Augmented reality at the service of safety on the road

March 23, 2010 Technology No Commenti

AR Windshield

Finding ourselves driving under a heavy rainfall, or in a thick fog, is certainly not what you would call a pleasant experience, and often, using fog headlights would not make the situation much better. In such cases, fortunately, modern technology can lend us a hand, at least according to the latest researches being carried out at General Motors.

The Detroit giant, in fact, is developing a special prototype of windshield which, installed on its cars, would allow for a safer driving experience and an easier orientation in conditions of poor visibility, by using the Augmented Reality (AR) principle.

In practice, the windshield of your car would become a big display, on which you could see data and images, gathered thanks to an array of sensors and cameras, which help reconstruct the image that the driver would see in that moment if the visibility conditions were normal. Along with this, the system can, just like a normal GPS navigator, detect accidents or roadblocks along the way.

The sensors placed on the windshield can also detect the driver’s movements and reactions, helping him to maintain a correct driving style, for example by displaying the sideline of the road, in order to avoid losing control of the car even when fog is so thick that the line can not be seen.

The augmented reality uses infrared night vision equipment, GPS navigation systems and several sensors, along with a phosphorus screen. An interface can be added, which informs the driver about speed limits and road exits, and make safety absolute. At this stage, a commercial launch is not scheduled, but it may not take too long before our cars become much different from the ones we know now.

Spy audio recording devices

March 22, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Smallest

The toolkit of the perfect spy has changed over time, sporting the latest development in miniature technology, be it a fountain pen which hides a gun like in James Bond movies, a micro transmitter concealed in the buckle of what looks like a normal belt, or in modern times, an audio digital micro recorder that actually looks like, for example, the key holder of your car.

Secret agents have always been on the cutting edge of technology, because in order to steal secrets, one must be as discreet and invisible as it gets, and miniature audio technology is the perfect companion for this kind of jobs.
In current times, a recording device can be as small as a 2 Euro coin, and can house a memory card up to 32 Gigabytes, which means that, thanks to its miniature size microphone, it can store hours and hours of conversations and sounds without being noticed.

After all, who would think that a pen, a key ring, a fountain pen, a USB drive or a cigarette lighter, while they are perfectly working as such, are also actually concealing a miniature recording equipment, highly sensitive, which is capable of picking up sounds with extreme clarity within a range of up to 10 meters?

The modern secret agent has at his disposal a wide range of tools to record sounds, conversations, to shoot video footage and to take discreet snapshots, as well as optical fiber cables which can be used as hidden cameras, or even mobile phones that secretly transmit their conversations to a third party listener in real time.

All these tools share a common characteristic: they are almost invisible, and their real purpose is not immediately obvious, which makes for a perfect covert operation!

A new surveillance camera can detect even sniper rifles

March 22, 2010 Technology No Commenti

CS300K

When setting up defense and surveillance for protection of sensitive targets such as, for example, embassies, military installations or even any target which might represent a symbolic value for terrorists of any kind, one has to take into consideration not only immediate threats such as suicide bombers or bomb cars, but also the less visible and less immediate ones, such as the presence of persons in the area, who might photograph or shoot video footage of the area under surveillance, to prepare plans for a terrorist attack.

Protect such sites from this kind of non immediate threats is exactly what the long distance video surveillance camera CS300K, manufactured by JET Project, was designed for.

This surveillance camera works with the same principle of the “anti red eye” effected used by flashes of our common home photo cameras, but by projecting its beam at hundreds of meters of distance, in order to detect binoculars, photo or video cameras, or even the scope of a high precision sniper rifle; if set to maximum sensitivity, it can even see human eyes as a potential danger!

Thanks to it, it will be possible to integrate armed protection with an early warning system which gives the possibility to detect threats before it is too late, thanks to the combined action of laser beams and its proprietary software. By doing so, it will be possible to take action, either defensive or offensive, saving human lives or thwarting a terrorist attack.
This system marks the change from a purely defensive video surveillance to an active one.

Its manufacturers see a market potential for their CS300K camera not only with armies or military, but also with security agencies which protects high risk individuals such as diplomats or negotiators, always exposed to the threat of terrorist attacks due to their sensitive job.

Quantum video sensors, more power to see in the dark

March 22, 2010 Technology No Commenti

QuantumFilm

A few days ago, the California based company InVisage Technologies has just presented to the public its latest product called QuantumFilm, that is, the first quantum mechanics based video sensor.

Thanks to its technology and philosophy, this sensor is capable of achieving results 4 times better if compared to the normal CMOS sensors used for mobile phone cameras. Quantum based semiconductors are able to capture up to 95% of the light around them, a huge improvement if compared to the average result of 25% achieved by silicon sensors used for all digital cameras available on the market now.

In this way, it will be possible to obtain a better image quality, especially in conditions of poor lighting, allowing even the smallest digital micro cameras to achieve professional results, while keeping their encumbrance to a minimum.

The QuantumFilm sensor, which has been developed over the course of three years at InVisage laboratories, captures the image, which is then sent to the standard silicon-based CMOS sensor, which in turn reads it, processes it and then transfers it to the camera memory where it is stored. QuantumFilm should see the light of commercial launch by the 4th quarter of 2010, and it should at first be used on high end mobile phones and smartphones, at least during its inception phase.

At a later stage, it will be also used on video and photo cameras; we are eagerly waiting for new developments in what could be a real breakthrough, a step forward in the video surveillance field, especially for gathering video and photo intelligence in poor lighting situations.

A solar energy blimp for non-stop flights

March 22, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Blimp

The US Department of Defense is developing a program for creation of a blimp, which can be used for missions involving real time transmission of images and radar intelligence towards and from ground troops during ground operations.

Of course, due to the huge changes in technology over the last hundred years, the only things that this blimp has in common with those who were used for legendary explorations in early 1900s are shape and helium inside. All the rest has dramatically changed, starting from its power system, as this model is powered via solar cells placed on its body.

Thanks to these panels, the blimp, called ISIS (Integrated Sensor Is the Structure) is capable of flying at over 10000 meters of height, at a cruise speed of approximately 60 knots, with a maximum of 100 that can be reached in case of emergency or immediate threat. The way it is powered allows it to fly for 10 days without landing, thus reaching virtually any destination on the planet, and all this is achieved automatically thanks to its GPS positioning system.

On the inside, ISIS can carry a radar system, which can monitor and track moving targets either on the ground or in the air, and gather high resolution radar images of battle zones, both by day and at night, within a range of approximately 250 kilometers on the ground and 600 in the air.

Its solar cells harness energy during the day, and split the water in his tanks into hydrogen and oxygen; the particles are recombined, at night, into a fuel cell which is used to generate the electricity necessary to power its engine.

ISIS is scheduled to enter operations in 2014, a year which might see the retirement of surveillance planes and drones such as AWACS, in favor of this clean-energy, long-range system.

Spy listening devices are wireless in the 21st century

March 18, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Lives

Being the movie aficionado that I am, the other day I was watching a German movie called The Lives Of Others, about a Stasi agent in 1980s German Democratic Republic.
When I came to the scene in which the main character finds out that his home had been bugged, and that he had been listened to for years, I could not help but smile.

In fact, in this scene he uncovers the hundreds of meters of cables which were placed within his walls, and that were connecting hidden audio transmitters which enabled a listener, placed in a room in the adjacent building, to listen to all his conversations.

I had a nostalgic smile, thinking of what results the Stasi was able to achieve with its primitive equipment, especially if we compare those bugs with today’s modern listening devices.

First of all, the modern hidden transmitters do not need cables to operate, as they are powered either by a battery or can harness power from the telephone line cables. This allows for an unlimited duration of the surveillance operation.

But the most important feature is the possibility of transmitting the intelligence gathered, not via airwaves to the next building, but via a phone call to anywhere, even the other end of the world. In fact, a GSM bug can house a SIM card just like the one we have on our cellphones, and use it to place a secret phone call towards a preset number.

The person who receives the call just has to pick up the phone, wherever he is and whatever he is doing, and can comfortably listen in, without having to sit for long hours waiting for a sound or a sign.

Quite an improvement, huh?

Who needs a pilot to carry heavy loads?

March 18, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Hummingbird

Boeing has just completed a run of test flight, to assess the potentials of the new version of their unmanned helicopter Hummingbird.

This new version, named A160T, is capable of carrying a sling payload just below 600 kilos of material, at a distance of approximately 150 nautical miles, and to return to its launch base. This is a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) which does not require any direct human intervention during its trip, except of course for the preparation of its payload and for programming of its itinerary towards destination.

During the tests, the Hummingbird UAV has been seriously put to work, by taking it to a height of approximately 3650 meters (12000 feet) on a full load, and making it hover on its position for a couple of minutes. Also, it has been used for night operation simulations, also in nasty weather conditions; all tests have been easily passed with flying colors and extreme precision.

The Hummingbird is one of Boeing’s spearheads in the unmanned aerial vehicles field, as it is in operations since years and holds the current record for the longest unmanned flight without refueling.

Thanks to its flexibility and precision, this specific model can be used for short range loading and unloading operations, around the clock and continuously, day and night, in order to optimize the supply (and resupply) of military material for troops deployed in war zones which may not be easily reached with conventional air or ground vehicles.

Furthermore, if properly equipped with video and photo cameras, it can be a useful tool for reconnaissance missions, target acquiring and aerial video surveillance.

A rocket powered helicopter, very easy to use

March 18, 2010 Technology 1 Commento

DF1

Dragonfly DF1 mini helicopter is a one seat chopper, manufactured my Swisscopter, a firm that in spite of its name is operating out of Tucson, Arizona. The particularity of this vehicle lies in the fact that motion is provided not by a normal engine placed on the copter’s body, but by small rockets housed on the tips of its rotor blades.

These rockets are powered by hydrogen peroxide, contained in two tanks placed on either side of the pilot seat. Thanks to this. The mini copter can take its pilot to a height of approximately 4000 meters, with a maximum speed of 185 kilometers per hour.

This rocket powered helicopter is very easy to maneuver, and the rockets on the blades guarantee a higher stability and fewer vibrations.

In the past, there had already been attempts at building rocket choppers, without success due to several technical issue, which seem to have been overcome by Dragonfly, that also adds an extreme ease of use and simplified controls.

Without fuel, its weight is only 106 kgs, and on a fully loaded tank it has a working range of approximately 100 minutes of continuous flight.
There are several possible fields of applications for this item, ranging from transportation of light ammunition and military equipment in war zones with a rough terrain, to aerial TV and movie shooting.

Swisscopter has already completed the first testing phase, and is expected to launch its product on the market by the end of the current year; for this reason, along with a version with a closed cockpit with a carbon fiber shell, they are also studying the possibility to create a two-seater model, for applications that require maximum concentration, and where having to pilot the copter would be a distraction.

The price for the Dragonfly micro helicopter has not been disclosed yet.

Spy recording equipment

March 17, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Microrec

Not only for secret agents, police and secret traders, the usage of electronic miniature devices to secretly record conversations and phone calls is now widespread in many other fields, thanks to the ever decreasing price of this kind of spy recording equipment, which makes it affordable for almost everyone.

And this means that devices which were born as a tool for spies and secret agents, are now being used also for leisure or for professional reasons, for example to record a live concert, a public speech, or just to save notes from a company meeting or even to take quick audio notes on the go.

Miniature digital recorders come in small sizes, as the name goes. But on top of that, they can also come in a variety of shapes and appearances, which can not be immediately recognized as an audio recording device. For example, who could ever think that what looks like a car key or remote control, a watch, a pen, a lipstick or even a USB drive, is actually a micro digital recorder?

They also come with different characteristics, for example such as voice activation system, which makes sure that the recording operation is started only when it is really necessary, for example when a noise or a voice is picked up by the sensor. By doing this, the storage space on the micro recorder would be used at its best, without pauses and, most of all, without any danger of missing out on important information.

Capacity and characteristics may vary depending on the specific purpose for which your digital audio recorder is going to be used, but with their extreme versatility, anyone may need a miniature recorder, from a student to a secret agent!

A blind man can now see through his tongue

March 17, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Blind

Thanks to the latest developments of technology, a British soldier who got seriously wounded in Iraq, and lost his sight due to the wounds, is now capable of recognizing shapes around him, walking without aid and even read, thanks to BrainPort, a device which uses electro-tactile stimulations as a surrogate of eyesight.

At a first glance, it looks just like your MP3 player, but it is connected on one end with a pair of special glasses, while on the other end there is a sensor, similar to the one that your dentist would use to take a dental X-ray, which is placed under its user’s tongue.

Inside these glasses, there is a small video camera connected to the sensor by means of a small tube. The camera sends signals to the sensor via this tube, and thanks to tiny electrical pulses it is possible to recognize lines and shapes, which are then turned into two-dimensional black and white images.
This system is still in its experimental stage, in fact the tube which connects the glasses to the sensor makes it mandatory for its user to keep his mouth closed, thus making it impossible to carry out normal activities like eating, drinking or talking.

To solve this problem, researchers are considering the idea of placing a fixed sensor, to be located for example behind the dental arc. The soldier on whom it is being tested is fully satisfied, and although he is certainly far from having a normal life, certainly BrainPort is doing a lot for his morals.

For people with a very low eyesight (but not blind), an interesting remedy could be using a pair of night vision glasses, which work on a similar principle, as they use a camera which projects images directly on the patient’s retina, allowing him to get oriented normally and without assistance, by day or even at night.

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