martes, 3 de diciembre de 2013

UN starts drone surveillance in DR Congo

UN drone

The UN mission in Democratic Republic of Congo has started to deploy unarmed surveillance drones to monitor rebel activity near the forested borders with Rwanda and Uganda.
This is the first time any UN mission has deployed drones.
The first two were launched from the eastern city of Goma, which was last year briefly occupied by M23 rebels.
The UN force in DR Congo played a key role last month in defeating the M23 but other militias still operate.
The BBC's Maud Jullien in eastern DR Congo says it has long been suspected that various armed groups in the North Kivu province get their supplies from neighbouring countries.
Both Rwanda and Uganda have denied repeated accusations that they supported the M23 rebels, which were recently defeated with the help of the 22,000-strong UN mission in DR Congo - the world's largest.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the BBC that the drones, or "unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicles" would be the "tool of choice" to monitor the activities of armed groups and the movement of civilians.
"We need to get a better picture of what is happening," he said.
He said that if they were successful in DR Congo, they could also be used in other UN peacekeeping missions.
The first two drones were made by an Italian firm, Selex ES, a subsidiary of the Italian giant Finmeccanica, reports the AFP news agency.
UN officials expect three more drones to be deployed in the coming months.
They will be deployed across North Kivu, which has been one of the areas worst affected by two decades of conflict in the mineral-rich eastern DR Congo.
They have a range of 250km (155 miles) from their base in Goma.
Congolese Defence Minister Alexandre Luba Ntambo says the drones will help the army against rebel groups.
"Once we know exactly where they are hiding, our operations will be much more efficient," he said.
Despite the defeat of the M23, numerous other armed groups still roam eastern DR Congo, including the FDLR, whose leaders are accused of involvement in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

miércoles, 9 de octubre de 2013

U.S. military commissions real-life liquid armor Iron Man suit

Tony Stark, be jealous: the U.S. Army has just commissioned anIron Man-like suit, called the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) that will be strong enough to withstand a barrage of bullets.
In an effort to provide its Special Operation Forces with enhanced mobility, protection and surveillance abilities, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) challenged researchers to develop a suit that would combine nanotechnology with the endurance of Kevlar for the ultimate suit of body armor. 
The idea for the armor was first inspired by the work of MIT professor Gareth McKinley, who has been working on the development of liquid armor since 2002.
The liquid armor being developed by McKinley would theoretically be able to transform from liquid form to solid in mere milliseconds when an electric current or magnetic field is applied. 
The armor would be receptive to skin contact and be able to respond and detect the body's core temperature, heart rate and level of hydration as well as provide basic life support. USSOCOM's TALOS suit may very well make use of McKinley's liquid armor in order to provide ballistic, full-body protection.

At a military press conference this past May, the request for a better type of body armor was presented due to the death of a trooper who was shot down by the Taliban. 
The soldier, who was going through a door in an attempt to rescue a civilian in Afghanistan, was shot from the other side, a death that probably could have been prevented by better armor.
USSOCOM is currently accepting white papers from multiple sources like academia, entrepreneurs and laboratories in an attempt to develop and test TALOS technology, so long as they would be able to help in the design, construction and realization of such a product. 
Though, it is currently just a concept and will take an entire year for USSOCOM just to select the technologies, this is the first baby step towards a futuristic piece of armor that could possibly make you into a real-life superhero. We can't wait!
Via NPR and MIT

lunes, 3 de junio de 2013

DARPA Unveils Teeny Infrared Camera With 5-Micron Pixels

5 Micron Pixel Infrared Camera
By Kelsey D. Atherton
Human eyesight is such a limiting factor in military missions that DARPA is trying to fix it. 
Not with lasers; those are reserved for ships, but instead with a new infrared camera usingpixels only five microns wide.
Smaller pixels mean a high-resolution image can be captured in a tinier package. 
There areexisting miniaturized infrared cameras, but their pixels are about three times the size of DARPA's latest, and their resolution is at best half as good. 
The new technology has made it possible for the portable camera pictured above to do the work of the sort of long-wave infrared (LWIR) camera that till now has required a truck to carry.
That tiny package should enable U.S. troops to finally master one of the great challenges of history: how to take advantage of the limits of enemy eyesight while bypassing the same limitation.
Soldiers spent centuries figuring out the best way to see enemies at night without being seen. 
Early methods, like carrying torches, were more dangerous for the torch-carrier than his target, as the enemy's eyes were already adjusted to the night, and the torches revealed where the advancing soldier was. In light of this, night attacks were relatively rare historical events, and daytime fighting remains the norm for regular armies.
This is frustrating for commanders looking to exploit every possible advantage to win, because night attacks have some pretty distinct advantages. A larger portion of the enemy army is usually asleep, rarity adds an element of surprise, and the darkness, undisturbed by torches, lights, or a bright moon can conceal an army.
Advancing without seeing is pretty difficult, however, which means a technological solution is the way around it. Night vision goggles, the ones with that famous green filter, amplify available light, which can turn low visibility into high visibility. The problem comes with regular light sources, which night vision also amplifies to a blinding extreme.
Infrared, instead, focuses on a different part of the visual spectrum, and so is less affected by sudden changes in visible light. 
Previously, however, infrared cameras this advanced have been too large for individual people to carry, and instead had to be mounted on vehicles, which are not nearly as stealthy as troops on foot. 
With the new camera, DARPA hopes they can outfit individuals with such cameras, making night raids or defending against night raids that much easier.

sábado, 11 de mayo de 2013

First Chinese stealth drone 'ready' for test flight

The "Yi Long" drone by China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC) (AFP Photo)
The "Yi Long" drone by China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC) (AFP Photo)
The Chinese military is making preparations for the inaugural flight test of its newly designed unmanned combat vehicle, bringing the Asian powerhouse into the stealth technology race, Chinese media report.
China’s first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), known as the Lijian ('sharp sword'), is designed jointly by the Hongdu Aviation Industry Group and Shenyang Aviation Corporation. 
The project was launched in 2009 and the drone's first ground test was conducted on December 13 last year.
The Lijian, which makes China the third country to possess stealth drone capabilities, is now ready for flight testing, China Aviation News reported on Friday.
The Chinese UAV is designed for use by the PLA Air Force and Navy Air Force for combat missions, China Aviation News reported. 
It may also be used for tracking and reconnaissance along China’s lengthy and occasionally contentious border.
Beijing’s ambitious efforts at developing its drone capabilities have not escaped the attention of Taiwan, which has quarreled with Beijing in the past over questions of sovereignty and national identity.
“Taiwan should be concerned about China’s development of large numbers of sophisticated military UAVs,” Ian Easton, a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, told the Taipei Times.
China’s stealth drone is third such unmanned combat vehicle in existence, after the X-47 designed by the United States, and the nEUROn, a collaborative effort of various EU companies.
The nEUROn was launched in 2005 following an order by the French Defense Procurement Agency. The program is a collaborative effort between French, Italian, Swedish, Spanish, Greek and Swiss defense companies.
The US Pentagon’s X-47 stealth drone, designed by Northrop Grumman, began as part of DARPA's J-UCAS program, and is now part of the US Navy's UCAS-D (Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration) program. The X-47 is still undergoing flight testing.
The unveiling of the prototype places the People’s Republic of China ahead of several nations in the development of stealth drone technology.
India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Sweden and Russia also have their own stealth UAV programs.

sábado, 20 de abril de 2013

Captain Nemo goes online

Networking: Emerging undersea data networks are connecting submarines, aquatic drones and other denizens of the deep

DURING the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 the Soviet Union stationed submarines in the region in order to be able to sink American ships in the event of war.

But communication between the submarines and Soviet high command was hard.

Electrically conductive salt water absorbs radio waves, so exchanging information with Moscow required the submarines to ascend to periscope depth in waters patrolled by American planes and ships.

Between scheduled transmissions Soviet crews also poked antennae out of the water and listened to commercial radio to see if hostilities had broken out.

A blunder could have been catastrophic, says Alexandre Sheldon-Duplaix, a naval-warfare historian at France’s defence ministry, because the Soviet submarines were armed with nuclear torpedoes that the West did not even know existed.

In the decades that followed navies continued to be dogged by the difficulty of establishing underwater data links. In the 1980s America decided not to integrate its new “Los Angeles” class of attack submarines with aircraft-carrier groups, says Norman Friedman, a former consultant to the secretary of the US Navy, because it was concerned that flaky communications links between ships and submarines might lead to collisions or friendly fire.

A former commander of an American carrier in the 1990s says he was unable to establish submarine contact “more times than I can even remember”. But now better underwater-communications technologies are changing the rules.

Although traditionally more a “sneaky sniper” than a team player, as Eric Wertheim, an American naval analyst, puts it, submarines are increasingly expected to co-ordinate with surface and land forces.

Subsea networks being developed by America and its allies will shuffle data between submarines, aquatic drones and sensors via devices that sway beneath the water or bob on its surface.

They will make it possible to detect enemy vessels and mines and allow submarines to link up with surface ships, aircraft and distant command centres, says Vernon Clark, America’s former chief of naval operations.

Undersea networks could also monitor waterways and gather scientific data.

Making waves

In the 1970s and 1980s both America and the Soviet Union built underwater-signalling systems based on “extremely low frequency” (ELF) radio waves.

Both systems needed large electrodes, buried in the ground 50-60km apart, and could then send signals to submarines thousands of kilometres away—but only one way, and at a rate of around ten characters per minute.

To overcome these limitations, more recent research has focused on signalling using sound, over shorter ranges.

The big technical challenges have been mostly overcome, says John Potter of NATO’s Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) in La Spezia, Italy, who heads one of several groups building underwater networks based on small devices called acoustic nodes.

These could be “shovelled out of a plane”, says Mr Potter, to provide the military alliance with an unprecedented ability to gather intelligence, communicate and co-ordinate its forces underwater.

Akin to mobile-phone towers but communicating using pulses of sound rather than radio waves, the nodes are placed a kilometre or so apart. A few extra nodes are needed because acoustic signals can be scrambled or lost near a choppy surface, in fast currents or in a region with a sharp temperature change.

Each node, which costs $5,000-10,000, is around the size of a canister of tennis balls. It contains a computer to process signals, a microphone to pick up sound waves, and a piezoelectric transducer to emit them.

This transducer, similar in size to a small plate, is made of a special material that expands and contracts suddenly when a voltage is applied, creating an acoustic wave in the water.

This signal is picked up by other nearby nodes, which retransmit it as appropriate to more distant ones, like an underwater internet.

Seaweb, an underwater network being designed at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego, takes a similar approach. Its nodes have been tested under the Arctic ice sheet and in water 300 metres deep.

Data packets hop from one node to another until they reach their destination—a submarine, a subsea drone, a warship or a “gateway” node at the surface. Gateway nodes use a satellite-radio link to connect the underwater network to the rest of the world.

Seaweb nodes are capable of exchanging information through dozens of kilometres of water.

Such long ranges, however, require the use of low-frequency sound waves, which reduces the data rate. Joseph Rice, the project’s leader, says a Seaweb node can send a low-resolution photo to another one 5km away in five seconds—two seconds to emit the sound waves, and another three for them to travel that far.

In seawater acoustic waves carry only a few thousand bits of data per second, but they travel at 5,600kph (3,500mph)—five times the speed of sound in air.

It is hardly broadband, but it can be used to connect submarines and warships to sensors and roving subsea drones, also known as unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

Mr Rice imagines that UUVs might deploy sensor nodes and could visit them when required to download the data they have collected in large quantities.

Sensors could also alert UUVs of any unusual readings that require investigation.

In a related project, called NILUS, Norwegian researchers have designed a combination of acoustic and magnetic sensors capable of detecting submarines in deep water.

Roald Otnes, project scientist at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, says the nodes are easy to deploy: each one is simply heaved overboard (it weighs about 60kg, thanks largely to its battery pack).

The NILUS sensor nodes are networked using technology provided by the Seaweb team, which is also helping a Singaporean project called UNET.

The shallow offshore waters around Singapore, where container ships and snapping shrimp create a racket, present a particularly difficult environment for acoustic signalling, but UNET nodes manage to communicate at distances of more than 2km.

Equipment that performs well around Singapore will work pretty much anywhere, says Mandar Chitre of the National University of Singapore, the project’s leader. A handful of bobbing surface nodes provides a link to the Singaporean mobile-phone network.

A separate European Defence Agency effort called RACUN brings together Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Such co-operation illustrates a desire among NATO countries and their allies to design technologically compatible subsea networks that could be interconnected.

Unfortunately, makers of acoustic nodes have developed several incompatible data protocols, creating a “Tower of Babel and a world of pain” for teams trying to link them together, says Mr Potter.

Data rates have steadily improved, increasing tenfold over the past two decades, says Michele Zorzi of the University of Padua, in Italy, who is busy extending the RACUN system so that nodes can handle multiple messages simultaneously.

The improvement in bandwidth is largely due to progress in signal-processing software, which is capable of coping, for example, with multiple echoes of a signal from a choppy surface. The latest nodes can also save bandwidth by deciding for themselves how much to compress an image, say.

But smarter software is needed, says Arto Laine, manager of underwater-warfare research at Patria, a Finnish defence contractor.

Even with an excellent acoustic link, a mine-hunting UUV cannot stream all the data it collects to a submarine or surface node.

So UUVs will have to get better at determining what information should be sent back first, he says.

A growing understanding of bubbles caused by surface waves, which affect how far acoustic signals travel, promises further improvements.

Future nodes will listen to ambient conditions and adjust communication frequencies accordingly, says Grant Deane of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

Another promising avenue is the use of laser pulses to beam information between nodes. Lasers require less battery power than acoustic signals and are far more discreet.

Information is sent using cone-shaped beams to ensure that the signals reach light-sensing photodiodes on the receiving node, even when both nodes are moving.

But this approach will work only over distances of a few tens of metres at best, according to a German military scientist working on the technology.

American researchers are developing fibre-optic UUV tethers dozens of kilometres long, which would allow high data rates.

But long tethers can get tangled or cut by crabs. UUVs will probably play a bigger role as roving wireless nodes that increase the reach of underwater networks.

The latest “glider” UUVs consume very little battery power: rather than turn a propeller, batteries pump oil in and out of an external bladder, changing the UUV’s buoyancy. Fixed wings convert this rising and sinking into slow forward motion, allowing a glider to run for months on a single battery charge.

Already, gliders serving as “mules” are descending to sensors in deep water where they acoustically collect information.

They then ascend to the surface and send the data via radio, says David Kelly, chief executive of Bluefin Robotics, which provides UUVs to half a dozen navies.

The US Navy has ordered several gliders to form underwater mobile networks. With no engine noise, a stealthy “swarm” of gliders could monitor submarines and ships entering a strait, for example, surfacing to transmit their findings.

Floating gateway nodes, dropped from the air, allow messages to be sent to submerged devices via low-frequency acoustic signals.

This scheme, known as Deep Siren and developed by Raytheon, an American defence contractor, has been tested by the British and American navies.

Disconnected no more

The combination of acoustic signalling and UUVs, which can deliver data physically, will put an end to the “data starvation” experienced by submarines, as America’s submarine command described it in a report last year.

Often incommunicado, subs have been condemned to “lone wolf” roles, says Xavier Itard, head of submarine products at DCNS, a French shipbuilder.

His firm is developing a funnel-shaped torpedo-tube opening that would make it easier for a UUV to dock with a submarine.

Being able to send messages quickly via acoustic networks would enable submarines to take on more tactical roles—inserting special forces when needed to a nearby battlefield, say, or supporting ground operations by launching cruise missiles from the depths.

The Soviet-built ELF radio system remains a “backbone” of Russia’s submarine communications, according to a Norwegian expert.

But in a clear vote of confidence in newer technologies, America shut down its own system in 2004.

Thanks to steady progress in undersea networks, what was once a technological marvel was, a US Navy statement explained, “no longer necessary”.

Whether via sound waves, laser pulses, optical fibres or undersea drones, there are now better ways to deliver data underwater.

From the print edition: Technology Quarterly

Pentagon’s Humanoid Disaster-Rescue Robot Is Dressed to Impress

If you saw him approaching in a disaster area, you’d think he was just another fireman. Which is the reaction that the manufacturers of this lifelike humanoid robot are going for.
The PETMAN, created by Boston Dynamics, has gotten dressed. Wearing a flame-retardant camouflage jumpsuit, its metallic face obscured by a gas mask, the PETMAN high-steps, squats and rotates on a platform, all as a human would. This one even has a head.
This model of Boston Dynamics’ humanoid ‘bot was manufactured for the Defense Department’s Chemical and Biological Defense program. 
Should a chemical or biological attack take place, a robot might be able to perform rescue missions that wouldn’t be safe for a human being. That is, if it can maneuver past rubble, navigate uneven spaces and retain its balance, all of which are difficult propositions for a robot. 
A cousin of the PETMAN, called Atlas, is competing in Darpa’s newest Grand Challenge, which aims to go beyond the state of the art in robotic maneuverability.
The PETMAN is still suspended from wires in its testbed, indicating that its manufacturers are still sorting out the bugs. But the robot can dip down into a skier’s starting position, and raise its arms triumphantly a la Steve Holt from Arrested Development, presumably in excitement for the show’s return on Netflix.
It feels uncharitable to point out that the PETMAN is still a bit awkward in its movements, given that Virginia Tech roboticist Dennis Hong considers designing graceful, human-like robot motion “beyond Darpa-hard.” Give it credit for its ambition, and most certainly for its fashion sense.

domingo, 14 de abril de 2013

Pentagon’s DARPA preparing to equip robots with ‘real’ brains

A robotics fan wears a button on his hat at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge in Primm Nevada. (Reuters / Gene Blevins)
A robotics fan wears a button on his hat at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge in Primm Nevada. (Reuters / Gene Blevins)

Is the Pentagon trying to freaks us all out, or do they just want to give zombies something to eat? The Department of Defense is reportedly almost finished building robots with “real” brains.

That’s according to National Defense Magazine, which this week profiled the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) lab and a little known project that has sucked down millions of dollars during the last few years: millions of dollars spent trying to replicate the human brain.

National Defense Magazine’s Sandra Erwin explores the “physical intelligence” program this week, a research and development initiative launched back in 2009 in order to “to understand intelligence as a physical phenomenon and to make the first demonstration of the principle in electronic and chemical systems,” according to the Defense Department’s original solicitation.

Erwin says that four years later, a team of scientists led by University of California, Los Angeles Chemistry Professor James K. Gimzewski is just “inches away from the finish line” in terms of reaching their goal.

Gimzewski and crew have constructed a tiny machine, Erwin writes, that allows robots to attack independently.

How independently?

It won’t rely on convention computer code used to program cyborgs and robots like the kind found in Hollywood sci-fi flicks, but instead use microscopic wires to emulate the electrical and chemical pulses sent from cell to cell within the human brain.

“Rather than move information from memory to processor, like conventional computers, this device processes information in a totally new way,” says the scientist

Erwin continues:

“What sets this new device apart from any others is that it has nano-scale interconnected wires that perform billions of connections like a human brain, and is capable of remembering information, Gimzewski said. Each connection is a synthetic synapse.

A synapse is what allows a neuron to pass an electric or chemical signal to another cell. Because its structure is so complex, most artificial intelligence projects so far have been unable to replicate it.”

According to DARPA, “The objective of the implementation domain is to demonstrate the first human-engineered open thermodynamic systems that spontaneously evolve nontrivial ‘intelligent’ behavior under thermodynamic pressure from their environment.”

“The objective of the analysis domain is to develop analytical tools to support the development of human-engineered physically intelligent systems and to understand physical intelligence in the natural world,” the agency writes.

On the website for UCLA’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department, the goal of the “physical intelligence program” is described a bit more succinctly.

“The project will not only lead to fundamental understanding about various physical and biological self-organization systems and origin of intelligence, but also practical applications such as the creation of next generation of electronic circuits with intelligent behaviors, and dynamic interactions/control of  biological systems,” says UCLA’s Yong Chen.

Dr. Gimzewski tells National Defense Magazine that a team of scientists have made great strides in the multi-million dollar project, even if it’s the most ambitious one he’s seen yet. But what happens when it’s finally complete?

“It is not clear, however, that the Pentagon is ready to adopt this technology for weapon systems,” writes Erwin, citing a Defense Department policy statement from last year that limits the Pentagon’s power to make autonomous robots.

Meanwhile, though, other DARPA operations like the PETMAN project reported by RT earlier this week suggest it’s only a matter of time before the military has some form or another of weaponized robot warriors.