Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Mini Insect Robocops: Engineers, Government Work on RC Insects
Recent sightings have raised question over whether the government has secret miniature spy drones
New York college students attending an antiwar rally in Lafayette Square last month were convinced they saw small flying machines that were "definitely not insects" hovering above.
Bernard Crane, a Washington Lawyer, saw them too and said he had never seen anything like them in his life.
These sightings are among a group of sightings occurring recently in Washington and New York. Some observers think the unidentified flying objects may be miniature high tech surveillance tools set loose by the Department of Homeland Security to observe the protests. Others say that the devices are just dragonflies, despite observers’ insistence that the flying entities are not insects.
None of the various government organizations, have admitted to deploying robotic spy bugs over the U.S., but many of these organizations and private companies they contract with acknowledge that they want to do so and are actively pursuing the technologies to make it possible.
Some government organizations are not looking to redesign nature, but rather to modify it. They are growing special live insects with computer chips in them that control the insects' nervous system. The insects could also be made to carry devices, like miniature wireless cameras.
These robobugs could have a plethora of uses, including crawling after sneaky suspects, guiding our missiles, or exploring collapsed structures--and perhaps snooping on protesters.
Gary Anderson the Defense Department's Rapid Reaction Technology Office, when questioned by interviewers about if such drones existed responded, "If you find something, let me know."
The CIA, according to The Washington Post, developed a simple dragonfly snooper in the 1970s.
Tom Ehrhard, a retired Air Force colonel, specializing in unmanned aerial vehicles admitted that the U.S. government can be pretty sneaky.
The armed forces have been using robotic fliers since World War II and currently have 100 official models ranging from the size of planes to the size of birds. These models flew 160,000 flights last year, according to official estimates.
Recent reports by the Army suggest that these unmanned flights may make air travel hazardous, with their increased frequency.
It appears that designing robobugs is a bit harder than robotic planes though. Insect flight is "theoretically impossible" and only recent research at Cornell University has been able to fully explore how dragonflies fly.
The research revealed how the dragonflies conserve energy while hovering by fine wing adjustments. Such discoveries could help future robobugs hover in place while they watch their mark.
The CIA developed a gas powered dragonfly robot in the 1970s, which was declared a failure when it could not handle the crosswinds. It was powered by four small wings. The CIA's spokesman George Little said he could not comment on what the Agency had been working on since.
Only the FBI officially denied having robobugs.
DARPA declared though that they are hard at work implanting moth pupae with computer chips to make "cyborg moths" when the pupae emerge from their protective casing. The Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems hopes to allow researchers to grow insect nerves into silicon computer chip connections to allow the insects to be remote controlled like RC airplanes. DARPA researchers also are raising cyborg beetles.
At a scientific symposium in August DARPA program manager Amit Lal announced the following:
"You might recall that Gandalf the friendly wizard in the recent classic 'Lord of the Rings' used a moth to call in air support. Today, this science fiction vision is within the realm of reality."
Many in the armed forces have serious doubts though about if the project will ever take off of the ground.
Fully robotic fliers may be a better way to go.
The California Institute of Technology and Vanderbilt both demoed robotic flying insects, though their devices looked robotic. However, Harvard University managed to get a truly insect-looking robot to fly, by beating its robotic wings 120 beats per second. The device, machined by lasers and weighing a mere 65 mg is a technical marvel. However, its power supply is still too limited to allow it to be autonomous.
Japanese researchers have succeeded in launching autonomous radio control fliers with four inch wing spans, though. These fliers are the size of hawk moths.
There are many practical challenges to designing insect fliers for example dangers from birds or spider webs that could take out the expensive pieces of electronics in an instant.
The question still remains though what the sightings in Washington and New York were.
Entomologists interviewed believe the entities to be black dragonflies, based on descriptions. The dragonfly population of Washington "can knock your socks off" according to one entomologist.
Unfortunately, the entomologists could not explain the bulb shape attachments to their tails that many reported seeing; nor could they explain their organized flight which was widely reported by observers. Dragonflies do not fly in packs, according to entomologists.
While these strange sightings will certainly raise the paranoia level, they bring to light the large amount of fascinating research into autonomous aerial vehicles.
http://www.dailytech.com/Mini+Insect+Ro ... le9222.htm