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A fabric that can record or produce sounds

luglio 14, 2010 Technology No Commenti

As we know, optical fibers can be used to transmit data as light pulses, thus making high-speed Internet surfing as we know it today possible. They can also have some more sophisticated properties, such as the possibility to detect, transmit and play sounds.

A team of researchers from the MIT is developing a particular type of optical fibers which could be used to create clothes that, along from being normally worn, might work as real microphones, to pickup and intercept sounds, but also to measure blood flow and brain or blood vessel pressure.

The acoustic fibers that the MIT research team is working on are manufactured by using a special plastic material, and with a procedure that is slightly different from standard optical fibers, which involves the materials inside each fiber being positioned according to a complicated geometrical scheme.

The molecules of this special polymer are asymmetrical, and thanks to this, it can be defined as piezoelectric, since it changes its shape in presence of an electrical current, just like a normal piezo microphone would do. Thanks to this process (briefly described) fibers can capture sounds just like common microphones would do, and by reversing the process they can produce sounds as well.

In practice, it would be like wearing a microphone, and by connecting it to a micro recorder (or in future, integrating the recorder inside a dress manufactured with these fibers), creating a shirt that can work as a recorder as well, and that might for example sport a USB plug inside a cuff, used to download its recordings directly into a computer.

For those who work in the audio surveillance field, like law enforcement agents of private detectives, it would definitely be a tool worth using.

Robot sentries on the Korean border

luglio 14, 2010 Technology No Commenti

One day, we might all be replaced by robots that do our job in silence, in an absolutely efficient way, with no complaints and most of all, without joining any workers’ union.
The latest development in this respect comes not from the world of labor, but from the military: in fact, the South Korean government has decided to install, inside the famed DMZ, the de-militarized zone which runs along the 38th parallel and separates the two Koreas, a set of robot sentries.

We are talking about robots equipped with sensors that can detect voice, movement and heat generated by a possible intruder within their operating range, and that in extreme cases can shoot with an automatic gun or throw grenades. As soon as the robot sentry detects an intruder, it immediately sends an alert to its control center.

If the personnel from the center can ensure that the intruder is not a real threat, the robot will not act, but if it is identified as a foe, then an order would be given to shoot and neutralize it.

Currently, these robots are only used near a single border post (of course the name and location has not been disclosed) and should this test be successful, the South Korean government would install automatic sentries, at a cost of 330 thousand dollars each, all along the 250-kilometre long border between South Korea and the no man’s land that separates it from North Korea, one of the most dangerous areas on the planet, as well as the most heavily guarded border line in the world.

Those who might not agree with installation of these robots are animals, which have populated the demilitarized zone taking advantage of the lack of humans, and might find themselves in danger in their involuntary natural reserve.

Spy plane stays four days in the air, with no pollution

luglio 13, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Every single day we happen to read (and to write) about some new spy plane, and with so many of them around, our skies (especially above areas where peace is at risk or absent, such as Middle East, Iraq or Afghanistan) are crowded with drones keeping a watchful eye over the terrain below from different angles and heights.

The latest novelty in this field was introduced by Boeing a few days ago and is called Phantom Eye. This spy plane with its peculiar egg-like shape and a 45m wingspan, can reach an altitude of approximately 65000 feet (around 20000 meters) and thanks to its twin 2300 cc engines, it can stay up in the air for up to 4 consecutive days while carrying a payload of approximately 200 kgs, and reaching a maximum speed of 150 knots, and all this without a pilot.

Furthermore, Phantom Eye is capable of flying in an absolutely clean way, with a decidedly reduced operating cost, since its engines are powered by a hydrogen fuel cell; unlike normal engines mounted on commercial airliners, the hydrogen engine does not produce carbon monoxide, but pure and simple water, thus playing its small part to keep our skies clean.

For now, Phantom Eye is just a prototype, but by the early months of next year, after the first tests on the ground, we will start to see tests in the air of a vehicle that seems set to revolutionize the world of spy planes, not only for its technical characteristics (the surveillance equipment mounted on board should not dramatically differ from what is currently available on this market), but rather for being the first high-altitude UAV built with an eye to energy saving and clean energy.

An unmanned combat aircraft, completely invisible to radars

luglio 13, 2010 Technology No Commenti

The British Ministry of Defence has just introduced Taranis, the first prototype of pilotless combat aircraft (or UCAS, Unmanned Combat Aircraft System) capable of flying in stealth mode, without being detected by enemy radars along its way, and of striking at very long range, even thousands of kilometers away from its base.

The aircraft, called Taranis, is the result of a design and development work which lasted more than three years and a half, and it is bound to become the largest unmanned combat aircraft operating in war zones, once the test flights have been completed (its maiden flight is scheduled by 2011).

It will be equipped with two bays for weaponry, and although it is fitted with equipment that allow it to function in a completely independent manner for most of its mission, the ultimate control and final decision over use of force will be taken by the ground personnel that operates it remotely.

The Taranis project brings together, under the Ministry of Defence umbrella, giants of the avionics, aerospace and electronics fields. Big names such as BAE Systems (which will supervise the entire project), GE Aviation, Qinetiq and Rolls Royce are cooperating to deliver Her Majesty’s troops a new tool to strike from a distance and in complete safety.

During the unveiling ceremony, which took place at BAE Systems’ plant in Warton, no details have been provided yet about weapons, navigation systems and the technology that will be mounted on board the Taranis, but we are sure it will be the best available, to ensure absolute flexibility and an equally absolute precision to strike without being detected by enemy defences.

Invisible earpieces, for a continuous and discreet contact

luglio 11, 2010 Technology No Commenti

If telephone wiretapping is becoming a more difficult tool to use, at least in Italy, law enforcement can certainly not stop their investigation work, and in order to fight crime, in some cases they must resort to a more cumbersome and dangerous method, that is, for example, trying to infiltrate a criminal organization or a terrorist cell, in order to try and gather in first person information that might be collected with listening bugs.

In order to carry out this kind of operations, one of the most useful instruments that surveillance technology can provide is certainly an invisible earpiece, that is, a miniaturized transmitter that, once placed inside the ear canal, can be used to listen to what is happening around its wearer, and to send him information and instructions from a remote location, in order to guide him in his intelligence gathering operation.

Invisible earpieces conceal, in their tiny size, a micro transmitter which can be connected via Bluetooth to a radio transmitting or GSM watch, that is, something that looks like your ordinary wristwatch but on the inside contains a radio transmitter or a SIM card just like the ones we use on mobile phones. Through this set, the information gathered through the earpiece can be sent via radio to a listener hidden somewhere within a range of a couple of kilometers, or by using the GSM phone network, it can be sent to any corner of the world towards a preset phone number, starting the transmission operation with the simple click of a button.

For more information on how invisible earpieces are working, we recommend you visit the Endoacustica website and ask one of our consultants.

A social robot to fight loneliness of the elderly

luglio 11, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Aging is not always easy, especially for those who live alone and are not always able to keep in constant contact with family members or relatives living in other cities. To fill the gap, there are social networks, but it’s not easy, for a person of a certain age, to be able to use computers, often seeing as some sort of infernal machine, and to use it to find pictures or videos from your family or friends’ recent holidays.

Now this gap can be filled with an idea being developed by students of the Zurich University (again Switzerland!), who have created Kompott, the prototype of a robot designed to assist people with no familiarity with computers and technology, and enable them to use Flickr, Facebook and so on. The head of this social robot is a big touchscreen, which thanks to some easily recognizable icons gives you the opportunity to choose contents such as email messages, video or pictures.

Just like a normal touchscreen, all you have to do is touch it to advance or select, and to open videos or pictures you want to see. Along with this, Kompott helps those who have difficulty in reading the on-screen text, or to use a keyboard to answer.

In fact, thanks to a voice synthesizing software, the text of an email message can be read out loud, and to answer you will just have to dictate the message, and Kompott will turn it into text before sending it by email, without having to go through procedures that are very simple for those who use computers on a daily basis, but might be confusing for who does not have the necessary familiarity.

Kompott’s aim is that, one day, even an older person can keep in touch with the world, and can do it via technologies that they would not be able to use normally; and while doing this, they can get relief from the loneliness.

Breathtaking images from space with high sensitivity cameras

luglio 11, 2010 Technology No Commenti

NASA has just published an archive of spectacular images shot from space by astronauts on board of the ISS (International Space Station). It is an archive made up of approximately 700 thousand pictures, all shot thanks to a D3S series digital cameras supplied by Nikon, and specifically modified to be used in space.

Those cameras have been upgraded in order to achieve ultra high sensitivity and maximum response in conditions of low lighting, conditions which become even more peculiar in outer space, where one can have to deal with full sunlight or total obscurity. In order to operate in such conditions, this high sensitivity camera is capable of working in a sensitivity range varying from 100 to 102400 ISO.

Aside from publishing such breathtaking photos coming from the Space Agency’s huge library, shot with special models and with common off-the-shelf cameras that you can get from any electronics store, NASA has also published the list of equipment that Nikon supplies, and that are currently on board the ISS.

The cooperation between Nikon and NASA is successfully running since almost 40 years, from the first camera used in 1971 on board of Apollo 15, all the way down to the new dSLR ordered in 2008 and currently in use. Thanks to this partnership, studies carried out in space by NASA are since a long time being based on high quality images, used not only in the scientific field, but also on board of spy satellites pointed towards the Earth with intentions much different from study, such as surveillance from space and reconnaissance in war zones.

Telephone interception: no newspapers today, against the gag bill

luglio 11, 2010 Technology No Commenti

As operators in the security and surveillance field, we have more than once expressed our point of view regarding the bill that the Berlusconi government is trying to pass, and that would pose severe limitations not only to the possibility of using wiretapping during the course of a police investigation, but also to the freedom of press, preventing news about the crime from being published before the trial is actually over.

Therefore, not only it would no longer be possible (or it would be much more difficult and cumbersome) to frame criminals that use the phone to close deals, exchange information and carry out negotiations for their dirty jobs, but should a reporter publish news about such crimes, he might be subject to a hefty fine and might even risk to be arrested and incarcerated.

If this law was in effect today, just to make an example, the recent scandals which involve politicians from the government and the centre-right supporting coalition would have not been possible to expose, and the public opinion would not have been able to objectively judge their politicians, something which is already pretty hard in a country where TV information is filtered and manipulated to the point that Italy (only country in Western Europe) has been listed as “partly free” under the point of view of freedom of expression.

To protest against all this, yesterday, July 9, Italy has seen a day of general strike by newspapers and online information and news sites: most of the newspapers (including even some leaning towards the centre-right) were not published, and the major information websites (as well as the newspapers’ sites) were not updated all day.

By doing this, the Italian press wants to give a sample of how the information would look like if this bill were to be really approved: a completely gagged press, forced to publish completely unimportant news to fill up pages that would no longer function as a source of information, but would be turned into a mere entertainment, useful only for quick and superficial reading.

Facing the enemy of a law that limits freedom of expression, this choice might appear as a contradiction, and one might think that it would actually do a favor to those who are trying to gag the Italian press; on the contrary, this day of silence on press and news portals is a blank space to do some thinking, a way to realize that every day might be a day like this, in a country where law is able to decide what news would make the headlines and what has to be deliberately ignored.

What should raise more than one eyebrow is the fact that, while on one hand this government flexes its muscles against desperate refugees fleeing their countries to escape hunger or war and look for a better opportunity in the West, chasing them off the Mediterranean coast as if they were fastidious insects, on the other hand this determination vanishes completely when it comes to fighting financial and organized crime, that might be effectively fought by using listening bugs.

If in the USA, the increase in usage of bugs and hidden microphones to wiretap phone calls and conversations has given positive results in the struggle against white collar crime, while Italy is doing its utmost to limit them, one might start to wonder that there is some hidden interest behind all this. Or not?

A solar-powered plane that flies at night

luglio 11, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Thinking of a plane, powered by solar energy, and capable of flying at night might look like a contradiction in terms, but not if you have seen the flight of the Solar Impulse, an ultra light aircraft powered entirely by the light of the Sun.
It took off early in the morning from the Payerne aerodrome, in Switzerland (a country that lately is making the headlines for flight-related issues, also because of the Swiss-born Jean Yves Rossy, aptly nicknamed Jetman), and this solar plane has landed, in the same place, after more than 26 hours of continuous flight.

This has been possible thanks to the solar energy harnessed by the 11628 solar cells that cover Solar Impulse’s wings. By taking off in the early hours, the vehicle can gather energy during the day, and use it to charge the approximately 400 kgs of batteries that power its 4 electric engines. Its light weight (around 1600 kgs, more or less like a mid-sized car) allows for a limited energy consumption.

The energy harnessed during the daytime flight proved enough to power Solar Impulse even during the hours in which the only light comes from the moon; success of this first experiment paves the way for the ultimate goal of the Solar Impulse project, that is, flying around the world non-stop, thanks to the fact that its solar cells are able to produce more energy than its engines actually use.

The project started 7 years ago, and in the intentions of André Borscherg, who is both CEO of Solar Impulse and pilot of the plane, the target of circumnavigating the globe should be reached by the end of 2012.

A fingerprint lock, and your office is secure

luglio 7, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Those who store sensitive data or highly confidential documentation in their office know well that, no matter how cautions you can be, during their absence this information is at risk, either because of curiosity or a simple carelessness, and might leak out.

Therefore, one should be equipped with a protection system that grants access to the room, and of course to the documents and information stored in there, only to selected and authorized personnel. To achieve this result, a normal key lock may not be enough, as even the key might get lost or stolen.

The wisest thing to do is using a 100% secure solution: a biometric fingerprint lock. Such a lock does not need keys which may get lost or end up in the wrong hands, since a key is not needed. All you need to do is run the fingertip of your forefinger and, if your fingerprint was previously stored and authorized, you will gain access to the restricted area.

It is possible to store up to 78 different fingerprints; to add a further layer of security, a PIN opening code can also be set up, to be entered once your fingerprint has been recognized.

Biometric protection is commonly used to protect sensitive areas, for example restricted rooms inside a military installation or a presidential building. Now, such a level of security is available for everyone, at a reasonable price, to protect your office, a place which maybe does not contain military secrets, but where it is certainly vital that confidential information stays confidential!

For more information on fingerprint locks, we recommend that you visit the Endoacustica website.

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