If the Air Force gets its way, it will have spying eyes hidden in the very motes on its enemies’ boots. In a wonderfully vague request this week, the Air Force called for companies to design miniature drones capable of dusting targets with signal-emitting particles. They say the technology (assuming it works) could be used to identify civilians or track wildlife, which is military-speak for “we want to track and kill terrorists, not bunnies.”
According to the request, the Air Force wants a small remotely piloted aircraft, or SRPA, that would “unobtrusively distribute taggants onto moving targets.” They describe taggants as tiny electro-magnetic-emitting devices. The key part of the request is for the tracked person to not be aware that he’s being tracked. The request makes the laughable point that a swooping SRPA or tracking-device-laden paint ball probably wouldn’t be unobtrusive enough because “the target would obviously notice a swooping SRPA and likely feel the sting of the well-placed pellet.” (Either that, or you’re dealing with one very unaware terrorist.)
But the problem is, to detect an abnormal stench, the government first needs to know the city’s normal aroma, to have an idea of its “chemical profile.” To that effect, DARPA just released a solicitation looking for suggestions on how to best build chemical composition maps of major United States cities. Spencer Ackerman over at Wired’s Danger Room t0ok a look at the solicitation and explained what DARPA is looking for:
The data Darpa wants collected will include “chemical, meteorological and topographical data” from at least 10 “local urban sources,” including “residences, gasoline stations, restaurants and dry cleaning stores that have particular patterns of emissions throughout the day.”
Then, subsequent chemical readings from the area could be compared to the “map” to check for abnormal chemicals in the air. Since many chemicals that can be used in a terrorist attacks are normally found around our cities, it’s difficult to just screen for them without having an idea of their baseline levels, explains Wired:
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Tired of running out of cell phone juice in the middle of a conversation? A professor at Texas A&M University may have just the answer for turning your chatter into power.
Chemical engineering professor, Tahir Cagin is using piezoelectrics, a material made of either crystals or ceramics, to generate electricity. Piezoelectrics were used in World War I in sonar devices. Today, they’re found in microphones, inkjet printers, and even cigarette lighters. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is making a shoe with piezoelectrics that can change the energy created by walking into electric power for charging soldiers’ equipment. Some European clubs even use them to transform the dance power from late night partiers into power to light up the club.
Cagin discovered that when piezoelectrics are small and thin (between 20 and 23 nanometers to be exact), twice the amount of energy is created. By finding the ideal length, he was able to convert the mechanical energy it creates into electric power.
Wii rehab might sound like radical intervention for video game addicts, but it’s actually effective physical therapy for patients recovering from strokes, injuries, or surgeries. Otherwise tedious strength and coordination exercises go by a little easier if they involve waving a wireless controller to play virtual bowling, tennis, and golf. But it doesn’t stop there. The next step in video game rehab is “Air Guitar Hero,” which would allow amputees to rock out with the immensely popular Guitar Hero game using a mechanical arm wired to their chest muscles.
As part of a DARPA initiative for prosthetics research, scientists are now able to reroute the nerves that once controlled an amputee’s arm to the chest muscles, where electrodes can then pick up the electromyographic signals to control a mechanical arm. But the process of learning how to accurately control a prosthetic arm, not to mention individual fingers, using only twitches of the chest, can be a slow and discouraging one. So researchers at Johns Hopkins University hacked a Guitar Hero controller so that its color-coded frets could be controlled with signals from the electrodes.