Robotic flies and spying eyes

You may not be a James Bond fan – and other than Skyfall‘s theme song, I didn’t think the latest Bondbuster had much to recommend it – but I’ve been looking at how monitoring and surveillance may impact our lives in important ways in two recent feature articles.

In Who’s spying on you? I revealed the alarming ways in which hackers can now bypass your smartphone security and snoop on your password. Computer vision scientists at the University of North Carolina have shown that from up to 60m away, they could reconstruct a message typed on the screen from video footage. “We found it was possible to automatically recover typed text, from reasonable distances, even using low-budget equipment,” says Fabian Monrose. “It’s a worrying finding because it’s not easy to defend against this threat.”

As well as other worrying trends, like our inability to choose good passwords, or remember them when we do, the article also brings together practical advice from cyber-security experts on how best to stay safe. Read this article here.

Scientists are learning from flying, crawling and climbing creatures

Scientists are learning from flying, crawling and climbing creatures

Biomimetic bug-robots are the subject of the second feature, Autonomous flying robots influenced by nature. For years, scientists have been learning from the natural world to develop swimming, crawling and jumping creatures aimed at moving efficiently across the landscape for search-and-rescue or monitoring purposes. The latest developments in flying bugs have seen dragonfly-inspired Micro Air Vehicles created at Delft University, and bee-like creatures taking flight at Harvard.

But right at the bleeding edge of research, you find a different approach to flying robugs – and that’s using real moths or beetles to carry sensors and cameras into spaces humans can’t go. Side-stepping the huge problem of powering a flying robot (currently limited to only a few minutes), new issues of control and even ethical qualms rise quickly into view. Read more here.

See flying robots playing the James Bond theme (why not?!) here, and a remote-controlled moth flying here.

Photo Credit Jean-Michel Mongeau, Ardian Jusufi and Pauline Jennings. Courtesy of PolyPEDAL Lab UC Berkeley.