Science and Technology News

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tech Tuesday: Inside the Pentagon Technology Expo
Petty Officer 2nd Class Elliott Fabrizio

The Pentagon held its Technology Expo on Tuesday, with more than 40 companies displaying the latest in defense hardware and software.

For this week’s Tech Tuesday, I navigated my way through an ocean of business cards and free pens to highlight a few of the expo’s more interesting exhibits.

Just to get this out of the way, all of the booths were thrilling (especially the caterer’s booth with the chicken wings). These three represent the ones I personally thought were the most interesting and in no way reflects an official ranking system or a lack of quality in another exhibit. No angry letters please.

X-treme Protection Series (XPS) Shield Line

Patriot 3, a tactical ops company, has recently begun marketing their new X-treme Protection Series XPS Shield Line to police agencies and the military, and it definitely has the elite Special Forces look. The XPS-G2 is a rolling bunker, so whether clearing a building or working a security checkpoint, this foldable ballistic shield can provide an ideal source of cover.

It’s made up of six panels, each able to withstand high-powered rifle rounds. The four side panels can be removed and used as individual bullet-proof shields. Fully assembled, it forms a three-person-wide wall on wheels. The side panels can fold like wings, enabling the unit to move through all commercial doorways. It’s topped off with three ballistic viewing ports and a small gun port in the center from which to shoot, so there’s no reason to leave the safety of this mobile barricade.

“You can actually do offenses with this, as opposed to just being in a defensive position. You’ve got a rolling bunker you can move forward as you advance,” said Brook Thomas, Patriot 3 Inc., Ballistics Division.

Let’s imagine being on wrong side of that. Instead of having a Special Forces team advancing on your position, you’ve got the walls literally closing in on you—one bullet-proof wall specifically, with guns poking out. Unless you’re Neo from The Matrix, that’s game over.

XD-2i Explosives Trace Detector

“Locating IEDs [improvised explosive devices] is very important to saving lives on the battlefield, but how many more lives could you save if you could find the source?,” asked Chris Boylan from American Innovations Inc.

Well, he also may have the answer: the XD-2i Explosives Trace Detector. This device helps locate IEDs and the people making them by allowing troops to test any surface for trace amounts of the compounds used in commercial, military, or homemade explosives. It can detect even invisible residue of explosive elements like nitrates, peroxides, gun powder, chlorates, and plastic explosives like C-4 — to name a few.

One of the coolest things about this device is how easy it is to use. That and the fact that it weighs about as much as a bottle of water. You start by swiping a testing pad on a surface and placing it in the detector. From there, color-coded lights guide you through the entire process, blinking to indicate which step is next. Consult the chart for any color change. I tested my co-worker in about three minutes with no prior training; so, if Kathryn Bigelow is reading, let’s talk “Hurt Locker 2.”

These devices are already in use in Afghanistan and Iraq helping troops track down the sources of IEDs.

“If someone’s coming through a checkpoint, and I find traces of plastic explosives on your hands, we’re going to have a conversation,” Boylan said.

New Common Access Cards

Do you have one of the new ID cards? You know, the one with a wavy “US Department of Defense” all over the background?

If you do, you may not be aware that you could be transmitting sensitive information while your card sits innocently in your wallet. In addition to being a Common Access Card, the new cards contain a second integrated chip, which enables contactless interface with physical access control systems.

Huh? OK, basically this second chip can transmit the codes embedded in your card that give you access to certain buildings and areas, and the technology for someone to scan your card is out there.

“A couple of years ago when the new passports came out, people were sitting at terminals scanning people’s passports for information,” said Jesse Juarez, Air Force Public Key Infrastructure. “There are devices out there right now that can scan smart cards.”

So what do we do? The card needs to be placed in an electromagnetically opaque sleeve. This protects it against unauthorized contactless access. This isn’t just a smart practice, it’s a regulation—Federal Processing Standard (FOPS) 201-1. This is a regulation I only learned about today at this expo.

Before coming to the expo, I had no idea that I would need to check myself before I wrecked myself. Thankfully, the Air Force let me off with a warning and gave me a free protective case too. There were many other great and interesting exhibits at the expo, but I’m not writing a novel here. Keep checking out Armed With Science and our Tech Tuesday blog series for the latest.

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