The Next Wave of Drones is Coming – But you May Never See It !
Drones are everywhere. Remote controlled aircraft of many kinds have taken over the skies from big cities to farmland. We’ve watched as consumer drones have decreased in size and price while increasing their capabilities. The military has been on a similar and much more interesting (and potentially disturbing) path.
When we think of the military and drones, we think first and foremost of the famous Predator drone. These Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) began simply providing reconnaissance over the battlefields in Iraq but quickly graduated to carrying Hellfire missiles to hit targets of opportunity. If you have been paying attention, you will also think of drones the size of a small remote-controlled plane that can be launched by hand that the US military has already had in use the last few years. That, however, is just the beginning.
The next wave of drones is already smaller and more versatile than ever. Speculation began in 2007 when American anti-war protesters claimed to see many strange objects hovering overhead. Some thought these were tiny surveillance drones, though experts and government representatives said that they were simple dragonflies. Whatever the case, it is interesting that shortly after these reports the Air Force unveiled a number of insect-like drones that were in development.
These drones take many forms and have a variety of different capabilities. These capabilities include chemical sensors, audio, video, and potentially chemical agents and explosives. While there are helicopter-like drones, many have turned to nature, specifically insects to solve problems such as dealing with strong wind currents. By using flapping rather than fixed wings, these tiny marvels can handle sudden gusts of wind and air flowing from an air duct inside a building.
One drone being developed borrows the concept of a hive mind. Many drones fly as a swarm, sharing information, enabling each individual drone to get a big picture of the environment. Each individual drone could also still operate independently.
Closer to being in the field is a small nano drone already being tested by the Marines. These tiny helicopters are easily held with just two fingers and a thumb. The entire system; drone, controller, and monitor is easily carried by one Marine. It is almost completely silent, has a range of a mile, a flight time of 25 minutes, has live video, and is exceptionally easy to control. This Nano Unmanned Ariel Vehicle will be a great benefit to the Marines in the field, enabling them to get live intelligence in many situations, even inside buildings, with little to no risk to themselves.
Given the rapid progress in technology in just a few years, it is virtually guaranteed that military drones will continue to get smaller and more capable. Today, handheld drones in the field may be used almost entirely for surveillance purposes. Tomorrow, it is likely that these tiny warriors will be used for other purposes, including remote targeting of enemy soldiers. While it is true that these drones will be used to save many lives, those reports from 2007 beg the question of what other, more problematic uses they might have in the future.