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A laser gun to bring down enemy unmanned aircraft

giugno 7, 2010 Technology No Commenti

As explained recently, usage of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) by the US Army is so widespread in war zones, that their total mission hours have just reached the one million threshold. Naturally though, the fact that pilotless aircraft do not bear any risk for ground personnel does not keep them safe from being, in turn, exposed to the danger of being brought down, in spite of the fact that their small size and their electric power makes them difficult to identify and strike.

On the other hand, the US Army is certainly not the only one that uses UAVs, and to defend themselves from possible enemy attacks or reconnaissance missions carried out via drones, the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) has developed a laser gun, specifically designed to identify and hit this kind of aerial vehicles, especially in scenarios of war at sea.

The gun, called LaWS (Laser Weapon System) shoots a laser beam, controlled by a guidance and location system; so far, during a series of test runs, the laser gun has brought down a total of seven remotely controlled aircraft. In the future, thanks to the integration of even more powerful and accurate laser beams, US Navy researchers hope that they can extend the system’s operating range, and power it up so that it can strike a diverse range of flying targets.

Thanks to these laser systems, it will be possible not only to bring down enemy drones, but most of all, to do it in a much more soet-efficient way when compared to the usage of conventional weapons mounted on rockets. Furthermore, the laser defense system could, in a future that we hope will never come true, be mounted on commercial airliners, as an active defense against potential terrorist threats and attacks with rockets or missiles.

A surveillance camera that writes what it sees

giugno 4, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Just yesterday, we mentioned a research project aimed at the development of surveillance cameras which can recognize what they see and understand the possible interactions thanks to visual intelligence.
Today we will talk to you about I2T, an acronym for “Image To Text”, that is, a computer-based visual system, developed by UCLA researchers in cooperation with Virginia-based ObjectVideo.

The software which constitutes the core of I2T contains visual algorithms which analyze the images and are capable of compile a sort of list of whatever they can see within the image. In practice, the image is broken down into a series of shapes, and the shapes are matched with a name.

The process of matching shapes with their names actually is based on a human factor. In fact, Song-Chun Zhu, the system developer, in 2005 participated in a project which involved cooperation from some art students, who were set to work on a catalog of more than 2 million images, identifying and classifying their contents in over 500 categories.

In practice, once the image is split into several shapes, these shapes are matched against the archive and the corresponding name is assigned to them. Furthermore, Image To Text is also capable of describing movements of objects within the footage and describe them with automatically generated sentences like “Man1 enters car at 23:45, leaves car at 26:14”.

Recurring objects can be stored and recognized, so a car previously seen will still be called Car1 when reentering the scene, instead of Car2.

The I2T system, which could certainly be useful for closed circuit video surveillance systems, needs a lot of improvement before being a real match for human cognitive capabilities, and hitting the market. Our friends working the night surveillance shift can rest safely, they are not losing their jobs!

One million hours of flight, with no pilot

giugno 4, 2010 Technology No Commenti

At the beginning of the war in Iraq, back in 2003, US armed forced were equipped with 13 pilotless aircraft, the so called drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). From that time on, the growth in deployment and usage of these systems has been exponential, until current days, when over 1400 vehicles of this kind are actually deployed in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the middle of April 2010, the drones used in Iraqi territory have “celebrated” a total of one million hours of flight. The overwhelming success of aerial video surveillance systems is mostly do to their efficiency in carrying out their missions automatically or thanks to a remote control, without having to unnecessarily put personnel’s lives in danger.

In fact, whether they are used for reconnaissance or target acquisition operations, thanks to the installation of photo and video equipment (also infrared for night vision), or they carry out real combat missions thanks to the application of warheads and weapons, UAVs (or UAS, Unmanned Aerial Systems) have revolutionized the modern idea of war, making it resemble a videogame, at least from the point of view of the UAV operator.

The first pilotless aircraft was used in Iraq during the first Gulf War after the Kuwait invasion in 1991. Since then, it took 13 years to reach 2004, when a total of 100000 hours of flight was reached, while nowadays, an estimate says that unmanned aircraft are carrying out at least 25000 hours of missions every month.

Recently, the US Army has released its Road Map for applications and usage of unmanned aircraft in military operations for the next 25 years. During this time, officials are planning to increase the usage of this vehicles in fields of applications such as evacuation of wounded troops and transportation of heavy material.

A robot fish to guide other fish away from danger

giugno 3, 2010 Technology No Commenti

When we are talking about dangers that may threaten the fish at sea, we do not mean those caused by other inhabitants of the water: Mother Nature is doing its job well enough without man having to stick his nose in it. We are rather talking about dangers created by human intervention, and just to name an example that has the world watching lately, the Gulf oil spill is before everyone’s eyes.

And when it comes to man-made threats, the natural defenses acquired over millions of years may not be enough for the fish to swim towards a safe haven. With this in mind, an Italian researcher from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University has created a robot fish designed to act as a leader for other fish and, by having them follow him, guide them to safety, for example away from the oil spill.

To achieve this task, the research team has observed a group of fishes’ behavior, coming to the conclusion that, in order to gain attention from others, the aspiring leader fish shakes his tailfin faster and more vigorously.
Once he gains their attention, he gathers them in a pack and leads them, and often these groups of fish are formed by different species.

Therefore, they have designed a black robotic fish, approximately 15 cm in length, with the aim of “taking over” the power among his live peers, recreating realistic motions by using polymeric materials which move as a reaction to a small electric impulse generated by an internal battery.

In the future, these robotic leader fish will be equipped with a battery that recharges itself automatically with motion, thus becoming almost eternal. They might be used to guide other fish away from potentially dangerous situations, for example to prevent them from swimming too close to the turbines of an hydroelectric power plant.

Visually intelligent cameras for US Armed Forces

giugno 3, 2010 Technology No Commenti

The Department of Defense agency DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) which works on research projects on high technology devices that are then used in war areas to provide a sensible advantage to the US troops over their enemies, has started a tender for an application called Mind’s Eye.

The name, slightly reminiscent of Orwellian atmospheres, is used to identify a project aimed at the manufacturing or intelligent cameras, or better, of cameras with visual intelligence.
Thanks to a specially designed software, these video systems will have to be capable of recognizing objects around them, to understand their usage and the possibility of interaction among the various objects on the scene.

Thanks to this kind of visual intelligence, the ultimate goal of the project is obtaining cameras that can be used to autonomously provide information on the objects and locations they see, not just by passively acting as a mirror and reflecting what they see, but “entering” the depicted area and giving their viewers the possibility of using the images to identify a potentially dangerous situation.

A camera equipped with this kind of artificial intelligence might be used, for example, for video surveillance of sensitive targets such as embassies or banks, where it could analyze any changes in the area around them, and determine whether these changes might represent or not a potential threat to the target.
Alternatively, they can be mounted on board of UGVs (Unmanned Ground Vehicles) used for reconnaissance missions in dangerous neighborhoods or urban warfare areas.

Thanks to Mind’s Eye, the Pentagon hopes to reduce any potential risk for military personnel, while achieving an analytical capability that the eye of a soldier may not be able to reach, especially after long hours spent in the sun or marching, when he could be overwhelmed with fatigue and stress.

Bug sweeping, to keep your conversations secure

giugno 3, 2010 Technology No Commenti

When in your workplace or office you are discussing important business strategies or information, ast any level, secrecy is a vital factor, especially if one of the keys to success is being faster than your competitors. Therefore, it is essential that any information exchanged during a decision-making meeting is kept safe and protected against prying ears, especially if there are substantial sums of money at stake.

In order to keep your environment secure, it is advisable to resort to technological aid, for example by installing a bug sweeping system which can use different ways to keep our conversations private. For example, to be reassured that no one has placed micro transmitters or hidden microphones in your office, you can use a bug detector, which would immediately expose any radio or GSM transmission source within its operating range.

Alternatively, to thwart any listening attempts that may take place by using a mobile phone (or, as explained above, through a GSM bug) you can use a signal jammer, which will create some sort of “island” where mobile phones can neither receive nor transmit, thus achieving two results in one: no news could leak outside, and no one will be able to disturb your meeting with an unwanted or untimely phone call, and the decision making process will not be influenced or disturbed by anyone outside.

Of course, in case of a bug sweeping operation that will be looking for concealed bugs or microphones, it is always advisable to consult an expert who will accurately scan and inspect your office or home, trying to locate any miniature listening devices that may be endangering the privacy of our job or of our personal life.

To do this, you can consult the Endoacustica website, where our environment reclamation experts will be able to give you a tailored advice.

Sanyo to launch its Full HD underwater video camera

giugno 3, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Sanyo has just announced the worldwide launch of its miniature camera DMX-CA100, a high definition Dual Camera (that is, a device that works both as a video and a photo camera) which can be used even under the water, up to a maximum depth of 3 meters.

News about the launch of this underwater videocamera manufactured by Sanyo comes just a few days after their competitor Toshiba have announced that they would soon be releasing a similar model, underwater and with high definition features, which in spite of having been announced a few days earlier, thus deservedly holding the title of “first Full HD underwater Dual Camera”, does not seem to be a match for DMX-CA100 under the image quality point of view, especially as far as usage as a photo camera is concerned.

DMX-CA100, in fact, can record up to 60 minutes of high definition video footage, with a resolution of 2920 by 1080 pixel in MPEG-4 format. The images shot by the photo camera are 14-megapixel, with a 4640×3480 resolution, and can also be taken with the continuous shot function, which allows you to shoot up to 22 images with a frame rate of 7 per second.

Thanks to its Double Range Zoom function, you will also be able to use two different zoom levels and quickly switch from one to the other, with a magnification up to 12x.
Images and footage can be stored on a SXDC memory card, and naturally, they can easily be downloaded on your PC at a later stage.

The price tag on DMX-CA100 has not been placed yet, meaning that all you have to do is wait until the end of June to know it, and to choose your model in a color of your choice among pink, yellow and black.

Air traffic controllers to switch to GPS, at last

giugno 2, 2010 Technology No Commenti

GPS location systems are not only useful to find your way back home, to avoid traffic jams or to track down a criminal under surveillance, but within a few years they will also be used to locate flying commercial airliners.

In fact, the US Federal Aviation Administration, in agreement with the Obama administration, has set the guidelines according to which any aircraft, within year 2020, will have to be equipped with a GPS positioning system in order to have access to US airspace, and to land in the country’s busiest airports.

Thanks to this system, airliners will be constantly transmitting their position information to the traffic control center and to other planes around them, giving controllers a clearer and more updated picture when compared to what can be obtained with the current radar systems.
In fact, thanks to GPS planes will send their position every second, while current radars update position of aircraft within their range every several seconds.

Furthermore, this will allow the aircraft itself to be sending its position to the control center, and not the latter scanning the air as it happens now. The real breakthrough lies in the fact that, if the airliner is equipped with the necessary technological devices, the pilot will be able to see exactly what the controllers see, including, most of all, other planes around them, thus dramatically reducing the risk of collisions in the air or during takeoff and landing phase.

In a few words, although GPS tracking is seen by many as a modern version of Big Brother capable of monitoring people and vehicles at any time, such an application can only be beneficial for security of our travel and, ultimately, of our life.

Climbing mountains and walls with an elevator

giugno 2, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Powered Rope Ascender is a system which allows you to climb or descend drops, for example like a mountain cliff or a wall, without effort and even while carrying a weight.
This makes it very useful for firemen on a rescue operation, or in the military field, especially for soldiers engaged in war zones where the terrain may be rough, such as Afghanistan just to name one.

This ascension system, manufactured by the Boston-based Atlas Devices, is available on the market since a few years now, but a new version is ready to be used not only on mountains or in cities, but also on a naval environment, thanks to a smaller weight and size when compared to the standard version.

This lightweight version has been created by the US Navy Office of Naval Research (ONR), and should roughly be ready byu the month of Semptember. It is also equipped with a rechargeable battery which would automatically recharge during descent phase.

This is the modified version of a device which was initially designed for mountains and urban areas, but that thanks to some changes can prove useful also on the sea, for soldiers having to climb or descend a vertical surface quickly, for example during boarding of an enemy ship, or for swift evacuation of wounded personnel.

Its loading capacity just below 300 kgs makes it possible to quickly ascend at a speed nearing 2 meters per second, even if loaded with weapons or carrying a wounded soldier on your shoulders; it works not only on vertical surfaces by lifting or lowering its load, but also horizontally, for example to pull a wounded soldier towards his rescuers without having them exposed to enemy fire.

An autonomous underwater robot to study the Gulf oil spill

giugno 1, 2010 Technology No Commenti

The oil spill that so dramatically broke out under the Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico has now become the most serious environmental disaster in the history of the United States, and the black tide does not seem to stop, especially after three different attempts to contain it have failed, most of all the Top Kill which had given hope for a while thanks to the heavy mud that had been pumped into the pipes, but turned out to be a failure just like the others.

The latest attempt takes the form of an autonomous underwater robot, or AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle), designed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), which has been immersed in the oily water a few days ago in order to locate and study any oil plumes under the surface of the ocean.

Generally, AUVs are programmed before letting them into the water, in order to automatically carry out certain operations once they are under the sea, for example by gathering and analyzing samples of water, to send the result of the analysis towards the mother ship, and do a check-up to assess the health of the sea around them, or to take photos or video footage, eother for scientific usage or for underwater surveillance.

This underwater robot made by the Californian researchers can measure standard characteristics of water, by detecting presence and concentration of polluting particles, or of oil like in this case.
What makes it one of a kind is the presence of ten 1.8-liter tanks, or “gulpers” which can gather samples of water , to be later taken to the surface to be analyzed, and of an artificial intelligence system which can detect the presence and boundaries of an oil plume, and gathers water samples both inside and outside the plume, to study the differences and impact on micro organisms in the water.

The robot, called Gulper after these tanks can dive up to a depth of 1500 meters, enough to reach the bottom of the sea in the affected area and gather samples near the spill.


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