Photo: Iran Press TV
The prevailing drive behind autonomous drones is less about killing bad guys and more about recovering expensive, super-sensitive equipment — and keeping it out of enemy hands.First, it must be said that most of the borderline paranoid coverage regarding these new “brainy” capable flying bots has centered around ethics, or legal boundaries, or technologic implications of machines that kill without direct orders from humans.
A few recent headlines from prominent news agencies:
“Professor: Drones Will Soon Be Able To Kill During War Without Human Assistance” — CBS
“A future for drones: Automated killing” — Washington Post
And then this doozy from The Atlantic — “How Terrified Should We Be of the Pentagon’s Plan to Automize Drones?”
Well, the answer is Americans should be terrified if their government doesn’t automate drones.
There are a few key ideas behind drone automation, and yes, one of them is that Americans will be able to take operators from “in the loop” and put them “on the loop” — which means they’ll go from direct controlling to monitoring.
In the defence Science Board’s publication “Task Force Report: The Role of Autonomy in DoD Systems” that got everyone’s underwear in a bunch in July 2012, there’s an under-reported section titled “External Vulnerabilities.”
Without getting into too much detail, these “External Vulnerabilities” basically boil down to mitigating “lost link” or “spoofed” drones. We recently reported on a drone the army had to crash because it had a lost link. (Which they then had to send a team out to recover.)
Also, other news agencies have reported on “spoofing” drones. When a drone is spoofed, hackers send an avalanche of matching “control” addresses to the drone, confusing it, then in the midst of this confusion, control can be transferred from one controller — the Army — to another controller — Iran.
The main reason for automation is to avoid these circumstances, because newly equipped automated drones come home when a link is lost. Furthermore, they can’t be spoofed because an operator is not actively controlling it — it’s just going off previously uploaded instructions.
The immediate benefit from the new technology is, of course, not losing sensitive equipment to Iranians (or anyone else for that matter). A secondary, and arguably more important benefit is that no one has to go out and recover a bot that’s lost its link, so we’ve removed human soldiers from potentially risky situations.
The “fetch” brain technology which returns lost link drones automatically to their point of origin has also been tested and fielded in Explosive Ordnance Technician bots. In the past, EOD techs who sent their bots out to a mitigate a potential bomb would have to suit up and go out to recover the units which had lost links — defeating the whole purpose of using a robot in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some spooky ideas behind making drones smarter, to include use of facial recognition technology — but rest reassured, the main reason is more defensive — to save costs on equipment losses and recovery and protect human assets, as well as prevent compromising Top Secret technology.
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