Spies in the sky
It was reported some time ago that some ayuntamientos (town halls) were using swarms of drones to ascertain if some houses had built swimming pools, extensions, garages and the like illegally: i.e. without building permission. An eerie feeling, don’t you think? There are swarms of drones in the sky and they are spying on us. And why in swarms, I wondered. Why not the odd one here or there?
Well, it seems scientists are building swarms of robots that mimic the behaviour of swarms in Nature. The feats of aerobatic coordination by flocks of birds and the unseen intelligence that guides social insects both emanate from the same source.
The secret to both is ‘emergence’, the process by which a collection of individuals, each following a set of simple rules, can perform complex ‘intelligent’ group behaviour. Researchers now copy the behaviour of animals, birds and insects that swarm and which are far more effective than individual machines.
The first generation of drones was likely used for space exploration, warfare and aerial mapping, but swarms of robots may one day clean your home or even patrol your bloodstream.
So, how do they do it; swarm I mean? Strictly speaking, a flock just moves together, whereas in a swarm the members communicate using chemical or other signals: a process called stigmergy.
However, in the robot world, flocking and swarming are often used interchangeably to describe groups of machines that work with- hardware for ground and air use. Oh yes, I tell thee all! Drones of robots can do far more than just check if you illegally build a swimming pool in your garden. And here are some of the ways robot swarms are planning to be used: In search and rescue, a swarm of small UAVs (unscrewed Ariel Vehicles) can cover a much larger area than crewed aircraft. They can automatically distribute themselves into the best search patterns and risk flying in the worst weather. It is expected that ‘ nanobots’ will in the near future help in the eternal fight against cancer. Microscopic nanobots may one day be injected into the bloodstream to tackle cancer. These nanobots would signal to each other where a tumour is located and deliver precise doses of chemotherapy. (Wasn’t there a science-fiction film featuring Raquel Welsh around 1968 about a crew in a submarinetype machine that it and its crew were made so small it could be injected into the bloodstream of a human being; called ‘Fantastic Journey’, if my memory serves me right.) Robotic drones could give us asteroid protection. MADMEN or Modular Asteroid Deflection Mission Ejector Nodes are space probes that could be used to deflect an Earthbound asteroid using the combined thrust.
A fleet of UAVs can maintain continual watch over forest areas during periods of high risk. Triangulation using several UAVs can quickly locate the source of smoke, therefore preventing a fire from developing before it gets out of hand.
And let’s not forget the children (big and small); swarming toy robots could build themselves into more elaborate and capable forms like NASA’s ANT5. Friends could meet to merge their collections into even larger swarms.
It has been suggested by the experts that a fleet of solar-powered UAVs could one day replace mobile phone masts. Able to deal with much greater bandwidths, the network would continually reconfigure itself.
The first prototype Ultra-swarm node used a miniature Linus computer with a Bluetooth connection. The technology made way for the kind of mapping and surveying tasks, including environmental monitoring.
Flocks of UAVs could give a continuous, detailed picture of all urban and industrial landscapes. I have a friend who lives on an urbanisation where such drones have been used. There have been many and may I say very many extra IBI charges, large fines and, in some cases, reports of a few property-owners having to dismantle that which they built unlawfully.
So, watch coming!!!!! out! The robots are firstname.lastname@example.org