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Don’t bother with the iris scanner or the fingerprinting machine. Leave the satellite-enabled locators and tell-tale scents back on the base, military manhunters. If an Air Force plan works out as planned, all you’ll need to track your prey is a single camera, snapping a few seconds of footage from far, far away.
Huntsville, Alabama’s Photon-X, Inc. recently received an Air Force contract to develop such a camera. With one snap, the company claims, its sensor can build a three-dimensional image of a person’s face: the cornerstone of a distinctive “bio-signature” that can be used to track that person anywhere. With a few frames more, the device can capture that face’s unique facial muscle motions, and turn those movements into a “behaviormetric” profile that’s even more accurate.
“The proposed work will help identify non-cooperative dismounts using remote sensors, from standoff distances that were previously impossible,” reports Toyon Research Corporation, which also got an Air Force grant for bio-signature development. “This identity information can help intelligence analysts connect specific people to events and locations, and learn about insurgent operations.”
But the combo won’t just help flesh-and-blood airmen keep tabs on their fellow humans, Photon-X adds. It “can help Humanoid Robots navigate and find objects in a cluttered room.”
And it could be used to monitor suspicious behavior practically anywhere. “A brief list of potential industries includes law enforcement, banking, private corporations, schools and universities, casinos, theme parks, retail, and hospitality.”
So the next time you’re at the Bellagio, and a real-life android walks up to you, calls you by name, and asks about what you thought was an extremely private evening — you can thank the Air Force and its tech-enabled manhunters for the experience.
Scents that make you trackable, indoors and out. Nanocrystals that stick to your body, and light up on night-vision goggles. Miniradar that maps your location on Google Earth.
You can run, but you'll learn it's hard to hide from a new range of military tech.
The Defense Department calls it “tagging, tracking and locating,” or TTL, this business of finding and following high-value targets on the battlefield. Ever since SEAL Team 6 took out Osama bin Laden, we’ve learned a lot about the technology used by special operators to find and reach their targets, from stealth helicopters to biometric identification devices. TTL gear, though, ranks among the spookiest Special Operations’ extremely spooky arsenal.
The military has spent a hefty chunk of change on TTL tech: $450 million has gone to a single company, Blackbird Technologies of Herndon, Virginia, which has emerged as the leader in this covert field. Millions more have gone to the development of bleeding-edge tracking methods, encompassing everything from human-thermal-fingerprint detection and miniature crop-dusting drones to radar-responsive tags.
Al-Qaida says it found spies using infrared beacons to call in drone strikes in Pakistan. A Pakistani Taliban commander claims the United States puts tracking “chips” in cellphones, in order to train Hellfire missiles on militants. But these aren’t the only technologies that can to secretly track people.
With one technology, trackers might not even need to see you to get a fix on your location. Like bloodhounds on the hunt, they can smell their way to you. Tracer Detection Technology Corp. marks targets with a paraffin wax crayon, filled with a perfluorocarbon, a thermally-stable compound used in everything from refrigerators to cosmetics. The perfluorocarbon’s vapor can then be tracked with sensors, such as a gas chromatograph. The smell lingers for hours. Think locking yourself in a room with the windows closed or removing the tag will help? Too bad, you still reek. According to a research report submitted to the Justice Department (.pdf), the perfluorocarbon tracers can “permeate closed doors and windows, containers and luggage,” and even give you away for a while after a tagged item is removed.
This picture from a Sandia National Labs report shows quantum dots — crystals that change their optical properties, depending on their size. These dots are made of cadmium selenide, illuminated on a paper towel. Oregon-based Voxtel makes nanocrystal quantum dots that can be hidden in clear liquids and seen through night-vision goggles.
Now a second tracer: Imagine walking up to a target and patting him on the back with a clear liquid on your hand. He might never notice it, but you’d be able to see — and follow — him from a distance using night vision goggles. Oregon-based Voxtel makes a product, “NightMarks,” that can do just that. NightMarks are tiny nanocrystal quantum dots that can be hidden in clear liquids and seen only through a sensor like night-vision goggles.
How do these tiny dots work? “You can change the optical properties of materials by making them small on the order of a nanometer in size,” Voxtel CEO George Williams tells Danger Room. “When they get down to that size, they have quantum-confinement effects that cause their absorption and emission properties — the light they absorb, the light they put out — to change,” he says. “And so using that, you can make all sorts of spectral barcodes that allow you to identify it and track.”
Williams is tight-lipped about Voxtel’s relationship with the Defense Department and the military applications of its technology. However, a quick look at one 2008 Voxtel contract with the Navy indicates that the Department already understands how useful the technology can be for tracking targets. The contract asks for “covert microtaggants composed of nanocrystals” visible through sensors like night-vision goggles to “enable war fighters the ability to track entities buried in urban clutter.”
Oak Ridge National Laboratories developed this micro-miniature radio frequency transmitter (above). It's smaller than a dime, and has a range of three kilometers [1.9 miles].
In June 2009, al-Qaida released an electronic book, The Ruling Concerning Muslim Spies, which claimed to publish photos of some of the devices Pakistani "spies" used to guide American drone strikes. The pictures appear to show infrared beacons, powered by a 9-volt battery.
Sandia National Laboratories has carried out development on these radar-responsive tags, which are like a long-range version of the ubiquitous stick-on RFID tags used to mark items in shops. The radar-responsive tag stays asleep until it is awakened by a radar pulse. The tags in Walmart have a range of a couple of meters, Sandia’s tags can light up and locate themselves from 12 miles away.
The M600 made by SpotterRF is a compact radar system useful for tracking humans and vehicles on small firebases or in perimeter security. The five-pound system can detect humans walkers out to 1,000 meters [0.62 miles] and vehicles up to 1,500 meters, and plot their positions on Google Earth.
In its 2007 briefing, U.S. Special Operations Command also describes its goal of identifying targets by their body heat or "human thermal fingerprint" from a long distance away.
Another photo from al-Qaida's The Ruling Concerning Muslim Spies: It appears to be chemical light sticks — again, used to signal to the drones where to strike.