The miniaturization of electronic and electro-mechanical systems enable designers to create innovative ‘flying sensors’ to extend human perception.
Given the small dimensions of such platforms, they can be operated by a single person who carries several such pieces in their pouches.
Limited payload weight and endurance, unreliable communications – particularly over the extended range or in urban terrain, and environment congested electronic interference and limited power on board, have limited the millitary’s ability to use commercial systems.
Some small multirotor drones are designed specifically for military purposes. One example is the InstantEye Mk2 Gen3 developed by U.S. based company Physical Science Inc. (PSI.) This folding quadrotor vehicle is deployed in seconds, on missions that can be operator controlled or autonomous.
InstantEye features three cameras – forward, angled, and downward, with multiple zoom levels. The center crosshairs provide the GPS location of the viewpoint when looking at the ground or the vehicle’s location when looking forward.
Among the additional payloads, it can carry are infrared LED floodlight, GoPro HD or FLIR thermal cameras.
One of the development goals for PSI is to allow the drone to fly indoor, perform its mission and avoid obstacles. A dedicated payload for this capability will use multiple sonars and a wide angle forward-looking camera to detect large obstacles and avoid them – walls, furniture, and people. Downward and upward sonar maintain a safe vertical distance from the floor and ceiling and enable precise ranging for the monocular optical odometry.
PSI is currently designing a lighter and smaller version of the InstantEye, which uses folding arms to reduce stowage size. Unfolding the drone will take about 10 seconds. A smaller InstantEye is also in the making, with a vehicle weight of about 120 grams, stow in the size of a cargo pocket, and be aurally undetectable 50
Interesting how folding arms are the hot new thing in both the consumer and military design kit. Take a minute to watch the video – the first part is nonsensical but watching the mission sequence that starts at 0:46 really brings home the potential of little drones to save lives.
I am also impressed with the variety of sensor packages and the combinations of sensors being utilized on such small airframes.