Hackers Show DIY Defense And Disaster Response Gear At Defcon

I tend to think of Defcon as a sort of massive free-for-all, with thousands of hackers all trying to be the one that replaces the speaker’s Powerpoint slide with a skull and crossbones, that sort of thing. In fact, it’s just a bunch of people who like to fiddle with stuff — whether it’s security, hardware, code, or what. It’s the people who tend to not just think “I wonder if…” but who then say “Maybe I’ll try it.” And in this case, they’ve even got the public good in mind. If only we could say the same about congress!

Rafael, an Israeli defense contractor, makes the Firefly, a wireless camera that can be launched from a 40mm grenade launcher. The trouble with this system is that 40mm grenade launchers aren’t particularly easy to come by, they’re illegal for private citizens to own, and cost a fortune. A pair of hackers is working on a replacement that could cost under $500, putting this useful tool in the hands of local police forces, rescue teams, and curious civilians.

Instead of using a grenade launcher, Vlad Gostom and Joshua Marpet are using a 37mm flare launcher — something you can buy at your local bodega. Well, maybe not that close, but they’re around. They designed a custom payload for launch: at the apex, a parachute will deploy and the camera will begin transmitting an image of the area directly below it to the operator. This could be really helpful for seeing briefly the other side of rubble or other obstacles, though there are of course packbots and throwable cameras for that as well.

The prototype still a bit buggy right now and their goal height (250ft) is just half of the Firefly. That said, at $500 it costs a fraction as much and was designed by two guys who thought it would be cool, not a high-tech defense corporation. A little polish and it could be a real product. My suggestion? Kickstarter.

TechWorld highlights two other projects, one a rather shabby but cool flying surveillance station, and the other a simple solution for ad-hoc communication between phones. The latter could be used by people trapped by debris to communicate with each other or rescue teams, no cell signal required.

It’s nice to see these positive and interesting projects coming out of Defcon. I may have to drop by next year if I can build up the courage.