Why doesn't the military have spy 'bots like the WiFI cracking plane at Black Hat?

Lots are in the pipeline; a good one gets demo'd today; the rest aren't ready for life outside the lab

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At the Black Hat conference in Vegas a couple of weeks ago, one of the biggest draws was WASP, the radio-controlled hobby plane converted by two Black Hat demo artists into an airborne network cracking platform.

It's not new, not even to Black Hat. An earlier version won prizes at last year's conference.

It was so cool, though it makes you wonder why the military isn't flying tiny radio-controlled robots to observe and eavesdrop on bad guys in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

It's trying to. So far the most successful are the big ones – Predator, Global Hawk, Reaper – small-plane-sized drones that carry cameras and missiles and have quadrupled the missions they fly in Afghanistan alone from fewer than 450 per month in January, 2009 to almost 2,500 per month in October, 2010, according to U.S. Air Force figures.

The next big step in long-range, long-term lurking is Gorgon Stare – a $15 million upgrade designed to improve the sensor systems built in to the U.S. Air Force's MQ-9 Reaper by adding the ability to observe at night and offer 12 different angled views from the observation sensor, all of which are broadcast simultaneously, rather than one at a time, like the previous system.

They're big, though.

Way too big to be infiltrated into a village or urban environment where a leaf or butterfly might not be noticed as it flutters to a landing on a lonely spot with a good view of Al Queda's flagship insurgent-supply store in Kabul, for example, and extends a tiny video camera and starts broadcast of the top-rated reality show Real No. 2 Commanders of Al Queda.

Lockheed hasn't quite succeeded at that, but today in Washington at the military aerial-unmanned vehicle exhibition AUVSI, it will demo a remote controlled video-spy drone about a foot long that uses a propeller to fly but whose body shape is based on those big green maple-leaf seed-pods that helicopter down from the trees by the million in the fall.

The UAV, named Samarai, doesn't look like a maple seed. It looks like a wooden drink cup cut in half from top to bottom and tilted over flat so a propeller could be stuck to its bottom.

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