Electronic Weapons: How XBox Tech Protects The Siberian Tiger


February 6, 2014: For two decades now military organizations have been increasingly buying commercial software and hardware for training and combat use. One recent example is the using the Kinect motion sensor on the XBox gaming console to more accurately identify who is moving in the DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone) that separates north and south Korea. The DMZ is 243 kilometers long and eight kilometers wide. No people are allowed inside most of the DMZ which means each side has to carefully watch the zone for infiltrators. For over two decades infrared (heat) detecting sensors have been used by South Korea but these cannot distinguish between a large animal (the DMZ is full of deer, bears and tigers) and people. Since troops will sometimes fire on suspected infiltrators, there is always the danger that a rare Siberian Tiger or Asian Black Bear will be killed instead. South Korea software engineers found a way to combine thermal sensors and Kinect to produce a device that is nearly always right in distinguishing between large animals and people. This does much to make DMZ guard duty less intense and annoying. The constant false alerts because a bear or tiger is approaching the South Korean troops have long been a major complaint of troops watching the DMZ.  

Released in 2010, Kinect was a more capable competitor for the Wii motion sensor device that shook up the gaming world when it appeared in 2006. The developer of Kinect (Microsoft) allowed developers free access to Kinect software and released a version for Windows in 2012. This made it possible for all sorts of innovative applications to be created and that sold a lot of additional Kinect hardware. One of the Kinect developers in South Korea came up with a way to combine Kinect with a thermal sensor or produce a more accurate device for detecting people skulking about in the bushes at night.

About the same time (2013) the South Korean device was being developed a British firm was developing a combat simulation for training boarding parties that also employed Kinect. This simulation is used by sailors from NATO countries serving on anti-piracy or interdiction patrols who actually board suspicious ships. What makes this training simulation unique is its use of the Kinect motion sensor

The boarding simulation (MIOmoves or Maritime Interdiction Operational moves) allows boarding parties to use hand and arm signals as well as voice commands to move through video game like training scenarios showing typical (or not-so-typical) boarding situations. It allows for boarding party personnel to train realistically but without the need to actually have a variety of ships to actually board and move through, or a lot of people playing passengers and crew on the many different ship types you can encounter in various parts of the world.

There have apparently been other military uses of Kinect, which is just one more example of civilian tech being used for military equipment because there is no good (or affordable) alternative.

Meanwhile, it’s uncertain if there are actually any Siberian tigers left in South Korea. Back in the 1960s there were some sightings and a South Korea professional hunter had to track down one that was attacking people and kill it. But since the 1960s the tiger friendly habitat of the mountains and forests in eastern South Korea have changed. A lot more people and commerce has made those east coast mountains less tiger friendly. All that was left was the DMZ, where even researchers were banned. Heat sensing or infrared triggered cameras were set up on the edge of the DMZ but found have no tigers so far. Yet it’s still possible for tigers to exist in the DMZ as it is a perfect nature preserve and the tigers are notoriously elusive. Aside from the occasional desperate human trying to cross the DMZ, there are no people in there. It’s nature as it used to be in this area thousands of years ago when these tigers were the top predator. Kinect may yet confirm that a breeding population of Siberian tigers are still in the DMZ. Until the Koreas are united and the DMZ is (as many hope) turned into a national park, any other kind of search for the elusive tigers will have to wait.



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