The mad inventor from the James Bond movies, Q, is real. Only there are lots of him, and they have a lot more money at their disposal. In the real world, they're called DARPA -- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Never heard of them? You should have -- they're responsible for some of the best technology (the Internet) and the worst (Agent Orange) produced in the last 50 years. Their job is to dream up the craziest shit possible and make it real. And, since they're exempt from several government hiring and spending laws, they're not shy about thinking outside the box. Way, way outside.
Some of what they're working on right now includes ...
5Creepy Robot Hummingbirds and Space Planes
If you want a plane to get to where the bad guys are without being noticed, you have several options: You can make it fly really, really high and really, really fast (as is typical with spy planes), or you can get creative. DARPA has utterly insane plans to do both.
"We've finally weaponized the doorstop, men."
First we have FALCON, or Force Application and Launch from Continental United States (we hope they pay their acronym guys really well). The FALCON program is mainly focused on the X-41 CAV -- an alien-looking, cone-shaped "near-space" plane that can go 13,000 miles per hour (which is 20 times the speed of sound).
This is either a 3-D model of it or an official DARPA bicycle seat.
If you don't understand what 20 times the speed of sound gets you, how about this: It can go anywhere in the world, and photograph or kill anyone, in an hour or so.
But DARPA is also capable of thinking small -- the kind of small that is somehow creepier than a magical instant-death murdership.
"An estimated 80 percent of conversations go unrecorded. DARPA can fix that."
That's why they're also looking into something they call micro air vehicles, like the Shrike, which basically looks exactly like a kid's RC copter and is built primarily for spying and reconnaissance. So, really, it is an RC copter, with an iPhone taped to it.
And if that sounds unimpressive, don't worry -- they're also developing the much smaller and much creepier NAV -- the Nano Air Vehicle. One day you might find one hanging around your neighbor's bird feeder.
Yes, we're talking about a tiny robot hummingbird that can spy on terrorists (and maybe you). The whole thing is less than 6 inches tall and lighter than an ounce, and as demonstrated by the image on the project's page, it will fool absolutely everyone ever.
"I AM A NORMAL EARTH HUMMINGBIRD. PLEASE DO NOT APPROACH."
This is part of DARPA's ongoing effort to create ...
4A System to See Everything, All the Time
Sure, we have spy satellites. But they're still limited -- you have to wait for them to pass over the area you want to photograph, for instance, and your targets might be doing their business indoors. No, if you want to see your enemy in real time, you need to get sci-fi on that shit.
So let's start off with their giant supervillain space blimp.
Defense Industry Daily
Above: When nerds get Defense Department contracts.
ISIS (Integrated Sensor Is Structure) is essentially an inflatable surveillance outpost. It hangs out in the upper atmosphere and has the ability to take high-res battlefield photos, even at night. And they will be able to get one up anywhere, any time -- it can be deployed within a matter of hours. Also, it's totally self-sustained, thanks to a solar energy and hydrogen fuel cell combo, and it doesn't require any kind of input from the ground. It can pretty much cruise around forever.
This balloon will outlive you.
And while that's fairly practical, another project called Combat Zones That See (CTS) is just as creepy as it sounds. Remember in The Dark Knight when Batman used Gotham's cellphones to try to track the Joker, and Morgan Freeman got really pissed off at him? Imagine something like that, only using every camera in an entire city instead of just cellphones. That's CTS.
Basically, it uses municipal and other outdoor video and a computerized logic routine to track objects from camera to camera. CTS is intended to be able to primarily track vehicles in war zones, but that hasn't stopped privacy hounds on the Internet from pointing out that it could easily be used to track American citizens right here. Kind of makes you want to never leave the house.
Oh, wait, they've got something for that, too. First is HIBR, or Harnessing Infrastructure for Building Reconnaissance. Basically, DARPA wants to be able to map the insides of buildings, using RF signals like a kind of sonar (wait, wasn't that also in The Dark Knight? What the fuck?). And yes, there's even speculation that the technology could be used for real-time tracking of people inside the building, with an early prototype that can see through up to a foot of concrete.
If that makes you want to retreat to your underground bunker in Montana, well, don't bother. DARPA is also working on GATE, or Gravity Anomaly for Tunnel Exposure, which can detect tunnels and underground bunkers. It's a sensor attached to low-flying aircraft that detects subtle changes in gravity and makes maps of the world underneath our own.
"Shit, I forgot to bring health potions."