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At this time of year, AMREL wishes to thank you for trusting us with your rugged computer needs. We appreciate the faith you have shown in us and our offerings. We will work hard during the coming months to demonstrate that your trust is well founded.
We also wish to extend our special appreciation to all those who serve our country. Your sacrifice is noted and valued.
The AMREL team wishes you and yours a joyous and wonderful holiday!
US Marine & South Korean Army drum lines stage a very friendly contest. As we approach the holidays, it’s nice to think that future conflicts will be settled by Battle of The Bands.
This video has received over 3 million hits on You Tube.
PwC summarized a ton of research about the public’s attitude toward wearable computers. The video below gives a nice overview:
For even more data, visit their consumer intelligence series webpage.
The only fly in the ointment was the rampant paranoia. Planes and helicopters were constantly circling overhead. Rumors came fast and furious. Several times, a festival participant informed me that the aircraft were scanning the crowds using facial recognition technology to capture images that would be evaluated for outstanding warrants. Some people at the festival had previous brushes with the law. More significantly, many feared that local law enforcement wanted to raise revenue for their jurisdiction; they thought that facial recognition technology would enable law officers to identify and arrest festival goers on spurious charges.
Wherever I went at the festival, I did my best to dispel these fears. Such technology doesn’t exist yet, I told disbelieving music lovers. Even if it did, it would be used by the NSA or CIA to search for high-value targets in Waziristan, not by a small town sheriff looking at someone dancing in a drum circle (a forest ranger told me the aircraft were privately owned by rich people who wanted to scope out the crowd, probably looking for scantily clad women).
The FBI is working hard to justify your paranoia
I thought of these rumors when I read FBI’s announcement about their Next Generation Identification (NGI) System. Among the many touted improvements are:
“Currently, the IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System) can accept photographs (mugshots) with criminal ten-print submissions. The Interstate Photo System (IPS) will allow customers to add photographs to previously submitted arrest data, submit photos with civil submissions, and submit photos in bulk formats. The IPS will also allow for easier retrieval of photos, and include the ability to accept and search for photographs of scars, marks, and tattoos. In addition, this initiative will also explore the capability of facial recognition technology.”
As mentioned above, the FBI already has the national database of IAFIS for fingerprints. They plan to include iris and facial recognition, because:
“The future of identification systems is currently progressing beyond the dependency of a unimodal (e.g., fingerprint) biometric identifier towards multimodal biometrics (i.e., voice, iris, facial, etc.)…Once developed and implemented, the NGI initiatives and multimodal functionality will promote a high level of information sharing, support interoperability, and provide a foundation for using multiple biometrics for positive identification.”
Sounds like the FBI is making the festival goers’ paranoia a reality, not just in terms of implementing new technology, but also in expanding access to these new tools. As Al Jazeera America put it:
“The FBI has invested considerable energy in recent months in marketing a massive new biometric database to local cops, whom the agency will rely on to help feed it billions of fingerprints, palm prints, mug shots, iris scans and images of scars, tattoos and other identifiers.”
To learn what police are thinking of the FBI’s biometric initiative, I sent some news clippings to Retired Assistant Chief William Leist of the California Highway Patrol (currently, AMREL’s Director of Public Safety Programs). He let me know that AMREL is already developing solutions that will work with the FBI’s NGI. He wrote to me:
“Gone are the days when law enforcement officers needed to arrest, transport to a jail facility, and print an individual who’s identity was in question. FBI’s NGI and AMREL’s Biometric Mobile ID solution will allow officers to quickly identify suspects in the field. This technology will not only enhance officer safety and efficiency, but will also enhance public safety by allowing officers to remain in the field on proactive patrol. Moreover, because this technology can accommodate in-field biometric database enrollments, it opens a host of other options such as mobile booking or cite and release of low level offenders. I don’t believe NGI will replace fingerprints as the article suggests, but it will certainly enhance our biometric ID capabilities and lead to more bad-guys behind bars.”
So, an experience law officer like Bill Leist is onboard for this initiative, and is even working with AMREL to develop biometric solutions that are compatible with it. I’m all for catching bad guys, but even with great mobile biometric devices, I see a few bugs in this expansive national system of identification.
Who pays for all this?
The hardware for capturing palm prints, iris and facial patterns will impact local police departments’ limited resources. More than one police veteran has told me that “There is no such thing as ‘cop proof’ equipment.” Expensive gear routinely gets trashed in the line of duty. To save money on maintenance and repair, police departments will have to spend extra for fully ruggedized biometric devices.
What about all the legacy devices?
Are cash-strapped departments going to scrap their old equipment, because they are incompatible with the FBI’s NGI? Some kind of FAP45 – compatible “biometric add-on” might help with the problem of heterogeneous hardware.
What about the data?
An even greater financial drain will be the “back end.” Managing and processing the torrent of police-generated images will be more costly than the hardware. Unfortunately, most vendors for these solutions target a few large police departments, so their offerings are overpowered and too expensive for the typical small-to-medium sized agency. A month-to-month Software as a Solution (SaaS) might help departments with tight budgets.
What about the training?
With wearable cameras, push-to-talk radios, portable computers and many other gadgets, an average patrolman is getting overwhelmed with technology. He is also overwhelmed with training for all these wonderful devices. Police are certified yearly on their weapons, but as far as I know, only Virginia regularly tests officers on their radio and communication skills. By seeking high-tech solutions, are we subjecting officers to cognitive overload?
What about FirstNet?
Is the FBI’s NGI compatible with FirstNet, the national program for an interoperable network to transmit Public Safety data? In spite of the publicity Firstnet has generated, some departments are barely aware of its existence. What happens if they buy biometric equipment that is not FirstNet compatible?
Despite my skepticism, it seems likely that the FBI’s vision of an integrated national, multimodal biometric database will be a reality. Perhaps, the next time I am surrounded by festival goers afraid of the eye-the-sky, I won’t so casually dismiss their fears. I will simply assure them that it is unlikely the local police can afford to process the thousands of images generated by such a canvassing operation.
Creative use of an unmanned system originally designed for military applications. This PackBot collects forensic evidence for property claims. You can see AMREL’s Operator Control Unit at 47 seconds, 1 minute & 7 seconds, and other places in this video.
It is interesting how the same capabilities that makes the PackBot useful for detecting explosive ordinance can also be used for other purposes.
Scientists are brainstorming ways of using unmanned systems to fight Ebola. This short video covers a number of interesting issues, including telepresence, the role of robots in healthcare, current capabilities of unmanned systems, and the age-old quandary of legs vs. wheels.
Perhaps the fear surrounding Ebola and other dangerous diseases will increase resources for developing unmanned capabilities.
You may have seen this video of an Unmanned Ground Vehicle shaped like a penguin chick:
As strange as it may sound, penguin robots have an important role to play in the emerging world economic order of the 21st century.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, a lot of very powerful countries take it seriously. Eyes are turning to our presumably warming polar regions and their now available resources.
The Arctic has large oil and gas deposits. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, declared, “Offshore fields, especially in the Arctic, are without any exaggeration our strategic reserve for the 21st century.” United States, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia have already received licenses for Arctic oil exploration.
Agriculture may be the last thing you think of when you regard the Arctic, but significant increases in food production are expected to occur in Russia and Greenland. Of course, some commercial ships seeking an Asia-European route will find an ice-free northwest passage to be an attractive alternative to the Suez Canal.
The Antarctic also has its attractions. Some claim that it has “…largest underexploited fishery in the world” (East Asia Forum). Large amounts of oil, coal and other valuable minerals have been found in Antarctica.
However, the legal status of the Arctic and Antarctic are poles apart. The Arctic Sea is surrounded by nations who have longstanding claims to the area. Arctic counties include Russia and a number of NATO members. New resources and traditional adversaries sound like an explosive combination, but so far the conflicts have been minimal. Still, I would not be surprised to see military strategists discussing the defense of our Northern Frontier.
Unlike the Arctic Sea, Antarctica is a kind of “no man’s land,” govern by an international “treaty regime.” Coming into force in 1961, this treaty bans militarization, and establishes Antarctica as a “scientific preserve.”
Mining and other exploitative activities are forbidden. In a resource-starved world, many do not expect this ban to last forever. In the yet-to-be-determined date, when the Antarctic goodies are divided up, how can a country make sure that it gets it rightful share?
Since science is the sole legitimate activity in the Antarctica, nations are securing future claims through the establishment of research stations. “You put a huge flag on a flagpole close to the research station,” says Klaus Dodds, a professor of geopolitics at the University of London. “It is not very subtle” (Economist).
Countries who are either conducting research or have expressed an interest in doing so, include Malaysia, Japan, India, Australia, China, South Korea, Argentina, Belgium, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
China alone is spending 55 million dollars a year on multiple stations. Over 350 places in Antarctica now have Chinese names.
Not everyone in the scientific community is happy about this new found enthusiasm for research. Some studies have been criticized as being transparently worthless, and even harmful to the local wildlife.
Enter the robot penguins. Unmanned penguin vehicles enable scientists to observe and take physiological measurements of penguins without stressing everybody’s favorite flightless water fowl. The penguins are safe from harassment, research is performed, and the sponsoring country reinforces its claim to the future exploitation of Antarctic resources.
Since they have proven useful for both research and nationalistic aspirations, there are more than one type of penguin robot.
This one features a robot that glides elegantly through a flock of penguins:
Another robot encounters true love and jealousy:
Finally, if you wish to get in on this “penguin gold rush,” PBS Nature demonstrates how to build your own penguin robot:
You may decide to leave penguin robot building to another person. Just remember the next time you view a penguin robot video, you are not just witnessing the scientific investigation of a cute animal, but you are also seeing economic forces that may determine how much your grandchildren pay for a gallon of gas.
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Militarization of Police –Rugged Radio Podcast
As the violent images of Ferguson, Missouri permeate the media, a debate has erupted about the “militarization of police.” Is it time to reconsider the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) 1033 program, which gives surplus military equipment to police departments? Listen to podcast by clicking the bar at the top of the page.
Rugged Radio explores the world of rugged computers, unmanned systems, and related topics. The opinions discussed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect those of AMREL, its employees, clients or partners.
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