Navy’s robot helicopters will automatically detect pirates

Helicopter drones that have already helped catch cocaine smugglers at sea could soon get much smarter about hunting modern-day pirates. The U.S. Navy plans to upgrade its robotic Fire Scouts with electronic “brains” that are able to automatically recognize small pirate boats spotted through 3D laser imaging.

The Fire Scout drones would bounce millions of laser pulses off distant objects to create a 3D “radar” image of any boats on the high seas — a technology known as LIDAR or LADAR — so that their new software could automatically compare the 3D images to pirate boat profiles on record. A first test is scheduled to take place with seven small boats off the California coast this summer…

U.S. military analysts already suffer from serious information overload on modern battlefields, given the huge amounts of data collected by military sensors and drones. Having smarter robotic helicopters could ease the workload strain for Navy sailors, who must otherwise eyeball the data coming from the new Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS) — a sensor mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and the 3D LADAR technology.

That’s the excuse for what may be inadequate oversight and decision-making.

Such LIDAR/LADAR technology has also interested other branches of the U.S. military. U.S. Special Forces helicopters could use LADAR to create 3D maps of the battlefield in bad weather conditions and avoid deadly crashes during attempted landings. The “AlphaDog” robot has also used such technology in early testing as a robotic battlefield mule for U.S. Marines.

Understand that the basis for this research – that no doubt will be returned to once minimal battlefield requirements are satisfied – is picking likely suspects out of a crowd.

When the task comes down to killing or disabling, say, a potential assassin in a crowd greeting a political candidate – you had better hope there’s still someone making the decision to fire. And that the someone has an educated brain.

As for the pirates — go get ’em, tiger!

Who will hit the screen with the 1st 3D porn flick? Who cares?

Took six days to film

Hong Kong director Christopher Sun is currently filming his $3.2 million ‘3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy’, which is due for release in May, but Italian director Tinto Brass has already announced he will produce a 3D remake of his 1979 erotic film Caligula.

Although mainland Chinese censors are almost certain to block the movie’s screening, it has sparked wide interest in other Asian markets, including Japan and South Korea, as well Europe, and the United States.

Producer Stephen Shiu said: “This is the future of the movie business — it’s human nature to want to see things in 3D.”

Adding to the pressure, the American company Hustler is making a pornographic spoof of 3D science fiction blockbuster Avatar, the highest-grossing movie of all time and the film that heralded the beginning of the mainstream 3D boom.

Are we supposed to be gullible enough to believe it takes more than a week or two to produce, edit and turn out a porn film? 3D or otherwise?

Professional production values are one thing. Plot, story line – acting talent?

It is to laugh.

Ancient blob-Like creature of the day – in 3D

A unique blob-like creature that lived in the ocean approximately 425 million years ago is revealed in a 3D computer model in research published in the journal Biology Letters. The model is helping researchers to understand what primitive species on early Earth looked like and how they might have evolved into the types of creatures that are on Earth today.

The scientists, from Imperial College London, have developed a detailed 3D model of the only known fossilised specimen in the world of a creature called Drakozoon. The specimen was found by one of the team approximately 6 years ago in the Herefordshire Lagerstätte, one of England’s richest deposits of soft-bodied fossils.

Drakozoon lived in the ocean during the Silurian Period, 444 to 416 million years ago, and today’s model hints at how it lived.

The research reveals that Drakozoon was a cone-shaped, blob-like creature with a hood and it probably had a leathery exterior skin. It appears to have survived in the ocean by attaching itself to hard surfaces such as rock. It was approximately 3mm long, and used filament-bearing tentacles to catch and eat organic particles in seawater. It pulled its hood down over its body for protection against predators, pulling it back again to expose its tentacles when danger passed…

The researchers created their 3D model by physically slicing a fossil into 200 pieces. These pieces were individually photographed and the images were fed into a computer, which generated the 3D model for analysis by the scientists.

I’ll bet they were tasty in a seafood bisque.

Has the 3D bubble already burst?

Hollywood’s faith in the power of 3D movies to deliver a bright future of packed cinemas and spectacle-wearing audiences has been jolted by figures that show the high-tech format may already be floundering.

Seven months ago James Cameron’s science fiction epic Avatar burst onto the screen in three dimensions, taking in $2.7 billion and becoming the highest grossing film of all time…

But now, with the tally of major films released in the new format expected to reach 22 by the end of the year – with up to $7.50 extra being charged per ticket – there are signs that 3D may not, after all, be the panacea for falling ticket sales…

When Avatar came out in December, 71 per cent of Americans who went to see it on opening weekend – often the peak moment for a new release – opted for a cinema showing the 3D version. In March, when the animated fantasy How to Train Your Dragon was released, 68 per cent of the audience chose to see the film that way. By May that figure for Shrek Forever After was down to 61 per cent. At the beginning of this month only 56 per cent saw The Last Airbender in 3D, and a week later the proportion fell even lower, to 45 per cent, for the newly-released animation Despicable Me…

Critics say part of the problem may be the technology itself. While Avatar was specifically made in the new format, studios have hurriedly converted films that were originally made for two dimensions. The process…can be done in a matter of weeks, allowing for a quick release. However, a lot of the time it simply doesn’t work and delivers murky pictures…

After seeing director M.Night Shyamalan’s…The Last Airbender…Roger Ebert said it “looked like it was filmed with a dirty sheet over the lens”. He said Hollywood’s current infatuation with 3D was just an excuse to add surcharges to already expensive cinema tickets…

Some of those who know the film industry best are convinced the latest trend will go the same way as the 3D fads of the 1950s and 1980s. “3D is a waste of a perfectly good dimension and Hollywood’s current crazy stampede toward it is suicidal,” according to Ebert.

I can’t speak from personal experience. I haven’t found the potential interesting enough to drag me to the nearest whoop-de-doo cinemaplex. And no way would I bust my personal budget for entertainment hardware for a 3D replacement for my existing HDTV sitting happily in our living room.

Might get a bigger set, some day. That’s always a worthwhile investment. Especially if we get more proper football matches in HD. 🙂

Nintendo sees a 3D future in its 3DS

Why is this man smiling?
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The Nintendo DS family of game devices will soon have a successor, and its name is the 3DS.

According to Nintendo’s announcement, today, the 3DS will boast 3D gaming capability without requiring users to wear “any special glasses” to play titles.

The company said that the 3DS will “succeed [the] ‘Nintendo DS series.'” Perhaps most importantly, the 3DS will boast backward compatibility, allowing users to play games originally built for the Nintendo DS or DSi.

Nintendo was stingy with details. It didn’t indicate how the 3D functionality would work with the 3DS. It also failed to mention how much the console would cost or what games would ship with it. Nintendo plans to offer full details on the 3DS at the E3 show in June…

Nintendo’s decision to offer a 3D gaming device will be controversial. Although the industry is seemingly doubling down on 3D technology, some are skeptical of its true appeal. And whether gamers will want to consistently view 3D games is decidedly up for debate.

Then again, Nintendo has spent the last few years taking routes that were initially scoffed at. When it first announced the Wii game console, critics were doubtful about its broader market appeal. Nearly four years later, the Wii is the world’s most popular video game console.

Will Nintendo do it to everyone, again? Their competitors are still trundling along trying to promote mediocre knockoffs of Wii tech.

Future Safari 3D Demo

I’ve used Firefox and other WebKit-based browsers for years. Safari is one that I’ve used since inception – and given current speed results, I finally made it my default browser.

So, I’m interested in what’s coming.

Charles Ying over at has put together an impressive demo using Safari’s forthcoming CSS 3D transform features. There is a YouTube video of the demo (you can watch it in the 2nd half of this post), as a nightly build of WebKit or the Snow Leopard version of Safari is required to render it.

The demo, titled Snow Stack, displays a wall of photos in three dimensions and allows you to navigate across the wall using your arrow keys. The wall of photos seems to go on into infinity while it dynamically loads the photos from Flickr as you travel across it.

The animation style is similar to the browser plug-in Cooliris (formerly known as PicLens), but it was written entirely in HTML and CSS, with some JavaScript to pull in the photos from Flickr. The animations are so amazingly smooth animations it’s hard to believe that only CSS was used to create them.