The Ideas Factory: From nosey drones to fire-fighting balloons...

Five thoughts we liked this week
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The Independent Tech

1. Military: Drones that can pick you out in a crowd

Military spy drones remain one of the most contentious pieces of equipment. The US Army has recently given a number of contracts to biometrics firms to establish technology that can recognise and track the faces of targets so that even if they disappeared into, say, an office tower, a scanner mounted on a drone could pick them out again. The technology would obviously be incredibly useful in conflicts like the one in Afghanistan, where insurgents can blend in with the population. One prototype is said to even be able to differentiate between twins. We're not sure if it can see through balaclavas, though.

SOURCE: Wired Danger Room,

2. Cars: A motor that can read your mind

In an age when even the 'umble Ford Focus is soon to come with Wi-Fi fitted as standard, smart car developments are moving at quite a speed – especially considering that the industry as a whole is ailing. A prototype scanner from Nissan and researchers at EFPL in Lausanne hope to improve safety and performance with scanners than can read brain activity and eye movement (as well as general body movement and statistical analysis) to anticipate any manoeuvres – ie thinking about turning – to ready the car for that movement. Next step, Knight Rider, Kitt.

SOURCE: Popular Science,

3. Literature: working out what to read with a flowchart

NPR created a list of the 100 greatest science fiction and fantasy books of all time. It takes in everything from Cormac McCarthy's The Road, to Animal Farm. But where to start? Speculative Fiction (a SF blog) has aided those overwhelmed by the numbers with a flowchart to help you choose which title is for you: "Want some time-travel too? Go to Slaughterhouse 5."

SOURCE: io9,

4. Firefighting: the water balloon brigade

Using planes to tackle forest fires is nothing new, but Boeing has designed a special water balloon that can be loaded on to any plane, rather than specialist much rarer firefighting ones (pictured), meaning that mass fires can be dealt with on a much grander scale.

SOURCE: One Per cent, the new scientist,

5. Poverty: A new measure

Measuring poverty by income is misleading when living costs differ wildly by geography. New York City officials have devised a new method that takes into account cost of living in the city. Will this help government officials, local and federal, understand the nature of poverty in their towns and cities?

SOURCE: atlantic cities,