Friday, March 7, 2014

Swarming Technology and Bio-Security

Authors note: In a recent search for articles on 'smart dust' I came across this on the Ministry of Defence website for Singapore. It closely mirrored one of my recent publications, so I thought I should share it here instead. It appears Mindef Singapore has updated a version of a previous paper I published. Their statement found at:
As I'm somewhat of a stickler for attribution, I've included the MINDEF Singapore link

"With the rapid development and convergence of the three technologies; biotechnology, nano-sensors and unmanned systems, a new employment concept for biological warfare could emerge. Biological weapons could be the future precision weapon while retaining its capability for mass destruction. The precision would be two-fold in that it would be released at the most favorable conditions to ensure success while inflicting casualties confined to a specific target group. Unmanned "Smart Dust" sensors occupying the battlefield space would allow real-time, undetectable reconnaissance of targets and weather conditions of the area. Coupled with the delivery system of miniature unmanned vehicles with their genetically modified biological payloads, a timely attack with a high probability of success could be executed. The biological payloads would inflict casualties on a certain target group, preventing fratricide as they would be modified to act on a gene predominantly present within a particular population. Compared to current kinetic precision weapons, the price tag would be substantially lower, thus allowing once excluded parties or nations to acquire such a weapon. Its destructive effects would be precise and yet also much more widespread than kinetic precision weapons due to its infection-proliferation-infect cycle which can only be broken by quarantine. Collateral damage or fratricide often associated with both asymmetric warfare and precision warfare would be reduced or even negated. " Mindef Singapore

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:,  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 Urbanest 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 lay-downs 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.

Wi-Fi Swarm

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 lay-down 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.  Reposted to BlackSix-my bio warfare blog. Full analysis of dual-use applications available from Warfare Technology Analytics. 
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