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Micro UAVs do more than look cool

Some of the big attractions at last month’s AUVSI North American conference were micro-UAVs.  The Samurai UAV was especially impressive, sporting an unusual asymmetric design.  You may have seen images of this amazing little device, but do yourself a favor and check out the video below of Engineering TV’s interview with Bill Borgia, Director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Lockheed Martin.

In the interview, he explains that the Samurai UAV’s odd form factor is based on a falling maple seed.  Since its shape is inherently aerodynamic, it only needs 2 moving parts.  This simplicity lends itself to low-cost 3-D printing and greater scalability. Borgia didn’t say so, but I wonder if this intrinsically aerodynamic design means it uses less power compared to other rotary UAVs.

Another intresting micro-UAV at ASUVSI was Skate, developed by Aurora Flight Sciences.  Just as the Samurai asymmetrical design is counter intuitive, the Skate is made from a substance often compared to Styrofoam, not something you expect to see in rugged combat technology.  The Styrofoam-like substance makes it lightweight, of course, but won’t that make it too fragile for in-theater conditions?  No, says Mark Little of Aurora in another Engineering TV’s interview.  The foam makes it easy to repair, even in the front lines.  All you need is super glue.

Like the Samurai, the Skate’s form is naturally aerodynamic.  Also, like the Samurai, the Skate emphasized simplicity.  There are no moving parts for control, and instead relies on vector thrust.

These micro-UAVs were developed to provide situational awareness, especially in urban settings.  However, it’s only a matter of time, before someone tries to weaponize them. Some think micro-UAVs may be the key to overwhelming Integrated Air defenses (IAD).  Elegantly designed micro-UAVS like the Skate and Samurai may be too small for this purpose, but the principles behind them may be applied to larger versions.

BTW, kudos to Engineering TV for producing videos that have intelligent discussion, instead of loud thumping music.  I love Rock music, but it’s wildly overused, and often inappropriate.  Do we really want to see jeeps blown up to the tune of Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration”?  Personally, I think Rock should be banned from all Defense Tech videos for at least 5 years.