Ray Guns Get Real

Cheap rockets fired by insurgents are taking a deadly toll in the Middle East. Can a new generation of solid-state lasers blow them out of the sky?

14 min read
opening illustration of rockets
Illustration: Dan Page

Rockets, mortars, and other forms of artillery have a long and grim history on the battlefield. In a conventional war, an army being bombarded by these from afar can respond by firing back at the attacker’s battery. But you can’t turn the massive firepower of modern armies onto insurgents hiding among civilian populations without courting disaster. Instead of striking the enemy, who run to other hiding spots after firing their weapons, such retaliation would mostly hit civilians.

What the U.S. military dearly wants is a weapon that can defend against such attacks more selectively, shooting down explosive-laden projectiles in the air before they reach their targets. The armament should be easy to field and should strike at the speed of light, but it should not send streams of bullets screaming toward the horizon. In short, the military wants a laser weapon that’s small and rugged but powerful enough to ignite explosive payloads on incoming projectiles while they’re still a safe distance away.

Keep reading...Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

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 →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

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

Machine Learning Will Tackle Quantum Problems, Too

ML algorithms take on quantum-computer workloads till the qubits come to town

3 min read
Vector art of a head with circuits examining a quantum symbol
Getty Images

Quantum computers may prove far more powerful than any conventional supercomputer when it comes to performing the kinds of complex physics and chemistry simulations that could lead to next-generation batteries or new drugs. However, it may take many years before practical and widespread quantum computing becomes reality.

Now a new study finds that machine learning, which now powers computer vision, speech recognition, and more, can also prove significantly better than regular computers at the kinds of tasks at which quantum computers excel. These findings suggest that machine learning may help tackle key quantum problems in the era before quantum computers finally arrive.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Meet the Open Source PC That Fits in Your Pocket

The MNT Pocket Reform is a seven-inch clamshell with a real keyboard

3 min read
A purple laptop on a desk

The MNT Pocket Reform is an open source computer with a seven-inch display.

MNT Research

Open source computing is coming to your pocket.

MNT Research, creator of the Reform open-source laptop and ZZ9000 add-in board for Amiga computers, is going small for its next project. The MNT Pocket Reform has a seven-inch screen with a clamshell design that, when closed, will be less than five centimeters thick. If its perky purple facade looks a bit retro, that’s no surprise; the Pocket’s inspirations read like a ‘greatest hits’ list of pocketable computers.

“We had a moodboard with several classic handheld computers: Nokia N900, Atari Portfolio, Cambridge Z88, Blackberry, Game Boy Advance SP, Alan Kay's Dynabook,” says Lukas F. Hartmann, CEO and founder of MNT Research. “I have a Psion 5mx, which was kind of a benchmark for the keyboard.”

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":[]}

Introduction to Peer-to-Peer Streaming and GPU Processing in Data Acquisition Systems

Learn about the basics and benefits of peer-to-peer streaming and GPU post-processing in data acquisition systems

1 min read
Teledyne

Real-time digital signal processing is a vital part of many of today's data acquisition systems, and affordable graphics processing units (GPUs) offer a great complement to onboard field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs).

Join Teledyne SP Devices for an introductory webinar about the basics and benefits of peer-to-peer streaming and GPU post-processing in data acquisition systems.

Register now for this free webinar!

Keep Reading ↓Show less