Tag Archives: technology

Royal Holdings falling on their SWORD


David Codrea wrote a column warning of a potential new privacy-busting product called the SWORD. The ramifications were pretty obvious to me, too. Warrantless searches, outing lawful CCW, crooks locating loot, crooks spotting the armed guy to off first.

Claimed Weapon Detector Raises Privacy, Legal and Safety Concerns

“The company has created a case that goes around either an iPhone 8 Plus or Pixel 2 XL and uses the phone’s audio sound waves as a sort of sonar to detect whether someone is carrying a gun, knife or explosive device.”

Perhaps, perhaps not. But other dangers come to mind. The whole point of carrying concealed is to preserve privacy as part of an overall defensive posture. Anti-gunners could use the device to harass and even SWAT a gun owner. Criminals could use it to identify who they would need to take out by surprise first. Police could use it to bypass Fourth Amendment search and seizure proscriptions. The company claims Homeland Security is intrigued.

Except…

Based on my research, I think I smell “scam.” And that’s the bright side of a tool for tyranny meant to disarm, register, and track free people. I can think of certain governments that would have loved it.

(not the original image; see link)

My background includes — among many other things — electronics, heavy emphasis on RF and even radar (which comes into this in a minute). Right off, I wondered about that “audio sound wave” bit. Human hearing-range sound waves shouldn’t have the resolution to do what the SWORD allegedly does, without some impressive processing. So I dug a little bit more.

Elsewhere, I found a link that claimed it was ultrasonic. This gets into the resolution-range of the possible — we’ve all seen ultrasound baby pictures — but ultrasound works in contact. With a gel to improve transmission/reception. Working at 40 feet?

On to the Royal Holdings website, where I found some specifications and images. There I learned that the SWORD is neither audible acoustic nor ultrasonic, but RF-based, specifically, the US model would work at 3-10 GHz. That makes a lot more sense. It’s a little bitty radar system.

But I was still dubious. That frequency range would give a max resolution of 3 centimeters, just under one and a quarter inches; which makes it hard to resolve the shape of a gun less than an inch wide, seen edge on.

There are ways to do it though, involving scanned antenna arrays and digital signal processing. Fancy stuff, and it would require a lot of cash to develop a single chip to handle it all (and RF transmission and reception combined); it seemed a bit much to expect from a startup to develop and sell for $1,250 ($950 for pre-orders). But technically doable.

But I was still bothered by the claim that it can detect and recognize weapons at 40 feet. Reading their specs bothered me even more.

This is supposed to work up to forty feet. But it says that the device is FCC approved and transmits under -41dBM. That’s 0.00007 mW, 0.00000007 W, and I simply don’t believe that a cellphone-sized antenna array at that power level would yield a readable reflected power at 40 feet.

Royal Holding’s tech specs mentioned the processor chip that is the heart of this gadget. It’s a VYYR2401, which turns out to be a real thing, sold by Israeli company Vayyar. And it’s impressive. (Some folks don’t realize it, but Israel has a pretty decent tech sector, beyond fine arms).

The VYYR2401 really is a transmitter/receiver/array-scanning/digital signal processor all in one chip.

Reading about that, I discovered that Vayyar has a retail divsion called Walabot. This where things get quite interesting.

If you look at the Walabot Maker series of chip-based sensor kits, you’ll find interesting things in their spec sheets. Like images of circuit boards which appear to be the originals of the images in Royal Holding’s SWORD brochure. Even the RF field diagrams.

It very much appears that RH lifted their tech data and images from Walabot. My initial thought was that RH is simply buying Walbot Maker kits, writing their own smartphone app, and reselling it at a huge mark-up. The Creator version runs $149.99 from Walabot, while RH says they’ll sell at $1,250. The Walabot Developer is priced at $599.99. Such a deal. For Royal Holdings.

But then I spoke to someone about the cool stuff the Walabot products can potentially do, and started thinking about raising the money to buy one myself for experimenting (the sensing possibilities are incredible; by the specs, the Walabots are very cool).

And I found the Walabot DIY. This is a $65 dollar… cellphone case that turns your smartphone into an RF-based remote sensor that can detect and image hidden objects. Sound a bit familiar?

If Royal Holdings is actually planning to sell the SWORD, I believe it is a re-packaged Walabot DIY, at a $1,185 markup, or 19 times the real price.

But I have significant reservations about the legitimacy of the operation.

They’re using images from another company’s web site.

Nothing in Vayyar chip specs or Walabot specs indicates that it can operate at 40 feet. Indeed, the Walabot DIY is listed at being able to sense metal objects through walls at four inches. Not forty feet. So we appear to have one outright false claim.

Royal Holdings also claims that the SWORD can detect explosives. What the Vayyar VYYR2401 chip detects is dielectric materials. Vayyar says it can be set up to measure milk fat content; presumably by setting a reflectance value for the dielectric of a known milk fat level, and looking for variation. In theory, one might build a similar reflectance database for known explosives, but you’d have to know how to compensate for any intervening materials: cotton, nylon, dry clothing, damp clothing, metallized clothing (and won’t that wreak havoc on weapons detection). If it works at all, there will be a lot of false positives AND negatives.

Also note that detection/analysis based on reflectance values means knowing received signal strength very precisely: the farther away something is, the lower the return signal. It is impossible for the SWORD to know the distance to a random object, and compute the return signal level. They’d have to add in range detection to compute path loss, to then compute reflectance to guess at a material. That functionality does not appear to be in the VYYR2401, making explosives detection another seemingly false claim.

Then there are issues with the supposed business itself.

Many individuals register web domains anonymously, to protect their privacy. For-profit businesses, that rely upon people knowing who they are, rarely do.

royalholdings.org is registered through an anonymizing proxy. For one year.

What sort of business that plans to be around long enough to deliver a product — still in design — registers its domain for just one year? And .org? For a business?

royalholdings.com is parked, for sale.

What kind of business won’t spring for the .com domain?

The SWORD’s Royal Holdings claims to be located in West Hollywood, California. The only active California incorporation listing I can find for “Royal Holdings” is Royal Holdings, LLC located in Los Angeles. It’s been around for twenty years. This “Royal Holdings” is a new startup according to CNET.

The SWORD Royal Holdings’ principals — per their Team page — are Barry Oberholzer, Jeromy Pittaro, and Chuck Bloomquist.

The principal for Royal Holdings, LLC in LA is David Soufer.

Is the SWORD’s maker marketer appropriating another company’s name?

If this SWORDsmith has investors, they should be asking serious questions, and possibly demanding their money back. As should those 8,000 prospective customers who Oberholzer claims have pre-ordered at $950 a pop.

But David Codrea notes, “I doubt if there really are investors– I’m smelling an ad agency stunt by the antis.”

That’s a real possibility; that the anti-rights gun control crowd is pulling a stunt to rile gun owners. And sites like CNET giving them unquestioning adoration (kudos to 9to5Mac’s Lovejoy for expressing his own doubts)?

“What gets me is tech websites regurgitating their stuff,” Codrea said.

Me, too.


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Mandating Technology

It’s not RKBA-related, but it’s exciting:

New bill bans electrical generation unless they are fusion-based
Introduced as the Make Power Green Act, the proposal would strip the ability of utility companies to build power plants with any greenhouse gas emissions. Backers argue that as much as 40% of global warming is caused by human CO2 emissions, which fusion power is incapable of producing.

Oh. Wait. My bad; this one — H.R.3458; text not yet posted — bans “pistol sales unless they can microstamp their bullets.”

“Introduced as the Make Identifiable Criminal Rounds Obvious (MICRO) Act last month, the proposal would strip the ability of federal firearms licensees to sell pistols that do not carry the controversial microstamping technology. Backers argue that as much as 40 percent of murders go unsolved due to lack of evidence, which the bill is meant to address.”

You can see my mistake: microstamping is about as workable as as breakeven fusion power. Technically, both work a little in the lab, but not in the real world.

Microstamping would also be expensive (rather like fusion is expensive. But while governments — courtesy of taxpayers’ pockets — can dump billions into fusion research, individuals looking for affordable defensive solutions would be harder pressed to afford microstamping pistols. (But we all know that’s the real point.)

My imaginary fusion bill might halt the construction of new power plants, but it wouldn’t do anything about the 7,658+ existing plants. Nor would halting the sale of future pistols do a darned thing about the 265 million to 750 million guns already in civilian hands in America. Well, the Obama administration made a start on shutting down coal plants, no doubt these idiot Dim-ocrats have a similar plan for our guns.

You’d think that rational people would have learned their lesson about legislating that which cannot be. Oh. Wait.

My bad again; rational people.

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FEELING A BIT, WELL, DUMB

A friend sent me a story the other day about how Chrysler cars could be hacked and controlled. This is not a trifling deal like the Iranian nuke deal either. This is a big important deal if you happen to be driving one of these vehicles that is connected to the Sprint wireless program Uconnect.

Hackers can cut the brakes, shut down the engine, drive it off the road, or make all the electronics go haywire.


Uh oh.

But to be fair, it seems that the only reason that the article is about Chrysler products is because the investigators are

a tiny team that lacks the funding to keep buying cars and the time to break into them.

Uh oh.

Sprint, as network controller could block the hacks, but has not said if it will do so, just that it is working with Chrysler.

You can read the whole article yourself.

I can save the team some footwork and expense though. Government Motors onStar is a huge liability. At the very least to your privacy, and that’s NOT if it’s hacked. Turns out that onStar collects quite a lot of information on vehicles and sends it to Government Motors. Well, and third parties, not defined or designated. But hacked, why yes indeed. An article came out yesterday that onStar can be hacked and it seems Government Motors is far less willing than Chrysler to acknowledge or discuss fix. Government Motors told the hacker who contacted them it had fixed the vulnerability.

Kamkar said he discussed the fix with representatives from GM, but their efforts failed to thwart the attack method he uncovered, which uses a device he built and dubbed ‘OwnStar.'”

“They have not yet fixed the bug that ‘OwnStar’ is exploiting,” he told Reuters.

I’m shocked, shocked I say. Uh oh.

You can read the whole article yourself.

Beyond that, some people are incredible creatures called “nerds”, and they read changes in things called “Terms and Conditions”. Some of these “nerds” have blogs, where they put in regular people language what these things say. One such “nerd” detailed what he found out about the changes in onStar’s terms and conditions and what it meant for regular humans. Not good stuff, but if you use or have used onStar you might want to give it a read.

You can read the whole article yourself.

The right wing conspiracy publication known as USAToday came out with an article a couple years ago talking about the pending installation of “black boxes” into the moving data collection devices that used to be known as the family car. USAToday does a nice job of detailing what all can and will be collected and again how it can be used. The black boxes are not the same as onStar, this is a separate avenue of data collection. Although we have nothing to fear from this. Nothing at all.

Fears have been “blown out of proportion,” says Mukul Verma, a former top GM safety expert who is now a consultant. “I don’t think there is any chance of it being used or misused without people’s permission.”

You can read the whole article yourself.

Uh oh.

Sure makes one wish for the good old fashioned cars doesn’t it? One you could just drive. Yeah, I did when I needed to get a car a couple years ago. I knew exactly what brand I wanted, and hunted and hunted and hunted for one. Most of the dealerships I stopped at or contacted gave me the same information. “I’m sorry ma’am, but since cash for clunkers happened those are hard to find. In fact good used cars that people wanted that they could just buy outright are VERY hard to find. But we have a really nice Chevy Cruze, or this gently used Chevy Volt. If you don’t mind a little singeing, we have almost all the burn smell out of it now. Can give you a really good deal on it.” Ok, I admit, I made up the last part about the Volt, but not the rest of it.

Yep, I do love technology, I really do. I adore my phone, my computer and my tablet. But let’s be honest, they have vulnerabilities. I suppose if you choose to get one of those cars with that kind of technology you can decide for yourself the risk to benefit ratio.

But any time you get something with mechanical moving parts and introduce electronic control into it I think there is probably a risk. We should each get to decide if we take the risk or no.

That being said the last electronic I wish to draw your attention to is the “smart gun”. From Bearing Arms today comes a article about rifles using TrackingPoint technology. A married couple has figured out how to hack into TrackingPoint. They can use a wireless connection to change the information and even the target the gun tells the shooter they are aiming for. Wired details all the work the couple did and what all they can do with it.

You can read the whole article yourself.

Uh oh.

Smart gun technology, you know, the kind gun grabbing politicians keep telling us will keep us “safe”. It will prevent the “evil handguns that only have a purpose to kill” from doing so, according to Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who wants them banned. Seeing as how they have no “sporting purpose”. Smart gun technology, like having to wear a special watch to be able to use your gun. What could go wrong with that? Or your gun has to recognize your fingerprint to use your gun. While you may be annoyed your spouse used your toothbrush, I’m pretty sure if they need to use YOUR gun, it is important.

I don’t hate technology, but it does seem we are losing choice in just how much of it is allowed into our daily lives. And it seems to me, that when the direction that push is coming from is the government, the results won’t be good. After all, what could go wrong?

From the Bearing Arms Article

By their computerized nature, any computerized “smart” gun can be rendered inoperable just as the TrackingPoint was in this test, and some smart guns are rumored to have been designed from the ground up to be rendered inoperable with the push of a button by either the manufacturer, or by government itself.

Uh oh.

Ok, this one is just for a grin. No “uh oh” honest.

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