Product News: Surgery, Bombs & Spies

Product News: Surgery, Bombs & Spies

by / August 31, 1996
Remote Surgery
An exciting new medical technology may soon be adapted for civilian use, thanks to technology transfer. With it, surgeons may be able to operate on patients located miles away. While telemedicine generally refers to a videoconferenced consultation, "telepresence surgery," as it is called, would carry it a giant step further.

The military wants to put an armored van into the battlefield, equipped with an operating room, staffed by a medical assistant and a surgical robot, operated remotely by the surgeon.

The surgeon sits in front of a 3D computer screen, fingers in metal loops which are manipulated much like familiar surgical instruments.

How precise is it? In a recently televised demonstration, a surgeon, connected by fiber-optic cables to the operating theatre, sewed up pig entrails with tiny stitches -- a particularly difficult operation similar to treating shrapnel wounds in the field. Plans are to eventually perform surgery via satellite transmissions.

The technology -- under development by SRI International of Menlo Park, Calif. -- could provide a way to deal swiftly with civilian casualties from natural or man-made disasters. It might also be valuable for treating patients during outbreaks of highly contagious diseases.

SRI International, 333 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park, CA 94025-3493. Call 415/326-6200.


Bomb Detector
Before the Atlanta Olympics, an InVision Technologies explosives detection system was installed in the Delta baggage handling system at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport. Interest in these devices -- spurred by the blast in Atlanta, as well as the possible bombing of TWA flight 800 off the coast of New York -- is growing.

The system installed in Atlanta, a CTX 5000, combines CAT scanning (computed tomography) and X-ray imaging to produce clear cross-sectional images of a bag's contents. A computer reconstructs the slices, and displays the densities of the objects within each slice. Suspicious objects are automatically located and highlighted regardless of their shape or environment. Traditional X-ray images may be difficult to interpret because images overlap and are superimposed.

InVision Technologies Inc., 3420 E. Third Ave., Foster City, CA 94404. Call 415/578-1930.


"Spy Shop" Privacy Invaders
The availability of relatively inexpensive electronic components has spawned the "spy equipment" industry. Even though many such products are illegal, and the arrests of some distributors have been well-publicized, "spy shops" operate openly in many states, their catalogs are readily available, and even a cursory search of the Internet will turn up more than a hundred suppliers of such products. In most cases, all they require for purchase is an order form and a money order or cashier's check.

The equipment isn't too different from that employed by government agencies. The ready availability, however, ensures that it will be used by spiteful neighbors, voyeurs and criminals. And they'll be looking at us!

Many manufacturers and sellers of surveillance products also manufacture or sell counter-surveillance products. Worried about surveillance? Buy counter-surveillance products to protect yourself. The threat of these privacy-invading products may be greatly exaggerated to push sales of counter-surveillance products. In any case, they do exist and they can be purchased.

The county was being sued by the family of a traffic-accident victim. The turn lane was improperly marked, and the county-supervised ambulance service took too long to arrive, the plaintiffs claimed. Attorneys and county officials met to discuss the matter. During the meeting, several telephone calls were made to clarify matters. A return call from the plaintiff's attorney arrived, the plaintiff made an offer of an out-of-court settlement, then apologized, saying he needed to put the county on hold to take another call.

While they were "on hold," county officials discussed the offer. Unknown to them, the plaintiff's attorney heard every word. He was using the "Hold Invader," a device costing less than $200 that allows one to hear what is being said while the other party thinks the call is on hold.

The newlyweds checked into the hotel's bridal suite, drew the curtains, opened a bottle of champagne and began to relax after a long busy day of wedding activities, relatives, etc. At last they were alone -- they thought.

The smoke detector over their bed, however, contained a video camera, and their weekend activities would be viewed by hotel employees on a television monitor.

Smoke-detector video cameras are available in most spy catalogs for about $500. They are available with audio and will adjust to varying light conditions. Cameras are also available in alarm clocks, stereo speakers, pens, "exit" and "no smoking" signs, framed pictures and a variety of other devices.

The shipment of cocaine was detected by specially trained dogs. Officers pried open the crates to test samples, then nailed the crates together again. They would watch the shipment, follow whoever arrived to collect it and arrest the perpetrators.

Unfortunately, no one ever arrived to pick up the shipment. When the crates were broken open and the drugs taken to a police warehouse, an electronic listening device was found inside. The drug shippers heard the sound of the crates being opened, and listened to the officers' conversations. They knew the drugs had been spotted.

Wireless bugging devices that transmit voices and sounds to an FM radio can be purchased for less than $40. One device with a one-third mile range sells for about $150. A variety of more sophisticated devices with longer-range transmission -- and higher cost -- are also available.

During crucial labor negotiations, the government agency's every move was anticipated and countered. Key portions of the agency's strategy appeared in the newspaper almost as soon as it was formulated.

The agency negotiator's cellular phone was being monitored by a "cellular interceptor," a device costing between $7,500 and $10,000 depending on the vendor. The negotiator's cellular phone number was punched into the device and from then on, both sides of every call were recorded, to be played back at strategy sessions. Key sections were leaked to a sympathetic reporter.

The campus apartment manager knew everything about his tenants, because he was using some inexpensive and easily obtained electronic gear. He used a "shotgun microphone" ($250) advertised as "easily concealed in a sleeve or folded newspaper" to eavesdrop on tenants around the pool and through the open door of the laundry room. At night, he walked down the hallways and put his contact mike ($280) on the walls to pick up conversations in apartments. If he heard something interesting, he would install a listening device in the resident's phone ($255) during one of his maintenance visits. When activated by a code from the manager's phone, the manager could turn the resident's telephone into a room listening device and hear everything that was said.

Any special delivery mail, left at the office, was sprayed with a fluid ($19) which made the envelope transparent for a few minutes before evaporating.

The manager also mounted several pinhole cameras ($1,295) in ceilings over showers during apartment inspections.

Want a set of lock picks ($29 for a set of 11), or just a locking gas cap pick ($9)? For $30 anyone can buy keys that "open and start most foreign and domestic vehicles." How about "warded padlock keys" for most common locks ($20)? Just kidnap someone? Use the $99 voice-changing device when you phone in your demands.