Friday, March 22, 2013

Hunter-killer claw drones will one day snatch smaller drones from the sky

eagle bot - drone
If you’ve ever spent much time in an area with large predatory birds, you know the fear: small family dogs, packed in harnesses with convenient happy meal handles on the back, carried off by a squawking death bomber from above. It’s often astonishing how much weight can be carried on such small wings, but at least eagles don’t have any sort of agenda. Keeping safe from birds of prey is as easy as keeping an eye on your Jack Russell — how will you keep things safe from a drone that can do the same thing?
The latest in a long string of awesome and terrifying drone technologies is a grappling flier with all the speed and maneuverability of a normal quad-copter together with the deadly accuracy of an eagle-inspired “dual articulated gripper.” Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania designed their gripper drone after observations from slow-motion footage of predatory birds swooping to grab up prey. For instance, they found that the grab was much more successful after they incorporated the the claw back-swing seen in eagles immediately after contact with their target.
Possibly applications for this tech are practically limitless. A reliable flying grasper could be revolutionary for bomb disposal or even a quick-and-dirty disarmament of a gunman. However, it could be just as adept at dropping off as picking up, conjuring images of grenades dropped through skylights. They could also be combined with small, sturdy robots designed for espionage, they could make them a very powerful insertion tool for surveillance equipment.
It’s the swoop action that is on display here, however, the ability to acquire a small object without breaking movement. As with real birds of prey, this is primarily useful for grabbing surprised targets before they can react. It’s unlikely this sort of tech will be deployed with talons for attacking people; more likely, the only “live” targets these drones will see are other, smaller drones.
Hunter-killer aerial robots sent out to neutralize an enemy force? That’s the stuff sci-fi dreams are made of.

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