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DARPA Grand Challenge Results October 8, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Technology.
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UPDATE (@21:55): News.com has an article on the race today and a good collection of articles about the history of the Challenge, including photos of the vehicles.

The San Francisco Gate reports that three remote control-free, robotic vehicles finished DARPA’s Grand Challenge today. From the article:

Vehicles have to drive on rough, winding desert roads and dry lake beds filled with overhanging brush and man-made obstacles. The machines also must traverse a narrow 1.3-mile mountain pass with a steep drop-off and go through three tunnels designed to knock out their GPS signals.

and:

The vehicles were tricked out with the latest sensors, lasers, cameras and radar that feed information to several onboard computers. This, in turn, helps vehicles make intelligent decisions such as distinguishing a dangerous boulder from a tumbleweed and calculating whether a chasm is too deep to cross.

and:

The so-called Grand Challenge race is part of the Pentagon’s effort to cut the risk of casualties by fulfilling a congressional mandate to have a third of all military ground vehicles unmanned by 2015.

The congressional mandate is discussed in H.R. 5408, section 220:

SEC. 220. UNMANNED ADVANCED CAPABILITY COMBAT AIRCRAFT AND GROUND COMBAT VEHICLES.

    (a) GOAL- It shall be a goal of the Armed Forces to achieve the fielding of unmanned, remotely controlled technology such that–
    (1) by 2010, one-third of the aircraft in the operational deep strike force aircraft fleet are unmanned; and
    (2) by 2015, one-third of the operational ground combat vehicles are unmanned.

If this sort of thing interests you, I would suggest taking a look at Marshall Brain‘s Robotic Nation blog, which I’m guessing this piece of news will show up on.

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Privatizing Public Records October 7, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Business, Technology.
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Bruce Schneier wrote a piece on automated license plate scanners, which are being used by the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) to identify vehicles with too many unpaid parking tickets. Near the end of the article is the following paragraph:

Richard M. Smith, who took this photo, made a public request to the BTD last summer for the database of scanned license plate numbers that is being collected by this vehicle. The BTD told him at the time that the database is not a public record, because the database is owned by AutoVu, the Canadian company that makes the license plate scanner software used in the vehicle. This software is being “loaned” to the City of Boston as part of a “beta” test program.

So if a government wants to keep a set of records a secret from the public, all it has to do is put the records into a database that is owned by a private firm and (presumably) make sure to include a contractual stipulation that says the government has largely unrestricted rights to the data? I hope I’m misunderstanding something because that setup would be ripe for abuse.

Nessus Closes Its Source October 7, 2005

Posted by theexpert in Technology.
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News.com reports that the source code for the next version of Nessus will not be made available, though the application will still be available free of charge. According to the article, the primary author, Renaud Deraison, believes that making the source code available aids companies competing with Tenable Network Security, which provides corporate sponsorship and security solutions centered around Nessus.

In an email to the Nessus mailing list, Renaud said that with a couple of exceptions, “nobody has ever contributed anything to improve the scanning _engine_ over the last 6 years.” I found this to be much more interesting than the ensuing licensing discussion. I admit that I don’t scour the mailing lists of open-source projects for signs of a big community that doesn’t give back to the project, so maybe this is more common than I think, but I would have definitely bet money that more than two other people had contributed back to the engine of a product that has been around for years and is used by tens of thousands of organizations. I don’t know if this says anything about the Nessus code or the community, but it definitely surprises me.