Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Toy For the Surveillance State

TiaLinx, a small company in California discloses the invention of The Owl1-A a wall/container penetrating radar that can tell if someone is breathing inside a sealed shipping container.
TiaLinx says the system can be used for air, sea, and land shipping, and may reduce the need for large, expensive X-ray scanners. The scanner is light enough for handheld use, the company says. (quote source and my lead)
They also have this nifty little UAV, the Phoenix, that can land on a roof and tell if someone is breathing inside.
Granted, at least one guy was apparently found trying to go somewhere inside a shipping container, but just how much do you spend to find these people?  
The technology is called UWB or UltraWideBand.  When UWB first showed up on the market, the press releases sounded like it was "Sub-space" from Star Trek.  In fact, it's just a very short (picosecond) radio pulse.  If you look around TiaLinx' website, you'll see references to "V Band"; that's the designation for the frequencies they're using.  V Band covers a wide range of frequencies, 50-75 GHz, but their model names "active array transmitter (TLXAT60) and receiver (TLXAR60)" give the impression they're running at 60 GHz. UWB uses very short pulses, and the universe is put together so that the shorter the pulse, the wider the spectrum the pulse energy is spread out over.   In other words, knowing the frequency exactly may not be necessary. 

About 20 years ago, I worked on 60 GHz hardware for a system that was going into space.  It's tricky to generate and manipulate because the wavelength is so short.  The waveguide is tiny; WR-15 is 0.148" by 0.074" - picture a rectangular tube of that size, essentially a metal straw for a Wendy's Frosty, only the big dimension is the straw diameter.  Air absorbs 60 GHz very effectively, so this must be a short range device. 

There's nothing really novel or new about the idea of UWB, and without knowing a lot about the subject, I suspect the development of some high speed digital techniques to generate the pulses is what turns it from concept to product.  Wikipedia has decent summary of the technology.  For most of us, I imagine, it's enough to know this exists.     


  1. Of course, these things are being used to 'make us safe', but one cannot discount the probability that this tool, like all others, and and most likely will be misused.

    Every tool you allow the government to use on 'bad guys' is a tool that can and will be used on not-so-bad-guys. I guess most people never heard of 'scope creep' or 'mission creep'.

  2. Absolutely right. I don't think the technology is bad, I actually think it's kinda cool. If I was over in the sand box, I think I'd really like to have one of these.

    The thing that concerns me is the militarization of the police forces around the country, which leads to SWAT raids on people who just don't need that kind of handling. Which leads to things like shooting dogs and stomping kittens to death. Not to mention the occasional innocent child who gets killed, the innocent guy who gets raided due to an address mix-up, or the mom who gets rifles in her face for not getting her child vaccinated.

    I could supply a link for all of those, but I'm a bit lazy at the moment. Five or ten minutes with your favorite search engine will get you all the examples you can stomach.

  3. I have one of those Mikrokopters ... as it happens.

    It's a great toy; if a tad pricey. It flies itself, will go to pre-assigned co-ordinates ... return to you and hover on command ... follow you around, via Bluetooth connection. Considerable skill required for manual flying.

    Noisy, though, and battery-limited.

    Here's a sad thing, though. I was flying it on the village' playing field. A middle-aged woman came out of her home and enquired as to what it was.

    I explained to her and added that it was fitted with a video down-link to my computer. On hearing this, she became agitated and concerned about being spied upon.

    Thinking fast (wishing to avoid confrontation) I told her that I was developing the system for use by the local police force.

    That knowledge COMPLETELY PACIFIED the woman. Obviously, it's quite acceptable to be spied upon by the State.

    That's how far gone we are in Europe.


  4. That's a shame, bogbeagle. But I honestly don't know that it wouldn't be exactly the same here.