Monday 26 January 2015

Submarine Drones

The advancement of electronics has inevitably led to aircraft that can fly themselves without the vulnerable and heavyweight human pilot that all conventional aircraft need. Drones are often guided by an operator who can fly the aircraft remotely from the ground, sometimes a considerable distance away; or they can operate automatically, controlled completely by their onboard computer according to pre-programmed instructions (I don't know who had the idea of using the same word for an unmanned aircraft as we do for a male bee). As always when it comes to this kind of technology, swords very quickly get beaten into ploughshares. The companies which pioneered the manufacture of drones for the military have adapted their designs. The US Department of Homeland Security, the US Coastguard, NASA and the FBI are all either using drones or have intentions to get hold of them. The UK border agency also wants aeroplane, helicopter and airship drones to patrol the English Channel to catch illegal immigrants, the bait in a thousand Big Brother traps, see: Drones give surveillance, police and military forces abilities that they'd never have enjoyed without them, they can now go places remotely that they could never reach in person and strike with complete impunity at enemies that would otherwise be invulnerable. And this advanced technology is not confined to things in the sky.

I've already discussed driverless cars and other road vehicles, see: Now we have to look under the water for the next chapter in this story. The Russian navy has announced through RT that it is introducing undersea drones. These will be deployed from its new Yasen-class nuclear-powered attack submarines and its fifth generation successors. These are carried on board the submarine where they are released and travel offline to wherever they're needed; then they can be activated on command by a radio signal, see: There are practical difficulties with submarine drones because while underwater it's much harder to maintain radio contact with them, unlike aircraft drones in the air. The robot would have to keep an aerial sticking above the surface of the sea to pick up its operator's instructions; either that or it would need to trail a wire to its mother ship or be communicated with using ultrasonic transmissions which could be picked up by the enemy. However it's perfectly possible that these new submarine drones may have more advanced autonomous control systems than we're currently familiar with; perhaps more advanced than is currently declassified in the public domain. The onboard computer alone might be enough for the robot to carry out various missions without any human input at all. The novelist Michael DiMercurio writes submarine-themed stories and this includes unmanned vessels driven by artificially-intelligent computers, see: Could these devices already be in service secretly, in the same way as the Aurora spyplane? If so this puts a whole new angle on the recent events in the Baltic Sea where unknown submarines were detected in Swedish territorial waters, see: Perhaps those subs were just dropping off drones, in which case Sweden's sovereign seas could still be illegally occupied by unmanned electronic monsters up to God-knows-what. What's more, it may not be just Russia that uses them. If the same follows with submarine drones as followed in the aircraft industry, pretty soon the police, intelligence and other agencies will want them too. We could see robotic underwater spies in rivers lakes and reservoirs right here in England. With the advancement of technology and miniaturization how long will it be before the surveillance state will have autonomous devices that can swim along sewers and water pipes to invade your home and spy on you? This gives me a creepy feeling. Imagine looking down into a toilet bowl and seeing a fibre optic camera staring up at you.

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