Thursday, September 24, 2015

Drones Armed With High-Energy Lasers May Arrive In 2017

Predator maker looks beyond Hellfire missiles to the weapons of the future.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., or GA-ASI,  the San Diego-based company that makes the Predator and Reaper drones, is undertaking a privately funded study to integrate a 150-kilowatt solid-state laser onto its Avenger (née Predator-C) drone. If the company succeeds, a drone with a high-energy laser will be a reality at some point in 2017, company executives told Defense One.
“We’re funded right now to develop a laser module compatible with the aircraft and study putting it on the Avenger,” Michael Perry, Vice President for Mission Systems at GA-ASI, told Defense One. “We hope to be funded to do that,” he said.

The company is far better known for its MQ-1s and MQ-9s — the backbones of the Pentagon’s drone strike force — than for its work with lasers. But in June, the company delivered a 150-kilowatt liquid laser to the Pentagon for extensive testing at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. For comparison, the 30 kw laser (output) currently on the Ponce in the Persian Gulf has more than enough output to destroy an enemy drone or blow a hole in a boat. In addition to 5 times the power, the significant increase in beam quality provides significantly higher lethality than the system on the Ponce.

Bringing these two technologies together involves a lot more than strapping a laser cannon under the drone’s wings. Hitting a target with a laser mounted on a vibrating platform moving quickly through air laden with dust and water vapor is tougher than launching a Hellfire at a moving vehicle.
“Before you spend any money on a laser you better darn well show that you can acquire, ID, and track the objects of interest so that you could put a laser on them,” said Perry. “You have to be able to compensate for aero-optic distortion.”

After you solve the targeting problem, the laws of physics present their own challenges. Lasers in the 150-kilowatt range are big, heavy, and power-hungry. Shrinking size-weight-and-power, or SWAP, scores to workable levels remains the biggest obstacle to arming aircraft with lasers. Weight alone will likely bar 150 kw lasers from the MQ-1; engineers have set their sights on building weapons for the Predator-C and its 3,000-pound payload capacity.

GA-ASI has designed a power system for drone lasers that works almost like a hybrid car, the non-plugin kind. “You use the aircraft power to charge an intermediate storage system, and then that runs the laser when it’s doing laser shots,” said Perry.

He said the current design can get off five or six shots before needing to recharge, which happens in the air, over the course of several minutes.

“If there’s enough time between shots you never have to recharge at all. It depends on how much time you have to re-target,” said Perry.

While GA-ASI is underwriting the current research, the military is keen get lasers onto aircraft. The Missile Defense Agency, or MDA, has funded research on tracking and targeting capabilities for drones.

“The work that we’re doing with the General Atomics Reaper and the work that we did with the Boeing Phantom Eye starts to show it can be done, in terms of these long-range sensing and tracking capabilities that we need,” MDA director Vice Adm. James Syring told reporters last month.
“We’ve been funded for years to develop high-energy laser systems. The maturity of our approach is further along than others because we’ve been working on it for a long time, for 15 years. [high-energy laser research is] coming out of the laboratory in a leakage-type way” GA-ASI’s Perry said.
The company has another advantage over its competitors in the race to build laser-armed drones: they make the ground control stations, including the next generation ground control station that the Pentagon hopes will improve the dreary job of drone operation. This gives them an advantage when it comes to creating the virtual gunsights and trigger for the laser.

“What we’ve shown is that the laser control is compatible with the new ground station,” he said. ”From a hardware standpoint, all the hardware exists to control it inside the station.”

However, Perry says that laser drones will require an entirely new software load, and that’s not all: “You’ll have a whole new concept of operations. Completely new training will be required,” he said.
If GA-ASI  — or someone else — succeeds in making lasers into a practical wing-mounted weapon, it will usher in a new battlefield role for medium-sized tactical drones. Perry imagines a completely different mission than simple loitering and striking targets, one more geared toward protecting U.S. forces from enemies that are firing on them.

“You would have a capability for close-air support, aircraft defense, counter-air, and even some types of non-lethal actions. You would really be expanding the mission space… The focus at this point is principally defensive missions,” he said.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Chinese high-speed rail connects L.A. to Vegas

A China Railway Group-led consortium and XpressWest Enterprises LLC will form a joint venture to build a high-speed railway linking Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the first Chinese-made bullet-train project in the U.S.

Construction of the 370-kilometer (230-mile) Southwest Rail Network will begin as soon as next September, according to a statement from Shu Guozeng, an official with the Communist Party’s leading group on financial and economic affairs. The project comes after four years of negotiations and will be supported by $100 million in initial capital. The statement didn’t specify the project’s expected cost or completion date.

The agreement, signed days before President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the U.S., is a milestone in China’s efforts to market its high-speed rail technology in advanced economies. The country has been pushing the technology primarily in emerging markets -- often with a sales pitch from Premier Li Keqiang-- as a means to project political influence. A $567 million contract last October to supply trains for Boston’s subway system was China’s first rail-related deal in the U.S.

The agreement also represents an important victory in China’s high-speed rail rivalry with Japan, as the two countries have competed for train contracts throughout Asia. The parent company of JR Central, Japan’s largest bullet-train maker, had expressed interest in the Los Angeles-Las Vegas line several years ago, and China and Japan are both expected to bid to supply train cars for a proposed high-speed rail line in California’s Central Valley.

"This is the first high-speed railway project where China and the U.S. will have systematic cooperation," Yang Zhongmin, a deputy chief engineer with China Railway Group, said after a news conference in Beijing. “It shows the advancement of China-made high-speed railways."
The Los Angeles-Las Vegas project will create new technology, manufacturing and construction jobs in the region, Shu’s statement said.

Through July, China had built more than 17,000 kilometers (10,565 miles) of domestic high-speed rail lines, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Apart from the railway project, China National Machinery Industry Corp. and General Electric Co. signed a memo of understanding to invest $327 million to develop 60 wind power stations in Kenya, Shu said at the Beijing news conference.

During Xi’s visit starting next week, China and the U.S. are expected to reach agreements on trade, energy, climate, finance, aviation, defense and infrastructure construction, China Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Wednesday. Xi is due to visit Boeing Co.’s factory in Everett, Washington as China makes a push to build its own passenger planes.

"Economic and trade cooperation will be a major topic for president Xi’s visit to the U.S.," Shu said in Beijing. "China and the U.S. share common interests and have solid foundation for cooperation."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Top earning electronic djs

Late last month, Forbes published its list of the world’s top-earning D.J.s. Calvin Harris, 31, who less than a decade ago was stocking groceries in a Scottish supermarket, came in first place, earning $66 million over a 12-month period beginning in June last year through club fees, endorsement deals and music royalties. That’s more than what Jay Z ($56 million) or Kim Kardashian ($52.5 million) grossed in the same period, and it’s one of many recent indications that EDM, or electronic dance music — once the commercially marginal soundtrack to underground parties — has reached an impressive new level of mainstream success.

Kevin Watson, an analyst in London for the International Music Summit (an electronic music industry trade event held yearly on the Spanish island of Ibiza) now estimates the global value of EDM to be $6.9 billion — about a 50 percent jump since 2013. “Here in the U.K., we’ve had peaks of interest before but we have seen nothing like the global cultural exposure and move into the mainstream as we have in the last two years,” he said. “It’s been absolutely phenomenal.”

Mr. Watson noted that as recently as 2010, EDM’s audience was so marginal that Nielsen didn’t even list it as a separate genre in its annual SoundScan report. But last year, Nielsen said that EDM was the fourth most popular streaming genre in the United States, ahead of country music. And electronic artists continue to rack up new hits. Last month, Spotify announced that a track by Mr. Harris (“How Deep Is Your Love”) was the summer’s most-streamed song in Britain, while another electronic artist, Major Lazer, had the service’s most-streamed track globally (“Lean On”).

That kind of reach has only raised the lavish fees that the world’s top D.J.s can command from festivals and nightclubs in Las Vegas and Ibiza, where they often have long-term residencies. Forbes only began tracking D.J. pay in 2012 and, since then, the total earnings of the Top 10 have grown by about 120 percent, from $125 million in 2012 to $274 million last year. Meanwhile, the D.J.s themselves — an entirely male group whose youngest member, Martin Garrix, is 19 — have become celebrity personalities, garnering recording and even endorsement deals. David Guetta, the French D.J. and producer, is a model for the luxury watch brand Tag Heuer, while Mr. Harris is the new face — or, rather, body — of Emporio Armani’s spring underwear campaign. This is the third year in a row that Mr. Harris, who can earn more than $300,000 a night for a club appearance, has topped Forbes’s list. “The rise of dance music has been astronomical in the last three years,” he told the magazine. “I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Turning Beats Into Billions

Worldwide revenue from electronic dance music, 12 months through May 2015, estimate
$1.7 billion

Calvin Harris
David Guetta
Steve Aoki
Martin Garrix
Still, one should be careful not to overstate the mass appeal of electronic music — at least as a source of cinematic adaptation. The film “We Are Your Friends,” with Zac Efron, about the life of a D.J., bombed at the American box office after opening in August. It earned $1.8 million in 2,333 theaters — the worst debut for a major studio release on record, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Marriott in-room VR

Marriott is giving travelers in New York and London the chance to try out bleeding-edge virtual reality tech in the privacy of their hotel rooms.

The global hotel chain has launched a limited test of “VRoom Service” in partnership with Samsung Electronics. It’s currently testing the VR service, for which guests can have a Samsung Gear VR headset delivered to their room and borrow it for 24 hours, over the next two weeks at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square and the London Marriott Hotel Park Lane.

However, the virtual-reality content Marriott’s guests will be able to roam through will be limited to only three “VR Postcards” commissioned by the chain. Those videos, shot in 360-degree 3D, each follow real travelers on a different journeys, taking viewers to Chile’s Andes mountains, an ice-cream shop in Rwanda and Beijing’s bustling streets.

What’s the point? Marriott styles itself as leading the hospitality industry in adopting media and entertainment technologies, and its VR experiment is more about positioning the brand as a preferred destination for digital natives than anything else. Earlier this summer, the company announced a pact with Netflix to let subscribers of the video service log in to HDTVs at select hotels, and Marriott also has been developing original entertainment content for travelers.

VRoom “combines storytelling with technology, two things that are important to next-generation travelers,” said Matthew Carroll, Marriott’s VP of global brand management.
In addition to the in-room VR service, Marriott’s VR Postcards will be available via the Samsung Milk VR video service, accessible via the Samsung Gear VR headset developed with Facebook’s Oculus VR division. Marriott worked with Framestore’s Virtual Reality Studio to develop the technologies and techniques used to create the VR Postcards.

Last year Marriott staged a promotional event with the Marriott Teleporter, which let visitors virtually travel to London and Hawaii by stepping inside specially built kiosks.