The future of drone technology: supersonic, insect-like and networked swarms
By End the Lie
The mad scientist arm of the Department of Defense known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is well known for engaging in truly mind-bending research and development projects.
Some are seemingly benign and benevolent, such as mind-controlled robots and artificial skin for disabled individuals. Others cannot be lumped into this category by any means, such as the “Battlefield Illusions” program which is focused on creating more powerful weaponized hallucinations to be deployed against so-called enemies.
It is of significant importance to note that above all, DARPA is mandated to serve the military. No matter how many supposedly beneficial technologies they develop, they are ultimately a military research organization designed to create cutting edge war machines and intelligence gathering tools.
While the massive rollout of drone technology in the United States is troubling enough in and of itself, it just gets worse when one realizes what the future holds: swarms of drones, insect-like surveillance craft and supersonic remotely controlled aircraft traveling upwards of 1,000 miles per hour.
As hard as it is to believe, these types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known simply as drones, have been around for years.
In 2008, George Huang, professor of engineering at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, produced a drone with a wingspan of a mere five inches which looks much like a butterfly.
However, Huang says that even a drone of this size is far from adequate.
“We haven’t done a final version where we declare victory,” Huang said, according to Danger Room. “I’ll be happy once it’s fly-sized.”
Huang’s butterfly-like drone is far from the only device around.
Indeed, as you can see in the below video, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is pouring money into bird-sized (and smaller) drones.
Furthermore, Danger Room reported on a similar program in 2010:
The Air Force’s 2008 budget plans described the planned Project Anubis as “a small UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that carries sensors, data links, and a munitions payload to engage time-sensitive fleeting targets in complex environments.” It noted that after it was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Anubis would be used by Air Force Special Operations Command. The total cost was to be just over half a million dollars.
They also reported on a new “kamikaze” drone from AeroVironment called “Switchblade” which is “Essentially a guided missile small enough to fit in a backback [sic] and fire at a single foe.”
“It might be the kind of blade U.S. troops soon bring to a gunfight with Afghan insurgents,” they added.
Unfortunately, no firm timeline has been outlined – at least publicly – which says when these troubling technologies will be deployed.
Unsurprisingly, these would not be restricted to military use, as is the case with far too much military hardware these days.
“Police could use them to fly into a drug trafficker’s house,” Huang says. “Or in a nuclear or mining accident, you can send a fly inside to find victims.”
Of course Huang attempts to offset the disturbing invasion of privacy which he explained in the first sentence by positing a positive use for the same technology.
Thankfully, many readers of End the Lie likely see right through this type of deceitful rhetoric.
Another emergent drone technology is the concept of “swarms” of drones which utilize Wi-Fi transmitters to communicate with each other.
One example comes from the cofounder of Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today, a think tank out of London, England, Liam Young.
Young came up with a concept which would allow drones the size of Frisbees to “appear, broadcast their network, then disperse and re-form in another part of the city,” forming something like an airborne Napster.
However, a test flight in November resulted in two of the drones crashing into a river, which wasn’t all too promising.
That being said, they will be taking flight once again at a summer science festival in Dublin called Hack the City and the infamous file sharing website the Pirate Bay has also announced that they are currently engaging in a similar project.
“We see it as our responsibility to get people talking about this,” Young said, unfazed by the fact that file sharing drones inhabit a legal gray area much like the practice of file sharing itself.
One of the most significantly worrisome advances in recent years has been supersonic drone technology.
Take, for instance, Starkey Aerospace Corporation, or Starcor, which “was conceived as a company to transition advanced propulsion research out of the Busemann Advanced Concepts Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) to government and industry.”
“Starcor is developing a high-efficiency, lubrication-free turbojet engine for unmanned aircraft and cruise missiles,” eSPACE explains.
One of their projects is known as the GoJett, a supersonic drone which can reach speeds over 1,000 miles per hour, or around Mach 1.4.
Astoundingly, these crafts weigh less than an average person and can cost as little as $50,000, making them incredibly appealing for large-scale deployment.
The project involves Ryan Starkey, an aerospace engineering professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and his students.
They turned their hobby-grade turbojet engine into a military-grade propulsion device through several upgrades and modifications like specialized nozzles to accelerate airflow.
Starkey and his students are also working hand-in-hand with NASA in order to develop foil bearings which are surrounded by cushions of air, allowing for oil-free operation as indicated in the quote above.
Tests in the laboratory have shown their creation to be around two times as efficient as any other engine of the same size.
Even more astounding is the fact that Starkey is planning to actually double the efficiency again – making it four times as efficient as engines of the same size – before they actually fly the craft.
Test flights at low speeds are slated to begin this fall, while high speed tests will begin at some point in 2013.
Starkey believes that if his creation is successful, it could even be deployed for civilian purposes such as penetrating hurricanes with blinding speed in order to gather storm data.
If you think all of this is unbelievable, you’ll be even more surprised by the fact that the staggering speed of Mach 1.4 is just the start for the GoJett.
“We’re working on engine technology that’ll go Mach 2 to 3,” Starkey explained. “Our first goal, once this is over, will be going faster.”
It all sounds fine and dandy if you are able to ignore the fact that drones are already invading our privacy and engaging in an end-run around the Constitution.
You would also have to ignore the considerable civilian deaths which have been caused by drones, the inefficiency of drones and the massive drone industry lobby.
Furthermore, you would also have to push aside the fact that according to the Air Force itself, it will be years before they can sort through all of the video the drones have already captured, aside from the massive amount of data which continues to be collected.
However, if one simply refuses to make these significant leaps in order to justify the use of drones, one will likely see that they are wholly unjustified and should be stopped while we still at least some power and ability to do so.
Did I forget anything or miss any errors? Would you like to make me aware of a story or subject to cover? Or perhaps you want to bring your writing to a wider audience? Feel free to contact me at [email protected] with your concerns, tips, questions, original writings, insults or just about anything that may strike your fancy.