Just a few weeks after President Obama announced plans to scale back the country’s drone program, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) announced plans to roll out a program for the rapid development and manufacture of sensors to help power unmanned aerial, land and underwater vehicles. The specific technology, the Defense Department says, will come from a manufacturing processor “similar to that of the commercial smartphone industry.” In other words, drones are getting iPhone brains and instead it taking six or seven years for the technology to go to market, it will only take a handful of months. So much for scaling back.
It’s unclear what exactly the Pentagon plans to do with these new super smart drones, though DARPA program manager Mark Rich says things should get rolling this summer. “This method has the promise of being much more cost-effective, faster to the warfighter, and easier to refresh with technology upgrades,” said Rich in a press release. The way it’s supposed to work involves installing chips similar to what’s in your smartphone into ground-based sensors that will more or less tell the drones what to do. Watch this little quad-copter lift off all by itself.
While still in development, the new program raises several concerns, the main one being susceptibility to hacking. We learned last year that drones could be hacked (scary!) and even the thought of something like that happening while the War on Terror continues to pan out is frightening to say the least.
For instance, take the recent release of a DARPA-funded Software Defined Radio (SDR) program that aims to put a piece of pocket-sized, open source radio transmitter and receiver into the hands of as many people as possible. The projects are quite separate—there’s not evidence to suggest that the sensors and the radios are designed to talk to each other—however hackers always figure out how to hack. It’s what they do.
Until then, though, it looks like drones are here to stay; cheaper, smarter, and more prevalent than ever.