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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.

Long-wave infrared cameras to drive safely at night

luglio 7, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Some luxury cars already sport cameras which use near-infrared (NIR) light to see more clearly obstacles or dangers on the road at night. Using these radiations, though, requires the car to be fitted with infrared headlights. In alternative, one can use thermal image cameras, which on the other hand require a complicated and expensive cooling system to keep their sensor at a constant temperature of 193 degrees below zero.

But in Germany, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute have created an infrared camera that solves the problem, thanks to a particular sensor which works perfectly even at room temperature.

The core of this system, called IRFPA (Infrared Focal Plane Array) is a so-called microbolometer, a sensor which absorbs long-wave infrared light (LWIR). By using an array of these microbolometers teamed up with a chip, researchers have been able to create a two-dimension image.

In the moment when one of the sensors absorbs light, its temperature would go up, and this change of temperature is recorded by the chip, which converts it into a digital signal, that is then sent to the camera which in turn transforms it into the final image displayed on the inside of the car, used to detect, for example, a dog by the side of the road who is about to suddenly cross it.

Thanks to the opportunity to get rid of complicated and expensive cooling systems, LWIR cameras might in the future find possibilities of application in many other fields, for example on normal cameras or for the photo camera module of our common mobile phones, which would be greatly improved not only in terms of sensitivity but also in energy saving, as no more energy would be needed to cool down the sensor.

A DYI body armor, not only for Carnival masquerades

luglio 7, 2010 Technology No Commenti

By looking at the picture above, one could easily think that he is looking at just another commercial for a new Iron Man movie; instead, he is looking at a real armor, inspired by the one used by the character in the movie, built by Anthony Le, a hardcore Iron Man fan since he was a kid.

In order to turn this Iron Man armor into the real thing, he has used a high-resistance plastic material called urethane, joining the pieces with over 1500 rivets. For the helmet, he used a special liquid resin.

Thanks to a simple button, the front side of the helmet can be easily opened and closed just like in science fiction movies. Furthermore, the helmet would illuminate thanks to a battery pack, concealed inside the armor, which also powers some LEDs placed on the front plate to add to the scenic effect.

By using the same plastic material, he also built a gun (of course not a real one!) to be mounted on the wearer’s shoulders, and a pair of equally fake machine guns mounted on the arms.

Construction required just a month of Anthony’s time, and 4000 dollars out of his pocket. Of course, since this is a replica armor, he uses it only for mere fun, for example during sci-fi movie fans’ conventions.

But in the future, who knows: should the US Army set its sight on his creation, Anthony’s armor might become a really used one, maybe by improving it through the usage of ultra light and ultra tough metals; at that point, just add the requisite array of electronic gadgetry, GPS navigation systems, pointing devices, infrared viewers and cameras and so on, and here you have the soldier of the future.

Maybe it’s just a dream, but a future of this kind may not be too far… but for now, a plastic armor is enough!

A flying car to escape roadside attacks

luglio 7, 2010 Technology No Commenti

In war zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan, one of the most frequent dangers for ground troops is to fall victim of a terrorist attack carried out by guerrillas hidden by the side of the road, or of a bomb laid out to wait for any armored vehicle to run over it.

In order to try and solve this problem, the US Army is working together with Logi Aerospace, which has designed Tyrannos, a real flying car which can fly thanks to its for rotors placed on the front, on the tail and at the end of a pair of wings. Thanks to this equipment, Tyrannos is capable of taking off (and landing) vertically, just like a small helicopter… but with 4 wheels!

At the moment, Tyrannos is just a project in the mind of Larry Ortega, one of the founders of Logi, and no prototype has been produced yet. In the intentions of its creators, Tyrannos should be, not counting the wings, more or less as big as a normal SUV, and should carry 4 passengers at a maximum height of 200 or 300 meters, with a maximum speed of approximately 150 miles per hour, and a flexibility that would allow it to quickly escape dangerous situations.

In fact, in case of dangerous situations on the road (or of traffic jams…), you just have to press a button and the vehicle would take off vertically. To make life easier for its driver, the flying car will be equipped with a virtual reality system, which would display some sort of “highway” on the inside of the windshield. Thanks to this, all you have to do is follow this virtual road to fly the Tyrannos without big problems, with no need for complicated training courses and almost without noticing that the road under your wheels… does not really exist!

Listening bugs, it’s not the end yet

luglio 5, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Those who follow Italian political life will certainly be aware of the controversy that the bill on telephone eavesdropping is arising not only between the ruling coalition and its opposition, but also within the Italian governmental majority.

Not only the centre-left opposition, but a large chunk of the centre-right coalition that rules the country does not like some parts of this bill, which seem to aim at gagging the press in its ability to report about investigations, and ends up making life much harder for police forces when investigating and when wiretapping phones or planting listening devices.

The fact that between the lines of the bill presented for approval were hiding some norms that would have dramatically limited the possibility of planting bugs to eavesdrop conversations, making it possible to use them only when serious clues of guilt are involved, and that the eavesdropped intelligence could only be used against the specific crime in question and not any additional offences that might be revealed while listening, raised more than one eyebrow.

What seems to be happening now is a showdown within the coalition, between a right-wing that supports Berlusconi no matter what, and those who, taking into consideration the “law and order” attitude of most of their electorate (an attitude also shared by the centre-left) might be in trouble having to explain why such a bill, that ends up making life easier for criminals, is being passed by using the electors’ mandate.

Those who work in this field are sitting on the riverside, hoping that the interests of a few do not prevail over everyone else’s call for security.

Jetman is now flying in acrobatic formation

luglio 5, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Last time we heard from him, it was last year, and he was in Morocco, where his attempt at becoming the first man o complete an intercontinental flight with a Jetpack strapped on his back, was thwarted by air currents and bad weather.

This year, our dear Jetman, that is, the Swiss-born jean Yves Rossy, is trying to astonish us by showing up in Buochs, in the middle of the Alps from his home country, for the Breitling Flying Days air show.

During the air show, Rossy has showcased is latest creation, made up of a fast-extracting parachute and a new and more powerful jet wing, nicknamed Delta Wing. Thanks to it, once you strap it behind your back, you will be able to take off directly from the ground instead of jumping off a flying plane, and to complete acrobatic maneuvers in the air.

In order to show this capability, Rossy has tested his Delta Wing by flying together with the famous Breitling Wingwalkers, a group of crazy-but-funny aviators who make a great show with old biplanes, while carrying passengers… on the wings!

Along with the Wingwalkers, Rossy has been flying for just over six minutes at around 1000 meters of altitude, keeping a distance of a few meters from the planes, with a difficulty factor enhanced by the fact that Rossy does not use a yoke or anything else to move up or down, right or left, but steers his wing by using his body.

Furthermore, he is studying a new parachute with rocket-powered opening, which improves security in the air and can be opened only 200 meters from the ground, even at high speed, while the one mounted on Delta Wing can only be opened at 800m altitude. What more will Jetman do to leave us stunned?

A spy airship as big as a football field

luglio 5, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Technology keeps thrusting forward, especially in the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) field, where new pilotless aircraft, always smaller and more powerful, are being created every second day.
Sometimes though, time seems to leap backwards, and in this specific field it seems to give an unexpected nod to good old airships, which seemed to have retired long ago, and be used only to carry advertising messages.

Instead, along with being used as a cargo ship for heavy equipment, it is also useful for monitoring and surveillance from above. The spy airship, designed by Northrop Grumman, in cooperation with other firms in the avionics and aerospace field, on behalf of the US Army, is neither small nor invisible, as its length can be compared with that of a football pitch.

In spite of its enormous size, the so-called LEMV (Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle) can efficiently carry out the task of a spy plane, floating in the air at an altitude of approximately 6000 meters, and thanks to its video, photo and GPS equipment on board, it can gather photo and video intelligence from above. All this, of course, takes place without a pilot on board, operating on a predefined route which is set from the ground.

In the US Army’s intentions, LEMV should be used to monitor the air space, national and international, both for military and civilian use. If used in the military field, the spy blimp would be teamed up with C4ISR software systems, which manage the information coming from different sources such as, along with the airship, spy satellites and several UAV type aircraft, to keep track of any movement of men and equipment taking place within a certain area of operations.

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