Science of Future Past: Dune (Part 2) |

Science of Future Past: Dune (Part 2)

Remote-controlled attack drones have been stirring up a lot of controversy in the press lately. The idea of remote-controlled, robotic assassins is old-hat to long time science-fiction fans, but what’s new is their real-life use by various governments to kill military and not-so-military targets.

A similar remote-controlled, assassination technology was used in Frank Herbert’s Dune. So clear your mind and focus your hyper-awareness as this installment of Science of Future Past looks at Dune’s hunter-seeker probe and how it compares to its real-world analog.

Side-by-Side Specs



MQ-9 Reaper


5 cm

11 m


“sliver of metal”

20.1 m


Compressed suspensor field

Honeywell TPE331-10GD, 900hp

Primary Method of Attack

Burrows into flesh and chews its way to the nearest vital organ.

14 x AGM 114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles *

* Other configurations possible


The hunter-seeker is two orders of magnitude smaller than the MQ-9, which is how the Harkonnens were able to slip it inside Paul’s headboard without detection.

On the other hand, the Hellfire missiles used by the MQ-9 use high-explosive, anti-tank warheads, which have an effective range of about 26,000 feet. Unfortunately the Atreides house shields would have rendered the missiles ineffectual.


The MQ-9 has an operational range of just over 1800 km, and can be controlled from anywhere in the world via satellite. The hunter-seeker has a considerably shorter operational-range, as the Lady Jessica explains:

“It was a hunter-seeker,” she reminded him. “That means someone inside the house to operate it. Seeker control beams have a limited range.”

Sensor Systems

According to the official Air Force factsheet, the MQ-9 has a variety of sensors at its disposal, including “an infrared sensor, color/monochrome daylight TV camera, image-intensified TV camera, laser designator, and laser illuminator.”

The sensor suite in the hunter-seeker is less impressive, and seems to be incompatible with its own propulsion system:

“Its compressed suspensor field distorted the vision of its transmitter eye…the operator would be relying on motion…”


Defending yourself against a modern-day drone doesn’t appear to be easy for the average Joe. Sure, the Navy announced that they’ve got a laser that can cut drones out of the sky, and there have been reports of drones being shot down by heavy artillery, but that kind of defensive strategy is a bit beyond the common man’s reach. (Though smaller, civilian drones can be easily shot down by hunters.)

In contrast, dealing with a hunter-seeker only requires a steady hand and a cool head:

“Paul’s right hand shot out and down, gripping the deadly thing. It hummed and twisted in his hand, but his muscles were locked on it…”

“With a violent turn and thrust, he slammed the thing’s nose against the metal doorplate.”


Until someone invents shields or lasguns, defending ourselves against military-grade attack drones will remain difficult. However once technology has progressed further, we can focus on honing our reflexes to enable us to snatch attack drones from the air with ease.

Dr. Lee Falin is a Bioinformatician, the host of the Everyday Einstein’s Quick and Dirty Tips podcast and the author of the “Science Fictioned” series, in which he takes ideas from scientific research articles and turns them into science fiction and fantasy short stories for middle grade and young adult readers.


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