The greatest security innovations of 2018

They’re the

Simple but powerful: combination locks that keep your code unreadable to snoopers. Brian Klutch

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There are no tanks or firetrucks or massive surveillance initiatives among the items we’ve dubbed the best security innovations of 2018. That’s because safety happens by the inch, through a relentless effort to stop the simple vulnerabilities that can lead to major threats—on our doorsteps, overseas, and in our streets. Our honorees down malicious drones without risking collateral damage, help military vehicles transverse tough terrain, offer new ways for police to capture fleeing assailants, and prevent porch pirates from nabbing our packages. Even our old friend the combination lock got a snoop-stopping upgrade. All the better to protect us with, my dears.

Onyx exoskeleton by Lockheed Martin

Grand Award Winner Exosuit to double endurance
A tired soldier is a target—for both injury and attack. Hauling 100-plus pounds of gear, climbing rough terrain, and coping with heat, cold, or damp leads to fatigue and compromises readiness. When strapped to a trooper’s hips, the Onyx powered exoskeleton can double their fortitude. Onboard processors crunch inputs from accelerometers throughout the frame to analyze a person’s stride and direction of movement; the controller then activates motors at the wearer’s knees for an assist. The battery-powered skeleton might not make servicepeople any stronger, but it will help them last longer. In trials, a user donning the Onyx could do 72 squats under a 185-pound load; without it, they could muster only 26.

High Energy Laser Weapon System by Raytheon

Laser-shootin’ ATV
An enemy can easily outfit a basic consumer drone to be a spying or bomb-toting weapon of war. But soldiers could soon zap them out of the sky with the HELWS MRZR laser-shooting dune buggy. Once a human operator confirms a target, a fiber-optic electric laser emits a controlled beam that instantly fries the intruder. A single battery charge can provide up to 30 blasts—although, with an electrical hookup, the magazine lasts forever. Raytheon mounted the current system on a Polaris ATV. We like to call it Quadzilla.

Reconfigurable wheel track by Darpa & Carnegie Mellon

Shape-shifting humvee wheel
Military ground vehicles don’t cruise highways. So Carnegie Mellon engineers developed a wheel that converts from a conventional circle (for hard, flat surfaces) into a triangular tank tread (for sand, gravel, and other uneven terrain), and vice versa. The driver can trigger the change while the vehicle’s in motion and for all, or just some, of the rims. Spokes inside the wheel push its frame from a circular to a triangular shape. At the same time, a brake stops the circle from spinning and engages a set of gears that drive the tank treads. In either direction, the shape-shift takes less than two seconds.

Miniature Hit-to-Kill Interceptor by Lockheed Martin

Tiny missile smacks down threats
Protecting bases and civilians in combat zones typically involves firing explosives at incoming rockets and mortars, which risks significant collateral damage from the airborne blasts. Rather than exploding near its target, the Miniature Hit-to-Kill missile physically whacks it out of the sky. After ground-based radar IDs a threat, a tracking system on the 2.5-foot-long, five-pound missiles takes over. The projectile monitors its victim with radio signals that it converts into light for processing—a technique that Lockheed borrowed from medical-imaging tech like x-rays. The project earned a U.S. Army contract in June; once deployed, dozens of the missiles could fit on one truck-mounted launcher.

Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver Drone by The Ripper Group

Smart-sighted rescue drone
This past January, two teenagers caught in a riptide off the coast of Australia had a world’s-first rescuer: a drone. In just 70 seconds, the remote-piloted Little Ripper flew more than 3,200 feet to their location, dropped a pod containing a self-inflating floatation device, and hovered over the pair to mark their location as they swam to shore. Versions of the rescue pods for land and snow include thermal blankets, beacons, radios, and mobile defibrillators. The 3.2-foot drone’s HD camera also uses its artificial intelligence, co-developed with the University of Technology-Sydney, to distinguish sharks from other marine animals and alert swimmers to lurking biters.

Magnification Combination Padlock by Master Lock

Digit-masking lock
Conventional locks can leave secret codes exposed to spying locker mates, so the Magnification Combination Padlock puts the numbers behind a clear, curved lens. Askance, the slope of the polycarbonate warps the dial so that snoopers can’t spy your digits. Straight on, it magnifies the font underneath from the equivalent of a 20-point typeface to a 28-pointer—making the numbers easier to see through your post-workout sweat haze. Master Lock Company


FirstNet by First Responder Network Authority & AT&T

Phones that’ll work in an emergency
Ambulances, fire trucks, and police cruisers can turn on their sirens to cut through traffic in an emergency, but the first responders’ phones can still get jammed up. A FirstNet SIM card gives them the equivalent of flashing lights on a mobile network. Rolled out this year on AT&T towers, the system puts messages and calls from registered responders on a dedicated (and uncrowded) band of the wireless spectrum. If someone’s outside the range of the approximately 2,500 upgraded towers (the final project will cover 99 percent of the U.S.), their FirstNet SIM sends a message to the LTE network to prioritize its signal over other civilians.

BolaWrap 100 by Wrap Technologies

An automatic lasso
When police need to stop a suspect, they reach for electrified Tasers or resort to tackling. BolaWrap is a nonlethal and non-injuring tool to snare potential perps. The handheld device, based on the throwing weapon slung by South American gauchos, shoots an 7.7-foot-long Kevlar tether anywhere from 10 to 25 feet. The whip wraps around a suspect’s legs two to three times—depending on their size—and two barbed pellets anchor themselves to clothing. Cops can load a new cartridge in seconds.

See the entire list: The 100 greatest innovations of 2018

TAC-TS4 by Thruvision

Sideline weapons detector
Mass-transit systems are major terror targets, but the notion of passing through airport-style checkpoints to hop on a subway appeals to exactly no one. That’s why the Los Angeles metro is the first U.S. agency to adopt the TAC-TS4 screening system, which spots explosives or weapons tucked beneath clothing from as far as 13 feet away. The camera detects terahertz waves—naturally occurring frequencies that warm bodies emit—and IDs spots where recognizable shapes like guns block them. Officers see where a person might have hidden the contraband on a connected laptop. The TSA-approved setup can screen 2,000 riders an hour.

Amazon Key by Amazon

Thwart porch pirates
The Amazon Key service lets couriers deposit goods away from unsecured porches and stoops—hopefully saving the 31 percent of packages shoppers report nabbed per year. Homeowners start by installing an Amazon-approved smart lock and security camera. When a delivery person arrives, they confirm their location on their phone, which then signals the Key service to unlock the door. They slip the package inside, and the door locks behind them. For peace of mind, the camera records the whole transaction. A similar setup on connected cars from GM and Volvo lets couriers pop (then lock) the trunk.