Forget bombs or the robopocalypse. In our minds, the most fearsome weapon is the one that disables our gadgets. That's what makes Boeing's newly tested Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) scarier than most projectiles. The missile bombards targets underneath with microwaves that shut down computers, power systems and just about anything electrical in their path. Thankfully, CHAMP's invisible payload arrives in discrete bursts and arguably makes it the world's most advanced (and likely expensive) non-lethal weapon: the prototype can target multiple individual buildings without ever having to detonate and hurt someone. Boeing is still developing CHAMP in a multi-year program and doesn't have guarantees that it will become military ordnance, which gives us enough time to accept that saving lives is far, far more important than the risk we'll have to stop fiddling with our technology.
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We've seen the Kinect put to use to help you find your groceries, but the sensor's image processing capabilities have some more safety-minded applications as well. The fine minds at MIT combined the Kinect with a laser range finder and a laptop to create a real-time mapping rig for firefighters and other rescue workers. The prototype, called SLAM (for Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) received funding from the US Air Force and the Office of Naval Research, and it stands out among other indoor mapping systems for its focus on human (rather than robot) use and its ability to produce maps without the aid of any outside information, thanks to an on-board processor.
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After planting a rover firmly on Mars' surface and testing a new methane-fueled lander, NASA has squeezed in the first test flight of its X-48C hybrid wing-body aircraft. Thanks to its design, which combines those of flying-wing and conventional planes, the X-48 could offer 20 to 30 percent more fuel-efficiency, greater fuel capacity and a quieter ride in its final form than traditional craft. The finished model has a projected range of 11,000 nautical miles and a 240-foot wingspan. As an 8.5 percent scale of the full-sized airplane, the remotely piloted prototype weighs in at 500 pounds with a 20-foot wingspan. During the test, it successfully took to the skies for nine minutes and peaked at an altitude of 5,500 feet -- though it's capable of soaring for 35 minutes and climbing nearly twice as high. Another version of the craft (likely with a human behind the flight stick) is estimated to be at least four years down the road, and the final model isn't expected to arrive for another decade.
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We spend hundreds of hours on board a variety of airplanes each year, most often en-route to a trade show or product launch event, but occasionally we have a rare opportunity to hop on board military aircraft, to test out unrelated products, or, even more unusually, to take a seat behind the yoke. Sadly that's not what we're doing today -- well, not exactly. We are taking a closer look at the F-35 fighter jet at Lockheed Martin's Fighter Demonstration Center just outside our nation's capital, but, being in the middle of a corporate complex, there's no actual Lightning II on hand. We were able to take a simulated ride, however -- this isn't your ordinary 4D sickness-inducing amusement park thrill. The F-35 is by far the most advanced Lockheed jet to date, with updated radar, all-internal weapons, improved tracking systems, 360-degree infrared coverage with a visor readout, and a full-stealth design, not to mention the incredibly capable glass cockpit powered by more than 9.3 million lines of software code, and an overall smoother experience for pilots that could end up spending shifts of 12 hours or longer in flight.
The F-35 has already seen plenty of field time in the US, with more than 500 flights already in 2012, and it's set to make its way to the UK armed forces next week and the Netherlands later this year, but while the aircraft is quite familiar to the pilots tasked with flying it, the public hasn't had an opportunity to experience Lockheed's latest airborne warrior. We flew a simulated mission within a grounded duplicate of the flyable F-35 cockpit, and the capabilities and improvements are quite clear -- you definitely don't want to encounter an F-35 from a previous-generation aircraft. The dual 8 x 10-inch touch-enabled displays combine to give you 8 x 20 inches of real estate, with dedicated modules for the weapons systems, targeting, and navigation easily accessible -- you can also move them to different panels depending on your current objective. A pair of joysticks at the left and right side provide direct access, letting you move a cursor to track enemy crafts or ground-based targets as well, and a very slick heads-up-display mounted in the helmet provides infrared mapping and instrument readouts. Overall, it seems to be an incredibly powerful system. Unfortunately, the mock-up on display here isn't accessible to the public, but you can join us for a behind-the-scenes look just after the break.Permalink | | Email this | Comments