Yesterday marked the end of the 7th annual Phoenix Border Security Expo, and we should all feel much, uh, safer knowing that the 180 companies attending have devoted so much time and resources to keeping our border safe from low-grade pot and immigrants.
The companies set up individual booths like lemonade stands at the Phoenix Convention Center to peddle their ideas and products. Everything from armored vehicles, drones, portable all-in-one-thermal-infrared-high-resolution-cameras that can nearly read the expression on a person's face from a mile away, to LED flashlights.
There was a bit of a deflated feeling in the show hall, knowing that some of the high-ranking Border Patrol agents scheduled to speak and, hopefully for vendors, dole out contracts, couldn't attend because of current spending cut talks in Washington. (Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol's parent entity, has recently issued notice to employees of possible furloughs.) But generally everyone attending seemed more than happy to explain the details of their products.
Jim Purdy, of Local Motors, a company based in Chandler, displayed a car his company designed that can do 140 mph, looks like the Batmobile, and is made almost entirely from parts you can find or order from your local auto shop.
The car is named the Rally Fighter because the body is modeled after a WWII fighter plane. It has a Chevy Corvette engine, a Ford back-end, Jeep headlights, and a Frankenstein menagerie of other miscellaneous parts. Here's a video of the car crashing, doing a 360, and driving off.
Local motors pooled a network of 40,000 industrial and graphic designers and designed the car entirely on the internet. It's what Purdy calls "community development." They trolled their design network for a winning idea, and assembled the car locally with local parts, which sidesteps the need for a massive factory and drastically cuts the time for production. They've built 50 so far - at $80,000 a piece.
"We'd love to sell the Border Patrol 50 of these," Purdy says.
Courtesy of AeroVironment, and possibly coming to a border community near you, is the Qube. It's 5.5 pounds, only 3 feet in length, has four helicopter-style rotors, which gives it hovering capability, and seems like something Huxley would have placed in Brave New World. (AeroVironment's UAV slogan is, "The Future Is Unmanned," which seems to bode ill for humanity.)
They've placed a camera on the bottom of the mini-copter and it could be used to spy on smugglers or crossers when sending an agent is too difficult or dangerous.
One company sold blimps and inflatable structures; another, speedily erectable towers. And the Mason Company pitched its animal kennels and sturdy fences. (Although it's presumed the fences would be for K9 units, the Border Patrol operated a satellite base on the Tohono O'odham Reservation that kept caught immigrants in a chain link area eerily similar to an outdoor kennel, so it seems the applications for their product could be varied.)
There was no lack of guns at the Expo. Rifles adorned tables on nearly every aisle.
Ferfrans Weapons Systems says it has developed a fully auto rifle that lowers the firing rate from 850-900 rounds-per-minute, to 550-680 rounds-per-minute, making the gun more manageable and accurate, for those times when semi-auto or three round burst simply won't get the job done. So easy to operate, says Charles Ferrera, with Falcon Operations Group, you can slap nearly anyone behind it and get effective results.
What was the most important piece of technology at the Expo?
"This is the most important thing in the whole fucking building," Ferrera says, as he points to a clip that will hold your chewing tobacco on a tactical belt. His preferred chew is Skoal, citrus blend.
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It just might be.
With spending cuts looming, possible furloughs, and apprehensions in the U.S. 78 percent below their peak in 2000, a can of chewing tobacco to kill time might come in handy on the Arizona border.