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Energy Neutral Drone Swarms Can Spy on You Without Taking a Break

Researchers imagine a self-sufficient internet of drones.

Michael Byrne

Michael Byrne

Volodymyr Goinyk/Shutterstock

In following computer science-slash-machine learning research you come across a lot of unintentional dystopias hiding under cover of solutions to largely theoretical problems. Take, for example, a paper published this month in IEEE Communications Magazine by a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge and Koc University describing the Energy Neutral Internet of Drones (enIoD).

enloD is, essentially, a framework for a security-tasked drone network that doesn't have to rest, operating continuously with drone charging and data transfer tasks integrated nearly seamlessly into its operation. Like the internet-internet, its key feature is resiliency. It autonomously rebalances, and, in a sense, mends itself.

In enloD, drones themselves are able to serve not just as network nodes, but as connections between nodes. Should a communications link fail somewhere, whether among drones or between drones and satellites or ground stations, drones themselves can serve to physically transport data packets across the rift. Same thing with power: If a charging station starts running low, a drone can physically transport power to it from a better charged station.

Long et al

The energy neutrality of the network is accomplished via a hybrid energy harvesting system that relies on fairly small-scale renewable sources. Rather than each charging station in the network tapping into a large power-supply network (the grid), each one might have its own solar cell or wind turbine. The grid linking each charging station is, again, the drones themselves.

Meanwhile, the drones that make up the network never have to rest themselves. This is enabled via wireless power transfer systems. With wireless charging docks distributed across a wide area, drones are able to flying more or less uninterrupted/without landing.

The point of this network is keeping tabs on amateur drones (ADrs), which the study authors imagine as a vector for terrorists and the like to attack civilians.

"As a result of rapid development of ADr technology, they have become easily accessible," they write. "However, some ADrs may have harmful intentions. In order to cope with potential threats posed by ADrs, SDr [surveillance drone] utilization becomes important for surveillance, hunting, and jamming of intruder ADrs. SDrs can detect, track, and localize malicious ADrs to take preclusive reactions and/or combat them to reduce the number of casualties."

A solution in search of a problem? Maybe, probably. But the thing is that it doesn't need to be. Like, we can imagine applications of drone internets that don't involve omnipresent surveillance, right?