Smartphones for the Battlefield?

Soon used to control a swarm of small deployed UAVs? Photo: US Army/flickr

What do smoke detectors, invisible orthodontic braces and infrared ear thermometers have in common? They are all NASA spin-offs; which means that they are consumer goods that in one way or another benefited from technologies developed through NASA funding, research, licensing, facilities or assistance.

There was a time when new technologies would trickle into the consumer market after they’d been developed and used by the military or in space research and exploration. But this trend is now rapidly reversing, with defense departments starting to look into ways of adapting consumer goods into their programs. A case in point is the recent call for applications by the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the US Department of Defense. DARPA is seeking developers versed in the art of developing applications for mobile devices – or more precisely, smartphones. The agency hopes to leverage commercial smartphone development approaches to create common hardware and software that can be quickly configured to perform a variety of applications.

Pre-crime Identification – the FAST Program

Sweaty palms and an elevated heart rate: are you having bad thoughts? Photo: barrowboy/flickr

The Department of Homeland Security seems to be developing technologies reminiscent of the pre-crime unit depicted in Phillip K. Dick’s “Minority Report”.

The department’s so-called “FAST” project — which stands for Future Attribute Screening Technology — aims at nothing less than screening people for malign intent: for crimes they have not yet committed.

As the homepage for the FAST project describes, non-invasive sensors will be used to scan people for indications of bad thoughts. Currently, these indicators factor in posture, gait, thermal imaging of the face and changes in vocal tension while speaking, but might be extended to include other things, such as pheromones.

Would You Download a Weapon?

AR-15 lower receiver and ‘print file’. Images: Wikimedia Commons, Thingiverse


3-D printing, while unknown to most of the public, has been around for quite a while. Its industrial applications range from rapid prototyping and archaeological reconstructions to medical uses in implant technology and custom-fitted hearing aids. Now, the technology is becoming affordable for the average consumer: while an industrial-strength 3-D printer that can use materials like bronze-infused steel, or even titanium, still costs more than $10,000, desktop machines for printing hard plastics are being sold in kits available for little over $1000.


Staying up to date using the ISN’s RSS feeds

What is an RSS Feed?

RSS feeds allow you to subscribe to updates on websites. Special programs, called RSS readers can read these subscriptions and display them in an easy to use format.
Unlike newsletters, these feeds do not land in your email inbox and can be subscribed and unsubscribed without the need to provide any personal information.

Popular online RSS readers include Google Reader and MyYahoo. These readers are free to use.

Offline RSS readers to install on your computer are also available. Microsoft Outlook has an RSS reader included, the company provides a general introduction to RSS feeds and using Outlook to read them.

Where to find RSS Feeds
RSS feeds are available on many sites and the link to the RSS feed is usually marked with a variation of the orange RSS symbol.

RSS symbol
RSS Symbol

The standard RSS feeds of the ISN website can be found one a standalone page listing the ISN RSS feeds, giving you the option to subscribe to Publications, IR directory entries, podcasts or ISN insights. New entries in a chosen RSS feed will then be delivered to your reader.


Filtering the ISN to fit your needs – Find Information

Find information

With over thirty thousand content objects in a variety of formats, the ISN holds a vast repository of data on international security research. But how do find what you’re looking for?

To enable you to locate articles, publications or podcasts for your specific area of interest, the ISN provides a filtering tool called “Find information”. The “Find information” box is located on the top right of the ISN website. First, select the most important criterion for your research, either subject or region. After clicking on your item of choice, you are presented with the topmost level of region or subject matter. To narrow down your research area, you can choose a more focused region in the tree view in the left pane. In the example below, we first chose “Africa” as a region and then narrowed the search to “Southern Africa”.

Easily filter by regions
Define the main criteria for your search and easily enhance the filtering.

You could also narrow down the region even further. e.g. by choosing Angola or Comoros, but we will leave this for now and turn to the second filtering option, by subject. The subject tree is right above the region tree in the left pane. Clicking on a subject now will add this filter to the already selected region.