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Dragonfly-Sized Insect Spies Spotted, Denied 433

SRA8 sends in a Washington Post piece about work at various academic, government, and military labs on insect-sized flying spies. A number of people reported what appeared to be flying mechanical insects, larger than dragonflies, over an antiwar rally in Washington DC last month. The reporter got mostly no-comments from the agencies he called trying to pin down what it was they saw. Only the FBI said through a spokesman: "We don't have anything like that." The article describes work on insect cyborgs as well as purely mechanical flying spies, but quotes vice admiral Joe Dyer, former commander of the Naval Air Systems Command now at iRobot in Burlington, Mass., as follows: "I'll be seriously dead before that program deploys." The article also mentions an International Symposium on Flying Insects and Robots, held in Switzerland in August, at which Japanese researchers demonstrated radio-controlled fliers with four-inch wingspans that resemble hawk moths.
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Dragonfly-Sized Insect Spies Spotted, Denied

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  • "Nothing to see here, move along."

    • Re:Nothing to see (Score:5, Insightful)

      by archeopterix ( 594938 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:23AM (#20938847) Journal
      Well, it is actually, literally, nothing to see - robotlike insects flying near a big crowd and nobody took any pics?
      • Re:Nothing to see (Score:5, Insightful)

        by 93,000 ( 150453 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:29AM (#20938897)
        Very true. It's not like years ago. These days I'd imagine that at least 60% of any group, anywhere at any time, has some type of camera on their person (cell, etc.). There really is no more 'too bad nobody had a camera'.
        • Re:Nothing to see (Score:4, Insightful)

          by monk.e.boy ( 1077985 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:48AM (#20939121) Homepage

          Oh yeah, cos phone cameras are, like, 2,000 times better resolution then my eyes.

          Honestly, in most photos taken on phones you can barely make out a face, let alone a dragon fly at 20 meters.


          • by 93,000 ( 150453 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @11:35AM (#20940779)
            I said nothing about resolution giving proof. My point was that if there was something there of interest, someone would have at least attempted to photograph it and would have something to show for it -- very likely a crappy photo, yes, but at least something to show.

            How many in focus "UFO" photos have you seen? Having a photo that's blurry just sweetens the deal for the tin foil hat crowd. Then they can tell you all the things "you would have seen it in detail just like I'm describing if you were there, you just can't make it out in the picture. Damn cheap camera!" It gives them something semi-tangible, yet open to interpretation.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Knuckles ( 8964 )
          There really is no more 'too bad nobody had a camera'.

          Have you ever tried to take a picture of a dragonfly, in flight, with the camera on your mobile?
          • by SomeoneGotMyNick ( 200685 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @10:50AM (#20940031) Journal

            Have you ever tried to take a picture of a dragonfly, in flight, with the camera on your mobile?
            Yes, while in my car going 65mph in the other direction. What a superb image it was!!! I'd show it to you, but I forgot to turn off the bluetooth on my phone and someone at a net cafe deleted the file without my knowledge.

      • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:48AM (#20939123) Homepage Journal
        "Well, it is actually, literally, nothing to see - robotlike insects flying near a big crowd and nobody took any pics?"

        Ok, so, next time you have a 'rally' that might attract this kind of attention, make sure to hang up a bunch of Shell No-Pest Strips all over the place.

        I"m sure you'll catch some of the culprits that way.

      • Re:Nothing to see (Score:5, Insightful)

        by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @11:00AM (#20940167) Homepage Journal
        Well considering that most people can not tell the difference between two cars, two airplanes, or two snakes I would say that this is a none story.
        One nut case in a group of protesters that are sure that.
        1. Each and every one of them is SO important to the peace movement that there is a whole team dedicated to watching there every move.
        2. The government is just one step away from throwing them into a re eduction camp.
        3. That the government not only has the technology to build robot bug but also cars that get 300 MPG an run on water.

        Finally why would they use them over of all things an anti-war protest?
        I mean if you want to spy on them you send in agents with small cameras and MK1 eyeballs and ears. It would be cheaper and far more effective.
        If you wanted to test them then a better test would be over a military base or exercise. You would be trying to defeat trained observers then.
        If you wanted to test them with untrained observers in the wild then just about any sporting event right down to a high school football game would do and again be less likely to end up in the Washington Post. Test it in Iowa or any of the other "fly over" states that the Post doesn't know exists.

        So it comes down to these two options.
        a. The government of the US can create almost magical technology and then is stupid enough to use it in this manner.
        b. Someone at a anti-war protest thinks they see robotic spy bug and tells other like minded people that they saw a spy bug who are then sure they saw a spy bug......

    • by flitty ( 981864 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:39AM (#20939013)

      Joe Dyer, former commander of the Naval Air Systems Command now at iRobot in Burlington, Mass., as follows: "I'll be seriously dead before that program deploys."

      In unrelated news, Joe Dyer has been found dead in an alley. Here's tom with the weather.
  • by madhatter256 ( 443326 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:20AM (#20938809)
    If such a thing exist, which i doubt it does, then why would they use it on protesters? If they have developed this type of technology, then I'm sure they'd deploy them in high priority areas like in the Middle East, China, etc..

    • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:22AM (#20938835) Homepage Journal
      Testing. Government agencies and military often test their new equipment in more 'predictable' scenarios such as protests. If it were proven technology, it would already be deployed in those high-priority areas.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mdm-adph ( 1030332 )
      Well, why create a "No-fly List" for airline flights if terrorists, such as the 9/11 hijackers, used fake names and ID's?

      I mean, it's not like a country would ever use technology such as this to control its own populace... right?

      That'd be just... silly, right?

      • by Gregb05 ( 754217 ) <> on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:50AM (#20939153) Journal
        From the 9/11 commission report [p102] standard policy was to hold luggage off the plane until people were confirmed to be boarding, or to search their luggage. There was not much keeping a hijacker from taking control of an airplane. At that point I'm sure they were more concerned about bombing than hijacking; typically hijackers make a few political demands, the plane lands somewhere and they get shot or arrested.

        I don't know if the 9/11 hijackers used fake IDs (I thought they just used student Visas and such), but I'm pretty sure it would have been irrelevant if they had done so, since it's not like they'd have been stopped from boarding the airplane.

        Regardless, take off the damn tinfoil hat, it makes you look stupid.
        • Regardless of whether governments are using so-called anti-terrorist measures to control the population or not, they do not seem to be effective measures - designed to make people shut up and stop complaining that "something must be done!" rather than actually to do something.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11, 2007 @10:15AM (#20939473)
        Umm... the 9/11 hijackers didn't use fake IDs.
        • by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @10:37AM (#20939825) Homepage Journal
          "Umm... the 9/11 hijackers didn't use fake IDs."

          Damn, and I used up all my mods points... else you would get modded up. Nobody seems to know or care that the 9/11 hijackers all were here legally, all had valid ID, all had valid tickets, none were carrying prohibited items. Nobody seems to care that we're reducing the civil rights of Americans in response to 9/11, when 9/11 ITSELF was proof that the very things we're doing would not have stopped the attacks. It's like being afraid of strangers because you keep getting mugged at family reunions. Nonsensical.

      • by Analogy Man ( 601298 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @10:25AM (#20939635)
        You failed to make your observation in a free speach zone. Your failure to comply will be noted in your "freedom file".
    • if they are not spotted while surveying a crowd of protesters in a busy city, you can use them for real spying. if they are, and they have been too, you need to develop them further.
    • by Chineseyes ( 691744 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:36AM (#20938977)
      Why are you so sure about that?

      The FBI was dumb enough to waste resources spying on:

      John Kerry a future US senator.
      John Lennon a drug addict who was possibly mentally ill.
      Coretta Scott King the wife of civil rights leader MLK.

      This is just a small sample of the people they wasted tax payer money spying on unnecessarily.

      The FBI wastes resources all of the time the same way any government organization does.
      • Not to mention Quaker groups. A real dangerous bunch...we can't have that pacifism disease spreading.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        No, I think this kind of spying is moraly questionable, but politicaly, it is far from dumb waste of resource, as the targets you use as example are or were influent potential nuisance to the established power.
    • by fnj ( 64210 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:41AM (#20939043)

      If such a thing exist, which i doubt it does, then why would they use it on protesters? If they have developed this type of technology, then I'm sure they'd deploy them in high priority areas like in the Middle East, China, etc..
      What makes you think they haven't, hmmm?
    • You forget Vietnam? The US government loves testing on protesters before deploying things. Many types of tear gas and non-lethal ballistics have been tested on our own people protesting the very war those things where going to be used on.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:20AM (#20938813)
    Robotic *and* insect overlords
    • Actually what we need is a flyswatter for our robotic insectile overlords.
    • robotic insectoid black micro helicopters!

      /* puts on his tin-foil head */

      /*screams*/ with frickin' laser beams [] ...aaaaah!

      • robotic insectoid black micro helicopters!

        Yeah, I was thinking of those too.

        I actually bought a couple, and they're a hoot to play with. Small enough to fit on the palm of my hand, and have enough battery for about 10 minutes of flight before recharging. Replacement copters cost AU25.00, so they're easily cheap enough to be disposable in the context of intel gathering.

        The downside of the ones I have are that they're barely controllable in still air, and so light that any sort of wind would make them u

    • Insecticons! []
  • Grain of NaCl (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Choad Namath ( 907723 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:24AM (#20938853)
    I would take these supposed sightings with a huge grain of salt. If you're expecting to be watched, then you just might see something "watching" you. Sometimes a dragonfly is just a dragonfly.
    • This is the antiwar crowd, right ? Obviously Bush is "spying" on them you know.


      They're just crying for attention.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by s4m7 ( 519684 )

        Obviously Bush is "spying" on them you know.

        He hasn't admitted authorizing spying on U.S. Citizens [] in the past or anything. Those anti-war people are clearly paying attention to those pesky "facts" again.

        If you start calling another crowd "anti-war", doesn't that mean you're "pro-war"? What kind of babbling idiot is pro-war?

    • by physicsphairy ( 720718 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:42AM (#20939055) Homepage

      I wonder at the mindset of the people complaining.

      "Hey, let's all get together in some big mob in a public area with big signs and shout collective messages! Yeah! Let's do it!"

      20 seconds later...

      "Man, I think we're being spied on." "Really?" "Yeah, check out those low-flying insects... probably robots or something." "QMGZ, you're right! The government is watching us! Our cleverly concealed group of hundreds of protestors has been outed to the man!"

      Anyway, I thought we'd already pinned squirrels [] as the chief liaisons of CIA spy programs. Doesn't a jump straight from squirrel to fly violate Moore's law?

    • I view this as I view Bigfoot. When someone brings back a dead one for public display then we have proof.
    • by Verte ( 1053342 )
      I wonder what Keith is like in real life.

      ...what if he's not real?!
  • Doubt it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pablo_max ( 626328 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:29AM (#20938895)
    I know that it is for sure possible to make a little flying robot. Not "so" hard I would even say. However, what is hard is keeping that little guy with power. I don't think that they have the batteries to power the flight of it, plus the gear to send the pictures back home and not to mention navigation controls. You could maybe manage 5min max for something so small, assuming it was really really light. I dont think 5 min is a useful time though. Who knows, maybe I am wrong though.
    • I don't want to come off as paranoid because I hate conspiracy theorists, but the technology we all enjoy today was invented in the 60's. I would not be surprised in the least if there was technology that is not available to the general public because it is top secret, is extremely costly, or a combination of both. There are very brilliant people out there that if approached with the offer of having a nearly unlimited budget, time, and the ability to pursue their field of interest would jump at the opport
      • Re:Doubt it (Score:5, Informative)

        by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @10:31AM (#20939729) Homepage Journal
        "I don't want to come off as paranoid because I hate conspiracy theorists, but the technology we all enjoy today was invented in the 60's."
        Not it wasn't.
        In the 1960s and 70s spy sats still dropped film back to earth using a parachute because they didn't have high the digital imaging that you can find in the average digital camera. Nuclear submarines would have killed for the computing power found in a Pentium 66.
        So yes you are coming off as paranoid.
    • by EriDay ( 679359 )
      On a sunny day, the sun could provide all the power necessary with perhaps a capacitor to serve as a battery in case of a cloud. Pictures wouldn't be sent home as the RF would cause a security risk (as well as a power drain). How much does a micro SD card weigh? Micro SD is the packaged consumer version. The spooks would make something lighter that includes a low power version of the chip but not the packaging in the consumer version.

      Something this small and light would be subject to the vagaries of the
      • Power source (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Entropius ( 188861 )
        Actually, an autonomous device about this size capable of storing energy for quite a lot of flight time has already been demonstrated, without devoting much body mass to storage. In addition to possessing quick-tracking wide-angle optics, the device is agile enough in the air to capture objects determined to be a threat in flight.

        The device is, of course, a common dragonfly.
    • unless you recharged the battery with a microwave beam, or with a laser, or used a nuclear power source like betavoltaics, RTGs, or thermoelectric radioisotope generators. All in all it does seem rather unlikely. In any case you wouldn't have enough energy density to fly continuously. You would have to land somewhere and rest/recharge after, say, 5 minutes of flying time.
    • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )
      There are plenty of ways to power something of this size for longer than a few minutes of flight. A couple of watch batteries in series could easily power it for longer than that, and wouldn't even take up much space. That assumes you're not considering bleeding edge power sources or things like photodiodes (which produce on the order of 100 milliamps of current at a couple of volts) which convert light directly into electricity.

      The larger problem is the payload. RF technology is small these days, but it
  • Oblig. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:31AM (#20938921)
    It's not a bug, it's a feature!
  • . . . then I'd be seriously upset with the government for holding back such a revolutionary energy storage technology, yet impressed they're able to keep it away from the general market where it would be worth trillions.

    As I've said before, building a robotic insect with cameras, transmitters, and capable of flight is well within our technical capabilities. Stuffing in a battery with enough juice to make it at all useful is not.

    • Just a small step up in photovoltaics would make this very possible. A jump from about 15-20% to 30-40% efficiency would make technology like this easily viable.
    • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )
      Yes making all those things would be difficult, but making something that is essentially a small model airplane that looks like an insect is far simpler. People see what they expect to see. If something is vaguely shaped like a moth or a dragonfly and about the right size, people will automatically "see" a moth or a dragonfly unless they've never seen one before, in which case, they'll investigate it more closely.

      I've seen people make some "micro" model planes that fit in the palm of their hands, and thes
  • Huge issues.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by foodnugget ( 663749 ) <> on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:35AM (#20938961)
    Sure, the gov't has limitless budget/captive genius scientists, etc... but really.. the technical hurdles to such a product are enormous... for starters....

    Batteries - this would be very difficult to make work for a long time when it has to fly by way of flapping wings!
    Control system - Airplanes are *relatively* easy to make a control system for, because they're well studied and time tested(and even this is hard and requires pounds upon pounds of circuitry (yes, the redundancy isn't necessary for a spy bug, but even the smallest processors/accelerometers/gyroscopes weigh more than a fsking bug!). A robot with flapping wings we don't understand well on the original nature-made product? not happening yet!
    Reproducing a convincing style of flight
    When someone caught/"killed" one, the jig would be up!

    What's much more likely is if your "men in black" were to use the hundreds of *readily available* security cameras mounted.... everywhere....

    Besides, if it is a protest, what are you hiding? You are OUTSIDE. You are making your desires VISIBLE for the reason of convincing others to take them! you are not in a back room being all clandestine. You want people to see you!
    • Good points. While camouflaging a robot to mimic a real life form might have certain advantages, it's got a number of design problems that for all we know have been solved by advanced defense projects, but probably aren't. Something the size of fleas might be more attractive if they ever become feasible, which would be less likely to be noticed and wouldn't really rely on mimicry to remain unnoticed. And you're right, there are other, better, cheaper ways to do spying and surveillance.

      Regarding your poin
    • You wouldn't power such a device with batteries anyways. You'd use a chemical engine. "There's more energy in a drop of gasoline than in a battery that weighs as much as a drop of gasoline." Not that I'm saying they use gasoline. They could use vinegar and baking soda, or some other reaction that creates a lot of gas. There are plenty of chemical reactions that could power a device of that scale a lot more effectively than battery power.

      Of course you'd still need to power the electronics, and that wo
      • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )
        While I think this is pretty cool, the technical specs from your link say the thing is 12 inches long, 4 inches high, and 16 inches wide. I don't think anyone is going to be convinced that it's a real dragonfly.

        That said, I've already mentioned elsewhere that I've seen model airplanes as small as a person's hand, made by hobbyists. Creating a "fixed wing" aircraft that moves fast enough and is small enough for people to think they saw a moth or dragonfly (whose wings you don't really see clearly during fl
    • by KKlaus ( 1012919 )
      >>What's much more likely is if your "men in black" were to use the hundreds of *readily available* security cameras mounted.... everywhere....

      This is probably the better point. Sure, flying cameras disguised as insects are cool in science fiction stories, but when you consider that not only would the government essentially be spending a zillion dollars to build something that would inevitably break in public and get everyone fired in a huge scandal, they'd also be spending that money to avoid using
  • by m0llusk ( 789903 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:35AM (#20938973) Journal
    It seems there is no video or pictures to share of this, so there is a link to a large video of a demo of some other small flyer that requires a custom player download. This is a good example of modern gotcha journalism where being anxious for clicks and page views and movie downloads to drive their advertising model causes lots of incomplete, poorly edited, or barely relevant material to be included. Using video instead of text is particularly important since that offers a way around most ad blocking technologies.
  • Why no pics? One would think that will all the cameras people have today that SOMEONE would have gotten a picture or ten.
  • by Scratch-O-Matic ( 245992 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:40AM (#20939033)
    ...and a mechanical spy-bird cra*ped on my tinfoil hat.
  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:41AM (#20939047) Homepage Journal
    ..then I've got to go to more antiwar rallies. I can't be the only fool who would love to catch one of these babies and take it home to play with... anyone selling butterfly nets with Faraday cages installed?
  • it's just danny dunn (Score:5, Informative)

    by jjeffries ( 17675 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:44AM (#20939077)
    no worries. Danny Dunn, Invisible_Boy []
  • Cute, but no.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rotide ( 1015173 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:44AM (#20939083)
    I'm a model hobbiest. I happen to fly RC helicopters in the "small" size range. For those that want to believe these are real, more power to you, honestly. It would be really fun to buy consumer level versions of something similar to the purported goverment versions as I'm sure they would be fun as hell to fly. But frankly..... Helicopters, which are tried and tested technology, at the minature level (I fly one with an 18" rotor diamater) it becomes EXTREMELY unstable in any wind. Shrink that down to a 6" diamater and to be honest, you wouldn't be able to control it in anything but a room with no fans, etc, causing air currents. Now we're talking about dragonfly size? AND outdoors? It's, unfortunately, not a reality. At least in my opinion.
    • Re:Cute, but no.. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by acb ( 2797 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @11:01AM (#20940187) Homepage
      Though, somehow, the bodies and nervous systems of dragonflies manage to cope. Which says that it can be done, even if engineers haven't figured out how to do it yet.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by russ1337 ( 938915 )

      Shrink that down to a 6" diamater and to be honest, you wouldn't be able to control it in anything but a room with no fans, etc, causing air currents

      Not without adding light weight peizo gyroscpoes [] (typically only used for yaw compensation in RC helicopters). If you've got the budget and the time - *cough* DHS *cough*, then something like this is not beyond todays tech.

      Two issues I see are (1)flight time (battery drain especially when transmitting video from the object), and (2)control distance. If

  • And some people were so sure that "spy squirrels" in Iran were not for real :).
  • We have an announcement before we get back to the event, so everyone...hey...please listen up. This is important.

    The red-dot acid being passed around is B A D - avoid the red-dot acid!

    It's a bummer, I know - just don't use it, ok...? Try the blue, I guess. Now, back to the show...
  • Nobody will mind if we swing one of these around []
  • meaning, when the bugs are flying around, and come across one of us levelheaded beacons of truth in our tinfoil hats, the bugs will purposely go out of their way to attack us and leave us defenseless to the mind control deat rays

    the illuminati engineered the bugs that way, because they know us wise tinfoil hat wearers are the last bulwarks of fact standing between them and complete world domination
  • Symposium (Score:4, Informative)

    by ceroklis ( 1083863 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @09:52AM (#20939199)
    International Symposium on Flying Insects and Robots: []
    Insect size flapping MAV (Japan): []
  • Think about it.. protesters would make wonderful labrats for this. They're already primed to think that the government is going to swoop in and brutalize (like at the WTO protests, etc), and paranoia and emotions are running hot. They're on the lookout. As mentioned above, if the flyers can be used and not spotted, especially by an overly paranoid angry crowd, they'd almost definately be successful behind enemy lines on unsuspecting individuals.
  • I've seen ads on TV for tiny toy helicopters and more interestingly - ornithopters that look like large dragonflys. They are radio or infrared controlled.

    Someone could have been flying these over the crowd.
  • by Evil W1zard ( 832703 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @10:08AM (#20939357) Journal
    I'm not saying that any of these were used (or a newer version of the technology) at the protest but remotely controlled mini-insect UAVs have been around since the 70's. If you go to the CIA's website and take the virtual museum tour ( you can actually look at the Dragonfly Insecothopter that has been declassified. From the CIA text:

    "Developed by CIA's Office of Research and Development in the 1970's, this micro-UAV was the first flight of an insect-sized vehicle (insectothopter). It was intended to prove the concept of such miniaturized platforms for intelligence collection. Insectothopter had a miniature engine to move the wings up and down. A small amount of gas was used to drive the engine, and the excess was vented out the rear for extra thrust. The flight tests were impressive. However, control in any kind of crosswind proved too difficult."

    Once again Im not saying these were used to spy on protesters, but I know people are going to be like "there is no such thing like this out there...." So I figured I would add in some info to show that this type of tech did exist.
  • by Phat_Tony ( 661117 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @10:09AM (#20939373)
    In "Class 11," by T.J. Waters, a book about the first class of CIA counter-terrorism field agents trained after 9/11 (on pgs 15-17 of the hardcover edition), he claims that the CIA had fully functional flying radio bugs that were nearly indistinguishable from real dragonflies unless you look at them close up and from directly overhead, and that we had these back in 1967.

    He goes on to mention that this technology, being 40-years old, "pales in comparison" to what they have today.

    You can view these pages for free at Amazon []. Search inside the book for "dragonfly" and they'll come right up. It wouldn't let me direct link to the pages.
  • Charlie Jade (Score:3, Informative)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @10:09AM (#20939379)
    After seeing the tag 'charliejade', I was like 'yes!' For those who didn't get to see that great show, it was about a guy that can travel between different universes (the multi-verse) and one of them was extremely techie. In that one, they had insects that were spies.

    Of course, I haven't seen it in a while now, so I may be a bit off with that explanation.

    Quite an interesting show, despite the slow start.
  • A guy in a lab coat is in the Chief's office, demonstrating his new invention that took him a year to develop: a remotely-controlled robotic house-fly that can transmit a live audio feed back to the operator. He flies it around the room then lands it on the Chief's desk. Just then, Maxwell Smart walks in and begins talking to the Chief. He suddenly pauses, whips a rolled-up newspaper from under his arm, and smashes the fly on the desk. The guy in the lab coat leaves the office in tears, cupping the rem
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @10:11AM (#20939407)
    We don't yet have insect-sized spy vehicles. Maybe check back in another 15 years but not now. Besides, we don't need 'em, what we already have is scary enough. Check this shit out. [] []

    The picture quality from these drones is simply amazing. The small size means that they're very likely to escape notice from people on the ground. One of the spy drone models I've seen is a four rotor copter running off of battery with a 2.5 hour air time. Longer-haul drones are fixed wing and can stay on station for longer. These little drones are astounding. They can get a line of sight on a second floor window from a few miles away and zoom in until you feel like you're peeking in from a ladder outside. The gyroscopic stabilization means that the images remain clear and useful.

    In conjunction with the air vehicles, I'm sure there's probably work going on with vermin-sized spy vehicles, something rat-like. Small enough to penetrate buildings and go unnoticed. Rather than relying on agents to covertly break into locations and install bugs, send in a "rat." If you lose it, no big deal, it's not like one of your agents was killed. Note: I don't have a link for this since I haven't seen it discussed anywhere but it seems like too obvious of an idea, someone has to be working on it somewhere.

    Right now we are seeing a huge transition for drones, moving from the era of being remotely piloted aircraft to autonomous robotic aircraft. The Fire Scout the Navy is working on is completely computer-controlled, the only joysticks on the ground equipment are for directing the cameras. []

    I've read about what the scout drones can do for warfare and its revolutionary. Field commanders can get a view of the battlefield that is something you'd expect from a video game, eye in the sky, spying on enemy positions, all of the information relayed to a tactical plot in real-time. Avionics designers have been talking about sensory overload for a long time, the problem where a pilot can have more geegaws and doodads feeding him information than he can deal with at one time. That was the reason why interceptors like the F-14 and F-4 had a dedicated radar operator in addition to the pilot. That's also the reason why a guy-in-back was added to some models of the F-15. With more advanced systems fusing the streams of information into consolidated displays, one pilot can keep up with all of the information. That's why the Apache flies with a pilot and gunner but the canceled Comanche only had a single pilot.

    This same process is going to be going on in the army general's command post. And with how bloody cheap technology is getting, you can well imagine the same thing will be happening for the third world military and insurgents as well.
  • Occam's Razor... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Goldenhawk ( 242867 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @10:14AM (#20939461) Homepage
    Oh, please, people.

    Think rationally for a minute. What benefit can a supposed micro-UAV provide in this kind of gathering? Why on earth would the US Government "out" itself in a situation like this? Any halfway intelligent spy agency (as I believe ours ARE, regardless of any opinions about their oversight) would hold technology like this for really really really important, and otherwise impossible to penetrate, situations, and especially situations where the technology would not be seen (like nighttime).

    Think about it. Big gathering. Public place. Plenty of surrounding buildings. No limits on attendance. Hundreds of people waving around cell phone cameras. Recording devices allowed in the area. If you want pictures of who's there, just pretend you're a protester really happy about the size of the crowd, and wander around like an idiot with your (looks like a) $50 CVS disposable video camera, blatantly taking pictures of everything and everyone in sight. You'll get much closer, more stable, clearer pictures, and nobody is the wiser. Why try to hide?

    This doesn't pass the basic sniff test. Not many conspiracy theories do, when you really think about them rationally.

    I'm a geocacher, and I like to hunt "urban micro" caches - tiny containers hidden in highly-trafficked areas. Hunting for them is not unlike being a spy, I think, and I've found that trying to sneak is very ineffective. If you look like everyone else, and act like everyone else, you can hide your actions a LOT better than if you LOOK like you're trying to hide. Same thing here: it makes a lot more sense to blend in, than try some super-fancy new technology which WILL be noticed.

    Incidentally, I am NOT denying these things might exist. But I am pretty certain that if they are being used, it's in much more carefully and wisely chosen scenarios.
  • I'm sure just as many people in the crowd would have reported seeing BatBoy if you asked them!
  • Adding a microphone/camera and transmitter to the "Moth" sized microflyer (video available) [] noted in the article might be possible, but your flight time is going to suffer and be in the tens of minutes... not very useful right now or at least until battery efficiencies improve.

    Some of the micro-flyer tech. from the noted Flying Insects and Robots Symposium [] is pretty slick as well. I especially like the Flapping-Wing MAV with a single fixed wing and dual flappers than creates a pseudo-ground effect to fl
  • Who let John Romero [] at the research budget?
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @11:56AM (#20941077) Homepage

    R/C ornithopters aren't that rare any more. Check out this video [] of the CyBird, which is pigeon-sized and battery powered. The video shows four minutes of aggressive aerobatics; it can be flown longer if you spend more time gliding. This thing costs $149.

    Smaller ones are available. The dragonfly-sized ones are usually flown indoors, but if winds are low, they can be used outdoors.

    So it could either be some Government agency watching, or somebody in the crowd with an R/C toy.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll