FEB 27, 2022

Counterintelligence using drones

Problem definition:

The development and use of technical devices to carry out military or security-related actions play a greater role today than ever before. In particular, the further development of instruments such as drones and their use is of great interest to the military and security organisations. For example, drones can be used to solve a variety of problems. On the one hand, the use of ground forces for military action or espionage in distant areas can be a risk factor for military units, especially when dealing with hostile, unclear and inaccessible terrain.

An overview of the overall situation from the air or spying on the locations of enemy troops with the help of drones can provide ground forces with important information for effective and efficient military action. On the other hand, in security-relevant situations such as break-ins in industrial facilities, the escape of criminals or ensuring public safety in the event of disasters, it is often necessary to react quickly, which is often not possible or takes too long with ground-based vehicles, depending on the traffic situation or terrain. The use of aerial drones is suitable for this, as they can be deployed flexibly and quickly to reach danger areas quickly and develop solutions for crisis situations quickly.

Thus, a lot of money is allocated to support drone projects in the military and security sectors, among others, by governmental organisations, but also to some extent by private investors. This can also lead to the promotion and development of unusual, not to say whacky, projects involving drones.

Solution approach:

This is what the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is dealing with, for example. This is an institution of the US Department of Defense that carries out research projects for the US armed forces. As part of its "Nano Air Vehicle" (NAV) programme, a flying prototype of a "hummingbird-like" aircraft was to be designed and built. For this, DARPA worked with the company AeroVironment. DARPA has supported AeroVironment with $4 million since 2006 to develop the prototype "hummingbird-like" aircraft for the Nano Air Vehicle. The project developed AeroVironment's "Nano Hummingbird", a tiny, life-size, fully controllable spy robot that closely resembles a hummingbird.

A picture of the "hummingbird drone" can be seen in Figure 2. Since the Nano Hummingbird is an unmanned remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS), it falls into the category of drones, or more precisely, flapping-wing drones. The aircraft has two moving wings and uses only wing beats for propulsion and control. With this mode of locomotion, the Hummingbird drone can ascend and descend vertically, fly forward, backward, sideways left and right, and turn clockwise and counterclockwise. It can reach a speed of 17 kilometres per hour in forward flight. The aircraft weighs only 19g, including batteries, motors, communication systems and video camera, and has a wingspan of 16 centimetres, making it smaller than the largest known hummingbird. It also has a built-in camera and a downlink that can transmit live video. During the project, AeroVironment was able to use the small spy drone to achieve, among other things, a continuous hover time of eight minutes without an external power source and demonstrate how the drone flies through a normal-sized door from the outside to the inside and back out again.

The project shows that the use of tiny flying drones to explore inaccessible and particularly narrow and angled terrain or spaces is possible in the future. This could be used for military spy operations to provide tactical forces with real-time situational awareness through airborne reconnaissance, surveillance and communication, or for emergency operations to search for people in natural disasters such as fires in buildings.

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