ReconRobotics has unveiled a reconaissance microbot that can provide anti-piracy forces with valuable surveillance information. Yep, that’s right: There are now tiny robots that board pirate ships.
Pirate-fighting forces often have to board a ship with incomplete information, not knowing exactly what’s going on below decks, how many pirates are on board, or how the ship’s crew is faring—putting them at a dangerous disadvantage. To help these forces take stock of the situation before going in, ReconRobotics is making a seafaring version of its ReconScout Throwbot, a one-pound remote-controlled robot that can be tossed into a building and zip around taking video surveillance, sending the feed back to its controller. This new bot has magnetic wheels that let it drive straight up a vertical metal wall—meaning that if anti-piracy forces toss the robot onto a ship’s hull, it can climb on board and send back valuable video recon.
The latest state-of-the-art night-vision helmet should probably come with a warning label: “May cause uncontrollable laughter.” Despite its goofy, high-tech-Frankenstein appearance, the helmet actually makes a significant improvement in night vision by doubling the field of view compared to—and making that view much sharper than—the view through current goggles.
Called the High Resolution Night Vision System (HRNVS), these helmets are designed to give U.S. Air Force pilots higher-resolution images and an over-80-degree field of view, which is much better than the fuzzy, 40-degree field of view of conventional goggles. With the helmet in place, a pilot simply flips the viewers over his eyes to peer into the night. Each eyepiece is fed a synced image from two digital night-vision sensors. In addition to seeing more, the pilot also receives a crisper image because the helmet is programmed to enhance edges and contrasts, says SA Photonics, the company that developed the device. And as he spies another aircraft, a HUD-like digital overlay tells him how high it is and how fast it’s moving; and he can even record what he’s seeing as a video.
Should we be strapping these to our torsos?
We’re all a little bit radioactive now. Thanks to atom bomb tests in the mid-20th century, it’s possible to use radioactive (but harmless) carbon-14 to date not only bristlecone pines and putative Noah’s Arks but also, in a recent Karolinska Institutet study, Grandma and Grandpa’s artery fat.
The technique used in this study—radiocarbon dating—is widely employed by archaeologists and geologists to determine when organisms like fossilized trees or plants lived. All organisms absorb carbon-14 along with normal carbon-12 in a ratio that mirrors how much of each type is present in the atmosphere. (Carbon-14 is produced naturally in the upper atmosphere by cosmic rays, and then mixes throughout the atmosphere and into the oceans.) When an organism dies, the carbon-14 starts to decay at a known rate—half the atoms become nitrogen-14 in about 5,700 years—and the amount left in the tissue when it’s dug up can be used to back-calculate its age.
“Our work is about discovery — discovering secrets,” said Toni Hiley, director of the C.I.A. Museum. “And this sculpture is full of them, and it still hasn’t given up the last of its secrets.” [The New York Times]
In 1999 three of the sculpture’s four sections were confirmed solved by computer scientist and amateur code-breaker James Gillogly. They contain historical references and cryptic sayings. Twenty years later, the remaining section, 97 characters long, is still unsolved.
A McDonald’s in the Dutch city of Rotterdam has decided to crack down on burglaries with a high-tech security system previously used in the city’s jewelry stores. To catch anyone who makes off with the cash from the till (or a bag of Big Macs), the store’s managers installed a device that stealthily sprays synthetic DNA on the thief.
The system involves a small, strategically placed orange box that shoots out synthetic DNA when an employee pulls an unusual trigger: Removing a €10 bill from a special bill clip behind the counter not only activates the device, it also alerts the police that a robbery is in progress. The synthetic DNA spray is visible under ultraviolet light and contains markers that are unique to that location’s device, allowing police to match a suspect with the locale.
The security-conscious McDonald’s advertises the presence of its system with a sign on the door reading, “You Steal, You’re Marked.” The New York Times explains that the effect of the device is, well, subtle:
That grease trail you’ve smeared on your smart phone’s touchscreen could give away more than your lightsaber skills or virtual girlfriend’s whims: Would-be smudge attackers, a recent paper argues, could follow your finger oils as a clue to your passcode.
In the paper “Smudge Attacks on Smartphone Touchscreens,” which we first saw on Gizmodo, a team in the computer science department at the University of Pennsylvania tried to pick out grease patterns from Android phones by photographing the phones and enhancing the patterns with photo-editing software. From the paper’s introduction:
“We believe smudge attacks are a threat for three reasons. First, smudges are surprisingly persistent in time. Second, it is surprisingly difficult to incidentally obscure smudges through wiping or pocketing the device. Third and finally, collecting and analyzing oil residue smudges can be done with readily-available equipment such as a camera and a computer.”
“Peacekeeper” missiles are getting a new lease on life: as satellite launchers. Next week, the Air Force plans to launch the second of these decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles, renamed “Minotaur IV,” to deploy a trash-tracking satellite.
It’s nice to know that one relic will help us spot others–pieces of junk, like abandoned rocket stages left over from other space missions. As the IV in the new rocket’s name implies, the Peacekeeper isn’t the first retired missile to enter the Air Force’s very special recycling program. The first Minotaurs (pdf) incorporated stages from Minutemen missiles.
Barron Beneski is a representative of Orbital Sciences Corp., which holds the Air Force contract to transform the missiles into launch vehicles. Beneski told Discovery News:
“What is neat is that what was once a military weapons system is now a peaceful use of government assets. It’s the whole idea of turning ‘swords into plowshares.’”
Other countries, notably Russia and China, have similar missile makeover programs. Unlike these countries, the United States does not offer the boosters for sale on the open market–only for government use.
“OSC (Orbital Sciences) can’t sell a Minotaur to Brazil,” Wayne Eleazer, a retired Air Force officer, told Discovery News. “That’s still not allowed.”
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80beats: Laser-Bearing Jumbo Jet Shoots Down Its First Missile
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There is really no good way to end a high speed car chase. Shooting out the tires of a fleeing vehicle or laying down old fashioned spike strips are both terribly dangerous. Ramming the getaway car with a police cruiser until it spins out is obviously risky. Thankfully, the government is hard at work on the problem and they’ve come up with a solution that maybe ready by next year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The technology is named the Safe Quick Undercarriage Immobilization Device, but you can call it SQUID.
“SQUID was inspired by a sea creature and a superhero,” says [Engineering Science Analysis Corporation] president Martín Martínez. Like its oceanic namesake, SQUID ensnares its prey with sticky tendrils. Like Spiderman’s webbing, these tendrils stretch to absorb the kinetic energy of their fleeing target.