Monday, February 3, 2014
Swarming Technology and Bio-Security
Micro robotics and swarming technology are not technologies we generally associate with bio-security or even dual-use. However, as I have previously published at article in the New English Review entitled: Hezbollah's UAV Biological Weapon Capability: A game changer? (see:http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/140408/sec_id/140408), and in light of a couple recent articles on this future technology, it seemed time to revisit the topic. Two technologies were recently identified in Urbanist Web: Terrific Tech: 10 Futuristic Advances in Robotics by Delana, micro robotics and swarming technology and one can imagine on the micro scale that this may have applications other than intelligence collection.
In the first instance, the article notes "Sending one robot into enemy territory to gather intelligence? Way too financially risky. Sending hundreds or even thousands of tiny, cheap, easily replaceable robots? Much smarter. Researchers are developing itty-bitty solar powered robots that could move in swarm formations to gather data from targets....and it wouldn't matter much if some were lost or destroyed in the process because they would be so cheap to produce." But what if micro robots were fitted with biological agents which could be released over a given area and how could we counter this risk? Certainly one can imagine agricultural applications with minor modifications. From a counter terror or bio-security perspective, there are issues which should be considered in relation to BW. Unlike the need for huge laydowns of say anthrax in an anti-personnel scenario, micro-robots are well suited to deliver toxins or pathogens to a very specific targeted area and would be difficult to initially counter. As BW are in some instances, living, replicating weapons, it would be difficult in either an urban area or on the battlefield to contend with .
The second technology, addressed in the noted article was the actually 'swarm' capability. This is exciting as it brings the concept of remote battlefield drones to the micro level and again, this is a technology well suited BW as in some instances minor amounts of toxin or pathogen are necessary to create mass casualty, especially in a viral laydown where lengthy incubation periods would mean it was nearly undetectable. The swarming technology identified in the article states: In times of emergency when communication systems fail, a reliable alternative is needed right away. Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne believe that swarming flying robots could be just the alternative we need. The flying robots could form fleeting wireless networks by virtue of a small module in the wing of each unit. The modules would emit wireless signals to allow communication between rescue workers on the ground, probably allowing them to save many more lives than they could have with out adequate communications. The ability to command and control such a swarm has a dual-use component, in that it could be directed against targets, personnel, crops or livestock, and while chemical weapons would not be well suited to this technology as it requires detonation, biological does not. It only requires dissemination. Chemical weapons moreover require higher ratios on the battlefield, where BW does not, particularly with highly infectious pathogenic agents. Our ability to counter new dual use technologies hangs on our full understanding of the dual-use nature of these technologies. Re-posted to BlackSix-my biowarfare blog. Full analysis of dual-use applications available from Warfare Technology Analytics.