Drive Towards Self-Driving Vehicles

Google’s self driving Prius has logged over 300,000 miles

This week, California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill establishing safety and performance guidelines for autonomous vehicles operating on California’s roads. For now the ones to benefit most from this is Google and their self-driving Prius which has already logged over 300,000 successful autonomous driven miles. In an All Things D interview, Google co-founder Sergey Brin says, “These cars have the potential to avoid accidents. … They can save lives and reduce congestion. I expect that self-driving cars will be far safer than human driven cars.”

This does raise a lot of issues concerning insurance and general driver liability as part of the bill stipulates that all of these automated vehicles must contain a licensed, human driver able to manually take control at any moment during the drive. It’s hard to imagine a world where an EZ-PASS automated toll system would issue a speeding ticket to a vehicle driven by a computer. This contradicts everything about a connected, automated future we strive for.

But with humans able to take control of the vehicle at any time, I don’t believe we’ll be seeing an end to speeding and other traffic offenses anytime soon. The need for automated scanning against driver distractions will continue to exist and TransitHound is leading the pack. Berkeley’s vehicle-mounted cell phone detector ensures that drivers of trains, fleet trucks and cars stay on the road and off their mobile phones.

TransitHound is a distracted-driving watchdog.

Sergey Brin continues with his predictions on autonomous vehicles of the future.

“We have fairly ambitious goals. But you can probably count on one hand the number of years until people can experience this.”

Whether these autonomous vehicles start popping up in the next few years or not, there is an immediate need right now to enforce against distracted human drivers.

Distracted Driving: Social Problem Calls for Hardware Solution

Texting While Driving

There’s a reason why this blog post contains “distracted driving” in the headline. Just Google this or any variation on the term and you will find dozens of new stories popping up daily. Smartphones are the new “hotcakes” in terms of sales so naturally, they have become as ubiquitous as the drivers they distract. Cell phone use, whether it’s illegal in your state or not, is now being spotlighted as a social problem much in the way that drunken driving was targeted back in the 80′s. And like the war on drunken driving, educating the public to the dangers of texting/surfing/talking on their phones while driving should spearhead this campaign, right? Not so fast.

Since the origins for this new form of impaired driving are rooted in technology, education and social engineering run on a much slower timeline and may take years to catch up. When searching for a more technological solution, we see many apps and programs implemented on the software and carriers’ sides respectively. Apps like “Rode Dog” (created by an 11 old year who was awarded a prize of $20,000 from AT&T) blare out obnoxious barks whenever it’s user is texting while driving. These solutions come from a technological approach but only offer software-limited benefits. In other words, it’s much easier to hack a software solution than it is a hardware solution.

BVS has been working with both private and public transportation authorities for highway and mass transit safety in an effort to curb distracted operators. Solutions like TransitHound offer a focused attention on the RF that all smartphones transmit. By focusing on the RF in a single area that the driver occupies, TransitHound can take immediate action by sounding local alerts, snapping pictures and even alerting authorities to the illegal and dangerous use of a cell phone by drivers. So instead of drivers defeating software measures, using someone else’s phone or working around the inconvenience of a distracted driving software app, they are detected, alerted and dispatched as violators by integrated cell phone detection systems like TransitHound.

By using the right technology now, we can address the dangers of distracted driving over the course of months instead of years or even decades saving thousands of lives.

Smart Phone Scamming on the Rise

Prisoners are doing much more than serving time behind bars

With literally billions of mobile phones being used each and everyday around the globe, thieves can rob you from their arm chair or even from their cozy cell in prison.

Some of the latest scams to surface involve thieves using their smart phones and target the innocent.  One of the more popular scams is where prison inmates smuggle in a contraband cell phone from a corrupt lawyer or crooked corrections officer.  Once the phone is in their hands they will place a collect call that swindles the unassuming recipient by getting them to dial ‘*72′ on their end.  The innocent victim is actually activating the call forwarding feature which basically hands control over to the inmate to place long distance calls to friends and family.  They often like to rack up the victim’s phone bill by dialing 900 numbers where there are direct fees incurred.
To combat this problem BVS has developed a line of advanced instrumentation that catches the inmates in the act of making a mobile phone call from their cell.  The Wolfhound-PRO is an effective cell phone detector that detects and locates contraband cell phones in prison.
Everywhere you turn, be it radio, internet, newspaper or the TV, there is talk of the election.  Criminals use this as an opportunity to exploit voters by calling various mobile phones till someone picks up.  They inquire if you would be in interested in a brief voter survey and offer a chance to win a free vacation or cruise.  Upon conclusion of the survey they ask for your credit card number to cover small charges for cruise port fees or taxes.  And now that they have your credit card they can go on a shopping spree.

How Safe is Your Train Ride???

Today is the four year anniversary of the deadly Metrolink commuter train crash that left 25 people dead.  The $200 Million settlement was awarded to the victims and their families and is actually capped as the maximum amount under United States law.  After a 16 month investigation, The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded the cause of the accident was caused by a Metrolink Engineer that was distracted while sending a TEXT MESSAGE with his mobile phone resulting in running a red light. There is no dollar figure that could ever bring back the lost loves ones to family and friends of the victims.  Almost as sad is the fact that there had been little done to prevent future mishaps.
Berkeley Varitronics Systems has developed a unique cell phone detection system called the TransitHound which scans for mobile phones.  Berkeley Varitronics Systems has developed a unique cell phone detection system called the TransitHound which scans for mobile phones.  The TransitHound provides a trigger to alert security personnel when a public transportation operator makes a phone call or text while the vehicle is in motion. There is a simple dry contact switch that installers can integrate with their existing DVR to capture the offender in the act. Public transportation operators must not have any distractions for even taking their eyes off the tracks for a moment may compromise the safety of their passengers.

Apple’s 4G SteamRoller

Apple’s iPhone 5 announcement should shake up the carriers as much as their competition

Apple has finally delivered on one of the longest running rumor in smartphone history – LTE. They dipped their toe into the 4G waters with the new iPad announcement last year but that was only with Verizon and AT&T and that didn’t include the hundreds of millions of devices in our pockets everyday. Given the hot marketing speak of 4G LTE these days, one might think that LTE is the new 3G. Not so.

According to IDC, only three countries have significant numbers of LTE customers: the United States, South Korea and Japan with Verizon being the largest LTE network in the world and the highest number of LTE subscribers, around nine million at the end of the first quarter. If you add up the top 3, you only get roughly 14 million worldwide LTE subscribers. That’s a paltry number compared to the hundreds of millions of 3G subscribers. That and the fact that LTE chipsets are still a major battery drain on our mobile devices help to fully explain why Apple has waited this long to fully jump into the LTE game.

It took competitors a few years but they have finally surpassed Apple by hundreds of millions of physical devices worldwide and yet Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS devices are neck and neck when it comes to data consumption. Carriers know this all too well so Apple committing to a worldwide LTE standard (7 bands, 3 major carriers, 2 standards (CDMA & GSM)) for AT&T, Verizon and Sprint sends a clear signal that we have officially entered true 4G buildout and optimization territory.

Now more than ever we see need for tools that simulate LTE base stations like Tortoise™ and tools that analyze LTE networks like YellowFin-LTE™.

Amazon’s 4G Portable Shopping Portal

Amazon’s new Kindle Fire HD LTE

Amidst a slew of new hardware announcements this past Thursday, Amazon managed to slip in an interesting clue as to the ultimate destination for 4G broadband. As part of their new $499 Kindle Fire HD’s data plan, Amazon partnered with AT&T to offer an annual 4G plan for budget-minded consumers. Only $50 for a full year of 4G LTE with one little caveat, a 250MB month bandwidth cap. Anyone who’s ever streamed a movie knows that this paltry 250MB cap wouldn’t get you past the opening credits on some movies.

Now there are a lot of ways to interpret this. Perhaps AT&T and Amazon agree that AT&T’s nascent 4G network couldn’t withstand another hit as big as the 5GB cap (Apple’s iPad’s highest monthly data cap from AT&T). Or perhaps, it’s just Amazon’s quest to get their portable tablets into the hands of as many consumers as possible. The cynic in me might vote for a third motivation; AT&T stands to gain a giant chunk of change from all those overage charges from the poor souls who couldn’t put down their Kindle Fires halfway through the Hunger Games when they hit that 4G data cap limit.

But I believe there is another stronger motivation behind Amazon’s decision. Jeff Bezos revealed a simple text slide during his presentation titled the Amazon Doctrine – Above all else, align with customers. Win when they win. Win only when they win.

This customer-centric approach applies to much more than sexy, sought after hardware from the likes of an Apple. It is the ultimate realization that Amazon is in the content business, content is king and the king will arrive on a red carpet rolling out 4G LTE. By partnering with AT&T and capping data usage so heavily, Amazon is actually tailoring this device to be a portable 4G consumption tablet in ways that iPad, Galaxy Tab and soon-to-be released Windows Touch tablets don’t even stride for. For only 50 bucks a year, you cannot stream all the movies and music you want but you can check your email, launch facebook, browse the web and most importantly, shop on Amazon.com. This, coupled with Amazon’s ad supported models on all their tablet and e-reader offerings ensure a busy shopping season from literally anywhere in the country. The content itself can be easily streamed once the customer gets back home within Wi-Fi range at their home or office. By then, Amazon has already made the sale and has moved onto the next shopping experience.

A Few Rotten Apples Spoil the Bunch

A few rotten apples spoil the bunch

Accusations are flying around regarding the supposed compromise of 12 million Apple iOS Unique Device ID’s (UDID’s) along with personal information stored on an FBI agent’s computer. Some say it was a hacked Dell notebook while other insiders speculate that cyber criminals actually gained access to a hacked iPhone. The Bureau has denied the breach and even possession of the data allegedly stolen in the first place. Addresses, mobile phone numbers, zip codes, push notification, user names, device names, and UDID’s in and of themself are not big security breaches if stolen, but collectively, when put together as pieces of a puzzle, start to provide a profile of individuals their whereabouts, and activities throughout the course of a day.

Now go a step further and imagine coupling this data with wireless information such as when a particular wireless device is associated with a particular access point at home or the local Starbucks. This wireless connection allows individuals to learn travel patterns and locations at particular times. The culmination of all of this data raises concerns over privacy issues (not to mention security issues for our mobile devices) regardless if it is in a field agents hands or a hackers’ possession. Information can be powerful and dangerous so best step practices should be taken to ensure a level of protection and security for all of our mobile devices. I always encourage individuals to keep their mobile phones secure and implement the following as a minimum:

1) Lock your phone requiring a code to turn it on.
2) Avoid clicking on links in your email (protects from phishing scams)
3) Regularly update the OS with the latest security software

Hackers and cyber thieves thrive on causing chaos and doubt. At the end of the day, the FBI will never be quick to admit a breach ever occurred. To date, the security breach is rather doubtful with little evidence supporting the allegations. My question is, if the FBI could be hacked, then couldn’t an average tech savvy user also be easily hacked? When hackers target security vulnerabilities and the FBI and Apple are pulled in the mix you know these rotten apples will eventually spoil the rest for us.

Wireless Technology Keeping the Grass Even Greener

Wireless tech keeps the grass green

The sun shines bright as it rises in the distant horizon shimmering across the lake of a magnificent golf course.  You pull the sock off your favorite Big Bertha driver excited as you meander to the tee box for your first shot of the day.  Your mind clears from the stresses of work with the endless meetings, emails, and phone calls.  The breeze softly blows by as the grass dances putting you in a trance.  Time stops for a brief moment and you are in disbelief that you finally are able to spend a quiet day playing 18 holes.  As you tee up your ball, you peer down the fairway planning how you will execute your shot when you notice the perfectly manicured grass and wonder how do they keep it so green?  It is perfection, like the lines your wife leaves after vacuuming the carpet.  The deep green relaxes you as your club launches your Titleist 375 yards gracefully delivering your ball just a foot from the pin.

There is one secret to green grass, water and lots of it.  The average golf course thirsts for 35 million gallons of water a year.  To effectively get this water evenly spread over the 18 holes requires upwards of 1,500 sprinklers spaced 70-80 feet apart.  The average course runs sprinklers for about 8  hours a day, everyday.  To effectively control a massive system such as this takes advanced technology.  When golf courses are designed, the irrigation system is carefully engineered to keep the grass green, minimize water usage and do all this while remaining hidden to anyone on the course. Irrigation companies use numerous sensors deployed that will note the temperature, humidity, and moisture within the turf to properly irrigate the golf course and keep it green.  Sprinkler heads are controlled wirelessly through a 450 MHz paging system allowing the 1,500 sprinkler heads to be remotely controlled automatically.  The wireless sensors have technical limitations in range as well as FCC transmission guidelines to comply with.   To effectively install and maintain the wireless 450 MHz irrigation systems require an advanced tool that can measure the signal strength.  Engineers need to measure how well the RF (Radio Frequency) signals propagate within the confines of a given course to maintain adequate signal coverage.  When designing a wireless network there is even a need to factor in wireless obstructions such as leaf foliage.  The leaves on trees hold a tremendous amount of water which attenuates a radio frequency signal greatly affecting propagation characteristics. There is also a need to verify that there are no other ‘interfering’ signals within the same band in adjacent properties.

Irrigation companies turn to BVS for our Mongoose™ signal strength meter to tackle their wireless challenges.  The Mongoose unit is a ruggedized calibrated field instrument that effectively measures the 450-470 MHz band aiding in installation and maintenance of the wireless network.

Next time you are driving down the fairway or putting for birdie, stop for a moment and enjoy your day away from reality.  In the back of your mind you might even think of Irrigation companies and BVS who are working behind the scenes to ensure the grass stays green.

ISS World Europe Security Conference

Scott Schober and Dinu Dragomir (Teledatanet of Romania)

I presented on June 7th to a packed room at ISS World Europe in Prague CZ. The timely topic of Handheld Tools for Cell Phone Direction Finding and Location’ was well received by over 1000 security professionals in attendance and was followed up after the presentation with Q & A for thirty minutes. The ISS conference brought together attendees from 73 different countries in the law enforcement community, homeland security analysts as well as telecom operators responsible for lawful intercept. Security experts seemed curious yet impressed by the latest offerings we had on display at the event.

SmartCEO and the Volt Awards

Scott and Heidi at the SmartCEO Volt Awards

I had the priviledge to be nominated for and attend the the Philadelphia Volt 2012 Awards event with my wife Heidi. Over 400 CEO’s in the New Jersey & Philadelphia area were hosted by SmartCEO. As for the reason we were there…I was nominated for Berkeley’s latest innovative solution known as the Squid-PRO M2M installation tool. Squid-PRO has begun to gain wide-spread acceptance as the installation tool of choice for M2M 3G cellular modem installations used by Energy companies for Smart Grid build-out and any Point of Service (POS) installation of DVD, ATMs, Electric Vehicle chargers.