Archive for the ‘SCI-TECH’ Category

America Can’t Afford to Lose the Artificial Intelligence War

August 21, 2017 Leave a comment

The United States must rededicate itself to being the first in the field of AI.


Today, the question of artificial intelligence (AI) and its role in future warfare is becoming far more salient and dramatic than ever before. Rapid progress in driverless cars in the civilian economy has helped us all see what may become possible in the realm of conflict. All of a sudden, it seems, terminators are no longer the stuff of exotic and entertaining science-fiction movies, but a real possibility in the minds of some. Innovator Elon Musk warns that we need to start thinking about how to regulate AI before it destroys most human jobs and raises the risk of war.

It is good that we start to think this way. Policy schools need to start making AI a central part of their curriculums; ethicists and others need to debate the pros and cons of various hypothetical inventions before the hypothetical becomes real; military establishments need to develop innovation strategies that wrestle with the subject. However, we do not believe that AI can or should be stopped dead in its tracks now; for the next stage of progress, at least, the United States must rededicate itself to being the first in this field.

First, a bit of perspective. AI is of course not entirely new. Remotely piloted vehicles may not really qualify—after all, they are humanly, if remotely, piloted. But cruise missiles already fly to an aimpoint and detonate their warheads automatically. So would nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles, if God forbid nuclear-tipped ICBMs or SLBMs were ever launched in combat. Semi-autonomous systems are already in use on the battlefield, like the U.S. Navy Phalanx Close-In Weapons System, which is “capable of autonomously performing its own search, detect, evaluation, track, engage, and kill assessment functions,” according to the official Defense Department description, along with various other fire-and-forget missile systems.

But what is coming are technologies that can learn on the job—not simply follow prepared plans or detailed algorithms for detecting targets, but develop their own information and their own guidelines for action based on conditions they encounter that were not initially foreseeable in specific.

A case in point is what our colleague at Brookings, retired Gen. John Allen, calls “hyperwar.” He develops the idea in a new article in the journal Proceedings, coauthored with Amir Husain. They imagine swarms of self-propelled munitions that, in attacking a given target, deduce patterns of behavior of the target’s defenses and find ways to circumvent them, aware all along of the capabilities and coordinates of their teammates in the attack (the other self-propelled munitions). This is indeed about the place where the word “robotics” seems no longer to do justice to what is happening, since that term implies a largely prescripted process or series of actions. What happens in hyperwar is not only fundamentally adaptive, but also so fast that it far supercedes what could be accomplished by any weapons system with humans in the loop. Other authors, such as former Brookings scholar Peter Singer, have written about related technologies, in a partly fictional sense. Now, Allen and Husain are not just seeing into the future, but laying out a near-term agenda for defense innovation.

The United States needs to move expeditiously down this path. People have reasons to fear fully autonomous weaponry, but if a Terminator-like entity is what they are thinking of, their worries are premature. That software technology is still decades away, at the earliest, along with the required hardware. However, what will be available sooner is technology that will be able to decide what or who is a target—based on the specific rules laid out by the programmer of the software, which could be highly conservative and restrictive—and fire upon that target without any human input.

To see why outright bans on AI activities would not make sense, consider a simple analogy. Despite many states having signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a ban on the use and further development of nuclear weapons, the treaty has not prevented North Korea from building a nuclear arsenal. But at least we have our own nuclear arsenal with which we can attempt to deter other such countries, a tactic that has been generally successful to date. A preemptive ban on AI development would not be in the United States’ best interest because non-state actors and noncompliant states could still develop it, leaving the United States and its allies behind. The ban would not be verifiable and it could therefore amount to unilateral disarmament. If Western countries decided to ban fully autonomous weaponry and a North Korea fielded it in battle, it would create a highly fraught and dangerous situation.

To be sure, we need the debate about AI’s longer-term future, and we need it now. But we also need the next generation of autonomous systems—and America has a strong interest in getting them first.

Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Robert Karlen is a student at the University of Washington and an intern in the Center for Twenty-First Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution.

Image: Reuters

Development and launch of centimeter accurate enhanced GPS with realtime correction

August 21, 2017 Leave a comment

The Japanese government is eyeing 2020 to begin promoting exports of a GPS technology accurate to a several centimeters. This should help services that need pinpoint accuracy clamoring for the system.

An H-IIA rocket carrying the Michibiki No. 3 quasi-zenith satellite blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan.

Japan’s improved GPS is expected to prompt the development of a range of services in sectors from autonomous driving to cargo management.

The planned launch of Michibiki No. 4 in October, if successful, will complete a four-satellite constellation. That is enough for one of the satellites to be above much of Asia, including Japan, at all times. Services in the region that adopt the system will be able to rely on the constellation 24 hours a day.

New positioning service promises pinpoint accuracy in Asia.

Tokyo also plans to engage the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in talks to seek ways for its members to use the new system.

Japan’s Quazi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) is designed to augment Japan’s use of the U.S.-operated Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite service. By precisely correcting GPS signal errors, QZSS can provide more accurate and reliable positioning, navigation, and timing services.

The four satellites will follow an orbit that, from the perspective of a person in Japan, traces an asymmetrical figure eight in the sky. While the orbit extends as far south as Australia at its widest arc, it is designed to narrow its path over Japan so that at least one satellite is always in view high in the sky—hence the name quasi-zenith. This will enable users in even the shadowed urban canyons of Tokyo to receive the system’s error-correcting signals.

To correct the errors, a master control center compares the satellite’s signals received by the reference stations with the distance between the stations and the satellite’s predicted location. These corrected components are compressed from an overall 2-megabit-per-second data rate to 2 kilobits per second and transmitted to the satellite, which then broadcasts them to users’ receivers.

In QZS-1 trial tests, Yasumitsu notes that the average accuracy is about 1.3 centimeters horizontally and 2.9 cm vertically.

There are other competing centimeter accurate positioning systems.

Real time kinematics

High precision positioning can be achieved by combining Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and BeiDou, with Real Time Kinematics (RTK) technology. RTK is a technique that uses the receiver’s measurements from the phase of the signal’s carrier wave. These measurements combined with corrections from a local “base” station or virtual base station, allow the receiver to solve carrier ambiguities and provide cm‑level accurate position information to the end‑user, a moving device, typically is referred to as the “rover”.

The demand for lower priced high precision technology is growing rapidly, as evident in the areas of precision agriculture, UAVs, and robotic lawnmowers. However, due to size, power, and cost restrictions, existing high precision solutions have been unable to meet the demands of these markets. u‑blox has developed the recently launched NEO‑M8P to meet these growing demands. Together with u‑blox’s GNSS expertise and the implementation of RTK technology, the NEO‑M8P provides centimeter‑level precision for the mass market

Swiftnav Duro™ is a ruggedized version of the Piksi® Multi RTK GNSS receiver. Built to be tough, Duro is ideal for agricultural, robotics, maritime and outdoor industrial applications. Duro is designed for integration into your existing equipment. This easy-to-deploy GNSS sensor is protected against weather, moisture, vibration and the unexpected that can occur in outdoor long-term deployments.

Centimeter-Level Accuracy for autonomous devices. Self driving vehicles require precise navigation—especially those that perform critical functions. Swift Navigation’s Piksi Multi module within Duro utilizes real-time kinematics (RTK) technology, providing location solutions that are 100 times more accurate than traditional GPS.

The Swift Navigation’s Starling™ software navigation engine, running on top of Swift Navigation’s Piksi™ Multi Real Time Kinematics (RTK) GNSS Receiver hardware, receiving network corrections via cellular Internet. This system was tested in open-sky conditions on an 8-mile route in San Francisco, California. The circular error probability (CEP) was as follows—the CEP50 positional accuracy for the run was 1 cm and the CEP99 was 35 cm.

The Swift Navigation system improves robustness by providing excellent 99th percentile accuracy, not just 50th percentile accuracy, as is often quoted. The system also moves gracefully from the centimeter-accurate fixed RTK mode to the decimeter accurate float RTK mode, still providing substantially improved positioning performance in degraded signal conditions.

Centimeter-Scale GPS for Europe

The U.S.-operated Global Positioning System (GPS) is accurate only to about 10 meters, while Europe’s corresponding Galileo system, with 18 of its 24 satellites currently in orbit, has an accuracy of 1 meter. Yet even 1-meter accuracy is not sufficiently precise when it comes to ensuring that autonomous vehicles, for example, maintain safe lane positioning and avoid certain obstacles.

Germany’s Bosch and Geo++, U-blox of Switzerland, and Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric announced the establishment of Sapcorda Services last Tuesday, a joint venture to provide global navigation satellite system (GNSS) positioning services of centimeter-level accuracy via satellite transmission, mobile cellular technology, and the Internet.

Sapcorda plans to augment GPS and Galileo positioning data in Europe by employing surveyed reference stations on the ground. These stations will monitor satellite signal errors, especially errors caused by the ionosphere and the troposphere, which can bend a satellite’s signal. The stations will send the data via the Internet to a master control center that corrects the errors and transmits the results back to the satellite and also to mobile cell towers for broadcasting to user terminals.

Wal-Mart Applies for Patent for Blimp-Style Floating Warehouse

August 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has opened a new front in its battle with Inc.

The world’s largest retailer has applied for a U.S. patent for a floating warehouse that could make deliveries via drones, which would bring products from the aircraft down to shoppers’ homes.

The blimp-style machine would fly at heights between 500 feet and 1,000 feet (as much as 305 meters), contain multiple launching bays, and be operated autonomously or by a remote human pilot. Amazon was granted a patent for a similar vessel in April 2016.

The migration to the skies represents the latest volley in a clash between Wal-Mart and Amazon to grab shoppers’ attention, loyalty and dollars. In the process, the companies are increasingly treading on the other’s turf: Amazon is opening physical stores and agreed to pay $13.7 billion for upscale grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, has beefed up its e-commerce business through acquisitions and offers like free two-day shipping.

An unmanned airborne warehouse — laden with drones — could help retailers lower the costs of fulfilling online orders, particularly the so-called “last mile” to a customer’s house, which is usually handled by a local or national logistics company. To avoid that expense, Wal-Mart and other retailers often encourage shoppers to pick up those orders at the store, where they might grab a few additional items. Earlier this week, Target Corp. agreed to acquire a software company that coordinates local deliveries.

“The core challenge of traffic and driving distance in any major city or in a very rural location can be helped by a floating warehouse,” said Brandon Fletcher, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. “Movable warehouses are a really nice idea because any flexible part of a logistics system allows it to be more efficient when demand varies wildly. The e-commerce world suffers from highly variable demand and more creative solutions are needed.”

A movable warehouse could serve a wider distribution area, Fletcher said, compared with a traditional warehouse that can only fill orders within a fixed driving distance. The airship could fly to one town and release a flock of drones to deliver packages, after which the drones would return to the vessel and restock while it flew to the next town. Such a system would be more efficient than having the drones fly back to a central distribution hub, according to research firm CB Insights.

“There are numerous ways to distribute and deliver products,” according to Wal-Mart’s patent application. “Getting the product to a delivery location, however, can cause undesirable delays, can add cost and reduce revenue.”

Wal-Mart’s application stands a good chance of getting approved as it goes into more detail about the implementation of a gas-filled aircraft than Amazon’s patent, which is a more general description of the concept of airborne-delivery systems, according to Khaled Fekih-Romdhane, managing partner at patent-licensing firm Longhorn IP.

This isn’t the first time Wal-Mart has shadowed Amazon’s intellectual property. In October, it filed a patent application for a web-based system similar to Amazon’s Dash buttons, which can quickly reorder household goods like paper towels or razor blades. The technology could also gather shopper data, such as how often a product is used and at what times of day.

In recent years, Wal-Mart has significantly stepped up its patent filings, many of which focus on web development and easing shoppers’ journey through the store. The company has also filed a patent for in-store drones that would ferry products from the backroom to the sales floor.

Transmission of video signals 100 times faster than fastest cellular network

August 13, 2017 Leave a comment

Researchers have demonstrated the transmission of two separate video signals through a terahertz multiplexer at a data rate more than 100 times faster than today’s fastest cellular data networks.

Multiplexing, the ability to send multiple signals through a single channel, is a fundamental feature of any voice or data communication system. An international research team has demonstrated for the first time a method for multiplexing data carried on terahertz waves, high-frequency radiation that may enable the next generation of ultra-high bandwidth wireless networks.

In the journal Nature Communications, the researchers report the transmission of two real-time video signals through a terahertz multiplexer at an aggregate data rate of 50 gigabits per second, approximately 100 times the optimal data rate of today’s fastest cellular network.

“We showed that we can transmit separate data streams on terahertz waves at very high speeds and with very low error rates,” said Daniel Mittleman, a professor in Brown’s School of Engineering and the paper’s corresponding author. “This is the first time anybody has characterized a terahertz multiplexing system using actual data, and our results show that our approach could be viable in future terahertz wireless networks.”

Current voice and data networks use microwaves to carry signals wirelessly. But the demand for data transmission is quickly becoming more than microwave networks can handle. Terahertz waves have higher frequencies than microwaves and therefore a much larger capacity to carry data. However, scientists have only just begun experimenting with terahertz frequencies, and many of the basic components necessary for terahertz communication don’t exist yet.

A system for multiplexing and demultiplexing (also known as mux/demux) is one of those basic components. It’s the technology that allows one cable to carry multiple TV channels or hundreds of users to access a wireless Wi-Fi network.

The mux/demux approach Mittleman and his colleagues developed uses two metal plates placed parallel to each other to form a waveguide. One of the plates has a slit cut into it. When terahertz waves travel through the waveguide, some of the radiation leaks out of the slit. The angle at which radiation beams escape is dependent upon the frequency of the wave.

“We can put several waves at several different frequencies — each of them carrying a data stream — into the waveguide, and they won’t interfere with each other because they’re different frequencies; that’s multiplexing,” Mittleman said. “Each of those frequencies leaks out of the slit at a different angle, separating the data streams; that’s demultiplexing.”

Because of the nature of terahertz waves, signals in terahertz communications networks will propagate as directional beams, not omnidirectional broadcasts like in existing wireless systems. This directional relationship between propagation angle and frequency is the key to enabling mux/demux in terahertz systems. A user at a particular location (and therefore at a particular angle from the multiplexing system) will communicate on a particular frequency.

In 2015, Mittleman’s lab first published a paper describing their waveguide concept. For that initial work, the team used a broadband terahertz light source to confirm that different frequencies did indeed emerge from the device at different angles.

While that was an effective proof of concept, Mittleman said, this latest work took the critical step of testing the device with real data.

Working with Guillaume Ducournau at Institut d’Electronique de Microélectronique et de Nanotechnologie, CNRS/University of Lille, in France, the researchers encoded two high-definition television broadcasts onto terahertz waves of two different frequencies: 264.7 GHz and 322.5 GHz. They then beamed both frequencies together into the multiplexer system, with a television receiver set to detect the signals as they emerged from the device. When the researchers aligned their receiver to the angle from which 264.7 GHz waves were emitted, they saw the first channel. When they aligned with 322.5 GHz, they saw the second.

Further experiments showed that transmissions were error-free up to 10 gigabits per second, which is much faster than today’s standard Wi-Fi speeds. Error rates increased somewhat when the speed was boosted to 50 gigabits per second (25 gigabits per channel), but were still well within the range that can be fixed using forward error correction, which is commonly used in today’s communications networks.

In addition to demonstrating that the device worked, Mittleman says the research revealed some surprising details about transmitting data on terahertz waves. When a terahertz wave is modulated to encode data — meaning turned on and off to make zeros and ones — the main wave is accompanied by sideband frequencies that also must be detected by a receiver in order to transmit all the data. The research showed that the angle of the detector with respect to the sidebands is important to keeping the error rate down.

“If the angle is a little off, we might be detecting the full power of the signal, but we’re receiving one sideband a little better than the other, which increases the error rate.” Mittleman explained. “So it’s important to have the angle right.”

Fundamental details like that will be critical, Mittleman said, when it comes time to start designing the architecture for complete terahertz data systems. “It’s something we didn’t expect, and it shows how important it is to characterize these systems using data rather than just an unmodulated radiation source.”

The researchers plan to continue developing this and other terahertz components. Mittleman recently received a license from the FCC to perform outdoor tests at terahertz frequencies on the Brown University campus.

Nature Communications – Terahertz time-gated spectral imaging for content extraction through layered structures


Spatial resolution, spectral contrast and occlusion are three major bottlenecks for non-invasive inspection of complex samples with current imaging technologies. We exploit the sub-picosecond time resolution along with spectral resolution provided by terahertz time-domain spectroscopy to computationally extract occluding content from layers whose thicknesses are wavelength comparable. The method uses the statistics of the reflected terahertz electric field at subwavelength gaps to lock into each layer position and then uses a time-gated spectral kurtosis to tune to highest spectral contrast of the content on that specific layer. To demonstrate, occluding textual content was successfully extracted from a packed stack of paper pages down to nine pages without human supervision. The method provides over an order of magnitude enhancement in the signal contrast and can impact inspection of structural defects in wooden objects, plastic components, composites, drugs and especially cultural artefacts with subwavelength or wavelength comparable layers.

Tesla’s New Solar Roof Actually Costs Less Than Traditional Roofs

August 12, 2017 Leave a comment

(True ActivistTesla has unveiled a new product in its quest to advance sustainable technology. Tesla’s Solar Roof is not designed for cars— it is for homes— and plans to be inexpensive, with a sleek, traditional appearance. The solar roof will add value to a home, and also become a major asset over the years as it saves money on household electricity.

Consumer Reports originally estimated the price tag at $24.50/ sq. ft., but surprisingly Tesla announced the tiles would be available for $21.85/sq. ft.— about 20% lower cost than a normal roof. Of course, there will be an additional charges for installation, etc., but Tesla seems dedicated to making the technology accessible.

“When you include the benefits of the solar production, Solar Roof will cost less than a regular roof.  In fact it may earn you money,” explains the Tesla website, “– as an example, the out-of-pocket cost of a Solar Roof for a typical home in Maryland will be around $52,000, but after considering the tax credit and the value of energy it generates, the roof will actually pay for itself and earn you about $8,000 over 30 years.”

This type of roof also offers protection against the type of blackouts and power outages that can disrupt daily life. The panels capture the energy, which is stored in a battery for use at night or anytime it is needed. The number of panels and size of Tesla Powerwall home battery will be determined based on factors such as if homeowners need to power an electric car nightly, or how much sunlight the location receives.

Tesla says about the revolutionary design on their website: “Made with tempered glass, Solar Roof tiles are more than three times stronger than standard roofing tiles, yet half the weight. They do not degrade over time like asphalt or concrete. Solar Roof is the most durable roof available and the glass itself will come with a warranty for the lifetime of your house, or infinity, whichever comes first.”

Using the roof qualifies a household for the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which promotes the use of solar energy by offering a 30% discount on personal income taxes. Since the instatement of the ITC in 2006, solar projects have grown exponentially nationwide.


Pouch of stem cells implanted in trial to cure type 1 diabetes

August 9, 2017 Leave a comment

brian wang |

Viacyte, privately-held, leading regenerative medicine company, announced today that the first patients have been implanted with the PEC-Direct™ product candidate, a novel islet cell replacement therapy in development as a functional cure for patients with type 1 diabetes who are at high risk for acute life-threatening complications. The first implant procedures of the clinical trial took place at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, and the UC San Diego School of Medicine’s Altman Clinical Trials Research Institute. The goal of the open-label clinical trial is to evaluate the PEC-Direct product candidate for safety and definitive evidence of efficacy. In the coming months, the company expects to expand the trial to additional centers including the University of Minnesota and other sites in the US and Canada.

The first cohort of type 1 diabetes patients is receiving multiple small-format cell-filled devices called sentinels in order to evaluate safety and implant viability. These sentinel units will be removed at specific time points and examined histologically to provide early insight into the progression of engraftment and maturation into pancreatic islet cells including insulin-producing beta cells. A second cohort of up to 40 patients is expected to begin enrolling later this year to evaluate both safety and efficacy. The primary efficacy measurement in the trial will be the clinically relevant production of insulin, as measured by the insulin biomarker C-peptide, in a patient population that has little to no ability to produce endogenous insulin at the time of enrollment. Other important endpoints will be evaluated including injectable insulin usage and the incidence of hypoglycemic events. ViaCyte’s goal is to demonstrate early evidence of efficacy in the first half of 2018 and definitive efficacy 6 to 12 months later.

“Islet transplants have been used to successfully treat patients with unstable, high-risk type 1 diabetes, but the procedure has limitations, including a very limited supply of donor organs and challenges in obtaining reliable and consistent islet preparations,” said trial investigator James Shapiro, MD, PhD, FRCSC, Director of the Clinical Islet Transplant Program, University of Alberta. “An effective stem cell-derived islet replacement therapy would solve these issues and has the potential to help a greater number of people.”

“Patients with high-risk type 1 diabetes complications, such as hypoglycemia unawareness, are at constant risk of life-threatening low blood glucose,” said Jeremy Pettus, MD, investigator in the clinical trial and Assistant Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego. “The PEC-Direct islet cell replacement therapy is designed to help patients with the most urgent medical need.”

The PEC-Direct product candidate is being developed for type 1 diabetes patients who have hypoglycemia unawareness, extreme glycemic lability, and/or severe hypoglycemic episodes. It is estimated that about 140,000 people in Canada and the US have such high-risk type 1 diabetes. In addition to providing an unlimited supply of cells for implantation, the PEC-Direct approach has other potential advantages relative to cadaver islet transplants such as delivering a more consistent product preparation under quality-controlled cGMP conditions, and a more straightforward and safe mode of delivery.

The clinical trial is being supported in part by JDRF, the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes research. “JDRF remains dedicated to accelerating the delivery of beta cell replacement therapies to the T1D community, and we commend ViaCyte in its announcement of the first patients to be implanted with the PEC-Direct islet cell replacement therapy,” said Derek Rapp, JDRF President and Chief Executive Officer. “JDRF is excited to support this clinical development given its potential to help those people with type 1 diabetes that need it the most – those at high risk of life-threatening acute complications. JDRF and ViaCyte share a continuing commitment to realizing the potential of beta cell replacement strategies to deliver insulin independence without immune suppression for people living with type 1 diabetes, and ultimately, at JDRF we hope this will move us forward in fulfilling our vision of a world without type 1 diabetes.”

“There are limited treatment options for patients with high-risk type 1 diabetes to manage life-threatening hypoglycemic episodes,” said Paul Laikind, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of ViaCyte. “We believe that the PEC-Direct product candidate has the potential to transform the lives of these patients and we are excited to move closer to that goal with the initiation of clinical evaluation announced today. This also represents a step towards a broader application of the technology. We remain fully committed to developing a functional cure for all patients with insulin-requiring diabetes. To that end, we are hard at work on next-generation approaches as well, and expect the work with PEC-Direct to further advance our knowledge and drive progress.”

In addition to JDRF, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM)’s Alpha Clinic, the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center, the JDRF Canadian Clinical Trials Network (CCTN), the Stem Cell Network, and Alberta Innovates Health Solutions (AIHS) are all providing support for the trial.

About the PEC-Direct Product Candidate

The PEC-Direct product candidate delivers stem cell-derived pancreatic progenitor cells, called PEC-01™ cells, in a device designed to allow direct vascularization of the cells in the device. After implantation, these cells are expected to become mature human islet tissue including well-regulated beta cells producing insulin on demand. The direct vascularization of the implanted cells is expected to allow for robust and consistent engraftment but will necessitate the use of maintenance immune suppression therapy.

About ViaCyte

ViaCyte is a privately-held regenerative medicine company developing novel cell replacement therapies as potential long-term diabetes treatments to reduce the risk of hypoglycemia and diabetes-related complications. ViaCyte’s product candidates are based on the derivation of pancreatic progenitor cells from stem cells, which are then implanted in a durable and retrievable cell delivery device. Once implanted and matured, these cells are designed to secrete insulin and other pancreatic hormones in response to blood glucose levels. ViaCyte has two products in clinical development. The PEC-Direct™ product candidate delivers the pancreatic progenitor cells in a non-immunoprotective device and is being developed for type 1 diabetes patients who have hypoglycemia unawareness, extreme glycemic lability, and/or recurrent severe hypoglycemic episodes. The PEC-Encap™ (also known as VC-01) product candidate delivers the same pancreatic progenitor cells in an immunoprotective device and is being developed for all patients with diabetes, type 1 and type 2, who use insulin. ViaCyte is headquartered in San Diego, California. The Company is funded in part by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) and JDRF.

Is India Getting Ready to Build Its Own Stealth Fighter?

August 8, 2017 Leave a comment

In 2008, India’s Aeronautical Development Agency began developing a multirole fighter to replace its large fleet of aging Jaguar, Mirage and MiG-23 fighters. The new project was tentatively dubbed the Medium Combat Aircraft (later revised to the Advanced MCA, or AMCA), to be produced domestically by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Shortly afterwards, the Indian Air Force put in a serious addendum to the program: they wanted AMCA to be a stealth fighter, too.

For a while the AMCA project slowed down, as India invested $5 billion in the Russian Sukhoi PAK FA stealth fighter, intending to produce its own version called the FGFA. But then the PAK FA program began to suffer major setback, eliciting numerous complaints from the Indian military. Now, even Russia has only ordered production of twelve of the supermaneuverable stealth aircraft, and the future of the FGFA is unclear.

New Delhi’s interest in the HAL AMCA therefore kicked back into higher gear, with more than four thousand staff devoted to the project, according to a report in 2015. By then, the ADA had settled upon a final design involving a twin-engine, canted twin-tail configuration, with an overall profile similar to that of the American F-22 Raptor. Mock-ups of this design have already reportedly undergone wind-tunnel and radar cross-section tests.

The AMCA is slated to use three-dimensional thrust-vector engines—a design element found in the Russian PAK FA and Su-35—which allow for supermaneuverability (superior pitch and yaw performance), especially at lower speeds. These engines are intended to generate enough thrust so that the AMCA can supercruise—that is, sustain flight above the speed of sound without resorting to fuel-gulping afterburners—and should be able to attain a maximum speed of Mach 2.5 with the burners engaged. The AMCA is intended to be made largely out of lightweight carbon fiber and titanium alloys to facilitate those high speeds, as well as a planned range of around one thousand miles.

The AMCA’s internal weapons bay would conceal up to four munitions for stealth missions. At least eight more weapons could be carried under the fuselage and wings for missions in which stealth is not a requirement. The weapons would likely compromise a mix of domestic, Russian and Israeli missiles.

Sensors would include a cutting-edge Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which offers greater stealth and superior resolution, as well as multiple Infrared Search and Track sensors offering full spectrum coverage around the airplane. The AMCA would also come with sophisticated data links to network its sensor data with friendly platforms, and a self-defense jammer of the sort found on Russian combat aircraft.

The next step in the development process, however, may prove more challenging: India must develop the key components to fit the schematics drafted by the ADA.

First of all, India must find a way to develop and manufacture radar-absorbent materials (RAM), as well as the precision-manufacturing capabilities to create a stealthy hull. A protruding screw or a poorly fit metal plate can cause a stealth aircraft’s radar cross-section to blossom, so a high-fidelity manufacturing process is a must. Indian hopes to acquire radar-absorbent materials from France as part of a deal to purchase Rafale fighters have fallen through.

Second, there is the requirement for a domestically produced AESA radar. Currently India is using Israeli AESA radars in its Tejas fighter. However, the Indian Electronics and Radar Development Establishment has been working on a solid-state Gallium-Nitride radar since 2012.

Finally, the ADA and HAL will need to produce sufficiently powerful turbofan engines to meet performance specifications. This is further complicated by the need for an S-shaped air intake that will shield the reflective turbofan blades from showing up on radar, as well as specially designed nozzles to reduce the heat signature of the engines from infrared sensors.

In theory the AMCA will be powered by a domestically manufactured Kaveri K9 or K10 engine, currently undergoing development by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment. But making powerful and reliable jet engines from scratch is hardChina has struggled to build a reliable domestic turbofan for its J-11B fighter, despite the considerable resources at Beijing’s disposal. Only after the Kaveri engines are ready, supposedly in 2019, can the serious work on the airframe really begin.

Therefore, India is looking to foreign manufacturers to assist in developing the engine. New Delhi has received offers from General Electric, Rolls Royce and SNECMA, with GE’s F414 turbofan (used on the U.S. Super Hornet fighter) seen as the most likely candidate. Indeed, there were extensive discussions concerning transferring F414 technology to India entirely in 2016, and in February 2017 a tender was issued in which GE agreed to transfer 50 percent of the F414 technology behind the F414 along with a shipment of engines intended for use on the Tejas fighter. Russian thrust-vectoring technology also seems likely show up in the Kaveri. Nonetheless, the transfer of engine technology is perceived to be a major sticking point in the AMCA program’s advancement.

Some observers are skeptical that the AMCA project will yield much in the way of results. HAL has manufactured two other jet fighters over the last half century, neither of which has proven a tremendous success.

The HF-24 Marut fighter bomber, which entered service in the late 1960s, disappointed due to its inability to attain supersonic speeds as intended; furthermore, it was manufactured at greater cost than higher-performing foreign designs. Despite chalking up a decent record in actual combat with Pakistani forces in 1971, the Marut was withdrawn from service in 1990, with many of the airframes having spent limited time in the air.

Then there is the delta-wing Tejas light fighter, which spent thirty-three years in development, only to demonstrate such underwhelming performance that the Indian Navy canceled its plans to purchase it after trials. Though a few hundred Tejas fighters will enter service with the Indian Air Force, the troubled program, which relies heavily on imported parts, does not amount to an encouraging example. Intriguingly, a new version of the Tejas using the F414 engine is currently under development.

Of course, the only way to get good at the difficult tasks like building jet fighters—or even harder stealth fighters—is to invest long-term in developing the technical know-how and the prerequisite production facilities, without expecting succeed at everything immediately. Indeed, ADA chief C. D. Balaji recently told Flight Global that a flying AMCA prototype was not projected until 2025.

On paper, the AMCA actually appears fairly promising, and real resources have been invested in its conception. However, to make it a reality, Indian engineers will need to work hard to develop the necessary radar, engine and RAM technologies to realize the design’s promise.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Image: Flickr

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