What future military equipment might succeed in the mountains on the Afghan-Pakistani border? Why has Osama Bin Laden been able to successfully hide for years in the mountains on the Afghani-Pakistan border? Modern military equipment and strategies have failed in this rugged environment, first for the Russians and more recently for the U.S. Can a new high technology approach be devised, incorporating nanotechnology, that will enable the capture of Osama Bin Laden and his Al Quaida commanders? It may take years more, but the technology and strategy to carry out difficult operations like this are not far in the future.
Here is a scenario that could occur in the future. An aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean launches a plane equipped with one or more specialized drones. The plane drops a drone over Northern Pakistan and the drone moves to within miles of a suspected al quaida hideout, where it drops a hundred or more mouse-sized robots over an area of several square miles. The drone then circles for the rest of the day to exchange radio signals with the tiny robots, which are equipped with GPS receivers and give their precise locations, which the drone relays back to an American base. The American base assumes control of the tiny robots and sends them scurrying and climbing, searching for their target.
Nanotechnology will have maximum effectiveness when used with other technologies. Mouse-bots could provide excellent surveillance capabilities without a human presence. As they operate, the mouse-bots send back video and audio from their tiny cameras and microphones, as well as a variety of other measurements such as temperature and barometric pressure, and even airborne chemicals. When they find their targets a number of options are available. They can leave behind smaller insect-sized robots to relay back audio, video, and other data. They can deploy biological agents or nanobot weapons systems to sicken or kill chosen targets, or deploy nanobots which will seek and defuse weapons. It is possible that, someday, nanobots could chemically change fuses for explosives and ammunition into inert materials, rendering bombs and projectile weapons useless. Nanobots move extremely slowly on their own because of their small size, but could be carried to their destination by much larger microbots with more mobility. Slipping inside a rifle shell, for instance, would be no problem for nanobots, which are far too small to be stopped by normal seals.
Smaller “bots” could be carried by the mousebots to increase their mobility and capabilities. When a mousebot comes to a cliff it must climb, for example, it deploys a much smaller robot that uses gecko-like technology to walk up the wall or cliff, towing a tiny but strong wire which it can attach or hook on above. Then the mousebot uses a tiny winch to pull itself up on the wire, after which it takes the gecko-bot back inside it for recharging and later use, respooling the tiny wire along the way. Tiny insect-sized flying bots, like tiny electronic dragon flies, can also be carried and deployed to provide better camera angles and audio reception.
Wi-fi like networking would allow mouse-bots to relay data for control and surveillance purposes. The mouse-bots would be networked in such a way that they can relay their signals back when some of them are out of view of the drone. This allows them to operate in groups to explore caves and deep valleys while still under control of the American base. More mousebots can be dropped as needed to increase their numbers and extend their networks to less accessible places.
Mousebots could be equipped to refuel themselves and other bots from a variety of sources. When the drone is low on fuel it flies back to the base and another drone takes its place, but the mousebots must be more self-sufficient to carry out prolonged missions. The mousebots would continue their activities until they run out of power, unless they find a vehicle or source of electricity, at which point they use magnetic and chemical sensors to locate the source of power and then connect to and recharge from it. Possibly one type of mousebot would be specially equipped for this, and could convey power to other mousebots either while it is connected to a power source or at a later time. Even if the power required for movement isn’t available, solar cells on certain mousebots might permit them to continue to transmit and receive data, acting as relay or repeater stations even after they don’t have the power to move any more.
Such technologies have implications for our privacy as well as for the military and intelligence communities. Using such technology, a military or intelligence group could locate a wanted person, even in a place like the caves of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, without the target’s knowledge and without putting a single person at risk. Of course, such technology is, like most, much like a hammer – it can be used to build a house or it can be used to kill someone. Still, I believe such technologies will evolve, and soon. As a result, new ways will need to be devised as countermeasures, and sometimes used just to ensure one’s privacy against surveillance by unfriendly or nosy entities.
Commercial applications will come quickly once such technology is declassified. At first such technologies as I described above will be used for high cost, high risk endeavors such as remote inspection of dangerous facilities, but eventually it will become more refined and less expensive until tiny advertising insects may be flitting over our shopping zones, projecting video into our eyes as was described in 1950’s science fiction (Slan by A. E. Van Vogt, if I remember correctly).
It’s an exciting new world out there, and we need more scientific education and research, not less, if we are to meet the challenges of the present and future. Please demand that your government and corporate representatives support science and education-related initiatives, as improvement in our knowledge and capabilities will be needed to help us avoid major problems in the next century.
As always, I welcome your comments. – Tim