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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.

A robotic fish that makes friends

luglio 4, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Robotic fish can be used for a wide range of applications, ranging from gathering underwater images for scientific usage, monitoring of the waters’ health conditions to fight pollution, or even underwater surveillance.

But if there is one thing they can not really do, it is being recognized by other fish as one of them. The often unnatural motion, as well as size and color, may end up scaring away other fish and cause them to turn their electronic cousin into an outcast.

All this seems to be in the past now, thanks to a research project that scientists from the University of Leeds are working on. The British researchers have created a robot fish which looks like a common stickleback fish.

This robot, aptly named Robofish, is connected to a stand through a small rigid tube, and below the stand is a small magnet. By placing another magnet on the outside of the glass and moving it, the stand that keeps the fish in place will move, and our friend Robofish will seem to be freely swimming in its tank.

Once placed in a tank with real fish, it has been programmed to move according to a preset route, at a speed slightly higher than other fish of this species. The live fish immediately followed him, first one by one and then in groups, as for them, speed is considered as a sign of strength and self-assurance, which causes them to see their robotic friend as a leader, especially if they are in a new environment. In fact, once they are accustomed to their new tank, they tend to follow it much less.

The experiment might lead to interesting developments not only for monitoring conditions of water, but also to study the fishes’ migratory routes and the effect that human intervention might have on these routes.

Thermal cameras, for clear images even in the dark of night

luglio 4, 2010 Technology No Commenti

When you are out on the open sea, surrounded by total darkness, it is very difficult to notice and be aware of an impending danger, especially if this danger is represented by other boats approaching your with lights off and with not exactly friendly intentions.

For boats that are not equipped with expensive state-of-the-art radar technology, a solution comes from the usage of a thermal camera. Thermal cameras are capable of recording sharp images even in the darkest night, detecting a possible approaching danger or enemy thanks to their thermal image.

Thanks to their special sensors, thermal cameras can see not only in the dark, but also beyond a thick layer of dark smoke. This makes them very useful not only to protect security and safety on board of a boat out at sea, but also, for example, as a trustworthy tool for firefighters during a rescue operation after a city fire; this tool can literally save lives, by detecting the presence of persons trapped behind the smoke, allowing for a prompt rescue intervention by firemen.

Furthermore, thanks to their small size and light weight, they are suitable for being used in motion, for example during police operations of search and capture of criminals; these operations must take place in the dark to ensure success, without arising unnecessary suspicion and attention.

The resolution provided by this kind of camera is 240 x 180 pixels, with a 24-degree view field, which allows for an optimal situation awareness and immediate action in case of danger.
For more information about operation and cost of thermal cameras, you can visit the Endoacustica website and request a tailored advice.

A marathon for low-emission ultralight aircraft

luglio 4, 2010 Technology No Commenti

For research purposes, for showcasing the latest novelties or for pure and simple fun, from the 9th to the 11th of July, the Charmeil aerodrome, near Vichy (France) will host the first ecologic marathon for motorized ultralight aircraft.

The winner of this contest will be the one who covers the longest distance with a small amount of fuel, while producing the lower amount of polluting emissions. The contest is divided in two sections: one is open to students and research institutes, while the other is for manufacturers and producers of ultra light aircraft and solutions for this field.

The first category, generally, is the one that features new or innovative ideas and solutions which might in the future be applied to mass production, while the second represents the next step, that is, the application of these (or similar) solutions on more conventional models present on the mass market.

Aircraft must be built according to the French regulations for motorized ultralight aircraft (ULM), and must as well be equipped with radio and GPS devices. Along with the fuel and electricity consumption, the level of acoustic and environmental pollution will also be measured, and in the end, the winner will be declared by using several factors which include not only the distance covered, but also the lower impact in terms of environmental footprint.

Along with the marathon, there will also be an exhibition which demonstrates usage of sources of renewable energy on automatic vehicles, both in the air and on the ground.

The main goal of this event is to develop new ideas for energy saving, by applying alternative energy sources on ultralight aircraft. These solutions might one day find application also in commercial avionics, to build more energy-conscious aircraft, which will pollute the air even less.

Spy DVR Glasses

luglio 1, 2010 Technology No Commenti

How many times did we wish that we could record the images passing before our eyes, either for leisure (like an evening out with friends) or for work 8for example on a confidential meeting) and that we could do it while the people around us are unaware? Certainly most of us would have wanted to do this a million times, but this is not always possible, for practical reasons, and also because of the cost.

Now, thanks to the increasing miniaturization (and decreasing prices) of video technology, this is possible thanks to spy glasses. These spy glasses are nothing else than a normal pair of glasses, with a slightly 60’s feel to their frame; inside the frame, they conceal a miniature camera with microphone, and an equally small video recording system.

Thanks to the camera viewer placed right between the eyes, you will be able to record exactly what you are seeing in real time, and save it all (up to a maximum capacity of 4 Gb) on a micro SD memory card.
Its usage is very simple, the applications are virtually unlimited, be it hidden recordings or normal video shooting.

For example, you can start recording during a motorcycle ride to shoot POV videos; or you can use it to play trick on your friends and shoot candid camera videos.

Of course, along with a leisurely use, it also has a professional side. In fact, thanks to the fact that the camera is concealed inside a pair of glasses, this recording system can be used to take discreet footage of evidence or compromising events, by law enforcement agents against criminals, or by private detectives in cases of corporate espionage, infidelity suspicions and a lot more.

For more information on how the spy glasses work, along with an extensive catalogue of devices for discreet audio and video recording, you can visit the Endoacustica website.

From golf courses to war zones, without a driver

luglio 1, 2010 Technology No Commenti

At a first glance, it may look more or less like a golf cart that one would use to move from one hole to the next on the course, just a bit sturdier. Actually, it is an autonomous vehicle capable of carrying heavy material (up to 400 kgs), helping troops in war zones to carry material with all weather conditions.

The vehicle, called GUSS (Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate) is the result of a cooperation between Virginia Tech University and TORC, a factory specialized in unmanned ground vehicles; the vehicle moves at the speed of a walking soldier, in fact it can reach only 5 km per hour, but its usefulness lies not in its speed, rather in its ability of moving without a pilot, providing support to ground troops during their journeys on foot, thus making their operating conditions a tad better.

GUSS is controlled via a small handheld computer, which can be used to either guide it manually or to set up a route that it will automatically follow without any further human intervention needed. This vehicle is an evolution of a previous model of remotely controlled unmanned car, which Virginia Tech had showcased at the 2007 edition of DARPA Urban Challenge, a competition among research institutes presenting automated vehicles capable of freely moving in the city traffic in a completely autonomous way.

On top of the initial project, researchers added a customized version of the AutoNav automatic navigation system manufactured by TORC, designed for offroad use, along with improved sensors and algorithms, which allow GUSS to navigate smoothly even in conditions much harder than the ones that a “normal” navigation system would encounter on paved roads.

Micro helicopters can perch on walls just like insects

luglio 1, 2010 Technology No Commenti

The latest novelty in the MAV (Micro Aerial Vehicles) field is coming from the heart of old Europe, and more precisely from Switzerland, where a student from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne is at work on the development of a swarm of flying micro transmitters, capable of flying towards a specific point of interest, such as a crime scene or the scene of a natural disaster, and to perch on top of trees or walls, in a position from where they can easily gather information, images and data, and transmit them.

This result is achieved thanks to a couple of prongs, mounted on the front side of the flying robot. These stings are part of a small module, weighing approximately 4 grams, which can be applied on basically all vehicles of this kind currently available on the market.

Once the micro aerial vehicle reaches its target, these prongs would stick into the surface, keeping it in place and allowing it to start its work, gather images and intelligence, and transmit it.

In an experimental phase, this module is being mounted on a small glider, but in the future it should be possible to use it also on battery-powered flying robots. The stings can easily penetrate any wooden surface, but they are resistant enough to make holes also on a concrete surface, making them very useful for reconnaissance and data collection, for example during a city fire, to reach areas where firemen are unable to go.

Once the mission is completed, a small remotely controlled motor would withdraw the prongs from the wall, allowing the MAV to come back to its launch base, ready to be used again for a new reconnaissance or imaging assignment.

Freedom of expression is at risk, to provide more security

giugno 29, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Just like it is happening (or at least, some are trying to make it happen) in Italy, where the Berlusconi government is trying to have a bill approved which would dramatically limit freedom of expression, thus placing a gag also on blogs which are regarded as the last real free means of expression on the Net, it looks like the US as well are somehow trying to gag the Web.

In Italy, an amendment to what has been nicknamed “gag bill” gives bloggers the obligation to rectify their posts within 48 hours of a possible request received by anyone who might get offended; in case of non-compliance they would be subject to a fine of 12500 Euros, thus forcing them to choose: if for example they want to go out on a weekend or a short holiday, they should always be near a computer… or alternatively (and this is what this bill seems to be obviously designed for) they should not publish their posts at all, giving them the possibility to go on holiday even for a full month, not forgetting to put their freedom of expression in their bag as well…

In the US instead, the Senate is discussing a bill named “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act”, which would allow the President to control the Web by giving him the power to order, in case of potential threats to national security coming through the Web, to abide by some unspecified “emergency measures” which might go as far as shutting down websites or search engines. Try to imagine for a moment that Obama (or one of his successors) might for example shut down Facebook or Twitter if their pages are used to carry messages seen as a threat to national security.

According to this bill, an Office of Cyberspace Policy would be created, which in cooperation with another newly-created Internet security center should identify any key infrastructures which, in case of collapse, might generate a series of disastrous events; furthermore, these offices would set up the emergency measures to protect the infrastructures, which are then ordered by the President. The only limit to the Office’s power would be a preemptive notice to the Congress before putting these restrictive measures (which can be renewed or prolonged by Presidential decree) into effect.

The bill has been presented by Sen. Joe Lieberman (Democrat, Connecticut) who already a couple of years ago had an attempt at trying to add into the Terrorism Prevention Act the possibility for the Government to control the Internet infrastructures and ultimately the power to shut down, by President’s order, any site whose existence may be defined as dangerous for security of the United States.

These measures might potentially give a single man absolute control powers over the net, or at least, a discretional power that would allow him to control a large part of freedom of expression, guiding it into a certain (limited) range of possibilities. Obviously, the technical feasibility of this idea is not that easy to implement (the Web 2.0 users are always a tad faster than their controllers).
But what is bothering is that not only the Internet privacy, but the freedom of thought on the Net must be the object of lawmaking, and that the policy of too many governments, liberal only by name, is slowly but inevitably switching towards a dangerous authoritarianism, aimed at controlling free thought and its expression as if it were the most dangerous of foes.

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