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Robots and Pirates and Spies

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bill-swift - April 16, 2012

What could possibly make robots any cooler? How about making them work as spies designed to root out pirates in Africa. Add a few different kinds of ammo (and maybe napalm after level 10) and it sounds like the beginning of something you could download for your PS3. But these spy drones are very real and you may seem then over the ocean sooner than you think.

The actual drones, which will not be equipped with weapons for now, are called Fire Scouts and they are being put into commission by the US Navy to help find pirate ships and cocaine smugglers.

So how will it work? With lasers! The laser will be sent down towards the water in pulses. Each of these pulses will either be absorbed by the ocean or bounce off of metal objects in the area. When they bounce off the electronic eye of the drone will know that there is something there. The combination of the laser information (called LADAR) will create a 3-D map of the area below the drone.

Once the drone has the map it will compare the image of the ship that it has to known configurations of pirate ships. If you've ever seen the red laser eyepieces on a Borg you will have the idea down. For those of you who aren't fans think of it as a version of the kind of sonar you find on a common bat. This system is unique because it does more than just send back data. It makes a decision about whether or not the vessel in question is a threat. If it is a threat sailors are warned, if not the data is disregarded.

For now the drone only has the ability to alert. It can't make any command decisions, so you won't get to see an accidentally blow up Princess Cruise Ships. The systems ability to make decisions about what is a threat however will prevent too much unnecessary data from being sent to soldiers. You may not realize this but with the number of information senors and drones already on the battlefield any solider in combat is more likely to have too much information to make decisions effectively then too little.

The drones will be doing their first tests over the coastline in California this summer, so if you happen to see that charming fellow out over the water don't be hesitate to give him the thumbs up. He'll know that you're doing it. Just be sure that you don't catch his big brother, who could be armed with machine guns. Don't fret, it will be a real solider manning those guns remotely. So unless you really look like a pirate you're not in any danger.

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