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November 05 2013

10:24

SR-72 – the Hypersonic Spy Plane is Coming

Credit: Lockheed Martin
Credit: Lockheed Martin

Credit: Lockheed Martin

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin recently announced plans to developed the SR72 – a hypersonic unmanned aircraft that would be the successor to the famous SR71 BlackBird long-range reconnaissance aircraft developed in the 1960′s. The new aircraft will be able to fly 6 times the speed of sound and potentially defeat all known anti aircraft defaces.

The SR-71 was one of the most groundbreaking military aircrafts of all times. Designed by Kelly Johnson – the legendary aircraft designer for Lockheed who also designed the U2 spy plane, the SR71 was developed to be the ultimate spy plane. It had a cruising speed of over 3.2 Mach – faster than any Soviet aircraft at the time and a service ceiling of 85,000 feet (almost 26 km) putting it just short of the edge of space and higher than any anti aircraft missile could reach at the time.

Despite more than 3 decades of distinguished service flying over many dangerous areas around the world, the SR71 was finally retired in the late 1990′s (after an initial retirement and reactivation in the beginning of the decade). Although spy satellites took many of the missions the older spy planes used to perform, satellites have drawbacks, their flight path could be predicted or observed by the enemy which can prepare and hide his intentions and it take time (sometimes many hours before a satellite can visit a target). Spy planes like the SR71 are more versatile and can theoretically operate with complete surprise.

For that reason it was believed by many that the U.S. had already developed a secret replacement for the SR71 codenamed Aurora (needless to say – no such aircraft was ever acknowledged by the USAF).

Now it seems Lockheed Martin – the successor to the company which created the original SR71 wants to create the ultimate 21′st centaury spy plane. However unlike the SR71, the SR72 as it is tentatively called will not be a manned plane according to Lockheed Martin but rather a hypersonic unmanned aircraft (or UAV).

While the SR71 set speed records at over 3.3 Mach (over 3 times the speed of sound), its successor is set to raise the bar even higher reaching 6 times the speed of sound when it will enter service in around 2030.

1383351311178

Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works (the home of the U2, SR71 and the famous F117 stealth bomber) is working on the SR72 and for several years now has been collaborating with rocket manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne (responsible for many important missiles including those of the Apollo program and the Space Shuttle program). Together the two companies have been working on developing a way to integrate an existing jet engine with a supersonic combustion ramjet that can take the SR72 from standstill to Mach 6 speed with no additional help.

According to the plan a turbine jet engine will take the plane from the ground and up to Mach 3 where the ramjet engine will kick in and take the SR72 pass Mach 5. The design also calls for a single inlet nozzle for both the turbine engine and ramjet in order to significantly reduce drag.

The SR-72 will not be the first hypersonic of Lockheed Martin – the company had been testing the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) for several years now with partial success (the vehicle reached a speed of Mach 20 for about 9 minutes before contact with it was lost – this happened twice in 2010 and 2011 but despite the loss of the vehicle, substantial data was collected from both flights before they crashed).

More information can be found on Lockheed Martin’s website.

The post SR-72 – the Hypersonic Spy Plane is Coming appeared first on The Future Of Things | Science and Technology of Tomorrow.

August 20 2013

18:30

DARPA Wants To Build A Computer That Mimics The Human Brain

SyNAPSE Program

The Brain Wall, a neural network visualization tool built, was by IBM researchers as part of SyNAPSE, DARPA's project to mimic the mammalian brain.

DARPA

The research group wants to develop machines with the capability for higher brain function.

The Department of Defense's research arm, DARPA, already has a lot of things on its wish list this year, but go ahead and add one more: a computer with the same brain capabilities as a mammal.

DARPA wants to build a machine that would be based on the neocortex, the (large) part of the human brain involved in higher functions like motor control, language, sensory activity and thought processes. The agency has put out a Request For Information on research of a "Cortical Processor" that they could use for analysis and detecting anomalies in large, complex data sets. In short, they want to basically build a version of an artificial human brain, one with temporal and spatial recognition that can solve "extraordinarily difficult recognition problems in real-time."

"The cortical computational model should be fault tolerant to gaps in data, massively parallel, extremely power efficient, and highly scalable. It should also have minimal arithmetic precision requirements, and allow ultra-dense, low power implementations," the request states. And what will DARPA do with that? It's not entirely clear, and the agency may not be totally sure itself. The research call asks developers to come up with potential new applications for this type of system.

DARPA has already made inroads on creating brain-like computing systems through their SyNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics) program, a biologically inspired computing project. In the third phase of SyNAPSE, DARPA-funded IBM researchers recently debuted a new brain-based computer chip called True North that mimics the organization and function of the brain with "neurosynaptic cores" that emulate neurons.

One day, DARPA would like to be able to build a machine that can think, sense and understand its environment, and find patterns and associations like the human mind does, with the brain's small size and energy efficiency. Eventually this would also them to build robots with intelligence levels similar to mice or cats.

[Network World]


    






18:30

DARPA Wants To Build A Computer That Mimics The Human Brain

The research group wants to develop machines with the capability for higher brain function.

The Department of Defense's research arm, DARPA, already has a lot of things on its wish list this year, but go ahead and add one more: a computer with the same brain capabilities as a mammal.

DARPA wants to build a machine that would be based on the neocortex, the (large) part of the human brain involved in higher functions like motor control, language, sensory activity and thought processes. The agency has put out a Request For Information on research of a "Cortical Processor" that they could use for analysis and detecting anomalies in large, complex data sets. In short, they want to basically build a version of an artificial human brain, one with temporal and spatial recognition that can solve "extraordinarily difficult recognition problems in real-time."

"The cortical computational model should be fault tolerant to gaps in data, massively parallel, extremely power efficient, and highly scalable. It should also have minimal arithmetic precision requirements, and allow ultra-dense, low power implementations," the request states. And what will DARPA do with that? It's not entirely clear, and the agency may not be totally sure itself. The research call asks developers to come up with potential new applications for this type of system.

DARPA has already made inroads on creating brain-like computing systems through their SyNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics) program, a biologically inspired computing project. In the third phase of SyNAPSE, DARPA-funded IBM researchers recently debuted a new brain-based computer chip called True North that mimics the organization and function of the brain with "neurosynaptic cores" that emulate neurons.

One day, DARPA would like to be able to build a machine that can think, sense and understand its environment, and find patterns and associations like the human mind does, with the brain's small size and energy efficiency. Eventually this would also them to build robots with intelligence levels similar to mice or cats.

[Network World]


    






May 24 2013

20:45

The World's Most Expensive Weapon Just Got A Little Cheaper

Cost projections for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program declined $4.5 billion last year.

File this under something you don’t see every day. The total projected price for the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program--the most expensive weapons development program in history--has dropped. Though its program history is riddled with cost and schedule overruns alongside unforeseen engineering and design issues, the total price tag for the JSF fell $4.5 billion in 2012, the first time in the program’s history that the projected cost has gone anywhere but up (and up and up).

The cost savings come from the Pentagon’s annual selected acquisitions report (SAR), which reviewed 78 DoD programs and found that to absolutely no one’s surprise the overall cost of Pentagon acquisition programs grew by nearly $40 billion (or 2.44 percent) on the whole last year. But it seems all the talk of federal belt-tightening might be having an impact on Pentagon culture. This was also the first time in a long time that no program in the SAR went 15 percent or more over its budget.

Pentagon officials credited the Better Buying Power initiative, an in-house effort to reform weapons procurement to better allocate resources and reduce redundant or wasteful spending, with helping to curb spending on several programs.

For a program with such a checkered past--it's been considered for the budgetary chopping block more than once--the drop in overall cost is huge for the JSF program and an indicator that it may finally be moving toward initial operating capability. Often a program finds a way to spend the money it already has in its projections, so the downward revision in total price may amount to something the JSF program really needed: a public relations boost at a point when pricey government programs are not popular with anyone.

So not only is the JSF the most expensive weapon ever developed, but it might now hold the title--at $4.5 billion--for the most expensive PR moment ever purchased.

[Defense News]

    


April 26 2013

13:35

Bang! Smartphone knows where that shot came from

You are walking down the street with a friend. A shot is fired. The two of you duck behind the nearest cover and you pull out your smartphone. A map of the neighborhood pops up [...]

April 26 2012

21:16

Video: 'Anti-Piracy Curtain' Makes Boarding Ships a Wet, Dangerous Mess for Pirates

It’s perfectly understandable why commercial shipping vessels are prohibited from carrying arms in international waters. But when it comes to dealing with the threat of piracy, battles that pit water hoses against small arms and RPGs are decidedly one sided. So Japanese companies MTI and Yokoi have teamed to create what they call the “Anti-Piracy Curtain,” a system that makes it difficult--and quite intimidating--for anyone to board a ship without the consent of a crew.

The curtain is a two-pronged anti-piracy attack aimed that aims to make it prohibitively difficult for pirates to pull up alongside a shipping vessel and board it using ladders, the typical method of operation for pirates operating in places like the Horn of Africa. Using the ship’s onboard firefighting water pump system, the first countermeasure dumps huge amounts of water off the side of the ship via high-volume nozzles, which soaks anyone below and would fill a pirate skiff with water at a rate of about a centimeter per second, eventually causing the boat to sink or capsize.

The second and more intimidating prong of this forked attack involves the deploying of high pressure hoses down the sides of the ship. Each hose is attached to a sinker weight that keeps the nozzle down near the water’s surface, and the restrictive nozzle at the end ensures that the water coming out does so at high-pressure. The result: a long hose belching a stream of stinging high-pressure water while lashing about violently. Several of these deployed down the side of a ship make it difficult to put a ladder up the side of the vessel, much less to climb aboard the ship.

[DigInfo News]

February 16 2012

17:00

Boozing for Better Health

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but what about a shot of tequila? It seems to work for fruit flies: Drosophila melanogaster seek out alcohol to kill off parasitic wasps living in their blood. Alcohol exposure also discourages the wasps from laying their eggs in the fly larvae in the first place.

The research, published today (February 16) in Current Biology, is the first evidence that alcohol might be used to fight infection, the authors say.

“It’s an important paper in the field of self-medication,” said Michael Singer, who studies ecology and evolution at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. “It widens the scope of possibility when thinking about what sorts of animals might engage in self-medication.”

Several species are known to self-medicate: primates consume specific plants to purge intestinal parasites, for example, and caterpillars ingest toxic leaves when sick. The new research now adds Drosophila to the list, and is the first recorded instance of alcohol being ingested as the medicine of choice.

Drosophila are unique insects because they often subsist on the yeast growing in rotting fruits. The yeast convert the fruit’s sugar into energy through the process of fermentation, which produces ethanol as a byproduct. So fruit flies regularly spend their lives swimming in—and consuming—the alcohol, which is toxic for most organisms.

Parasitic wasp lays its eggs in fruit fly larvae. <span>Milan et al., Current Biology</span>

They also spend their lives fighting off a tiny parasitic wasp, Leptopilina, which infects Drosophila by laying its eggs into fruit fly larvae and maturing in the flies’ bloodstream. “With examples of organisms using plants and fungal toxins as protection, we wondered if the flies were using alcohol in the same way,” said Todd Schlenke, a biologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and senior author on the study.

Schlenke and colleagues performed three experiments to test their hypothesis. First, they questioned whether the presence of alcohol prevents flies from being infected in the first place. It did. Wasps laid significantly fewer eggs in fly larvae grown on ethanol-soaked food than those raised on control food.

Next, the team tested to see if consuming alcohol helps flies kill parasites after the flies have already been infected. Infected fly larvae were grown on either ethanol or control food, then dissected. The wasps inside the fly larvae consuming alcohol were dead or sick, while the wasps inside the control larvae were healthy and growing. “The wasp larvae just can’t handle alcohol in the blood of their host, and they die,” said Schlenke.

Finally, the researchers looked to see if the flies, once infected, would seek out alcohol as a remedy for their sickness. Once again, the conclusion was affirmative. In a divided petri dish, rich in ethanol on one side and not on the other, 80 percent of infected flies chose the ethanol food source, as compared to 30 percent of uninfected flies. “They’re self-medicating,” said Schlenke. “They’re getting drunk purposefully.”

The researchers ran the experiments using both a specialist parasite wasp that specifically infects D. melanogaster and a generalist wasp that infects a diversity of Drosophila species. In every case, the generalist wasp suffered more than the specialist wasp, suggesting the specialist has adapted to its boozing host. But there is another explanation, said Singer—the specialist wasp may actually be manipulating its host. “The specialist wasp might benefit from a certain level of ethanol intake by its host because, according to evidence presented here, this could eliminate competition from the generalist parasite,” he said.

In addition to demonstrating the innate behavior of fruit flies to self-medicate, the study suggests alcohol can be used as a therapeutic agent, said Schlenke. Anecdotally, individuals will claim that a few shots of hard liquor can cure a stomach bug. “No one has ever tested that,” said Schlenke, but it is possible that a burst of alcohol could hurt blood-borne parasites, like malaria. “Could it work for us too?” he asked. “It’s an interesting question.”

N.F. Milan et al., “Alcohol consumption as self-medication against blood-borne parasites in the fruit fly,” Current Biology, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2012.01.04, 2012.

 

February 07 2012

23:17

UK Report Suggests Soldiers Could One Day Plug Their Weapons Right Into Their Brains

Dangerous-sounding neuroscience

A group of forward-thinking military scientists want to plug soldiers’ weapons directly into their brains, and this time DARPA is nowhere to be found. The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of scientific thought, issued a report today on the applications of neuroscience in the military and law enforcement contexts. Discussed therein: new performance-enhancing designer drugs, brain stimulation to boost brain function, and weapons systems that plug directly into the brain.

The wide-ranging document reportedly covers a lot of ground, including the ethical issues surrounding the use of neuroscience in defense. It seems to focus less on ways to impact the enemy directly, and more on the enhancement of soldiers’ fighting abilities--though neurological drugs that make enemy captives more talkative or perhaps cause enemy troops fall asleep or become disoriented also get a mention.

Of particular interest in the document: transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS. The idea of passing electrical signals through the skull to the brain to boost performance isn’t new to U.S. defense dreamers, as the U.S. military has already done tests on the technology (and found it helpful in improving soldiers’ abilities to detect threats). A battle helmet that can pass weak electrical pulses through the brain could sharpen a soldier’s mind, the report suggests, upping attention spans and memory as well as attention to detail.

Similarly, electroencephalogram (EEG) could work to turn the human brain into a more efficient tool, although in a somewhat backwards fashion from tDCS. Using an array of electrodes, EEG can record brainwaves through the skull, detecting things that may not be conscious but that the brain nonetheless registers. For instance, the report cites DARPA research in which subjects looking at satellite photos were monitored with EEG. Even when the subjects missed some of the targets they were looking for in the images, the brain detected them, and that was evident in their brain waves even though it was never converted to conscious thought.

Such tools could also be used to screen recruits and identify certain mental traits, helping fighting forces more efficiently organize their ranks into fast learners, decision-makers, peacekeepers, and hardened, battle-ready special ops types. But none of these ideas is as far-out as using brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) to plug soldiers’ brains directly into weapons systems.

This is based on the same kind of research that has shown that disabled individuals can move prostheses with nerve signals from the brain, but in this context such BMI technology would be used to plug the fast processing power of the brain into drone technology and other weapons technologies for faster target identification and, presumably, termination. Let’s hope the soldiers mind-melding with the killer drones aced their EEG decision-making exams.

[Guardian]

November 14 2011

15:59

What the Defense Department Wants For Christmas

Military dreamers unleash their latest wishlist

When you control a budget that exceeds a trillion dollars, you don’t have to wait until after Thanksgiving to start writing your holiday present wish list. The Department of Defense (DoD) has just released an early version of its small business programs for 2012, with every branch clamoring for futuristic technology that ranges from transforming robots to nanotech medicine to sensors that can figure out political beliefs through language analysis.

These kinds of sci-fi projects come naturally to DARPA, the military’s in-house tech shop, which proposed a number of programs with strong potential in the civilian world.

One of their solicitations, titled “Rapidly Adaptable Nanotheraputics,” aims for a solution to the problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. The program calls for the development of programmable antibiotics in the form of nanoparticles with specialized NA attached. As doctors encounter different strains of bacteria, they can simply reprogram the molecules to inhibit the growth of the new bug, rather than hitting it with the stronger antibiotics that encourage even more dangerous resilience.

Another DARPA request could change search and rescue by creating what amounts to a long-range tricorder. “Biometrics at a distance” would produce a device that could search for signs of life from up to 30 feet away, and through any intervening walls or rubble. Then, once the device finds somebody, it would analyze heart rate, temperature and other markers to determine that person’s health. Quick analysis of the different levels of injury among a mass of buried people could help first responders triage whom to extract first.

The Hovering Tube-launched Micromunition could be fired from artillery pieces, sprout wings while in flight, and hover over the target area waiting to strike.

The DoD solicitations, released on November 9 under the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program, provide a good overview of the ideas that have grabbed the imagination of America’s military, and the obstacles they anticipate having to overcome in the future. To the branches of the DoD outside of DARPA, those concerns, and thus the solicitations, have a much more pronounced combat orientation.

For instance, the ground-pounders over in the Marines and the Army went for more practical gear.

To help keep their growing fleet of robots operational even without the GPS system that guides all U.S. military hardware, the Marines want a new system for determining planetary location. Why the Marine think the GPS system, which forms the backbone of modern military logistics, would go dead is anyone’s guess (Chinese cyber attack? Space debris? No 3G?). But if unmanned air and ground systems could also navigate by sensing the Earth’s magnetic field or analyzing starlight, robo-Leathernecks could keep taking their fight to the enemy even without satellite navigation.

Between requests relating to defeating IEDs, better protecting soldiers and making training more realistic, the Army managed to slip in a solicitation for an intriguing new weapon system. The “Hovering Tube-launched Micromunition” would combine mortar rounds and UAVs to create a new, more precise, more carefully timed form of artillery. The goal of the program is a round that can be fired from already existing mortar and artillery pieces that sprouts wings while in flight, and then hovers over the target area waiting to strike.

Interestingly, the Air Force solicitations more closely resemble the conceptual DARPA projects than the practical equipment sought by the Army, Navy and Marines.

Like DARPA, the Air Force also put out some feelers for a remote sensing tool, but this one detects state of mind, not health. Saddled with the clunk name of “Discourse Analysis for Insights into Group Identity and Intent,” the program would develop a semi-automated system that would determine someone’s intent, group affiliation and mood based on their language and cultural context.

While these examples highlight some of the more important priorities for a military facing significant budget cuts and the end of over a decade of constant war, they are hardly the only small business programs offered up by the DoD for next year. To view the rest of the many small business opportunities, futurist technology requests and advanced weapons, check out the individual reports.

15:59

What the Defense Department Wants For Christmas

...And Checking It Twice Senior Airman Nayibe Ramos runs through a runs through a checklist during GPS operations. The Marines' new proposal would obviate GPS. USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Mike Meares
Military dreamers unleash their latest wishlist

When you control a budget that exceeds a trillion dollars, you don't have to wait until after Thanksgiving to start writing your holiday present wish list. The Department of Defense (DoD) has just released an early version of its small business programs for 2012, with every branch clamoring for futuristic technology that ranges from transforming robots to nanotech medicine to sensors that can figure out political beliefs through language analysis.

These kinds of sci-fi projects come naturally to DARPA, the military's in-house tech shop, which proposed a number of programs with strong potential in the civilian world.

One of their solicitations, titled "Rapidly Adaptable Nanotheraputics," aims for a solution to the problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. The program calls for the development of programmable antibiotics in the form of nanoparticles with specialized NA attached. As doctors encounter different strains of bacteria, they can simply reprogram the molecules to inhibit the growth of the new bug, rather than hitting it with the stronger antibiotics that encourage even more dangerous resilience.

Another DARPA request could change search and rescue by creating what amounts to a long-range tricorder. "Biometrics at a distance" would produce a device that could search for signs of life from up to 30 feet away, and through any intervening walls or rubble. Then, once the device finds somebody, it would analyze heart rate, temperature and other markers to determine that person's health. Quick analysis of the different levels of injury among a mass of buried people could help first responders triage whom to extract first.

The Hovering Tube-launched Micromunition could be fired from artillery pieces, sprout wings while in flight, and hover over the target area waiting to strike.

The DoD solicitations, released on November 9 under the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program, provide a good overview of the ideas that have grabbed the imagination of America's military, and the obstacles they anticipate having to overcome in the future. To the branches of the DoD outside of DARPA, those concerns, and thus the solicitations, have a much more pronounced combat orientation.

For instance, the ground-pounders over in the Marines and the Army went for more practical gear.

To help keep their growing fleet of robots operational even without the GPS system that guides all U.S. military hardware, the Marines want a new system for determining planetary location. Why the Marine think the GPS system, which forms the backbone of modern military logistics, would go dead is anyone's guess (Chinese cyber attack? Space debris? No 3G?). But if unmanned air and ground systems could also navigate by sensing the Earth's magnetic field or analyzing starlight, robo-Leathernecks could keep taking their fight to the enemy even without satellite navigation.

Between requests relating to defeating IEDs, better protecting soldiers and making training more realistic, the Army managed to slip in a solicitation for an intriguing new weapon system. The "Hovering Tube-launched Micromunition" would combine mortar rounds and UAVs to create a new, more precise, more carefully timed form of artillery. The goal of the program is a round that can be fired from already existing mortar and artillery pieces that sprouts wings while in flight, and then hovers over the target area waiting to strike.

Interestingly, the Air Force solicitations more closely resemble the conceptual DARPA projects than the practical equipment sought by the Army, Navy and Marines.

Like DARPA, the Air Force also put out some feelers for a remote sensing tool, but this one detects state of mind, not health. Saddled with the clunk name of "Discourse Analysis for Insights into Group Identity and Intent," the program would develop a semi-automated system that would determine someone's intent, group affiliation and mood based on their language and cultural context.

While these examples highlight some of the more important priorities for a military facing significant budget cuts and the end of over a decade of constant war, they are hardly the only small business programs offered up by the DoD for next year. To view the rest of the many small business opportunities, futurist technology requests and advanced weapons, check out the individual reports.

14:54

Modern warfare: volatile situations

In an evolutionary battle with the stem borer moth Chilo partellus, certain maize landrace varieties have forged strong relations with both the parasitic wasp Trichogramma bournieri and the larval parasitoid Cotesia sesamiae, neither of which is a friend to the stem borer. Observations regarding the maize/wasp alliance’s brutal ovicide of the stem borer moth are reported in a recent article by Tamiru et al. and evaluated by Maurice Sibelius.

Triggered by the deposit of eggs on maize leaves by the moth, the plant releases its arsenal of irresistible (if you’re a wasp) herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs). This rallies not only the parasite wasp cavalry to enjoy the defenceless egg banquet, but also calls forth an army of larval-parasitic wasps that sweeps the area and dispatches any invaders that dodged the first bullet, a great strategic deployment of indirect arsenals that effectively bring together natural enemies while the supreme commander sits it out on the sidelines. What’s disturbing, however, is that this intricately evolved defence mechanism is absent in commercially bred hybrid varieties of maize, exemplifying how some such varieties can be genetically weaker than their wild counterparts for important survival traits. As Faculty Member Sebilus states,

The work presented in this article represents a landmark example supporting the idea that traits involved in indirect plant defence are better conserved in landraces. This paves the way for developing strategies of resistance breeding by introgression of these traits into commercial hybrid varieties of maize.

Indeed, further concern that genetically modified and other commercially bred varieties have been shown to escape to grow unchecked in the wild, potentially outcompeting wild varieties and thus eradicating some valuable phenotypes. In this case, plant-produced HIPVs as biological weapons surely trump the use of synthetic, petroleum-based insecticides, arguing for the preservation of wild phenotypes.

pea aphid

The pea aphid, picture by Shipher Wu (photograph) and Gee-way Lin (aphid provision), National Taiwan University

Finally, while dark days may be ahead if you’re a stem borer moth egg, the future is bright if you’re a pea aphid. It had earlier been noted that pea aphids are able to feast with uninterrupted enthusiasm on their host. As now revealed in a study conducted at the Center for Chemical Ecology at Penn State by Danielle Whittaker and Ellen Ketterson, evaluated here, pea aphids have the ability to suppress the release of HIPVs, thus silencing the plant’s call to arms and avoiding massacre by wasp and other insect enemies. The importance of this study was to show that the strategic success of aphids is due to chemical suppression rather than the ‘stealth’ feeding mechanism of piercing plant tissue instead of chewing. Other insect herbivores have been shown to benefit from this adaption of the pea aphid while feeding on the same plant. As such, it seems that in this bug-eat-bug world, the pea aphid is top dog.

July 14 2011

14:45

Amid Privacy Fears, Police Across the Nation Will Roll Out Face-Recognizing iPhone Tech This Year

A controversial piece of facial recognition technology (and a PopSci “Best of What’s New 2010” alum) is rolling out in police stations across the country this fall, and naturally not everyone is happy about it. The Mobile Offender Recognition and Identification System (MORIS) uses an augmented iPhone to snap pictures of faces, scan fingerprints, and even to image irises, and then combs through police databases looking for matching identities. This, understandably, has privacy and civil liberties advocates crying foul.

The MORIS device attaches to the back of an iPhone, adding roughly 1.75 inches to the thickness of the smartphone. Police officers armed with the tool can take a photo of a person’s face from about five feet away, or scan his or her iris from about six inches, and wirelessly beam that data to law enforcement databases elsewhere to look for a match. It can also perform remote fingerprint matching.

Similar biometric technology has been deployed by the U.S. military in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to confirm the identities of civilians entering military safe zones and to search for known insurgents at checkpoints. But rolling it out in the streets of the U.S. has plenty of people concerned with privacy and Constitutional issues.

The technology lives in a somewhat gray area of the law. It’s generally permissible to take a photo of anyone in a public space, but when a law enforcement agent does so--and especially when he or she then cross references it against a criminal database--that could constitute a search, and therefore should require a warrant.

It’s another one of those situations where technology has simply outpaced the law ( you would think Ben Franklin of all people would’ve seen mobile facial recognition software coming). So while it would be nice to turn to legal precedent here, there simply is none.

Nonetheless, BI2 has deals with about 40 agencies nationwide to deliver about 1,000 of the devices starting in September. From a law enforcement standpoint, police officers seem to like it. It’s a technology that lets them get to the bottom of a situation quickly. Moreover, in the technology’s defense, it’s tough to use MORIS to abuse a person’s rights if an officer is not already in the process of abusing them.

In an interview with BI2’s chief executive Sean Mullin last year, he told PopSci that the responses of privacy groups and civil liberties advocates are entirely appropriate, but that he thinks the technology passes legal muster. The facial recognition technology requires a frontal facial image taken from close proximity, he says--in other words, it requires consent. Iris scans are practically impossible without the subject’s cooperation, as are fingerprint scans. Besides, the alternative when a police officer can’t confirm a suspect’s identity is generally a trip downtown to sort it out. MORIS simplifies that process.

Whether or not that’s enough to satisfy the privacy rights crowd--and the law--remains to be seen. How this kind of technology is treated by the law now will set the precedent for when the technology becomes more robust--and perhaps more long-range, more surreptitious, and potentially more “Big Brother.”

[WSJ]

14:45

Amid Privacy Fears, Police Across the Nation Will Roll Out Face-Recognizing iPhone Tech This Year

MORIS BI2

A controversial piece of facial recognition technology (and a PopSci "Best of What's New 2010" alum) is rolling out in police stations across the country this fall, and naturally not everyone is happy about it. The Mobile Offender Recognition and Identification System (MORIS) uses an augmented iPhone to snap pictures of faces, scan fingerprints, and even to image irises, and then combs through police databases looking for matching identities. This, understandably, has privacy and civil liberties advocates crying foul.

The MORIS device attaches to the back of an iPhone, adding roughly 1.75 inches to the thickness of the smartphone. Police officers armed with the tool can take a photo of a person's face from about five feet away, or scan his or her iris from about six inches, and wirelessly beam that data to law enforcement databases elsewhere to look for a match. It can also perform remote fingerprint matching.

Similar biometric technology has been deployed by the U.S. military in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to confirm the identities of civilians entering military safe zones and to search for known insurgents at checkpoints. But rolling it out in the streets of the U.S. has plenty of people concerned with privacy and Constitutional issues.

The technology lives in a somewhat gray area of the law. It's generally permissible to take a photo of anyone in a public space, but when a law enforcement agent does so--and especially when he or she then cross references it against a criminal database--that could constitute a search, and therefore should require a warrant.

It's another one of those situations where technology has simply outpaced the law ( you would think Ben Franklin of all people would've seen mobile facial recognition software coming). So while it would be nice to turn to legal precedent here, there simply is none.

Nonetheless, BI2 has deals with about 40 agencies nationwide to deliver about 1,000 of the devices starting in September. From a law enforcement standpoint, police officers seem to like it. It's a technology that lets them get to the bottom of a situation quickly. Moreover, in the technology's defense, it's tough to use MORIS to abuse a person's rights if an officer is not already in the process of abusing them.

In an interview with BI2's chief executive Sean Mullin last year, he told PopSci that the responses of privacy groups and civil liberties advocates are entirely appropriate, but that he thinks the technology passes legal muster. The facial recognition technology requires a frontal facial image taken from close proximity, he says--in other words, it requires consent. Iris scans are practically impossible without the subject's cooperation, as are fingerprint scans. Besides, the alternative when a police officer can't confirm a suspect's identity is generally a trip downtown to sort it out. MORIS simplifies that process.

Whether or not that's enough to satisfy the privacy rights crowd--and the law--remains to be seen. How this kind of technology is treated by the law now will set the precedent for when the technology becomes more robust--and perhaps more long-range, more surreptitious, and potentially more "Big Brother."

[WSJ]

July 06 2011

21:48

MIT Offshoot's New Direct-Diode Laser Can Cut, Weld, Blow Stuff Up

The reason most laser systems aren’t practical for jobs outside of the lab--things like missile defense or interstellar empire building--is because of their low efficiency and high maintenance. Powerful lasers are by nature big lasers requiring a lot of per unit input per unit of output, and they tend to need highly controlled conditions to function consistently and flawlessly. But a two-year-old company spun out of MIT’s Lincoln Lab says it has broken through several of the usual limitations and is commercializing a direct-diode laser system that is brighter, more powerful, and significantly more compact than its peers.

TeraDiode’s system is based on semiconductor laser technology (fueled by electricity rather than chemicals, which is already a plus from a safe-handling standpoint) augmented by an optical system that wrangles several beams of light into a single powerful beam. Powerful enough, the company says, for industrial cutting and welding. Or for blowing stuff up.

Weapons-grade lasers are a tough sell (as regular PopSci readers know from our ongoing boomand bust coverage of the Missile Defense Agency’s Airborne Laser Test Bed), but if TeraDiode’s system can pack as much punch into a small package as the company claims, it could be onto something.

The company sees its lasers someday deployed on ships or tanks, small enough to be mobile but strong enough to down a UAV or perhaps even knock incoming artillery or RPGs out of the air. More near term, it wants to get its direct-diodes on the back of fighter jets to confuse--or perhaps even destroy--incoming anti-aircraft missiles. And TeraDiode isn’t just talking a big game it seems--the company told Xconomy that testing on the aircraft defense system could begin in a year, with deployment in three to five years.

[Xconomy]

21:48

MIT Offshoot's New Direct-Diode Laser Can Cut, Weld, Blow Stuff Up

The reason most laser systems aren't practical for jobs outside of the lab--things like missile defense or interstellar empire building--is because of their low efficiency and high maintenance. Powerful lasers are by nature big lasers requiring a lot of per unit input per unit of output, and they tend to need highly controlled conditions to function consistently and flawlessly. But a two-year-old company spun out of MIT's Lincoln Lab says it has broken through several of the usual limitations and is commercializing a direct-diode laser system that is brighter, more powerful, and significantly more compact than its peers.

TeraDiode's system is based on semiconductor laser technology (fueled by electricity rather than chemicals, which is already a plus from a safe-handling standpoint) augmented by an optical system that wrangles several beams of light into a single powerful beam. Powerful enough, the company says, for industrial cutting and welding. Or for blowing stuff up.

Weapons-grade lasers are a tough sell (as regular PopSci readers know from our ongoing boomand bust coverage of the Missile Defense Agency's Airborne Laser Test Bed), but if TeraDiode's system can pack as much punch into a small package as the company claims, it could be onto something.

The company sees its lasers someday deployed on ships or tanks, small enough to be mobile but strong enough to down a UAV or perhaps even knock incoming artillery or RPGs out of the air. More near term, it wants to get its direct-diodes on the back of fighter jets to confuse--or perhaps even destroy--incoming anti-aircraft missiles. And TeraDiode isn't just talking a big game it seems--the company told Xconomy that testing on the aircraft defense system could begin in a year, with deployment in three to five years.

[Xconomy]

June 09 2011

14:01

Red Team Go! It's NATO's Turn to Build a Cyber Defense Force

NATO HQ USAF

Hacks, cyber strategies, international cyber squads--we could just go ahead and dub this the "summer of cyber," and it's not even mid-June. On the heels of some high-profile hacks (including one at Lockheed Martin), a terse exchange between Google and China following a Gmail breach, and the U.S. DoD declaring that cyber attacks can be considered an act of war, NATO has now said it will develop a special cyber force.

It's even getting a cool name: the "Cyber Red Team." But the urgency that name implies might not carry over to the force's actual functions. For the most part, it sounds like the Red Team would simulate threats to manage readiness and response, probe networks for potential security vulnerabilities, assess the damage of cyber attacks against member states, and carry out the occasional denial of service attack.

In other words, it sounds like Cyber Team Red will be a fast reactive force rather than a proactive force meting out cyber punishment to nations that step out of cyber-line. Still, given the difficulty in identifying and prosecuting cyber crimes across international borders, such an international cyber force could go a long way toward enforcing international law/agreements and protecting states that don't have the resources to mount their own cyber defenses.

[PhysOrg]

14:01

Red Team Go! It's NATO's Turn to Build a Cyber Defense Force

Hacks, cyber strategies, international cyber squads--we could just go ahead and dub this the “summer of cyber,” and it’s not even mid-June. On the heels of some high-profile hacks (including one at Lockheed Martin), a terse exchange between Google and China following a Gmail breach, and the U.S. DoD declaring that cyber attacks can be considered an act of war, NATO has now said it will develop a special cyber force.

It’s even getting a cool name: the “Cyber Red Team.” But the urgency that name implies might not carry over to the force’s actual functions. For the most part, it sounds like the Red Team would simulate threats to manage readiness and response, probe networks for potential security vulnerabilities, assess the damage of cyber attacks against member states, and carry out the occasional denial of service attack.

In other words, it sounds like Cyber Team Red will be a fast reactive force rather than a proactive force meting out cyber punishment to nations that step out of cyber-line. Still, given the difficulty in identifying and prosecuting cyber crimes across international borders, such an international cyber force could go a long way toward enforcing international law/agreements and protecting states that don’t have the resources to mount their own cyber defenses.

[PhysOrg]

Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

June 07 2011

19:25

RSA Security Offers to Replace Nearly All of its Security Fobs After Lockheed Hack

RSA SecurIDs br1dotcom via Flickr
The cyber security firm's portable password generators were duplicated

Yet another wrinkle in the ongoing flood of cyber security stories emerging over the past couple of weeks: RSA Security--maker of those little keychain tokens that generate constantly changing passwords for users logging into secure networks--is offering increased security monitoring and the complete replacement of SecurID tokens to nearly all of its customers after evidence emerged that the recent cyber attack on Lockheed Martin was perpetrated in part using data stolen from RSA.

That's something of a massive recall. RSA's SecureID tokens add a second layer of protection to employees' static passwords via a keyfob-like device that displays a second numeric password necessary to log on. That password changes every 30 seconds, ensuring that even if someone steals an employee's regular password, the perpetrator still won't be able to access a secure server without possession of the SecureID token.

At least that was the idea. Back in March, RSA experienced its own cyber attack, and in a letter issued to customers yesterday it admitted that it has been working behind the scenes ever since to shore up cyber defenses at its defense-oriented clients, as an analysis of the hack at RSA indicated that the perps were seeking information that could be used to breach defense-related companies.

The letter also admitted that data stolen from RSA was used to breach Lockheed Martin's networks (specifically, the hackers used duplicates of the SecureID tokens issued to Lockheed employees).

That doesn't bode particularly well for RSA or for American corporations' cyber defense abilities on the whole, seeing as cyber security is RSA's bread and butter and its core competency. Considering its SecureID tags are employed by millions of corporate workers--including those at various other defense-related companies--this latest revelation isn't exactly welcome news for anyone (except the hackers who got away with it). RSA is now scrambling to replace tokens and offer additional security monitoring for its non-defense-related clients.

[WSJ]

19:25

RSA Security Offers to Replace Nearly All of its Security Fobs After Lockheed Hack

The cyber security firm's portable password generators were duplicated

Yet another wrinkle in the ongoing flood of cyber security stories emerging over the past couple of weeks: RSA Security--maker of those little keychain tokens that generate constantly changing passwords for users logging into secure networks--is offering increased security monitoring and the complete replacement of SecurID tokens to nearly all of its customers after evidence emerged that the recent cyber attack on Lockheed Martin was perpetrated in part using data stolen from RSA.

That’s something of a massive recall. RSA’s SecureID tokens add a second layer of protection to employees’ static passwords via a keyfob-like device that displays a second numeric password necessary to log on. That password changes every 30 seconds, ensuring that even if someone steals an employee’s regular password, the perpetrator still won’t be able to access a secure server without possession of the SecureID token.

At least that was the idea. Back in March, RSA experienced its own cyber attack, and in a letter issued to customers yesterday it admitted that it has been working behind the scenes ever since to shore up cyber defenses at its defense-oriented clients, as an analysis of the hack at RSA indicated that the perps were seeking information that could be used to breach defense-related companies.

The letter also admitted that data stolen from RSA was used to breach Lockheed Martin’s networks (specifically, the hackers used duplicates of the SecureID tokens issued to Lockheed employees).

That doesn’t bode particularly well for RSA or for American corporations’ cyber defense abilities on the whole, seeing as cyber security is RSA’s bread and butter and its core competency. Considering its SecureID tags are employed by millions of corporate workers--including those at various other defense-related companies--this latest revelation isn’t exactly welcome news for anyone (except the hackers who got away with it). RSA is now scrambling to replace tokens and offer additional security monitoring for its non-defense-related clients.

[WSJ]

June 02 2011

18:30

Video: The Evolution of DARPA's Robotic Hummingbird, From Start to Finish

DARPA's Nano Air Vehicle DARPA

Of all the DARPA projects we follow here at PopSci--and regular readers know that we follow a lot of them--perhaps none has been quite so fascinating as the Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) program, a.k.a. the robotic hummingbird, which culminated earlier this year in a working prototype. So you can imagine our delight when DARPA released this short video chronicling the bird's journey from drawing board to early prototype to crash test dummy to eventual functioning, camera-equipped nano air vehicle that fits in the palm of a hand.

DARPA began pursuing the project in 2005 and commissioned Aerovironment to begin work on prototype technologies in 2006. Since then, as you'll see in the video, it hasn't always been smooth hovering. Early versions were difficult to handle and crashes were not infrequent. But the final product is nothing short of impressive: a tiny, robotic bird capable of two-wing hovering, fast forward flight, and maneuvers like rolls and flips all while carrying all of its own power sources, a small computer, and a tiny camera that beams a feed back to the operator.

Not bad for six years of intense work and more than 300 wing designs. See it come together in fast forward in the video below.

[DARPA]

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