While the use of military drones is rightly criticized as report after report sanitizes death numbers for public consumption, the future is heading toward a miniaturization of drone technology that makes it increasingly likely that they will take on an even greater role in assassinations and widespread surveillance.
At the heart of this initiative is something known as biorobotics, essentially the agenda to mimic nature in order to produce robotic facsimiles. When applied to drones, biorobotics hopes to harness nature’s unique ability to fly through all environments while avoiding obstacles, and ultimately untether these micro-drones from human control.
According to the Society for Experimental Biology, the latest research is focusing on the flight patterns of bees and birds such as the budgerigar to study their vision systems and flight intricacies. The following two videos to demonstrate these principles:
A research team at the University of Queensland, Australia is using high-speed cameras to plot these movements found within nature and create autonomous micro-drones. The study group makes no secret about the hoped-for applications, and they offer an example of the conversely clunky approach of a fixed-wing autonomous drone landing in the video that follows.
The biologically-inspired principles we uncover will foster a new generation of fully autonomous UAVs that do not rely on external help such as GPS or radar. These UAVs could be incredibly useful for applications like surveillance, rescue operations, defence, and planetary exploration. (Emphasis added) [Source]
However, as with sanitized military drone death reports, much seems to be left out of this “new” research – namely, that it’s not very new. The same professor named in this study, Professor Mandyam V Srinivasan, appeared in an article from 2007 that showed decades-long research into not only the flight patterns of bees, but how their behavior could also be applied to drones – specifically, aggressive tendencies. Emphasis added.
Professor Srinivasan and his team have spent more than two decades unlocking the mysteries of bee vision and navigation, and are now investigating how bee emotions, particularly aggression, can improve robotics.
Research of aggressive bees is unprecedented, he said. Worker bees are generally docile – until a guard bee protecting the hive emits an alarm hormone to signal the hive is endangered.“Normal bees are fairly peaceful when they go out hunting for food, but the moment they get a whiff of alarm pheromone from a guard bee the entire colony mobilizes.
“The flight dynamic changes and they become like little fighter aircraft or missiles,” Professor Srinivasan said.
Bees’ small but smart brains and nervous systems have evolved a “visuomotor” system that enables them to track moving objects with pinpoint accuracy.
Professor Srinivasan’s research has previously been funded by NASA and now has funding from the US Airforce, and its practical potential is diverse.
It could be used for aerial coastal surveillance, weather monitoring and minerals exploration. The technology also has potential to reduce the risk to soldiers involved in peace-keeping and combat situations, who might one day have portable UAVs to send on reconnaissance missions. (Source)
The U.S. military has in fact long made it known that micro-drones are part of its future, and what they have offered to the public as “concept” appears to indicate a program that already could be far more advanced – and worrisome.
The Air Force video below from early 2013 shows Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) with the ability to harvest energy, enabling insect-sized drone swarms to be dropped from military aircraft to stay aloft for a prolonged amount of time. Such autonomy would offer a host of functions, they say, including assassination.
These developments are important to keep track of as an increasing number of scientists, robotics experts, and universities are warning about the threat from autonomous technology equipped with the ability to kill. Swarms of bird- and insect-sized drones free from human control certainly should be at the top of that cautionary list.