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Beware! The blimp is watching you

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Are You Being Watched?


The blimp flying above your head may be watching your every move.

spy-blimp-raytheon-wide-horizontal.jpg Courtesy Raytheon

Eye in the Sky: Raytheon's unmanned blimp at this year's Indy 500

By Kurt Soller | Newsweek Web Exclusive

Jun 11, 2009





At first glance, there was nothing special about the blimp floating high above the cars and crowd at this year's Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend. Like most airships, it acted as an advertising vehicle; this time for the Fisher House, a charity focused on helping injured veterans and their families. But the real promo should have been for the blimp's creator, Raytheon, the security company best known for its weapons systems. Hidden inside the 55-foot-long white balloon was a powerful surveillance camera adapted from the technology Raytheon provides the U.S. military. Essentially an unmanned drone, the blimp transmitted detailed images to the race's security officers and to Indiana police. "The airship is great because it doesn't have that Big Brother feel, or create feelings of invasiveness," says Lee Silvestre, vice president of mission innovation in Raytheon's Integrated Defense division. "But it's still a really powerful security tool.

Until recently, Raytheon's eye-in-the-sky technology was used in Afghanistan and Iraq to guard American military bases, working as airborne guards against any oncoming desert threat. Using infrared sensors and a map overlay not unlike Google Earth, the technology scans a large area, setting important landmarks (say, the perimeter of a military base), and constantly relays video clips back to a command center. If a gun fires or a bomb is detonated, the airships can detect the noise and focus the camera—all from a mighty-high 500 feet.

After the success of the Indy 500 trial, the company is targeting police departments and sporting facilities that want to keep an eye on crowds that might easily morph into an unruly mob. "Large municipalities could find many uses for this [technology] once we figure out how to get it in their hands," says Nathan Kennedy, the blimp's project manager.

For now, cost might be the only thing preventing a blimp from appearing over your head. Raytheon won't disclose how much the system may eventually cost, but chances are it won't be cheap. For municipalities without a Pentagon-size police budget, the blimps' potential to display ads may assist with financing. Raytheon says local authorities could install a built-in LED screen to attract sponsors, generate revenue and defer operating costs.

what about privacy and civil-rights concerns? Raytheon argues that its technology is no different than what's already watching us on a daily basis: street cameras, cop cars, helicopters and foot patrols. "No new information is being picked up by the airships, necessarily," Silvestre says. "We're just incorporating lots of different feeds to provide a quick, complete picture; integration is the key here."

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They really should have live coverage of all North American Rathayatras on ESPN or SPEED channel, hopefully displacing NASCAR races as Merican's motorsport of choice. Of course, Rath carts don't have motors per se, they have blissful devotees pulling the ropes, which is even better than dead matter motors. And, of course, they should have blimp shots of the Rathayatra course, but I feel that the traditional Goodyear blimp would be sufficient, not this fabulous blimp. Actually, when Jagannath Swami das used to manage S.F. Rathayatra, he hired an airplane that flew around the festival with a banner. If I remember correctly, the banner said "Hare Krishna..." Later, different management took over the Rathayatra festival, and when I asked why Jagannath Swami no longer managed the festival, I was told that Jagannath Swami gave management "too much trouble." And I think that that attitude reflects the general attitude of some, not all, Iskcon managers: if the devotees don't just kowtow to management idiocy, management feels that they are "too much trouble." Feeling that they give management "too much trouble," so many sincere devotees have left, not wishing to disturb the minds of management. Perhaps this is why so many of these temples are now nearly empty - devotees are "too much trouble."


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There was more to that episode than that from what I heard. But it is not worth talking about.


This blimp thing just shows that they will keep squeezing the populace until they have biochips implanted in everyone at birth and can monitor our every move on GPS.


Just one more reason to end the cycle of birth and death.

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