Robo-Butterfly, Nuke Sniffer?

awww_lookit_the_cute_little_b.jpgClark read the nuke-detection story in today's Times, and spotted this little tidbit:

The experts discussed a range of potential tools, including... robotic butterflies that can monitor an atomic site while appearing to flutter by innocuously.
So naturally, Clark wanted to know what was up with these mechanical insects. I haven't heard of this project specifically. But I'm guessing that the Times' lepidopterans are metaphorical -- flying contraptions about the size of a butterfly (and yeah, before you ask, I looked up the word up).Pentagon fringe science arm Darpa has a program, of course, for these "Nano Air Vehicles," or NAVs. The idea is to make a drone smaller than a monarch butterfly -- 7.5 centimeters and less than 10 grams -- that can carry an itty-bitty sensor.
Monitoring... often requires that the sensors be placed in locations that are not readily accessible: on buildings, walls (exterior or interior, e.g., in tunnels), windows, bridges, caves, tunnels, towers, rocks, and other vertical or steeply angled surfaces. Emplacing unobtrusive reconnaissance/surveillance sensors in remote or special high-security areas also demands sophisticated means for delivery. [NAVs] may provide an effective means for precision delivery and emplacement of small, multi-element sensor packages to locations of interest.
Now, these drones don't have to be insect-shaped to get the job done. "Monolithic 1 to 7.5 cm wings or rotors," are okay too, Darpa says. But it is strongly suggested. "Fortunately, biology offers some hints, e.g., insects and hummingbirds have evolved the ability to fly at this scale." As the Red Herring notes, the presentation Darpa gave to industry on NAVs in late September "is full of images of dragonflies and cicadas."Flying 'bots just a bit bigger than NAVs are already being tested out. Earlier this year, sailors aboard the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group starting using a bunch of 7-ounce, 13-inch planes to act as teen-tiny eyes in the sky.Now, the Times article talks about a whole bunch of other nuke-detection technologies, too -- things that can pick up everything from centrifuges' acoustic signals to the power surges needed for uranium enrichment. I'll leave it to the Arms Control Wonk to explain those gadgets. But I know the Wonk hasn't been happy with the reporters, David Sanger and Bill Broad. Not too long ago, he basically accused the pair of blowing big parts of both the Iranian and the North Korean nuke stories.UPDATE 12:48 PM: "Look closely, and you still can't see it. But it can see you. Cameras with lenses as small as the point of a pen have put video surveillance at the fingertips of just about anyone," Knight-Ridder notes.
Cheaper and smaller than ever, the cameras increasingly are being used to monitor property, watch wildlife, keep an eye on baby sitters or children -- and spy on people, raising privacy issues.``A few years ago all this wireless stuff was pretty much reserved for government or covert agencies,'' said Stephen Barnhart, owner of Barnhart Security & Alarm in Grandview, Mo. ``Now anyone can buy a wireless, they can pop it somewhere and put it anywhere from 50 feet to 50 miles away and they've got transmission.''
(Big ups: JQP)
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