The Light of War – Helicopter Blades, Dust, and Static Electricity Make St. Elmo’s Fire

Some people call the magical light that emanates from helicopter rotor blades that are changing pitch at night in the desert “fairy dust.”  Others call it “St. Elmo’s Fire.”  War correspondent Michael Yon called it the “Kopp-Etchells Effect,” for two soldiers that died in the battleground of Afghanistan — Benjamin Kopp and Joseph Etchells.

From an article at NPR, written by Robert Krulwich:

Corporal Benjamin Kopp was shot in 2009 during a battle in Afghanistan and died of his wounds just over a week later. He was 21. He’d had already served for three tours and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Because he had put himself down as an organ donor, his heart was quickly transplanted into a 57-year-old Illinois woman named Judy Meikle, who told The Washington Post, “How can you have a better heart? I have the heart of a 21-year-old Army Ranger war hero beating in me.” Other organs went to other recipients.

Joseph Etchells was also a corporal, but in a different army. He was a fusilier in a British regiment, also assigned to Helmand Province. He was 22 and died the same week as Benjamin Kopp. This was also his third tour of duty, and he was killed by a roadside bomb.

Photographer Michael Yon attended his battlefield funeral, a small affair where fellow soldiers removed the colorful feathers they wear in their caps and tossed them onto the Helmand River, “the same waters where ‘Etch’ used to swim after missions.” At the ceremony, Michael was told that Cpl. Etchells had wanted to be cremated, “then loaded into a firework and launched over the park where he used to play as a kid.” As nutty as it sounds, his friends say that was his choice. I checked the Manchester papers. There was a funeral. Thousands gathered at the church, so many they had to set up speakers for those who couldn’t fit in. But there were no “fireworks” …

Even in war, there is light.  Every time I write about something having to do with war and death, I am always reminded of my buddy Boz who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, two weeks before he was finished with his tour.  I met Boz working a trade show at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, TX.  What a cool dude you were, Boz.

Boz, this one’s for you.

These images below are amazing when viewed at full size.  Just click on each one in the gallery below.

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We Can’t Stop Asteroids from Smashing Humanity into Powder

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With a headline like that, one would think this would be bigger news than anything Kim Kardashian might produce, even trumping what color baby bib little cranky monkey Justin Bieber might be wearing today.  But, you’d be wrong.

Here’s the fact of the matter:  all over Earth right now – scientific organizations, special lobbying groups, NASA, the European Space Agency, et al – are telling lawmakers and news outlets that we need to get a collective effort going to solve the problem of hey, what happens if a global killer asteroid smashes into Earth?  Can we protect ourselves?  After all, apparently it only takes one medium-sized asteroid, something around a kilometer in width.  You saw Armageddon, right?  Billy Bob Thornton’s character makes it perfectly clear what would happen if that big rock in the movie slammed into the ocean – and this is just the movies:

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“Even if the asteroid itself hits the water, it’s still hitting land. It’ll flash boil millions of gallons of sea water and slam into the ocean bedrock. Now if it’s a Pacific Ocean impact, which we think it will be, it’ll create a tidal wave 3 miles high, travel at a thousand miles an hour, covering California, and washing up in Denver. Japan’s gone, Australia’s wiped out. Half the world’s population will be incinerated by the heat blast, and the rest will freeze to death from nuclear winter.”

Now, that’s just lines from a movie.  But even for a movie that’s pretty hardcore!  Can you imagine it?  I’ve had some bad days, but that sounds horrible.  Thank goodness it’s only the movies.  Are we actually supposed to entrust Billy Bob Thornton with our astrophysical safety, he was also the “french fried pertaters” guy in Slingblade?!  Of COURSE we are!

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Back in the real world that I live in, I ask myself exactly what might happen if a thousand thousand tons of rock slams into the bedrock of Earth.  In that other movie about asteroids with Morgan Freeman (It’s called Deep Impact, and I hear that many a porno has been modeled after the title), astronauts were able to not exactly save Earth, but they were able to pulverize the asteroid enough so that only a smaller chunk of it smashed into Earth.  Still, that smaller chunk made the seas rise a few hundred feet, created a big tidal wave that made the Atlantic wash up into Tennessee and killing a few hundred million Americans.  But that was still just a movie!  Right?!

Asteroid 433 Eros, a planetary killer discovered in 1898, has a dimension of 34.4 kilometers by 11.2km by 16.84 km.  It's the size of a large midwestern city.

Asteroid 433 Eros, a planetary killer discovered in 1898, has a dimension of 34.4 kilometers by 11.2km by 16.84 km. It’s the size of a large midwestern city.  433 Eros is a potential Earth impactor.

What Do Earth’s Scientists Think?

Scientists are all over the freaking place about this very real issue right now.  Some people are deeply concerned, others think that there’s such a little chance that it would ever happen:

“Right now, based on our survey, we see no national imperative for this nation to be upset or excited about impending doom.”  – James L. Green, Director of NASA‘s Planetary Science Division, on Discovery

Perhaps the most daunting answer to come from the House Science Committee hearing with John Holdren was this:  “An asteroid of that size, a kilometer or bigger, could plausibly end civilization… from the information we have, we don’t know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States.  But if it’s coming in three weeks, pray.”   – White House Science Advisor John Holdren

University of California Santa Barbara physicist Philip M. Lubin thinks we should start small on smaller asteroids first – ones we know are coming:  ““We need to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with threats. Duck and cover is not an option. We can actually do something about it, and it’s credible to do something. So let’s begin along this path. Let’s start small and work our way up. There is no need to break the bank to start.”

Scientists don’t disagree that something needs to be done.  What they do differ on is how it needs to be done.  Some scientists feel that some sort of projectile, either nuclear or otherwise, should be thrown at the asteroid somehow.  Some think that attaching some kind of “solar sail” or assisted rocket takeoff device on a grand scale would be the best bet.  One scientist even suggests painting the asteroid in order to change the amount of light it reflects.  Others, seriously yet still funny enough, make jokes in Senate hearings about “calling Bruce Willis,” while actual scientists theorize about possibly making a huge laser and reflector work as our asteroid goalkeeper.  Lest we not forget that Bruce Willis was not only an asteroid killer in the movies, but also Died hard a whole bunch of times.  Like, a TON of times.  How many times can you actually die hard?  Maybe he can just tell the asteroid to go f*ck itself while shooting at it.  Since John Holdren pretty much summed our Earth-asteroid defense systems with “if it [an asteroid] comes in the next three weeks, pray,” then maybe some fictional help might not hurt!

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A few of these ideas that scientists are kicking around still in theory format:

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The long and the short of this idea is to change the amount of light that the asteroid emits in IR photos, eventually causing a miniscule “rocket thrust” in one direction.  The article at Wired explains this fantastically:

The Yarkovsky effect works by changing the amount of light an asteroid gives off. As an asteroid rotates, the surface that has been heated by the sun moves away to face space and radiates infrared photons. Though massless, these photons carry away small bits of momentum from the asteroid, essentially generating a tiny rocket thrust in one direction. The effect is very slight but over time can noticeably change an asteroid’s orbit. By making an asteroid lighter or darker, and therefore changing the amount of radiation it absorbs, we could turn up or down this miniscule rocket thrust. It’s a long haul-technique, requiring years, decades, or even centuries of advanced notice to alter an asteroid’s trajectory.

Will it work?  I have no idea.  I don’t think we have “decades or even centuries” to wait it out, though!

DE-STAR, or Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation

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DE-STAR is basically a re-directing and re-purposing of the Sun’s energy into little laser blasts that might be able to either re-direct or completely vaporize an approaching asteroid over the course of a year.  From a post at Popular Science:

Described as a “directed energy orbital defense system,” DE-STAR is designed to harness some of the power of the sun and convert it into a massive phased array of laser beams that can destroy, or evaporate, asteroids posing a potential threat to Earth. It is equally capable of changing an asteroid’s orbit –– deflecting it away from Earth, or into the Sun –– and may also prove to be a valuable tool for assessing an asteroid’s composition, enabling lucrative, rare-element mining. And it’s entirely based on current essential technology.

The DE-STAR team also claims that their system might also be able to push a spacecraft at the speed of light into the unknown.  More on that in another post.

Surfing An Asteroid On Solar Sails

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Solar Sails are something that have taken on validity in this race to figure out how to mitigate the asteroid threat.  This would basically consist of a huge solar sail deployed in space, making good use of the ever-present solar pressure that is exerted on objects in space.  From How Stuff Works:

The reflective nature of the sails is key. As photons (light particles) bounce off the reflective material, they gently push the sail along by transferring momentum to the sail. Because there are so many photons from sunlight, and because they are constantly hitting the sail, there is a constant pressure (force per unit area) exerted on the sail that produces a constant acceleration of the spacecraft. Although the force on a solar-sail spacecraft is less than a conventional chemical rocket, such as the space shuttle, the solar-sail spacecraft constantly accelerates over time and achieves a greater velocity.

Interesting.  The principle of solar pressure also kind of tickles me in that special place.  But again, another post for another time.

Potential Impact of Potential Impacts

Watch this – the recent asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, which exploded around 40 miles above the town with the force of 300 Hiroshimas, was 55 feet across, and injured over 1500 people.  This was in a sparsely populated area, so imagine the impact of an asteroid exploding over San Francisco or New York City:

Also, if you have some time (or want to skip through to where John Holdren tells the Senate Committee that if an asteroid comes to NYC in the next three weeks that we can only pray), check out John Holdren’s Senate Hearing en toto.  It’s actually pretty interesting right off the bat — it might also be interesting to hear the almost comical questions and answers from our elected legislators to these scientists presenting scary information to Congress, not to mention the entire House Science Committee turning every answer of these scientists into how much it would cost and all of the interrupting that these scientists had to endure:

Thanks to:
Mother Jones
Daily Mail
Red Orbit
Space Politics
The Register
NBC’s Cosmic Log
Wikipedia on Asteroid Impact Avoidance

Meet ADAM: A Laser System that Protects Our Troops from Bad Guy Missiles

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I can’t get over how crazy the development of military laser technology has been lately.  There’s been a real push to create a competitor for projectile weapons.  For example, earlier this week I talked about the new German Phalanx-style laser weapon that kills drones and little metal balls from the sky.  At one time before it was abandoned, the US Air Force was working on something called the YAL-1, which was a 747 mounted with a chemical laser that was designed to kill nuclear ICBMs from a long, long distance.  I thought it was actually pretty cool, but I can understand why it was scrapped; my assumption is that they’re holding out for a more multi-burst solid state laser instead of a single-shot, highly dangerous chemical laser.

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I have to say that at one point in my life I was pretty frustrated that more money goes into military laser tech than goes into scientific research and development, or even medical laser development.  However, what I realized was that as this technology becomes more readily available via all of this defense money solving big problems up front, less than death uses and systems will “come out in the wash,” as an old colleague usually says.  Just like anything else that we steal from military technology (cable bundling, for example), at some point laser technology from military development will make its way to the civilian and private sector development.

One such system is something that Lockheed Martin calls ADAMArea Defense Anti-Munitions.  This system is designed to be towed into a hostile area where the US has set up a Forward Operating Base, or FOB, in enemy territory.  While our guys sleep and stand guard and all of those things, ADAM is watching over the area, blanketing it with radar that’s watching out for munitions coming into the area from enemy forces — mortar shells, shoulder-fired missiles, etcetera — and destroys the incoming round with a laser.  Check this out, this is a prototype test of a rocket being fired at the ADAM:

Ok, that is insane.  So right now, a system exists that can detect incoming enemy rockets and shells to a base.  Can you imagine what would happen if you were to deploy a handful of these systems across a battlefield?  That sounds like it would be a pretty awesome sight.  From a press release at Lockheed Martin’s website, they’ve also tested the ADAM against drones (UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and small caliber shells:

Since August, the ADAM system has successfully engaged an unmanned aerial system target in flight at a range of approximately 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) and has destroyed four small-caliber rocket targets in simulated flight at a range of approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).

“Lockheed Martin has invested in the development of the ADAM system because of the enormous potential effectiveness of high-energy lasers,” said Doug Graham, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of advanced programs for Strategic and Missile Defense Systems. “We are committed to supporting the transition of directed energy’s revolutionary capability to the war fighter.”

Designed for short-range defense of high-value areas including forward operating bases, the ADAM system’s 10-kilowatt fiber laser is engineered to destroy targets up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away. The system precisely tracks targets in cluttered optical environments and has a tracking range of more than 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). The system has been designed to be flexible enough to operate against rockets as a standalone system and to engage unmanned aerial systems with an external radar cue. The ADAM system’s modular architecture combines commercial hardware components with the company’s proprietary software in an integrated and easy-to-operate system.

Here’s a video of the test they’re talking about, where ADAM shoots down a drone:

I for one am pretty excited to see what happens next.  This could lead to some amazing advancements in light.

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Thanks Business Insider, Army Recognition!

In Germany, It’s the Drones that Get Struck – BY A LASER

When I was a kid, I was always so fascinated with my father’s work.  My Dad was in the Navy, a Senior Chief Machinist’s Mate (MMCS), and he always has great stories about his days aboard a ship at sea bound for war.  When you’re a kid, the strangest things fascinate you.  I was always so very fascinated by Dad’s stories of the different systems at work on a Navy ship.  My Dad was the guy who ran the Engine Rooms.  I grew up reading about super-hot steam, hydraulic pressure that would squeeze an elephant into a thin film, and obviously Navy weapons.  If you don’t think about what military weapons systems are really made for, they’re really unbelievably cool.

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One of those technologies was a weapons system called the Phalanx CIWS, or Close-In Weapons System.  The Phalanx was made by General Dynamics back in the late 1970’s, with contractor Raytheon taking a contract to improve the weapons system a few years ago.  Apparently this system has come a long way — I asked my father to describe what his experience was with the weapon since he was on a few shops that had it in its infancy back in the 1970’s:

“The gun sounded like a large weed eater/lawn mower; extremely loud, running past its governor, with lotsa fire and smoke.  Also, when locked on a target it was deadly.”  I asked Dad to clarify what “running past its governor” meant, and he said that the gun would overspeed to the point where you thought it might come apart.  Sounds like it’s come a long way!

What these are used for is generally for protecting the ship of anything that gets past the outer defensive systems on a ship — typically high speed flying missiles.  So, just in case you need a little more explanation, the Phalanx is used to shoot missiles out of the sky that have been fired at the ship.  What makes all of this relevant is what exactly this thing is made of, and a new upgrade that the Germans have developed.  First and foremost, check this out — it’s a video of the Phalanx CIWS firing at a target.  Keep in mind that we’re talking about a weapon that fires 4,500 rounds per minute at a target, tracking it with unbelievable speed and accuracy.  It’s a Gatling Gun that fires 20mm depleted Uranium bullets.  Watch this:

This particular Phalanx system is mounted on the ground:

This one, however, is mounted on a ship:

Now you know all of this hullaballoo that we’ve been hearing on Drones and Drone Strikes lately?  I mean, it has been all over every freaking television and news channel from here to Al Jazeera.  Imagine one of those Phalanx CIWS systems now with a 50kW laser attached to it instead of the 4,500 bullets per minute that it fires.  How do you think that would be in the movies?  Pretty cool?

No need to wait to see it in the movies.  That sh*t is already here, and guess who invented it?  Germany.  Check this video out of a laser-mounted Phalanx-type system shooting down a drone from over 2km:

The German company who made this amazing thing, called Rheinmetall Defence, has created quite the science fiction scenario – a laser that can shoot drones out of the sky from over 3km away.  If that isn’t impressive enough, the German-made system went for broke on their big impressive grand finale, shooting and destroying an 80mm steel ball traveling at 50 meters per second.  That’s quite smaller than a drone and about 50 times as fast.  But, no match for this German death ray machine!

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You might notice two ports on the front of that mammoth thing — it’s a 50kW laser that is run into a combiner that takes a 20kW beam and a 30kW beam and combines them to a 50kW beam!  It’s mounted on a platform similar to that of the Phalanx, and it’s got radar that rivals that of the Phalanx – in short, it is one bad mothertrucker.  The Germans also have plans in the works to produce a 60kW and a 100kW model of the mega-laser that includes a 35mm Gatling cannon as well as the big drone-killing laser.  Overkill?  Who knows.  When it comes to keeping our American sailors safe, I’m sure that most families will say that both is the best way to go.  Even now on some ships the Phalanx is tied to a missile system called a RAM missile, or Rolling Airframe Missile.  The RAM missile is a comglomeration between a Sidewinder and a Stinger missile — you’ve probably heard of these in the movies, right?

From a post at Singularity Hub:

The system isn’t actually a single laser but two laser modules mounted onto Revolver Gun air defense turrets made by Oerlikon and attached to additional power modules. The laser modules are 30 kW and 20 kW, but a Beam Superimposing Technology (BST) combines two lasers to focus in a “superimposed, cumulative manner” that wreaks havoc on its targets.

First, the system sliced through a 15mm- (~0.6 inches) thick steel girder from a kilometer away. Then, from a distance of two kilometers, it shot down a handful of drones as they nose-dived toward the surface at 50 meters per second. The laser’s radar, a widely used system called Skyguard, was capable of tracking the drones through their descent up to three kilometers away.

After successfully testing their 50kW laser system, Rheinmetall Defense has its sights on a truck-mounted mobile system with 100kW of metal-slicing power.

For its finale, the laser’s ability to track a very small ballistic target was demonstrated. It honed in on and destroyed a steel ball 82mm in diameter traveling at 50 meters per second. The small ball was meant to simulate an incoming mortar round. Rheinmetall says their laser will reduce the time required for C-RAM – Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar measures – to a matter of seconds, even in adverse weather conditions. In fact, weather at the Ochsenboden Proving Ground in Switzerland where the demonstration was carried out included ice, rain, snow, and extremely bright sunlight – far from ideal.

Wow.

Thanks to Singularity Hub, Motherboard, and DailyTech!

Germany Developing Laser Armed Drones for Farming and Weed Killing

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As unfunny as a subject this is, this is a really ironic story, too.  Right now, the scientists and researchers at the Leibniz University and a laser center in Hanover are currently working on an alternative to herbicides (and I assume pesticides?) that comes in a very strange form as they see it:  a drone equipped with a CO2 laser system.  I mean, this is no YAL-1 or anything, but still — using light to kill weeds!

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This is an awesome idea, right?  A laser equipped drone, complete with some sort of artificial intelligence (AI) that allows it to distinguish good plants from bad species.  There is a lot of interest in this in Germany as well; in an article at DW:

Another possibility is drones, or small robotic planes that would fly over the fields. These could also fight weeds near protected waters, where herbicides are not allowed to be used. According to Marx, the German railway service has expressed interest in the project as well.

“30 percent of the railway tracks are in water protection areas where you can’t use herbicides anyway.”

Crazy.  So the Germans are working on a flying weed death machine that incorporates a limited-fire carbon dioxide laser and has intelligence on board that will allow it to distinguish between different types of pests or pest plant species and eliminate them using the on-board laser.  Trials for this machine are currently at least five years out, according to the article at DW.

Along with a host of other ethics and scare-tactic behaviors that will rival the anti-Obama ads on Facebook, there is a main issue here that people will whine over — and I mean such loud whining that it has the potential to change the physical properties of things, like a microwave oven:

If we let drones fly around, aren’t they going to float around and kill our children?!?!

Look — I know it, you know it, George W. Bush and Obama know it, and Fox News knows it:  Drones programmed for weed killing are not going to drive around with abandon slaughtering families and killing schoolchildren.  BUT:  like anything else, there will be accidents that are the cause of human error, and the religious Right will call the accidents “an act of God.”  However, does this happen every time a combine kills a cousin?  No.  But somehow the Devil will get inside of the machines, or perhaps even the machines developed their own intelligence and chose to slaughter innocent men, women, children, and other sentient beings.  It’s maddening what happens when people start slinging scare speak.

Let’s look on the This is AWESOME side of “robot weed wackers,” because frankly these types of technological advances are going to take place.  You will also notice that drones and lasers are going to be added to replace humans in a variety of different working environments; perhaps maybe the most expensive and dangerous gigs will see robots doing more of that work themselves, or assisted/controlled by a human handler.  I’m pretty sure that we’ll also see them first in very small, very specialized applications, and not out there replacing the teams of men and women who labor to do these jobs currently.  This is the one thing that we as humans will always fight no matter what —  we are afraid of anything that takes away a job from a human.  I think what we forget is that robotics and automation don’t take jobs away, they remove the need for a human being to do something menial and exhausting so that the human can go do something more important, like think of more things for which robotics can provide a solution!

Let’s look at just a few advantages of an imagined Laser Drone Weed Eliminator – a specific and unique application also performed by humans:

  • $$$ Savings on LABOR! 
    Sorry folks, it’s a fact of life.  Labor is expensive, increasingly and constantly, and is often the biggest expense that companies have to incur.  If a company that manufactures fixtures, for example, could double their profit by going completely automated in their manufacturing division, believe me that they would do it.  There will more than likely be the need for human tenders and maintenance workers for the robots, so we can presume that there will always be human tasks.
  • $$$ Savings on TIME
    Perhaps JUST as important as money, time is often money, and an automated drone-based device could do the same job every time, regardless of the kind of day the robot is having.  You could also work a robot a solid 24 hour day and never have to bill overtime.
  • Human Safety Factor
    There will be situations where a robot weed wacker will be the better worker for the task.  Case-in-point, clearing out old Juniper trees or weeding thick rose beds.  On a more extreme (and probably more realistic) scenario, think about something like weeding delicate flower beds or hydroponic setups where human interaction is the worst thing for the species.  These are all valid examples that exist in the industries today; both articles I found on this mention having the drone start in a small greenhouse environment or small farm.
  • Transition Time Between Workers
    As with any job, when one worker leaves a job and another takes his or her place, there is a considerable amount of time that will need to be spent bringing the new worker “to speed,” per se.  With a robot worker, presumably we could replace one for another, transfer some logic, and off we go for another 20 hour shift at that worker’s maximum efficiency potential.

We must remember as well that as our population grows and the urgency for agriculture to keep up with demand, pesticides and herbicides will need to decrease in usage altogether.  This is yet another complicated problem that will take years of research and development to really make happen.  But, we’re taking the right steps.  Baby steps.  I’m sure that the politicians will stick their fat fingers into the Laser Weed Wacker pie as well, which will be even mire fun to write about!

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The laser’s operation, from an article at Gizmag:

The LZH [meaning Laser Zentrum Hannover, or the University’s laser center] method is to stunt or kill the weeds in place using a laser. This isn’t a completely new approach. Scientists have been experimenting with weed-killing lasers for years, but early attempts revolved around using lasers to cut weed stems or to boil the weeds in their own juices. This wasn’t always effective and the laser needed a lot of power to get the job done. There was also the constant problem of how to tell the weeds from the crops so the right ones were zapped.

LZH took a different approach. The team, headed by Thomas Rath of the Institute of Biological Production Systems, used a low-powered CO2 laser to strategically heat the water in the weeds’ cells. Instead of slicing through the weeds or burning them, the LZH laser would only heat the weed cells enough to damage them and thus inhibit their growth. This is trickier than it sounds, because if too little power is used, it can turn the laser into a high-tech sunlamp that actually promotes weed growth. As Christian Marx, Research Fellow in the Department of Biosystems and Horticultural Engineering explains, “it has been shown that lasers operating with too little energy are more favorable to weed growth, causing the exact opposite of what we want.”

According to LZH, the team succeeded in locating the weeds’ growth centers and inhibiting them as well as adapting the method to different plants and plant heights. But the real hurdle was in finding a way to make the weed-killing laser practical by making sure it killed only the weeds and not the crops.

There you have it, folks.  A weed killer drone that kills plants with lasers.  A grand idea — let’s see where this one goes in the future!  I’m excited to see the progress!

Quadrotor Light Show

What happens when you take a four rotor helicopter and some photons?

 

With the help of mirrors… ONE TOTALLY RADICOOL LIGHT SHOW:

So what did you just see? The production by University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Lab) uses 16 quadrotors both as lighting devices, but also the mirrors they’re equipped with to manipulate light.

If anyone has more information about how the quadrotors, mirrors, and fixtures are controlled and their interactions programmed, I would love to know! Please post a comment, or you can always reach me via my bio in the footer, the contact form, or daphne (at) jimonlight (dot) com!

Congratulations to the team: Jonathan Santana & Xander Smith (event concept), Juliette Larthe (producer), Marshmallow Laser Feast (Memo Akten, Robin McNicholas, Barney Steel, Raffael Ziegler, Rob Pybus, Devin Matthews, James Medcraft), KMel Robotics (quadrotor design and development), Oneohtrix Point Never (sound design), Sam & Arthur (set design) Holly Restieaux (production supervisor), and Farrow Design (typography and design).

Thanks to Peter Kirkup for directing me to the topic on Blue Room!

Jax’s Link-O-Rama: Goose Crap Edition

Light isn’t always a glamorous business, it’s true.  Sometimes you gotta get dirty.

Photo belongs to MistyDays.  Pretty, no?

What? Someone Thought It Would Be A Good Idea for Police to Have Laser Dazzlers

What?

Hmm.

Here’s what I know:  a large majority of police offers are good people.  What is “a large majority?”  50%?  60%?  75%?  I have no idea.  What I also know is that there are a large majority of videos of police personnel misusing their Taser weapons on civilians, let alone people who are actually guilty of a crime.  I guess a Taser is better than a bullet in the back, right?

Perhaps people need to be reminded of the BART shooting back on New Years’ Day, 2009.  This was the case when the defense argued that BART officer Johannes Mehserle thought he was reaching for his Taser weapon when he shot Oscar Grant in the back, inevitably leading to Grant’s death.  The officer claimed that he was pulling his Taser, a non-lethal method of defense, instead of his Sig .40.  I’m calling BS on that, as many have already – a loaded .40 weighs about twice to three times as much as a Taser.

Do a search anywhere on the web for Taser abuse of power articles.  What you’ll find is a very ridiculously large list of articles of police officers accused of misusing their Tasers in situations that did not call for it.  For example:

I don’t need to go on, right?  You get the point?

This post is not about Tasers.  It is about this new “non-lethal” device for Police and Military, this laser confusion device called the Dazer Lazer.  However, the Taser device is not supposed to be a weapon that police use in order to force the public into compliance, like a whip or a stick.  IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE USED AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO THEIR FIREARM, not A CONTROL DEVICE.  So, in the case of the Dazer Laser, which would render someone being lased in the FACE and EYES, how would its use be ANY DIFFERENT?  If our law officers cannot handle a taser, why would we give them a device that creates total incapacitation and confusion made of light that can damage their eyes permanently?

People do die when tased by police.  Also, maybe without a slice of irony, taser manufacturers have started suing coroners who have called out death by taser.  It’s amazing to hear stories about a police officer tasing someone for 30-55 seconds, especially since their training says five second bursts.  What on Earth causes a human being to inflict that kind of pain onto another person?  Also, if it’s happening with Tasers, what’s stopping angry law officers to hold a Dazer Laser a foot in front of someone’s face and burn the vision out of their eyes for 30-55 seconds?

I worry about this topic.  Look, I’m not naive, I understand that someone being lased or tased is most likely better than handing their family a death letter.  Also, it could be worse, I understand, it could be a baseball bat or a club or something.  But this is light.  I know light.  I also know lasers, and you shouldn’t point them into a person’s eyes, ever, unless it’s an eye doctor who is trained and certified and using them for medical purposes.

I’m not singling out any one company – I’m sure I’d love to have one of these, but I wouldn’t be shining it into someone’s eyes.  I just believe that we should be using light for better ends.  What do you think?

(The Pentagon is) BEGGIN! BEGGIN YOU-OO-OO-OOO (for A New Weaponized Laser Design)

With all of the change that’s taken place in life over the last few months, it’s sometimes been hard to pay full attention to the one thing in my existence that I am the most passionate about – different varieties of light!  This weekend I spent an entire day searching through my RSS feeds, scouring the web for information on topics I’m passionate about, and researching the status of projects across several industries.  OLED research, chemical and gas laser development, LED substrate technology, and about eleventy thousand other topics got my full attention this weekend.

Returning to some level of sanity and routine is a good thing.  Now I just have to take about a gallon of coffee out of my diet.  I really don’t see that happening any time soon…

In my research this weekend, I came across some interesting articles about the whole “flying laser” race, and how it’s developing.  Interestingly enough, it’s not really doing much of anything.  Pentagon decision makers have decided that the initial laser chosen for the flying light saber, the chemical oxygen iodine laser (or COIL), just ain’t cutting the mustard.  I find this hilarious, just because last February it shot down an in-flight ballistic missile, and I just related it to not cutting a condiment.

The real problem is that the military peeps just don’t think that it’s good enough yet.  Quite frankly, neither do I – the COIL laser that was in the YAL-1 test plane filled up every single crevice and crack on the modified Boeing 747 more than a garage of a hoarder on that show “Hoarders.”  This isn’t something that is very sustainable, and in a situation where the battlefield requires a weapon to be able to fire more than once (which the COIL laser cannot do without a land/refuel/takeoff per shot), development needs to be furthered.  However, the interesting thing about the progress of the weaponized laser is that the COIL system is a megawatt-class laser – that’s 1,000,000 watts, people.  Power doesn’t seem to be a problem, it’s packaging.

Airborne laser weapons have natural design issues to overcome, and it isn’t hard to see why the Pentagon wants to improve the package of the airborne laser.  Problems include, but are certainly not limited to:  laser payload (COIL is ridiculously inefficient, heavy, and dangerous), auto-correcting hardware to compensate the laser target acquisition and aiming stuff from the vibrations and movements in the plane in flight, and a host of other issues to protect not only the pilots but the people on the ground.

Something to understand is that the COIL laser contains a toxic, caustic, nasty payload of chemicals that get lazed  to make the laser as powerful as it is.  Scientists are trying to develop a different type of laser payload made from iodine gas (called the AGIL, or all-gas-phase iodine laser), but it seems as though Pentagon decision makers want it smaller still, and more agile, hostile, and versatile.

From a great blog that I read, The Danger Room:

Of course solid-state, or “electric” lasers are much more compact than liquid or gas lasers, and with an energy supply that “is rechargeable and clean,” according to the Air Force. But they’re typically 100 to 1,000 times less powerful.

Still, they are considered “the laser of choice in the long term,” especially the fiber-optic laser, “which integrates well with other sensors and electro-optical elements in the aerospace environment,” according to the proposal solicitation. It asks for companies to come up with novel ways to combine fiber lasers up to the kilowatt-class level — far short of the 100-kilowatt power level considered entry-level dangerous.

Eventually, a 100-kW fiber laser system could be compact enough for shorter-range tactical missions on something like a fighter jet. The Air Force is “exploring and developing several aircraft mounted high energy laser (HEL) systems for precision strike and self-defense missions.”

The Pentagon has reached out to small businesses and contractors that might not be Raytheon or Boeing sized businesses to solve their laser problems.  Military deciders are asking the smaller business leaders, which, funny enough, is where a lot of the good development on projects all over the spectrum of technology are finding their births, to solve the problems of lasers tracking targets, being powerful enough and small enough to be realistic, sensing, and generally being better than the status quo.  You have to at least look at the RFP for this project – check out the Missile Defense Agency’s Small Business Innovation Research Program document.

I’m tracking the progress of the weaponized laser because regardless of how I feel about the fact that we have lasers to destroy targets but we can’t cure cancer yet, all of the developments in the military industries affect the development of lasers and light for our peaceful industries.  A lot of things we use in the entertainment lighting industries are direct descendants of military technology, believe it or not!

Stay tuned, this is bound to be interesting.

Scanning for Explosives in Body Cavities

I wrote about some body scanning technology (backscatter and millimeter wave) that is being implemented in airports around the world a little while ago, and I just read about some new technology that is being touted as the new frontier in the area of detecting explosives…

…in the body cavities.

Oh yeah.  I cannot wait until Jon Stewart reports on this – “now there’s a scanning technology that can detect the explosive power of Semtex in your anal cavity and differentiate it from the explosive power of Taco Bell in your anal cavity.”  Le sigh.  Now we have to worry about would-be terrorists hiding explosives in their anal cavities?!  Wasn’t it bad enough that we had to be concerned about the Underpants Bomber trying to light his junk on fire to blow up a plane?

Believe it or not, there has been one reported attempt of a d-bag terrorist trying to kill somebody by hiding explosives in that place – a Saudi prince – who was attacked by some idiot called Abdullah Hassan Al Aseeri.  Aseeri stuffed an IED in the rear and went after the Saudi prince.  The prince survived, but as you can imagine, Aseeri was blown into little chunks.

Well, regardless of the situation, there’s this new tech out now called DEXI – diffraction-enhanced X-ray imaging.  Instead of just analyzing the x-rays that pass through the body or that are reflected off of the body, this new DEXI technology analyzes the x-rays that get scattered by soft tissue or other low-density material.  This technology comes to the market from a company in Crown Point, Indiana called Nesch.

From an article at Danger Room:

“Our patented technology can detect substances such as explosive materials, narcotics, and low-density plastics hidden inside or outside of the human body,” company CEO Ivan Nesch claims. DEXI allows explosives to create contrast, he adds, so it would be able to detect both the underpants bomber and the shoe bomber before they boarded.

The image above shows how a conventional radiograph does not detect two packets of “illegal materials” concealed in soft tissue, while they are plainly visible in when DEXI technology is used.

The process of taking the images, analyzing them, and then recognizing substances of interest — such as explosives — can be automated. Alerts issued can be computer-generated. Security staff would simply have to get passengers in and out of the imaging unit.

“The initial expected throughput is approximately one to two passengers a minute,” according to Nesch. “Once installed and tested in real applications, the throughput will be increased.”

One or two people per minute? Holy moly. As if we didn’t have long enough to stand in line through security now.

Why exactly does this technology work so well?  Again, Ivan Nesch – from an article at Purdue University:

“X-ray absorption is the basis of conventional radiography, but carbon, nitrogen and oxygen do not absorb X-rays well. Explosives and narcotics are typically made of these elements. Conventional radiography detects these objects poorly due to its exclusive reliance on absorption,” said Ivan Nesch, CEO. “DEXI is different because it uses X-ray refraction and scattering to construct images, along with absorption. It can detect explosives and narcotics because they noticeably refract and scatter X-rays.”

DEXI’s claim to safety fame is their corporate slogan:  “Less radiation, more information.”  Nesch claims that passengers scanned by NEXI technology are exposed to 50 times less radiation than those scanned by a conventional radiograph.  Well, at least there’s something.  I guess I’d rather have TSA looking in my behind than be dead.

An image scanned with a conventional radiograph vs. a DEXI scan:

On a lighter note, this technology makes me want to have a nice large meal of Taco Bell, KFC, and Burger King ten hours before heading to the airport so I can give the pleasant and friendly TSA employees something interesting to look at while they get to check out all kinds of my personal space.  Make sure to eat some corn.