, iPads, iTerrorists and of course face facebook and youtube. Enough of me, discuss.


via Kurzweil

SAFFiR firefighting roobt

Navy preps introduction of robot fireman

SAFFiR firefighting roobt

Once flames brake loose, the close confinements of ships or subs suddenly transform into a hellish scene, claiming the lives of countless sailor. The U.S. Navy seeks to counter this deadly hazard by employing a mechanical firefighter among its ranks. Sophisticated, robust, and dexterous, this is a highly exciting project.

Developed by the Naval Research Laboratory,  the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) interacts with its environment and is able to walk just like your regular sailor. Equipped with sophisticated sensors that provide ongoing environmental feedback, finger and hand human-like coordination, which allow the robot to wrestle fire hoses into place or accurately throw extinguisher grenades, smoke penetrating infrared cameras, a battery which allows for a half an hour worth of firefighting autonomy, and coupled with the fact that SaFFiR isn’t really alive and doesn’t mind that much smoke and fire, makes the Navy’s mechanized firefighter one of the most interesting robotic project to come off a military spin-off in a while.

A first test for the firefighting robot is scheduled to take place aboard a decommissioned Navy dock landing ship, the Shadwell, in late September 2013. Though still a long way from commissioning, the SAFFiR firefighter promises to be a real life saver.

Photo and source:  U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

(c) Progeny Systems Corporation

New Pentagon Tech: sky drones that identify faces

(c) Progeny Systems Corporation

(c) Progeny Systems Corporation

I’d like to divert from a potential discussion which might build around the trillions of dollars spent on defense by the US government or the more or less futile efforts enterprised in the middle east, and stick to the point at hand – spy drones! Yes, scary, paranoia inducing flying unmanned vehicles whose sole purpose is that of collecting intelligence about its surveyed points. And if you thought there are little places to hide left once with these little buggers up in the sky, seems like the Pentagon is keen on making things even harder for its enemy after it unveiled plans for a new kind of drone tech, capable of identifying individuals from thousands of feet away just by looking at their faces.

The US army has a sort of procedure or technique, if you will, when its efforts of identifying and gathering intelligence about its enemies is concerned, called “Tagging, Tracking, and Locating,” or “TTL”. To this purpose, there is a considerable amount of technology employed to support these efforts, like geo-tagging, heat signature identifies, human thermal fingerprints and all sorts of other tech, most classified. The all-seeing drone visioned by the Pentagon might revolutionize the modern, guerrilla battlefield in the future. You can escape transmitters, you can erase traces, but eventually with enough drones like these in the sky, you’re only hope of not getting discovered is to live underground.

“If this works out, we’ll have the ability to track people persistently across wide areas,” says Tim Faltemier, the lead biometrics researcher at Progeny Systems Corporation, which recently won one of the Army contracts. “A guy can go under a bridge or inside a house. But when he comes out, we’ll know it was the same guy that went in.”

The bird in the sky with the magic eye

Progeny, one of the half a dozen companies awarded contracts by the Pentagon to develop the necessary tech for the new spy drone, just started work on their drone-mounted, “Long Range, Non-cooperative, Biometric Tagging, Tracking and Location” system. In the past, the company has developed algorithms for the army which allowed for 3D modeling of faces, based on 2D photos, a difficult feat. Now, the company is planning on putting the same capability inside a drone, which will have to do its job flying, from a long distance and with loads of perturbant factors – difficulty tenfold.

(c) Progeny Systems Corporation

(c) Progeny Systems Corporation

The company claims that their system will be able to identify an individual indifferent of lighting, pose  or expression, all from an image with just 50 pixels between the target’s eyes to build a 3D model of his face. That’s about the same as what it takes to traditionally capture a 2D image.

If the face is too blurred or masked to identify, Progeny has other means of identifying a target, like its  digital stereotyping tech, developed for a Navy contract. With it, they can asses the identity of an individual based on variou bio metrics, which feeds back the army with anything from age to gender to “ethnicity” to “skin color” to height and weight. To prove their point, Progeny analyzed data containing hundreds of photos from the annual  “Twins Days” festival, where at least pairs of identical twins could be seen. The company zeroed in on the twins’ scars, marks, and tattoos — and were able to spot one from the other.

Drones to intercept “unfriendly” behavior

Identifying known offenders or insurgents isn’t quite enough for the Pentagon. Apparently, it also needs a means of telling which are its potential enemies, without knowing anything about them beforehand. This is where Charles River Analytics is coming with its so-called “Adversary Behavior Acquisition, Collection, Understanding, and Summarization (ABACUS)” tool. Capitalizing on things like informants’ tips, drone footage, and captured phone calls, the system is capable of telling which people are most likely to harbor ill will toward the U.S. military or its objectives.

“The enemy goes to great lengths to hide his activities,” explains Modus Operandi, Inc., which won an Army contract to assemble “probabilistic algorithms th[at] determine the likelihood of adversarial intent,” a system under the working name of “Clear Heart.”

via Danger Room