Wednesday, 23 December 2015


            Spybirds are reconnaissance and surveillance robots that mimic real birds. Like real birds they fly by a combination of wing flapping and soaring. A combination of solar power and rechargeable power cells allow them to remain aloft for days at a time. At usual observation ranges they are nearly impossible to distinguish from actual birds. The most sophisticated models are actual aviods complete with artificial feathers. Bioroid cyborg spybirds us a combination of electronic and biological components.

            Spybirds are a very useful surveillance system since it is seldom practical for an enemy to shoot down every bird within visual range.


               Bumblebots are very small, flying surveillance and reconnaissance devices. Unlike the machines used in cyberswarms they are usually used singularly or in small numbers.
               A typical bumblebot resembles a pyramid with sides of one centimetre. A leg is at each corner and at the peak is a spherical lens. Insect-like wings are mounted on the sides. A bumblebot usually flies point first or point downwards. It may fly point upwards if the controller wishes to look at the underside of something. Alternately a bumblebot may grip onto a vertical or horizontal surface to observe an area. Typically bumblebots are coloured light grey, making them hard to spot when not in motion. Most bumblebots can also pick up sound when not flying. Some even use their wings as additional audio pickup systems.

               Below is a video of a possible ancestor of TS Bumblebots:

Chrome Upgrade.

            Chromes were an element of the regrettably short-lived series “Almost Human”. They readily fit into TS as an genetic uplift template
            The Chrome Upgrade is often described as “the best genes that money can buy”. Chromes are engineered to be intelligent, attractive and healthy. As a marketing strategy the price of the Chrome Upgrade is deliberately kept high. Being a Chrome comes with benefits other than just good DNA. Many chromes are successful in their chosen field so likely to be at least financially comfortable. “Chroming” does not come cheap so many Chromes are born into wealthy and influential families.
            Chromes tend to be insular and cliquey. A Chrome is likely to readily find allies or contacts among other Chromes. Mentors and patrons are also possible. Being a Chrome can be two-edged, however. Some baseline humans or “naturals” resent or are intimidated by Chromes. Some Chromes tend to be condescending to “naturals”. Some Chromes are also wary of other upgrades or parahumans, concerned that they may in fact be better than the Chromes in some way.
Chrome Upgrade.
Attribute Modifiers: DX+1 [20]; IQ +1 [20]; HT +1 [10].
Advantages: Attractive [4]; Fit [5]; Longevity [2]; Extended Lifespan 1 [2]; Resistant to Disease (+3) [3]; Language Talent (+1) [2]; Eidetic Memory Level 1 [9]; Minority Group [-5]
Features: Taboo Traits (Genetic Defects, Mental Instability). No Appendix.
            Wealth likely to be Comfortable [10] or higher. Other Chromes very likely to be allies or patrons.


Kobold-80 Tunnel Area Denial

            Tunnelling to avoid superior firepower or airpower became a common strategy in the late 20th century. Many of the world’s disputed areas have extensive tunnel systems and TS technology such as swarmdozers make further excavations relatively simple.
            One area denial system used for tunnels is the Israeli-made Kobold-80. This is a small NAI cybershell about a foot across. It has four thick legs that can be used for digging. When deployed the Kobold-80 will dig itself several burrows, concealing them to the best of its ability. The main body of the cybershell has a swarm-hive that can accommodate three cyberswarms. The cyberswarms are used to disable or kill intruders. New burrows are often dug near the bodies of former victims allowing investigators, looters or the curious to be attacked. The mobility of the Kobold-80 and its burrows protect the cyberswarms from common countermeasures such as EMP. Kobold-80s deployed in the same tunnel system will work together, communicating by short range radio and ultrasonic signals.
            The presence of Kobold-80s is often hard to determine since they usually time the attack of their cyberswarms for maximum effect and may decline to attack strong parties. Why so many people enter a tunnel and are never seen again may become a mystery or subject of local superstition.


            The Maim-shredder is an example of an instance where the distinction between cybershell and weapon become unclear. Maim-shredders are deployed as area denial and anti-intruder systems at high security installations. The robot is a very flattened spheroid with contra-rotating rotors on its equator. Rotor-span is half a yard, allowing the machine to manoeuvre indoors. The rotor tips are reinforced and each has short lengths of monowire that are extended as the rotors spin and contract as the system powers down. A small tripod stand is on the underside of the machine.
            Maim-shredders are psychological weapons. Their appearance, sound, method of attack and even their name is intended to be intimidating. Primary method of attack is to fly within a few inches of the target and slash it with the spinning monowire. Most Maim-shredders are programmed to attack the torso and legs rather than the hands and face but they still inflict very nasty wounds. If programmed to the Maim-shredder may buzz the intruder several times with close range passes and play recordings calling upon the intruder sit down and await arrest. These recordings are often in English and Mandarin as well as local languages.
            The Maim-shredder also has a siren and a high-intensity strobe light it can use to disorientate and intimidate. Maim-shredders that see intruders aiming guns or similar devices towards them will often trigger their strobes. Not only does this make the Maim-shredder very difficult to shoot down but also disrupts the shooter’s night vision. The strobe and siren also help locate intruders for support units.
             Maim-shredders are fast moving but will have difficulty hitting prone targets. It will, however, be hard to escape or neutralize the machines from such a position.


             The restrictions on the use of anti-personnel mines have led to the development of a number of alternate means of area denial. Agma-beol uses a bioswarm of genemod insects. Agma-beol are based on Africanized honey bees, which are notorious for their aggressive defence of their territories. Modifications include a barbless sting that can be used repeatedly without the death of the bee. Many strains are omnivorous and will consume carrion or bee parasites in addition to nectar, pollen and honey. Agma-beol are engineered to include a broad spectrum immunity to most pesticides. As a control measure a strain may be vulnerable to a particular pesticide, the identity of which is kept secret. Agma-beol are best used in rural areas with enough local vegetation for the hive to become self-sufficient in food.
            An insect director device is located in the defended area to control the bioswarm with pheromones. However, if the director device is inoperative the swarm can still be a threat. Attacks can be triggered by large creatures approaching too close to the hive. Loud noises such as gunfire, engine noise, music, chainsaws, leaf blowers or shouting may also trigger attacks. Agma-beol bioswarms will pursue targets for more than 500 yards. This distance may be increased under directions of a director device or if the target is marked with certain pheromones or scents. One problem with using Agma-beol is their tendency to form satellite hives that may be beyond the range of the director device. Satellite hives are sometimes formed in the remains of dead large animals to provide a ready source of carrion. Disturbing such remains can be hazardous!


Conventions on Weaponry.

           Military forces in 2100 would be bound by a number of international conventions so some of the weapons described in this blog may be restricted or unavailable to them. Some clandestine agencies would be inclined to ignore these restrictions. Many terrorist organisations would have sufficient funding and technical support that they could develop some of these weapons if they had a use for them. Some Transnational corporations would consider these conventions to only be binding to them within an observing nation’s borders. A number of secret laboratories researching various proscribed subjects might be located both off-shore or off-world. Occasionally an explorer in the ocean or asteroids may come across an abandoned installation, possibly the victim of a covert attack or raid. Who knows what might remain there, overlooked?
           The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the use of chemical weapons in warfare or by military forces. The CWC does not distinguish between lethal agents and less-lethal chemicals such as tear gas. While it is perfectly legal for a police force to use tear gas against its citizens a military force faced with civil disobedience may not. The CWC in fact obligates the military force to use more dangerous measures. By 2100 the CWC will have been amended to exclude certain prescribed non-lethal chemical agents. While it is generally agreed the CWC applies to caustic and corrosive weapons it is disputed as to whether cyberswarms that have similar effects should also be restricted.
           The Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BTWC) of 1972 is observed or accepted by most countries of the world, although some signatories have reservations as to what is permissible. Various amendments against genetic and nanoviral weapons have been added but the events that triggered the Pacific War shows that not all nations and factions hold with these.
           The Hague Convention of 1899 forbids the use of poison weapons and is observed by most military forces even if they are not signatories. Drugged bullets and Hypo/Terminator cyberswarms may contravene this convention if used with certain fillings. The status of Nanoburn is disputed, since it is not a poison but effectively functions like one.
           The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCWC) of 1980/83 included the prohibition of using deliberately incendiary weapons against civilians. By the latter half of the 20th century most military forces had voluntarily abandoned weapons such as flamethrowers. This trend continued in the 21st century with most forces phasing out the use of white and red phosphorous-based munitions and napalm-like weapons. Certain radical groups will still favour these for their terror effect. Some radical religious groups consider flame the holy way to purify “abominations”.
           The Ottawa Treaty of 1999 prohibits the use of anti-personnel mines. It does not address mixed mines, anti-tank mines, remote controlled claymore mines, anti-handling devices, booby-traps and other “static” explosive devices. Several major nations including the US, Russia and China are not signatories. Despite this many nations have also reduced their use of other types of mines and/or restricted their use to fenced in areas. Many small cybershells and cyberswarms that can be used as area denial systems effectively function as anti-personnel mines but are not covered by the treaty. Future posts on this blog will describe a number of alternate area denial systems.
           The Cluster Munition Convention 2008 was imposed on the military by a pressure group. Many nations are not signatories to this convention or have found many of its restrictions impractical. Delayed action munitions are seldom used in 2100, however and most sub-munitions now used by military forces include reliable self-destruct systems to minimize collateral casualties.


Surveillance Worms.

Surveillance worms are devices described in GURPs Ultratech 4e but are a very credible device for TS.
A surveillance worm resembles a very small snakebot and functions rather like a mobile fibre-optic camera cable or endoscope. Some surveillance worms may be as small as 0.1” wide and 2” long. Like many snakebots it may have a visual sensor at both ends. Despite the name the worm may have a number of legs to assist in climbing and linear movement, rather like a caterpillar or millipede. It can also move by a more worm-like peristaltic action. Its light source illuminates a two-yard cone. The user can see whatever the worm is looking at but has No Depth Perception (p. B145). Worms have microcommunicators and can communicate with each other when used in multiples or relay signals from other worms. Alternately a worm can be controlled via a fiber-optic cable as thin as a fishing line to avoid emitting any signals.
Customs men and police officers may search a suspect or package by literally emptying a can of worms over them!
Surveillance worms provide +3 on Search attempts. A Vision-5 roll is required to spot the worm.

Surveillance Dust and Fluff.

              Neither GURPS Ultra-tech (4e) nor Transhuman Space (3e) give a movement rate for the surveillance dust cyberswarm. On the other hand, p.UT106 tells us:

              “The swarm is programmed to remain in a particular place, observe for a period of time, and then return; it can also transmit information or be ordered to go to a different location.”

              It can be argued that if surveillance dust is not animate it is not really a swarm of microbots, just a collection of sensors.
              It is likely that surveillance dust comes in many varieties, some types being simple sensors, others motile microbots.
Dust mites are 0.2-0.3 mm in length, which indicates that legs may be an adequate form of locomotion for surveillance microbots. Some wasps are only 0.13mm long so surveillance dust capable of powered flight could potentially be built.

              How fast should dust microbots be allowed to move? An inch per second is a reasonable rate, which translates as 5ft per minute or 3mph. In terms of body lengths this is actually very fast!

              “Surveillance fluff” is my name for a variant of surveillance dust sensors that resemble dandelion seeds. These descend at a rate of approximately 3cm/sec so if released at 2,000ft can gather data on an area below them for around 5½ hours. Transhuman Space surveillance fluff may be even smaller than that shown on the right. Surveillance fluff can be deployed by a variety of mechanisms including mortar bombs, UAVs and small rockets.
              Surveillance dust is very difficult to defend against. Not only may you have dust on your clothes, skin and hair but also in your lungs and nasal passages. An agent could blow dust in through a keyhole or air vent, or send it to be scattered by a millibot or
surveillance worm. If the dust is motile it can be dropped in a neighbouring room and directed to find its own way to the objective.
              Secure areas will be literally swept for bugs! Hooverbots will be a familiar sight, constantly cleaning every available surface and regularly flashing collected dust with an EMP. “Dust eaters” will constantly circulate and filter the room’s air. Larger cleaning robots will be supplemented by anti-surveillance cyberswarms. Before important meetings the room and its occupants may be flashed with EMP devices, although this may cause complications for implants such as pacemakers and AI companions. The gangster movie trope of meeting in saunas or bathhouses may take on added relevance in a word where surveillance dust is used!



            In the original 3e Transhuman Space book (p.100) we are told:
            “Conventional over the horizon artillery support is provided by rapid-fire. high-velocity electromagnetic cannon. as slower, indirect-lire rockets and missiles are vulnerable to  point-defense weapons. Artillery rounds typically have satellite guidance or homing submunitions though dumb shells are also used in intense electronic-warfare environments.”
            This is the first instance where the ideas on this blog may stray from what is canon (pun intended). While an electromagnetic weapon might be able to fire projectiles at a higher velocity than a conventional gun or launcher it is debatable as to whether this is an advantage for an over the horizon weapon. The higher the velocity the flatter the trajectory, which is not such a useful property for a round you want to drop over the horizon onto a distant target. Higher velocity will also make it harder to alter the trajectory and requires a faster, more sophisticated guidance system. As was implied by my brief description of airstrike systems in a previous post, other systems may continue to be used, particularly for targets beyond that range of electromagnetic field guns. Another post may deal with tactical battlefield systems. Today I will restrict myself to description of a deep strike system
            A variety of systems may be available and other systems will be described in later posts. One strategy to avoid air defences is to fly low, exploiting nap of the earth (NOE) techniques. This is particularly effective against line of sight systems such as lasers. Possibly the defender may use an airborne laser system for a “look-down, shoot down” defence but such aircraft will in turn be vulnerable to an attacker’s anti-aircraft systems.
            On TS Earth low level penetration attacks are conducted by cruise-UCAVs. As we will often find in TS the cruise-UCAV is a mixture of familiar and different. A typical cruise UCAV at first glance does not seem that different from modern cruise missiles. Low level flight places some practical restrictions on the design of an aircraft. Unless flying over the sea or very flat terrain the undulations of the ground make speeds of more than 570 mph impractical. There is little point in designing a cruise missile with supersonic capability since it cannot use it! Subsonic speeds also help contribute to the stealth of the aircraft. Low level air is denser than at higher altitudes and this favours an aircraft with a smaller wing area to give a smoother flight. This is why cruise missiles have small stub-wings and can fly using body lift. The cruise-UCAV not only looks like a cruise missile but is of a similar size. It is about 20 ft long and under 2 ft in width, allowing it to be launched from the various systems that were already in service. Thus, other than a little more attention to stealth features the TS cruise-UCAV looks very similar to contemporary  cruise missiles. Internally the UCAV has a much more sophisticated guidance and sensor system and will probably be piloted by a LAI. It may use ramjet propulsion rather than a turbojet. Rather than a fixed warhead the UCAV has an internal weapon-bay capable carrying a wide variety of missiles or submunitions. The weapon bay can carry other systems such as reconnaissance packs, EW devices, cyberswarms, surveillance fluff/ dust, less-lethal weapons, chemicals and so on.  Fitted with air to air missiles it can engage airborne targets. The UCAV is designed to release its payload close to the target(s) and return to friendly airspace if possible. Most modern cruise missiles are seldom used at their full potential range so a device that can attack its target and then return for reuse is a logical progression.
            Like a manned aircraft the cruise-UCAV gives the option of aborting or redirecting an attack right up to the moment that the weapons are released.
            The weapon-bay makes the cruise-UCAV a very versatile system. It can fly down a road column, dropping a bomb on each vehicle it passes over. Over a clustered target such as a staging area it can release all of its munitions at once. In a previous post I mentioned that robot combat systems can be hard landed by a glide-bomb type capsule. A cruise-UCAV could bomb a target then deploy robot combat systems to mop-up, assess damage and hinder repair efforts. The UCAV’s own sensors can also assess attack effects and use this information to customize follow-up attacks.
            Ideally the cruise-UCAV releases its weapons from outside laser engagement range but some mission profiles do not allow this. Cruise-UCAVs have ablative surfaces to provide some protection from point defence lasers.
            Cruise-UCAVs are launched from standard launching tubes mounted on ships, submarines or ground vehicles. Alternately they are dropped from larger aircraft. Landing system varies with different designs. Some simply cut engine and deploy a parachute. Other designs land conventionally on a skid or belly land on water or a special landing surface. Mid-air recovery by cargo aircraft is also practiced.
            The cruise-UCAV can be modelled as a smarter, reusable version of a modern cruise missile. Based on contemporary examples the weapons-bay can be assumed to have a capacity of 1,000lbs and 28 cubic feet. Improvements in engine and avionics technology may free up more space inside a TS cruise-UCAV so the GM may allow capacity to be increased by 50%.