The world is changing faster than it has at any other point in its history. Science and technology are evolving and advancing in ways previously thought to be impossible. As they have done so, philosophy, politics and many other societal elements have also gone through significant shifts. These are all leading to a variety of possibilities, all under the heading of “The Future”. It’s up to us to decide which road we would like to walk upon, or if there will be a road at all.
In this new series, we will examine the aforementioned subjects as they are in real life. Science fiction is all about the creation of tomorrow, and so it is not at all unhealthy for us to take some time to look upon the world we are forging for future generations to live within. With that said, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Sci-Fi IRL.
Today’s piece is all about drone technology.
Wars should be distinguished from their warriors. While it is true that war is an awful part of the world in which we live, those who volunteer to serve in the military are some of the most courageous individuals on the planet, laying their lives on the line for us, and they should be recognized for that. Yes, there will come a day when bullets never again find themselves in the bellies of men and women seas and continents away from their homes and families, but until that day arrives, self-defense and justice will be brought upon those who harm or attempt to harm the innocent. Knowing this, a good problem to solve under humanity’s current circumstances is how to minimize casualties, civilian and soldier alike, on the battlefield. One of the primary solutions to this is, of course, drone technology.
The CIA had been flying unmanned, unarmed drones over Afghanistan since 2000, and began flying armed drones not long after the attacks on September 11. However, the origins of such technology can be found as far back as the 1800s, when Austrians launched around 200 pilotless balloons with timed fuses against the city of Venice. In that same century, both sides of the American Civil War used balloons to perform reconnaissance and bombing operations. Not long after that, unmanned, aerial torpedoes were developed, followed by radio-controlled glide bombs during World War II. In 1971, a simulated dogfight was held between the first true remote-piloted vehicle and a manned plane. The “drone” won, scoring a “direct hit” on its opponent. Over three decades passed before the first actual Predator drone, that is, the one as we know it, was used for combat purposes.
Since then, drone technology has expanded in variety of ways, with the Predator drone being joined by the Reaper and the Avenger, each of them larger and more powerful than their predecessor. And that’s not all, for while the air may be the most notable place where advancements in drone technology have occurred, things are moving in a similar direction on land. Boston Dynamics, an engineering and robotics design company, with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has developed a number of robots with ground-based capabilities that could be quite useful for military personnel, namely…
This robotic mule, called BigDog, is designed to help soldiers carry supplies across terrain that regular vehicles cannot traverse. Its “big brother”, AlphaDog (seen above in background with soldier), is not only heavily militarized, but also controlled vocally. However, Boston Dynamics’ crowning achievement is, without a doubt, Atlas, an anthropomorphic, well-balanced machine made primarily for rescue operations. Although it is still in its developing stages as of this writing, Atlas may one day, as I stated earlier, minimize casualties on the battlefields of tomorrow, firstly because it is a machine (substituting those we send to fight and potentially die for us), and secondly because of its accuracy implications (civilians will be less likely to be caught in the crossfire). By “accuracy implications” I mean that, due to its ability to balance well, almost more stably than a human body (not quite, but close), it could prove to be a more precise shot.
After researching all of this information, I thought to myself, Wouldn’t it be great if I could talk to a real military aficionado about this, maybe even someone who was/is actually in the military? Well, I was more than happy when I got a chance to talk briefly with Don Mann about these advancements in drone technology.
For those who don’t know, Don Mann is a former longtime member of the United States Navy SEALs, SEAL Team Six specifically, as well as a three-time New York Times best-selling author. He is also a frequent television guest seen on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and the Military Channel. I had the pleasure, and the honor, of interviewing him for this first installment of Sci-Fi IRL.
Q: So, Don, during your time as an active-duty Navy SEAL, was drone technology available to help you on your missions?
A: During my time in the military (1977–1998), we did not use drones, however, the predecessor (back as early as 1849) of the drone was the blimp. Blimps are still being used today as well.
Q: Do you think that an effective drone infantry unit is realistic in the near future?
A: I do think drones will be with us for many years and that they will always be useful. But someday, we can assume, like everything else, drones will become smaller and less recognizable (see articles above).
Q: If it were done, what kind of safeguards could be implemented to keep drones from being tapped into or hacked by opposing forces?
A: Unfortunately, every time we create or invent a safeguard against hacking, the enemy eventually is able to get around our safeguard. It is the old “cat and mouse” game. We get smarter, they figure out what we are doing and defeat our systems. We go back to the labs and come back with a new and safer safeguard, and eventually it too gets hacked.
Q: Well, Don, it’s been great discussing the potential for drone technology with you! However, I’d like to mention that I’ve heard you have a new book out. What drone-related surprises can we read about in the book?
A: I have not really mentioned too much about drones in my books, but I can tell you that they are getting smaller and more versatile all of the time. Before you know it, they will be able to fly up to an office window, take a photo of a “target” and, once it has been properly identified, the drone can fire a lethal round and take out the target.
Q: Incidentally, where can readers find your books online?
As you can see, drone technology isn’t simply an idea anymore. It’s a reality, evolving in intriguing new ways with each passing day. Here, I’ve touched on just a few advancements made in the field. You can find plenty of other information online regarding the subject if you do your own research.
And, let me be clear, even though the power of the drone can bring death with it, it can just as easily prevent it.
Thank you for reading.
SOURCES: “A Brief History of Drones”, “History of U.S. Drones”, “Remote Piloted Aerial Vehicles: An Anthology”, “The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret”, “Boston Dynamics” (Wikipedia), “General Atomics MQ-1 Predator” (Wikipedia), “General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper” (Wikipedia), “General Atomics Avenger” (Wikipedia), “DARPA” (Wikipedia), “9 Amazing Military Technologies of the Future”, and “Robot Mule” (YouTube).
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