Thursday, August 27, 2009

UAV News

University Of Alaska UAV Helps Fight Wildfires. In the "Autopia" column of Wired Magazine (8/26), Jason Paur writes, "Earlier this month in Alaska, a 40-pound Insitu Scan Eagle saw duty fighting wildfires after dense haze grounded conventional aircraft." The UAV's "infrared cameras allowed people on the ground tracking the fires to find hotspots and monitor the fire lines." The University of Alaska, which operates the UAV, says that it "is the first entity other than NASA or the Department of Homeland Security allowed to fly an unmanned aircraft beyond the line of sight in civil airspace."

Details Of Polish UAVs Emerging. Flight International (8/26, Glowacki) reports, "First details have emerged of a new family of unmanned air vehicles designed by scientists and students from the Mobile Systems Research Laboratories and Institute of Computing Science at Poland's Poznan University of Technology." They are "expected to support a 2013 demonstration of Poland's indigenous Proteus system," providing "instant situational awareness during emergency situations." The largest, "the Rarog has a maximum take-off weight of 40kg (88lb), and could carry an SGO Z electro-optical turret, plus either intelligence-gathering equipment or even weapons using its two under-wing pylons." The SP-1B Zuraw and Burzyk mini UAV are the smaller UAVs in the family.

Mule UAV Testing Progresses. Flight Internationall (8/26, Egozi) reports that Urban Aeronautics' Mule ducted fan unmanned aircraft system prototype "has been brought to a "light on the skids" position in the lead-up to performing its first hover tests." Dr Rafi Yoeli, president of the Israeli company, said, "We could go to full hover, but we decided to use extra caution as this is the only prototype." Meanwhile, Urban Aeronautics is "working on the operational mode that will be used when the Mule enters service as a combat zone supply and medical evacuation platform."

Friday, August 21, 2009

UAV News

EADS Conducts Barracuda UAV Flight Tests In Canada. Aviation International News (8/20, Pocock) reported, "A second copy of the Barracuda combat UAV demonstrator made four successful flights from Goose Bay, Labrador, according to EADS. ... The demonstrator flew autonomously with monitoring from the ground station for safety purposes only, EADS said." EADS said the tests, which come as part of the German Defense Ministry's Agile UAV in Network Centric Environment study, will help the company "gather fundamental insights for operationally mature next-generation UAV products–either alone or in cooperation with European partners."

C.I.A. Said To Use Outsiders To Put Bombs On Drones New York Times (8/21, Risen and Mazzetti) reported, that private security contractors are used by the CIA to assemble and load Hellfire missiles onto Predator UAVs.

The contractors are not involved in selecting targets, and CIA employees “pull the trigger remotely” from Langley.
From a secret division at its North Carolina headquarters, the company formerly known as Blackwater has assumed a role in Washington’s most important counterterrorism program: the use of remotely piloted drones to kill Al Qaeda’s leaders, according to government officials and current and former employees.

US Predators Target The Haqqanis In North Waziristan The Long War Journal (8/21, Roggio) reported, "An unmanned US Predator aircraft fired missiles at the Haqqani Network in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal area of North Waziristan. Two Hellfire missiles struck in the town of Darpa Khel near Miramshah, a known stronghold of the Haqqani Network. Three people were reported killed, but no high value Taliban or al Qaeda targets have been reported killed at this time."

Aerostat Used To Measure Algae In Lake Erie. The Cleveland Plain Dealer (8/20, Scott) reported, "Some hope that the aerostat – that's 'aero' as in air and 'stat' as in stationary – might be another valuable weapon in an annual battle to measure, understand and someday contain the growth of algae in the warm and shallow waters of western Lake Erie. The $125,000 high-tech balloon, which at 25,000 cubic feet is about the size of a two-story house, was initially designed by a South Dakota company for military surveillance and communications." Jeffrey Faunce, deputy for experiments at the Army's Space & Missile Defense Battle Lab, said "For the military its primary application is to test payloads – primarily communications and surveillance – for flying in the stratosphere, above 60,000 feet." However, the SkySentry Aerostat "also has a dual-use technology that we think is very exciting – being able to work on environmental studies to hopefully help mitigate the algal problem in western Lake Erie," he added.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Correctness Proofs

In the world of software development correctness proofs are akin to verification of codes in scientific computing, only a lot more low level. Down to the formal correctness of the hardware design in some cases. A research group from Australia has formally proved the correctness of an entire operating systems kernel. That is really awesome!

An interesting quote from the short write-up on their webpage:
With all the purity and strength of mathematical proof it is easy to get carried away. There is a fundamental theoretical limit of formal verification: there will always be some bottom level of assumptions about the physical world left and these assumptions have to be validated by other means. Mathematical proof is proof as long as it talks about formal concepts. It is when assumptions connect to reality where things may still fail.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality."

--Trustworthy Embedded Systems (ERTOS)

An important reminder for project managers enamoured of the assurance provided by the numerical test section's relatively easy to come-by answers.

Slashdot discussion of this result (standard posts misunderstanding Goedel's work included of course).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

UAV news round-up

The New York Times (8/12, B1, Drew) reports how US Army soldiers "got some high-tech help in an exercise intended to prove that new devices operated by the soldiers themselves can make...harrowing missions less dangerous." In the mock battles, soldiers used "drones resemble flying lawnmower engines about the size of a beer keg" that officials "say...will help transform basic infantry brigades" by allowing them to spot and take out enemy forces without the need to call for artillery or aircraft support. "Most of the soldiers are enthusiastic about the new capabilities. ... The new drones, made by Honeywell, are designed to hover over a crucial spot on a battlefield like helicopters." The article notes that Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Textron also contributed sensors, weapons, and other systems to the drones.

Boeing Lobbies Congress For A160 Funding. Flight Daily News (8/11, Trimble) reported, "Boeing has launched a 'full-court press' on Congress members to earmark funds in the Fiscal 2010 defense budget to help the A160 Hummingbird program survive a pivotal transition period. Despite strong interest for the A160 from the US special forces, army, marines and navy, Boeing's commitment to continue investing in the program without a production contract will reach a 'pivot point' some time next year, says Vic Sweberg, Boeing's director for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)." According to the article, "the program still lacks a production order, and a recent report by the Senate Armed Services Committee warned that Boeing's production capacity could disappear as early as October."

GE, FAA To Test Trajectory-Based Flight Management System For UAVs. Flight Daily News (8/11, Croft) reported, "As part of a new research arrangement with the US Federal Aviation Administration, GE Aviation this fall will test a trajectory-based flight management system for unmanned aircraft systems in simulations and in flight." GE Aviation's "participation will include adapting its FAA-certificated Boeing 737 flight management system to achieve reliable trajectory-based control of UAS and will include demonstration flights of an AAI Shadow UAS before year's end." Meanwhile, the FAA "says it is using modeling and simulation activities to 'establish a technical and operational UAS performance baseline' and to explore the impacts of UAS on the NAS going forward."

Electro Optical Systems Demonstrate Laser-Sintering Technology. Flight Daily News (8/11, Peaford) reported, "Laser-sintering technology enables companies to build highly integrated and very complex hardware directly from electronic data, eliminating tooling and other secondary operations - and one company leading the way with this technology is at AUVSI to give technical demonstrations." Electro Optical Systems is promoting the method. Jim Williams, president of Paramount PDS said, "Plastics laser-sintering enabled us to manufacture aircraft components for a micro air vehicle as a cost-effective substitute for carbonfiber parts."

JAXA Developing Disaster Monitoring Technology Using UAVs. Flight Daily News (8/11, Coppinger) reported JAXA "is developing key technologies for disaster monitoring unmanned air vehicles that would operate in tandem over an area providing rapid response and persistent surveillance." Innovative aircraft team director Suichi Sasa "says that preliminary, conceptual studies are being undertaken for the UAVs that would operate together, while key technologies for guidance and navigation are being tested in the field." The agency is "also supporting the development of regulations for operating UAVs in civil airspace" since the "UAVs would be operating over civil areas."

Frontline Flies Prototype UAV For First Time. Flight Daily News (8/11, Coppinger) reported, "Frontline Aerospace flew its prototype unmanned air vehicle for the first time in Colorado on 9 August for 1min, with its next test planned for early 2010 when a lift fan will be incorporated." The plane is expected to "compete in the small tactical class, against the likes of the Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle. ... The prototype is remote controlled and its autonomous systems are under development. Frontline is also looking to use a proton exchange membrane type fuel cell using liquid hydrogen to increase its endurance." However, Frontline "will only develop the full-scale V-STAR if it can raise funding."

Navy Official Discusses UAV Sensor Advancements. In the "Ares" blog for Aviation Week (8/11), David Fulghum wrote, "US Navy specialists have gathered near Patuxent River, Md. for NavAir's annual UAV demonstrations to look into the future of unmanned sensors, platforms and operations." Rear Adm. (Lower Half) Bill Shannon, program executive officer for the Navy's unmanned aviation and strike weapons, said, "Fire Scout is a good example of progress beyond the initial EO-IR sensors [and communications suite]." Shannon said, "We have already added AIS, the maritime version of IFF [specifically for ship targets]. It helps sort the good guys from those we don't know. It's very important for counter-piracy and counter-drug operations."

L-3 Displays Mobius "Optionally Piloted" Aircraft At AUVSI. Aviation Week and Space Technology (8/11, Warwick) reported, "L-3 Communications is about to find out if a company that makes a wide array of equipment for unmanned aircraft systems, from controls to sensors to data links, can make its mark in the crowded platforms market." The company has displayed its Mobius aircraft at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International show in Washington, DC this week. The Mobius "is L-3's entry in the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) category. It is also an 'optionally piloted' aircraft, which the company believes could open up niche markets not available to UAVs."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Triumph of Bureaucracy

A prescient passage from von Mises:
The characteristic feature of present-day policies is the trend toward a substitution of government control for free enterprise. Powerful political parties and pressure groups are fervently asking for public control of all economic activities, for thorough government planning, and for the nationalization of business. They aim at full government control of education and at the socialization of the medical profession. There is no sphere of human activity that they would not be prepared to subordinate to regimentation by the authorities. In their eyes, state control is the panacea for all ills.

-- Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy, 1944

Nearly all of the in-depth news articles (here's an example) about recent financial bailouts mention the moral hazard that is created when the government steps in to prevent a private enterprise from failing. The problem is known by various names, in academia it is usually called the Principal-Agent Problem, in financial risk management lingo it is referred to as the Trader's Option. It boils down to people taking unreasonable risks, because they are exposed to all of the upside (profit), and protected against the downside (loss).

It is further true that bureaucracy is imbued with an implacable hatred of private business and free enterprise. But the supporters of the system consider precisely this the most laudable feature of their attitude. Far from being ashamed of their anti-business policies, they are proud of them. They aim at full control of business by the government and see in every businessman who wants to evade this control a public enemy.

-- Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy, 1944

Progressive regulators argue that bureaucracy is present in private enterprise too, and because of this they should be regulated and their power limited. Von Mises argues that bureaucracy in private enterprise is basically a survival mechanism against government control of business.
The trend toward bureaucratic rigidity is not inherent in the evolution of business. It is an outcome of government meddling with business. It is a result of the policies designed to eliminate the profit motive from its role in the framework of society's economic organization.

-- Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy, 1944

The modern problem is confounded by the acceptance of the 'too big to fail' hypothesis (which has not been tested by the way). The bigness of those too big is inflated greatly by imprudent leverage. The formula is simple in Slashdot-list style:

  1. Take out huge loans to become 'too big'
  2. Invest in risky but possibly lucrative assets
  3. The investment pans out, or the government bails you out
  4. Profit!

Because investment banks’ trades and investments are typically very highly leveraged—Bear Stearns, for instance, had borrowed thirty dollars for every dollar of its own—the banks need to be exceptionally good at managing risk, and they need to insure that people trust them enough to lend them huge sums of money against very little collateral. You’d expect, then, that Wall Street firms would be especially rigorous about balancing risk against reward, and about earning and keeping the trust of customers, clients, and lenders. Instead, most of these firms have taken on spectacular amounts of risk without acknowledging the scale of their bets to the outside world, or even, it now seems, to themselves. That’s why, since the bursting of the housing bubble, we have seen tens of billions of dollars in surprise write-downs and complete paralysis in the credit markets. When you consider that the banks at the center of the subprime debacle were also at the center of the tech-stock bubble, the surprising thing about the Bear Stearns crisis isn’t that a major investment bank was abandoned by its customers and lenders but, rather, that it didn’t happen sooner.

James Surowiecki, Too Dumb to Fail

Rather than improving the situation, government meddling and bail-outs actually prevent the natural correction mechanism inherent in a free market. Instead of being 'punished' for doing a poor job of managing their risk by going out of business. And the lenders and investors who participated in the venture loosing their capital, they are protected from the full extent of their loss by tax-payer dollars. Money taken from people by the coercive power of the state used to prop up foolish business practices and poor risk management.

Von Mises also argues that modern tax policies limit the growth of entrepreneurial start-ups. So we get stagnation and mega-corporate oligarchies (the very thing that excessive regulation is trying to control).
Modern policies result in tying the hands of innovators no less than did the guild system of the Middle Ages.

-- Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy, 1944

The pro-regulators will argue that they are protecting the public from profit mongering capitalists. Yet, who are the great beneficiaries of their bail-out plans? The same corporate oligarchy that took on too much risk that they claim must be regulated and controlled by the government for the good of society. The regulators themselves see a benefit to their pro-government control position, they are buying control of these private institutions through the bail-out.

Spurious legends, popularized by demagogic propaganda, have entirely misrepresented the capitalist system. Capitalism has succeeded in raising the material well-being of the masses in an unprecedented way. In the capitalist countries population figures are now several times higher than they were at the eve of the "industrial revolution," and every citizen of these nations enjoys a standard of living much higher than that of the well-to-do of earlier ages.

-- Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy, 1944

It seems the American people (or at least their Congress-critters) have bought the spurious legends as far as government control of private enterprise. Is the past in finance prologue to the future of health care?