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Robotics Security The Military Technology

Electronic Warfare Insects Coming Soon 187

Posted by timothy
from the sure-makes-me-sleep-better dept.
Mike writes "British defence giant BAE Systems is creating a series of tiny electronic spiders, insects and snakes that could become the eyes and ears of soldiers on the battlefield, helping to save thousands of lives, and they claim that prototypes could be on the front line by the end of the year. A fascinating development to be sure, but who thinks this won't be misused domestically for spying and evidence gathering?" Included in the story is a link to a creepy little (scripted, rendered) demo video of these robots in action.
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Electronic Warfare Insects Coming Soon

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    The Locusts of Borg will pwn you.
  • the video (Score:4, Informative)

    by mikesd81 (518581) <.ten.nozirev. .ta. .1dsekim.> on Sunday May 04, 2008 @06:19PM (#23294948) Homepage
    That video that's mentioned is here [akamai.com]. This technology still relies on wireless transmission, so who ever uses it must be in relative close proximity. So when deployed, if you notice them some how, you'll know someone is near by.
    • Re:the video (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jollyreaper (513215) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @07:02PM (#23295246)

      That video that's mentioned is here. This technology still relies on wireless transmission, so who ever uses it must be in relative close proximity. So when deployed, if you notice them some how, you'll know someone is near by.
      From behind the headboard slipped a tiny hunter-seeker no more than five centimeters long. Paul recognized it at once - a common assassination weapon that every child of royal blood learned about at an early age. It was a ravening sliver of metal guided by some near-by hand and eye.
    • not necessarily (Score:3, Informative)

      by zogger (617870)
      They could drop a bunch of repeaters in the area as well with the bugs, disguised as who knows what, a pile of dog crap, pine cones, whatever. The humans don't have to be right close by with wireless. They fly those predator attack drones from across the planet.
    • Th RF levels of GPS signals are so low that you cannot detect them without despreading, for which you need the spreading codes. The signal levels are way below the ambient noise floor. Spreading also gives security.

      But spreading limits the bandwidth of a signal and would make high def video a challenge.

    • by LilGuy (150110)
      Which makes me wonder why they wouldn't just continue with controlling REAL insects via electrodes... the CIA was using cockroaches in that fashion back in the 80s. I would think if you need the bugs to be as covert as possible the less metal the better...
  • by Armon (932023) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @06:24PM (#23294972)
    I prefer my spiders to be 20ft tall and wielding giant laser canons of death.... Who needs a covert force when you can have one that kicks ass and takes names?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by njcoder (657816)

      I prefer my spiders to be 20ft tall and wielding giant laser canons of death.... Who needs a covert force when you can have one that kicks ass and takes names?

      20ft is insignificant compared to the habitable surface area of the planet. And it would be too impractical to create enough for your world domination plans. Which is pretty much the only reason for needing a 20ft tall spider that kicks ass and takes names.

      A 20ft spider would also be pretty obvious so you loose out on the paranoia factor of covert devices. You may only have enough covert little machines to oppress 10% of the world, but the other 90% will live in fear of wondering if they're in that 10%

  • Ha! That's funny. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by junglee_iitk (651040) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @06:25PM (#23294978)

    ...helping to save thousands of lives

    Yeah, right!
    • by dreamchaser (49529) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @06:36PM (#23295050) Homepage Journal
      Actually they probably will save soldier's lives. That doesn't mean they aren't creepy or that they won't be misused by Governments, but having little spybots to reconnoiter, especially in an urban setting, most certainly will save some lives.
      • That is what I meant. They will save a soldier's life. Not of those who are against the soldiers.
        • by John Hasler (414242) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @07:07PM (#23295280) Homepage
          They will save some civilian lives, too. The soldiers will send one of these into the room to have a look around instead of throwing a grenade in and then rushing in guns blazing, if only because it's safer for them. They may also sometimes air-drop a few onto a building they've been told is a "terrorist" safe house to make sure it isn't really a child-care center before bombing it.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Nick Flandry (1217626)
            The sophomoric smarminess of this comment is second only to the monumental ignorance of military doctrine and battlefield necessity. No, kiddo, your anecdotal understanding of these things is flawed. What exactly is your objection to being protected by the greatest force for human liberation that has ever existed? Or do you simply think the lives of your fellow citizens have less value than those of our enemies? Providing they participate in actions of which you disapprove, of course. As in the imagina
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              DAMNIT! Where are my mod points when I need them...

              If GP doesn't agree with military action, so be it, but to personally insult those who are putting their butts on the line is repugnant and arrogant.
              • Strange, I don't see anything personal or anything insulting. Was it one of those ad hominems?

                Wait, wait! I back off!
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by John Hasler (414242)
              > The sophomoric smarminess of this comment is second only to the monumental
              > ignorance of military doctrine and battlefield necessity. No, kiddo, your
              > anecdotal understanding of these things is flawed.

              I was with the 9th Infantry in the Mekong Delta. Where did ypu get your combat experience?
          • by kop (122772)
            Imagine yourself hiding behind the couch with your scared wife and crying children. It's war out there. Suddenly a brick flies trough your window. A strange electronic bug flies in. You grab your baseballbat and take a swing at it before it senses you.

            the bug operator, huddled around a corner a block away loses his third flier that day. Hostiles in that house! You and your children are blown to bits. Another military live saved.
        • They don't choose the miserable wars they participate in. Don't confuse the political decision to go to war with the military decisions about how to carry it out.
        • by Z34107 (925136)

          That is what I meant. They will save a soldier's life. Not of those who are against the soldiers.

          Maybe I'm just don't know what I'm talking about, but, y'know, I kinda thought that was the point

          Or are 4000+ soldier deaths in Iraq a good thing? Hmm?

          • The good thing would have been to not go into Iraq. Wait, is this youtube?

            This thing is just another trump card in hands of buffoons.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by famebait (450028)
        They will boost the government's confidence that they can win and keep their losses down, which will lower the bar on going to war, which will in turn get _more_ civilians and friendly soldiers killed in total, and will generate more enemies that will target friendly civilians.
  • by v1 (525388)
    Plans for a robot that can crawl like a spider are 'well developed'

    That's military-contractor-ese for "we drew you a picture [dailymail.co.uk]..."
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Agreed. I was pretty excited till I saw the video (posted above). Some of the moves the bots do in that animation were just pure BS. You can't do anything like that with today's tech.

      You ever seen the best of what MIT can do? It's not even 1/4 of what's in the vid.

      Battery power to fly, do that crazy jump, wireless communication, etc, etc just does NOT exist yet. These guys are fishing for a government grant and put some CGI pics together... nothing more.
  • by holophrastic (221104) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @06:35PM (#23295046)
    So does the military sue people who step on these things the way we step on eveyr other insect?
  • battery life (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nguy (1207026) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @06:38PM (#23295058)
    That all sounds real dandy, but battery life is the achilles heel: these bugs and critters are only going to last a few minutes. Real insects last longer because they have much more energy-efficient locomotion and control, they have efficient fuel cells, and they replenish their energy supplies constantly by feeding.
    • Re:battery life (Score:5, Interesting)

      by neokushan (932374) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @07:26PM (#23295392)
      I don't suppose solar power would help solve that problem? After all real insects are attracted to light, so they may as well make these ones do the same.
      Since they're insects, you could have several of them on a site at any one time, just swapping them around for recharging when the batteries run low.
      Hell, combine that with some of the fancy swarming communication techniques we've been seeing lately so they can work together to get the best results at maximum efficiency.
      It's really starting to look as though the future war of mankind vs. machine will be less big tanks and robots and more big mechanical spiders and cockroaches. It'll be like Starship troopers meets terminator, except we'll probably lose.
      • I don't suppose solar power would help solve that problem?

        Good idea, just make sure to make them phototrophic so as to increase their charging effeciency (they'd likely need every microamp they could find).

        Imagine then, if you will - a bright multispectral lamp in front of a high voltage cage.

        Those critters wouldn't stand a chance. Any nerd with a soldering iron could make one from spare parts. Anybody else could just go down to the hardware store and buy one.

    • Re:battery life (Score:4, Interesting)

      by 0111 1110 (518466) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @07:45PM (#23295532)

      That all sounds real dandy, but battery life is the achilles heel
      An atomic battery [wikipedia.org] combined with some of the newer high efficiency solar cell tech should be sufficient I would thing. And probably a very small lithium ion battery for the solar cells to charge during the day. It could be programmed to find a safe spot to charge its battery with sunlight or even room lights every so often. Also it could have thin wires that could be programmed to recognize electrical outlets, especially in dark corners and behind furniture where it could insert its "antennae" to charge from AC power for a few minutes. One problem with this scenario might be noise. I bet indoors noise would always be a problem with these in any case even with rubberized feet. Another idea for outdoor use would be a micro wind turbine so that it might get some energy for recharging its batteries even at night. I also wonder if soldiers could charge them remotely with microwave transmissions.
    • these bugs and critters are only going to last a few minutes
      If the scenario is that you're trying to find out what is inside a building before you determine if it needs to be raided, why is that a problem?
      • by nguy (1207026)
        If the scenario is that you're trying to find out what is inside a building before you determine if it needs to be raided, why is that a problem?

        It works fine for that. It just doesn't work for many of the other scenarios the summary and article imply.
    • by argStyopa (232550)
      Which is why I tend to believe that these sorts of mechanoids will operate on broadcast power, or, even better for the type of use they're intended for, scavenged power (either leaked voltage or actually sensing, seeking, and directly tapping electrical flows). Sure, they may have batteries or some sort of capacitors to get through the bulk of the day, but essentially they'll spend most of their time searching for 'food'...gee, kinda like REAL bugs.
  • save lives? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pizzach (1011925) <<pizzach> <at> <gmail.com>> on Sunday May 04, 2008 @06:40PM (#23295066) Homepage

    "British defence giant BAE Systems is creating a series of tiny electronic spiders, insects and snakes that could become the eyes and ears of soldiers on the battlefield, helping to save thousands of lives, and they claim that prototypes could be on the front line by the end of the year. A fascinating development to be sure, but who thinks this won't be misused domestically for spying and evidence gathering?"
    Great, now you're going to tell me how guns, missiles, tanks and nuclear weapons save millions of lives.
    • Re:save lives? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by couchslug (175151) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @07:57PM (#23295628)
      "Great, now you're going to tell me how guns, missiles, tanks and nuclear weapons save millions of lives."

      They have and do, but sometimes (when deterrence fails) at the cost of other lives.

      WWII is an excellent example. It took killing millions of Germans, Japanese, Italians, and other Axis types to halt their enthusiastic killing of others. There not being a non-violent option for dealing with such folk (non-violence just meant surrender to extermination) it was perfectly logical and reasonable to save Allied lives by killing heaps of Axis humans. Those who snivel about it now are conveniently distant from having to actually deal with any similar problems. ;)

      It worked superbly, like it or not.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by pizzach (1011925)

        Which is why I included nuclear bombs in my examples. ;) What irks me is when things that are used offensively are put in the same group as things that are used defensively. To put it succinctly:

        Armor saves lives

        Weapons may reduce casualties, but please don't put it in a same group as armor. That's an attempt at whoring the words "save human lives" in order to sell a product.

  • ..with a powerful EM blast!!!
  • by rastoboy29 (807168) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @06:48PM (#23295114) Homepage
    It may just be that it is physically impossible to have privacy in the future. If that's the case, then we should accept it and start putting into place the mechanisms to make sure that "transparency" is a two-way street, which is the best case scenario in that case.

    Link to the Wikipedia article on his ideas:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Transparent_Society [wikipedia.org]
    • It may just be that it is physically impossible to have privacy in the future. If that's the case, then we should accept it and

      First of all, whether this is inevitable or not, it doesn't mean that the lack of it will make things better or happier. Global climate change is likely inevitable, but that doesn't mean we're obliged to put up a Mission Accomplished banner and say "bring it on". Even if something is inevitable, I'm not sure society is enhanced by racing to embrace it without regard to its g

    • by mapkinase (958129)
      There will be more variance in how people are protected against violation of privacy. Learned people will be protecting themselves. Some people still browse internet without any protection, some people use ABP, some people use Noscript, some people are not even browsing. Similarly with privacy. There will plenty of ways to violate the privacy, but there also be plenty of ways to defend it based on necessity.

      In the future, if you want, you will be protected to the teeth. If you don't you will be "transparent
  • After seeing Iron Man this morning (in before "slashvertisement) I couldn't help but picture a bald version of The Dude reading this summary to the press.
  • by Kingrames (858416) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @07:14PM (#23295324)
    I, for one, welcome our giant insect overlords.
  • Makes an excellent repellent against electronic insects. Millions of dollars against a 30$ part from the microwave you buy at wall mart.
  • If this technology ever does prove to save lives on the battlefield, it would only be the lives of the "good guys". The lives of the opposing side would be destroyed with ever-increasing efficiency. Of course, if you believe that the foes that Britain will face in the foreseeable future are intrinsically evil and deserve to be destroyed with ever-increasing efficiency, then this is fine. If you believe that destroying lives full-stop with ever-increasing efficiency is ok, that this is fine. Another way to
    • It is absolute alright to kill with ever increasing efficiency on the battlefield, providing that the killing is just. If some group of crazy people tried to attack me, I would expect no less than the most efficient way to kill them back. The justness of a death has very little with how 'efficiently' it was carried out. Murder by pointy stick, and murder by bullet is all the same.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 0111 1110 (518466)

      If this technology ever does prove to save lives on the battlefield, it would only be the lives of the "good guys"

      Shirley you can't be serious. That is the point of war. To win by killing your enemy faster than they can kill you. And there is no "good" or "bad" here. Only winner and loser. I guess it's just a question of which side you would like to be on. Personally I like any tech that tends to result in the destruction of simple machines rather than humans. There is nothing stopping the other side from doing the same. Are there any geeks who would not like to see wars turn into gigantic "battlefield" bot contests w

      • Or even taking it a step further and standardizing on some kind of networked multiplayer video game so that even machines need not be destroyed, just bits in memory.
        That sounds like a delicious Taste of Armageddon [startrek.com].
      • Shirley you can't be serious. That is the point of war. To win by killing your enemy faster than they can kill you. And there is no "good" or "bad" here. Only winner and loser. I guess it's just a question of which side you would like to be on.

        There is no good or bad? What? Of course there is good and bad in war, there are good wars (astonishingly few, WWII comes to mind), and there are bad wars (all the others I can think of), and there are good and evil actions within them. This tech would not 'save lives', unless you mean only of soldiers, and it's disingenuous if not downright sickening for the producers to claim otherwise. Give it to the armed 18 year olds in a war zone hyped up on adrenalin and bloodlust we usually use for armed warfare, a

        • by 0111 1110 (518466)
          I forgot about WWII. I have to admit the Nazis were pretty damn evil by nearly any definition. And I guess you are right about the viability of a computer game war. I was just thinking how nice and civilized it would be. But robots against robots would be an excellent and very geeky way to fight a war. In the same way that today targeting civilians is frowned upon perhaps in some distant future people may have the same attitude about attacking any humans at all. Sure the occasional robot may go on a human k
  • by Anonymous Coward
    They can try to bug me.I have several rather low tech counter-measures.
    1. I have cats that eat bugs or will roll them under the refrigerator.
    2. I have Raid ant traps.
    3. I have natural spiders that will capture the cyber bugs.
    4. I have toddlers who have nothing better to do but patrol for weird things like that.
    5. I have wireless internet; loose wires in PCs, cable TV, lighting; toys; baby monitors; my house was built by the Wal-mart of home builders and cordless phone
  • Pigs with bugs. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 0111 1110 (518466) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @08:16PM (#23295758)
    I am a lot less concerned about foreign/military uses for this tech and a lot more concerned with domestic/police use. Does any of us doubt that this will eventually trickle down to the corrupt stupid thug/bullies known as the police? A scary thought. Although I don't think the first generation of mobile surveillance "bugs" are going to be a threat indoors, I do think it will happen eventually.
  • orwellian bs (Score:2, Insightful)

    that could become the eyes and ears of soldiers on the battlefield, helping to save thousands of lives,

    so, lemme get this straight - on a battlefield where, ostensibly, some kind o f a battle is going on, where people are murdering each other in cold blood, these little magical toys are going to prevent thousands of people from dying, in a battle, where people are murdering each other in cold blood . Riiiiiight. Let's unpack the happy ass bullshit and get to the core: these will be implemented in order t

  • This should definitely revive his career [imdb.com].
  • Do you suppose a decent spark-gap transmitter would would fry these little bugs like mosquitos on a bug-zapper?

    I can think of a few evil ways to hose up these little nuisances. Many ways to jam their transmissions, being so low-power, and even more to EMP them.

    Nothing that wouldn't run for an hour or so on some D-cells, and a few days on an old worn-out car battery.

    I, for one, welcome our insectoid-surveillance wannbe overlords. Bring it on, six-legs!
    • You're making it much to complicated. Like just about everything else on the planet, this sort of problem can be fixed with WD-40 or duct tape. Either spray the little fuckers into insensibility or just have them stick in place.
      • by rickb928 (945187)
        True. Sticky netting would make a mess of things, just hang some over the streets.

        I bet even a few well=placed fans would give some of these little things the willies.
  • by Jay L (74152) * <jay+slash.jay@fm> on Sunday May 04, 2008 @09:19PM (#23296180) Homepage
    They have to work all the bugs in first.

    Thankyouenjoytheveal!
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @09:51PM (#23296364) Journal
    This technology looks really cool(in a fairly creepy sort of way). The versions that they are currently proposing look more or less biomorphic spins on the "RC car with a camera" concept; but should still be useful. Even more interesting, though, will be the possibilities with smaller, more insectlike, mechanisms(which may well end up being cyborgs, not robots. Bugs are already good at what they do, much better than robots are, and DARPA is already playing with cybugs in the lab). Think of the mosquito, for instance. Those little guys essentially spend their lives following subtle chemical gradients to find their food sources and then swarm around them. Modify the chemical gradients they care about, dump a whole lot of them out of a plane, and you have a distributed sensor swarm that'll look for just about anything that has a scent.

    The prospect that makes me nervous is what we'll do when we want to go beyond recon/search/surveillance type roles. Conventional weapons aren't going to scale down all that well. Chemical and biological weapons will. This will present an unseemly temptation. Being able to tailor lethally armed cybugs to hunt chemical traces and kill whatever turns up would be very useful. Trying to find that IED factory? Druggies blending into the crowd? Russian ambassador wearing a ghastly brand of aftershave? Actually doing any of this, though, is going really, really far into unpleasant territory. Very Unit 731 [wikipedia.org].
    • hink of the mosquito, for instance. Those little guys essentially spend their lives following subtle chemical gradients to find their food sources and then swarm around them. Modify the chemical gradients they care about, dump a whole lot of them out of a plane, and you have a distributed sensor swarm that'll look for just about anything that has a scent. The prospect that makes me nervous is what we'll do when we want to go beyond recon/search/surveillance type roles. Conventional weapons aren't going to scale down all that well. Chemical and biological weapons will.

      Even better, if we're modifying or genetically engineering mosquitoes that will hunt different scents, why not modify the numbing agent they already produce naturally to become more lethal?

  • by Plutonite (999141) on Sunday May 04, 2008 @11:02PM (#23296754)
    I'll bet there's far more military espionage use being planned. Make a version that uses solar power and has small enough satellite comm chips inside. Even better, design it to allow recharging from electric outlets (which it can connect to at night). Let them lose on a country's borders, millions of them. If they cost a $1000 each, a million bots will constitute a 1 bil $ project. Chump change. They converge on the cities with preprogrammed maps, then start communicating only after they infiltrate major government buildings, intelligence facitilies, military research, terrorist caves...etc.

    This (and the butterfly mentioned in TFA) is ultimate espionage. The idea is so cool that I am forced to momentarily disregard big brother threats from the Orwellian-minded.

    • Even better, design it to allow recharging from electric outlets

      "Ralph! There's a spider crawling up the wall!"
      "So what?"
      "It's putting it's legs into the socket!"
      "Put your drink down, dear."
      "No, it's really doing it! Come here and look!"
      "Well, I'll be dammed". THWOCK! (Swats at insect with newspaper)
      "That ought to fix it."

  • by Alicat1194 (970019) on Monday May 05, 2008 @12:10AM (#23297168)
    ...couldn't these be used in rescue situations too?

    For example when a building collapses in an earthquake. Send in an small army of the creepy crawlies to listen for and pinpoint survivors. Make rescue efforts much faster and efficient. Also depending on how they are set up, they could let rescue workers know which areas aren't safe / stable to be digging around in.
    • by gothzilla (676407)
      Shhhh. This is slashdot. They don't want you do think about positive applications. Only think about possible abuse and be a good citizen.
  • The gigantic garden spider that lives under my deck would be SO pissed off at these things.

  • Small dog (Score:3, Funny)

    by Phoenix666 (184391) on Monday May 05, 2008 @09:34AM (#23299764)
    Due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was swallowed by a small dog.

    In seriousness, I have a great and very cheap countermeasure against electronic insects, snakes, mice, etc.: cats. DARPA may spend billions developing these tiny surveillance critters, but nature has spent billions of years evolving an efficient hunter to eat them.
    • In seriousness, I have a great and very cheap countermeasure against electronic insects, snakes, mice, etc.: cats. DARPA may spend billions developing these tiny surveillance critters, but nature has spent billions of years evolving an efficient hunter to eat them.


      And then barf them up on your carpet encased in a slimey tube of fur.

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