A company called "CyPhy Works," whose CEO and founder Helen Greiner was a cofounder of iRobot, has been working in "stealth mode," secretly building UAVs for years, but just went public with two new drones created for specifically for surveillance. In fact, IEEE Spectrum said the littlest drone (UAV) "can operate for 'unlimited' amounts of time." The battery is good for 50 minutes, but "hot swapping" batteries at the base station means it is capable of flying and spying indefinitely. But wait, there's more since Technology Review reported that this hover drone, Extreme Access System for Entry (EASE), will soon be able to follow you indoors. Peachy, no?
The second drone, a larger insect-like quadrotor called Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC), "has gimbal-mounted gyrostabilized color and thermal cameras." It can hover at 1,000 feet, conducting surveillance for 12 hours on one battery. CyPhy Works drone technology is capable of high definition video, secure communications, and are unjammable. In the image below, PARC is on top and EASE is on bottom.
At one foot across by 16 inches wide, the EASE prototype was designed to fly into windows. How convenient for spying. The oddest part is that EASE is wired, as in a tiny cable attached to it, which also comes with a (cough) "bonus." Greiner told Danger Room, "Being able to stay up aloft without constant interruptions to come down and recharge is a critical new capability."
Engadget added that EASE "packs a pair of HD cameras along with a thermal imager and can stay aloft permanently, in theory, thanks to a microfilament tether attached to a ground station -- which also makes it impervious to weather, tracking and interception at the same time."
The biggest problem with ground robots today is they send them inside a building, they go down the stairs, no comms, they go around the corner, no comms. You go into a bunker and it's got some rebar and you don't get comms," Greiner says. "With the filament, basically you get high-definition video images all the time, and then it has the added advantages in that it can't be jammed, it can't be spoofed, it can't be intercepted." The tether spools from the vehicle so it won't get tangled. Should it happen to snag or break, the vehicle can use its battery power to fly back to its point of origin.
The future of drone surveillance is headed toward swarms of cyborg insect drones, so flying into the window is no doubt the plan for other drones as well. The EASE drone is not meant to be a covert spy since it is large enough to be seen if it followed someone inside. CyPhy Works asked for people not to use the "T word," but whether it's called a tether or a microfilament, if it comes with some sort of fishing line-like cable then some people would be yanking on the wires to track it back to the person conducting the surveillance. Any smaller though and a person might accidentally mistake it for a flying pest and pummel it with a bug swatter.
But hey, thanks to researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology, there is now a small flying robot that is "indestructible" and "will never die." Bloomberg reported that there is a protective cage around the HyTAQ, or Hybrid Terrestrial and Aerial Quadrotor, so it "rolls along the ground and takes to the skies when it encounters an obstacle." Robots.net added that "Experimental results show that the hybrid robot can travel a distance 4 times greater and operate almost 6 times longer than an aerial only system. It also solves one of the most challenging problems in terrestrial robot design - obstacle avoidance. When an obstacle is encountered, the system simply flies over it."
Indestructible variations of quadrotor flying robots naturally take us to Human Rights Watch which has asked for a ban on "Killer robots before it's too late." The group released a 50-page report titled, "Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots." The report "outlines concerns about these fully autonomous weapons, which would inherently lack human qualities that provide legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians. In addition, the obstacles to holding anyone accountable for harm caused by the weapons would weaken the law's power to deter future violations."
Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch, said, "Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far. Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries."
Worried? If it makes you feel better, then in "FAA, Privacy and the NAS," CyPhy Works, the company with the two new "drones" created for surveillance blogged:
In the USA, the media is running a story every other week about civilian outrage related to privacy concerns, and losses of freedom due to skies full of "drones". According to the presenters, the Canadian citizenry are picking up on these sensationalized reports from the USA and raising concerns with their government officials and the Canadian media. These concerns, which are all purely hypothetical at this point (because they aren't using UAVs for surveillance), then lead to pressure to restrict the use of UAVs (which the RCMP and OPP actually prefer to call RPVs - remotely piloted vehicles - they really dislike the word "drone" because it sounds insidious and is inaccurate).
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Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. Smith has a diverse background in information technology, programming, web development, IT consulting, and information security. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.
Smith is an independent contractor and is not affiliated with any vendor that makes or sells information technology.
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