Devol Nath

The spy games have entered a new phase with the UK military revealing that it has acquired 30 palm-sized drones known as ‘Bugs’ that are capable of spying on targets or gathering intel across a great distance.

The AI-based autonomous Bugs, weighing the same as about a smartphone, can survive in all weather conditions and can travel over 2 kms while streaming video footage during their 40-minute battery life. Though it has been termed as an unsettling development for surveillance technology, the above stats are impressive for such small robots by any means.

The UK military has, in recent years, invested heavily in so-called ethically-questionable autonomous robots, including fighter drones.

Developed by renowned British weapons manufacturer BAE Systems, Bugs are, as of now, unarmed. According to reports in a British newspaper, the ability of the Bug to navigate 80 kmph winds in “uncompromising weather” play an important role in the robotisation of the military. According to James Gerard, principal technologist at BAE Systems’ applied intelligence business, “In even the toughest weather, Bugs can deliver vital tactical intelligence on what’s around the corner or over the next hill, working autonomously to give troops a visual update.”

According to General Nick Carter, Chief of Defense Staff for the British Army, the new drones and robots could make up a significant fraction of the armed forces, and part of the plan is to compensate for a drop in the number of human recruits. Over the next decades, the British Army may enlist tens of thousands of robotic soldiers. “I mean, I suspect we could have an army of 1,20,000, of which 30,000 might be robots, who knows,” Carter added.

However, not everyone is convinced that the Bugs’ intel will be useful. According to Chris Cole, director of the watchdog group Drone Wars, it may well be dangerous. “We have seen many times in the past, commanders ordering airstrikes and other lethal action based on information obtained via remote surveillance,” Cole said, “only for the situation on the ground to have turned out to be very different with this false sense of understanding leading to civilian casualties.”

It may be noted that every branch of the British military is already experimenting with military drones, like the i9 – a rotorcraft equipped with two shotguns – that’s meant to be piloted into hostile buildings.

God knows what else is coming!            ([email protected])