Category Archives: Communication

DARPA at Phase 3 on solar powered surveillance strato-ship

DARPA at Phase 3 on solar powered surveillance strato-ship • The Register.

This technology has HUGE non-military potential, from portable self-powered comm towers to situation monitoring and aerial recon, to portable power generation;

The famed Pentagon Q-branch boffinry hothouse, DARPA, has unveiled another ambitious plan to further US military-technical dominance. It has given $400m to American weapons globocorp Lockheed to develop a solar-powered robot radar airship, able to lurk in the stratosphere for a year at a time, potentially tracking individual people walking about on the ground across areas 1200km wide.

DARPA concept of the ISIS radar airshipThe government spooks didn’t need numberplate tracking any more.

Yesterday’s contract announcement was for Phase 3 of DARPA’s Integrated Sensor Is Structure (ISIS) project, in which a flying sub-scale demonstrator will be built to prove that the concept can work as planned. Phases 1 and 2 consisted mostly of design studies and materials work.

The idea of ISIS is to hugely improve on what a normal airship can do, by using the ship itself as a radar antenna rather than carrying a separate piece of machinery – hence the name. DARPA believe this will hugely increase the size of radar antenna a stratospheric airship can carry, which in turn means the radar would deliver much better sensor resolution for much less power.

The lowered power requirements of the ISIS radar-ship, DARPA believes, will mean it can run on solar power. Excess energy generated during the day will be stored by cracking water into hydrogen: at night, this will be burned in fuel cells to keep the ship flying and its radar shining even in darkness.

DARPA calculate that the ship should be able to cruise at 60 knots or sprint at 100, which will let it deploy from the US to a global troublespot in 10 days. It will then be able to hold station easily in the stratospheric “wind bucket” found at 65,000 to 70,000 feet, scanning the ground beneath it with its all-seeing radar mega-eye.

The performance of the massive scanner, according to DARPA, should be such that it can track unobscured “dismounts [people walking] across the entire line of sight” – in other words out to the horizon, which at operational height will be 600km away.

That said, the contract announcement suggests a slight bit of neck-winding, referring to an ability to track “all ground targets” to 300km. Closer in, the Pentagon boffins think, it will be capable of tracking such small objects even through overhanging foliage. Performance against easier airborne targets – planes, missiles etc. – would definitely be right out to the horizon at 600km.

If the ISIS can do all that DARPA suggest, it will handily trump most of the other aerial scanners in use by the US forces, including AWACS sky-scanner planes, the smaller E-2 Hawkeye AWACS that flies from US carriers, Joint STARS ground-sweeping tank sniffers, and the JLENS moored-balloon radar plan. The potential would be there perhaps to do without all these things, simply assigning a single ISIS ship in place of the several AWACS or whatever you formerly needed so as to keep one up on patrol.

An ISIS airship would potentially be vulnerable to enemy action, but at 70,000 feet only quite serious enemies – the sort who could also threaten AWACS or JSTARS aircraft – would have any chance of hitting it. And those planes carry large crews, whereas the ISIS is unmanned.

So this is potentially big news for the US military, the more so in that ISIS has now made it to Phase 3 – we’re no longer talking just about design studies here. The privacy/surveillance issues – the chance that ISIS spy-ships might lurk one day above US or allied territory, tracking every vehicle or even every person walking about – could be even more significant. Forget about numberplate cameras or face tracking; you’d have to live underground to avoid this sort of thing.

For those who’d like to know more, there’s a pdf on ISIS from DARPA here. ®

Inflatable Sat antenna fits in your backpack

One Per Cent: Inflatable antenna you can stick in your backpack.

Jesse Emspak, contributor

Dish.jpg(Image: GATR Technologies)

A big issue in setting up satellite communications networks is the antennas – it takes time to set them up. In the wake of a big disaster cell networks can be damaged when the towers fall and take months to repair. For television crews and military units carrying a rigid satellite antenna can be a serious logistical problem, as even a metre-sized dish is quite heavy and difficult to transport.

Enter GATR Technologies, which has designed an inflatable 1.2-metre satellite antenna that can fit into a backpack and be carried by a single person. The company’s antenna looks something like a beach ball. It is a double-layered sphere with one layer a nylon mesh and the other made from sail material. The antenna is in the centre.

The receiving dish divides the sphere’s interior into two chambers and by applying pressure to one chamber you can push the antenna into a parabolic shape. The company already sells a larger, 2-metre version but this one is small enough to fit in an airline’s hand luggage area when folded.

GATR’s director of marketing, Dean Hudson, said the military is the major customer, though the company also hopes to get some interest from television crews who don’t want to go through the trouble of packing an entire satellite-link system up when they travel to areas without roads.

Media Complicit in Humanity's Demise?

Duane Elgin: The Last Taboo on Television.

Virtually every forbidden topic imaginable has been covered on television, except for one. The last taboo on television is television itself — and how it is profoundly biased toward high consumption lifestyles that the earth cannot sustain. In the U.S. the average person sees more than 25,000 commercials a year on TV. Commercials represent far more than a pitch for a particular product; they are also advertisements for the attitudes, values and lifestyles that surround the consumption of that product. Mass entertainment is being used to capture a mass audience that is then appealed to by mass advertising to promote mass consumption that, in turn, is devastating the Earth’s biosphere. By programming television for commercial success, the television industry is also programming the mindset of civilizations for ecological failure.

Nearly all of the world’s problems are, at their core, communication problems. Therefore, the future of the world will depend largely on the quality and depth of human communication. I agree with Lester Brown, author of the respected State of the World book series, who said that to respond to the global ecological crisis, “The communications industry is the only instrument that has the capacity to educate on a scale that is needed and in the time available.” At the heart of the communications industry is television. In the U.S. 98% of all homes have a TV set and the average person watches approximately four hours per day. Television has become our primary window onto the world: most of the people get most of their news about the world from television. Like it or not, television has become the central nervous system of modern society. The question then becomes, how well is our “social brain” responding to the immense challenge of sustainability?

The unrelenting consumerist bias of television distorts our view of reality and social priorities, leaving us entertainment rich and knowledge poor. Television may be our window onto the world, but the view it provides is cramped and narrow. Television may be the mirror in which we see ourselves as a society, but the reflection it gives is often distorted and unbalanced. Our evolutionary intelligence is being tested by how well we use this powerful vehicle to communicate collectively about our future.

Just how urgent our situation has become was made clear nearly two decades ago by a 1992 Warning to Humanity that was signed by over 1600 scientists, including a majority of the living Nobel laureates in the sciences. They said that “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course” and that, “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.” If the future of human civilization is now at stake, then what is the mass media doing? Currently, the communications industry is actively participating in the “irretrievable mutilation” of the planet by aggressively promoting a lethal addiction — obsessive consumerism.

World leaders are wrestling with how to stabilize the planet’s population and achieve sustainable development. In an historic bargain, poor countries are being urged to curb their birth rates and rich countries are being urged to curb the rate at which they use up the world’s resources and pollute the planet’s environment. Yet, how can we in the wealthy nations be expected to consume less when the media that dominates our consciousness continuously tells us to buy ever more?

This linkage is one of the paramount political and social issue of our time, and yet it is rarely mentioned. Television almost never turns its cameras around to look at itself and its unrelenting consumerist bias. Building a sustainable future requires at least two major changes:

  • Viewer Feedback Forums — We need to create publicly sponsored, televised forums that hold the mass media accountable in the court of public opinion. Using live polling and citizen feedback in both local and national “feedback forums,” citizens can use the power of moral persuasion and public opinion to promote a more mature and balanced diet of programming.
  • Earth Commercials — To balance the onslaught of aggressively pro-consumerist commercials, we need “Earth commercials.” These could be ads for other species of animals, the rain forests, appeals from our great-great grandchildren, and so on. They could be done with humor, creativity, playfulness and intelligence to awaken our awareness of the web of life and the needs of future generations.

Most people understand that our planet is in trouble and that we will soon have to make dramatic changes in our manner of living, working and consuming if we are to live in harmony with the Earth. Never before in human history have so many people been called upon to make such sweeping changes in so little time. If a problem recognized is a problem half-solved, then we can make an enormous leap forward by breaking the last taboo on television and taking back a portion of the public’s airwaves for purposes of mature conversation about our common future.

Earthquake? Terrorist bomb? Call in the AI

Earthquake? Terrorist bomb? Call in the AI – tech – 23 May 2011 – New Scientist.

In the chaos of large-scale emergencies, artificially intelligent software could help direct first responders

9.47 am, Tavistock Square, London, 7 July 2005. Almost an hour has passed since the suicide bombs on board three underground trains exploded. Thirty-nine commuters are now dead or dying, and many more are badly injured.

Hassib Hussain, aged 18, now detonates his own device on the number 30 bus – murdering a further 13 and leaving behind one of the most striking images of the day: a bus ripped open like a tin of sardines.

In the aftermath of the bus bomb, questions were raised about how emergency services had reacted to the blast. Citizens and police called emergency services within 5 minutes, but ambulance teams did not arrive on the scene for nearly an hour.

As the events of that day show, the anatomy of a disaster – whether a terrorist attack or an earthquake – can change in a flash, and lives often depend on how police, paramedics and firefighters respond to the changing conditions. To help train for and navigate such chaos, new research is employing computer-simulation techniques to help first responders adapt to emergencies as they unfold.

Most emergency services prepare for the worst with a limited number of incident plans – sometimes fewer than 10 – that tell them how to react in specific scenarios, says Graham Coates of Durham University, UK. It is not enough, he says. “They need something that is flexible, that actually presents them with a dynamic, tailor-made response.”

A government inquest, concluded last month, found that no additional lives were lost because of the delay in responding to the Tavistock Square bomb, but that “communication difficulties” on the day were worrying.

So Coates and colleagues are developing a training simulation that will help emergency services adapt more readily. The “Rescue” system comprises up to 4000 individual software agents that represent the public and members of emergency services. Each is equipped with a rudimentary level of programmed behaviours, such as “help an injured person”.

In the simulation, agents are given a set of orders that adhere to standard operating procedure for emergency services – such as “resuscitate injured victims before moving them”. When the situation changes – a fire in a building threatens the victims, for example – agents can deviate from their orders if it helps them achieve a better outcome.

Meanwhile, a decision-support system takes a big-picture view of the unfolding situation. By analysing information fed back by the agents on the ground, it can issue updated orders to help make sure resources like paramedics, ambulances and firefighters are distributed optimally.

Humans that train with the system can accept, reject or modify its recommendations, and unfolding event scenarios are recorded and replayed to see how different approaches yield different results. Coates presented his team’s work at the International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management in Lisbon, Portugal, last week.

That still leaves the problem of predicting how a panicked public might react to a crisis – will fleeing crowds hamper a rescue effort, or will bystanders comply with any instructions they receive?

To explore this, researchers at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, have built a detailed simulation of how crowds respond to disaster. The Dynamic Adaptive Disaster Simulation (DADS) also uses basic software agents representing humans, only here they are programmed to simply flee from danger and move towards safety.

When used in a real emergency situation, DADS will utilise location data from thousands of cellphones, triangulated and streamed from masts in the region of the emergency. It can make predictions of how crowds will move by advancing the simulation faster than real-time events. This would give emergency services a valuable head start, says Greg Madey, who is overseeing the project.

A similar study led by Mehdi Moussaïd of Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, France, sought to address what happens when such crowds are packed into tight spaces.

In his simulation, he presumed that pedestrians choose the most direct route to their destination if there is nothing in their way, and always try to keep their distance from those around them. Running a simulation based on these two rules, Moussaïd and his colleagues found that as they increased the crowd’s density, the model produced crushes and waves of people just like those seen in real-life events such as stampedes or crushes at football stadiums (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1016507108). The team hope to use their model to help plan emergency evacuations.

Jenny Cole, head of emergency services at London-based independent think tank The Royal United Services Institute, wrote a report on how the different emergency services worked together in the wake of the London bombings. She remains “sceptical” about these kinds of simulations. “No matter how practical or useful they would be, there’s usually no money left in the end to implement them,” she says.

For his part, Coates says he plans to release his system to local authorities for free as soon as it is ready.

A cacophony of tweets

In the chaotic moments after disaster strikes, people often turn to Twitter for information. But making sense of a flurry of Twitter posts can be difficult.

Now Jacob Rogstadius at the University of Madeira in Portugal and his team have developed a system that sorts updates from Twitter by keyword – for example “Japan” or “earthquake” – and places them into an event timeline, without the need for hashtags.

In the next phase of development, people will look at tweets clustered in this way to judge the pertinence and reliability of different sources of information, or request more – pictures of the area, for example – to create a virtual “incident room” as the crisis unfolds.

Tokyo Electric: reviewing records of how nuclear crisis unfolded

Tokyo Electric: reviewing records of how nuclear crisis unfolded | Reuters.

 

The west side air lock of Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) Co.’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant No.3 reactor building is seen in this image taken by a remote-controlled robot called ”Packbot”, which is capable of manoeuvring through buildings, taking images and measuring radiation levels, in Fukushima Prefecture May 10, 2011, in this handout photo released by TEPCO on May 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Tokyo Electric Power Co/Handout

TOKYO | Mon May 16, 2011 8:09am EDT

(Reuters) – The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant said it is studying whether the facility’s reactors were damaged in the March 11 earthquake even before the massive tsunami that followed cut off power and sent the reactors into crisis.

Japanese officials have said until now that the apparent meltdown in three of the reactors at Fukushima was caused by the loss of power to cooling systems when the tsunami knocked out backup diesel generators.

A finding that the reactors were damaged by the quake itself could complicate the growing debate on the future of nuclear power in Japan at a time when Tokyo is under pressure from local officials to tighten safety standards.

“We want to review the data from the 40 to 50 minutes between the time of the earthquake and when the tsunami struck,”

Junichi Matsumoto, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co on nuclear issues said on Monday.

The 9.0 magnitude quake and the nearly 15-meter tsunami that followed devastated Japan’s northeastern coast and killed more than 15,000 people. Another 9,500 are still missing. The disaster also unleashed the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Kyodo news agency quoted an unnamed source at the utility on Sunday as saying that the No. 1 reactor might have suffered structural damage in the earthquake that caused a release of radiation separate from the tsunami.

Matsumoto said the utility was still studying how the No. 1 reactor was tipped into crisis. Tokyo Electric, also known as Tepco, is due to release an update on its timetable for stabilizing the Fukushima reactors on Tuesday.

NEW ANALYSIS

Separately, Tepco has provided a new analysis of the early hours of the Fukushima crisis.

The utility said on Sunday that a review of data from March 11 suggested that the fuel rods in the No. 1 reactor were completely exposed to the air and rapidly heating five hours after the quake.

By the next morning – just 16 hours later – the uranium fuel rods in the first reactor had melted down and dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel, the cylindrical steel container that holds the fuel at the core.

The No. 2 and No. 3 reactors are expected to have gone through a similar process and like No. 1 are leaking most of the water being pumped in a bid to keep their cores cool.

A massive pond of radioactive water has collected in the basement of the No. 1 reactor. Experts fear that the contaminated water leaking from the plant could threaten groundwater and the Pacific.

Japan’s government has promised an independent audit of the Fukushima disaster, including whether a faster response or a quicker venting of radioactive steam could have prevented powerful explosions and the uranium meltdown.

In parliament on Monday, government officials were grilled by an opposition lawmaker over their immediate response to the nuclear crisis.

“We can certainly say that if the venting took place a little earlier, we could have prevented the situation from worsening,” Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Haruki Madarame told parliament.

Both Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said that they had instructed Tokyo Electric to go ahead with the venting but that the company had taken time to act.

“We had instructed them to go ahead with the vent and I think Tokyo Electric was trying to do this. Even though we asked them repeatedly to vent, it did not happen and so we decided to issue an order. All of us there, including the prime minister and myself had said it should be done as soon as possible,” Kaieda said.

(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki and Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Joseph Radford)