Just What We Need: Pentagon Wants Laser-Powered Bat Drones for Surveillance

(ANTIMEDIA) — According to a new report, the Pentagon wants to deploy bat-like drones powered by directed-energy laser beams. The Defense Enterprise Science Initiative, or DESI, announced on Wednesday a contest to win grants for the development of next-generation robots that mimic nature and function as autonomous surveillance and weapons systems. In recent years, the government’s military agencies, including DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency), have increasingly worked on implementing covert, biomimetic (nature-imitating) projects.

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The new contest will seek to use Mother Nature as an inspiration for next-generation military equipment. A Broad Agency Announcement stated the explicit intent to create a bat-like drone that can be powered by nearby directed energy laser beams. According to the announcement:

“The biological study of agile organisms such as bats and flying insects has yielded new insights into complex flight kinematics of systems with a large number of degrees of freedom, and the use of multi-functional flight surface materials.”

Biomimetic military designs are several decades old at this point. However, the newest plans go beyond simply training robots to mimic animal movements. The Pentagon wants drone skin to be made of materials, such as custom-made silicon skin and articulated morphing wings that offer maximum aerodynamic advantage while also being able to sense and even transmit data from the surrounding environment.

Such efforts stem in part from projects that date all the way back to 1999 when DARPA launched the Stealthy Insect Sensor Project, through which they attempted to use bees as bomb locators. As Annie Jacobsen reports in her book The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top Secret Military Research Agency,  insect-inspired drones, or micro air vehicles (MAVs), evolved into a near obsession, with the idea being to use “biohybrids” — part animal, part machine cyborgs — in order to “fly, swim, crawl, walk, run, and swarm.”

“DARPA has already succeeded in creating a rat that will be steered by remote control by implanting an electrode in its brain.

“And it’s done the same thing with a moth which is really remarkable because the scientists implanted the electrodes in the pupa stage of the moth when it was still a worm! And then it transformed into having wings, and those tiny little micro-sensors transformed with the moth and the DARPA scientists were able to steer that moth.

“Imagine following that idea through — DARPA is moving toward engineering humans for war.”

The use of “biohybrids” and biomimetic surveillance drones may sound like science fiction, but it’s very much in the lexicon of current Pentagon projects. The fact that they’re soliciting ideas from the general public shows they intend next-generation surveillance tactics to be developed by a public-private collaboration. It remains unclear whether the bat drones will be used for domestic surveillance, mission combat, or both.

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