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Tomorrow's world

The remote-control assassin

Darron Mark/Corbis/Getty Images

Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, deployed a new assassination technique last November: a killer robot. Installed on a pickup truck parked at the side of a road, it mowed down Iran’s top nuclear scientist while he was driving with his wife, says The New York Times. The Mossad had wanted to kill Mohsen Fakhrizadeh for 14 years and had already dispatched five of his scientist colleagues. The 62-year-old, who studied Islamic philosophy before going to work each morning, knew he was in danger. “Let them kill … we have hope to become a martyr,” he said last year. On the day, he drove an unarmoured car and disregarded warnings that there was about to be an attempt on his life.

The Mossad had smuggled the machine gun and robot into Iran piece by piece and secretly rebuilt them to fit into the bed of a popular model of pickup, on which secret cameras had also been mounted. The person pulling the trigger was a thousand miles away in Israel and used AI to compensate for the 1.6-second lag of the satellite link-up, movement of the truck as the gun fired, and the speed of Fakhrizadeh’s car.

Fars News Agency/AP

The shooting took less than a minute. As Fakhrizadeh slowed for a speed bump, the first bullets were fired; during the next burst, he was struck in the shoulder through the windscreen. His wife, inches from him, was untouched. Three more bullets hit him as he stepped out and crouched behind the car door. Confused bodyguards didn’t know where they were coming from. “They want to kill me and you must leave,” Fakhrizadeh said to his wife, who cradled his head in her lap as he died. Then the truck exploded, as intended, but failed to destroy the robot – the only blemish on the Mossad’s latest addition to its assassination armoury.

Read the full article here (paywall).

Holograms you can hug

Holograms are now so lifelike you can touch them, says Professor Ravinder Dahiya in The Conversation. In the University of Glasgow’s technology labs we’ve been developing them using “aerohaptics”, which create a sensation of touch using jets of air. Put your hand out and you’ll feel resistance. In time you might be able to meet “a virtual avatar of a colleague on the other side of the world and really feel their handshake”.

First we took a “modern variation on a 19th-century illusion technique known as Pepper’s ghost”, using light and mirrors to make a 3D image hover in a space. A small sensor tracks the movement of your hands and fingers and a single air nozzle directs the air to create complex sensations of touch. Soon we expect to be able to modify the temperature of the airflow to create the feel of hot or cold surfaces. We’re also exploring the possibility of adding scents to the airflow, so you can smell the virtual objects as well.

Dahiya says their hologram basketball can be convincingly touched, rolled and bounced. The feedback from our sensors allows you to feel the rounded shape of the ball as it rolls from your fingertips when you bounce it – and the slap in your palm when it returns. Doctors working virtually will be able to feel and discuss tumour cells. Electricians will be able to “feel” what’s wrong with a circuit board. And video games will be more immersive than ever. It sounds like Star Trek, but we’re “boldly going in new directions” right here in the present.