Adafruits visit West Point, United States Military Academy

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Pt 2861

The Adafruit team visited West Point, United States Military Academy today to speak about DIY trends, MAKE, hacker groups and open source hardware. Great group and we think you’ll see some interesting projects come out of West Point as they do more open hardware. Here are some photos to check out of the tour we received after our talk(s). Special thanks to Bob and the cadets!

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  1. So where is the video??

  2. That’s awesome that you able to speak at West Point. I’m glad to see the military is embracing the open soft/hardware movement. I agree with Miguel a video would be nice. Oh and I read about the new captcha… that was a great idea! 🙂

  3. Great photos!

    I’ll pipe in with an agreement of video would be nice.

    Just out of curiosity, was there any area the cadets seem really interested in?

    (BTW, love the captcha)

  4. the cadets seem to be doing more projects with AVR and arduino now.

  5. Having done that, I’d definitely suggest you do a repeat appearance at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. And the guy to talk to about that is Bob Bruninga WB4APR

  6. I think the military, especially the officers view the open hardware movement as an “emerging threat” rather than some hippie warm fuzzy conception of open shangrila.

    This is the kind of stuff that is available to “the bad guys” (i.e., enemy of the day whomever it happens to be) and set the bar …

    In 10 years time, they won’t be fighting just the IED’s while protecting our freedomz, they’d be fighting with stuff that has little microcontrollers at hand.

    So I guess it’s apt that they’re doing a “threat assessment” … Military is about domination and control. I’m not too optimistic about any “contributions” back to the “open hardware community” per se.

  7. @MnM – we do not think that is true about west point in our experience. this is where cadets go to learn. they are learning avr and arduino with a goal of creating projects and understanding electronics – while we agree the military is likely interested in open source hardware for a variety of reasons, we do not think this was any type of evaluation of “threat assessments”.

  8. @MnM — everything makes a lot more sense when you invoke a false dichotomy.

  9. Okay, maybe I am more cynical than others. And to your point, west point is not necessarily the best forum to do “threat assessments”… And I didn’t mean to imply that they considered YOU as some kind of a threat.

    However, these very cadets will in a few years times will be officers and with a couple decades, some of them may command whole armies. So, they may have to deal with “non traditional” threats which may include people who can made stuff that would make the “IED” of Iraq/Afghanistan look like child’s play.

    I’m just trying to arrive at a more realistic reason for the military’s elite being interesting in “Open Source Hardware” and it has got to be more than being part of the DIY movement.

    The fact is that the OSH empowers not only the good guys, it also empowers the bad guys, and it would be helpful if the coming generations of field commanders and officers knew what was possible.

    Not to mention they’d have a much more realistic understandign of what can be done by ‘amateurs’ and therefore they could probably get better value out of defense contractors.

    anyhoo… just presenting a differing point of view.

  10. @MnM – you wrote “OSH empowers not only the good guys, it also empowers the bad guys” – what evidence do you have that OSH “empowers the bad guys”?

  11. I would like to say that while your argument is not completely false, it is not true either. First, any sort of advancement in technology is an advancement to both the good and the bad. This has been true throughout history. Any time one country develops a new weapon, piece of hardware, or strategy, it is only a short period of time before other countries develop the same technology or develop a method to render it ineffective. This results in the dynamic, everchanging nature of warefare.

    Also, another point more specific to relating OSH to military conflict, the enemies that are developing and building I.E.Ds are not uneducated. The way a lot of the I.E.Ds are wired and designed is fairly complicated and requires a fair amount of knowledge to begin with. They are often times capable of being detonated by cell phones, or a delayed switch, or other means that are more complicated than just a pressure plate. Furthermore, the parts that the enemy has used to build the IEDs require a considerable amount of ingenuity and ability. They use parts from rice cookers, toasters, televisions, and mostly common household items so that their orgin can not easily be tracked by our intelligence.

    Finally, the point of all this is that I doubt the “military elites” sees OSH as much of a security concern, because if the enemy wanted to implement micro controllers and other more complicated devices against our troops, nothing is stopping him now (with or without awesome sites like adafruit.come!).

    And as far as the cadets are concerned, they are just nerdy kids that want to learn a thing or two from the pros.

  12. @MnM

    I am one of the cadets who listened to Phillip and Limor. You are right that we are always thinking about how this may be used against us. After all, wouldn’t you be concerned with how someone wants to hurt you?

    However, I think you are a bit cynical. We care more about how OSH can be used for us than against us. Most of the cadets in that class were electrical engineering majors, with a few CS and IT people mixed in. We enjoy our majors and really do want to learn about this stuff. Sometimes we regret our major’s work load though. 😛

    OSH has great potential to create a new interest and passion in the greater public for science and technology. In my humble opinion, too few people study or play with these things. A renewed interest may help to spark more innovations. Yes, these innovations may benefit the military, but more importantly they will benefit people as a whole.

  13. this is fantastic, great discussions *and* it’s wonderful to see the cadets reading here as well, welcome!

  14. @tba: agreed with many of your points. However, I’m looking at it from a “non traditional warfare” perspective. It is true that various nations would strive to create equivalent weapons once a breakthrough has been made, but the way I see warfare going is domination of “civilian” (possibly beligerant) populations by means of overwhelming military force.

    The model for that is being tried in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The resistance is not coming from conventional armies but un-conventional groups which are essentially improvising on not only tactics but also on weapons (“I” ED’s etc.) These groups some of which are terrorist groups and some are militia’s are utilizing the technologies you and others mentioned but it is a well known fact that most of the tactics being used by the terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq are actually the ones taught to them by none other by our very own agencies when they were fighting the soviets.

    In an ironic way, they are sharing this information with new generations of terrorists.

    However this information is specialized and does not travel in “civilian/citizen” circles to a large extent. For example, a regualr electronics enthusiast doesn’t know how to use a cell phone to construct an IED as that is very specialized knowledge.

    Where, in my opinion, the OSH movement could be perceived as an “emerging threat” by the military forces of the world is where this information is made available to large segments of world population who, in turn, could be the “non tradional resistance forces” faced by the traditional militaries of the world.

    By “empowering the bad guys” I mean, for example, the plans of an UAV being available freely on the internet where it can be utilized by activists to monitor the activities of the Sudanese military in Darfur or by Terrorists in Yemen or Afghanistan to launch aerial attacks on US bases.

    Maybe I’m being naive, but its only a few logical steps away from converting something like a robotic vehicle to a weapon and given the coming OSH uptick, this information is going to be avaialble a larger segment of any given population.

    This could spell trouble for those who wish to achieve and maintain dominance over an “theater of operations” by increasingly robotic means.

    By all this I don’t mean to imply that OSH movement is evil, or that the Military/Defense establishments have evil designs, or that small outfits like adafruit are “threat”… I think OSH is a threat in the same way that the printing press or the information revolution was a threat to the “order of the day”. It is going to change the nature of warfare and empower anyone wishing to “fight back” (whether that action is a legitimate or illegitimate)

  15. @MnM – OSH is freedom. i bet we can all agree that it is worth all of our efforts to encourage more “freedom” in all forms around the world. your hypotheticals are interesting, but currently there isn’t any evidence supporting them in any way – OSH, printing presses and information will always have more benefits than the alternatives -pt

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