Intelligence: The Wi-Fi Eyes Have It


December 3, 2011: As often happens in wartime, troops quickly adopt useful civilian equipment for military uses. This has been made easier with the arrival of the Internet in the late 1990s. Companies, especially those selling high-tech items, were among the first to put their product catalogs on the web. This allowed the troops to find tech they could quickly adapt to the battlefield.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, troops soon found that civilian surveillance gear was well suited for the combat zone. Security companies were quick to adopt wireless (wi-fi) technology to their security equipment, as there were often locations where it was too expensive to run wire (for power and sending the camera images). This sort of situation occurred a lot in the combat zone and commercial infrared (heat sensing nighttime) vidcams were very popular with the troops. These cameras were extremely useful for new, or temporary, bases. Even troops conducting raids or large scale patrols could use the wireless cameras to watch blind spots, or simply make up for a shortage of personnel.

Some of the manufacturers acted on feedback from military customers (who, at times, became major purchasers) and modified some of their cameras and wi-fi gear. For example, there were portable receivers with small screens. These can be worn on the arm. The biggest hassle with this equipment was the need to change the batteries. Operating the camera and transmitting the data took a lot of power. In some cases, day cameras were hooked up to a small solar panel to make the batteries last longer. Another problem was that the wi-fi system usually employed was line-of-sight, usually up to 1,000 meters. This often made it a chore to place a camera to cover a blind spot. Even with the battery and sighting problems, these cameras became a common, although rarely reported on, feature of the battlefield.


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