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To Kill a Mockingjay

Why mess with genetic engineering when you can use a robot? :-)

Some may want to stock up on shotgun shells (better for target practice in the “country”) …

…or modified paintball guns for urban settings, which would be quieter, and could be fully automatic. :-)

Back in February of 2011, I wrote about the Nano Hummingbird, a tiny, battery-powered robotic drone that flies by flapping its wings and is built to look like a hummingbird (with a tiny camera in its belly) for surveillance in urban areas (oh… in the western hemisphere, which is the only place that hummingbirds live). The Nano Hummingbird is built for the Pentagon by AeroVironment, Inc. of Monrovia, California.

Now, aerospace engineering researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have:

“… duplicated the control functions that allow birds to successfully perform a soft landing–in this case, perching on a human hand.”

… or on that telephone wire or tree branch outside your window! :-)

There are a lot of brilliant people at the University of Illinois. I know, because I remotely managed a project team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications there. (The Mosaic team, which later developed the Netscape browser, also had its origins there. It’s also where my configuration manager at the time [thanks, Hei-ming]!] bought me a copy of The Dilbert Principle [an invaluable guide to corporate America, initially based upon Scott Adams’ experiences at Pacific Bell] at the university bookstore. 😉 ) Besides academics, there is not a lot to do in Urbana-Champaign – drinking comes to mind! 😉

The academic paper (if you love math, you will LOVE this one! :-) ) “… presents the underlying theoretical developments and successful experimental demonstrations of perching of an aerial robot.

But it’s not all “theory…” CNET notes:

It turns out that this project was not inspired solely by academic curiosity. In fact, there appears to <be> potential military application, which is probably why the work was funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

One of the researchers, Jo Chung, adds this:

“There’s a lot to learn from bio systems,” Chung, who originally wanted to study the flying patterns of bats, said in a University of Illinois story about the project. “Bats can fly with damaged wings. They are so agile and highly maneuverable; they can make rapid 180-degree turns autonomously and they can fly indoors without colliding with obstacles. These qualities are desirable for small aircraft that could be used in surveillance, particularly in urban settings where obstacles hamper movement and satellite control is blocked.”

Those of us who “missed our chance” 😉 to live in the former “surveillance society” of East Germany may yet get an opportunity for something similar (or even much WORSE), between the engineering efforts of folks like those above, and FBI agitation for mandatory backdoors for surveillance on social networks, Voice-over-IP, and providers of Web email. :-(

(Note added May 5, 2012: I was in a classroom with middle schoolers yesterday, and I asked them what happened in history on May 4. When nobody knew, :-( I told them briefly about the National Guard shootings on the Kent State University campus in the spring of 1970, with the unarmed students who were killed and wounded, guilty of the heinous crime of “walking to class” or “watching a protest.” One incredulous student said, “They must have been drunk or something.” I assured him that they were not, and that he could read more in Wikipedia. Human memory, especially of events that we would rather forget, is a very short-lived thing. It seems that the FBI might be fighting back in a “turf battle” against encroachment by the NSA, which has been granted unprecedented powers to operate domestically in the United States in recent years [and seeks MORE – isn’t that the funny thing about “power?” For those who seek it, it’s NEVER enough!]. From personal experience, I have found the personality types of folks who operate in the “security” field to be “guarded” (if not paranoid), “competitive,” and INTENSELY “territorial.”)

-Bill at

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