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I recently read a great book, Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez, about the next step in UAVs using artificial intelligence to become completely autonomous making their own decisions by communicating with each other as a collective intelligence. The drones use a weaver ant algorithm and communicate via a chemical agent like the real ants. Weaver ants are used because they are a highly aggressive and organized species. I was having a Terminator moment after reading the book as we seem to be getting closer to this situation all the time. But I love the technology that enables these capabilities since much of it is based on advances in wireless technology (along with some software, of course).
Here is an Air Force Research Labs video demonstrating the concept of Micro Air Vehicles (MAV) and some of their possible applications and missions (posted from Design World). Select "Hide Ad" to play.
If we look at the Defense industry today, several contractors are working on autonomous drones/UAVs poised to take over for fighter jets in the future. BAe recently announced the development of the Taranis, a new stealth UAV that can identify targets on its own and supplement (and maybe eventually replace) traditional bombers. It flies faster than the speed of sound and it can self-evade without input from a controller. If it identifies a target, it checks with the human controller before firing, but it is certainly not a reach to see that UAVs could be programmed to make this decision on their own like in Kill Decision, which is kind of scary. The US Navy has a similar UAV, the X-47B, which can be refueled I the air for global coverage without landing. They are similar in size, a wing span of about 30 feet, and use single wing, stealth designs. New UAV concepts are being developed around the world as the capabilities for these machines expand. The Zhuhai Air Show in China late last year revealed many new futuristic designs that were very interesting. Here are some images of the various concepts from the show.
On the commercial side, the best new technology I noticed coming out of CES this year was the Audi auto parking car. I not just talking about the automatic parallel parking car that we have seen for a few years now, but a car that you get out of and it finds its way into the parking garage (or lot), searches for an open space, parks itself and turns the engine off without any driver intervention. No more wasting time driving around looking for a space and then walking back to the entrance. When you are ready to leave, you just summon your car via your phone. It starts up, maneuvers out of the parking space, drives out of the parking garage and meets you at the entrance. You get in and drive away. Of course, this is all enabled via an app on your mobile phone. It uses a combination of sensors including radar based sensors used for obstacle detection and collision warning. Not sure what you do if you need to collect a parking ticket and pay though. Below is a video showing off the Audi technology. We look forward to covering these new technologies as they evolve in both the commercial and military markets.