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Taking refuge in technology

Four young IIT-ians — Rahul Singh, Ashish Bhatt, Amardeep Singh and Ankit Mehta — have one regret: They weren’t in Mumbai when commandos battled terrorists at the Taj hotel and Nariman House, reports Sunita Aron.India can, India will

india Updated: Jan 19, 2009 14:43 IST
Sunita Aron

Four young IIT-ians — Rahul Singh, Ashish Bhatt, Amardeep Singh and Ankit Mehta — have one regret: They weren’t in Mumbai when commandos battled terrorists at the Taj hotel and Nariman House last November.

The reason: The micro-wing aerial surveillance devices they have developed could have helped the commandos keep track of the terrorists by transmitting a live video of the ground situation from above. This could have helped shorten the siege that eventually lasted over 60 hours.

The unmanned vehicles could have flown all around the Taj, peeping through windows, taking pictures or recording voices without getting noticed.

The devices are about three-quarters the size of a human hand.

They can be quickly deployed even in congested areas, said the IIT-ians who have floated ideaForge Technology to fabricate such devices, which is their biggest advantage.

Called Quadrotor Hovering Platforms, the devices take off and land automatically, controlled by a laptop-like unit. They can fly both indoors and outdoors and can be turned into assault weapons if required.

The other device is a fixed wing-flying platform, suitable for longer-range wide-area surveillance.

“Our long-term vision is to develop high-endurance, unmanned aerial vehicles with state-of-the-art vision systems. They would be able to fly for eight to 10 hours at a stretch,” said the ideaForge team. “We’d like to see three or four such aircraft over Mumbai at all times, communicating with each other and getting to troublespots within minutes. The vision systems would be powerful enough to read number plates and capture faces.”

IdeaForge is now in touch with several national laboratories, willing to demonstrate the devices to security agencies.

But ideaForge is just one of several techie teams thinking of how to keep the future secure.

Many are exchanging ideas on e-mail. A techie from Jharkhand, who works in Kolkata and declined to be named, said: “We have a Yahoo group to spread cyber crime-related awareness. We give e-mail IDs, phone numbers of the departments concerned to register information related to bombs or any anti-national activities. Some colleagues plan to develop software for zoom cameras to track infiltration along the border. We can also develop modern software and techniques to help investigations and automate systems, develop more efficient mail tracking systems.”

Harshwardhan Gupta, a mechanical engineer from IIT-Mumbai, founded Neubauplan Machine Design Studio in 1981.

He highlighted how technology can help: “Today’s wars are fought with technology, not men. After 9/11, there was no terror attack on the US as they promptly updated their security technology. They use modern devices like motion sensors and infrared cameras on the Mexico border to check infiltration. If we had infrared cameras, we could have used them to locate the terrorists in the Taj. Immune to flames or smoke, they trace the person through body heat. Our commandos did not even have stun grenades.”

A stun grenade is small and made of plastic. When thrown into a room, it produces electronic shockwaves that leave occupants stunned for a few seconds, long enough to overpower them. It does not damage the room in any way.

Prakash Singh, former director-general of the Border Security Force, agreed that the time had come to update security technology.

Professor Phalguni Gupta, of IIT-Kanpur, had prepared the first blueprint for the National Security Technological Research Centre.

It is pending with the government since 2006.

“Several European countries, the US, Japan and even Singapore have set up similar centres as only new technology can predict the pattern of attacks in, say, five years from now. Also, in a 26/11-like situation, commandos could have landed in the city with a map of the building rather than grope in the dark for hours. While intelligence can give inputs on vulnerable areas, technology can spell out the type of danger, mode of attack, use of weapons. Why should we remain a step behind the terrorists?” said Gupta.

Amit Kumar Sharma, a technical consultant with a software company, said Indian techies are working on a revolutionary ‘IF’ (Identification of Faces, captured on CCTV) technology for Israel. Here’s how it functions: In the US and Israel, each person, including those visiting the country as tourists or workers, is given a Social Security Number. The government has their records along with their photos. New-generation CCTVs capture faces and match them with their records to find out the person’s complete profile.

Ironically, Sharma pointed out, the work is being done for other countries while we languish. “It’s a revolutionary idea. If we have any suspect captured on CCTV, we could track his complete record in no time,” he said.