Moths as drones: Researchers harness insects to airdrop environmental sensors

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A moth carries a tiny lightweight sensor on its back.


Mark Stone/University of Washington

Moths aren’t known as beasts of burden, but a new super lightweight sensor they can carry on their backs might change that.

A team of researchers at the University of Washington (UW) developed a sensor that weighs 98 milligrams (one tenth the weight of a jellybean) and can survive a six-story fall. The sensors are designed to last three years and collect and wirelessly transmit environmental data like temperature or humidity. 

The tough little sensors can be delivered by dainty drones or carried on the backs of insects. A video released by UW shows both of these options in action. The hawkmoth shown in the footage is a large species of moth and the sensor fits easily on its back.

“This is the first time anyone has shown that sensors can be released from tiny drones or insects such as moths, which can traverse through narrow spaces better than any drone and sustain much longer flights,” said Shyam Gollakota, co-author of a paper on the sensors presented last month at the MobiCom 2020 conference on mobile computing.

The sensors can also be airdropped by a very small drone.


Mark Stone/University of Washington

The team activates a mechanical release via Bluetooth to instruct the battery-powered sensor to take a dive for the ground. It’s an ideal delivery method for remote, small or dangerous locations.

If you’ve ever had a moth unexpectedly pop out at you, you know they can navigate in tight spaces and reach areas even small drones might have trouble getting to. This sensor design gives researchers options: tiny drones when it makes sense, moths when they’re needed.

While it

Turkey’s Drones Are Coming In All Sizes These Days

Turkey is developing an increasing variety of lethal armed drones that range from large high-flying bomb-laden ones to very small, low-flying ones that can form deadly swarms.

In recent years, Turkey has developed an impressive local drone industry from the ground up. Armed Turkish-built Bayraktar TB2 and Anka-S drones have already proven themselves in combat in operations in Syria, Iraq, and even as far afield as Libya.

Ankara is presently building a variety of bigger and smaller drones that will fulfill a multitude of different roles for the Turkish military. 

For example, in September 2020, Turkey’s upcoming Aksungur drone, built by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), completed a 28-hour-long test flight carrying various weapons.

According to TAI, the turboprop Aksungur carried 12 Turkish-built MAM-L (Smart Micro Munition) guided missiles under its wings. Such a payload is much bigger than what the Bayraktar TB2 or Anka-S can carry.

MAM-L’s weigh 22 kilograms and can hit targets up to 14 kilometers away. They can also be fitted with different kinds of warheads – from high explosives to warheads specialized in penetrating tank armor. The munitions proved their worth in February-March 2020 drone campaign against Syrian ground forces in Idlib province when Turkish Bayraktar TB2s and Anka-S drones successfully used MAM-L’s against several Syrian tanks and other vehicles.

Optus and ANU to throw satellites, drones, and robotics at Australian bushfires

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The Australian bushfires wreaked havoc. A new study shows that anthropogenic climate change made things worse.


Image: World Weather Attribution

The Australian National University (ANU) and Optus announced on Thursday the pair would attempt to develop a national system to detect and extinguish fires using a mixture of satellites, drones, and robotics.

The first step of the program, which is due to run until 2024, will be to create an “autonomous ground-based and aerial fire detection system”.

It will begin with the trial of long-range infra-red sensor cameras placed on towers in fire-prone areas in the ACT, which will allow the ACT Rural Fire Service (RFS) to monitor and identify bushfires.

The long-term goal, though, is to put out fires using drones.

“We hope to develop a system that can locate a fire within the first few minutes of ignition and extinguish it soon afterwards,” ANU vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said.

“ANU is designing and looking to build highly innovative water gliders with autopilots that will extinguish fires within minutes of them igniting.”

By 2022, it is planned that ANU will manage a constellation of satellites, as well as a geo-stationary satellite, to help with fire detection.

See also: Twitter bots and trolls promote conspiracy theories about Australian bushfires

“If we are able to improve the speed and accuracy of fire detection it ultimately means we can improve our response and better protect communities and landscapes,” ACT RFS acting chief officer Rohan Scott said.

A joint chair for bushfire research and innovation, as well as a research fund, will also be established at ANU.

Also on Thursday morning, Optus announced it would allow customers to provision eSIMs from the My Optus app without needing a physical Optus SIM at some stage.

“eSIM also eliminates the hassle of having to carry

Skyborg: U.S. Air Force Wants a Fleet of Drones as Robotic Wingmen

The U.S. Air Force is getting serious about working with autonomous aircraft and aims to acquire an entire fleet of drones to act as robotic wingmen under its “Skyborg” program, National Defense Magazine reports.

As autonomous aircraft get more sophisticated, they could provide invaluable support to crewed fighter jets or bombers by escorting them into dangerous territories. The Air Force has said it is looking to purchase AI-powered craft to begin testing out their capabilities alongside crewed fighter jets.

“I expect that we will do sorties where a set number are expected to fly with the manned systems, and we’ll have crazy new [concepts of operation] for how they’ll be used,” Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said during an online event, as quoted in National Defense Magazine.

Another way that autonomous aircraft could be used is in missions that are too dangerous for human pilots, being sent on one-way suicide runs. “I expect that the [human] pilots … will decide, ‘does the Skyborg return and land with them and go to fight another day, or is it the end of its life and it’s going to go on a one-way mission?’” Roper added. “That’s what I love about them — their versatility and the fact that we can take risks with them.”

Illustration of the ATS F/A-18, part of Boeing's Airpower Teaming System
Illustration of the ATS F/A-18, part of Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System Boeing

Boeing is in the process of developing such technology as part of its Airpower Teaming System (ATS), a set of AI-powered, uncrewed aircraft which work cooperatively as a team.

The company recently delivered the first uncrewed “Loyal Wingman” aircraft to the Royal Australian Air Force, which will be the first of three prototypes working in the Australian defense system. The ATS will be able to fly independently using