Freedom & Memorial Day

Everyone likes Memorial Day, but that hasn’t stopped people from arguing about it. In modern times, controversy has surrounded moving the date of observance from May 30 to the last Monday of May. Some argue that the three-day weekend “cheapens” the somber meaning of the holiday.

A more ancient argument is the location of its origin. President Johnson formally proclaimed Waterloo, New York to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.  Historians aren’t really sure where the holiday started, but are fairly certain that it didn’t start there.

We know more about when Memorial Day started. Following the Civil War, numerous small communities had “decoration” days, in which people would place flowers on the graves of soldiers. Conventional historical narratives usually claim the South originated these holidays, with Northerners quickly imitating them.

One of the most interesting early observances happened in Charleston, South Carolina. On May 1, 1865, nearly 10,000 freedmen gathered to honor the Union prisoners of war who had died in a nearby internment facility. They erected a monument, sang, and, of course, placed flowers on the soldiers’ graves.

Although there is no evidence connecting this early observance to the origin of the national holiday, I think it has meaning for Memorial Day. For the freedmen, conducting this observance in the birthplace of the Confederacy was in itself an act of freedom.

Slaves have no agency, no choice in what they do. They are denied their name, language, family, community, and any way of preserving their memories. Only free people can create a holiday.  Only free people can honor the fallen.

Without the Union’s victory in the Civil War, the freedmen’s’ observance would have been impossible. By honoring the dead, the former slaves employed the very rights for which the Union soldiers’ had died. We should follow their example, and remember whenever we exercise our rights, we honor those who fought for them.

In honor of those that have fallen, AMREL encourages you to give to the Veteran charity of your choice. Below are three suggestions:

See you at SOFIC

SOFIC 2015 v2

 

Get a sneak peek!  AMREL will show off its new rugged Android tablets & handheld devices at this year’s SOFIC!

AMREL will feature a preview of some its newest, most advanced rugged computing solutions including:

  • Android/Windows solutions, such our new Android handhelds.
  • Super-slender laptops, such as  the ROCKY RV11 the thinnest, rugged laptop on the market that has a 15.6” display.
  • Powerful handheld & tablets, including our new Flexpedient Android tablet.

 We customize, design, prototype, and deliver solutions faster than anyone

 Learn more at: computers.amrel.com

Unmanned Grape Suturing [VIDEO]

Operating an unmanned system can be a tricky task.  The display may not present an accurate image (see War and depth: Why your battlefield robot needs 3D). The controls might be sticky. The effectors at the ends of robotic arms may be inadequately sensitive.

Nevertheless, it is possible to complete a delicate job via remote control. Watch the video below which demonstrates robotic arms controlled by a surgeon suturing a grape.

(BTW, a You Tube commenter noted that the grape survived the surgery and went on to live a fulfilling life as a raisin)

The Russian Robots are Coming [VIDEOS]

Supposedly, by 2025, 30% of Russian military equipment will be unmanned. This goal is part of an ambitious program to upgrade Russia’s military. Currently, 10% of its military equipment qualifies as “modern.” They want that figure to rise to 70% by 2020.

It is tempting to dismiss Russian technology with the same snark that American defense analysts reserve for the transparently phony “super-weapons” seen in Iranian parades. See the video below of Russian strongman and Chuck Norris wannabe, Putin, watching the humanoid “Avatar” drive around in circles. Superficially, it looks like a crude cosplay of a Cylon robot.

While the “Avatar” looks ridiculous, not all Russian robots deserve disdain. Much more impressive are the firefighting Uran-14 and the minesweeper Uran-6. The latter has been used in the battle-scarred Chechen republic. Watch below.

The Russians have announced that they are developing search-and-rescue systems for the Arctic areas. We have previously reported on the Great Powers’ interest in the Polar regions as well as the opportunities in disaster relief unmanned applications. The Russians have had great success in designing equipment and vehicles for extremely cold environments, so their efforts are worth watching.

The Russians have heavily promoted their weaponized Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV), specifically the Wolf-2 mobile robotic system and the grenade launching Platform-M. We do not know their true capabilities. Do they have non-Lone Of Sight operation? What about sliding autonomy? What are their pathfinding, navigation, and internal map-making capacities? Despite the press releases and vivid photographs, there is more unknown than known about these UGVs.

It would be wrong to assume that the above weapon platforms are merely empty shells. Yes, corruption and brutal regimes has yielded Russian achievements that are more cardboard than real. However, I have worked personally with Russian scientists and engineers. Given the right environment, they can be astonishingly effective. While I am not worried about Americans losing their dominance in the unmanned field, we shouldn’t be too surprised if the Russians do something surprising.

To read about the Russian unmanned efforts in the Arctic, click here.

For a good summary of their military unmanned systems, click here.

 

AUVSI 2015: Impressions & Rumors

AUVSI Unmanned Systems Conference was bigger and better than ever. AMREL was there of course. What did our team think of this tradeshow?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) explosion

UAVs were everywhere. It seemed as if everyone was peddling their own UAV or looking for one to invest in.

Not all were impressed with the proliferation of UAVs. “They all look the same,” complained one person. “Like quadcopter toys from a hobby shop.”

One unusual UAV that got people’s attention was the Goose BRAVO from Mist Mobility Integrated Systems Technology (MMIST). An upgrade of the CQ-10A that supported Special Forces, it is a modern version of an old technology: gyrocopter (autogyro). Usually, a gyrocopter is something you see in 1930’s movies, not in modern skies. Yet, it can lift 600 pounds, fly 70 mph, and reach 18,000 feet.

Operator Control Unit (OCU) explosion

Since AMREL is the premier supplier of OCUs, we were especially interested in the control units. Again, individuals in our staff were not impressed. There were as many control units as there were UAVs. Every developer was controlling their UAVs with devices that were dedicated to their specific offering. It seems that the Pentagon’s decades long campaign for interoperability is being completely ignored.

“Nobody is paying them to make interoperable control units,” explained Rob Culver, AMREL’s Director of Business Development, DOD Programs.  That’s because…

Defense is no longer the key target market

UAV developers are going after the civilian market big time. Targeted applications include photography, videography, filming, mapping, inspection, logistics (delivery), crowd control, patrolling, spot spraying fields, seeding farms, mining, herding, follow me, and of course the old standby, reconnaissance.

Defense is increasingly seen as a troublesome market. Lots of grumbling on the tradeshow floor about congressional shenanigans creating uncertainty in military funding.

At first glance, the UAV developers’ fixation with civilian applications seems warranted. Consumer Electronics Association predicts 1 million flights a day in American airspace during the next 20 years. Investors are looking forward to a billion dollar commercial market once the FAA permits non-Line Of Sight operation.

Indeed, at the conference, the FAA raised everyone’s hopes with its announcement about the Project Pathfinder initiative. Project Pathfinder is an agreement with CNN, PrecisionHawk and BNSF Railway to explore civilian applications.

However, the Defense market is far from finished. At a presentation at the conference, Derrick Maple, principal unmanned systems analyst for IHS Aerospace, predicted a global defense and security UAV market of $11.1 billion by 2024, a doubling of the current one. The US military may be slowing down its procurement of UAVs, but other countries are ramping up their purchases. Maple cited “Australia, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the Middle East region” as areas of opportunities for American manufacturers.

In addition, the major obstacles to commercial UAV applications are not going away soon. There are solid reasons why FAA has been dragging its heels on integrating UAVs into civilian airspace. No one has yet solved the fundamental challenges of poor visibility and collision avoidance. This isn’t even mentioning such problems as radio frequency conflicts, which will become more significant as commercial UAVs increase.

Seems like an awful lot of people are betting an awful lot of money that the FAA will overcome these problems soon. I hope they aren’t expecting a quick return on their investment.

Hot rumor#1: The rugged vs. non rugged debate lives on

Not all the talk at AUVSI 2015 was about unmanned systems. There was a rumor about the military’s utilization of non-rugged mobile handhelds.

Some have argued that Defense doesn’t need rugged mobile devices. Ordinary commercial devices have a better supply train, are more advanced, and are cheaper. Just stick a protective case on them, and you have a solution that is “rugged enough.”

Rugged proponents counter that using a protective case on a commercial mobile device is like trying to fly by sticking wings on a car. Looks good, but it just won’t work. To be truly tough, one needs a device built rugged from the ground up.

Way back in 2011, we reported on rumors of end-user discontent following the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE). Soldiers didn’t like the fragility of the commercial handhelds. Sand, high temperatures, and sunlight readability were significant problems.

Despite these negative results, the vision of buying off-the-shelf smartphones for soldiers proved too alluring. The non-rugged advocates preserved.

Commercial handhelds advocates may not have gone away, but neither have the problems. According to rumor, there is continued end-user dissatisfaction with non-rugged smartphones. Again, sunlight readability is a problem. Turns out the protective case does an OK job guarding against shock and drop, but actually makes temperature and vibration problems worse (An enclosed case around an electronic device causing heat problems? Should have been obvious).

Despite the latest brouhaha, it remains to be seen if the non-rugged advocates will finally concede to reality.

Hot rumor#2: ARMY aviation shake-up

Traditional aviation personnel are among the people who have had the most difficulties adjusting to the unmanned era. In their eyes, the Air Force exists so pilots can fly. Predator UAVs may be cool, but are obviously secondary to the thrill one feels at operating a jet going Mach 2.

Similarly, aviation personnel in the ARMY have been unenthusiastic about Tactical UAVs (TUAV). While foot soldiers value their backpackable TUAVS, the ARMY aviation folks would rather forget these toys, and concentrate on helicopters and their few fixed wing assets.

According to rumor, the responsibility of TUAVs will be transferred from ARMY aviation to the ground pounders. Undoubtedly, the once unloved TUAVS will now be greeted with affection and enthusiasm by their end-users.

The military doing something smart? We could use a lot more rumors like that.

Heard a hot rumor lately? What were your impressions of AUVSI 2015?  Send your stories to editor@amrel.com.

Why Joining ISIS is Bad for Your Career

Someone on the social media website Quroa asked “Why should or shouldn’t I join ISIS?”  With tongue firmly planted in cheek, AMREL’s Web Marketing Specialist, Richard Barrios, drew on his Marine experience to provide the following authoritative answer:

I really don’t think joining ISIS will be a good step in your career for these reasons:

1) Poor health plan
2) Little or no pay
3) Really bad 401K
4) Bad travel benefits
5) Experience and job duties do not transfer well to another job, if you make it back home
6) When you do travel back home you will most likely be arrested
7) Perks are only available upon death (72 virgins).  However, considering the overwhelming amount of people collecting on that perk, there maybe a shorten supply
8) Most life insurance plans do not have a Jihad rider
9) Having to learn a new language.
10) Very little formal training is available.  Most training is “on the job”.  But I suggest looking at your local community college for any classes or job placement programs. I understand C.A.I.R. is a great resource
11) Retirement is very rare, due to job hazards.
12) It is difficult to explain your job, during career day, at your child’s school
13) Most of the equipment you will be using won’t be cutting edge and sometimes dangerous to operate (bomb vest, IEDs, AK47, RPGs)
14) You will most likely lose a lot of current Facebook friends due to their lack of understanding of your struggle.  However, you will gain others who think the same as you.  So your social media outreach may be a wash.
15) Your company or class picture will be in black and white, with cross-hairs in the middle.  And “Declassified video” printed on the picture.  But the good news is, it will be on youtube.com within a few months.
16) Most likely, Amazon.com will not deliver to your location.
17) Internet access will be unreliable.
18) Many professional American “head” hunters will be seeking you out.  Their main form of communication to you will be the M40A7 sniper rifle. Warning: The message tends to be delivered very quickly and they guarantee, only one attempt is needed to make a connection.

I hope this helps you with your decision on whether or not to join ISIS. Good luck with your endeavors.  And please update us how everything is going.

Bank’s Biometric Bandwagon

Biometric applications for financial services have emerged as the darling of venture capitalists. Business journals are filled with reports about banks, such as the giant Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC bank), adopting biometric applications that allow it clients to access their accounts on their mobile devices. When biometric development companies, such as EyeVerify and Nymi secure funding, financial magazines pay attention.

Considering the use of biometrics by financial services is expected to top $8 billion by the year 2020, investor interest is understandable. Up until recently biometrics were applied to law enforcement, military, and other niche security applications. Why is banking jumping on the biometric bandwagon?

 

Follow the fear

There is a growing perception that traditional methods of securing information (such as passwords) have become increasingly unreliable and vulnerable. Just look at a few recent headlines:

  • In the last 10 years, Identity Theft Resource Center calculates that more than 778 million records have been exposed by data breaches.
  • In 2014 alone, NASDAQ estimates that 700 breaches exposed an estimated 81.5 million consumer records.
  • Highly-publicized hacks include Home Depot, Target, and even the personal financial information of the First Lady, Michelle Obama.

In addition, the growth of mobile devices has created a demand for password alternatives.  People want to conduct financial transactions on their telephone, but they do not want to input account numbers and complex passwords on small mobile screens. Biometric authentication is not only seen as more secure than passwords, but also more convenient.

 

What is biometrics?

Biometrics technologies identify a person through physical characteristics.  Fingerprints are perhaps the most well-known. Other biometric technologies include iris & retinal scans, heart rhythms, facial & voice recognition, and palm vein identification. Their permanence, convenience, and uniqueness are considered advantageous over conventional passwords.

Biometric applications occupy several broad categories:

  • Enrollment – Entering a person’s physical characteristic and identity into a database. Enrollment is the first experience anyone has with a biometric application. When a person is arrested, they are enrolled, i.e. their fingerprints are inputted into a police database. Enrollment overlaps with registration, which is a process that involves your identity claims. If I enter my fingerprints into a database, while claiming to be Joe Smith, but I am really John Doe, I have successfully enrolled, but have fraudulently registered. Enrollment applications can be very technologically demanding. The quality of digital information entered into national databases is highly regulated, and can be difficult to achieve.
  • Verification (AKA matching) – Are you who you say you are? This is by far the most common use for biometric technologies. Every time someone checks the photograph on your driver’s license, they are verifying your identity by comparing it to a physical characteristic. A closely related application is authentication, which determines if you are authorized for access, i.e. not only you are really John Smith as you claim, but you also are entitled to enter the building. Most biometric applications focus on verification, since it is the one most in demand, and the technologically easiest to create.
  • Identification – Who are you? If you are arrested, and refuse to identify yourself, a police officer can try to find out your name by running your fingerprints through a database. Unlike the verification process, identification doesn’t deal with any claims about identity; it simply establishes identity through a physical characteristic alone. This is a technologically more demanding process than simple verification.

There no standard, universally accepted classification scheme for biometric applications. Even terms can have different meanings (you will notice that sometimes in this article, I use the same word to mean slightly different things). However, the categorizations as defined above are useful in that they communicate broadly the different technologies and needs that are in demand today.

 

Passé passwords

The adoption of biometric applications by financial services has been driven by the assumption that they are more secure than passwords. There is reason to doubt this.

Passwords, despite their bad reputation, actually work fairly well. In spite of alarming headlines, the vast majority of people do not experience hacks, or at least ones with severe consequences. This is especially true if they take some commonsense precautions, such as separate passwords for important financial accounts, and frequent changes in passwords.

Biometric technology, like passwords, can be hacked. For years, experts have warned about criminals using gelatin “sleeves” to “spoof” fingerprints. Of course, countermeasures can be implemented, but then criminals will work hard to defeat them, which lead to different countermeasures, and so on. Pretty soon, the back-and-forth war of biometric technologies begins to look like the current state of passwords, in which criminals and security experts are involved in a constant battle.

The presence of fingerprint sensors on the iPhone 6 and other popular mobile devices has increased the attractiveness of biometric authentication to financial services. Why not exploit the hardware that many of their customers already have? Of course, the very popularity of these sensors increases their value as targets for criminals.

In addition to fraud, another problem with biometrics is the human body itself. For example, fingerprints can be “rubbed away” by hard physical labor or aging. A bank servicing farmers or an elderly population will have to consider this before mandating fingerprint authentication for accessing financial services.

I am not downplaying the importance of biometrics as an emerging technology. I am simply stating that financial services should adopt them cautiously and be aware that they are not without their problems.

I believe that biometric technology will be used in the financial sector primarily in combination with passwords. Two forms of independent authentication will enable the greatest security.

 

Enrollment

Since many biometric firms focus their efforts on the “low-hanging fruit” of verification, their potential customers in the financial services are often uninformed about the technological challenges of enrollment.

This is especially important for in-house security. Already, in some banks, officers can only make important transactions after they verify their identity with a biometric authentication. Obviously, when a new employee is hired, enrollment into the bank’s database must happen. For this, the bank will need its own enrollment equipment.

Biometric enrollment equipment need not be cumbersome or difficult to use, but they should be sturdy. Enrollment is often performed by various employees with different levels of skill, not to mention clumsiness. Some commercial biometric devices are fragile, and subject to frequent breakdowns, which can lead to costly delays. It actually makes economic sense for the bank to invest in ruggedized devices that may cost more, but are far more reliable.

Enrollment creates unique demands on biometric devices. The quality of any given device captures varies greatly and could be critical to their utility.

Biometric information is stored in Electronic Fingerprint Templates (EFT) or Electronic Biometric Templates (EBT). To access national databases EFTs/EBTs need to conform to strict criteria. Currently, the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) and the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) demand that EFTs/EBTs match the latest Fingerprint Acquisition Profile (FAP) (the current highest standard being FAP 45). A financial service that wishes to authenticate the identity of its employees or clients would be wise to use enrollment devices that generate FAP 45 quality files.

 

Solve a security problem by creating a larger one

Although biometric spoofing is a common criminal practice, I am unaware of anyone using a digital biometric file to commit fraud. However, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision a stolen EFT/EBT being used to fake an authentication. One day we will see news banners declaring a high-profile hack has pilfered “millions of fingerprints.”

Consequently, biometric applications will force financial services to take stricter security measures, not more relaxed ones. As one skeptic of biometric authentication remarked, a person can change their password, but not their fingerprints. Consumers will want the greatest assurances from banks that their biometric information is safe.

 

All’s well that ends Orwell

Consumers will need other kinds of assurances as well. There is something a little Orwellian about large institution having intimate information about your physical characteristics.

Any financial service using biometric applications will need to be proactive in assuring their clients. Privacy policies must be public and displayed prominently. Clients should be informed that biometric information will only be used for identification purposes and will not be shared with any third party.

The good news is that, for the most part, consumers have shown little fear of most biometric applications and appreciate their convenience.

 

Conclusion

The enthusiasm venture capitalists have shown for biometric banking applications is well-founded, but there are unknowns. For example:

  • Will passwords be replaced or merely supplemented?
  • Will facial or voice recognition ever be as robust or support an infrastructure as developed as fingerprints?
  • Will the future demand multimodal or single mode biometrics?

Pioneers who develop and adopt biometric technologies dream their applications will be gold mines. If they guess wrong or lack caution, their gold mine may turn into a money pit.

To learn more about AMREL’s Biometric Solutions, click here.