New Technologies

Secret CIA spy gadgets go public

When you think CIA, one of last words likely to come to mind is “open”. And yet the U.S. spy organization has begun to lift the lid– albeit ever so slightly–in a bid to cultivate public support. In fact, the agency recently launched a retooled Web site, complete with YouTube and Flickr channels.

The following images include some of the mementos that the agency is now sharing with the public for the first time.

If you thought James Bond had cool tech toys, get a load of stuff like this silk escape and evasion map printed with waterproof dyes just in case the map ever got wet.

Photo by CIA
Caption by Charles Cooper

Allied photo interpreters used this stereoscope during World War II to view filmed images of enemy territory in 3D.

Photo by CIA
Caption by Charles Cooper

This intrusion detector–powered by tiny power cells and featuring a built-in antenna–could detect movement of people, animals, or objects up to 985 feet away.

Photo by CIA
Caption by Charles Cooper

During the World War II, devices like this one helped agents remove letters from their envelopes without opening the seals. After inserting the device into the unsealed gap at the top of an envelope flap, an agent could wind the letter around the pincers and remove it from the envelope without leaving a tear in the paper.

Photo by CIA
Caption by Charles Cooper

The “Belly Buster” hand-crank audio drill was used in the 1950s and 1960s to put holes in masonry so CIA agents could implant audio devices.

Photo by CIA
Caption by Charles Cooper

The world’s most widely used spycam, the portable Minox camera, fit into the palm of the hand and could take high quality pictures.

Photo by CIA
Caption by Charles Cooper

A miniature 35mm film camera concealed in a tobacco pouch.

Photo by CIA
Caption by Charles Cooper

A lithium iodine battery. It’s still unclear what use it saw in action, but the CIA says it shared its research into these types of batteries with the medical community in the 1970s.

Photo by CIA
Caption by Charles Cooper

How satellites are made

In a hangar in the south of France, workers at EADS Astrium are putting the finishing touches to one of their latest satellites.

The plant in Toulouse has built about 40 satellites, which today circle the Earth providing television broadcasts, international communications and services to the military.

ZDNet Asia’s sister site silicon.com visited the EADS Astrium assembly hall to see the building of KA-SAT, a Eutelsat Communications satellite, which will bring fast broadband to Europe and neighbouring areas next year.

Here is KA-SAT without its outer casing, showing the cable feeds that will carry the signals and data to the satellite’s antenna.

The satellite will be able to send and receive a total of 70Gbps, more than any other commercial satellite currently covering Europe.

Photo credit: EADS Astrium

The satellite, seen here from the rear, was launched in December 2010.

A key use of KA-SAT will be to support a telephone, TV and 10Mbps internet service called Tooway, which will launch in continental Europe, the UK and neighbouring areas next year.

Photo credit: EADS Astrium

Here are some of the plasma thrusters that will propel KA-SAT through space by expelling ions of xenon gas travelling at high speed.

KA-SAT, which is about the same size as a small truck, is carrying enough fuel to stay in its correct orbit for 16 years.

Photo credit: EADS Astrium

This is KA-SAT’s solar array, which is 40 metres in span. It will be permanently orientated towards the Sun to generate electricity for the satellite.

Photo credit: EADS Astrium

Before launch, KA-SAT is subjected to a number of tests at the EADS Astrium facility.

In this test the satellite is placed on a vibrating platform to ensure it can withstand the conditions it will experience being carried into orbit on a rocket.

The satellite will also be placed inside a thermal vacuum test chamber. In the chamber it will be cooled to -170C and heated to 120C to simulate the extremes of temperature found in space.

The satellite’s ability to send and receive signals from orbit is also tested in the RF test chamber, a huge room covered in blue foam spikes to absorb excess radiation.

Photo credit: EADS Astrium

Another shot of part of KA-SAT being fitted to its propulsion system. The gold foil is the insulation that protects the satellite from extremes of temperature in space.

Photo credit: EADS Astrium

MIT shows off paper-thin solar cells

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.–MIT and Italian oil company Eni presented early results of Eni-funded research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where researchers are working on making solar power cheaper and techniques to clean up from oil spills.

Pictured here is MIT chemical engineering professor Karen Gleason, who is showing how solar cells printed on paper can generate enough current to light an LED display. Researchers hope in the coming years to improve the efficiency of the cells, which is now under one percent.

Photo by Martin Lamonica

Here MIT’s Gleason shows how a solar cell deposited on paper can be put into a flexible laminate. The cells could be used for indoor applications, such as having a power-generating curtain or blind. A lightweight and flexible material such as this laminated cell would make it easier to install solar roofing materials, which can bring down the cost of solar power.

Photo by Martin Lamonica

This paper airplane has a solar cell embedded onto the surface of the paper. The MIT-developed technique uses five layers of solid material deposited onto paper. The manufacturing process can be adjusted for different coatings and be used on different substrates other than paper.

Photo by Martin Lamonica

The underside of the paper solar cells shows the layer of material that act as circuits to carry current. The solar cell paper operates at 20 volts, which means it could be used for many applications, said MIT’s Gleason. Several pieces of paper could be wired in a series or parallel and be integrated with storage or an LED, for example.

Photo by Martin Lamonica

In another area of Eni-funded research, MIT researchers are developing a paper-based material that can absorb oil when spilled in water. The process is to treat paper with a nanomaterial that attracts oil but does not absorb water. The research is in the early stage, but MIT said that in less a decade it could be integrated into buoys that would collect spilled oil in the ocean.

Photo by Martin Lamonica

Mobile phones of the future

Even though few are likely to translate to real products any time soon–or ever, in some cases–the concept phones on display here at Ceatec in Japan are a good indication of what the minds behind our mobile phones are thinking.

Shown here is a phone from Kyocera’s booth, called “Organic Transparent”. This concept features a flip-out sheet of glass that is supposed to serve as an “augmented reality layer”. The idea is that it can act as a screen on which information about businesses or a landmark it’s pointed at can be projected.

Photo credit: Erica Ogg/CNET News

This is Kyocera’s concept “UFO” phone. UFO in this case stands for “User Friendly Object”. The entire surface of the phone, including the edges, is supposed to provide a functional area of the phone for its owner.

Photo credit: Erica Ogg/CNET News

These are three examples of Fujitsu’s ‘Fluid’ phone concept. The design is intended to mimic a block of ice, and is a metaphor for how phones should change functionality and shape depending on conditions and who is using them.

Photo credit: Erica Ogg/CNET News

Besides watching 3D video without glasses, Sharp also sees us shooting video in 3D. Here, Sharp uses a prototype 3D camera in a mobile phone to shoot the female booth attendant. The video is projected on the displays below her, which require 3D glasses to view.

Photo credit: Erica Ogg/CNET News

NTT DoCoMo has this solution for couples who spend a lot of time talking on the phone. It’s called the Taion Heart, a mobile accessory for phones.

Each person gets a heart that they grip in their hand. The device measures your pulse in order to represent how fast your real heart is beating while talking on the phone to your sweetheart. The info from the heart is then sent via Bluetooth to the other person’s phone and then to his or her own heart. When the heart heats up, vibrates, or its lights change colour, it’s meant to communicate how a person’s partner is feeling about them at that moment.

Photo credit: Erica Ogg/CNET News

Fujitsu’s concept “two-pane phone” is a touchscreen flip phone that morphs between a vertical flip and a horizontal flip. The two touchscreens can function as one display, much like a dual-monitor set-up–if you scroll on the bottom pane it affects the top screen, too.

Photo credit: Erica Ogg/CNET News

Here’s another DoCoMo concept phone, advertised as an environmentally friendly device. It’s called the Ion Plasmacluster, and it emits ions while in use. It’s intended to fill the air around you with health-promoting, toxin-fighting ions while you talk.

Photo credit: Erica Ogg/CNET News

IE9 to get tracking protection

Microsoft Wednesday morning detailed changes to Internet Explorer 9’s security features that will better enable users to keep sites from tracking their activity across browsing sessions.

The feature, which is set to arrive in the first release candidate of IE9 early next year, uses a list to tell the browser which third-party page elements sites can and cannot be blocked from tracking. This includes elements ranging from advertisements to more mundane things like embedded widgets from particular providers.

On Microsoft’s IE blog, Dean Hachamovitch, head of Internet Explorer development, explainedhow it works:

A Tracking Protection List (TPL) contains Web addresses (like msdn.com) that the browser will visit (or “call”) only if the consumer visits them directly by clicking on a link or typing their address. By limiting the calls to these Web sites and resources from other Web pages, the TPL limits the information these other sites can collect.You can look at this as a translation of the “Do Not Call” list from the telephone to the browser and web. It complements many of the other approaches being discussed for browser controls of Do Not Track.

In a Webcast announcing the feature, Hachamovitch said most users have “little awareness of who can track their activity,” and that the feature stemmed from that. Hachamovitch also attributed the creation of the feature to the company’s more open approach to developing features for IE9.

Microsoft is letting users and third-parties alike author protection lists and host them on their sites. Users can then download them to their browser. Microsoft has also created lists to resemble what Hachamovitch likened to an RSS feed, so that if additional sites are added or removed, it can be updated without the user having to seek out, or manually update.

Hachamovitch said tracking protection will not replace InPrivate filtering, a feature Microsoft added to IE in version 8. Instead, Hachamovitch referred to it as complementary, given that InPrivate filtering uses algorithms to control tracking, along with not persisting from session to session. Tracking protection, on the other hand, will remain on once a user turns it on.

Microsoft says tracking protection will not be on by default when it arrives next year. Users will need to opt-in to enable it, as well as seek out lists of sites, which will not ship with the browser once it’s released.

So far, Microsoft’s IE9 beta has been downloaded in excess of 15 million times since its releaseback in September.

This article was first published as a blog post on CNET News.

Freescale shows off ‘smartbooks’

At the Computex show in Taiwan last month, Freescale Semiconductor unveiled prototypes of a new portable computer format that it calls a “smartbook”. Both Freescale and Qualcomm have just begun promoting the smartbook notion as a potential category of computing devices between traditional notebooks (or more recent netbooks) and much smaller smartphones.The prototype smartbook seen here in candy apple red unfolds and separates into several pieces to allow use of keyboard and mouse. Freescale came up with its prototypes in conjunction with the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Photo: Freescale Semiconductor
Caption: Jonathan Skillings

This less colorful concept smartbook is meant to suggest a possible touchscreen design. Here’s part of Freescale’s pitch for smartbooks: “Sporting larger screens than traditional smartphone devices, smartbooks are cloud-computing-centric and characterized by all-day battery life, instant-on functionality and persistent connectivity.”Photo: Freescale Semiconductor
Caption: Jonathan Skillings

The smartbook stands tall with a design intended for vertical displays. Freescale’s smartbooks would use the company’s i.MX515 processor, while other potential smartbooks would use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor. In both cases, the chips would be based on designs from ARM.”The primary distinction between (smartbooks) and the existing crop of Netbooks will be longer battery life–eight-hour battery life–slimmer form factor, and lower price point,” Glen Burchers, director of global consumer segment marketing at Freescale, told ZDNet Asia’s sister site CNET News.

Photo: Freescale Semiconductor
Caption: Jonathan Skillings

This unusual design features keypads that slide out from either side of the smartbook. Burchers told CNET News that manufacturers Wistron and Pegatron have “near production-ready” clamshell designs that could be on the market before the end of the year, and that it is targeting a price of US$199.Photo: Freescale Semiconductor
Caption: Jonathan Skillings

Shades of Legos–smartbooks could also be built in a modular fashion. Under the hood, the devices are expected feature 3G connectivity and to run either the Linux operating system or Google’s Android.Photo: Freescale Semiconductor
Caption: Jonathan Skillings

This smartbook prototype features a “leather-based” casing.

Photo: Freescale Semiconductor
Caption: Jonathan Skillings

Redesigning the router

Department of Design students from Goldsmiths at the University of London have come up with four clever and cool concepts for bringing sexy back to Wi-Fi gizmos.

First up, the Jellyfish. It’s designed to be the center of attention: yeah, we can see that. It has an “organic” breathing sequence, which glows to indicate bandwidth strength. Perhaps inspired by this infamous advertisement, the Jellyfish connects up to eight Ethernet cables for people to link up like they’re in an episode of “Doctor Who”.

Photo by Goldsmiths, University of London
Credit: Rich Trenholm

The Route O’Clock is split into 24 glowing segments, colored to indicate signal strength. The idea is to choose the best time to carry out certain tasks, depending on how much bandwidth it’ll eat. We’re not sure what color it glows if your broadband is being throttled. It’s a neat idea–make it a bit smaller and we’ll talk.Photo by Goldsmiths, University of London
Credit: Rich Trenholm

The Hybrid Router is apparently a “sexy side table and a bold style piece”. It looks like a coffee table with a router in it to us. Still, it has flashing lights.Photo by Goldsmiths, University of London
Credit: Rich Trenholm

To us, the Energy Saving Router is the concept which, with a little extra work, could have legs. It features four hooks for hanging keys on, house keys being an indicator that someone is in and the router is needed. When everyone is out and the hooks are empty, the router switches off. You can also set a timer for downloading.It’s another neat idea, but it’s a shame it’s so ugly. We’d like to use this to create a landing strip for your keys and wallet and the like, and perhaps combine it with the Hybrid concept to build a charging station too. Set it to work via Bluetooth signal from your phone as you walk through the door and we’d be in geek heaven.

Photo by Goldsmiths, University of London
Credit: Rich Trenholm


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