These days, our artificial ears and eyes are better than ever—and more ubiquitous than ever. A business recently profiled by the New York Times seems to embody both what’s most promising about such pervasive surveillance and also what’s potentially disturbing.
ShotSpotter sells and helps run an automated gunshot-reporting system to police departments, for a cost of $40,000 to $60,000 per square mile. Recording equipment is installed in neighborhoods and linked software that records sounds that could be gunfire, analyzes them to identify which are actually shots, and then submits its findings for review by a trained employee in the company’s Mountain View office. If a human verifies that the sounds are indeed gunfire, the police are notified with the location of the shots, pinpointed to within 40-50 feet. All this can happen in well under five minutes, meaning police can be there right away.
Contrary to the erroneous early reports that U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was killed during the attack on her campaign event Saturday, the Congresswoman survived the attempt on her life. She’s considered lucky to be alive–gunman Jared Loughner shot her in the head at close range.
Now, as she enters the long, unpredictable journey back from serious brain injury, there are at least good signs.
The optimism expressed Sunday was based on Ms. Giffords’s ability to communicate by responding nonverbally to the doctors’ simple commands, like squeezing a hand, wiggling toes and holding up two fingers. The tests are part of a standard neurological examination after head injuries. In Ms. Giffords’s case, the doctors were encouraged because the simple tests showed that she could hear and respond appropriately, indicating that key brain circuits were working. [The New York Times]
This morning, the news remained positive—reportedly the swelling in Giffords’ brain is not getting any worse. That swelling is the real danger in the immediate aftermath of injury if the person survives the initial shock, as Giffords did. Fortunately, she found herself in the care of Dr. Peter Rhee, who was a Navy doctor for 24 years, tending to Marines and soldiers and learning emergency response to brain injury.
Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery at the University Medical Center in Tucson, explains that a large piece of Giffords’ skull has been removed to prevent the swollen brain from pressing against the rigid skull, which would cause further damage.
“The key is making a wide opening in the skull so that the brain can relax into it. Decompression has allowed us to save soldiers with horrible blast injuries,” said Lemole, who removed a wedge from the left side of Giffords’ skull, above the area pierced by a bullet. After the swelling subsides, he said, the bone will be put back into place, closing the gap in her skull. [USA Today]
It seems like terrorists don’t even need to think of crazy new shoe, underwear, or pancake bombs to get around the TSA, since airport security seems to have forgotten what normal weapons look like. Though they still won’t let me bring four ounces of conditioner onto the plane.
About a year ago, Houston businessman Farid Sief accidentally brought his loaded Glock on a flight from Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport. The loaded gun, which Seif carries for protection, was tucked away in his laptop case, and should have been clearly visible since he had to take his laptop out of the bag, which was practically empty.
“I mean, this is not a small gun,” Seif said. “It’s a .40 caliber gun.” … “There’s nothing else in there. How can you miss it? You cannot miss it,” Seif said. [ABC News]
Last week the Navy took its best shot–and it was a doozy. The shot, fired on December 10th, broke the world record for the most powerful shot, as the 23-pound aluminum projectile rocketed out of the Navy’s electromagnetic railgun at a reported speed of Mach 7, or seven times the speed of sound.
Today’s 33-megajoule shot–powerful enough to launch 33 Smart cars at 100 mph–means the Navy can fire projectiles at least 125 miles, keeping military personnel at a safe distance from their targets, according to the Office of Naval Research. [Popular Science]
The weapon is called the XM-25, Counter Defilade (a word I had to look up) Target Engagement System–basically, it provides a way to shoot someone who is hiding behind an obstacle. It works by shooting a mini-grenade-like round that is programmed to detonate after passing the barrier. The detonation scatters lethal shrapnel toward the enemy target.
The weapon’s computing sight measures the distance to the target precisely using a laser, and corrects automatically for such factors as air pressure, temperature, relative elevation etc. Buttons above the trigger allow the point at which the shells will detonate to be moved nearer or further away. [The Register]
“Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” American revolutionaries supposedly yelled at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Legend has it that the rebels were trying to conserve ammunition, given the inaccuracy of their 18th century guns.
But things have come a long way since 1775. With DARPA‘s new “One Shot” sniper system [PDF], scheduled to be in soldier’s hands by the fall of 2011, the U.S. military will give snipers the ability to take out an enemy at a distance of .7 miles in winds around 10 to 20 miles per hour. Military brass hopes the system will give snipers a perfect shot at least six times out of ten.
The One Shot system still wouldn’t come close to matching the record for shooting accuracy: In November of last year, British Army sniper Corporal Craig Harrison made two shots at a distance of 1.53 miles in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. But Harrison modestly thanked perfect shooting conditions: no wind, great visibility, and mild weather. The DARPA program aims to give soldiers the technology to hit a target despite adverse conditions.
Picture the classic shoot-out in a Western movie: The good guy and the bad guy face each other, their hands quivering over their gun holsters. The bad guy reaches for his weapon, causing the good guy to react–he whips out his pistol and BAM! The hero triumphs. Physicist Niels Bohr once had a theory on why the good guy always won shoot-outs in Hollywood westerns. It was simple: the bad guy always drew first. That left the good guy to react unthinkingly – and therefore faster. When Bohr tested his hypothesis with toy pistols and colleagues who drew first, he always won [New Scientist].
But new research suggests that Bohr didn’t have it exactly right. In a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists suggest that people do move faster when they are reacting to what is happening around them–but not fast enough for a heroic gunslinger to save his own life.