U.S. Military Wants Bat Drones With Lasers, Because Life Is Apparently a 'Black Mirror' Episode

01_05_bat_drones
The Pentagon wants laser-powered bat drones. Perhaps life really does imitate art.  Getty Images

The Pentagon wants laser-powered bat drones, because we're apparently living in a Black Mirror episode. 

Earlier this week, the Department of Defense introduced the Defense Enterprise Science Initiative, a pilot program dedicated to incentivizing collaboration between university and industry teams "with the aim of discovering novel solutions to challenging defense and national security problems." 

An announcement regarding the $6 million grant being dedicated to this initiative stated, "The biological study of agile organisms such as bats and flying insects has yielded new insights into complex flight kinematics of systems with a large number of degrees of freedom, and the use of multi-functional flight surface materials." 

The statement went on to say that "progress in sensors, optimization and miniaturization of processors, and advances in flight control algorithms have also made it feasible to enable real-time autonomy in a miniature robotic system.

"As a result of these advances, there exists a possibility of creating autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles [drones] that have significant improvements in maneuverability, survivability and stealth over traditional quadcopter or fixed wing designs," the announcement added. 

In addition to prioritizing the development of "highly-maneuverable autonomous" drones, the grant announcement also points to "power beaming" as a topic of interest, with possible focus areas including, "innovative power transmission modalities using laser, microwave or other electromagnetic frequencies."

In short: The U.S. military seems to believe laser-powered bat drones could prove highly useful compared to the current drones it uses—primarily for surveillance and targeted killings—that are largely constructed based off conventional aircraft designs, especially when it comes to maneuverability and stealth. It also sees "wireless power transmission" (charging up the drone with a laser) as a potential solution to various energy challenges. 

Ultimately, the goal of the initiative is to create platforms that "effectively navigate a battlespace and respond to obstacles with minimal intervention from a human pilot," according to the announcement.

It appears the battlefields of the future could very well include swarms of bat drones zigging and zagging through the air. The implications this could have on the world remain to be seen and there's an ongoing debate in the academic and foreign policy community about the potential dangers of robotic warfare. Will robots—or drones—make war more appealing and therefore more likely given they purportedly remove danger for humans? Will autonomous robots eventually turn on humans, as they have in so many science fiction films? These are the types of questions being asked in this fascinating, and important, discussion on such technology.