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Robotics Security The Military Technology

Electronic Warfare Insects Coming Soon 187

Mike writes "British defence giant BAE Systems is creating a series of tiny electronic spiders, insects and snakes that could become the eyes and ears of soldiers on the battlefield, helping to save thousands of lives, and they claim that prototypes could be on the front line by the end of the year. A fascinating development to be sure, but who thinks this won't be misused domestically for spying and evidence gathering?" Included in the story is a link to a creepy little (scripted, rendered) demo video of these robots in action.
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Electronic Warfare Insects Coming Soon

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 04, 2008 @06:15PM (#23294924)
    ... without giving yourself away.

    I can only imagine the possibilities of someoen dumping some bugs in an area and have a permanent observation of the majority of the population you want to keep your eyes on.
  • by rastoboy29 ( 807168 ) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @06:48PM (#23295114) Homepage
    It may just be that it is physically impossible to have privacy in the future. If that's the case, then we should accept it and start putting into place the mechanisms to make sure that "transparency" is a two-way street, which is the best case scenario in that case.

    Link to the Wikipedia article on his ideas: []
  • Not exactly (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NEOtaku17 ( 679902 ) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @06:51PM (#23295130) Homepage
    "I thought soldiers were on a battlefield precisely to take as many lives as they could..."

    No. If a nuclear armed nation wanted to take as many lives as possible, none of their soldiers would be on the battle-field.
  • Re:the video (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @07:02PM (#23295246)

    That video that's mentioned is here. This technology still relies on wireless transmission, so who ever uses it must be in relative close proximity. So when deployed, if you notice them some how, you'll know someone is near by.
    From behind the headboard slipped a tiny hunter-seeker no more than five centimeters long. Paul recognized it at once - a common assassination weapon that every child of royal blood learned about at an early age. It was a ravening sliver of metal guided by some near-by hand and eye.
  • Re:BAE Systems Motto (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xSauronx ( 608805 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (tinmadxnoruasx)> on Sunday May 04, 2008 @07:03PM (#23295260)
    isnt that how the Gatling gun was pitched?
  • Re:battery life (Score:5, Interesting)

    by neokushan ( 932374 ) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @07:26PM (#23295392)
    I don't suppose solar power would help solve that problem? After all real insects are attracted to light, so they may as well make these ones do the same.
    Since they're insects, you could have several of them on a site at any one time, just swapping them around for recharging when the batteries run low.
    Hell, combine that with some of the fancy swarming communication techniques we've been seeing lately so they can work together to get the best results at maximum efficiency.
    It's really starting to look as though the future war of mankind vs. machine will be less big tanks and robots and more big mechanical spiders and cockroaches. It'll be like Starship troopers meets terminator, except we'll probably lose.
  • Re:battery life (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @07:45PM (#23295532)

    That all sounds real dandy, but battery life is the achilles heel
    An atomic battery [] combined with some of the newer high efficiency solar cell tech should be sufficient I would thing. And probably a very small lithium ion battery for the solar cells to charge during the day. It could be programmed to find a safe spot to charge its battery with sunlight or even room lights every so often. Also it could have thin wires that could be programmed to recognize electrical outlets, especially in dark corners and behind furniture where it could insert its "antennae" to charge from AC power for a few minutes. One problem with this scenario might be noise. I bet indoors noise would always be a problem with these in any case even with rubberized feet. Another idea for outdoor use would be a micro wind turbine so that it might get some energy for recharging its batteries even at night. I also wonder if soldiers could charge them remotely with microwave transmissions.
  • Pigs with bugs. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @08:16PM (#23295758)
    I am a lot less concerned about foreign/military uses for this tech and a lot more concerned with domestic/police use. Does any of us doubt that this will eventually trickle down to the corrupt stupid thug/bullies known as the police? A scary thought. Although I don't think the first generation of mobile surveillance "bugs" are going to be a threat indoors, I do think it will happen eventually.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @09:51PM (#23296364) Journal
    This technology looks really cool(in a fairly creepy sort of way). The versions that they are currently proposing look more or less biomorphic spins on the "RC car with a camera" concept; but should still be useful. Even more interesting, though, will be the possibilities with smaller, more insectlike, mechanisms(which may well end up being cyborgs, not robots. Bugs are already good at what they do, much better than robots are, and DARPA is already playing with cybugs in the lab). Think of the mosquito, for instance. Those little guys essentially spend their lives following subtle chemical gradients to find their food sources and then swarm around them. Modify the chemical gradients they care about, dump a whole lot of them out of a plane, and you have a distributed sensor swarm that'll look for just about anything that has a scent.

    The prospect that makes me nervous is what we'll do when we want to go beyond recon/search/surveillance type roles. Conventional weapons aren't going to scale down all that well. Chemical and biological weapons will. This will present an unseemly temptation. Being able to tailor lethally armed cybugs to hunt chemical traces and kill whatever turns up would be very useful. Trying to find that IED factory? Druggies blending into the crowd? Russian ambassador wearing a ghastly brand of aftershave? Actually doing any of this, though, is going really, really far into unpleasant territory. Very Unit 731 [].
  • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @10:00PM (#23296414)
    Th RF levels of GPS signals are so low that you cannot detect them without despreading, for which you need the spreading codes. The signal levels are way below the ambient noise floor. Spreading also gives security.

    But spreading limits the bandwidth of a signal and would make high def video a challenge.

  • by Plutonite ( 999141 ) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @11:02PM (#23296754)
    I'll bet there's far more military espionage use being planned. Make a version that uses solar power and has small enough satellite comm chips inside. Even better, design it to allow recharging from electric outlets (which it can connect to at night). Let them lose on a country's borders, millions of them. If they cost a $1000 each, a million bots will constitute a 1 bil $ project. Chump change. They converge on the cities with preprogrammed maps, then start communicating only after they infiltrate major government buildings, intelligence facitilies, military research, terrorist caves...etc.

    This (and the butterfly mentioned in TFA) is ultimate espionage. The idea is so cool that I am forced to momentarily disregard big brother threats from the Orwellian-minded.

  • by Alicat1194 ( 970019 ) on Monday May 05, 2008 @12:10AM (#23297168)
    ...couldn't these be used in rescue situations too?

    For example when a building collapses in an earthquake. Send in an small army of the creepy crawlies to listen for and pinpoint survivors. Make rescue efforts much faster and efficient. Also depending on how they are set up, they could let rescue workers know which areas aren't safe / stable to be digging around in.
  • Re:vaporware (Score:3, Interesting)

    by religious freak ( 1005821 ) on Monday May 05, 2008 @03:14AM (#23297918)
    Agreed. I was pretty excited till I saw the video (posted above). Some of the moves the bots do in that animation were just pure BS. You can't do anything like that with today's tech.

    You ever seen the best of what MIT can do? It's not even 1/4 of what's in the vid.

    Battery power to fly, do that crazy jump, wireless communication, etc, etc just does NOT exist yet. These guys are fishing for a government grant and put some CGI pics together... nothing more.
  • Re:Ha! That's funny. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Monday May 05, 2008 @08:17PM (#23306526) Homepage
    > The sophomoric smarminess of this comment is second only to the monumental
    > ignorance of military doctrine and battlefield necessity. No, kiddo, your
    > anecdotal understanding of these things is flawed.

    I was with the 9th Infantry in the Mekong Delta. Where did ypu get your combat experience?

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