The Economist reports that a Humvee-mounted laser is already being used in Iraq to detonate roadside bombs which have plagued the military over the years. And yes, it’s named after the Greek God of lightening.
The Zeus laser (I am inclined to say cannon for all you Final Fantasy fans out there) possesses a range of 300 meters (just shy of 1,000 feet) and has been successfully used in Iraq. Although they only possess one Humvee equipped with the laser, plans are in effect to make more.
Why is the military laser-crazy?
Lasers are the dream weapon for the military. You can fire them from incredible distances with pinpoint accuracy and have the potential to be a game-changer in any battle. Advanced lasers could be used to detonate RPGs or missiles before they get to the target, they can punch through walls, and could potentially blow up ICBMs before they get too far off the ground (Reagan’s infamous Star Wars plan). There’s no ammunition concerns, just power, and despite being totally un-serviceable in the field, the lack of moving parts makes the possibility of breaking very slim.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to develop a plane capable of flight as well as submerging underwater. “The objectives issued by DARPA are for a vehicle that would have an airborne tactical radius of 1,000 nautical miles, a low-level flight radius of 100 nautical miles (which may leverage surface effects), and a submerged tactical radius of 12 nautical miles.” The hope is that it could carry up to eight people and a 2,000 pound payload (check out their full proposal here).
The problem with developing a submersible aircraft is that air flows around structures differently than water. Developing a body that is efficient through the air as well as water will be incredibly difficult. It may be so daunting that the cost of developing and building working prototypes would render it un-obtainable. The funny thing is, the Navy has wanted something like this for over 60 years. “The U.S. Navy had begun contemplating the merger of aviation and submarine technologies into a single vehicle as early as 1946.” Even the Russians tried to dabble in submersible airplanes (video after the jump).
Big Plans are susceptible to changes in the world around us, and even bold visionaries can have wrong assumptions about the future.
After blanketing the media landscape over the summer with The Pickens Plan, T Boone Pickens has announced that he is slowing down his plans to build a massive wind farm in West Texas. Pickens’ $2 billion order of GE wind turbines has not been affected, but scaling up of the project is likely to happen more slowly than originally hoped.
A changing world or wrong assumptions?
Pickens has certainly felt the pains of shifts in the market where money is now in short supply and the global economic slowdown has battered his energy intensive hedge fund. But there have always been flaws to his core assumptions that support the vision that have somehow escaped widespread critical thought or media scrutiny. Pickens deserves credit for his willingness to advance the energy conversation in the US, but it does not free his Plan from closer examination:
#1 Utilities won’t evolve without regulatory changes
#2 Wind needs storage to evolve
#3 Natural Gas is a globally integrated industry, no breaking ‘foreign’ dependency there!
#4 The Auto Industry’s problem is not oil, it’s the combustion engine.
#5 Building transmission lines in my backyard or ranch?! It’ll cost you!
#1 Utilities won’t evolve without regulatory changes
The Pentagon is being very hush-hush about it, but a secret weapon we posses in the US military is a solid rocket-fuel incendiary fireball. Meant to take out chemical weapons labs or underground bunkers, these fireballs burn up anything located inside the structure without blowing it up. “These are hollow spheres, made of rubberized rocket fuel; when ignited, they propel themselves around at random at high speed, bouncing off the walls and breaking through doors, turning the entire building into an inferno.” If there’s one thing that could ruin a persons day, it’s a bunch of solid rocket-fuel fireballs bouncing around in a small area.
Due to the secretive nature of the new weapon, not much is being said, but Wired, who initially reported the story, says that it’s quite possible the fireballs (named “CrashPAD” and “Shredder”) have been put into some sort of low-rate production. One wonders if this was the secret military weapon Bob Woodward was talking about a few months ago.
Visa Europe is working hard for your money, and in doing so they have come up with a credit card capable of switching around your security code everytime you enter your PIN on its touchpad. “An alpha-numeric display and keypad is built directly into the card. When making a transaction online, customers type their PIN into the card, which creates a one-time security code.” Visa is working with four major banks, including Bank of America in the UK, to develop this card. Videos of how it works can be found here and here.
This is quite amazing. Having a touchpad on your credit card ensures that the code on the back of your card (that little number, usually three digits, on the back) could never be compromised without a thief knowing your PIN number. I wonder though if the numbers you press would look worn, making it easy for the thief to determine what you PIN is.
Although it’s kind of unnerving to think that your credit card has a battery life, the fact that it can run for three years could help boost confidence. You could possibly even charge it at your local bank every year on a simple flat tray. Of course, someone hacking into it within a few days is possible but by then hopefully you’d have canceled it. All we need now is a credit card that can take your fingerprint.
The UK police are implementing a new policy which has civil liberty groups in an uproar. Called Project Midas, it aims to put small Blackberry-like fingerprint scanners in the hands of police within the next two years. This will allow police to confirm the identity (7.5 million prints on record and climbing) of people they detain.
Officials claim that the fingerprint records will only be used for identification and all fingerprints obtained by the device will be erased. But after reading about the British bomb-sniffing laundromat I have my doubts.
In fact, the UK Police are notorious for invading the civil liberties of their people. With an estimated 1.5 million security cameras around London alone (along with a probable 4.2 million country-wide), it’s no wonder the British people are feeling a little perturbed.
General Motors (GM) and OnStar have successfully demonstrated a prototype technology called Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, which does exactly that – it allows OnStar advisors working with law enforcement to send a signal to a subscriber’s stolen vehicle to reduce engine power, slowing the vehicle down gradually.
The exact process for Stolen Vehicle Slowdown (at right) goes as follows:
- Once the vehicle has been reported stolen to law enforcement, the subscriber can call OnStar and request Stolen Vehicle Assistance. OnStar will confirm the subscriber has not opted out of the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service.
- OnStar uses real-time GPS technology to attempt to pinpoint the exact location of the stolen vehicle and provide this information to law enforcement to help them recover the vehicle.
- When law enforcement has established a clear line of sight of the stolen vehicle, law enforcement may request OnStar to slow it down remotely.
- OnStar then sends a remote signal to the vehicle that interacts with the Powertrain system to reduce engine power which will slow the vehicle down gradually.
Worried that the wrong car might be targeted? OnStar insists that “Safeguards will be in place to ensure that the correct vehicle is slowed down.”
Stolen Vehicle Slowdown comes along just as more people are installing automobile kill switches to protect their property, bring down insurance rates and protect innocent bystanders in the event of a high speed chase.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, about 30,000 police chases occur yearly and approximately 300 deaths occur as a result of those chases. Kill switches could have a major impact on these casualties.
Witnessing the rapid spread of the Flash Mob phenomenon, fueled by emerging driver organizations like Improv Everywhere, it occurred to me that these increasingly frequent and massive events could be used as cover for various forms of criminal activity. The first scenario that popped into my head was that of a bank robber arranging such a coordinated diversion to cover his or her tracks.
For example, imagine if the following flash mob (arranged in San Francisco just two weekends ago) was diverted to surround or walk through a bank or other burglary target:
A clever criminal dressed in bright red could then use such a crowd as cover for a quick escape.
Just how feasible is such a scenario?
As it turns out, a small-scale and version of this plan was successfully executed up in Monroe, Washington just two weeks ago.
Shane McGlaun over at DailyTech reports that US government officials are looking into a space-based method of transporting small groups of troops anywhere in the globe within two hours. “The goal of the program is to be able to insert a team of 13 soldiers anywhere on the globe in two hours.” Although many have described this as plain fantasy, the surprising thing is that officials are looking to start a program such as this as early as 2019, giving actual implementation a start date of 2030. (Check out the original doc here)
Is this a viable option?
It would be pretty handy to have ground forces anywhere you need them in just a few hours. The second an Embassy came under attack or an invasion of a friendly country started, a unit of special forces would be there to help keep a lid on things in the knick of time. And if you think a force of only thirteen wouldn’t be able to do much, you might want to check out some of the latest stuff the military is working on for the future.
If you’re near the San Francisco Bay Area this evening, Friday the 16th, then I strongly encourage you to swing by the monthly Future Salon featuring Foresight Institute President
Christine Peterson who will be presenting on the provocative topic:
Open Source Sensing: Using open source & nanotechnology to reduce surveillance & head off Iraq-style wars.
Christine, who coined the term “open source”, contends that distributed approaches will be critical to combating the inherently distributed terrorism phenomenon:
In the U.S. and other countries, concerns regarding terrorism are driving massive new centralized surveillance systems, with little or no regard for their potential effect on civil liberties. However, unlike nuclear weapons delivered by ICBMs, terrorism is inherently a bottom-up, distributed challenge, requiring a similar response. Open source software provides a useful model for a set of technologies that address security concerns in a distributed way, with the added benefit of relatively fast response time.
We can use open source techniques, combined with the latest in sensing technologies, as an alternative to centralized surveillance. Such technologies could also build trust when used in arms control applications, potentially heading off “wars of forced inspection” such as the recent war in Iraq.
Atop a garbage heap amidst the expansive Westchester Landfill an iRobot Refuse Quantifier (iRQ) deftly went about its lucrative business.
Credit card receipt: inconclusive. Candy wrapper: M&M logo, no fingerprint. Check fragment: inconclusive. Candy wrapper: M&M logo, no fingerprint. Candy wrapper: Almond Joy, smudged fingerprint, image stored to temporary cache. Comb: zoom, hair strand: 92% match. Load level 2 protocols. Letter fragment: stamp fragment, zoom, puncture, contaminated sample. Product box fragment: Nintendo Wii logo, burnt, no data. Shredded tax documents: inconclusive, coordinates tagged in case of reassembly contingent on identity correlation.
The mechanical spider legs pumped and the little scavenger-bot systematically inched left, establishing a better focus point for its frontal laser array. The iRQ began scanning the next set of coordinates.
An identity match for a primary target had been established! Power surged from the tertiary battery outward as the spider maxed both input and broadcast. But something was wrong. The swarm network was not responding. Thus it was highly probable that the iRQ was now invisible to its peers and ultimately its owner.
Re-broadcast for 3 seconds. No ping back. Defensive algorithm, blend. Scan for disruption, risk assessment. Attempt new frequencies. Multiple frequencies inoperable. 84% deliberate disruption, 62% location awareness, evasive algorithm.