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 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. Drones can be used additionally by ground forces in military action or espionage, especially when operating in hostile environment or in unknown 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. Another example is the usage of drones in situations where security measures are relevant such as intrusions in industrial facilities, the escape of criminals or to ensure the public safety in case of disasters. Short reaction times are crucial, which is not always the case with ground-based vehicles, depending on the traffic situation or terrain. Aerial drones seem suitable in these kinds of situations, as they can be flexibly operated and can reach danger areas very fast. This could be a potential solution for critical situations.

Thus, a lot of money is invested into drone projects by the military, governments and in the security sector but also by private investors. This can also lead to the promotion and development of dubious drone projects or even misuse.

Our solution:

This is what the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is dealing with. The DARPA is an institution of the US Department of Defense that carries out research projects for the US armed forces. DARPA designed and built a flying "hummingbird-like" drone prototype as part of their "Nano Air Vehicle" (NAV) programme. For this, DARPA started a cooperation with the company AeroVironment. Since the start of this project in 2006, DARPA has invested $4 million into AeroVironment, who brought the “Nano Hummingbird” to life – a tiny, life – size and fully controllable spy robot, resembling 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. The Hummingbird can move to any direction. That means that it is easy for the drone to not only ascend and descend vertically or to fly forwards and backwards, but also to move to the left and to the right and turn clockwise and counter clockwise. It can reach a speed up to 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 is equipped with a built-in camera and a downlink that can transmit live videos. 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 could demonstrate how the drone flies through a normal-sized door from the outside to the inside.

The project shows the potential of the use of tiny flying drones to explore inaccessible and particularly narrow and angled terrain or spaces. The technology could be used for military spy operations to support 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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