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"I'm a fairly visual thinker. In doing science, I think in terms of pictures of things happening, and then do the mathematics."
- Gregory Benford

Recording Eye  
  A surveillance device that can survive being dropped from space; transmits images in a wide view.  

At this point in the novel, manipulative Charles Boardman is trying to persuade the novel's protagonist, Dick Muller, to take on a risky first-contact assignment. He shows him a video of the aliens themselves.

Muller saw a cloud-wrapped planet... it could have been Venus... The recording eye pierced the cloud layer and revealed an unfamiliar, not very Earthlike planet. The soil looked moist and spongy, and rubbery trees that looked like giant toadstools thrust upward from it...

...three alien figures came strolling through the somber grove. They were elongated, almost spidery, with clusters of eight or ten jointed limbs depending from their narrow shoulders...

One of them paused, bent peered closely at the ground. It scooped up the eye that had been witnessing its activities. The image grew chaotic; Muller guessed that the eye was being passed from hand to hand...

Boardman said, "That was taken less than a month ago. We parked a drone ship fifty thousand kilometers up and dropped roughly a thousand eyes on Beta Hydri IV. At least half went straight to the bottom of the ocean... This was the only one that actually showed us a clear view of the aliens."

From The Man in the Maze, by Robert Silverberg.
Published by Avon Books in 1969
Additional resources -

Although he obviously gives no details on how such a device would function, the strategy is obviously workable, providing an alternative to human exploration that could actually work. For a look at a strikingly similar device, see the Omnidirectional EyeBall Surveillance Sensor. You also might be interested in the throwbot, a similar idea in a more 'terrestrial' format.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Man in the Maze
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Silverberg
  Tech news articles related to The Man in the Maze
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Silverberg

Recording Eye-related news articles:
  - Throwbot - Pocket-Sized Recon Robot
  - Micro Spacecraft To Explore Planets
  - RFID Sensor Tag Shower For Disasters
  - Stereo Omnidirectional System Intelligent Wheelchair
  - PongSats - Tiny 'Satellites' At Space's Edge
  - Rapid Deployment Integrated Surveillance System (RDISS)
  - I-Ball Grenade Cam Just Lob And View
  - CamBall Smallest Personal Camcorder
  - Firefly Cameras Shot From Grenade Launcher
  - Throw This Panoramic Ball Camera!
  - Sensorbot Robotic Bubble Swarm For Ocean Exploration
  - Flock Of Minisats Will Image The Earth
  - Cicada UAV Dropped In Swarms
  - The Eye Is Watching! Samsung Gear 360 Camera

Articles related to Surveillance
Adversarial Patches Trick Computer Vision
FLIR Black Hornet 3 Palm-sized Drone
Ionocraft Drone Powered By Electrohydrodynamic Thrust
UK Police AI To Stop Criminals Before They Strike

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