How small can drones get? : Overview & consequences

Just how small can drones get and what can it do that its larger counterparts cannot? When you think of drones, the picture is often that of large military drones capable of massive destruction or of regular hobby grade and commercial variety.

However, there is a whole different world of tiny drones that are being engineered. This opens up a plethora of new opportunities, dangers, risks and ethical considerations. In this post, we shall address some of these

Miniature drones: A brief overview

Today, it is possible to get your hands on miniature drones as small as the size of a coin. Governments around the world have been particularly interested in these types of drones for over a decade now.

Drones that are capable of spying and espionage have been within the reach of many governments around the world, especially in fighting wars against terrorism.

It is far less risky for example, to send in drones to spy over a terrorist base camp than to send human military personnel to perform scouting operations. Effective, tiny drones that can camouflage as a mosquito may be very well already be under the repertoire of government agencies.

Nano-bots that are microscopic in size  may also be available in the near future. Although still in its infancy, there is a whole field of Nanorobotics dedicated to the study and development of these microscopic machines.

However, the probability of building actual Nano scale drones that are have of all the complex functions real sized drones are capable of is highly unlikely.

As of now, the black hornet is a good representative of small scale drones that has particularly piqued the interest of the US military:

The consequences

how small can drones get - spying

The rise of miniature and Nano-sized drones elicits plenty of consequences. The potential applications for these machines are far and wide. We already addressed spying and espionage in the case of fighting wars against terrorism.

Governments using these types of drones for the sake of surveillance against its own citizens in mass-scale for example, is another potential consequence – one that is ethically questionable.

Like with any technology, such drones in the wrong hands (criminals, terrorist groups and the like) can also have dire, destructive consequences. Not to mention “grey-hat” and prank uses of these drones – do you want your creepy neighbour to get their hands on technology that will enable them to spy on you while you are taking a bath or when you are fast asleep?

However, all is not negative in the future of small scale robotics. There are plenty of potential applications that are positive. Search & rescue and monitoring, for example are among them.

A drone as small as your palm can access through really small pipes and vents, thereby making them useful in scenarios like monitoring the internals of a pipe for damages and accessing a completely barricaded area through alternative paths making them useful scouting agents.

Researchers hope that Nano-bots can be injected inside human bodies to fight against diseases that are incurable so far like cancer.

However, these Nano-drones are yet to be a practical reality and have only been tested in cell culture.

Although these are not drones per say, this was worth mentioning to further illustrate that robots small beyond your visibility aren’t always there to get you!

In closing

As of 2016, the drone age has only just begun. With future advancements in all areas of science and technology, it is very reasonable to expect more capable micro drones in the very near future. With this, the possibilities for small drones are only going to be up on the rise.

We as a society should keep our heads up and be prepared to deal with such a rapidly changing world of technology. Bad consequences from technology cannot be blamed on anything else except human inability and stupidity to deal with it.

That’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed the read. What do you think? I would absolutely LOVE to hear from you science and engineering professionals out there about the potential of small drones and how they would be ultimately limited by both physics or engineering limitations. Please drop your comments below!