Welcome to episode number 3 of the Bionic Bug podcast. Before we get started, a quick reminder. The views expressed on this podcast are my own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.
First off, I have a personal update. This past week, I hosted my first-ever book launch party and book signing for Bionic Bug at Wicked Bloom, a cool bar in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington D.C. Thanks so much to everyone who made it out on a weekday evening. I also want to say a special thanks to Amber, the owner of Wicked Bloom, John, the manager, Chris, one of Wicked Bloom’s fabulous bartenders and everyone else who helped make it such a special event.
There were awesome drink specials and cool drink names—the Buzz Kill, Beetle Juice and Black Death. You might also note that the first episode of this podcast was called Wicked Bloom. That’s because the first chapter of Bionic Bug takes place at the Wicked Bloom, which is Lara and her fellow PI and best friend Sully’s favorite local bar.
Okay, let’s talk tech. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing as it’s more commonly known, is a digital manufacturing process that uses 3D digital files to produce parts. Unlike traditional manufacturing processes such as CNC machining or milling, which begin with a block of material and remove material to form parts, additive manufacturing builds 3D parts layer by layer. It’s often called “manufacturing for the masses” because all you need to get in the business is a computer, an Internet connection, a digital file, a 3D printer, and materials. As a digital technology, it will get easier to use over time. With 3D printing, all you need is you can make and share physical objects over the Internet. This will change the world as we know it.
The variety of available materials is expanding like gangbusters. In the 1980s and 1990s, the first materials included thermoplastic, resins, and metals. Now, you can print with ceramics, gold and silver, cement, bioink, nanocomposites, glass, and even food. Someday scientists believe we’ll be able build structures on the moon from the material that is already there.
I promised to give you the headlines that MOST caught my attention so don’t hate me with this one. I couldn’t help but read this headline from April 9, 2018, “Engineers Want to 3D Print Stuff in Space using Recycled Astronaut Poop.” Yes, this is an actual headline and not from the Onion. I read the article and thought it was gross so I’m not going to talk about it. But if you want to read more, you can see the article for yourself on digitaltrends.com.
While we’re on the topic of 3D printing, there’s a new trend called 4D printing, which is applying the principles of additive manufacturing but using dynamic materials rather than inert material. Dynamic materials are those materials that change or evolve after printing such as bioinks to print living tissue and organs and conductive inks to print electronics. The fourth dimension is time.
On April 5, 2018, 3dprint.com reported that a “Professor Uses 4D Printing to Manufacture Curved Components without Moulds.” Researchers at Dartmouth College developed a “smart 3D printable ink” that can change shape and color. This process allows for the production of curved shapes more quickly and economically. A potential application of this new material would be satellites which are subjected to extreme temperature changes. A structure built from such materials would open up during the day and collect solar energy and close up at night to protect the internal electronics from extreme cold.
My final headline for the week is from April 9, 2018, “Descent of the Machines: Aussie Firm Boasts of Underwater Drone Swarms.” If I could, I’d cue some scary music here. An Australian company claims it has developed a fleet of underwater drones capable of swarming the seas. The drone weighs 1.7 kg (3.7 pounds), is 75cm long (2.5 feet) and can dive down to 50 meters (164 feet). Note – I did the conversions live quite accurately except for that last one (whoops!).
So, why is this a big deal? Underwater naval operations typically focus on detecting submarines and gathering environmental data. The oceans have long been the domain of nuclear submarines which depend on secrecy for their locations and movements. Nuclear submarines play a critical role in nuclear deterrence, providing a reliable second-strike retaliatory capability. This is the idea that if a nuclear nation strikes first with nuclear weapons, they will experience massive retaliation on their cities. This mutual assured destruction will deter a first strike in the first place–hence, deterrence.
I want to thank my newest patron—Clark. It means so much to have your support. If you would like to support my time and costs of producing in show for only a few dollars a month, please go to patreon.com/natashabajema.
In the second chapter, Lara attended a baseball game at Nationals Park with the Nationals facing off against the Atlanta Braves. The game determined which team would get to advance to the world series. During the 7thinning stretch, hundreds of drones flew into the park. To the crowd in the stadium, it looked like a drone show organized by the park management. But Lara knew better. Let’s see what happens next.
Let’s go behind the scenes. In Chapter 3, Lara notices her friend Sully operating some sort of device. It looks like some sort of rugged remote control for operating drones. It could also be a jammer or a spoofer. Later, the device turns about to be a spoofer. This is significant since it’s not legal for private citizens to use jammers or spoofers, which could interfere with signals of cell phones and emergency communications.
One of the many issues surrounding the rise of drones is our limited ability to counter them. Drones will increasingly become a problem for local law enforcement. There are some interesting options under exploration (for an in-depth discussion, see the work by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College).
Most off-the-shelf drones receive and transmit radio frequency or GPS signals . A jammer disrupts the radio or the GPS signals controlling the drones. When a drone loses its signals, it is programmed to enter into its safety protocols, which means it will either hover in place, attempt to land or return to its original locations. A spoofer sends false GPS signals to a drone in an attempt to confuse it and take control of its navigation system.
There are a few destroy options. Laser or directed energy weapons destroy the drones midair, causing them to crash. Also, law enforcement officials can simply shoot them out of the air like Saudi security forces did just a few days ago.
There are also a few capture options. There are guns that shoot nets into the air to entangle drones and bring them to the ground. My favorite counter-drones system, however, is the training of birds of prey to take drones out of the air. A Dutch firm called Guard From Above is training eagles to capture drones in flight. According to company, the eagles wear protective shin-guards in order to shield their legs from the drone’s rotors and have a 95 percent intercept rate.
This is not science fiction. The drones are coming. If you needed further evidence, my friend sent me a photo this morning (April 22) from the Grand Rapids Press, my hometown’s local newspaper. Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan is now offering two courses on drones.
The drones are coming.