Thursday, October 7, 2010

Military creates vehicles with intelligent ears

Continuing along with this week's military theme, the folks at DARPA (the Pentagon's mad science lab) have just announced that a new system called CROSSHAIRS has been deployed to Afghanistan.

As with just about everything the military comes up with, CROSSHAIRS is an acronym. It stands for the Counter RPG Shooter System with Highly Accurate Immediate Responses, which is a stretch even for DARPA (if you didn't know, the people who invent these things do actually come up with the acronyms first and then try to think up words to fit them). Name notwithstanding, the system is actually quite neat in what it does.

CROSSHAIRS is a sensor system attached to a vehicle that can detect where small arms, RPG and anti-tank fire is coming from. When used in conjunction with another DARPA invention, the Boomerang II, its acoustic sensors can identify shockwaves and muzzle blasts generated by small arms fire to provide "situational awareness for multiple incoming threats with 360 degree coverage around a vehicle."

In plain English, if a convoy of vehicles equipped with the system is trucking around through the Afghan desert and one gets shot at or blown up with a rocket-propelled grenade, troops in the other vehicles are instantly alerted as to where the attack came from. That should greatly neutralize the chaos that can arise when a group of vehicles is ambushed, leading to a much more effective defense and counter-attack.

What are the potential real-world applications of this technology? Good question - it's still pretty new so it's hard  to tell, but it could obviously make microphones much more accurate in their recording. Applied to robots, it could also make them much better listeners as they'd be able to differentiate more clearly between who is speaking at them and from what direction.


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