Getting The Message

It ain’t just what you say, it’s the way that you say it

10 min read
Opening illustration for this feature article.
Illustration: Jonathan Barkat

Much of the sophisticated surveillance equipment that the United States used to win the Cold War is hardly tailored to the “war” on terrorism, say intelligence observers both inside and outside the government. For one thing, reconnaissance satellites developed to measure every cubic yard of concrete poured into Soviet airstrips, missile silos, bunkers, and radar posts are overkill for keeping tabs on a mobile enemy who may build perfectly adequate facilities out of scrap lumber and plastic sheeting. Similarly, undersea listening posts designed to catch stealth submarines may be useless against weapons that enter the United States by rustbucket freighter.

But sheer volume of data is an even bigger problem [see “Listening In”]. Intelligence aimed against “asymmetric warfare,” says Robert Popp, deputy director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Information Awareness office, must be able to pick up on clues generated by the behavior of a few isolated conspirators scattered across the globe while ignoring the billions of conversations and other transactions conducted by innocent individuals. Intelligence analysts need ways of detecting and recognizing the significance of such unorthodox activities as the anomalous flight training that preceded the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Being able to spot known terrorists’ faces in airports, recognize their voices reliably on tapped phone lines, or discover what they are saying in a timely fashion would also be nice.

Keep reading... Show less

Stay ahead of the latest trends in technology. Become an IEEE member.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Royal Mail Is Doing the Right Thing With Drone Delivery

Drones are actually the best way of delivering mail to far-flung islands

2 min read
A large drone with twin propellers stands idle on a remote airport runway as a postal worker walks towards it with two large mail bags

Eight-ish years ago, back when drone delivery was more hype than airborne reality (even more so than it is now), DHL tested a fully autonomous delivery service that relied on drones to deliver packages to an island 12 kilometers off Germany’s North Sea coast. The other alternative for getting parcels to the island was a ferry. But because the ferry didn’t run every day, the drones filled the scheduling gaps so residents of the island could get important packages without having to wait.

“To the extent that it is technically feasible and economically sensible,” DHL said at the time, “the use of [drones] to deliver urgently needed goods to thinly populated or remote areas or in emergencies is an interesting option for the future.” We’ve seen Zipline have success with this approach; now, drones are becoming affordable and reliable enough that they’re starting to make sense for use cases that are slightly less urgent than blood and medication deliveries. Now, thinly populated or remote areas can benefit from drones even if they aren’t having an emergency. Case in point: The United Kingdom’s Royal Mail has announced plans to establish more than 50 new postal drone routes over the next three years.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Simple, Cheap and Portable: A Filter-Free Desalination System for a Thirsty World

Suitcase-size device makes seawater potable

4 min read
A black hard case contains a white device with beige layers with wires connecting to electronics on the top of the interior of the case.

The unit weighs less than 10 kilograms, does not require the use of filters, and can be powered by a small, portable solar panel.

M. Scott Brauer

A Portable Desalination System Makes Water Potable—Without a Filter

Payal Dhar (Freelance Blogger)

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Modern System Level Design for Aerospace & Defense

Join this webinar series to learn the most important aspects of modern system-level design for RF and microwave applications in aerospace and defense

1 min read

More than ever, aerospace and defense companies must lower costs, accelerate their R&D, and reduce risk, all while simultaneously maintaining a high level of mission readiness. Register for this free webinar now!

Keysight is addressing these design challenges for RF and microwave applications, particularly for aerospace and defense applications.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less