Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Link Roundup

"Smart car" NYPD cruiser. Source: Wall Street Journal
NYPD unveils high-tech, "smart" police cruiser.

(Wall Street Journal)

Caught on video: Cleveland cops have a snowball fight.

(Fox 8 Cleveland)

Conrad Alvin Barrett, scumbag
Scumbag arrested for hate crime after showing an off-duty cop his "knockout game" video in which he allegedly slugged a 79-year-old man. 

(Associated Press via PoliceOne)

PoliceOne shares its top ten videos of 2013.


Zen and the Art of Panasonic Toughbook Maintenance.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

C-Thru Smoke Diving Helmet Is a Cool Concept, But that's All It Is.

On Friday I linked to what appeared to be an amazing, game-changing firefighter's helmet, the C-Thru Smoke Diving Helmet, designed by Omer Haciomeroglu and written about in the popular industrial design blog Yanko Design. After reading the article, after posting it on the Friday Link Roundup, and after ruminating over it, something seemed a little off about it. The images had a slightly "uncanny valley" feel to them, as if they were perhaps computer renderings, Photoshop composites, or some combination of the two. I couldn't find them for sale anywhere, or find any indication that they were in testing, even though the language of the article implies that the helmets actually exist ("C-Thru is a helmet" rather than "C-Thru is a concept for a helmet," "this is how it works" rather than "this is how it would work, in theory," etc.). At the time of writing, the designer's website is an "under construction" page, which seems odd for a high-tech industrial designer. In some of the pictures, the wire-frame graphics displayed on the visor screens would appear backwards to the person wearing the helmet.
And so on.

Now, there's nothing wrong with reporting on interesting concepts, as Yanko Design often does. In this case, it's a sin of omission. The word "concept" never appears in the article, its tags, its URL, or anywhere else on the page. Still, I'm hesitant to place too much blame on Yanko. Older articles do mention that the project is in its conceptual stages, but that information is easy to miss. FireRescue1 mistakenly refers to it as a "prototype." While it's true that Yanko failed to perform their due diligence, I could say as much for myself, as I posted the link.

C-Thru is a very cool, perhaps very legitimate concept, but it is just a concept. No hardware, no prototype actually exists yet. The images are not, strictly speaking, real.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Link Roundup

NYPD Officer literally gives a homeless man the shirt off his back.

(New York Post)

Cop takes a bullet in fire fight. Vietnam veteran provides cover until backup arrives.


This high tech firefighter helmet concept is would be incredible.

(Yanko Design)

Australian Emergency Services Personnel have started using Twitter's new emergency warning system.

(The Guardian, Twitter)

Factoring in the cost of ownership, Panasonic Toughbooks actually cost less than other laptops.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Knightscope Introduces Robotic Security Guard


On December 5, 2013, Silicon Valley robotics startup Knightscope unveiled its K5 Autonomous Data Machine prototype. We'll just call it the Knightscope, for short. It's a security guard robot that they hope will cut crime by 50%, an ambitious goal for a machine that can't speak or summit a curb. It has so far invited a lot of comparisons to R2-D2. Personally, I think it looks kind of like a Slap Chop.looks like a Slap Chop looks like a Knightscope robot

The story goes that, after Sandy Hook, Knightscope's developers came to the conclusion that there would never be armed security in every American school, and that something else had to be done to prevent future tragedies. I'm sure that it also didn't hurt that the project is projected to make over a billion dollars, easily. It will be rented out to malls, corporate campuses, and other facilities that would otherwise require security personnel. With a fee of $1000 for a month's worth of 8-hour shifts, the Knightscope works for way less than minimum wage. As it patrols, the Knightscope records its surroundings with various high-tech cameras and sensors, pumping terabyte after terabyte of raw data to local servers or onto the cloud. An analytic system parses the data to generate maps of crime hot spots, then passes alerts on to the authorities and the local community. Able to "see, feel, hear and smell," it is likely to stir up controversy over privacy concerns and mass surveillance. Obviously, it's not meant to spy on people, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be used that way. Here's the rundown of a few of its features and limitations.

Things the Knightscope can do:

  • Create a 3D map of its surroundings using a lidar (it's like a radar, but uses lasers)
  • Geolocate with GPS
  • See in the dark or other adverse conditions using night vision and thermal imaging
  • Monitor and record sound with to detect ambient abnormalities, like screaming
  • Go an entire shift on a single battery charge
In the future, they plan on making it able to detect radiation, chemical and biological weapons, and airborne pathogens.

Things the Knightscope can't do:

  • Stop an attack or break up a fight
  • Make an arrest
  • Give someone directions to the bathroom
  • Stairs
What do you think, is this the best answer to America's security woes? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Amazing World of Exoskeleton Technology

Science Fiction: The Mother of Invention

In 1898, and again in its 1938 radio adaptation, H.G. Wells' The War of The Worlds captivated audiences with its tale of Martian invasion. Throughout the 1930s and '40s, Buck Rogers space exploration stories filled comic book pages, pulp magazines, movie theaters and radio airwaves. Moviegoers in the early '50s devoured films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Destination Moon. In 1953, Abbot and Costello went to Mars. In 1957, the Soviets sent Sputnik I into space. It was the starter's pistol to the Space Race and the onset of a new technological revolution. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space and, in 1969, television sets that had earlier shown Lost in Space and Star Trek showed Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.

A 1928 issue of the Amazing Stories comic book featured a hero zipping around in a jet pack, a fictional technology reprised often in popular culture, including the 1954 film The Rocket Man. A decade later, a real jet pack took flight at the California State Fair.

In 2000, Honda created ASIMO, a humanoid robot whose name pays homage to sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, the man who coined the word "robotics."

Captain Kirk's handheld communicator inspired the invention of the cell phone.

Art and fiction populate our imaginations, inspiring new technologies. So, the question now is, in humanity's ongoing effort to make reality and fantasy overlap, who's going to build the first real Iron Man suit?

Iron Man and the Bionic Woman: Technology to Enhance the Human Body

So far, the closest real-life analogs to the Iron Man suit are powered exoskeletons -- wearable machines consisting of an outer framework that uses motors or hydraulics to deliver added energy to the body's movements. In recent years, several exoskeleton variations have emerged for a variety of purposes. The greatest efforts seem to be for medical and military applications, but there are also exoskeletons whose purpose is less specialized. All are made to enhance the human body, whether that means enabling a paraplegic to walk away from his wheelchair, a soldier to carry heavy supplies for miles without getting tired, a rescue worker to lift heavy debris, or an action hero to fight aliens in space.

Medical exoskeletons
Ekso Bionics
Argo Medical Technologies
Rex BionicsIn the 1970s TV series The Bionic Woman, tennis pro Jaime Sommers is saved by surgically implanted bionics after a near-fatal skydiving accident. Although medical exoskeletons neither require a scalpel nor allow the wearer to run at 60 miles per hour, they can give those who have suffered paralyzing injury the ability to walk again. While the technology is not yet perfect, devices like Argo Medical Technologies' ReWalk, Rex Bionics' Rex, and Ekso Bionics' Ekso (formerly Berkley Bionics eLEGS) have already had some success helping people who had previously been restricted to wheelchairs to walk.

Each exoskeleton has its limitations. The Ekso and ReWalk both require the wearer to use crutches, and the Rex is controlled using a joystick not unlike a motorized wheelchair. Merely the sensation of being upright and at eye level with others, however, can make a profound impact on the wearer's physical and emotional well-being.

Honda's Walking Assist device has recently begun clinical trials
Not every strength and mobility issue is due to paralysis. For those who do not necessarily require wheelchairs, but nevertheless suffer from limited or deteriorating mobility, there are some less intensive bionic solutions in the works. By far the smallest and sleekest exoskeletal mobility booster is Honda's Walking Assist device. It is not a wheelchair replacement, but rather a rehabilitation tool for those with limited mobility. The device, which uses a combination of hip sensors and motors to improve stride, has recently begun clinical trials on stroke survivors, 80 percent of whom have difficulty walking.

I get by with a little help from my bionic exoskeleton

The Titan Arm is being developed by students at the University of PennsylvaniaFocusing on the upper body, students at the University of Pennsylvania are currently developing the Titan Arm, a bionic arm to be used both therapeutically and as a strength augmenter to assist in labor and rescue missions. While most powered exoskeletons are bulky and expensive, Their goal is to develop an ergonomic and affordable device.

Perhaps the most technologically advanced exoskeleton is Cyberdyne's HAL 5 (Hybrid Assistive Limb) "robot suit." By detecting faint biosignals on the surface of the wearer's skin, this "cyborg-type robot" is able to pick up on instructions the brain sends the muscles, allowing it to move based on the wearer's intentions rather than moving in response to muscle activity.

Cyberdyne HAL 5Cyberdyne, as you may have noticed, derives its name from the fictional tech corporation in the Terminator franchise and, like Honda's ASIMO, the robot suit's name makes a sci-fi reference, alluding to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Storm-trooper white with glowing blue rings at the joints, HAL 5 looks like something out of a science fiction movie.

Lockheed Martin HULCRB3D HerculeHAL 5's function, like that of the Titan Arm, is not as specialized as powered exoskeletons that are strictly medical. Configured for everyday activities and motions, like standing up, sitting down, walking and climbing stairs, as well as heavy lifting and labor, its uses are potentially broad and yet to be fully seen.

Exoskeletons for badasses

If the previously mentioned powered exoskeletons were the Bionic Woman (or, for that matter, the Six Million Dollar Man) -- made to compensate for those who may otherwise be at a physical disadvantage -- The following are Iron Man. This is where AC/DC starts playing. These are exoskeletons built for intense action.
Raytheon XO 2
The technology behind Lockheed Martin's Human Universal Load Carrier, or HULC derives from the Ekso robotic legs. The (incredible) HULC, however, adapted for military use, applies the technology completely differently. Using and onboard microcomputer to correlate its movements with the wearer, it's flexible enough for the wearer to squat and crawl, and powerful enough to lift 200 pounds effortlessly. Lockheed Martin also plans to design similar exoskeletons for industrial use as well as mission-specific operations.

Activelink Power Loader LightCommissioned by the French Directorate General of Armaments, the RB3D Hercule, which looks a bit like a headless android riding piggyback, is a light-weight, lithium-ion battery-powered "collaborative robot." It has been designed to work intuitively, requiring no special training to use. Like the HULC, it is designed to enhance the wearer's endurance and assist with heavy lifting. It can go for 12.5 miles on a single charge, and while it's a bit bulkier than the HULC, it has a slightly better carrying capacity (about 220 lbs). In addition to military operations, the Hercule may prove useful in fire fighting, construction, logistics, and medical applications.

Other than the HULC, the only exoskeleton under development for the US military is Raytheon's second-generation XOS 2. In some ways, it's one of the more impressive robot suits out there. In demonstrations, soldiers have used it to punch through solid wooden blocks. With an actual weight to perceived weight ratio of 17:1, a 100 lbs. crate of supplies would feel like less than 6 lbs., essentially like carrying an empty box. Unfortunately, the XOS 2 currently needs to be tethered to a power source to work. An untethered version is expected to be fully operational by the year 2020.

Not to be left behind, Panasonic, under their affiliate company Activelink, is currently developing the Power Loader Light, a real-life version of the Power Loader from the movie Aliens. Like its movie counterpart, it is designed for industrial and logistics work. Unfortunately, Activelink has abandoned the massive robotic arms of their earlier prototype. In its current form, it seems unlikely that the Power Loader could be used to defeat space monsters, but who knows what the future holds?

Friday Link Roundup

Every Friday, we'll post a few links to interesting and relevant content we've come across during the week. Seen something online worth sharing? Send an email to our tip line

Ulysses S. Grant. Get it?

New York City crime map

Panasonic partners up with Avnet
Panasonic expands Toughbook distribution in Australia

Comedian bakes iPhone shaped cookies to prank cops, ends up getting arrested for an outstanding warrant

Friday, December 6, 2013

K-Max Unmanned Helicopters Transport Cargo in Afghanistan

(Thanks to Richard from Facebook for pointing out that the video shows them using a Getac laptop, and not a Toughbook. Thank goodness we have readers who are more attentive than I am!)

Since December 2011, under contract with the United States Marine Corps, Lockheed Martin has been operating a new kind of "drone" in Afghanistan. Converted from a cargo-lifting machine and operated using a Toughbook Getac computer, the K-Max can fly up to 15,000 feet carrying up to 6,000 pounds -- its own body weight. Over a 15-month period, the two units currently in operation carried three million pounds of supplies. Given the K-Max's success thus far, Lockheed is hoping to strike a formal deal with either the Marines or the U.S. Army to put at least six more unmanned helicopters in the air.

For more information, check out the article at AIN Online.