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The Army's $10M Spy Bat Still Too Big 199

Posted by Zonk
from the who-hasn't-had-that-problem dept.
Lucas123 writes "The University of Michigan's Center for Objective Microelectronics and Biomimetic Advanced Technology (COM-BAT) is working on building a robot bat that would perform long-range reconnaissance for the U.S. Army, but U.Mich is currently struggling with miniaturizing components in order to make the bat small enough to be stealthy. 'The focus is to shrink down many electronics that while currently available would only be good if the US Army wanted, say, a 12-foot spy-bat.' Some components need to be 1,000 times smaller than they currently are. The Army's $10 million grant proposal calls for the bat to be six inches in length, weigh four ounces and use just one watt of power. The bat is supposed to be powered by a lithium-ion battery, charged by solar and wind energy, as well as simple vibrations."
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The Army's $10M Spy Bat Still Too Big

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  • Vampire? (Score:5, Funny)

    by cayenne8 (626475) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:45AM (#22784572) Homepage Journal
    Why not make a requirment to be a vampire bat?

    It could feed on blood...and thus hurt the enemy, and generate power for long missions. It would be cool too, in that it would only come out at night, and could only be killed with a wooden stake.

    :-)

    • by Z00L00K (682162)
      And why not add some strain of Rabies to it while you are at it then?
      • Re:Vampire? (Score:4, Funny)

        by Brian Gordon (987471) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:02PM (#22784814)
        You hardly need some advanced chemical warfare; the thing is 12 feet across, you can just armor plate it and use the godzilla strategy.. just fly around the city ramming things and thowing people around like Nazgul in the LOTR movies. They won't be able to shoot it down because it's large and radioactive.
      • Re:Vampire? (Score:5, Funny)

        by flyingsquid (813711) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:04PM (#22785596)
        We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like, "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive . . ." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about 100 miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?"

        Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. "What the hell are you yelling about," he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. "Never mind," I said. "It's your turn to drive." I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.

        ---Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by cayenne8 (626475)
          "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me."

          -Hunter S. Thompson

          Hmm...perhaps this belonged on the article about Addiction to video games.....

    • by guruevi (827432)
      Not a vampire, but the Mothman [wikipedia.org]. Scare people to death and give in to the conspiracy theorists.
    • by einhverfr (238914) <chris DOT travers AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:09PM (#22785670) Homepage Journal
      Bald Eagles have been listed to the State Department list of international terrorist organizations after several members of this group disabled and destroyed several of COM-BAT's in various countries in North America. John Negroponte stated "We believe that this group, which typically uses airborn counter-intelligence tactics has an international reach and has demonstrated a willingness to attack members of our armed forces, including such flying robots." Addressing those who have complained that the bald eagle is the official US bird, Negroponte added "It has now become clear that terrorists have infiltrated even this historic ally of ours and, like Saddam, we must eliminate them. Later today, we will propose legislation to Congress changing the national bird to the pidgeon."


      The state department is said to be considering adding various other carnivorous birds to the list as well.

    • by bughunter (10093)
      Actually, I have worked on DARPA programs that include concepts for micro and nano air vehicles that parasitically "feed" from AC power lines and RF transmissions.

      I'm confident that this Army contract has similar ideas in play.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:46AM (#22784582)
    Quick, Robin! Hand me the bat-bat!

    But seriously, why go with an ornithopter design? There's that excellent quote about AI's, "The question of whether a computer thinks like a person is as relevant as whether a submarine swims like a fish."

    Would not a conventional ultralight drone with battery-operated propeller work more effectively than flappy wings?
    • by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:49AM (#22784630) Homepage Journal

      But seriously, why go with an ornithopter design?

      Stealth. It needs to act (at least somewhat) like a real bat or it will be detected. Real bats are ornithopters. Ergo, the spy craft must be an ornithopter.
      • by Z00L00K (682162)
        Not really necessary to build a complete one then - remote control a bird instead. Pigeons have great stamina and they are often resilient to stress.

        Disadvantage is that they may be captured and eaten.

        Another catch is the animal rights activists that will have their say in it too when you implant your electrodes into the pigeon's brain.

        For greater payload you may want to use a falcon or an albatross.

        There is an advantage with flexible wings, but it's also a lot more complex which means that a fixed-

      • by Bombula (670389)
        It needs to act (at least somewhat) like a real bat or it will be detected

        Boy, this will be a challenging problem for enemy combatants to solve. I can see it now:

        BBC News January 2013: "U.S. begins use of COM-BAT robotic bat-like surveilance device."

        BBC News January, 2014: "Scientists report inexplicable collapse of local bird and bat populations over the last year."

      • by RKBA (622932)

        It needs to act (at least somewhat) like a real bat or it will be detected. Real bats are ornithopters. Ergo, the spy craft must be an ornithopter.
        They had better be painted black and only fly at night, otherwise: PULL.... Bang! One more ornithopter down, and a lot more fun than shooting at clay pigeons. Even a .22 rifle with a ten cent birdshot cartridge should be able to take one of those $10M suckers down easily.
    • Pigeons next (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheMeuge (645043) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:51AM (#22784660)
      The idea of a bat-like creature is probably a concern because fixed wing designs will attract more attention.

      Basically, they want something that'll look like a bird, fly like a bird, and would be able to engage in surveillance without anyone noticing. The next logical step would be to make a pigeon-like creature, that would be unnoticeable in an urban environment. A few thousand of those in a large city could make enforcing "free speech zones" much easier.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by CRCulver (715279)
        Defense technology research labs are staffed by the same sort of nerds that post here on Slashdot. I don't think it's likely that they are intentionally developing technology that can be used against their own fellow urban Americans.
        • Re:Pigeons next (Score:5, Insightful)

          by TheMeuge (645043) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:02PM (#22784818)
          I find fault with your logic, because you're assuming that one's beliefs and principles override one's requirement to work in order to feed, clothe, and house themselves and their families.
        • So the fact that someone is intelligent and systems-minded means that they are also moral and wise?

          I cite chemical weapons, communist speech censorship tools, and since this is Slashdot, Microsoft Windows as counter-examples.

          "Smart" != "trustworthy."

        • When these defense labs come up with "non lethal" weapons and so forth for use against the enemy, what enemy do you think they're talking about? Their own fellow citizens. You don't really think soldiers are going to jump out of their Humvees and helicopters in a foreign warzone armed with sticky nets and seizure lights, do you?
        • by Knuckles (8964)
          It's not Godwin'ing the thread to refer you to the creative [wikipedia.org] nerds working for this fine organization [wikipedia.org].
      • by jhines (82154)

        Make them bombers then like the real birds, they crappa all over da place.
      • by kabocox (199019)
        Basically, they want something that'll look like a bird, fly like a bird, and would be able to engage in surveillance without anyone noticing. The next logical step would be to make a pigeon-like creature, that would be unnoticeable in an urban environment. A few thousand of those in a large city could make enforcing "free speech zones" much easier.

        Don't you mean enforcing government sponsored thought control and censorship much easier?
      • by bughunter (10093)
        Well, why bother reinventing the pigeon at all? Just attach a camera to a trained pigeon.

        You think I'm joking? Paul MacCready tried it [answers.com]. (Scroll down to the last section, regarding Concern for the Environment.)

      • You know, all they have to do is shove a camera and mic in a stuffed pigeon. Stick it to a statue and have it poop once an hour. No one would know it was fake and then all this robotics and flying stuff wouldn't be needed.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Bobb9000 (796960)
      Depending on the wing design and control software, ornithopters can actually be a lot more maneuverable than fixed wing aircraft. If they want an ability to go indoors, fixed-wing is pretty much out, and helicopters both burn energy like crazy and tend to a bit more obvious.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mckinnsb (984522)

      The additional benefit of a bat-like design (as opposed to a pigeon) is that they are nocturnal - so a spy-bat flying around at night would be more difficult to discern from a real bat as opposed to a spy-pigeon from a real pigeon. Bats are also nearly ubiquitous in the earth's ecology, making them ideal for spying anywhere.

      Another plus involves the behavior of a bat. A bat sitting still in a tree or a cave wouldn't be considered "abnormal" by a casual observer- and most people are honestly too afraid o

    • Those mosquito helicopters are like 20 bucks and do the same thing, sounds to me like a pork barrel to fund something else. For 10 million, couldn't you just tape a dvr to a real bat and pay off PETA to leave you alone?
    • by robertjw (728654)

      There's that excellent quote about AI's, "The question of whether a computer thinks like a person is as relevant as whether a submarine swims like a fish."

      Not sure exactly what you are getting at with that comment, but IIRC, there were some significant advancements made when submarine designers started studying fish. Early subs were designed as surface boats, but in the 50s, with the advent of the nuclear power plant, subs were redesigned with lessons learned from marine animals, resulting in much more efficient performance underwater.

      • There's that excellent quote about AI's, "The question of whether a computer thinks like a person is as relevant as whether a submarine swims like a fish."

        Not sure exactly what you are getting at with that comment, but IIRC, there were some significant advancements made when submarine designers started studying fish. Early subs were designed as surface boats, but in the 50s, with the advent of the nuclear power plant, subs were redesigned with lessons learned from marine animals, resulting in much more efficient performance underwater.

        True, but fish also lack propellers.

  • COM-BAT? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ryukotsusei (1164453) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:46AM (#22784588)
    Okay, this is taking military acronyms way too far..
  • Magic Charge (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:47AM (#22784596) Homepage Journal

    The bat is supposed to be powered by a lithium-ion battery, charged by solar and wind energy, as well as simple vibrations.

    Why don't they just ask for Zero Point Energy while they're at it? The "bat" is going to be working against the wind, generating vibrations, and (presumably) flying at night. Which makes all those charge methods about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. Why don't they ask for something that follows the KISS principle and just pull the battery pack to charge it?
    • Re:Magic Charge (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Bobb9000 (796960) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:54AM (#22784712)
      Since the article says it's supposed to be long-range, my guess is that the mission profile would be to sit somewhere out of the way and charge during the day, then do its recon at night. All of those methods are very useful, because it means the drone could stay in an area and continue to operate without human intervention nearly indefinitely.
    • by gnick (1211984)
      Those are a couple of the major hurdles to jump. I think that it may be easier to train real bats and learn to communicate with them so that you can debrief them when they return from the field...
    • by timeOday (582209)

      The "bat" is going to be working against the wind, generating vibrations, and (presumably) flying at night. Which makes all those charge methods about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.
      You are assuming the battery would only charge while the bat is flying. I can't imagine why they would do that.
      • You are assuming the battery would only charge while the bat is flying.

        That I am. Because otherwise I don't see the point. Rather than add the weight and complexity of all those charging methods, why not pull the battery pack out and plug it into a charger? If finding a power source is a problem, make the charger plug into the cigarette lighter in the Humvees. (Or whatever other power plug the military might be equipping their vehicles with.) Much simpler, less expensive, and more reliable.

        Of course, I've s

        • by jank1887 (815982)
          "Because otherwise I don't see the point"

          long range spy. i.e., not a "toss 'em up in the air, let him circle around a few times, and then he can come home for dinner" kind of drone. Should we hang a sign around his neck saying: "Excuse me, Mr. Adversary, sir. Would you kindly plug me in to the nearest cigarette lighter? I can't keep spying on you if you don't. Pretty please?"

          The goal is to operate for extended duration away from friendly operators. A longer mission time equals a longer stored energy

          • long range spy

            Save for the fact that it's an utterly ridiculous goal. We don't even have short range UAVs that meet these specs. Yet the military wants to jump straight to a magical robot that's 6 inches wide and can handle long-range missions? Worse yet, we don't have UAVs that can land and takeoff unattended inside enemy territory. Yet the military thinks that this magical ornithopter is going to manage takeoff and landing unattended? (Which is significantly complicated by its wing design.) On top of that

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Bobb9000 (796960)

              we don't have UAVs that can land and takeoff unattended inside enemy territory

              This isn't a technological issue. We have plenty of designs capable of taking off and landing autonomously wherever it's needed; I don't know whether any are currently deployed, but there's no reason we couldn't.

              Yet the military thinks that this magical ornithopter is going to manage takeoff and landing unattended? (Which is significantly complicated by its wing design.)

              While this is complicated by its wing design compared to a helicopter, it's actually easier compared to a fixed-wing drone. You don't need an extended runway; hell, those little WowWee dragonfly RC toys can take off from ground in about five feet.

              On top of that, the military really expects that these things will lay out in the open (where they can get sunlight) and go completely undetected?

              On rooftops, in trees, in forested clearings

              • We have plenty of designs capable of taking off and landing autonomously wherever it's needed

                Taking off and landing automatically on runways. Taking off and landing from regular terrain is a lot more difficult. Think about the HUDs we have on modern jet aircraft. They're lining up their approach based on the lighting and radar information the runway and ground control is feeding back to them. Give the ILS an open field and it will choke.

                hell, those little WowWee dragonfly RC toys can take off from ground in

    • A ZPM is too big to fit in it and we have better uses for them.
  • by druuna (1097839) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:48AM (#22784620)
    I've always thought that bats are nocturnal.......
    • by Yvan256 (722131)
      So? All they have to implement a "sleep during the day" mode just like a real bat, which will recharge its batteries.
      • by Bertie (87778)
        Only problem with that is that real bats sleep in nooks and crannies, rather than sprawled out in the sun, so if you see one sunning itself, it might strike you as a bit unusual, which would kinda defeat the purpose of making your spy drone inconspicuous.
  • by SleptThroughClass (1127287) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:50AM (#22784644) Journal
    What good is a six inch bat? You're not going to hit one out of the ballpark with that.
    • by owlnation (858981)

      What good is a six inch bat? You're not going to hit one out of the ballpark with that.
      Maybe Vlad Guerrero could?

      Bat metaphors... but one louder.
  • Giant bat? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:52AM (#22784662)
    You know, a 12 foot robot bat might be a bit big for spy missions, but maybe it could be repurposed to scaring the hell out of and possibly murdering people.

    It's a 12 foot robot bat, man! That'd scare the hell out of me if it came for me in the dark.
    • maybe it could be repurposed to scaring the hell out of and possibly murdering people.

      The problem with such psychological tricks is that they are very short lived. Once your enemy realizes what you're throwing at them, they'll piece together their opponent and develop countermeasures. And when we're talking about a 12 foot flying machine, it wouldn't take long for fear to be replaced by, "target that craft and shoot it out of the sky". At which point its effectiveness would drop substantially.

      Even if we ass

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      If this one starts to be deployed, maybe we should reconsider what are our favorite monsters [slashdot.org]. The Scary Hellish Giant Spy Bat of Doom definately must be top in all the list.
  • Seriously, do they think of a word and then try to find a convoluted way to make it an acronym? That invokes images of a military image/marketing department....
    Trey: "Hey Lance, what do you think of COM-BAT?"
    Lance: "Trey, I think it's FABULOUS!"
    • by mh1997 (1065630)

      Seriously, do they think of a word and then try to find a convoluted way to make it an acronym?

      Trey: "Hey Lance, what do you think of COM-BAT?"

      Lance: "Trey, I think it's FABULOUS!

      Your example makes no sense. COM-BAT has nothing to do with a Field Artillary Battalion Utility List of Own Unit Support (FABULOUS).
  • ...the bat must also be given a pony whenever it asks, and have an ample supply of ice cream for bad bat-days.
  • by ramk13 (570633) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:57AM (#22784748)
    Wouldn't having it be powered by vibrations make flight stability that much harder? Most of those devices have a mass that is free to move along one axis which has oscillatory motion. Seems like a device like that would dampen wing beats and other motions that would be important for flight.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by svnt (697929)
      No, no, no. It works on the same principle as generating power with a windmill on the roof of your car. The law of inverse thermodynamics.
  • Hey, it makes more sense than a bat that flies around in daylight.
  • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:59AM (#22784776)
    The project to develop the prototype of the COM-BAT some five years ago, the Operational Stealth Tiny Robotic Intelligent Combat Helicopter (OSTRICH) just didn't take off.
  • The Army's $10 million grant proposal calls for the bat to be six inches in length, weigh four ounces and use just one watt of power. The bat is supposed to be powered by a lithium-ion battery, charged by solar and wind energy, as well as simple vibrations.

    Those wacky Army guys. Hell the battery and recharging equipment will weigh more that 4 oz -- especially if powering surveillance *and* flight components.

    Wouldn't it just be easier and cheaper to mount the equipment on actual trained bats and let the

  • I thought the whole evolution of technology starts with proving that the design works. If the design is valid, then miniaturizing the design can take place over time. If the initial design doesn't work at all, then don't worry about miniaturizing it later.
  • Versus tennis racket... Tennis racket FTW!

    It's like the "fly on the wall" spy equipment that get squished before it gathers any actual information...
  • "The Army's $10 million grant proposal calls for the bat to be six inches in length, weigh four ounces and use just one watt of power. The bat is supposed to be powered by a lithium-ion battery, charged by solar and wind energy, as well as simple vibrations."

    ....it's a sex toy!

    And they're worried about it being too big! Sound like some of the spam I've been getting....

  • the bat bomb [wikipedia.org]

    sounds like the plot of a bad saturday morning cartoon
  • by kjoonlee (226243) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:16PM (#22784984)
    There are several things that this project needs RIGHT NOW in order to be successful.

    First, a whizkid plucked out from high school, who will be separated from his mommy for the first time ever.
    Second, a crazy roommate who doesn't care about authority figures
    Third, a mysterious man who lives in their closet
    Fourth, an annoying dude who tries to suck up to his professor
    Fifth, a charming young lady, interested in the whizkid, who just happens to be hyperactive
    Sixth, an ambitious and immoral professor who's tricking the innocent to UNKNOWINGLY CONTRIBUTE to a MILITARY PROJECT
    Seventh, said professor's inordinate hatred for popcorn -- oh wait...
    • There are several things that this project needs RIGHT NOW in order to be successful.

      First, a whizkid plucked out from high school, who will be separated from his mommy for the first time ever.
      Second, a crazy roommate who doesn't care about authority figures
      Third, a mysterious man who lives in their closet
      Fourth, an annoying dude who tries to suck up to his professor
      Fifth, a charming young lady, interested in the whizkid, who just happens to be hyperactive
      Sixth, an ambitious and immoral professor who's tricking the innocent to UNKNOWINGLY CONTRIBUTE to a MILITARY PROJECT
      Seventh, said professor's inordinate hatred for popcorn -- oh wait...

      Hey, I think I've seen that anime.

  • Why not just ask for a robo pterodactyl instead?
  • U.K. Special Forces has been using something like this for a few years now:

    http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2007/01/72543 [wired.com]

    Their $3,000 WASP is a little cheaper than a $10,000,000 BAT ...

    _f
    • by Skye16 (685048)
      Well, keep in mind that they have a completely different set of CONOPS from each other. One is a spy drone meant to be sent out for days and days on end (not coming home), and the other is for saying hello to a sniper in a sniper nest with a C4 explosive. One is supposed to be controlled via AI, and the other via a dude with an xbox controller.

      I can see a use for both, but I can't see the WASP being quite as useful as the BAT - at least from a CONOPS standpoint.

      That said, I don't think the BAT will ever g
  • I will personally train as many real bats as they need.
  • An anonymous spokesman for the Army has stated that they also want a pony.
  • Bats are birds, NOT.
  • "Good call on the mini-bat."
  • by Eddy_D (557002)
    It's big enough for reconnaissance, after all wasn't it Teddy Roosevelt who said;

    "Speak softly, and carry a large bat"

    Or something to that effect...

  • Bat Mitzvah (Score:3, Funny)

    by greyhueofdoubt (1159527) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:24PM (#22788264) Homepage Journal
    So when is the Bat Mitzvah?

    -b
  • the rival project at Minnesota's Center for Observing and Recording Kites (CORK-BAT) has a device that scores a home run on the Army's requirements.

If you have a procedure with 10 parameters, you probably missed some.

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