Even as the debate intensifies over the scope of drone warfare and surveillance, significant upgrades continue and the drone industry booms. Recently we have seen the Navy successfully test autonomous drone takeoffs and landings at sea, while Boeing has begun to retrofit its decommissioned F-16s into pilotless fighter jets.
This trend toward a future of autonomous fleets of large-scale war fighters is developing in tandem with the trend toward miniaturization and the mimicking of nature itself to hide drone tech in plain sight.
The latest developments focus on ways to not only get new drone models aloft via remote control, or through their own autonomous decisions, but how to keep them there for as long as possible – perhaps even permanently.
Toward the end of 2011 a program called MUSIC was made public and revealed the goals of Future Combat Systems – essentially a network of ground-based and sky-based systems that could communicate and operate as a seamless and permanent intranet of war and surveillance.
Since that time, the technology has been publicly rolled out demonstrating the capability for drones to stay aloft for increasing periods of time. This was revealed in a drone industry report provided by Aerospace and Defense News covering plans for 2013-2023, where it states:
Laser-powered UAVs are powered by a laser transmitter which converts power from a primary source, such as a battery, generator or AC powerline, into a single-wavelength beam of light. These UAVs are capable of staying airborne for their entire lifecycle as this method of recharging avoids the need to land and refuel, which may also improve the lifecycle and maintenance costs as much of the damage incurred by UAVs occurs while landing. (Source)
It is important to note that these drones eventually will be equipped with the latest in biometric capabilities, namely facial recognition, as was announced in the following Associated Press article:
From seeing just the image of a face, computers will find its match in a database of millions of driver’s license portraits and photos on social media sites. From there, the computer will link to the person’s name and details such as their Social Security number, preferences, hobbies, family and friends.
Adding that capability to drones that can fly into spaces where planes cannot — machines that can track a person moving about and can stay aloft for days — means that people will give up privacy as well as the concept of anonymity. (Source)
The fact that what used to be conspiracy talk is now openly discussed in corporate media as we head toward a full implementation of drones over the U.S. by 2015 is likely not a coincidence.
With this as the backdrop, there have been some recent announcements in the area of solar-powered drones that bear watching.
CBS News recently reported that Titan Aerospace has developed its Solara line of drones which can fly continuously for up to five years.
The larger Solara will be 60 meters wide and have the ability to carry about 250 pounds.
Cruising speed for the Solara is about 65 mph, and the unmanned craft will have an operating range of over 2.8 million miles.
The Solara series are designed to be a fraction of the cost of a satellite, but operate many similar tasks, such as surveillance, crop-monitoring, weather and disaster oversight, or any other monitoring that low-altitude satellites track.
Titan Aerospace is based out of New Mexico, and a report from Breaking Defense finds that defense and intelligence customers such as the CIA, NRO and NGA are the most obvious interested buyers. The company has reportedly held preliminary talks with intelligence agencies about the use of the Solara aircraft. (Source)
Here is the promo video:
The solar concept is also being offered as the next gen tech to be applied to already existing micro drones that are designed to mimic nature. In May of this year, I covered the announcement of a 3D printed drone called Robo Raven that utilizes 3D-printed components to produce a first of its kind: independently flapping wings.
The new version of Robo Raven features solar cells added to its wings:
Because Robo Raven’s large wings have enough surface area to create a usable amount of solar energy, the team decided to incorporate flexible solar cells into them. The captured solar energy is then used to supply Robo Raven’s onboard batteries. “These new multi-functional wings will shape the future of robotic birds by enabling them to fly longer, farther, and more independently because they will be getting their power from the sun” says ME Ph.D. student Luke Roberts, a member of the Robo Raven team. (Source)
Robo Raven III can be seen in the next video:
As noted by Ars Technica, the concept of solar powered flying machines has existed since the late 1970s, but just now is being incorporated into drone tech in an effective way. And lest anyone believe that this technology is not intended for full use over the United States, an interesting map is offered in the Ars Technica article linked above showing the range of the solar drone, Solara 50.
Ars concludes as follows:
Titan already has customer reservations for the first three of its Solara drones, two of which are intended to serve as communications relays (though the customer has not been identified). The first will be delivered in February, with manufacturing ramping up for monthly delivery starting in April.
When we begin to put the pieces together (the ones that are fully out in the open), we can look at what exists overseas for guidance as to what will be arriving in America. As we now know through the latest Snowden revelation, the NSA has been instrumental through a special division to accumulate data on targeted individuals which has been used in at least one case to kill an alleged associate of Bin Laden.
I like to typically conclude these drone articles by showing the following two videos, as they highlight the massive scope of what can be observed – as in the first video – and plans for expanding surveillance and killing right down to the insect and nano-level, seen in the second video.
With up to 110 drone bases inside the U.S.having been announced, and the U.S. government still framing the legal justification for killing Americans, while corporate media yells for whistleblowers to become “targeted individuals,” we’d better learn what’s in store for us and speak up now before it’s game over.
UAV evolution – how natural selection directed the drone revolution