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Industry News

The Spy Who Loved Microwaves

The Defense/Security Sector Is Developing Products James Bond Would be Proud to Use

October 7, 2011
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"Bond, James Bond."

Ever since Ian Fleming's famous agent 007 uttered those words in 1962's "Dr. No," moviegoers have admired this uber-cool member of Her Majesty's Secret Service for his steely approach to villains, beautiful women and high tech gadgets, all while enjoying a martini – shaken not stirred, of course.

Central to the success of any Bond mission is Q and his team at Q Branch (the fictional R&D division of the British Secret Service), responsible for the latest covert devices and weaponry. While the devices not yet ready for the field sometimes provided comic relief with their disastrous performance during Q's lab demo, those that made it into action were likely to be responsible for saving 007's life, helping him successfully complete the mission and ensure that Bond gets the girl. Since "Dr. No," five decades ago, much of what was science fiction has now become science fact.

Bond-Issued COTS

A pertinent question is: Did Q's gadgets inspire engineers developing real products for military and intelligence agencies or were the movie gadgets inspired by real life? The members of Q's team were certainly early adopters of COTS components for the spy trade – the Aston Martin DB5, the Walther PPK handgun, the Omega Seamaster or Rolex watch (depending on the highest bidder for product placement).

In "Tomorrow Never Dies," Ericsson designed a concept phone with a variety of unique features, including a 20,000 V stun gun for disabling foes, a fingerprint scanner/analyzer/transmitter for opening fingerprint-ID locks, a detachable antenna lock pick, which when inserted into a keyhole could open the lock by hitting a key on the phone. And who could forget Bond's flip-open remote control for operating his BMW 750iL? The car had a directional steering pad, LCD monitor for the front and rear view and controls to fire a rocket. Much of the phone's style, including its flip-open design, was incorporated into Ericsson's R380 smartphone a few years later. The R380 combined a fully functional mobile phone, PDA-like tools and WAP services.

007's celluloid image may have glamorized the role of secret agents and the gadgets they employ, but in the 21st century there are real threats to be faced and vital intelligence to be gathered, and state-of-the-art RF and microwave technology is making a significant contribution to the cause. So what is the real world producing that is suitable for the next Bond adventure?

Live and Let Drive

What is James Bond without his signature, gadget laden Aston Martin or BMW? Several car makers, such as Audi and Ford, have announced plans to incorporate WiFi into their vehicles. This opens up a number of possibilities, such as access to mission information, secret databases, hacking into the enemy's computers and utilizing special apps. Now Bond can access overlay maps to Google Earth and see hidden facilities or other land features while driving during a shoot-out and utilizing the local geography to his advantage.

Figure 1 North Carolina State DARPA Challenge 2007 autonomous vehicle (courtesy of NC State University).

With today's remote sensing technologies, the flip-open remote control for operating his BMW 750iL is no longer needed as the car can operate autonomously. It can drive right up to James Bond and safely take him wherever he wants as he evades enemy gunfire. Over recent years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Challenge has shown that a vehicle can operate and navigate around roads using various radar and video sensors. The car can sense and detect objects, their speed and direction, all while keeping the vehicle safely on the road (see Figure 1). These sensors can be used for range finding and can activate offensive or defensive weapons as needed. The latest DARPA Challenge includes ideas such as a removable door that doubles as a defensible fighting position when away from the vehicle, a tortoise shell-inspired rollover recovery frame, or a modular exoframe enabling multiple configurations and additional storage (for other gadgets, of course).

As well as employing radar sensors to navigate the vehicle, how about using them to defend against missiles and Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) attacks? As such weaponry has become popular with terrorists for attacking ground vehicles, several defense companies have developed RPG defeat or missile defense systems. The first fielded system – known as Trophy – was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aircraft Industries' Elta Group. Trophy is an active system that intercepts and destroys incoming missiles and rockets with a shotgun-like blast using radar sensors to track the incoming missiles.

The Trophy system includes the Elta EL/M-2133 F/G-Band fire-control radar with four flat-panel antennas mounted on the vehicle and has a 360° field of view. A computer uses the signal from the incoming weapon and calculates an approach vector. The system then calculates the optimal time and angle to fire the neutralizers. The launchers fire the neutralizing agents, which are usually small metal pellets (like buckshot).

Another system that is a non-lethal RPG defeat design is the RPGNet from QinetiQ US that uses a net shaped trap made of super-high strength ballistic fiber, developed under a joint Office of Naval Research (ONR)/DARPA program. The net intercepts the flight trajectory at a safe distance from the vehicle and defeats the RPG by crushing its nose, rendering the fuse inoperable. This action stops the high order blast effect by preventing the formation of the shaped charge plasma jet. The system is in development by Foster Miller under an ONR program.

A third option is the ShotScreen™ RPG Defeat System from General Dynamics, which is an active protection system that can be mounted on a variety of new or retrofitted vehicles, including helicopters. The system releases a wave of small diameter, low velocity non-lethal pellets from several non-slewing locations to defeat multiple anti-tank type RPGs. It provides 360° horizontal protection with variable inclination coverage and an option for full hemispherical coverage. Raytheon is also working on active protection systems.

A View to a Kill

With today's world of asymmetric warfare and the need for effective counter-insurgent strategies, the roles of the warfighter and the intelligence officer are becoming interchangeable. It is conceivable that Bond and the British armed services would be working from the same bag of tricks. The US Army plans to provide troops in Afghanistan with hand-held sensors that can peer through walls, detect buried explosives and spot hiding enemy fighters.

These devices use low power ultra-wideband RF to produce images of concealed objects. The Army's Expeditionary Warrior Experiments program will also use these small RF imagers to help find buried roadside bombs, like IEDs. The devices can produce clear images of objects by penetrating any non-metallic structure, including culverst, walls, glass, floors, concrete and the earth up to 10 feet deep.

TiaLinx of Newport Beach, CA, offers the sensors in three different models. The Eagle5 scanners – an M model and a P model – operate at 5 GHz, giving them substantial penetrating capability, even at extremely low power. The M model is designed to detect motion, even a heartbeat or breathing. The company says the device can detect people or animals farther than 20 feet behind an eight-inch thick concrete slab.1

The P model is designed to penetrate the ground and can find tunnels, people in tunnels and buried objects at depths greater than 10 feet, according to the company. Both of the Eagle5 models can also be used as motion sensors for stand-off surveillance of buildings, trails and other areas. The Eagle60 operates in the V-Band to produce sharper images. But the atmospheric attenuation at 60 GHz means this model cannot penetrate as deeply.

Because these devices transmit ultrawideband (UWB) signals, the developers lay claim to being able to obtain a more complete view of hidden objects. Whereas, most ground-penetrating radars that use a narrow band of signals offer a more limited view and are more prone to producing false readings. UWB signals are also less affected by environmental factors such as rain, snow and fog that degrade the performance of many radars. Also, these sensors consume much less power, a fraction of what is used by a cell phone.

About twelve inches long, 8 inches wide and 3 inches thick and weighing three and a half pounds, the scanners look like a cross between a video game controller and an oversized cell phone. The higher frequency version is roughly the same size but weighs about 6 pounds. The devices run on batteries and can operate for about four hours between recharges.

In each case, the sensors have an antenna that sends radio frequency pulses toward a target and a receiver that detects the pulses that bounce back. A signal processor built into the device analyzes the returned pulses, and a complex algorithm turns them into an image of the reflecting object, which is displayed on a small screen. The images can also be transmitted wirelessly from devices that have been mounted on ground-crawling robots or small unmanned aerial vehicles.

Figure 2 TiaLinx mini UAV, including radar sensors for-through-the-wall imaging (photo courtesy of TiaLinx).

And, when it comes to UAVs, TiaLinx offers a mini-UAV that is suited for long standoff surveillance missions. The Phoenix40-ATM is a lightweight and agile mini-UAV with programmability to fly to or land at multiple waypoints and has been integrated with the company's fine beam UWB, multi-GHz RF sensor array (see Figure 2). The entire system is able to detect motion, as well as breathing, inside a compound in order to detect motionless live objects. Perhaps a remote lie detector could be coming next, utilizing heartbeat monitoring.

For Your Eyes Only

At the Satellite 2011 Conference and Exposition in Washington, DC, Norsat International partnered with ConcealFab Corp. of Colorado Springs, CO, to unveil a 1.8 m transportable satellite technology that is capable of hiding in plain sight thanks to an RF-transparent shelter designed to help sensitive military communication equipment escape detection.

This radio frequency transparent antenna enclosure is designed to protect and conceal sensitive communications equipment from detection. Multiple rugged, transportable satellite terminals are concealed within a UV-protected, maintenance-free enclosure. The entire facility is designed to be up and running in minutes with simple setup and alignment features for broadband connectivity on prolonged missions.

Bond Tidbits

Homing devices make frequent appearances in Bond movies, including two homing beacons in "Goldfinger" in 1964. The larger one is used by Bond to track the villain, Auric Goldfinger, to his base. The second is small enough to be hidden in a secret compartment in the heel of Bond's shoe, allowing MI6 to track 007. In 1965's "Thunderball," homing devices get even smaller, this time taking the form of a pill that emits a signal detected only by a certain receiver.

In the category of related technologies: High-powered electromagnetics of questionable functionality are a common Bond theme. In "Diamonds are Forever" in 1971, Q creates a ring with an electromagnetic RPM controller that, when used, ensures a jackpot at the slot machines every time. In 1973's "Live and Let Die," Q conjures up an electromagnetic watch that creates a magnetic field strong enough to deflect a bullet.

Prior to mobile phones, Bond utilized various odd communication devices. In "Live and Let Die," the communicator is a radio hidden inside a clothing brush with a key that allows it to transmit messages in Morse code. In the same movie, Baron Samedi used a Flute Communicator as a direct radio transmission communicator to Dr. Kanaga.

The Man with the Golden Phone

As the cell phone is now a computer equipped with GPS, gyroscopes, Bluetooth, Internet access and more – using augmented reality apps can take Bond to the next level. New smartphone apps allow range-finding and location functions to track objects or subjects, identify them and overlay additional layers of information. Spyglass provides a detailed heads-up-display over anything you are seeing through your phone.2 The app allows a person to assign a primary target, constantly updating its proximity. It also enables tracking of the sun, moon and some star positions. The app can also be used as a rangefinder and an inclinometer, perfect for when a gang of machine-gun toting thugs on skis are chasing you down a mountain in the Alps.

With the right app, Q could provide Bond with a distinctly 007 advantage. Imagine Bond pointing his phone at a building for an overlay of the room layout with which to plan his covert break-in and escape. Another smart app could use facial recognition to get immediate identification of suspected spies or use eavesdropping capabilities for voice recognition. As UWB radar units become small enough, Q will no doubt embed them into the phone for seeing through walls, scanning people for weapons and monitoring their vital signs for lie detection. Augmented reality apps also will identify the nearest subway or safe house to assist Bond in his getaway.

The Web is not Enough

What self-respecting secret agent does not love a suitcase filled with enough equipment to set up an autonomous, metropolitan WiFi network. Such technology is under development by The New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. This portable, WiFi-based network can be carried into contested regions and will allow our hero (or other dissident groups) to set up networks independent of a government-controlled network.

According to reports, The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy these Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.3 The group's Network Suitcase project will rely on a version of mesh network technology, which can enable devices like cell phones or personal computers to create a wireless web without a centralized hub. Data can hop directly between the modified wireless devices with each device acting as a mini cell tower and phone to bypass the official network.

The suitcase includes small wireless antennas, which could increase the area of coverage; a laptop to administer the system; thumb drives and CDs to spread the software to more devices and encrypt the communications; and other components like Ethernet cables. With this WiFi network in a suitcase, James Bond can complete his missions to overthrow governments on the brink.

The Living Daywear

James Bond is always smartly dressed, attracting the ladies with his charm and immaculate attire. Sporting a tuxedo, 007 is no stranger to the elaborate dinner party, where he can keep an eye on his quarry while scouting the security systems of the facility he will break into after the canapés have been devoured. Sean Connery wore outfits by Anthony Sinclair in the early Bond years in movies, such as "Dr. No" and "You Only Live Twice." During the Moore years, the suits designed by Cyril Castle were intended to update Bond's look with contemporary 1970's styles. More recently, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig have worn Brioni suits. Nice threads, but today's high tech suit is also a personal area network ready for the latest in miniaturized electronics interwoven into the fabric.

Wearable Antenna Technologies makes the Tactical Vest Antenna System (TVAS), a concealable antenna designed for military and covert applications.4 The radiating elements slide smoothly over the SAPI plates inside the plate carrier, consequently placing the antenna out of the enemy's sight, and out of the radio operator's way. The antenna system consists of two antenna inserts, two interconnecting cables, and a cable for radio connection.

The TVAS also contains a quick- release mechanism, which allows the operator to disconnect the system in emergency situations. The TVAS has frequency coverage of 30 to 512 MHz in order to be compatible with Tactical Handheld Radios (THHR) as well as other radios with a 50 Ω impedance and maximum power output of 10 W. This includes Motorola radios and other amateur radios. However, the TVAS was designed to fit inside tactical vests by conforming to the ESAPI, and XSAPI inserts. Perhaps they can add some Kevlar and make it bullet proof too.

Pharad also manufactures wearable/worn antennas that are antenna solutions for soldiers engaged in urban and combat missions in addition to security/intelligence personnel operating covertly.5 The body wearable antennas are fabricated using a thin flexible material that conforms to the exterior of the body and outer garments. Communications link performance is maintained without hindering the user's vision or movement.

Different mounting configurations and spatially diverse wearable antenna systems that further enhance link performance are available. Standard connector options allow these wearable antennas to easily connect to most radios. The applications include HF/VHF/UHF communications, GPS, military radio systems, UWB, WLAN, TETRA/Hydra and more.

Something for the Lady Spies – Taser Pumps

As a ladies' man, Bond frequently hooks up with female spies as allies or adversaries, who often employ their own feminine gadgetry. However, times have moved on since Rosa Klebb utilized a venom-laced blade hidden in her shoe to attack Bond in "From Russia with Love" in 1963. Today's self-respecting female secret agent will be sporting the Electric Cinderella Shoe, which is ideal for neutralizing any human threat. The innocent-looking taser pump is capable of delivering 100,000 V jolt when activated by a wireless necklace (see Figure 3).6

Figure 3 Electric Cinderella Shoe System diagram (a) and photo (b) (photo courtesy of

The stun gun has a one-time use as the wearer has to smash the glass tip to enable it. The stun gun is activated by a switch in the matching earring or necklace, which wirelessly activates the stun gun. The crystal tip of the shoe glows, warning the attacker to back off. Once the crystal tip is smashed (against the shin of the attacker for instance) 100,000 V of electricity leaves him/her helplessly immobile. The weapon is powered by a 9 V battery hidden in the heel. It was invented by Simona Brusa, who views them as an empowering device that transforms the wearer into a semi-lethal weapon.


Another of Bond's female adversaries, May Day, played by Grace Jones in "A View to a Kill," would no doubt be tempted by the stylish camera-equipped Eyez glasses that enable users to share point-of-view video with a stealth camera and allow easy sharing of video without complicated file transfer. The Ray-Ban-style shades capture an extra-wide 130° field of vision through a half-inch fisheye-like lens, which is masked as a grommet on the right side of the frame.7 A 0.2 inch HD sensor captures images, and then a low power 1 GHz processor compresses the video. The footage is either saved into an onboard flash memory or transmitted from a 2.4 GHz WiFi/Bluetooth radio to a smartphone.

An app controls the camera remotely and acts as a host through which footage streams to Facebook, YouTube or the Eyez homepage. The setup gets power from a molded lithium-polymer battery in the frame's left arm and the glasses are only slightly heavier than regular glasses at 4 ounces. The resolution is 720p video with one-megapixel stills. It holds 16 GB (up to four hours of video) with up to three hours of battery life. As cellular radios continue to shrink and become more efficient over the coming years, Eyez will be able to connect, stream and share from anywhere without relying on a cell phone.

Figure 4 Cambridge Consultants' through-the-wall radar sensor unit (photo courtesy of Cambridge Consultants).


Somewhere in-between the electronics embedded suit and the suitcase is the trusty backpack – the perfect accessory for a spy on the go, especially one with X-ray vision. Cambridge Consultants, a UK product design and development firm that presented at this month's Defense and Security Forum at EuMW 2011, has introduced a see-through-wall radar sensing device, called the Prism 200c. By providing added mobility and covertness to surveillance, the Prism 200c can gain intelligence on the location and movement of any people that might be inside a particular room. It is a lightweight and inconspicuous device that fits covertly inside a backpack (see Figure 4).8

This technology is already used by the military, security agencies and Special Forces throughout the world and employs sophisticated software to evaluate the position and movement of people in rooms and buildings, from the other side of the wall. The Prism 200c improves upon this capability, reducing the setup process. The operator can simply lean against a wall to either monitor or record the activity within a building, maintaining cover by operating it via a handheld laptop computer or similar personal device on site.

The Prism 200c is a battery-powered and highly portable radar device that employs smart radar signal processing to sense human movement and position – even in environments with a number of radar reflecting surfaces. It also provides meaningful data presentation, both on-device and remotely, including front, side and overhead, and 3D views.

From Robots with Love

For other surveillance tasks, the iRobot 110 FirstLook is a small, light, throwable robot that provides quick situational awareness, persistent observation and investigates confined spaces without risk to the spy. FirstLook is for a range of infantry missions and special operations, including building clearing, raids and other close-in scenarios with enemies.

Four built-in cameras with configurable video compression provide high situational awareness, allowing observation points in front of, behind and on both sides of the robot. The robot also includes two-way audio communication using 2.4 or 5.8 GHz public frequencies or can use military radio bands. It provides two-way video and audio communications, if needed. Digital mesh networking capabilities allow multiple FirstLook robots to relay messages over greater distances, increasing Line of Sight and Non-Line of Sight capabilities. It uses a wrist-mounted, touchscreen Operator Control Unit (OCU). The battery-powered OCU includes a built-in radio.9

Tomorrow Never Dies

James Bond and his gadgets are fictional, but as this article demonstrates, the RF and microwave industry is at the forefront of technological development that offers the capability to address real threats, carry out covert surveillance and gather essential intelligence. Some devices may seem off-the-wall, literally in some cases. And others may seem spectacular. But sometimes fact can be stranger than fiction. What is true is that the defense/security sector will continue to be a source of innovation for our industry, which will continue to develop products that James Bond would be proud to have in his arsenal of advanced electronics.

Comment online – Use the new article comment feature on to let us know gadgets you know of that we have may have missed in this review.


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