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Military UAVs for scientific use

luglio 26, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Generally, people are prone to thinking that the military has a very tight relationship with technologies, keeping for themselves all those devices they use to do their job, devices which in some cases hit the civilian applications market only a few years after having been thoroughly used by the men in uniform.
In some cases though, it is nice to see how military technology can be made available also for scientific use.

This is the case with Global Hawk, an unmanned aircraft initially designed by Northrop Grumman for the US Department of Defense, a vehicle we mentioned on these pages more than once. Recently, a particular version of this aircraft, carrying scientific equipment, has been used in cooperation with NASA for a test run, in a first test flight lasting over 82 hours. This research project, called GloPac (Global Pacific Hawk Program) is aimed at studying conditions of the air over the Arctic and Pacific oceans.

The vehicle is equipped with devices such as laser hygrometers which can detect the level of water vapor in the air, to point towards the clouds to analyze their consistency and features, or to measure the presence of microwaves emitted by oxygen molecules in the atmosphere. Water vapor, for example, is a powerful greenhouse gas, and its presence at high altitudes is a sign of pollution from gases that increase the Earth’s temperature.

Global Hawk can fly at altitudes between 14000 and 20000 meters, and from up there it is capable of gathering data related to the presence of greenhouse gasses and to the level of substances that damage the ozone layer, also measuring the level of dust (such as for example the ashes released by the Icelandic volcano a few months ago).

This enables scientists to monitor the health of higher layers of the atmosphere, gathering information that can prove vital also to monitor air quality at lower heights. Thanks to the endurance of its missions, Global Hawk can also be used to measure short-term phenomena at high altitude.

In the long run, scientists would like to have a better overview of the Polar Vortex, a cyclone located on the North Pole, analyzing which they hope to understand the dynamics that regulate the atmosphere in Northern latitudes.

From Italy to China on an empty tank

luglio 24, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Since we are talking about vehicles that can recharge themselves, let’s go back to the Mother Earth, and more precisely in Italy, in the city of Parma, where technicians from the VisLab laboratory of the local University have launched a very ambitious project, that is, the intercontinental road trip of an autonomous vehicle, capable of driving itself and recharging its batteries thanks to solar panels mounted on the roof.

Two of these vehicles, strictly without a pilot, have just left Parma, and the final destination of their trip is Shanghai in China, where they are expected to arrive in approximately three months, covering approximately 90 kilometers per day at a maximum speed of 60 kilometers per hour, of course while using absolutely no polluting fuel but only feeding on the clean energy harnessed by the solar panels.

To make sure that all runs smoothly, the two vans will be following a bigger van, acting as expedition leader and driven by a real human; and inside the two automated minivans, during the autonomous drive part of the journey, there will be an auxiliary driver in flesh and blood, ready to intervene in case of emergency.

These vans are equipped with a varied array of control and orientation devices: along with the requisite GPS navigation system, there are laser scanners, sensor to detects obstacles on the road such as rocks or potholes, video and photo cameras to document the trip and keep in video contact.

If you want to follow the journey live, the project site features a webcam, where one can see the trip in real time. We will stay tuned in 3 months, and we really hope (not only as fellow Italians) that the project has a happy end, as it might open new perspectives in the field of autonomous vehicles, which so far has been basically monopolized by military applications.

Bring down enemy missiles with your iPhone

luglio 24, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple like to boast that there is nothing you can’t do without an iPhone app. Now it looks like another step in this direction has been taken by Raytheon: in fact, the Massachusetts giant is working on Patriot Crew Drill, some sort of videogame whose effects are far from virtual, as it is used as a training tool for troops that operate Patriot anti-missile systems to shoot any approaching enemy rockets.

The troops assigned to Patriot usage are generally deployed in not so “hot” locations; when they are sent for an assignment to locations such as Iraq or Afghanistan, their knowledge of the Patriot system might get a little bit rusty. To counter this possibility and keep troops always up to date, also in case of any possible modifications to the Patriot operation, Raytheon has then created this iPhone application.

Used just like a common videogame, Patriot Crew Drill presents its user with a virtual scenario, with multiple choice questions that must be obviously answered correctly. If everything goes well, you would advance to the next step. In case of a mistake, a “virtual” Sergeant would make sure that the user does not make the same mistake the next time, and he would do it very politely… not.

It is not the first time that Raytheon presents iPhone apps designed to be used on the battlefield, although there is still a long way to go before they could actually be deployed. When this happens, soldiers will have to make sure that, if they are using an iPhone 4, they don’t hold it with the infamous Death Grip, as Steve Jobs may not be able to send a new bumper case in due time!

Gliders may recharge themselves from power lines

luglio 24, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Lately we had several opportunities to talk about planes, with or without pilot, which use renewable energies, for example thanks to solar panels, to stay in the air for long hours, even during the night. One more novelty in the field of continuous flight comes from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a team of researchers is developing a rechargeable glider.

This glider or, to be more specific, MAV (Micro Aerial Vehicle), thanks to its tiny size that does not exceed 30 centimeters in length, has been modified in order to allow it to suddenly slow down its flight and be able to “land” on power lines, thus using the electricity to recharge its battery and keep going with its mission.

Researchers have made it possible for the plane to quickly slow down, by using its wings just like birds would do. This result is achieved by bringing the glider into some sort of controlled stall position, suddenly pointing upwards just like an acrobatic plane at an air show would do. At the exact moment that the glider reaches this stall, it is practically motionless and can easily lie down on the power cables.

MIT researchers have equipped it with a small motor that controls an equally small flap mounted in the rear. By working on this motor, our glider heads upwards once a power line, to be used for recharging, has been located. By adding ultralight GPS navigation systems, photo and video cameras, it is possible to build a perfect miniature surveillance plane, perfect for patrolling small-medium sized areas such as a building with a park, or to gather intelligence and take pictures without arising suspicions, for example during a police surveillance operation.

Brother to launch a new version of their retinal display

luglio 24, 2010 Technology No Commenti

The Japanese manufacturer Brother has announced that its technicians are working on a new version of Air Scouter, a retinal display that uses augmented reality to provide information to its wearer.

Mounted on a simple pair of glasses, Air Scouter, which in this new and upgraded version is now capable of working also with corrective lenses, is connected wirelessly to an operations centre, which selects the information to send. For example, it can be used during a police or military mission, to send maps of the operation area directly before the eyes of the officer, who will be able to get oriented easily and will have a higher chance of success.

Alternatively, Air Scouter can help workers operating in a construction site over a large area, who will receive directly on their glasses drawings and schemes of their works. In its new version, the display capabilities have been improved, and the images that Air Scouter projects are as sharp as a 16 inch computer monitor at a distance of 1 meter.

In fact, information is sent by the projector directly on its wearer’s retina, with an intensity level that does not harm the eyes and does not tire them during long hours of use, giving the impression that images are actually distant. Along with improvement of its visual part, Air Scouter has been upgraded in order to be connected to an external micro camera.

It will be showcased to the public during the “Brother World” fair taking place mid-September in Japan. The price is not disclosed yet, but should any of you want to grab one, all they need to do is fly to Japan on those days. Easy, huh?

Micro bugs, what are they for?

luglio 24, 2010 Technology No Commenti

In the last few months, everyone in Italy is talking about telephone wiretapping, listening bugs and, most of all, about the limitations of their use for investigative purposes, limitations that the government is trying to pass with a bill that has created controversy.

It looks like, in their frenzy for following the Leader’s every wish, most of the deputies in the government coalition have forgotten that, thanks to the installation of micro transmitters concealed in cars, houses or offices of suspects, it has been possible (and still is) to bring dangerous criminals before justice, while keeping a low level of risk for police detectives and making their job easier and more effective.

A GSM bug, for example, aside from picking up intelligence thanks to a hidden microphone, can transmit them by phone, just like a normal mobile phone, even on the other side of the world, delivering absolute efficiency while wiping out any risk for agents, who are not forced to try to infiltrate terrorist cells or organized crime groups, running unimaginable risks.

So far, usage of interception technology allowed police to expose connections between different crimes, between organized crime and finance, between illicit activities and others that only apparently were really clean. By changing the law and making eavesdropping possible only before serious clues of guilt, and only for the offence in question, this possibility would be cut off, with a serious damage for public security. On top of that, the first draft of the bill would have prevented press from informing the citizens.

In other Western countries like the USA, resort to wiretapping is on the rise, allowing to uncover serious financial frauds such as the one run by Bernie Madoff, who in Italy, with such a bill, would get away with his crimes, in the face of citizens who struggle to survive on their salaries. Is this what you really want, Mr. Berlusconi?

The invisibility cloak really exists, and is made of glass

luglio 24, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Since long, researches and scientists worldwide are working to make possible the age-old dream of being somewhere without being seen by the people around us. So far, these researches have given some kind of result, used mostly in applications on military vehicles which are made “invisible” by projecting, on special panels mounted on their armors, images picked up from the environment around them; therefore it can be called mimicry instead of real invisibility.

The latest news from the world of research will sound like music to the years of those who dream about being invisible, and come from Michigan Technical University, where a research team has found the way to use magnetic resonance to capture the rays of visible light and bend them around objects, which are therefore made invisible to the human eye.

It is some sort of non-metallic material cloak, using resonators made up of a special calchogenide glass, a non conductive metamaterial (that is, a material that does not exist in nature and does not carry electricity) which makes objects invisible when they are hit by infrared light. These resonators are placed concentrically, and the circles’ spokes produce the necessary magnetic resonance which causes light to bend around an object, which would then become temporarily invisible.

For now, thanks to this technology, the researchers have been able to use this invisibility cloak to hide from you some small objects such as metal cylinders, ten centimeters tall and 5 or 6 in diameter. Of course they are still far from hiding a person or a vehicle, but these first step are encouraging, let’s stay tuned!

A video camera is hidden in the ear

luglio 24, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Taking hidden video footage at any level, from a candid camera TV show up to high-profile police operations to gather evidence against criminals, always require maximum discretion to achieve the best result, be it a good laugh or vital intelligence to fight organized crime.

Therefore, to avoid raising suspicions, the presence of a hidden camera should be impossible to detect, or it should be hidden in a way that does not make others smell anything fishy. For example, who could possibly think that what looks like normal earphones used to listen to music are actually digital video cameras, and that the MP3 player connected to them is instead a video recorder?

This is possible thanks to ear cameras, that is, some miniature needle-type cameras which are concealed inside a perfectly working earphone. The camera is placed inside one of the earbuds, while the other one is used to conceal the microphone.

By using it, it will be possible to record video and audio tracks without causing concerns, using your ear as it were the camera eye. Images and footage picked up by your ear cam can be recorded directly on a pocket video recorder, or transmitted remotely thanks to a microscopic wireless transmitter, towards a receiving station where they will be viewed and recorded to be used as evidence before a court of law.

This kind of video systems are particularly useful for law enforcement agencies, in this particular moment when usage of eavesdropping technologies such as micro bugs is in danger of being severely limited by new legislations.

For more details on how hidden cameras are working, we recommend that you visit the Endoacustica website to receive more information.

Will body armor of the future be liquid?

luglio 24, 2010 Technology No Commenti

It’s again them, the BAE Systems researchers. This time, they have presented a project they are working on, and which is developing a liquid which toughens instantly when subject to an impact, for example caused by a bullet.
The final goal of the research project is to make movements easier for those soldiers who are wearing a body armor, made up of ceramic panels which makes it heavy and bulky, and that in hot environments like the Iraqi desert or the Afghan valleys might be unbearable due to high temperatures.

In a liquid armor, this fluid is intertwined with a Kevlar fabric, which allows for higher flexibility, while reducing thickness by approximately 45% less than a conventional armor.

The latter have ceramic panels which, in case of impact, would bend inwards, preventing the bullet from going through but still inflicting a painful blow. With the liquid armor, instead, the fluid contained inside the Kevlar fabric not only toughens instantly in case of impact, with a toughness which is higher if the impact is stronger; aside from this, the energy caused by the impact is spread over a surface much wider than when using vests with common ceramic plates.

Therefore, the shock is absorbed in a much less painful way for the wearer of a liquid armor versus a traditional one. A lighter version of this armor might be useful not only for soldiers, but could replace the usual bulletproof vests used by police forces patrolling our cities, while in the future, BAE Systems is planning to produce an ultralight version of its Kevlar-based material; for now, a prototype of liquid armor has been presented to the British Ministry of Defense.

British soldiers will march lightly, thanks to MOATV

luglio 24, 2010 Technology No Commenti

BAE Systems have just presented their MOATV, a vehicle designed to make British soldiers’ life easier, during the long transfer marches in war zones where they are deployed, which involve carrying, either by hand or on their shoulders, loads that can reach up to 70 kgs.

The acronym MOATV stands for Multi-Operated All-Terrain Vehicle. In fact, just like its name says, the MOATV can be driven like your ordinary car by sitting at the wheel, or operated by remote control by an officer equipped with a specifically designed handheld computer or PDA.

On top of this, MOATV is equipped with a wide range of technological devices including anti collision systems, a bit like the parking sensor mounted on our average cars, but designed to avoid any obstacles such as for example rocks or holes, that should be encountered on the way while remotely controlled.

As said, this vehicle was designed to meet the need for making the load easier on soldiers who operate on foot, and thanks to MOATV, they will also be less vulnerable to possible sudden attacks or ambushes, as the lack of weights to carry will of course be reflected on a better response and reaction time.

By providing each platoon with a vehicle of this kind, and each soldier with a PDA to control it, it could be used not only to relieve fatigue, but also to carry ammunition across a battlefield without being exposed to enemy fire, to evacuate wounded soldiers ion similar conditions or for patrolling operations by mounting a camera on board.

In a few words, life of soldiers is more and more ruled by robotics: when will robots finally replace soldiers and save lives?

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