Why Is This New Surveillance Drone Sperm-Shaped?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 27 2012 3:15 PM

Why Is This New Surveillance Drone Sperm-Shaped?

The World Surveillance Group's Argus One drone
The World Surveillance Group's Argus One drone

Courtesy the World Surveillance Group.

Named after an all-seeing Greek god with 100 eyes, the Argus One is perhaps the strangest looking surveillance drone yet constructed. But the odd design of the airship is not deterring customers. In fact, it may be attracting them.

Ryan Gallagher Ryan Gallagher

Ryan Gallagher is a journalist who reports on surveillance, security, and civil liberties.

Last week World Surveillance Group, the Florida-based manufacturer of the Argus One, revealed it has been holding “high-level discussions” with U.S. and international government agencies about its unmanned airships. The company also reported that it had successfully completed recent testing of the Argus One in conjunction with government sponsors.

Advertisement

The bizarre spy drone is capable of flying for days on end at heights of between 10,000 and 20,000 feet and can carry up to 30 pounds, including cameras and sensors. According to WSG, it is designed specifically for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions and is virtually undetectable by radar, making it ideal for stealth use. The unusual shape, aside from making it resemble a giant floating sperm, helps it handle poor weather conditions.

The Argus One has been tested in Nevada, and plans are afoot to develop a smaller, more portable version at the request of unnamed government parties. Earlier this year WSG submitted a provisional patent application for a hybrid Argus drone that was designed to be “packaged in a standard size crate that fits in the back of a full size truck or HUMVEE and to be rapidly deployable within hours by a small crew.” The hybrid will be able to function as an aerostat, meaning it’s tethered to the ground, but could also fly freely.

While WSG has not disclosed who the interested government parties are, comments made by the company’s chief executive about how the hybrid will “empower soldiers” hint there is military involvement. The U.S. Army is already making use of aerostats and is also investing in blimps, which would explain interest in a hybrid version of the Argus.

Perhaps more importantly, could the Argus One eventually be deployed beyond conflict zones—for surveillance on U.S. soil? With the use of drones domestically now becoming popular among law enforcement and border control agencies, it’s not a far-fetched prospect. There are already 64 drone bases in the United States, and about 300 law enforcement agencies and research institutions have temporary licenses to fly them. Military-style drones, aerostats, and blimps have all been used within the United States—a trend that will undoubtedly continue as the technology advances.

The only barrier to any eventual deployment of the Argus One domestically could be the law. The first piece of legislation designed to restrict the use of spy drones in the United States was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 7. This was followed by a companion bill in the Senate—the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act—that would prohibit the use of drones without a warrant. Separately, there is an ongoing court case in North Dakota involving the use of a Predator spy drone to arrest a farmer that could have ramifications for police use of domestic drones.

In the meantime, if you spot a sperm-like object floating across the horizon while passing through Nevada—don’t worry, you’re probably not hallucinating. The chances are it’s just an Argus One out on another test run.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 21 2014 1:38 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? See if you can keep pace with the copy desk, Slate’s most comprehensive reading team.