Drones, Swarms At War

Using drones in areas of conflict is not something new. As commercial drones get easily affordable, we see it all the time in the news, some soldier using a Parrot drone to scout ahead, above trenches or around buildings. That’s a new reality that soldiers have to get used to. It changes the battlefield, especially traditional ground warfare. There is also research in drone swarms, performing tasks in team for some time now. Some of them are really impressive.

And then there’s the U.S. Military Perdix drones. William Roper of the Department of Defense illustrate what exactly their capabilities are:

Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature. Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.

Did we mention they can be released in mid-flight by a F/A 18 Super Hornet? That’s no piece of cake for any drone but Perdix is able to withstand speeds of Mach 0.6 and temperatures of -10 °C during release. In the latest tests conducted, three jets released a massive swarm of 103 Perdix drones, which after deployment communicated with each other and went on a simulated surveillance mission.

The Department of Defense announced the successful Micro-Drone demonstration and presented a video:

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Super Mario Run(s) — Away With Your Money

If you are an Android user and a big fan of Super Mario beware: there is no Android version! There has been no official news on the Android version yet, let alone a version of the game. There is, however, a version circulating outside of Google Play market that will steal your bank account.

Right now attackers are taking advantage of the game’s popularity and Android users despair to spread malware posing as an Android version of Super Mario Run as they did in the past for Pokemon GO. The trojan is called Android Marcher and has been around since 2013, mostly targeting mobile users financial information. After installation, the application attempts to trick users with fake finance apps and a credit card page in an effort to capture banking details. The malware also locks out Google Play until the user supplies their credit card information.

In this new variant of Marcher, it can monitor the device and steal login data of regular apps, not just banking and payment apps, and send the stolen data back to command and control (C&C) servers. Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Gmail, the Google Play store are all vulnerable. Criminals can exploit these stolen accounts to carry out additional fraud.

Zscaler researchers advice is:

To avoid becoming a victim of such malware, it is a good practice to download apps only from trusted app stores such as Google Play. This practice can be enforced by unchecking the “Unknown Sources” option under the “Security” settings of your device.

We may add to turn on “App Verification”. Verify Apps regularly checks activity on your device and prevents or warns you about potential harm. Verify Apps is on by default, as is Unknown Sources turned off. Verify Apps also checks apps when you install them from sources other than Google Play. Of course, there is a privacy trade-off. Some information has to be sent about the apps you install back to Google.

The main advice is: use common sense. It’s common practice for companies to release official apps versions through Google Play and highly unlikely to do it via any other way.

IoT-ify All Things: LG Has Gone Overboard

If you been following Hackaday lately, you’ve surely noticed an increased number of articles about IoT-ifying stuff. It’s a cool project to take something old (or new) and improve its connectivity, usually via WiFi, making it part of the Internet of Things. Several easy to use modules, in particular the ESP8266, are making a huge contribution to this trend. It’s satisfactory to see our homes with an ESP8266 in every light switch and outlet or to control our old stereo with our iPhone. It gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. And that’s completely fine for one’s personal projects.

But what happens when this becomes mainstream? When literally all our appliances are ‘connected’ in the near future? The implications might be a lot harder to predict than expected. The near future, it seems, starts now.

This year, at CES, LG Electronics (LG) has introduced Smart InstaView™, a refrigerator that’s powered by webOS smart platform and integrated with Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service.

… with webOS, consumers can also explore a host of WiFi-enabled features directly on the refrigerator, creating a streamlined and powerful food management system all housed directly on the front of the fridge door. Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service gives users access to an intelligent personal assistant that, in addition to searching recipes, can play music, place Prime-eligible orders from Amazon.com…

This is ‘just’ a fridge. There are other WiFi-enabled appliances by now, so what?  Apparently, during the LG press conference last Wednesday, the company marketing VP David VanderWaal said that from 2017 on, all of LG’s home appliances will feature “advanced Wi-Fi connectivity”.

Notice the word advanced, we wonder what that means? Will ‘advanced’ mean complicated? Mesh? Secure? Intelligent? Will our toaster finally break the Internet and ruin it for everyone by the end of the year? Will the other big players in the home appliances market jump in the WiFi wagon? We bet the answer is yes.

Here be dragons.

[via Ars Technica]

CES2017: Astrophotography In The Eyepiece

If you’ve never set up a telescope in your back yard, you’ve never been truly disappointed. The Hubble can take some great shots of Saturn, nebulae, and other astronomical phenomena, but even an expensive backyard scope produces only smudges. To do astronomy properly, you’ll spend your time huddled over a camera and a computer, stacking images to produce something that almost lives up to your expectations.

At CES, Unistellar introduced a device designed to fit over the eyepiece of a telescope to do all of this for you.

According to the guys at Unistellar, this box contains a small Linux computer, camera, GPS, and an LCD. Once the telescope is set up, the module takes a few pictures of the telescope’s field of view, stacks the images, and overlays the result in the eyepiece. Think of this as ‘live’ astrophotography.

In addition to making Jupiter look less like a Great Red Smudge, the Unistellar module adds augmented reality; it knows where the telescope is pointing and will add a label if you’re looking at any astronomical objects of note.

While I wasn’t able to take a look inside this extremely cool device, the Unistellar guys said they’ll be launching a crowdfunding campaign in the near future.

“Alexa, Order Everyone In San Diego A Doll House”

Every day it seems there is a new Alexa story in the news, as for the moment the Amazon voice assistant is in the ascendant over its rivals from Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Today’s slice of Alexa weirdness comes courtesy of a newsreader in San Diego, who inadvertently triggered Alexa-enabled devices within hearing distance of a television to buy doll houses when he reported on a Dallas child’s accidental purchase.

It’s unclear whether any doll houses were dispatched or whether the Echos and Dots merely started the process and asked their owners for confirmation, but we hope it serves to draw attention to the risks associated with an always-on and always-listening device. We’ve looked at how the technology has seemingly circumvented the normal privacy concerns of our own community, so it’s hardly surprising that this kind of incident catches the greater public completely unprepared. It’s one thing for the denizens of a hackspace to troll the owner of a Dot by adding embarrassing products to their wish list, but against a less-informed user who hasn’t worked out how to lock down the device’s purchasing abilities, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine a criminal attack.

Voice assistants are clearly going to become a ubiquitous feature of our lives, and it is inevitable that there will be more such unfortunate incidents which will serve to educate the public about their privacy before the technology reaches maturity. This particular story is definitely Not A Hack, though as our “Alexa” tag shows the devices have huge potential to bring a new dimension to our work. It’s up to all of us in our community to ensure that the voice assistant owners in our lives are adequately educated about them, and maybe resist the urge to say “Alexa, add all the Hackaday merchandise to my wish list!”.

CES17: Arduino Unveils LoRa Modules For The Internet Of Things

WiFi and Bluetooth were never meant to be the radios used by a billion Internet of Things hats, umbrellas, irrigation systems, or any other device that makes a worldwide network of things interesting. The best radio for IoT is something lightweight which operates in the sub-Gigahertz range, doesn’t need a lot of bandwidth, and doesn’t suck down the power like WiFi. For the last few years, a new low-power wireless communication standard has been coming on the scene, and now this protocol — LoRa — will soon be available in an Arduino form factor.

The Primo, and NRF

It’s not LoRa, but the Arduino Primo line is based on the ESP8266 WiFi chip and a Nordic nRF52832 for Bluetooth. The Primo comes in the ever-familiar Arduino form factor, but it isn’t meant to be an ‘Internet of Things’ device. Instead, it’s a microcontroller for devices that need to be on the Internet.

Also on display at CES this year is the Primo Core which we first saw at BAMF back in May. It’s a board barely larger than a US quarter that has a few tricks up its sleeve. The Primo Core is built around the nRF52832, and adds humidity, temperature, 3-axis magnetometer and a 3-axis accelerometer to a square inch of fiberglass.

The Primo Core has a few mechanical tricks up its sleeve. Those castellated pins around the circumference can be soldered to the Alice Pad, a breakout board that adds a USB port and LiPo battery charger.

LoRa

Also on deck at the Arduino suite were two LoRa shields. In collobration with Semtech, Arduino will be releasing the pair of LoRa shields later this year. The first, the Node Shield, is about as simple as it can get — it’s simply a shield with a LoRa radio and a few connectors. The second, the Gateway Shield, does what it says on the tin: it’s designed to be a gateway from other Arduino devices (Ethernet or WiFi, for example) to a Node shield. The boards weren’t completely populated, but from what I could see, the Gateway shield is significantly more capable with support for a GPS chipset and antenna.

A partnership with Cayenne and MyDevices

Of course, the Internet of Things is worthless if you can’t manage it easily. Arduino has struck up a partnership with MyDevices to turn a bunch of low-bandwidth radio and serial connections into something easy to use. Already, we’ve seen a few builds and projects using MyDevices, but the demos I was shown were extremely easy to understand, even if there were far too many devices in the room.

All of this is great news if you’re working on the next great Internet of Things thing. The Primo Core is one of the smallest wireless microcontroller devices I’ve seen, and the addition of LoRa Arduino shields means we may actually see useful low-bandwidth networks in the very near future.