12 December 2013
On 17 February 2011, DARPA announced the development of the first fully functional robotic bird.  The “Nano Hummingbird” or, as it is also less imaginatively called, the “Nano Air Vehicle” (“NAV”), was the successful result of a project started in 2006 by AeroVironment, Inc. under the direction of DARPA.  Robots, by definition, must “do work.” And the Nano-Hummer was the first fully functional bird-drone designed and able to perform surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
This robotic hummingbird can remain aloft for 11 minutes and attain a speed of 11 mph.  With a skeleton of hollow carbon-fiber rods wrapped in fiber mesh, coated in a polyvinyl fluoride film,  and carrying “batteries, motors, and communications systems; as well as the video camera payload,” the robo-hummer weighs just .67 ounces. 
Designed to be deployed in urban environments or on battlefields, this drone is can “perch on windowsills or power lines” and even “enter buildings to observe and its surroundings” while relaying a continuous video back to its “pilot.” [video] 
In terms of appearance, the Nano-Hummer was, and is, quite like a hummingbird. Although larger than the typical hummingbird, Nano-Hummer, is well within the size range of the species and is, actually, smaller than the largest of real hummingbirds.  With a facade both shaped and colored to resemble the real bird, the Nano-Hummer presents the viewer with a remarkable likeness of a hummingbird. 
The Nano-Hummer isn’t stealth in the sense of evading radar. Nor is it “cryptic,” that type of camouflage that blends, or disappears, into the surrounding terrain. Rather, with the appearance of a hummingbird, the designers used a type of camouflage called “mimesis,” also termed “masquerade,” as concealment. A camouflaged object is said to be “masqueraded” when the object can be clearly seen, but looks like something else, which is of no special interest to the observer. And such camouflage is important to a mini-drone with the primary purpose of surveillance and reconnaissance. 
Designing this drone on the “hummingbird model,” however, was not done only for the purpose of camouflage. The project’s objective included biomimicry, that is, biologically inspired engineering.  With the hummingbird, its amazingly diverse flight maneuvers were the object of imitation. However, UAV’s head researcher, Matt Keennon, admits that a perfect replica of what “nature has done” was too daunting.  For example, the Nano-Hummer only beats its wings 20 times a second, which is slow motion compared to the real hummingbird’s 80 beats per second. [video] 
Whatever the technical shortfalls, this bird-bot replicates much of the real hummingbird’s flight performance.  Not only can it perform rolls and backflips [video] but, most important of all, it can hover like the real thing. [video]  Part of the importance of the ability hover relates to its reconnaissance and surveillance functions. Hovering allows the video camera to select and observe stationary targets. However, the “hover” of both hummingbirds and bees attracts so much attention from developers of drone technology because it assures success in the most difficult flight maneuver of all — landing. In fact, landing is the most complex part of flight, and the maneuver most likely to result in accident or disaster.
When landing, a flying object must attain the slowest speed possible before touching down. Hovering resolves the problem neatly by assuring that the robot can stop in midair and, therefore, touch the ground or perch as zero speed. Observe the relatively compact helicopter landing port in contrast to the long landing strip required by an airplane which must maintain forward motion when airborne.
The drone has a remarkable range of movement in flight much like the real hummingbird.  Nano-Hummer “can climb and descend vertically; fly sideways left and right; forward and backward; rotate clockwise and counter-clockwise; and hover in mid-air.”  Both propulsion and altitude control are entirely provided by the drone’s flapping wings. [video] 
This remote controlled mini-drone can be maneuvered by the “pilot” without direct visual observation using the video stream alone.  With its small camera, this drone can relay back video images of its location.  The camera angle is defined by the drone’s pitch. In forward motion, the camera provides a continuous view of the ground. Hovering provides the best camera angle for surveying rooms. [video] 
To DARPA, it was particularly important that this drone demonstrate the ability to hover in a 5 mph side-wind without drift of more than one meter.  The CIA’s “insectothopter,” a robotic dragonfly was developed in the 1970’s. [image]  This unmanned aerial vehicle “was the size of a dragonfly, and was hand-painted to look like one.”  Powered by a small gasoline engine, the insectothopter proved unusable due to its inability to withstand even moderate wind gusts. [video] 
The Nano-Hummingbird was named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 best inventions of 2011  and has paved the way for the development of a whole generation of bird inspired ‘bots, including Prioria’s “Maverick,” [image] [video] and, the even more “bird-like,” Robo-Raven, which is still in development by the Army Research Laboratory. [image 1] [video] [video] Also, the development of this first small bird-bot brought the U.S. Air Force one step closer to one of the goals on its wish list: “flocks of small drones.” 
A flock of small drones sounds really cool – as long as the flock isn’t after me.
Taxes & The IRS — One of those Certain Things
1 August 2013
From time to time, the Internal Revenue Service becomes a particular focus of public dissatisfaction. Not that the IRS wasn’t, well, less than popular already. Sadly, just this kind of situation is often an invitation to con artists. So, you might hear some amazing claims. These particular claims are anything but new. A little over 10 years ago, several self-styled “experts” were touring the United States speaking to groups and appearing on radio and TV talk-shows asserting that Americans didn’t have to pay their income taxes. The amazing claim was that, somehow, it’s legal to ignore your IRS tax obligation.
It isn’t. This is a reminder of that simple fact.
Generally, these “experts” rely on one or more of these four false assertions. (1) The power to tax incomes isn’t in the Constitution. (2) Our income tax system is “voluntary.” So, no one actually has to pay income tax. (3) Our paper currency isn’t real money. So we have no real income on which to base an income tax obligation. (4) The speaker/author has followed his or her own advice, and not paid income taxes for several years, without any consequences.
(1) The United States income tax is both legal and, certainly, constitutional. How do we know? It’s written in the Constitution. The authors of our income tax legislation took no chances. They proposed and amended the Constitution to assure the legality of an income tax. The 16th Amendment specifically authorizes the U.S. Government to levy an income tax: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”
(2) Our income tax system is voluntary. In most nations of the world, government inspectors determine how much tax a citizen owes. Then, government collectors “collect” those taxes. This is an involuntary system. In the United States, however, the government allows citizens to calculate their own yearly taxes and submit a “return,” together with their payment before a certain date: April 15th of the following year. Therefore, our system of income taxation is voluntary.
Generally, the IRS takes a taxpayer’s word for the amounts of the taxpayer’s income, deductions, and tax owed. Actual audits are rare with very few spot checks. Notwithstanding the recent admitted misconduct of some IRS officials and the resulting scandal, appropriate audits are most often undertaken when evidence suggests that a taxpayer’s return is inaccurate. Of course, if the taxpayer does not voluntarily submit a return or fails to fully pay their tax obligation, by the April 15th deadline, the IRS will take steps to forcibly collect the tax owed with considerable penalties and a rather high rate of interest. So, our system is voluntary, but only if you volunteer–in time.
(3) Our paper currency is real money. The last actual connection between U.S. currency and our physical gold and silver reserves ended in the mid 1960’s with the government only ending the regulation of the price of gold (“pegging” our currency to gold) in 1973. Federal Reserve Notes are “legal tender (real money) for all debts public and private.” How do we know? It’s written on every Federal Reserve Note. A refusal to accept Federal Reserve Notes as legal tender (money) in the United States is a crime.
(4) Sometimes, the tax-defying “expert” will point out that they, themselves, haven’t paid their income tax in one, two, or three years without incident. To underline their defiance, a few claim to have submitted a return filled out in some colorful or creative way including a written assertion that they legally do not have to pay income tax. Again, a few claim to have done this for as many as three years, but never four. Why? One statute of limitation on prosecution for income tax evasion is four years. The IRS waits out the limitation period to allow these promoters to rack-up the maximum number of prosecutable federal offenses and, then, . . . prosecution followed by a stay in the slammer.
It’s one thing to make an honest, even foolish, mistake calculating one’s income tax. That isn’t even a crime. The taxpayer is just asked to pay any unpaid tax obligation with interest and penalties. However, it’s another thing when the potential tax payer knows they should pay and refuses. And yet an altogether worse thing when a person who knows they should pay, refuses, brags about it, and encourages others to do the same. Again, this brings a stay in the slammer.
In the future, do yourself a favor and don’t fall for the assurances of any scammer who asserts that they have found some previously undiscovered loophole that allows them, or anyone else, not to pay the federal tax on income. Likewise, advise your friends and acquaintances that these scammers, at best, are wrong and, at worst, “are a few cans short of a six-pack.”