LAS VEGAS--Military personnel and defense contractors attending the year’s largest unmanned systems convention here awoke this morning to a bit of breaking robotics news unraveling thousands of miles away from their briefing rooms and exhibition booths. First lighting up Twitter and later acknowledged by the Army, the first flight of Northrop Grumman’s robotic Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) took place this morning in New Jersey, marking the first flight of one of the DoD’s next generation military airships.
Sometimes the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and the U.S. Army is about to find out if they can create some amazing ISR synthesis by combining two pieces of bleeding-edge technology from its own stores: Boeing’s A160 Hummingbird unmanned helo and ARGUS--the Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System. Together, the duo will reportedly be able to collect 80 years’ worth of HD video each and every day.
The Air Force's Blue Devil airship--a recent PopSci Best of What's New recipient and a potential answer to the military's expanding data glut problem--is getting yet another high-tech upgrade. Via a federal announcement put out last week, The Register reports that DARPA will outfit the Blue Devil Block 2 ISR airship with up to two Free-space Optical Experimental Network Experiment (FOENEX) systems. Think of them like optical lasers that move through the air with the fidelity of a fiber optic cable.
We have a lot of love for microdrones here at PopSci--everything from bird-like flapping wing drones to cyborg insects controlled by microcomputers--so we’re thrilled to see the Air Force is showing them some love as well. The Air Force Research Lab has build a “Micro-Aviary” at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio where tiny flying robots will be the central focus. And aside from being drone-centric, it is one sweet sensor-filled laboratory.
The offer came simply via the subject line of an email: "Want to fly a drone?" It was from Todd Backus of DATRON, a maker of--among other things--military grade radio communication systems and tactical data networking setups based in Vista, Calif. It was a question that didn't require a whole lot of consideration on my part--if there were drones to fly at AUVSI's massive unmanned systems show in Washington D.C. last week, I was going to fly them.
And that's how I end up on a soccer pitch far from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center piloting a small quadcopter drone and quietly praying that we won't be arrested.
As promised, Lockheed Martin finally put its SAMARAI monocopter drone on display at AUVSI's drone extravaganza in D.C. this week, for the first time flying it before a public audience as PopSci and everyone else in the air demo area looked on in awe.
Remember that ballon challenge DARPA issued back in 2009 to see how quickly a team--or even a crowd--could work together to locate ten red balloons placed randomly around the U.S.? Here's what we wrote about it then: "Most DARPA challenges serve some sort of obvious military or intelligence purpose. But the agency has us scratching our heads over its latest competition."