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Insect assassin drones? Armed drones choosing targets? What could possibly go wrong?

Feb 20, 20135 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Insect assassin drones, swarm drone surveillance and armed drones that pick their own targets: What could possibly go wrong?

Last year, I wrote about the future of drone surveillance and swarms of cyborg insect drones. That article was full of MAV (micro aerial vehicles) that looked like they should be in a B-grade sci-fi flick. In particular, after seeing a freaky video, I’d like to remind you of the U.S. Air Force’s bug-sized spies, or “tiny a bumblebees,” that would not be detected when flying into buildings to “photograph, record, and even attack insurgents and terrorists.”

MAVs: Bumblebee-sized surveillance swarms and assassin drones

Now, imagine those bug-sized spies working in a swarm, each with a specific surveillance mission. Precisely as a bumblebee can sting a person, these tiny bumblebee-sized drones can “attack” and “sting” the target, surely making them the world’s smallest assassins. The video said these MAVs could be airdropped or hand-launched. Because of the tiny size, they can “hide” in plain sight. They may be used in missions that last weeks, meaning they would need to “harvest energy” from sunlight, wind, vibrating machinery, or even re-energize off of power lines.

Make sure you take the time to watch the video, and then feel free to freak out at the possibilities. However, these insect drones are not part of Homeland Security’s “loan-a-drone” program and the MAVs are not supposed to be deployed against Americans. And if it helps, the video is about 3 years old.

Black Hornet Nano drones

Let’s jump back in with what’s going on in UK drone development. The Brits are also using tiny surveillance drones, 4 inch by 1 inch and weighing .6 ounces, about the size of a pair of sunglasses, each complete with a tiny camera to relay video and photos. Among its many capabilities, the “Black Hornet Nano” drone can “hover and stare,” can “look behind, between and below obstacles,” and can obtain a “bird’s eye view for situational awareness.”

 Image credit: Ministry of Defence

The Black Hornet Nano is a product of Prox Dynamics and is sold only to “government institutions and organizations.” It is both small and inaudible, giving it stealth. It can also go from easily stored inside a pocket to airborne within one minute. While it may look like a toy, British soldiers in Afghanistan are using Black Hornet Nanos for surveillance.

BAE Systems Taranis armed drones can pick their own targets

You might recall BAE Systems, which helped develop facial recognition technology to identify faces in a crowd. If not that, then the director of BAE Systems enlightened us about DARPA’s ARGUS. It has a 1.8-gigapixel camera that is like having up to 100 Predator drones look at an area the size of a medium-sized city at once. From 17,500 feet above, it can track people, cars, and see objects as small as six inches on the ground. The operators can open 65 detailed windows simultaneously. All that HD video is stored and can be replayed any time in the future. ARGUS should give you sufficient reason to get behind the “Preserving American Privacy Act” that would limit domestic drone spying.

BAE Systems have created armed drones for Britain that are an “autonomous stealthy Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle [UCAV] ultimately capable of precisely striking targets at long range, even in another continent.” It’s called Taranis, after the Celtic god of thunder, and it can fly faster than the speed of sound, is stealthy enough to avoid detection, can choose its own targets, and can attack from a continent away.

Image credit: BAE Systems

Taranis “will follow a set flight path using on-board computers to perform maneuvers, avoid threats and identify targets. Only when it needs to attack a target will it seek authorization from a human controller.” It seems like I’ve seen this in movie form, where the drone decided it didn’t need humans…it didn’t end well. Professor and robotics engineer Noel Sharkey told the Daily Mail, “This is a very dangerous move. Once it has been developed, who knows what new governments who inherit the technology will do with it.” Although the UK has delayed the first flight of Taranis numerous times, it’s now set for “the first part of 2013.”

To sum it up, these drones are supposed to save soldiers’ lives, which is good, but that means even more surveillance buzzing around. The UK’s armed robotic super-drone can choose its own targets and attack from a continent away. And from America, the Air Force is secretive about its bug-sized spies that will likely be the tiniest assassins in the world. Add it all together…what could possibly go wrong?

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.