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July 8, 2017

Lightweight flying squirrel drone could soon carry out military scout missions

by John_A

Why it matters to you

This scout drone could be an invaluable part of future military missions.

When you hear that the U.S. Army Research Laboratory is building military drones inspired by a particular flying critter, you might assume it’s some fearsome creature like a golden eagle or a pterodactyl. In fact, it is based on an altogether cuter animal: The humble flying squirrel. That does not make the finished product — which weighs just over half a pound — any less cool, though!

“This vehicle has the ability to hover and the agility of a quad rotor, but also has the increased efficiency and endurance of a traditional fixed wing aircraft,” David McNally, who handles public affairs for the Army Research Lab, told Digital Trends. “It does all this with just two motor rotor pairs, thus reducing its weight relative to the many multi-rotor vertical takeoff and landing vehicles in this size class. Ultimately, this makes the aircraft much more efficient and versatile, something crucial to soldiers.”

Eventually, the hope is that such drones will be used for carrying out military surveillance and reconnaissance missions. This requires a great degree of flexibility for the drone — since it must not only possess the ability to fly long distances but also be able to navigate urban or indoor environments.

Reaching that point will take a lot more work. For example, the drone’s creators want to also give it the added ability to perch on an object before continuing its flight. That means better abilities to assess its environment at very high speeds and figure out how best to interact with it.

For now, though, what the Army Research Lab achieved is pretty darn impressive in its own right.

“[Currently] this drone is a proof of concept, and part of the continuing work at ARL on small autonomous vehicles,” McNally said. “We are working towards creating intelligent systems which can effectively team with soldiers. In the context of small vehicles like this, that means that these platforms will need to adapt to the needs of a squad during an evolving mission and operate without manual control.”

So, the potential of a flying squirrel-inspired, voice-operated spy drones, then? The James Bond fan in us can totally get on board with that!

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