Military Robotics

Are RoboDragonflies Monitoring Political Events?

Posted 10 Oct 2007 at 18:16 UTC by The Swirling Brain Share This

No agency admits it, but apparently there are dragonfly-like insect spies flying over political events! Protestors beware! It's all the buzz in Washington and New York that there have been various sightings of insect-like drones flying over political events. Could this be part of the FBI, CIA or Department of Homeland Security Spying on its citizens? There's not too much data in this article, but plenty of FUD. There's also a lot of government departmental interviews denying any such thing. I smell a conspiracy! Spying robotic insect drones? Naw, we shouldn't be worried... or should we?

FUD?, posted 10 Oct 2007 at 18:36 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)

I smell FUD.

I smell a new contest, posted 10 Oct 2007 at 20:08 UTC by steve » (Master)

We already know the current administration is spying on US citizens in several different ways, why not one more. They don't seem to have any ethical problem with this sort of thing. But, since they deny these are official US government robots, there's no harm in capturing one, right? :)

How about a contest to build a flying robot that can track and capture slow-moving surveillance drones. From the descriptions these could be fixed-wing MAVs rather than actually flapping-wing, insect things. Either way they're probably very slow moving and lightweight. A bigger, traditional UAV could probably be designed to detect and track them. Some of the DPRG guys have been talking about building flying robots and this would be a cool project.

I wonder if there are any websites collecting video and other evidence about these non-governmental, non-spying, goverment spy robots? I noticed the video in the Washington Post article is just a hobbyist built, RC ornithopter. Where's the video of the alleged real thing?

Real dragonflies, posted 10 Oct 2007 at 20:29 UTC by steve » (Master)

One of the interesting explanations in the Washington Post article is that these are real dragonflies. I bet a lot of people attending political events have never seen a real dragonfly before. Like humming birds, their movements seem very unnatural at first so it wouldn't be hard to conclude they're machines.

I want one!, posted 10 Oct 2007 at 20:55 UTC by jeffkoenig » (Master)

I'll be sure to bring a butterfly net and a Wham-O air blaster to all the outdoor events political events that I attend.

If this site is to be believed, this photo is from the CIA's Exhibit Center. Truth? Fiction? Next year's must-have gift? Who knows?

Are there any native birds that pluck dragonflies out of the air and eat them? I wonder if any will break a beak on one of these.

Publicity enhancing flying insect robots, posted 11 Oct 2007 at 18:48 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)

I don't doubt that such a craft will eventually be possible, even close, or even exists in large form already. But I doubt that a super-secret, multi-million $ flying insect spy robot was used on this crowd of protesters.

Why would someone be concerned that their actions are being recorded in a public space?

Isn't publicity the reason for such a public rally? To have everyone look at, record, and replay their actions?

If it was discovered that this was a spy robot used by a major media outlet and the images played on the nightly news repeatedly, would they be pleased?

Hows and Whys, posted 12 Oct 2007 at 01:45 UTC by steve » (Master)

The whys are less interesting to me than the how. The Nixon administration conducted massive illegal spying operations on US citizens too. Who knows why some administrations do this - they're paranoid I guess. I doubt the protesters are concerned about legitimate media coverage, they most likely want it. Having secret files compiled on individuals for illegal purposes is the probably what the protestors are worried about.

If the dragonflybot is real (until I see video of one, I'm betting they're not), what I'd be more intrested in is how it works. Mechanically, they've had this sort of thing working for a while. The show stoppers are powering it and making it smart enough to fly as well as a real insect. Power is probably within the realm of government budgets. One of those MEMs hydrogen turbines we've reported on here, for example, might do the job. Making it smart enough looks like the hardest problem to me. Most MAVs work pretty badly when they get hit by a gust of wind but take a look at how well a real dragonfly or even a butterfly handles wind.

Dragonflies in particular have spectacular flying abilities that allow them to prey on other flying insects. They can move backwards or sideways for starters. Because most insects detect movement in their visual field, dragonflies can follow bizarre trajectories that make them appear stationary to other flying insects as they approach for the kill. And they do it all with about the same processing power as a 1GHZ Intel desktop box. I've yet to see any software come close to the things a dragonfly brains does. Subsumption is probably the most advanced robot control method to date but I'm not sure it's up to a task like that.

Of course, as noted in the article, the cyborg insect program we reported on a while back is also real (though the DARPA HI-MEMS project claims to use moths rather than dragonflies). This solves the power and brains problem by using a live insect with sensor, control, and telemetery implants linked back to a remote control unit that guides the insect to the surveillance target. So it's at least conceivable that this was a test of something similar by another agency. Historically, it's not unknown for weapon and surveillance systems to be tested on US citizens. Just last year the Bush administration called for testing of the Air Force's Silent Gaurdian weapon on US Citizens before deploying it on the battefield. It's a high-powered, non-lethal microwave weapon design to inflict disabling pain by frying the outer layers of skin. The plan was to test it on political protestors among other groups. Don't know if they went through with it once the press found out.

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