As this summer's Navy SEAL beatdown briefly brought to the world's attention, there's a festering piracy problem in the waters off the Horn of Africa. The pirates, in large part unchallenged, are growing bolder, striking in waters as far out as 1,000 nautical miles from Somali shores. Patrolling such large part swath of the Indian Ocean might be impossible if not for the tech the U.S. has recently rolled out to protect her maritime interests: unmanned Reaper drones armed with infrared eyes.
Moving through real-life battlefields inevitably proves trickier than playing a game of Minesweeper, but Spanish researchers and army officers have converted the video game Panzer General into a simulator that can test troop maneuver algorithms based on ant colony behavior.
Roadside bombs have long represented the greatest killer of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there's hope beyond the sturdy little demolition bots that already work with their human handlers. The Pentagon now has two aerial drones on the testing docket as possible countermeasures for improvised explosive devices (IEDs)--one of which we're calling 'Helipanda' for the remainder of this post.
Manned Air Force jets and drones could soon send high quality video and audio by using ultra-high bandwidth lasers, transmitting critical battlefield data faster than ever. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research has conducted experiments that transmit data without interference across almost 22 miles, both in the air and on the ground.
Last year, after untold millions of dollars, DARPA failed to renew a Lockheed program to design a UAV based on a maple tree seed. While that program, backed by tons of cash and one of the world's largest aerospace companies, amounted to bupkis, a University of Maryland project to create a maple seed UAV has finally accomplished what DARPA and Lockheed couldn't.
Google's Android operating system for cell phones could allow soldiers to track fellow squad members and even unmanned drones in real time on a map -- as long as the humans and robots are on their buddy list.
MIT's robotics whizzes have created a new flying drone that can navigate unknown indoor areas all by itself. The tiny helicopter manages its explorations by using an onboard laser scanner to map out walls and windows.
The researchers started with a quad-rotor helicopter developed by Ascending Technologies GmbH, and outfitted the micro aerial vehicle with sensors and instruments galore. Their laser scanner setup combines with a mapping algorithm to help compensate for the lack of GPS navigation in most indoor areas.
When I hear the phrase "knock-off Chinese products", I usually think of either the bootleg DVDs I get on the subway or the cheap electronics I get in Midtown. But a new report in Defense Professionals notes that the Chinese military has channeled that same skill for replication towards closing their UAV technology gap. By simply copying US technology, China has created a stock of advanced drones, and gained the technical knowledge to create some interesting native UAVs as well.
While most research directed at improving UAVs focuses on upgrading their weapons or sensor packages, the Naval Research Laboratory is also working to ensure that the next generation of killer drones are as fuel-efficient as they are deadly. And a recent test of their hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered Ion Tiger UAV proves how successful they have been: it staid aloft for just shy of 24 hours on a single fuel load.
A high demand for Predators and Reapers on the front lines has led the U.S. Air Force to take an unusual step: asking human pilots to mimic the drones for training purposes back in the States.
Cessna 182 aircraft have become converted "Surrogate Predators" with the installation of a "Predator ball" that typically serves as the surveillance and tracking eyes for drone operators. Such Predator balls give the manned Cessnas the ability to lock onto targets and track them.