"The first thing that's wrong with being a science-fiction writer today is that the present has caught up with the future and surpassed it."
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.
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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