What if…and “Micro Drones”

Wired’s Danger Room blog recently posted an article about the U.S. Air Force’s “Micro Aviary” at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. There, the USAF has equipped a room with very sensitive motion-tracking sensors capable of tracking drones within a tenth of an inch. Researchers are using this capability to build and test micro drones based on bugs, birds, and bats. The embedded video shows conceptual drones of various sizes, including one the size (and rough shape of) a dragonfly. Perhaps using bugs as an inspiration is a fortuitous one, because these devices could become, essentially, mobile bugs unlike more traditional bugs that are limited to a suspect’s car or office or his person.

Such drones would be able to fly lower and less conspicuously than more traditional models. Of course, capabilities would also be limited. There are no details on such things as battery life, data storage, transmittal abilities, or range, but one would have there is a trade-off between capabilities and size.

Assuming short-range use only (either due to transmitter, data storage capacity, or battery life), these drones would require very good intelligence to be placed and used effectively. They would also likely require a team to be places close to the target to collect and process the drones. I would think that in a scenario similar to that of the Bin Laden compound stake out, these drones could have been useful for getting detailed information with decreased risk of arousing suspicion.

But, as miniaturization improves, the cost of these drones will drop. You could probably produce a swarm of these bug-drones for the cost of a Predator drone. What if these micro drones could be networked? Could you employ a swarm of these bugs? Might this be a way to compensate for decreased range and battery life? As drones drop out, they are replaced with others? Might a swarm be coordinated and used to attack? Either to damage property, to overwhelm sensors, or to harm or even kill a human using poison or chemicals of some sort?

As these drones begin to be used in increasing numbers, what will be the reaction of the surveilled? What would qualify as “bug-drone spray”? Would targets ignore them because the collection, processing, and analysis of so much data will create a gap in which the target can act?

What do you think of these micro drones? How will they be employed? How will targets respond?