Archive for the ‘TECHNOLOGY’ Category

SpaceShipTwo, also known as the VSS Enterprise, had made its first flight with a crew aboard, and we’ve got video.

Thursday’s flight marked the first time a captive-carry flight of the spacecraft and its mothership, Eve, has included pilots on SpaceShipTwo. The video includes preparation of the morning flight and air-to-air footage from the Beechcraft Starship chase plane.

The flight lasted more than six hours and included tests of systems aboard board the spacecraft, according to Virgin Galactic. The flight is part of the test program that will lead to the first glide flight of the spacecraft.

There have been several preparation flights during the last month, suggesting the team is preparing for the glide flight even though no date has been released. Though with the Farnborough International Airshow taking place this week and Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, next week, the media-savvy Virgin Galactic team has ample motivation to create a headline or two.

Video: Virgin Galactic

American defense firm Raytheon unveiled its anti-aircraft laser, of all places, at an airshow in England. Called the Laser Close-In Weapon System, Raytheon said the 50 kilowatt beam it produces can be used against aircraft, mortars, rockets, and small surface ships, and has already been tested against unmanned aerial vehicles.

And the technology is now being ported to another military invention. “We’ve tied this into Phalanx, the U.S. Navy’s anti-missile defense system that links a multiple barreled 20mm Gatling gun to a radar guidance mechanism,” said Mike Booen, VP of Raytheon Missile Systems. “It functions as the last line of defense, so if you can fit a laser onto it, you have a longer reach and an unlimited magazine, cause it keeps throwing out photons.”

The idea of shooting photons may feel like something out of Star Wars (the Phalanx is actually nicknamed “R2-D2”), but it’s actually a concept that dates back to 1950s, when scientists first thought to use lasers as weapons. Raytheon’s anti-aircraft system marks a huge step forward for laser weaponry, though one problem still plagues the technology: weather conditions. In the foggy and moist ocean air, a laser’s energy would actually be absorbed before it reaches its target, thus rendering it ineffective. Raytheon also acknowledges that certain surfaces and materials can absorb the laser’s power.

“Every material reflects, but you can overcome this with power; once you get over a certain threshold–measured in multiple kilowatts–then the laser does what it is designed to do,” Booen said. But in its first tests, UAVs proved no match for the striking power of Raytheon’s Laser Close-In Weapon System, marking the first time ever an unmanned aerial vehicle had been neutralized in a marine environment.

“It was a bad day for UAVs and a good one for laser technology,” Booen boasted.

Head here to see Raytheon’s new laser or check out the Phalanx in action below:

Wes Schlauder, the skipper of the U.S. Navy’s Virginia class nuclear submarine North Carolina, demonstrates how the sub’s all-new electronic command center–including the state-of-the-art digital visualization of the view from the periscope–has taken the capabilities of undersea warfare into the 21st century.

(Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET)

GROTON, Conn.–If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like aboard the most advanced submarine in the world, I’m here to tell you all about it.

To be specific, that submarine is the North Carolina, a Virginia class nuclear attack sub based at the Naval Submarine Base New London here, and it is truly a technological marvel.

To begin with, forget all about those romantic images of a dimly lighted sonar room where a captain squints into the eyepiece of the periscope in order to try to see what’s going on outside. Those days are long gone. Aboard the North Carolina, at least.

This is the 21st century, after all, and while much in the military is legacy equipment designed to last decades, the North Carolina is an example of what happens when planners take into account the latest available technologies and apply them to age-old problems.

Click here for a full photo gallery from the Virginia class submarine, the North Carolina.

Navy’s most cutting-edge submarine tech ever (photos)

The sonar room, then, has gone the way of the rotary phone and has been replaced by an all-electronic, nearly paperless, control room that is fully lighted, is completely networked, and which displays imagery gathered from the periscope on large, clear digital monitors. Indeed, should the sub’s commander need to see something through the periscope while he’s taking a nap in his quarters, no problem: the imagery can be piped in wirelessly to his computer, and he can peruse at will.

Welcome to the future of undersea warfare.

The Navy and Road Trip
Different regions of the United States are dominated by different military services. Last year, on Road Trip 2009, I traveled throughout the Rocky Mountain region, and nearly everywhere I went, there was the U.S. Air Force. This year, on Road Trip 2010, I’m traveling through the Northeast, and in this region, its the U.S. Navy that has been nearly ubiquitous.

Already, I’ve hit places like the Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md.; the Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia–shared by NASA and the Navy; and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, in Newport News, Va., where the most advanced aircraft carrier ever is currently being built.

And now, as part of Road Trip 2010, I’ve come here, to one of the Navy’s most important submarine bases–its submarine school is located here, as are a significant number of other subs (see video below), and I’ve been invited aboard the North Carolina for a personal tour of the boat by its commander, Wes Schlauder.

It turns out–by coincidence of planning, I promise–that the North Carolina also came out of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Newport News in 2007, meaning that that facility will likely be one of the very biggest benefactors to Road Trip 2010.

On board
The North Carolina is 377 feet long and has a diameter of 34 feet. When submerged, it weighs 7,841 tons, and can do more than 25 knots at depths below 800 feet. The vessel can carry 38 weapons, including Mark 48 advanced capability torpedoes, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and mines, and it is also set up to carry batteries of special operations forces. It normally has a crew of 134. For now, they’re all men, but the Navy is changing its ways and may soon have some female officers aboard some of its subs. But we’re not there yet.

Where we are is at the dawn of the age of the IT-based submarine. The Navy has embraced technology, and there are plenty of examples of it spread around the North Carolina. There’s even a computer room packed tight with racks of servers that are feeding data throughout the sub via its wired and wireless networks.

Click here for a full photo gallery on escape training at the Submarine School at the Naval Submarine Base New London, as well as on the Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered vessel of any kind.

According to Schlauder, the North Carolina has also been outfitted with the very latest set of submarine-ready imaging technologies, including infrared cameras, laser-range finders, and digital camera. The infrared may be the most important from the perspective of a sub commander tasked with tracking potential enemies. “Now, I can not just see a surface ship’s running lights,” Schlauder told me. “Now I have IR capabilities, so I can [actually] see the ship, what it is, and how it’s moving. That’s never been available to me previously.”

But perhaps the most clear-cut sign that the North Carolina is the standard-bearer of the Navy’s move to an IT environment is its integration of a fiber optic backbone and a network of networks on board the vessel.

Supercomputing capabilities
As Schlauder put it, Virginia class submarines are designed to take advantage of all the information technology capabilities of the 21st century.

In the past, submarines featured both a sonar room, where the crew could track “contacts,” and a separate area for combat systems. Today, that paradigm is no more. On the North Carolina, the two areas have been combined into one large control room that is packed with networked systems.

That means that in the control room, sonar is set up on the port side, while combat systems are on the starboard side. The idea is to easily share information and optimize information flow, said Schlauder, with the goal of building the best-possible situational awareness and providing the most accurate and complete information to the decision maker, be it the officer of the deck or the commander himself.

Because sonar and combat systems are now in the same space (see video below), it’s easy for the two to share data, and for crew members manning the two areas to talk between themselves as information develops. “They can see what’s going on and hear what’s going on,” Schlauder said, “and take advantage of all that information flow.

In total, the control room is packing hundreds of terabytes of processing power, Schlauder said, which is ultimately being used to help crunch data and arrive at the most complete picture of what any identified contact is and is doing.

With sonar, he explained, it’s all about listening passively. The crew members continually watch screens where all acoustic data is coming in, screens that would look familiar to anyone who has seen “The Matrix.”

Schlauder said the never-ending supply of green symbols on the screen, which are developing, top to bottom–“water falling down,” like a waterfall–are examined in search of contacts. Any kind of anomaly in the patterns could be a vessel of some kind, and as the anomalies move right to left or left to right on the screen, the crew can apply a series of fire-control algorithms and analyze what they’re seeing. The idea is that they can quickly determine what they’re looking at, track its movement and, if it’s wartime and it’s an enemy vessel, create a profile for putting a torpedo on it.

The system is so sensitive, Schlauder said, that not only can the sonar crew tell if a contact is a ship, but they can also determine how many blades its propeller has, whether a blade has some sort of dent, and figure out if it has a diesel engine, or a gas turbine. They could even tell if someone was working a winch on its deck by hearing the banging of chains. It’s about “breaking down the noise and telling us what that contact is doing,” Schlauder said.

The periscope
As noted above, the periscope is another part of the North Carolina that’s moved beyond the worn-out images of the past.

To begin with, there’s no longer any eyepieces. Instead, the entire system is computer based and all visuals projected on any of a number of digital displays. The control? It’s done using a joystick–“it’s like playing an Xbox,” Schlauder said. The Virginia class is the first to move to this kind of system.

On a screen, there is a large cross-hairs splitting the view into four quadrants. The top of the screen is in front of the sub, while the bottom is the rear. On the screen, there is always a green wedge outline that represents where on a 360-degree view you’re looking and how wide the view is. If the image is zoomed in, the wedge is very narrow, while it would be wide if the view is normal range.

The North Carolina, the fourth Virginia class nuclear submarine, rests at its berth at the Naval Submarine Base New London, in Groton, Connecticut.

(Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET)

I got a chance to play with the system, and after getting the hang of it, I was looking through the periscope–again, on a computer screen–at the old Nautilus, which is now a museum here–about a mile away. The imagery was so good that I could see the faces of people walking on and off that boat.

The sensors
The North Carolina is packed full of the latest and greatest sensors (see video below) designed to help it do its job. And because the vessel was designed for the post-Cold War environment–meaning we’re not rehashing the U.S. versus Soviet Union dynamic of “The Hunt for Red October,” the sub is optimized for working in shallow waters near shore.

The first main sensor, Schlauder said, is a large spherical array that is the primary hull-mounted sensor, and which is capable of looking nearly 360 degrees around the ship. It can listen passively–which is its primary role–but can also transmit actively, including sending out pings into the water.

There are also high-frequency active arrays that are shorter-range, higher-resolution arrays that can passively listen or actively transmit. One is mounted underneath the North Carolina and is intended for looking down and mapping the bottom, especially near shore where the submarine might be trying to avoid dangers like mines. In addition, there is one on the sub’s sail that looks up, mainly for safety in the sense of avoiding sailboats or surface ships, but which can also be used underwater to track another submarine.

And on the side of the boat, Schlauder continued, there are three wide-aperture arrays–acoustic panels–that give those on the sub the ability to look up and down its side. The main purpose here to passively survey a ship, and to be able, without transmitting anything in the water, listen to a contact and compute its range.

Finally, he said, there’s two towed arrays that can be deployed off the boat and trailed behind to survey its surroundings.

Rare opportunity
Getting to tour a nuclear submarine is an unlikely enough opportunity. Getting a tour of what the Navy calls the most advanced sub on Earth is even less likely. And having that tour be led by the boat’s commander seems entirely improbable.

With that in mind, I am still buzzing a bit at having gotten a chance for that experience, particularly because it might be something I never get to do again.

It’s a sobering feeling being below decks on such a vessel, knowing what it was designed for. The world has changed a lot since the Cold War, and it’s not entirely clear what roles submarines will play in America’s new geopolitical environment, but there’s no doubt the Navy thinks it’s worth investing huge sums of money on them.

Having been aboard now, I can’t tell you what I think any outcomes might be. But I do feel that the systems the North Carolina, at least, is equipped with give its commander and crew the best possible chance of emerging from any encounter with the upper hand.

For the next three weeks, Geek Gestalt will be on Road Trip 2010. After driving more than 18,000 miles in the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Southeast over the last four years, I’ll be looking for the best in technology, science, military, nature, aviation and more throughout the American Northeast. If you have a suggestion for someplace to visit, drop me a line. In the meantime, you can follow my progress on Twitter @GreeterDan and @RoadTrip and find the project on Facebook. And you can also test your knowledge of the U.S. and try to win a prize in the Road Trip Picture of the Day challenge.

(The Activist Post) —  The war on terror is a worldwide endeavor that has spurred massive investment into the global surveillance industry – which now seems to be becoming a war on “liberty and privacy.”  Given all of the new monitoring technology being implemented, the uproar over warrantless wiretaps now seems moot.  High-tech, first-world countries  are being tracked, traced, and databased, literally around every corner.  Governments, aided by private companies, are gathering a mountain of information on average citizens who so far seem willing to trade liberty for supposed security.  Here are just some of the ways the matrix of data is being collected:

  • Internet — Internet browsers are recording your every move forming detailed cookies on your activities.  The NSA has been exposed as having cookies on their site that don’t expire until 2035.  Major search engines know where you surfed last summer, and online purchases are databased, supposedly for advertising and customer service uses.  IP addresses are collected and even made public.  Controversial websites can be flagged internally by government sites, as well as re-routing all traffic to block sites the government wants to censor. It has now been fully admitted that social networks provide NO privacy to users while technologies advance for real-time social network monitoring is already being used.  The Cybersecurity Act attempts to legalize the collection and exploitation of your personal information.  Apple’s iPhone also has browsing data recorded and stored.  All of this despite the overwhelming opposition to cybersurveillance by citizens.
  • RFID — Forget your credit cards which are meticulously tracked, or the membership cards for things so insignificant as movie rentals which require your SSN.  Everyone has Costco, CVS, grocery-chain cards, and a wallet or purse full of many more.  RFID  “proximity cards” take tracking to a new level in uses ranging from loyalty cards, student ID, physical access, and computer network access.  Latest developments include an RFID powder developed by Hitachi, for which the multitude of uses are endless — perhaps including tracking hard currency so we can’t even keep cash undetected. (Also see microchips below).
  • Traffic cameras – License plate recognition has been used to remotely automate duties of the traffic police in the United States, but have been proven to have dual use in England such as to mark activists under the Terrorism Act.  Perhaps the most common use will be to raise money and shore up budget deficits via traffic violations, but uses may descend to such “Big Brother” tactics as monitors telling pedestrians not to litter as talking cameras already do in the UK.
  • Computer cameras and microphones — The fact that laptops — contributed by taxpayers — spied on public school children (at home) is outrageous.  Years ago Google began officially to use computer “audio fingerprinting” for advertising uses.  They have admitted to working with the NSA, the premier surveillance network in the world.  Private communications companies already have been exposed routing communications to the NSA.  Now, keyword tools — typed and spoken — link to the global security matrix.
  • Public sound surveillance — This technology has come a long way from only being able to detect gunshots in public areas, to now listening in to whispers for dangerous “keywords.” This technology has been launched in Europe to “monitor conversations” to detect “verbal aggression” in public places.  Sound Intelligence is the manufacturer of technology to analyze speech, and their website touts how it can easily be integrated into other systems.
  • Biometrics — The most popular biometric authentication scheme employed for the last few years has been Iris Recognition. The main applications are entry control, ATMs and Government programs. Recently, network companies and governments have utilized biometric authentication including fingerprint analysis, iris recognition, voice recognition, or combinations of these for use in National identification cards.
  • Microchips — Microsoft’s HealthVault and VeriMed partnership is to create RFID implantable microchips.  Microchips for tracking our precious pets is becoming commonplace and serves to condition us to accept putting them in our children in the future.  The FDA has already approved this technology for humans and is marketing it as a medical miracle, again for our safety.
  • Facial recognition Anonymity in public is over.  Admittedly used at Obama’s campaign events, sporting events, and most recently at the G8/G20 protests in Canada. This technology is also harvesting data from Facebook images and surely will be tied into the street “traffic” cameras.
All of this is leading to Predictive Behavior Technology — It is not enough to have logged and charted where we have been; the surveillance state wants to know where we are going through psychological profiling.  It’s been marketed for such uses as blocking hackers.  Things seem to have advanced to a point where a truly scientific Orwellian world is at hand.  It is estimated that computers know to a 93% accuracy where you will be, before you make your first move.   Nanotech is slated to play a big role in going even further as scientists are using nanoparticles to directly influence behavior and decision making. Many of us are asking:  What would someone do with all of this information to keep us tracked, traced, and databased?  It seems the designers have no regard for the right to privacy and desire to become the Controllers of us all.

Meet Taranis, The Semi-Autonomous Stealth Unmanned Aircraft

BAE Systems today unveiled Taranis, an advanced stealth unmanned aircraft that can carry its deadly payload deep into enemy territory without a pilot. It can also think for itself. It’s part awesome, part Cylon Raider

The Taranis, revealed today in the U.K., joins other stealth UAVs into development. Part of a British initiative for the Ministry of Defense, the first Taranis built looks eerily like a Cylon Raider from Battlestar Gallactica, and the plan is to give it advanced autonomous abilities so it can think for itself. Before you start fearing a Skynet future, BAE is quick to point out “Should such systems enter into service, they will at all times be under the control of highly trained military crews on the ground.”

The payload and other equipment hasn’t been fully developed yet — and the initial test vehicle won’t carry weapons — but it’s expect to have two weapon bays. It’s named for the Celtic god of thunder, but when it’s tested next year the goal will be to see if it can strike without making a noise.

[Source: BAE Systems]

Test Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Bulletproof Custard: Liquid Armor That Can Stop Bullets

When it comes to bulletproof material, I think of strong, dense objects like concrete and really thick glass. I’ve never thought of liquids. But British scientists have, and they say liquid armor is better than ordinary Kevlar.

They’re calling it “bulletproof custard” because once struck, its molecules lock together to create a denser surface. According to the scientists who’ve developed it, the liquid armor works by absorbing the force of the bullet strike and responding to it by becoming much thicker and more sticky.

But the idea behind liquid armor isn’t to replace Kevlar but rather to complement it to create a sort of super armor that’s lighter, more flexible, and of course, stronger. In tests, a 10-layer Kevlar and liquid armor vest outperformed a 31-layer ordinary Kevlar vest. Cutting out layers of Kevlar without losing any of that bullet stopping effectiveness is a win for everyone. I’m sure 50 Cent is happy. [BBC]

Yes ladies we like our Guns! We can’t help it, it’s the way we are born. Nothing more fun that shooting a weapon…Thanks for the video @1hotitalian