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Having a target painted on one’s back just took on a whole new literal meaning. The Air Force wants a new kind of tracking tech in which a tiny drone surreptitiously “paints” an individual with some kind of signal-emitting powder or liquid that allows the military to keep tabs on him or her. Or perhaps upload their coordinates to a hellfire missile.
On Tuesday, the AF put out a call for proposals for such technology, though it didn’t specify exactly what kind of drone might deliver the magic powder, or what the magic powder might be. But as Danger Room notes, there are a range of experimental technologies that could potentially serve both purposes (for a more thorough rundown of that tech, click through to DR’s piece).
employ biodegradable fluorescent “taggants” that can be scattered by UAVs. Voxtel, a private firm in Oregon, has already made available a product called NightMarks, a nanocrystal that can be seen through night-vision goggles and can be hidden in anything from glass cleaner to petroleum jelly.
Perhaps the most advanced tagging concept is “smart dust,” clouds of “motes,” tiny micro-electromechanical sensors that can attach themselves to people or vehicles. Thousands of these sensors would be scattered at a time to increase the chance of at least one of them reaching its target. Kris Pister, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the Pentagon’s R&D branch, more than a decade ago to work on smart dust and was able to create sensors the size of rice grains.