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An iPad to train soldiers for battle

agosto 1, 2010 Technology No Commenti

The new Apple product, as it always happens for whatever comes from Steve Jobs’ firm, has sparked huge interest worldwide, not only for its features but also for the apps that one can install on it to expand its capabilities.
As we have seen recently, iPhone can be used to control anti-missile systems or miniature helicopters, and it is therefore natural that the military would show interest in iPad as well.

This happened in the United Kingdom, where soldiers of the Wiltshire-based Royal School of Artillery, along with the normal training courses that prepare them for their missions in Afghanistan, are following one that takes place on the newcomer in the Cupertino family.

Thanks to a specifically designed application, they can study the development of a mission that involves shooting heavy ordnance towards enemies positioned at different distances. By using this iPad app, soldiers can learn much faster than they would normally do with a simple human instructor.

In practice, it is a software that helps them to choose the right kind of fire to use, based on some essential information such as position and number of enemy troops, characteristics of terrain and much more.
Most of all, it helps soldiers to easier and faster get acquainted with the technical aspect of their job, thus making them faster in getting ready for action when the time comes in war zones, and doing it in a simple and almost funny way, just like a normal iPad videogame.

For now, it is obviously only an experiment, but which could certainly make soldiers’ training faster, allowing them to be ready for the firing line faster than it happens now, saving money in training time and printing of complicated manuals, as the iPad can be passed on to the next trainee.

A brand new explosive for the US Army

agosto 1, 2010 Technology No Commenti

The US Army has just given its official approval for the troops to adopt a new explosive substance, which will gradually replace TNT used in artillery. The name of this new explosive is IMX-101, and it was developed by BAE Systems, with the aim of creating ammunition that would not run the risk of detonating accidentally, or outside the scope of its intended use.

In fact, the new IMX-101 is definitely more stable than TNT, which would generally be at risk of reacting to an accidental stimulus such as, for example, the presence of fire or in case of an explosion within a close range. On the contrary, IMX-101 is able to maintain its chemical stability, by not reacting in case of violent shocks or vibrations, fire or even if a bomb is set off in the place where it is stored; basically, IMX-101 would go off only when it has to.

In short, this is an innovation which can potentially revolutionize the way ammunitions are handled today, significantly increasing the level of security for troops during the logistic phase of handling and transportation of the ordnance. Most of all, switching from traditional explosives to this kind of material can save lives, by removing the risk of accidental explosions in ammunition storage points or on convoys during transportation.

During a first phase, IMX-101, developed by BAE Systems in cooperation with the US Army at its Tennessee plant, will replace TNT only in the new IM M795 155-millimeter artillery ammunition. Gradually, the new explosive will then slowly replace the old one on all other calibers, thus allowing TNT to peacefully retire within a few years.

Intelligent noise protection for your ears

agosto 1, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Using ear caps, for those who operate in noisy environments (for example offshore oil rig workers, or soldiers on the frontline who might suffer from damage to their hearing abilities because of the explosions around them), if on one hand protect ears from any possible danger, on the other hand might end up preventing their wearer from hearing what they really need to hear, such as the voices of co-workers and mates around them.

In order to filter out dangerous noises while being able to pick up human voices and useful sounds, a solution comes from Norway, where Nacre has designed QuietPro+, a protective sound cancelling earphone in order to carry out this task. Earphones are connected to a small electronic control unit, which, as soon as it detects a potentially dangeroud loud sound, would in turn emit sound waves.

These sound waves are sent directly into the wearer’s ears via the earphones, and are capable of cancelling the noise generated by explosions. In the same fashion, the digital processor contained in the control unit can increase volume and sharpness of sounds such as human voices, making them clearly audible even in a loud environment.

Initially, QuietPro+ was designed for US armed forces, while currently Nacre, in cooperation with the Norwegian oil company Statoil, is working on a version suitable for those who work on an oil rig, where the type of noise generated by drilling machinery is different from the sound of bombs and bullets, and where the danger of hearing loss is always present due to the continuous noise, which makes it difficult even to have a normal conversation with colleagues, thus increasing the potential risk of accidents.

By improving communications, it could be possible to prevent fatal accidents, for example the one that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

A micro helicopter controlled via iPhone

agosto 1, 2010 Technology No Commenti

On this blog, a few months ago, we reported about AR Drone entering production. It is a micro helicopter which can be remotely controlled thanks to an iPhone application. During an initial launch period, AR Drone was only available in the United Kingdom.

Now Parrot, manufacturer of this nice toy, has announced that it will be available for sale on the international market, starting from the beginning of September, at a price around 300 dollars.

It is a quadricopter, that is, a small miniature helicopter with 4 rotors, which can be open or protected by a hull. Thanks to its hulled rotors configuration, AR Drone can therefore be used also indoors, without any fear of damaging objects around it. Also, its carbon fiber body makes it light yet solid.

Initially, the idea started as a mostly leisurely accessory, for example to be used for acrobatic shows, amateur contests, virtual battles against similar drones or as an accessory for videogames, all controlled via an iPhone application; the opportunity to maneuver it via cellphone, though, gives way to different scenarios, due to its extreme ease of use.

For example, AR Drone could become a handy tool for surveillance operations of for urban warfare conditions, thanks to its built-in video cameras, which can be used to view images that are sent directly on its controller’s iPhone, thus providing a tactical advantage over their enemies.

Piloting an AR Drone is nice and easy< once it takes off, just keep your fingers on the screen to move it up, down, right or left. If you happen to have your fingers off the screen, it will automatically float at approximately 50 cm of height, only to land softly after a certain period of inactivity.

Biometric security, now also portable

agosto 1, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Just yesterday we had the chance to talk about how important it is to protect our sensitive data, and the confidential information we use at work, either in electronic format on our computers or in paper, such as for example documents, offers, pricelists and so on.
To prevent prying eyes from looking where they should not, there are several protection methods.

Something new in this direction comes from Italy, and is called Ekey. At a first glance, it looks just like an ordinary key ring, maybe one of those with an embedded USB drive. Actually, it is a small biometric scanner, which can be used to access all those environments, at home or in the office, where access is restricted only to authorized personnel.

On Ekey’s body, in fact, there is a small fingerprint scanner, and the USB plug is used to connect it, for example, to a computer that manages access privileges. Just plug the USB connector into the computer, run your finger on Ekey’s scanner, and if the system recognizes you, a small LED on the scanner’s body will turn to green, granting you access to the restricted area or to the data saved on the computer itself.

This system might be very useful, for example, to protect shared computers and prevent the data from leaking outside a circle of authorized people, or to save time and space by using a single small biometric scanner to save access data (that is, your fingerprints) to several places or computers, without having to carry along several small biometric devices which might get lost or damaged, or end up in the wrong hands with potentially dangerous consequences.

A solution for ill people: using eyes to communicate

luglio 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

For those who, after suffering from a stroke or a degenerative disease, have lost the ability to speak and have serious difficulties in moving normally, among the several problems that they encounter to carry out even the simplest tasks of daily life, one of the hardest is often the one that involves communication with others.

Not being able to move is already hard and painful enough, but the inability to communicate one’s emotions and needs to the people around must be a further hard blow, especially from an emotional point of view.

To assist patients with this task, only apparently easy but as high as a mountain for those who can not move, a new device has just been introduced, which can solve the problem by using eye movement to communicate thanks to Morse language.

i-Mos, as it is called, is basically something like a pair of glasses, equipped with a sensor that detects eye movement. By moving them to the left or to the right, it is possible to “write” in Morse code, as the sensor would read the movement in either direction as a line or a dot.

Along with this, the glasses also feature a display which shows the letters that the patient has “written”, and thanks to the automatic fill function, the counterpart can already try to guess the word after a few letters, and suggest it, thus saving the i-Mos user time and effort.

Among those who could possibly benefit from using this device, which is only a concept now, but that we hope to see in production soon, there are for example patients suffering from ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or other degenerative diseases which hamper motion and communication abilities; thanks to i-Mos, their life could be a bit better, at least from an emotional point of view.

Panasonic to enter the mini camcorder market

luglio 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

With a delay that it’s hard not to notice, finally Panasonic has decided to play its cards on the mini camcorders market, a market dominated by devices with an extremely small size, a generally affordable average price and a good quality (which of course may vary depending on the price, and vice versa).

To do so, it has just announced the launch of its mini digital video recorder, called HM-TA1, with an attractive price tag of just 170 US dollars.

In spite of its low price, it is one of the smallest pocket video recorders available, with a candybar design which is now the standard for this kind of devices, available in several colors and with pretty good technical features, such as a 3 megapixel sensor which, although its resolution may be a bit lower than many competitors, gains in terms of quality thanks to its backlight which allows for a good performance in conditions of low lighting.

The presence of many buttons, in a field that tends to me as minimalistic as possible, makes it not so easy to use, but certainly one of its strong points is the possibility to use HM-TA1 as a webcam, also using its built-in microphone, by simply connecting it to your computer via USB cable.

It will then be possible to use it not only for good quality video recordings, but also to achieve a higher flexibility during your Skype or VOIP calls. In fact, while other webcams are more difficult to move around (when they are not embedded in the laptop monitor), moving around during a video chat will be easier thanks to this model.

All this comes at a low price, with a weight of only 100 grams and very small size.

Organized crime wants your personal data

luglio 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

According to a report recently published by Verizon, approximately 85 per cent of thefts of personal data and unauthorized access to restricted information (out of which, 38 per cent is represented by theft of usernames and passwords) can be directly or indirectly linked to organized crime.

Always according to this report, more than 70 per cent of these thefts is perpetrated by outside parties, while 50 per cent of attempts comes from insiders, such as for example collaborators, staff members or business partners, or from an improper use of access credentials, which gave staff the opportunity to take a sneak peek where they should not.

If on one hand, external intrusions exploit weak spots in computer systems, which at times may happen to inadvertently leave a backdoor open, which can be accessed by a hacker, on the other hand inside attacks are a breach of the trust relationship between boss and employees, or between partners.

For this reason, it is absolutely vital to adopt an efficient access control system or procedure, which can unequivocally define who has the right to access to certain data or information, and who doesn’t. For example, still according to Verizon’s report, by adopting simple precautions it is possible to thwart up to 96 per cent of data theft or unauthorized access attempts.

These precautions may range from data protection via encryption and encoding at different levels according to the importance of the data stored, to physical measures to limit access to certain rooms in your workplace and allow only authorized people to get through.

For more information on how to maintain security and privacy of information in your office and workplace, and on several data protection options, we advise that you visit the Endoacustica website.

Robotic tentacles to neutralize bombs and landmines

luglio 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

As soldiers deployed in war zones know too well, danger may be waiting around the corner, behind a closed door or in the form of a homemade bomb (the so called IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices) which may explode at any time. Neutralizing these bombs is one of the hardest jobs for the troops, and one with the highest risk and casualty rate.

To improve soldiers’ safety in these situations, the US Army Research Laboratory, in cooperation wit Carnegie Mellon University, is developing the Robotic Tentacle Manipulator, an anti bomb robot made up of three coordinated robotic tentacles, mounted on a cylindrical bottom.

The system features a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) functionality, as well as 3D imaging software, which allow it to scan a suspicious object, and an advanced manipulation system which allows it to open doors or inspect a bomb without setting it off.

Its tentacles can also be used to move the robot, allowing it to negotiate even the narrowest spaces, to walk on rough terrain or even to swim to reach its target.

The anti bomb robot is controlled remotely, thanks to a laptop to which it is connected by Bluetooth or WiFi. Each one of its tentacles is basically an individual robot, and a central control system would communicate with the individual motors placed on each tentacle.

The motors are used to provide movements on each tentacle, while the operator that controls the whole system from his laptop would control the whole movement. According to Army researchers, in the future it will be possible to create such robots in different sizes and with different features according to the job they will need to take care of.

A new generation of flying cars by Terrafugia

luglio 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Terrafugia, one of the most popular names in the world of flying cars has just presented the concept, integrated with computer graphic images and technical specification, of its next vehicle called Transition Roadable Aircraft (TRA).

It is a hybrid vehicle, whose characteristics might be summed up with the description give on the manufacturer’s website: land at the airport, fold your wings up and drive home. Of course, behind this simple concept there is a lot of work by Terrafugia, a work that results in a vehicle with an array of technology that adapts the typical features of a small plane to the needs of a car, for example with a cockpit that includes a rigid shock-absorbing safety cell which can withstand heavy impacts.

Other technological and security features include, along with a touchscreen interface to handle operational commands with ease, a ballistic parachute along with several airbags for driver and passenger’s protection. To turn the car into a plane and vice versa, the process has been simplified, and it is now possible to open or fold its wings by simply pressing a button on the inside of the flying car.

Once the wings are spread, its 100 hp engine allows for easy takeoff. The TRA concept has been recently approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, thus marking an important step towards production of a vehicle which in the future might be a common sight on our roads… and in our skies.

Of course, this is applicable only for those (and there are not too many) who can afford to pay a price which is expected to be around 190 thousand dollars. Price does not seem to be a problem, though, for those 80 folks who already booked their TRA, while cashing out a 10 thousand dollar advance payment.

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