Monday, March 24, 2008

Miniature Weaponized Spy Balloons

Robot Spy Balloons Could Track Insurgents
By Sharon Weinberger

Next time you see a few colorful balloons floating through the sky, don't assume they're the remnants of a child's birthday part. A new patent describes small balloons that "may act robotically (in unison) without command input at times." The balloons, which would be powered by combustible gas, would provide "video surveillance." The patent goes on to describe the potential uses:

In modern counter-insurgency warfare, as well as domestic urban assaults, there is no substitute for knowing the quantity and exact location of enemy combatants. Satellite surveillance is certainly useful, but can be obscured by cloud cover. Unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles are also useful, but are either at elevations too high to provide the desired viewing angle or when making low passes, are only in a particular location for a brief amount of time.

Having better knowledge of enemy positions, especially in house-to-house fighting, is not only advantageous in preserving the lives of friendly combatants by pinpointing the enemy's location, strength, and weaponry. By careful targeting guided by improved surveillance, lives of innocent civilians will also be saved that would otherwise have been lost.

Soldiers have always suffered from lack of knowledge regarding what is "just around the corner". The concept of deploying a cluster of miniature surveillance balloons addresses this problem. These devices would observe activity and relay video or still image information from one to the next, the information eventually arriving at the soldiers who require the information and/or Command & Control.

These miniature surveillance balloons are essentially robots--capable of operating on their own when necessary. They also are able to operate in an intelligent cluster where together they can accomplish a goal by coordinating their efforts. Thus they become a socially interactive multiple robot system. Methods for controlling and manipulating a cluster of such robots have been described in a number of prior art references.

What is currently lacking, besides miniaturization, is the ability of a robot surveillance balloon to control its position in order to coordinate with other such balloons to effectively cover the deployment such that the desired surveillance objective is properly viewed. To do this, a balloon should have the ability to control its motion in both vertical and lateral directions.

Quite obviously, another use of such a balloon is as an explosive: "[the] unit may optionally carry a small amount of explosive to be used as a weapon if necessary."

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