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‘Paint Drones’ May Aid Next US Hunt

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

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Here’s an application quandary: How do you leave a paint mark on someone without him knowing about it?

The answer, surprisingly, could have major implications for national security.

That’s the theory, anyway, behind new tracking technology called “paint drones” that the U.S. military is hoping may help in the next search for a terrorist or suspect.

Dust and Goo

This week, the Air Force issued a solicitation for help in developing a miniature unmanned aerial vehicle that could drop sensor-emitting dust or goo on a suspected enemy soldier, terrorist or vehicle, allowing them to be tracked from a distance.

These so-called “taggants” are very small devices that emit an electro-magnetic signal and can be applied to moving or stationary targets of interest for tracking in tactical situations.

The goal is to “develop and demonstrate innovative methods to unobtrusively distribute taggants onto moving targets for tracking, locating, and identification purposes,” the Air Force solicitation says.

“Unobtrusive” is the operative word here.

Surveillance targets obviously must not know they have been tagged, the Air Force notes. That is most easily done on the ground, but the Air Force is seeking a way to distribute taggants “aerially via a small remotely piloted aircraft (SRPA). “

 Air Force paint drone
californiastudies2010.wikispaces.com
Tracking dust could be dispersed like high-altitude crop dusting, the Air Force says.

“The easiest, but obtrusive, means of delivery would be for the SRPA to ‘divebomb’ the target or ‘shoot a paintball’ at the target,” but the target would “obviously notice a swooping SRPA and likely feel the sting of the well-placed pellet,” the Air Force notes.

High-Altitude Crop Dusting

Hence, the need for a drone technology that could sneak up and paint something like an unseen target on the subject.

According to the Air Force, the possibilities include dropping a “dust-like” cloud of electromagnetic signal-radiating taggants either on the target or in his path so that he walks into it.

That could involve something akin to high-altitude (to avoid detection) “crop dusting.” However, the Air Force notes, this method would use a large amount of taggants, which would be ineffective and wasteful unless tagging a whole group of targets.

The Air Force is also looking at a new munition that would pneumatically blow out a cloud of taggants on or in front of the target.

One company, for example, is said to be perfecting a remote-controlled robotic hummingbird that can secretly shoot video footage. Such an invention could conceivably be adapted as a delivery system for “smart-dust” technology—clouds of sensoring particles that have been under study since the 1990s.

The paint drones are just one of the military’s multi-million-dollar efforts into developing technology that can do the dangerous, difficult work of locating suspects in areas where terrorists are able to hide among civilians.

For more information, contact Raymond Bortner at mailto:nd.bortner@wpafb.af.mil or (937) 255-8292.

   

Tagged categories: Coatings technology; Paint application; Research

Comment from Gunnar Ackx, (5/4/2011, 11:15 AM)

Interesting concept, but I don't see how you're going to get 'paint' to emit a signal (other than a fluorescent or luminescent paint, which would be pretty obvious to the person or target that was tagged, ;-). For a technology to emit a signal on its whereabouts, you still need some type of electronic circuitry and some type of power-source, which I can't see being embedded in paint (just yet).


Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/5/2011, 9:58 AM)

Gunnar - it could be something like micro-scale RFID tags. The energy is provided to the tag by the scanner itself. Nikola Tesla demonstrated the technique of remotely (non contact) powering electronic devices well over a hundred years ago.


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