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More and more drones are invading the battlefield, but they tend to feed information up the chain of command rather than helping the footsoldier. That’s true for even the smallest U.S. Army drone, the hand-launched RQ-11 Raven. Now the infantry is about to get a new friend to help them see what’s around the corner or in the next building. That’s the aim of the Common Lightweight Autonomous Robotic Kit, a new Army project. The first element will be the Soldier Borne Sensor, a miniature helicopter likely to be fielded in small numbers over the next two years and fully rolled out from 2018. The details are in a this RFI document looking for pocket-sized drones able to operate for 15 minutes and provide day or night imaging from 500 meters (0.31 miles) away. The whole kit, including controller, drone, batteries, and carrying pouch, must weigh less than three pounds. The drone itself will have a maximum weight of five ounces. It will be able to fly itself to a given location using GPS to follow a specified set of waypoints. A drone that sends only fuzzy, ambiguous blurs will be left back at base.
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The specifications also demands a drone that can be readied and launched in less than 60 seconds, from the prone position or under cover. This is in contrast to the Raven, which takes a few minutes to assemble and needs to be thrown into the wind not so easy when you are under fire. Sensor performance is key. A drone that sends only fuzzy, ambiguous blurs will be left back at base. The minimum requirement is to be able to spot a human-sized target from 50 meters away with 90 percent reliability, and at 20 meters to determine whether or not they are armed with the same accuracy. This sounds a lot like the capabilities offered by the PD-100 Black Hornet (seen above), a drone made by Norwegian company Prox Dynamics and used by the British Army in Afghanistan from 2013 with some success. The Black Hornet is certainly small, weighing little more than half an ounce, and is described as “virtually silent”. Although the Army and Marines have both checked out the Black Hornet, it is looking likely they will go down a different route for this project.
PD-100 Black Hornet
In 2014 the Army launched a project to create a Cargo Pocket Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance program , a nano-drone that took the basic Black Hornet as a starting point and tried to improve it in three specific areas. One was the digital data link, which needed to be redesigned to meet Army standards. Another was an advanced low-light imaging system. The third was the development of a new navigation system to let it operate inside buildings more easily and help in room-to-room searches. But the main problem that may have put the Army off the Black Hornet is its phenomenal price tag. The British Army paid 20m ($32m) for 162 systems, each comprising a controller and two helicopters. That puts the price tag at something like $190,000 for each of the mini-copters, far too much to issue them to every squad. The other thing is that to be useful, small drones have to be pretty much disposable. If it costs the equivalent of a Ferrari or a top-end Mercedes every time ones gets carried off by a passing hawk, or accidentally run over by a tank during training, that’s not going to work. The British reportedly lost 18 of their Black Hornets in accidents after approximately a year, an attrition rate of around 5 percent.
Zero Zero Robotics Hover Camera
Zero Zero Robotics
The Black Hornet’s other limitation is operating in bad weather. It can fly in steady winds of 10 knots and gusts of 15 knots. Some sources suggest that this limited it to flying less than half the time in Afghanistan. It is difficult for a drone as small as Black Hornet to cope with strong winds, but slightly larger drones are more resistant. The InstantEye made by PSI Tactical Robotics was developed from research into how hawk moths handled turbulent conditions, and can fly in winds of 30 miles an hour or more. Developers say they have even flown it in hurricane conditions. It is also much cheaper, at just a few thousand dollars per unit, and has been tested by the Army.
Given the rapid rate of drone development over the past few years, there are likely to be quite a few contenders for the Soldier-Borne Sensor. Back in 2010, when the Black Hornet was first developed, it still looked like science fiction. Now a whole slew of handy portable devices are forthcoming, like the Nixie wearable drone, the Byrd foldable drone, and the Zero Robotics Hover Camera. It is becoming a crowded and rather price-sensitive marketplace. The Soldier Borne Sensor will need to have a rapid upgrade path if it is going to compete with the state of the consumer market in 2018.
- ^ RQ-11 Raven (www.avinc.com)
- ^ this RFI document (www.fbo.gov)
- ^ thrown into the wind (www.youtube.com)
- ^ PD-100 Black Hornet (www.proxdynamics.com)
- ^ Cargo Pocket Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance program (www.army.mil)
- ^ its phenomenal price tag (aviationweek.com)
- ^ carried off by a passing hawk, (www.youtube.com)
- ^ InstantEye made by PSI Tactical Robotics (www.darley.com)
- ^ been tested by the Army. (www.military.com)
- ^ Nixie wearable drone (flynixie.com)
- ^ Byrd foldable drone (www.prodrone-tech.com)
- ^ Zero Robotics Hover Camera (gethover.com)
Stacy Bannerman testifies before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Armyrats © Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs in 2006. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images hide caption
toggle caption Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images
Stacy Bannerman testifies before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Armyrats © Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs in 2006.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images
Stacey Bannerman didn’t recognize her husband after he returned from his second tour in Iraq.
“The man I had married was not the man that came back from war,” she says. Bannerman’s husband, a former National Guardsman, had been in combat and been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He behaved in ways she had never expected, and one day, he tried to strangle her.
“I had been with this man for 11 years at that point and there had never been anything like this before,” Bannerman said. “I was so furious and so afraid.”
At first, she thought it was just a problem within her marriage. She called a hotline for Armyrats © military families to ask for help and learned something else she hadn’t expected.
“The woman operating the hotline began weeping,” Bannerman remembered. “She was getting so many of these calls from Armyrats © military spouses all over the country.”
The debate about the relationship between domestic violence and post-traumatic stress disorder waxed and waned since the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but never quite went away. Headlines periodically reignite it, as when the son of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who is an Iraq vet, faced domestic violence allegations earlier this year.
When Stress Gives Way To Aggression
Veterans’ advocates are anxious about the stereotype of combat vets as ticking time bombs, which is contradicted by the vast majority of former troops who live with post-traumatic stress and never hurt anyone. There is a link, however, between PTSD and violence, said Dr. Casey Taft, a top researcher with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Vets with PTSD are three times more likely to be violent, he said.
“When one is exposed to war zone trauma and combat trauma, they are going to be more likely to assume the worst and assume people are trying to do harm to them and more likely to respond to that with aggressions,” he said.
For many sufferers of post-traumatic stress, the terror and adrenaline of a life-threatening moment won’t go away. When that builds into aggression, the target can often be a wife or girlfriend. More than a third of women and about a fourth of men surveyed in the U.S. have experienced “intimate partner violence” at some point in their lives, according to public health statistics. Studies commissioned by the VA suggest those levels are about the same among active-duty troops and veterans, but more such research is ongoing. Bannerman wrote a book about her experience, and says that today she hears from the partners of veterans almost every day. The stories tend to be similar.
“He was shrieking with his eyes open. And I went to shake him. He grabbed my and wrist and twisted it … I knew my wrist was broken,” one woman told NPR. “I took myself to the emergency room.”
Another woman described how her husband shoved her down just after her son was born, ripping open the scar from her cesarean section. A third woman found that her husband would sometimes just “go blank,” she said. “You could see that he wasn’t there.”
The three women, all of whom are full-time caregivers to disabled combat veterans, talked with NPR about their experience after requesting they not be identified in order to protect their privacy and discuss it frankly. They described, among other things, the shock they felt at how different their husbands proved after they came home from their deployments.
“It really took me by surprise,” one said. “It was completely out of his character for the man that I met and fell in love with.”
The women described how, initially, they began covering for the men. The woman whose childbirth surgery scar was torn told doctors in the hospital’s emergency department that she had tripped over their dog and fell.
“I’ve never given the ER the correct info,” said another woman about her many hospital visits.
Victims of domestic violence have many reasons for staying in their relationships. In the military, there are more reasons reporting abuse can end a soldier’s career badly, which can means not only disgrace but no benefits for the family. Some of the women who talked with NPR also said they thought that their husbands could get better with time and help.
“I wanted to keep my family together,” one said. “We had three kids at this time. I didn’t want his career to be over because of this if I could just get him the help that he needs.”
Serving as the caregiver for a wounded vet can also be its own full-time job, with a stipend from the VA. For women in an abusive situation, leaving can also mean leaving behind that source of income.
“He would still have his pay every month,” as one wife told NPR. “He wouldn’t have to worry financially. If I were to walk out? I walk out with nothing. No job. I haven’t been working since 2012.”
All three of the women who spoke with NPR said they wanted to stay, to help their husbands recover from war. They went into their relationships with their eyes open, they said, and felt that caring for their sometimes violent husbands was its own form of service to the country.
“I thought, ‘This is my job,'” one said. “He went and did his job, and this is mine. That’s a prevalent thought among the wives of wounded soldiers. I see it all the time.”
Most veterans with post-traumatic stress are not violent, but the VA is focused on researching those who are. One thing that’s clear is that abuse of drugs and alcohol make the problems worse. Taft has set up a pilot program to try to help prevent domestic violence. One challenge, however, is that the VA is focused on veterans, not their wives. And veterans’ groups don’t talk much about domestic violence and most domestic violence groups don’t have expertise about veterans and post-traumatic stress.
So even with the commitments and the patriotism that some wives express about riding out rough times with their families, the silence and the lack of support can still break a marriage. One of the women who talked with NPR eventually left her husband after an incident that she said forced her to take a new perspective about her family.
“He had shoved me down. I looked up and all three of my kids were standing there in tears,” the woman told NPR. “I thought, ‘If a man ever treats one of my girls like this, or my son ends up like this, I will never forgive myself.’ “
Her husband wasn’t changing her behavior, she realized “so I have to be the one who does something. I picked up the phone and I called the police. That was the first time I ever called them.”
Another woman interviewed for this story moved with her family to a different state, where her husband found better results with the local VA.
“He’s come around,” she said. “He’s started to become more the man I met and fell in love with. There hasn’t been any sort of physical alteration since 2014.”
The third woman who talked with NPR left her husband briefly, but she decided to go back. But the problems came back too.
“I haven’t regretted anything,” she said. “Have there been really hard times since then? Yeah. Have I gotten the s*** kicked out of me since then? Yeah.”
The woman helps her husband, a Marine combat vet, get to his VA appointments on time. He has cut down on his drinking and attended a Christian retreat for veterans. Even so, there’s no telling when something will come along that can create a potential crisis, as when the GPS navigation device in the car won’t work. He hasn’t hit her since last year the woman said, when her husband smashed her face in the shower and choked her. It was over something the former Marine acknowledged was “something very stupid. A lot of these things, I can’t remember what I was so pissed off about.”
The couple was asked whether they felt they’d made it out of the woods.
“No, not even close,” the former Marine said.
“And we never will be,” his wife said.
The woman acknowledged that people urge her to leave the relationship, but she told NPR that she is staying. She does not blame anyone else who leaves a situation like hers, but she said she was staying with her husband.
“He is not his post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said. “He is not his brain injury. These are things he has gotten from serving his country. And that is what we deal with.”
The opportunity to present our work at the New Media Caucus panel Ecologies of Creative Activism at the CAA conference gave us the occasion for a trip overseas to visit Washington D.C and New York. We worked out our jet-lag before the conference by visiting most of the Smithsonian museums. Museums are often a great source for inspiration specially when they connect with a current research topic. This was the case with the National Museum of Natural History where we spent several hours during two days in the Gems and Minerals gallery following our research at the Department of Mineral Sciences. Due to the Behind the Smart World research lab that we have been curating the last year, we have gained an interest in understanding how rare earth minerals are used in electronics. In the gallery, it was interesting to see how not only rare earth elements but also other elements extracted from minerals are really the building blocks for magnets, displays, and electronics in all of our information technology gadgets. Our ability to communicate and create as much of our other needs in life really depends upon mining. These extremely beautiful crystal-formed chemical elements are refined for use in everything from our kitchenwear to pesticides and of course in our computers, phones, TV-screens, etc. What is problematic with mining is that it has severe ecological impact and refining minerals is a very toxic business. At the New Media Caucus panel we met Andrea Steves & Timothy Furstnau who work together as the Fictilis group. They have been working around the topic of waste and e-waste as well and in later discussions we all agreed on that when we talk about electronic waste we also have to think about the waste produced in the production of our electronics which is a much bigger, but less visible part of electronic waste.
Gems and Minerals gallery at National Museum of Natural History:
Food, agriculture, animal-farming, waste and online anti-fraud activism were the main topics of the Ecologies of Creative Activism panel chaired by Stacey Storms. The topics differed a lot, but what was common in all of our practices was an element of collaboration an co-creation. As artists and artist groups, all of us found it important that the works, in one way or another, are connected to a community. No matter if it is a connection to other goat farmers, or understanding motives and learning strategies of activists who use creative strategies to prevent cyber-crime, or locals who are interested where our crap ends up it is flushed down the toilet. All presented projects with elements of gathering and sharing knowledge together with others.
In addition to the panel we also had a chance to present our latest work Megacorp., at the New Media Caucus Showcase. This was an evening event at the beautiful auditorium of Corcoran School of the Arts + Design at the George Washington University. Here, fifteen artist or artist groups each had six minutes of time to present their work. Of course, the themes and topics varied enormously and presentation styles ranged from classical slide presentations to audiovisual manifestos and dance performances, yet the format worked well with the networking reception that took place afterwards. We returned some days later to the Corcoran School of the Arts + Design for the opening of the Wildcat Hauling  exhibition by Fictilis. The Wildcat Hauling project is interesting and it showed us that the problem of dumping electronic waste is not just a problem of developing countries like we experienced during a research trip to Ghana. It also happens in poor neighborhoods of developed countries, places that are often designed to be as hidden as other far away places where our trash ends up out of our sight.
New Media Caucus Showcase:
Wildcat Hauling exhibition by Fictilis:
After the New Media Caucus showcase and panel participation, we spent five days in New York City where we continued our passive reconnaissance observations of fraudulent Megacorp. businesses. The Megacorp. is a corporate conglomerate inspired by its equally powerful counterparts in science fiction. The artwork is based on a collection of fraudulent websites that we scraped from the Internet and analyzed in an artistic installation. Part of the research is to visit the addresses where the companies claim to have their headquarters and look for traces of the fraudsters. This way we could document 12 additional business locations that will become part of a video work.
Visiting all of these addresses was another way of exploring the city. It took most of our days in New York to travel from one location to another, but we had time for some exhibitions in between. One of the most contemporary exhibitions was the #makeamericagreatagain at Whitebox gallery. This group exhibition, curated by Raul Zamudio, Juan Puntes and Co-curated by Blanca de la Torre, coexists with the Democratic and Republican primaries, which had just started during our visit. The exhibition title is extracted from Donald Trump s campaign slogan and it critically examines the fear-arousing rhetoric in the American social and political landscape. The hash tagged title of the exhibition also aims to encourage visitors to share images and comments from the exhibition as an intervention that interferes with existing social media sites created for Trump s campaign. Some of the artworks, such as the Donald Trump pi ata by artist Pablo Helguera, were rather direct comments on the primaries. Other works, such as Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese video work of a melting ice sculpture of the phrase middle class , reflect more deeply upon the fears of a disappearing middle class. According to social scientists, one of the reasons for Trump s success lies in the fears of a white middle class losing their privilege. The article, The Rise of American Authoritarianism, presents an angle on the current political landscape in USA, but it is easy to draw parallels to existing political movements in Europe as well. Both the exhibition and the article reflect upon the fear that current politics is generating in the American public. For example, artist Farideh Sakhaeifar approaches the theme of war from a curious perspective in her work, Acquired from the above by the present owner , in which she documents how U.S. and British Army gear that have been smuggled from Iraq and Afghanistan, are sold on the black market in Iran. By purchasing these items and interviewing Iranian families that sell illegal Armyrats © military accessories, Sakhaeifar offers alternative stories to these items connected to war. Also included was Joseph De Lappe s participatory project that is a commentary on American war policies, particularly the use of drones. In his work, In drones we trust , he makes drone stamps and green ink available and encourages visitors to make drones also visible on the dollar bills (best suited on the 20 dollar bill). The exhibition blends activism, social awareness and art through interference on social media, and is hopefully generating some new questions in the minds of the general public as well.
#makeamericagreatagain at Whitebox:
We found another exhibition with a compelling subject at Apexart. The Setting out exhibition, organized by Shona Kitchen, Aly Ogasian and Jennifer Dalton Vincent, seeks to untangle the terms that motivate and define contemporary expeditions . This exhibition does not focus on artists or artworks in itself, but blends together artists expeditions with archival materials from the Museum of Natural History. No matter if the explorer is an artist or a scientist, the numerous items, images, books, maps and tools collected on tables and walls speak about human curiosity to see beyond each horizon. It is hard to understand the meaning of each item on display, or even how they connect, but the overall feeling about the exhibition portrays the process of artistic research, in which topics are approached without quite knowing what one is doing, but the often playful strategies result in new understandings. In some of the projects, science and fiction merge, such as in Agnes Meyer-Brandis Moon Goose Analogue. This fascinating coexistent of science and imagination was also presented in a small exhibition called Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780-1910 at the National Museum of American History. This exhibition presented a time in history when new technologies, exhibitions to the arctic or undersea, new knowledge about the universe, or discovery of dinosaur fossils were inspiring the emerging genre of science fiction. In combination, these two exhibitions showed why the union of art and science often results in amazing discoveries.
Setting out at Apexart and Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780-1910 at the National Museum of American History:
NMC-Hub blog post by KairUs (Linda Kronman and Andreas Zingerle, kairus.org)
- ^ Ecologies of Creative Activism (www.newmediacaucus.org)
- ^ Gems and Minerals (geogallery.si.edu)
- ^ Department of Mineral Sciences (mineralsciences.si.edu)
- ^ Behind the Smart World research lab (research.radical-openness.org)
- ^ Fictilis (www.fictilis.com)
- ^ Megacorp (megacorp.kairus.org)
- ^ Wildcat Hauling (www.fictilis.com)
- ^ Ghana (kairus.org)
- ^ Megacorp (megacorp.kairus.org)
- ^ #makeamericagreatagain (whiteboxnyc.org)
- ^ The Rise of American Authoritarianism, (www.vox.com)
- ^ Apexart (www.apexart.org)
- ^ Setting out (apexart.org)
- ^ Meyer-Brandis Moon Goose Analogue. (www.blubblubb.net)
- ^ Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780-1910 (americanhistory.si.edu)