Tech forecast: warming, chance of LightSpeed

Futuristic wireless gadget could hold promises for the surveillance arsenal

A glimpse of the future of law enforcement tools can be seen on a street named High Bluff Drive in the coastal suburbs of northern San Diego, where a couple of novel technologies called LightSpeed are emerging from a small start-up company.

The company, Torrey Pines Logic, was established to provide a variety of defense-related electronic technologies, including systems for optical voice and data communication, automatic mosaic and geo-registration, optical detection, temporal processing and thermal imaging.

But two TPL products may one day be found in local police department equipment lockers. One TPL technology is a clever new binocular system that not only allows the user to see better, but also provides full-duplex, non-radio-wave voice communication designed to be used when conventional radio traffic is either impossible or inadvisable. The second technology is wiretap on steroids, a radical new tool that raises the clandestine surveillance bar far beyond current capabilities.

Wiretap on steroids

You may have to stand on the bumper and squint into the distant haze to make out the form of the TPL surveillance gadget. It's still in development and not all of it has emerged from the lab bench. But when completed, the device, currently called the LightSpeed Projectile, promises a unique James Bond surveillance technology.

This device is a bullet-sized casing in which is housed a miniature camera, a miniature microphone, and a suite of other miniature sensors that can be fired or positioned in a building in order to achieve long-distance, clandestine surveillance.

Everything about the idea is small, except its potential. This concept moves contemporary passive wire-tapping or e-mail interception into the next century.

"This product allows a user to position a sensor somewhere where you either do not have access or that access is undesirable," says Leo Volfson, Torrey Pines Logic's founder and president. "Using this projectile, you can position cameras, microphones, and all kinds of other small sensors."

Volfson develops most of his concepts for army and navy applications, but there is nothing preventing law enforcement from one day enjoying the advantages of his cutting edge ideas. Right now, Volfson sees the projectile mostly being used by military and special operations.

"Law enforcement applications are clear to us, but we have to wait until we put it into play," he says.

Volfson says once development, testing and prototyping of the LightSpeed Projectile is finished both the military and domestic police will have a unique new tool in their surveillance arsenals.

"Ultimately, you will be able to fire a 25mm or 40mm round that will stick to the wall at distances of 200 meters to 300 meters and then receive a stream of data in return, including video, audio and information from a variety of other sensors," Volfson says. Instead of a round at the head of the shell casing, the LightSpeed projectile has a "sticky front." This material does not penetrate or destroy the target surface — it absorbs the shock of impact so the sensors, camera, microphone, and transmitter remain undamaged and adhere to the surface. Currently, the battery-operated electronics will perform for up to 30 minutes.

Tactically, that means police marksmen could fire the projectile into a structure or setting where a crime is suspected or still developing, such as a hostage situation, probable drug processing lab, or into a vehicle during a high-speed chase, then eavesdrop from a comfortably safe distance.

Law enforcement customers will have to wait a bit to examine or test the device. Currently, there are some packaging issues that need resolution from a manufacturing perspective, and Volfson is working with several military clients who have their own requirements.

"Once we work through those and deliver working prototypes we will move to production discussions," he says.

The eyes have it

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