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Chemical "Infofuses" Communicate Without Electricity

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the can-you-see-me-now dept.

Communications 115

Al writes "Researchers at Harvard and Tufts University have developed a way to send coded messages without using electricity. David Walt, professor of chemistry at Tufts, and Harvard's George Whitesides have developed 'infofuses' that can transmit information simply by burning. The fuses — metallic salts depositing on a nitrocellulose strand — emit pulses of infrared and visible light of different colors whose sequence encodes information. They were developed in response to a call from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for technologies to allow soldiers stranded without a power source to communicate. In the first demonstration of the idea, they used the infofuses to transmit the message look mom no electricity." Currently the researchers are "trying to figure out a way to dynamically encode a message on the fly in the field without specialized equipment."

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Tarps, flags, semaphore, mirrors.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101091)

There's plenty of ways already documented. For this, we needed DARPA?

Re:Tarps, flags, semaphore, mirrors.... (0, Offtopic)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101281)

There's plenty of ways already documented. For this, we needed DARPA?

I liked the one that found out that men and women think differently [livescience.com] .

War is king in the U.S., or actually a dictator. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101507)

United States government: Any amount of money for war.

Re:Tarps, flags, semaphore, mirrors.... (4, Insightful)

fooslacker (961470) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101579)

Maybe I'm feeding the trolls but perhaps the key is that it's not a giant flag telling the enemy where you are down behind enemy lines. Maybe the fact that it's IR and can be activated when you hear your rescue run coming could have something to do with the fact that DARPA finds value in it.

Re:Tarps, flags, semaphore, mirrors.... (2, Interesting)

fooslacker (961470) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101649)

Reading between the lines of the article it's apparently something that can be read by a remote sensor which means if you can attach that to a computer you make it perhaps even more useful in a rescue scenario where a small light rather than a big fire or flag is used to signal in the cavalry or air cavalry as the case may be.

... Smoke signals? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101101)

I wonder how much DARPA paid for this innovative research into centuries-old techniques.

Re:... Smoke signals? (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101615)

I wonder how much DARPA paid for this innovative research into centuries-old techniques.

Nothing. Once again the Native American gets screwed and is forced to run casinos instead.

troll penis (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101105)

Uninstall linux [youtube.com]

GI Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Smoke Signal (2, Insightful)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101141)

Smoke signals... in color.

Morse code... without electricity.

In order to communicate effectively without electricity, it makes sense to look back to the time before electricity.

As for coding-messages-on-the-fly for the flare o' many colors, what kind of data density are they looking for? Wafers of colored fuel could be dropped into a tube that is then sealed for burning.

Or, they could just figure out a way to send morse code with a flare... maybe some kind of retractable hood to be used as an interrupt?

hand cranked flashlight (2, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101333)

in the end, why would a hand cranked flashlight not be better. maybe one of the shake up ones.

Re:hand cranked flashlight (3, Informative)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101603)

Well, after I RTFA (sacrilege, I know), the point would seem to be data density. The signals are read by a CCD, not by a human interpreter, though I'm sure there is decent software out their for parsing morse code. It takes a while to send morse code signals if you're not in good practice, and the whole time you're sending the signal you're vulnerable. So the signal "fuse" has the advantage of transmitting an encoded message faster than most people using morse code could.

It's odd that the receiver is expected to have electricity, but not the sender... I really wonder about the utility if the electricity requirement is still there for one party.

Re:hand cranked flashlight (3, Insightful)

sortius_nod (1080919) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101969)

This is the same thing I was thinking of. Is it really any use as the receiver needs to have at least a camera and laptop, or some specialised decoder device to even make this usable.

While the technology seems neat, it also seems a bit more like a weekend project of someone with an inkjet printer and some chemicals. Did it really require funding from DARPA? I'd hazard a guess and say "no".

Re:hand cranked flashlight (2, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102481)

It's odd that the receiver is expected to have electricity, but not the sender... I really wonder about the utility if the electricity requirement is still there for one party.

You can do a lot with drones nowadays.
And I can't imagine they'd use anything else since the max range they expect is 1.5km

Re:hand cranked flashlight (3, Interesting)

mikael (484) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102859)

I guess if they have a airman down in hostile territory with the enemy having access to frequency monitoring equipment, how does the person transmit his coordinates without broadcasting anything.

Reminds me of those experiments that we used to to do in cub scouts - sticking a small mirror onto a thin sheet of clingfilm and watching how sound waves changed the direction of reflected light - to demonstrate how sound was just air moving rapidly.

Re:hand cranked flashlight (1)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 5 years ago | (#28103093)

if you have a hand cranked battery you don't need to send hand pulsed morse. You could have interface to let you key it in ahead of time then transmit it in a burst. Such an interface could in fact be a single button. You morse code it in slowly, then it time compresses it to a rapid modulation of the light. repeats it many times, etc... give it's powered now you might even be able to implement a receiver.

Re:hand cranked flashlight (1)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28104683)

Some flashlights can signal satellites. I've made fuse and pulsed some flash powder mixture which should be even more intense. I think their idea is pretty cool and even something simple like SOS would be of use.

Re:GI Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Smoke Sig (2, Funny)

nizo (81281) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101335)

How about an inexpensive crank flashlight with a morse code key engraved on it?

On the upside, not only would you not need matches, but you could use it as a flashlight.

Re:GI Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Smoke Sig (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101555)

hahaha

This is the military.

Scratch out 'cheap' and/or 'inexpensive'.

Personally, something small like a lighter might be better than matches (get wet, quite susceptible to weather, don't last long [individually]) or a hand-powered flashlight (a lot bulkier).

Now, the flashlight certainly would have more uses in general, but it's all about tradeoffs, as there is a physical limit to how much crap a person can carry in the field.

Re:GI Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Smoke Sig (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101785)

"In order to communicate effectively without electricity, it makes sense to look back to the time before electricity."

Even now there are still railways that give their trains every signal with mechanical means.

P.S. Not to mention, even the most sophisticated aircraft gets hand signals at the very end before you get out.

Re:GI Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Smoke Sig (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102217)

Even now there are still railways that give their trains every signal with mechanical means.

Including pyrotechnical devices not completely unlike the one in TFA. As a last resort/backup method, train crews can lay things called torpedoes on the track. They explode when a train runs over them giving the engineer a warning that there's danger ahead. Most railroads have a distinctive pattern they use when setting the torpedoes to avoid false signals from backfires, firecrackers etc.

Re:GI Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Smoke Sig (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102255)

Ahmed, where is the stranded soldier hiding? And what the hell is that colored flashing light on the side of this hill?

i believe tcp/ip was ported to passenger pigeons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28102307)

too bad they went extinct. i guess all those filthy hippies and poets were right after all.

In other news... (4, Funny)

kpainter (901021) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101147)

DARPA researchers discover messages can be transmitted using nothing more than a simple mirror.

Re:In other news... (2, Funny)

youn (1516637) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101457)

In other news... IBM Creates a reflection group to adopt SmokeSignalXML 2.0 standard and geek adapts system to read slashdot via a new nifty system called FireRSS. A Native American signal artisans reflect about his doubts of the new system, "It's like the old smoke system... except you have to use an inkjet printer to encode the message... you also need a power supply to print the stuff... you might as well use a flash light"

Re:In other news... (2, Funny)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101655)

Soon after...

Microsoft announces "Support" for the SmokeSignalXML 2.0 standard in IE 12.3

Microsofts version of the standard isn't quite fully standard compliant but is touting itself to be "Better than the standard." Microsoft has also announced that The full office suite is moving to the new MS / SmokeSignalXML 2.0 standard and that windows 9 will now use it in all its apps even notepad.

Re:In other news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28102249)

SmokeSignal Broadcasting Inc. would sue IBM over trademark infringement.

Re:In other news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28105693)

I just patented this. Use with out licensing it from me at your peril.

Flapping Lanterns (2, Funny)

Baby Duck (176251) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101159)

One if by land, two if by sea

Re:Flapping Lanterns (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101451)

>One if by land, two if by sea

Which explains how Pearl Harbour happened. They didn't upgrade their signalling to keep pace with Japanese technology.

obviously "three if by air" should have been the next logical step. Perhaps "four if by space" and "five if by stargate"?

Re:Flapping Lanterns (1)

VGPowerlord (621254) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102815)

How about 6 for mole people from underground?

cause... (4, Interesting)

Random2 (1412773) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101197)

cause, you know...sending smoke signals when stranded in enemy territory is really going to help you....

Re:cause... (3, Funny)

rbrausse (1319883) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101237)

depends. a mushroom cloud keeps foes away.

Re:cause... (2, Funny)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101455)

depends. a mushroom cloud keeps foes away.

Reminds me what my mentor said about a heart surgery he had: "Under certain circumstances that's a good thing, but only if you do it to others."

...Why? (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101211)

Aren't smoke signals and flashing light based communication inferior to electricity? How would you encode a message into a fuse without the use of some electrical device? Wouldn't that mean they have to be pre-determined messages before put into the field? I'm sure I'm just not understanding the full symantics of how these things work. I mean, I thought the whole "Fire the Green Flares!" thing has worked pretty well when people don't have a radio.

Re:...Why? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101619)

From the picture accompaning the article, it looks like what they've done is taken a cord and soaked different parts of it in different chemicals, so that as it burned it gave off different colors. I can picture some sort of labelmaker device that spits out chem-coded lengths of fuse for creating arbitrary messages. It would'nt be all that hard.

Re:...Why? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#28103327)

But if you've got the power available to run the label maker ......

Re:...Why? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28104105)

What in the name of the nine worlds are you talking about? Label makers [salighthouse.org] don't use power [about.com] . You just turn the dial and squeeze the handle.

Re:...Why? (1)

WeblionX (675030) | more than 5 years ago | (#28104257)

You don't need power if you get the old dial ones.

Chk-chk-chk-chk-chk-chk Click.
chk-chk-chk-chk Click.
chk-chk-chk-chk-chk-chk-chk-...

Re:...Why? (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101645)

The Romans had no problems to send either "need more garum" or anything else a couple of thousand years ago with their signal towers.

Weird (5, Interesting)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101225)

Step 1, smoke a cigarette under a poncho. Step 2, light an "infofuse". Step 3, get shot in the face.

My Drill Sargent demonstrated how easy it is to spot someone smoking in the dark.

Is a crank-powered radio really out of the question? I mean, it would even work during the day.

-Peter

Re:Weird (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28102137)

not only is your name displayed above your post, a "signature" (usually used for something else entirely, but perfectly capable of being an actual signature) is automatically appended below your post.

Re:Weird (2, Funny)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102907)

They're planning for an invasion of the Waverlies, I guess.

Until the enemy learns to decode your smoke signal (1)

L3370 (1421413) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101243)

I'm sure enemy forces would love to see this technology used by their adversaries. Instant "come-get-me-with-your-guns" attention.

Re:Until the enemy learns to decode your smoke sig (2, Insightful)

fractoid (1076465) | more than 5 years ago | (#28105133)

I think that's kinda the point - that it's something that would be hard to detect compared to traditional radio, for the same reason that laser speed traps are harder to detect than radar speed traps. This would be a very brief flash, presumably fairly directional, that would only be detectable by someone who was explicitly looking for it.

Can't they... (1)

msauve (701917) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101273)

just talk to one another? I can communicate by talking and listening without needing electricity (unless you count synapse firings).

Oh, I see the article says "greater than 2 km." The US Navy still uses semaphores, and a (non-electric) lantern could be used for nighttime signaling. Duh. Where's my million dollar research grant?

Re:Can't they... (2, Insightful)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101701)

Using existing technologies in existing ways is not research. Using new technologies in existing ways is. I'm a big supporter of research for the sake of research and science for the sake of science. Would you really have wanted DARPA to cancel the arpnet, because the application they had in mind assumed the use of nuclear weapons?

Note: I think that may or may not be the case that the arpnet was sold as a means for communications to survive in the event of a nuclear strike. but anyway you get the point I'm trying to make. Sometimes the craziest, least practical seeming research results in the coolest stuff.

Re:Can't they... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28102273)

It's the ARPANET, not arpnet. And while that project provided funding for a piece of what later became the Internet, to imply that the Internet wouldn't exist without that support ignores reality. There was already significant research on packet switched networks. Commercial packet switched networks (e.g. X.25) long predated the rise of the modern Internet, and one can easily argue that acedemic networks (BITNET, NSFNET, CSNET, Merit, etc.) contributed at least as much to the Internet as ARPA.

Re:Can't they... (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102511)

Ok, why were the academic networks funded? The point I was trying to make was not necessarily related to DARPA in specific just that general long term research, even if it doesn't seem like its going to have any immediate benefit should be funded.

Of course it should... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28103521)

but not by the government using the threat of force to extort payments from taxpayers.

When is the last time you mailed a check to fund research?

Re:Of course it should... (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 5 years ago | (#28104973)

Jigga - wha? Threat of force? I'm not even sure what you are talking about. But to answer your question, last November I donated a small amount to my alma matter to be used for basic research in the area of particle physics.

Classified Military Secret Revealed: +1, Seditious (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101277)

Smoke signals!

Yours In Peace,
K. Trout, Peace ACTIVIST

Darpa keeps reinventing the wheel (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101371)

DARPA keeps reinventing the wheel. Isn't it simpler to use a portable hand cranked generator to power a normal radio using spread spectrum communications? Using spread spectrum gives reasonable safety level and hand cranked generator is power source which works as long as you have hands. This solution is so obvious, that it amazes me why DARPA would even think of something else.

Re:Darpa keeps reinventing the wheel (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101421)

I'm a handless soldier you insensitive clod!

Re:Darpa keeps reinventing the wheel (1)

stoffer_k (1562849) | more than 5 years ago | (#28103393)

I rather meant that the crank handle would be rather useless if you hands are injured, blown or like. But then you can grab the crank handle with your teeth. Other solution would be building a damn cool RFID embedded into the dog tag. It could be read from a an overflying aircraft. RFIDs can be be actually designed to be read from decent distance. Of course the RFID has very limited power, so encryption would be weak.

Re:Darpa keeps reinventing the wheel (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 5 years ago | (#28104495)

Any RFID tag that can pump out a signal big enough to be seen by an overflying aircraft, is a nice beacon which can be used to radio-locate your soldier's chest. Snipers are sure to love this idea! Oh wait, this is bad.

Re:Darpa keeps reinventing the wheel (1)

koona (920057) | more than 5 years ago | (#28105681)

We are geniui: An RFID tag in the dogtag, that can pump out a signal big enough to be seen by an overflying aircraft BUT...with a set of contacts to short out, to activate a pre coded burst of info..

You first saw it right here.

Doesn't seem terribly practical. (3, Interesting)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101389)

So it only transmits 2 km, and presumably someone has to be looking in the right direction to receive your signal, and you need some kind of special equipment to encode a long message. This just looks like the wrong approach. It seems to me there's always a trade-off between distance, information transmitted, and signal power (a rough restating of Shannon/Hartley). I don't know how far flares can be seen, but that's already a chemical means of sending a short message a limited distance.

One thing that might be interesting, the ability to produce a powerful radio signal by some chemical means. You wouldn't be able to transmit much information beyond say "help!", but if you had a satellite in geo-stationary orbit looking for these signals (and somehow triangulating the position) that might solve the "has to be someone looking" problem. Whether there are chemical reactions that produce radio signals, I have no idea.

Re:Doesn't seem terribly practical. (4, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101513)

One thing that might be interesting, the ability to produce a powerful radio signal by some chemical means.

It's called a battery. You hook it up to your walkie-talkie, and away you go.

Re:Doesn't seem terribly practical. (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101847)


It's called a battery. You hook it up to your walkie-talkie, and away you go.

Which involves electronics, which DARPA specifically didn't want.

Re:Doesn't seem terribly practical. (1)

VGPowerlord (621254) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102977)

Which involves electronics, which DARPA specifically didn't want.

Remind me again: How are they decoding this signal? I'm pretty sure I saw mention of a CCD [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Doesn't seem terribly practical. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28103041)


It's called a battery. You hook it up to your walkie-talkie, and away you go.

Which involves electronics, which DARPA specifically didn't want.

Really?

They were developed in response to a call from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for technologies to allow soldiers stranded without a power source to communicate.,

That says no POWER SOURCE. So technically the thing in the article does NOT meet this requirement, as the power source is from an internal chemical reaction.

What DARPA is looking for, is a method for soldiers to communicate when stranded with no resources. Which means it needs to be COVERT.

This method is interesting because if they can isolate it to infrared light spectrum only, then it's a lot safer to pop off such an "invisible" flare since your average enemy won't notice it.

But this still is only half the challenge, the soldiers need to communicate, not simply shout for help, we have GPS locators that can do that just fine.

The only way I can think that this would work is a type of magnetic resonance device which draws its power from the broadcast station in order to "retransmit". The right frequency wave would cause the item to resonate which could then in turn be picked up by a receiving tower. Essentially the same principle that radar and some of those newer RFID tag work on.

Re:Doesn't seem terribly practical. (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 5 years ago | (#28103771)


Really?

Yup, really. Here's the quote from the article.

DARPA wanted "something that doesn't require any electronics or heavy equipment to lug around," says Walt.


Which means it needs to be COVERT.

I read the whole article again, and nowhere does it say the communication needs to be covert. It does say "encoded", but that has nothing to do with covert.

You might want to re-read the article again (assuming you did in the first place). You seem to be making several errors about its content.

Re:Doesn't seem terribly practical. (2, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101565)

One thing that might be interesting, the ability to produce a powerful radio signal by some chemical means

Like a battery? Nope, never gonna happen. Too complex and dangerous.

I'm curious... (1)

gbutler69 (910166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102973)

How many people responding have actually performed tactical miltary maneuvers in the field? Because, if you haven't, it would explain a lot of the silly comments of the kind, "...someone has to be looking in the right direction...blah...blah...blah..."

Re:Doesn't seem terribly practical. (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#28104281)

Purely chemical... no, sorry, can't think of one. Would you settle for nuclear?

Chicken eggs (1)

Tired and Emotional (750842) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101411)

You give each soldier a set of (fertile) chicken eggs, wrapped in bubble wrap.

When they want to send a message, they hatch an egg, and then tie the message to one of the chicken's legs before sending it flying back to base (I forgot to say they are also issued a catapult)

Probably no less plausible an approach than these "infofuses".

Re:Chicken eggs (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102033)

Shit, if you're going to catapult the chick back, why don't you just catapult the soldier back so he can tell the commander himself?

Re:Chicken eggs (0, Troll)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102061)

I see several flaws with this scenario: 1) Chicken's can't fly. 2) Even homing pigeons can't return to somewhere they've never been before, and 3) the hatched chicks would be dinner for someone long before they matured to the point where they could carry a message. I've got a much better scheme: Use 2 parabolic acoustical reflectors pointed directly at each other. One person speaks at the focal point of one reflector, while the other listens at the focal point of the other. Works for 2 way communication. Only potential problem: It may require a laser to line up the reflectors.

Re:Chicken eggs (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102503)

I see several flaws with this scenario:

Wow. Nothing gets by you. You're like Dwight Howard, James Harrison, Martin Brodeur, Johnny Bench, and an East German Guard all rolled into one amazing nothing-gets-by-me package.

Wise Heroes Offer Options Only Obtuse Obstinate Slashdotters Hate.

Old tech (1)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101419)

Hmm. Infrared and visible-light pulses. No electricity. Needs to have a message encoded on-the-fly in the field. That sounds an awful lot like a small lantern with an oil wick or candle burning in it and a shutter to conceal or reveal the light/heat source at will. We could even use Morse code. All you'd need is an ignition source to light the lamp. Matches would work, or steel-and-flint to light a small piece of tinder scavenged from the surroundings.

Re:Old tech (1)

wolf12886 (1206182) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101977)

The new "infofuse" satisfies the militaries desire to replace emergency Morse code lamps which are considered unfit for military use in that they are neither extremely expensive, awkward to use or proprietary.

The new equipment is expected to be welcomed by troops later this year when it will issued along with the militaries new grid based individual communication radios or gbicr's for short.

The 50 billion dollar gbicr system will allow an individual soldiers to communicate with any other soldier by simply punching the recipients unique 31 digit alphanumeric identification code into the device and speaking with them via the devices built in speaker and microphone. Through extensive use of advanced nanomaterials, the finished device is expected to be as small in size and weight as an average house brick.

Lets get something straight here.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101439)

To all the morons who didn't RTFA, infofuses send infrared light, e.g. not visible to the naked eye. Please stop suggesting this is as stupid as sending a smoke signal in enemy territory.

What I find idiotic though, is that they're going to all this effort to create a technology which requires you to carry around lots of extra dead weight of salt and the equipment to communicate with it.

They could just simply invent an electronic signaling device that is powered by the kinetic or electric energy generated by your body. Especially since these soldiers do a lot of long hikes with heavy packs on their backs, the amount of energy generated would be substantial. A piezoelectric doodad in the sole of their boots recharging a couple of rechargeable AA batteries would do. The technology to pull this off has been around for a long time and it is really cheap and easy.

My congrats go to the DoD for coming up with a solution that costs a couple million per soldier, when I just handed them a solution that costs a few dollars per soldier and took me less than a minute to think up. Way to innovate.

On the bright side they came up with a technology that I'm sure will find its way into the private sector at some point and be useful somewhere, somehow.

Re:Lets get something straight here.... (1)

harryandthehenderson (1559721) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101517)

They could just simply invent an electronic signaling device that is powered by the kinetic or electric energy generated by your body.

They already did. It's called a hand-crank radio.

Re:Lets get something straight here.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101599)

Ah, I looked at the article again and they do mention that they give off different color light in addition to infrared. Sorry about that.

It's a DARPA project. (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101967)

My congrats go to the DoD for coming up with a solution that costs a couple million per soldier, when I just handed them a solution that costs a few dollars per soldier and took me less than a minute to think up. Way to innovate.

Look, this is a DARPA funded project. So it might seem like they are stupid for not thinking of obvious solutions like yours, but they're simply not allowed to under DoD rules. The AR in DARPA stands for Advanced Research. DFORPA is the DoD agency you're looking for (the O stands for Obvious). They don't give much in the way of grants, so you may be smarter than the DoD, but those Harvard and Tufts researchers are the real geniuses here. :)

Re:Lets get something straight here.... (1)

BeaverCleaver (673164) | more than 5 years ago | (#28103907)

Infra-red is hardly invisible though, more like "security through obscurity." For example, cheap night-vison goggles can detect IR, as can cheap, off-the-shelf digital cameras or web-cams. None of this is high-tech, or only available to the military... Even if you live in a cave in the desert, if you can afford an AK47 and some ammunition, you can probably get your hands on something that will detect a soldier's info-fuse.

You can also verfy this easily by pointing a TV remote at a webcam or camcorder. Unless the camera has *very* good filtering, you'll be able to see the LED on the remote flickering.

Can I have a big government grant now please?

Sent message "x" (2, Insightful)

noidentity (188756) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101491)

In the first demonstration of the idea, they used the infofuses to transmit the message "look mom no electricity".

Said message could be sent with a single flash [wikipedia.org] , if that's the only message they might send. The question is how many other possible messages they could have sent. For example, if they sent this as 7-bit ASCII, it'd be more impressive, though some kind of Huffman encoding [wikipedia.org] would be most appropriate.

New version of Old tech. (2, Interesting)

meerling (1487879) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101541)

It's not much more than a new version of signal mirrors, heliograph, signal fires, etc. Even a minor power source (such as a hand operated generator) would allow a radio to outperform infofuses.

The only reason I see for this item, is when you are someplace electricity doesn't work. Of course, then the sensor package used to read the infofuse signal would need power also, and be within 1.5km/0.9 miles. Guess it's not really that good in an EMP field.

Of course, what about the gear to encode the message?
They are trying to make it simpler and smaller, but it doesn't sound like it's going to be an easy piece of gear to run without electricity. Of course, the troops could be sent out with a packet of pre-recorded messages. Or maybe just extra batteries for their radios...

Maybe I'm being a little hypercritical, but it seems as if they are trying to solve a non-existent problem with an overcomplicated solution.
(Kind of like trying to move the 15' from your parking space to the mailbox when you don't have your car keys but think you can hotwire the car with a screwdriver... Just walk over there stupid!)


Here's another idea, give the troopies binoculars and semaphore flags. Of course they'd then have to be trained in semaphore, but it's technology that's available and works without electricity, even after your choice of nuclear apocalypse or alien invasion.

Re:New version of Old tech. (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102181)

They could just give you a tube full of infofuses encoded with the letters of the alphabet, plus some specialized messages. Just picture the infofuse being like a twist tie. You would take the letters you need, twist them together end to end to form your word, and light it. Or better yet, a roll of blank infofuse tape, a magic marker that produces a different colored flame, and a morse code card. You write the morse code onto the tape using the magic marker, and light it. You could even have a marker that places a slow, smoldering burn ink on the fuse. That way, you could set off the fuse, and "get the hell out of Dodge", then, fifteen minutes later when the message starts flashing, you're two or three klicks away.

Re:New version of Old tech. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28103061)

There are more than 100 possible messages that could be sent by ordering 5 fuses to match a message from a book (perhaps twice, to make sure). Hopefully, that would be enough, and it be equal to the bulk required to spell out "Help!" using characters (well, discounting the paper, but that wouldn't have to be huge).

Re:New version of Old tech. (1)

Faerunner (1077423) | more than 5 years ago | (#28103647)

I see nothing wrong with handing them several small jars of powdered chemicals and a fine paintbrush. Just add whatever liquid is handy - spit would probably do in desert warfare, but other places might have water available. Paint your stripes on the infofuse any way you like. A small field manual (laminated business-card size) would probably be enough info to help a soldier transmit all kinds of messages.

Extra battery? (2, Insightful)

archer, the (887288) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101553)

Which would you rather add to your pack? A pound of flammable material, or a half-pound radio/battery with a half-pound hand-cranked generator?

Re:Extra battery? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28103075)

It depends...
Is the battery made by Sony?

Existing methods. (1)

SloWave (52801) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101623)

>Currently the researchers are "trying to figure out a way to dynamically encode a message on the fly in >the field without specialized equipment."

What about semaphore flags, signal lanterns, smoke signals, mirrors, shouting real loud etc?

combat engineering (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101659)

> In the first demonstration of the idea, they used the infofuses to transmit the message look mom no electricity.

In other news, researchers developed a communication device for combat engineering. The first message they transmitted was "look mom no hands".

Practicality Aside, Maybe This Way (1)

tanmanX (1275146) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101801)

After glancing at the article, this idea came to mind: For field use, a sort of Vertical Typewriter in three pieces. The "writer" itself would be a vertical tube with little pushers filled with an amount of powder. Attaching to this tube at the bottom would be the message holder, where the bits of powder would rest. The third piece would be a tamper to tighten the whole thing up so it doesn't spill out. The message holders would have to be strong enough to hold the compressed power, but be "inconsequential" enough to burn with little to no light output of interest, or just have the reader calibrated to subtract what it itself puts out. Powder amount Vs letter frequencies and numbers aside, it seems like it would work.

mod d0wn (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28101823)

noises out 0f 7he

Seems silly. (1)

BigZaphod (12942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28101993)

This doesn't seem like a significant improvement over, say, carrying a pencil or marker, some paper, and a flare. Write message on paper, strike flare, hold up paper, and hope the good guys have a pair of binoculars handy and happen to notice you.

It seems like if you got into a situation where you couldn't use electronics but were close enough for someone else to see you and you didn't care if the enemy sees you, either, the set of messages would be pretty small. Probably mostly along the lines of, "OH SHIT! SEND TANK!"

No need to bother allowing dynamic encoding (3, Funny)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102075)

You only need to have one preset message:

"Enemy advancing on current position."

I'm patenting a countermeasure (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102091)

I'm pretty sure this signal could be jammed with a few wet branches and a match...

Possible Application (1)

Cousarr (1117563) | more than 5 years ago | (#28102769)

The only application where infofuses would actually outperform other forms of communication I can come up with is the transmission of a message from a location other than where the sender is located with little complication. Simply attach a normal long delay fuse to an infofuse atop a high structure such that it will light the infofuse at a predetermined time when someone will be looking. Essentially a data drop-off point. I can imagine several espionage scenarios where this could be useful. It would be much more difficult and noticeable to rig a lantern, semaphore, or radio system to do the same thing. It also beats dropping off a one-time pad encrypted note in that the receiver of the message is not required to be in physical contact with the message. In addition there's the prospect of signal interception or discovery. With some mechanical lantern or semaphore system the apparatus would likely have to remain after the message was sent, allowing for the possibility of reverse engineering the device to determine what message was sent. Once an infofuse burns up the best you can do is determine what signals were sent but not in what order.

Binary Encoding (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#28103167)

Pope | No Pope.

Encoding (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#28103599)

So lets say they've got all the other objections to this technology ironed out, like "why not a hand-cranked radio, or flashlight".

Currently the researchers are "trying to figure out a way to dynamically encode a message on the fly in the field without specialized equipment."

Simple. You hang this fuse up in a tree (or something) by both ends and then light one marked point along its length corresponding to some prearranged signal.

Semaphore, anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28104297)

Semaphore works at that range without the need do exactingly arrange a sequence of chemicals (let alone have some sort of -- presumably -- electricity-powered detector and processor on the other end to interpret the burning. It even scales up nicely: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semaphore_line

no battery (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 5 years ago | (#28104525)

Tritium. There, solved the energy source problem for you.

2 word solution: (1)

smallshot (1202439) | more than 5 years ago | (#28104737)

Spare Battery.

I don't see how being stranded without a power source (after using up a spare battery) is any different than being stranded without a chemical source (after using up the chemicals).

They could always carry a hand crank charger instead. I'd like to see one of those to recharge the chemical communication device.

Tripwire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28104803)

Electronic signals can be jammed. Electronics can be duded with a pulse. Batteries run down, and charging systems can be interfered with.

I envision a system that's fairly passive, such as a landmine or tripwire that would trigger with a specific message. This trigger could remain in place unattended and without maintenance for months or years, until activated. It then sends out a location, type of alert, and priority. It's picked up by a UAV, satellite, or other system, and relayed. Enclosing the light from unwanted directions makes it harder for the enemy to detect. Non-visible spectrum is even better.

Just my two cents. Hmm, there's someone at the Doo$%^

Gentlemen..... (1)

ZosX (517789) | more than 5 years ago | (#28104825)

We have discovered the sparkler!

What it's for? (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#28105349)

IR does not make the flare invisible. IR scopes have been around since WWII and are readily available and dirt cheap now. What is visible to the good guys will be visible to the bad guys - and all the bad guys need to know is where you have found cover.
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