Mobile phones, fax machines, personal computers, PDA’s, the Internet and DVD players – these are just some of the items we have come to take for granted in our daily lives. Items which just twenty years ago, would have been the stuff of science fiction – in the same realm as laser guns and teleporters. In fact, given the rapid rate of technological develop which has occurred over the last twenty years, one cannot help but wonder where we might be ten years from now.
The security industry, like so many areas of society, is currently experiencing a massive transformation as many of the traditional analogue technologies with which we have become so familiar give way to the digital revolution. IP cameras and increasingly sophisticated digital recording systems have, in just three short years, rendered tape and coax based systems obsolete while innovations in the field of biometrics are threatening to replace even the most advanced access control and identification systems. In fact, so rapidly is technology developing, that in many instances, new and cutting edge technology is often superseded by even newer and better technology before it even makes it off the drawing board. Given this state of affairs, we though it might be fun to take a speculative look at the sorts of new developments currently being researched with a view to better understanding what the security industry might look like in year 2015.
For the betterment of society they say, gizmos and gadgets are being made, but kept secret from the general public – that is, until now. In the new age of information, accessing he kinds of information once hidden from public view can now be found in the sprawling and never ending labyrinth that is the Internet – one need only know where to look.
Imagine a fully functional varifocal CCTV lens, which incorporates no moving mechanical parts, is not digital and still has the ability to zoom. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this lens, however, is that it is roughly the size, height and width of typical shirt button. While it sounds amazing, that is exactly what researchers at Phillips Research are currently working on.
Genius in its design, the FLUID FOCUS SYSTEM mimics the human eye in almost every way, even down to the movement and texture of the lens. This amazing lens is able to zoom and focus thanks to a breakthrough process known as electrowetting.
Electrowetting is the process of manipulating the shape of the lens via the application of an electric field across a special hydrophobic coating on the outside of the lens.
The lens consists of two types of fluid, one fluid is electrically conductive while the other is non-conductive. When an electrical charge is introduced to the fluid in the lens, the fluid reacts, creating surface tension, which bends the sidewalls of the lens. This in effect allows the lens to be made either completely flat (no lens affect), or into a concave shape for zoom and focus.
Switching over the full focus range is obtained within a 10 milli-second period. The lens is DC powered, consuming an amazing.01 of a volt near zero usage, the lens itself is shock proof and able to be operated over a massive temperature range and has also been tested executing over 1 million focusing operations with out any optical loss at all.
The Fluid Focus Lens might play a major role in the development of future generation of miniaturized digital cameras and security cameras – especially the hidden kind. Schematic cross section of the Fluid Focus lens principle.
When a voltage is applied, charges accumulate in the glass wall electrode and opposite charges collect near the solid/liquid interface in the conducting liquid. The resulting electrostatic force lowers the solid/liquid interfacial tension and with that the contact angle and hence the focal distance of the lens. (C) To (E) Shapes of a 6-mm diameter lens taken at different applied voltages.
Researchers show the miniature variable lens and the camera that contains it Bionic Eyes (Vision Prosthesis Project)
Australian inventors say they will soon be looking for volunteers to start human trials of a ‘bionic eye’. The device consists of a silicon chip inserted into the eyeball and a pair of ‘camera glasses’ worn by users. Images from the glasses are broken down into pixels, which are then passed to the tiny chip, which acts like a retina.
The chip simulates the images and transmits a message to the retinal cells along a series of small wires. The reports indicate that tests on animals have so far been successful and designer Gregg Suaning of Australia’s University of Newcastle now wants to begin trials on a group of approximately five human volunteers.
Mr Suaning says volunteers must be profoundly blind, as people with partial sight will be excluded because of the potential risk of visual damage. Mr Suaning has been working on the project for five years. He said: “The principle of a bionic eye is very similar to that of the bionic ear. It is a silicon chip, which decodes the radio signals and delivers simulations. The chip sends messages to the retinal cells through small wires. Basically, we broadcast images into the body. The process can be likened to a radio station that only has a range of 25 millimetres.”
A separate processing unit makes ‘sense’ of the camera images by looking for certain features, such as doorways of light. Current technology means the unit is only able to send 10×10 pixel images, but Mr Suaning hopes this will improve with time. “In the near future, I would expect the bionic eye to advance to a stage of bettering the human eye’s capabilities.”
Imagine a being able to replace damaged eyes in law enforcement officers, soldiers or security personnel with a combination bionic eye retro fitted with the fluid lens technology. Such a process might enable the recipient to zoom their vision in and out in a similar manner to a 60 mm lens. Just imagine the applications for law enforcement, military and security use.
If you think bionic eyes are impressive are impressive, what about “smart bullets”. Researches at the University of Florida have developed a “smart bullet” which, once fired at a target, can wirelessly transmit data back to either the shooter or a designated receiver. The projectile, created at the University of Florida in Gainesville, USA, is a mere 1.7 centimetres in diameter and can be fired from a gas powered paint ball gun.
The front of the bullet is covered in an adhesive polymer that sticks to the target. Inside the projectile is a sensor, a tiny wireless transmitter and a small battery. The “smart bullet” is reportedly able to transmit a range of information over distances of up to 70 meters. The projectile is also reusable, as it is propelled using compressed gas contained in the gun and not the traditional gun powder.
The US firm Lockheed Martin, who have provided funding for the project to date, are interested in developing a version containing a miniature sensor capable of detecting traces of the explosive TNT. The idea would be to fire the specially configured “smart bullet’ into a trashcan or other object to detect traces of TNT, negating the need for bomb detection experts to wear vast amounts of bomb detection gear or place themselves in potentially dangerous situations.
A smaller unit could easily be fitted into an aluminum walking stick as an example, with an internal gas cylinder and small firing button. This wlaking cane could then be used to fire a “smart bullet” containing a tracking device onto the clothing of a surveillance target. The target would feel akin to a mosquito bite in the middle of their back.
However, surveillance teams would then be able to track the target via a wireless PDA, perfect for Private Investigators, government agencies and law enforcement groups.
Compressed Air / Paint Ball Gun / Smart Guns
From smart bullets to smart guns. Imagine a firearm with no moving mechanical parts which is capable of switching between lethal and non lethal types of ammunition at the flick of a switch and which can determine whether or it is in the possession of an authorised user.
As fantastic as it sounds, this is exactly what Metal Storm have developed with their new O’Dwyer VLe (Variable Law Enforcement) handgun. The technology behind the VLe represents a radical departure from conventional ballistics systems, in that it is based around a 100% electronic operating system. Advanced weapons systems such as the VLe, based on Metal Storm technology, are therefore not bound by the limited performance parameters imposed by a reliance on traditional mechanical parts.
At the core of the technology is a projectile design, which enables multiple high-pressure projectiles to be stacked in-line in a barrel, and then electrically fired in sequence. In turn, multiple barrels can be grouped together to form compact weapons systems of unparalleled performance.
Metal Storm technology has no moving parts, no separate magazine, no ammunition feed or ejection system and no conventional cartridge case. With Metal Storm, the only thing that moves is the projectiles – all operating components are electronic.
Each bullet in the stack is separated by a propellant load, which is electronically ignited. When the first bullet in the stack is fired, the following bullet expands and ‘locks’ in the barrel, preventing high pressure and high temperature ‘blow-by’ which causes unplanned ignition of the following propellant load. When the following bullet is then fired, the pressure behind it causes it to ‘relax’ sufficiently to fire. This process is repeated as the bullet train is progressively fired.
The reloading method for a particular system will depend on the nature of the system, and also on the preference and requirements of the user. For instance, in the four-barrelled military handgun, which is being developed as the next generation VLe handgun prototype, a multi-shot cartridge containing six or seven bullets is being designed. This cartridge, which would look something like a disposable pen, would insert into each barrel in similar manner to a shotgun cartridge.
However, there are a number of available reloading alternatives for the VLe which may also suit particular police or military circumstances. Rather than relying on each of the four barrels having a separate multi-shot cartridge, some operators may prefer a single block of four multishot cartridges constructed as one larger replaceable ‘cartridge’ containing, for example, a total of 24 bullets.
Other operators may prefer to have individual single-use lightweight preloaded polymer barrels which clip into place to tailor a weapon to a specific task. For instance, such clip-on barrels could be provided in a range of calibers, types and lethalities so that a police officer can select and rapidly assemble barrels which contain all lethal rounds, or a mix of lethal and non-lethal rounds.
The unique Metal Storm design also provides to its user the ability to choose between firing the bullets one at a time at regular intervals or at variable rates of fire ranging from slow to very rapid. Users can vary the rate of fire simply by selecting and adjusting an electronic controller. In a multi-barrel weapon, the user can select any or all barrels to fire any number of rounds at any available selected rate.
In a conventional mechanical weapon, there are a number of mechanical actions, which must be completed between each firing. These actions set an upper limit on the rate at which the weapon can operate. For instance, some mechanical Gatling gun type weapons can fire up to approximately 6,000 rounds per minute for limited periods. In Metal Storm weapons, the elimination of mechanical processes has resulted in demonstrated burst rates in excess of one million rounds per minute from a 36- barrel weapon.
Another of the many benefits of the Metal Storm technology is its reliability over conventional mechanical weapons systems. Mechanical weapons, because of themovement, wear and operating stresses on the operating metal components, are expected to experience mechanical failure of some sort, such as jamming, after a calculated average number of firings. This rate of failure is termed the ‘mean rounds between failure’.
As Metal Storm weapons have no mechanical components, they are less likely to jam. However, while the weapon may not jam, there is still a certain amount of concern regarding what might happen should the power supply in an electronic weapon fail.
After all, no matter how well maintained a weapon might be, it must be expected that there will be a time when the battery will fail. Therefore, ensuring a reliable power supply is a significant consideration. For this reason, the VLe handgun is being developed to include a slide device, which can be operated to generate and store electrical energy to enable the weapon to operate even if a battery is not installed.
Due to the electronic operation of the VLe, designers have been able to integrate a form of access control. The prototype VLe featured a 64 digit electronic keying system, which limits firing access to only authorized persons wearing a dress ring which conceals a miniature transponder. Developed by a US company, the keying system can activate the weapon in just a few milliseconds. This system can also be adjusted so that user groups can be designated, allowing groups of people, such as in special operations teams and Special Forces, to operate each other’s weapons while preventing the weapons from being used by opposing forces. Metal Storm is currently working with companies around the world to enhance the reliability and usability of this feature through the possible use of biometrics.
Palm or fingerprint readers built into the grip of the weapon would allow an authorized user to activate the firearm in a fraction of a second by simply taking hold of it.
Future development of the VLe handgun is planned to include a multiple barrel configuration and to provide to users the option of firing either lethal or non-lethal rounds. Based on preliminary discussions with police departments, this represents a highly prized feature which is seen to offer increased options for law enforcement officers involved in ‘stand off’ situations with criminals. In a four barrel configuration, an officer could carry lethal ammunition in two barrels and nonlethal ammunition in the other two, switching between the two types of ammunition as circumstances dictate, greatly increasing his/her use-of force options and reducing unnecessary deaths.
Some of the different types of ammunition Metal Storm systems may use could include lethal rounds but also non-lethal payloads, including rubber bullets and expandable bean bags as well as miniature cameras, tracking devices and so on.
Some of the other systems the VLe could support include an on-board information storage system for increase accountability, a friendly fire system and tracking capabilities. The information storage system would enable an officer to download information from their weapon to a computer detailing, if the weapon had been fired, by whom it had been fired, where and when it was fired, how many shots were fired and what type of ammunition was used.