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Where Humans Fear to Tread
July 17, 2011 2:20 AM   Subscribe

Futuristic Circular Flying Object: It zips through the air, glides smoothly around corners, and negotiates staircases with ease, emitting a soft hum. (slyt)

"The black, open-work ball looks like a futuristic work of art, but it can hover for up to eight minutes and fly at 60 km (37 miles) an hour -- although it does slow down for open windows.

Fumiyuki Sato, at the Japanese Defense Ministry's Technical Research and Development Institute, invented and built the vehicle for roughly 110,000 yen($1,390) with parts purchased off the shelf at consumer electronics stores."


Here is a Reuters video of Fumiyuki Sato demonstrating its mechanics.
posted by troll (30 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
You know, of course, that we have had remote control toy helicopters for a long time....right?
posted by tomswift at 2:26 AM on July 17, 2011


"...invented and built the vehicle for roughly 110,000 yen($1,390) with parts purchased off the shelf at consumer electronics stores."

Since I've seen this, I've been discussing with a friend how you'd go about actually building one. I'm seriously considering it as a project, as it seems that it'd be substantially cheaper than buying one of these.

Still considering what the best way of attaching a HD video camera to it would be.
posted by Silverdragonanon at 2:36 AM on July 17, 2011


You know, of course, that we have had remote control toy helicopters for a long time....right?

True, but this looks different to any RC helicopter I've ever seen, including those flat multi-rotored things. Maybe it's just because the controller is in the hands of an expert, but it looks a hell of a lot more stable and capable of precise movement without spinning out of control. The ability to roll along the ground is interesting as well. It also reminded me of the cute little drones from Mass Effect 2, although so far it only has a camera mounted on it and doesn't appear to explode at any point.

AAA+++++ WOULD BE SURVEILLED BY THIS SPHERICAL DRONE AGAIN
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:38 AM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Excessive use of the Top Gun soundtrack I see.
posted by mrbill at 2:53 AM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's like Dalek porn.

"Yes! YES! Chase her UP THE STAIRS!"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:21 AM on July 17, 2011 [13 favorites]


Right, but does it asphyxiate people?

(Seriously, though, this isn't particularly impressive. It is just an RC helicopter. Steering is done in a most simple manner, with the vanes below the rotor. It appears to be naturally stable, thanks to its being bottom-heavy, but the pilot is clearly very skilled too.)
posted by Skeptic at 3:22 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hang on..... we're all taking this as a real thing? The reporter has the classic 'inexperienced actor in front of a green screen looking at something thats not there' look.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 3:35 AM on July 17, 2011


Its stability and precise movement isn't impressive -- I could make one of these look just as good, and I've only spent about an hour flying it. And it was $20. People have even installed fly-by-video systems on them.

But I am impressed by the durability. Making something that can fly under its own power requires very lightweight materials, and usually means it will be pretty fragile. This thing looks like you could kick it around like a soccer ball and it would fly away unharmed.

I'd like to see how it handles weather. The Achilles' heel of these gyro-stabilized toy helicopters is air currents -- even heat vents can cause trouble. If you were using this sphere to search through a wrecked building after a disaster, you'd probably have some wind, thermals, maybe even fire...
posted by mmoncur at 3:36 AM on July 17, 2011


AzzaMcKazza: I'm assuming it's real. The technology certainly exists, it would be easier to make one than to fake the whole thing, and for what it's worth, I recognized the transmitter he was using as one of these.
posted by mmoncur at 3:39 AM on July 17, 2011


This post is a curious mix. On the one hand, I'm pretty sure this invention was debunked soon after it came out. OTOH, the thing it purports to do is, as noted above, very very common among RC helicopters (which are perfectly stable nowadays).
posted by DU at 4:30 AM on July 17, 2011


"I'm pretty sure this invention was debunked soon after it came out." Do you have any sources for that?

That thing looks very real and believable to me and - while certainly cool - not that impressive.
posted by dominik at 5:11 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only novel thing I see about this is that the rotor is shielded. That's a good idea in a helicopter, which is what this is. The reason it can be built for $1100 is that all of the parts are available from any of scores of hobby shops. The advent of cheap accelerometers, gyro stabilization, and autopilot modules/functions make this sort of thing a lot easier to do than 20 years ago, when the rules for miniature copters were the same as for full sized vehicles.

Not to take away from it, of course. If the video is legit, it was well handled by an experienced pilot.

I will say, as someone who has done a bit of remotely operated vehicle work, that the main issue involving something like this is radio propagation. In an interior and/or urban environment, there are lots of impediments to transmitting the control signals and/or receiving video back from it. Line-of-sight outside is one thing... inside a modern building quite another. The COFDM radios I have used to solve the video issue were $25,000 each, and too big for this little guy to move, even at only a few pounds. THey also had processing latencies that made the video lag just a little behind reality. Slushy.

Diversity video systems got rid of the latency, and dealt with destructive multipath issues somewhat, but these folks are building those parts for $1100. And they aren't perfect.

Control channels were a little easier, using 900 MHz data radios. If you are using video feedback to pilot something like this, loss of video even for fractions of a second is potentially disastrous. It doesn't fly on its own, but could be made to easily hover on its own in case of data loss. But then, what good is it? A string to the ceiling can make any camera hover.

There are 10,000 issues to deal with in ROVs. Almost any of them could keep a guy busy for months, if not years. When you move from remotely operated vehicles to AUTONOMOUS, things get REALLY complicated.

I do like the enclosed rotor, though. Good idea by itself.
posted by FauxScot at 5:11 AM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Diversity video systems got rid of the latency, and dealt with destructive multipath issues somewhat, but these folks are NOT building those parts for $1100.
posted by FauxScot at 5:13 AM on July 17, 2011


It all started with red balloon.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:37 AM on July 17, 2011


Just how useful would something like this be in a military or surveillance context? The operator seems to have to be pretty close. Instead of taking video out the window, couldn't they just, you know, look out the window? That said, neato!
posted by Gilbert at 6:56 AM on July 17, 2011


It immediately reminded me of the Toclafane from Doctor Who.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:59 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The back and forth comedy chase at 2:14 is pretty funny.

Coanda effect ROVs also avoid the problem of unshielded rotors. There are a few YouTube videos of different attempts.
posted by warbaby at 7:56 AM on July 17, 2011


Do not taunt Futuristic Circular Flying Object
posted by TedW at 8:02 AM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


(slyt)

Liar!
posted by Sys Rq at 8:54 AM on July 17, 2011


Chris Knight: All my filth is in alphabetical order. This, for example, is under 'H' for "toy."

Mitch: What is it?

Chris Knight: It's a penis stretcher. Wanna try it?
posted by pts at 9:11 AM on July 17, 2011


But I am impressed by the durability. Making something that can fly under its own power requires very lightweight materials, and usually means it will be pretty fragile. This thing looks like you could kick it around like a soccer ball and it would fly away unharmed.

But could it take a few hits from a crowbar? If this thing is crowbar resistant, that does make me a little nervous.
posted by homunculus at 10:10 AM on July 17, 2011


This would make an excellent interrogation droid. Does it have room for a hypodermic needle attachment?
posted by ShutterBun at 11:25 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Get back to me when it can spout blades and a drill bit like the spheres in Phatasm.
posted by Lokheed at 11:29 AM on July 17, 2011


The only novel thing I see about this is that the rotor is shielded. That's a good idea in a helicopter, which is what this is.

Also it uses those flaps for vectoring thrust, rather than variable-pitch blades.
posted by hattifattener at 11:39 AM on July 17, 2011


> When you move from remotely operated vehicles to AUTONOMOUS, things get REALLY complicated.

Except for the RF link bit which you can completely omit if you're willing to wait for landing to retrieve your video and go without a manual override.
posted by morganw at 12:54 PM on July 17, 2011


Twice the usual number of copseyes floated overhead, waiting. Gold dots against blue, basketball-sized, twelve feet up. Each a television eye and a sonic stunner, each a hookup to police headquarters, they were there to enforce the law of the Park.
-- Larry Niven, "Cloak of Anarchy" (1972)
posted by Lazlo at 1:58 PM on July 17, 2011


It immediately reminded me of the Toclafane from Doctor Who.
Here come the drums, here come the drums!
posted by CarlRossi at 2:24 PM on July 17, 2011


This would make an excellent interrogation droid. Does it have room for a hypodermic needle attachment?
posted by ShutterBun at 11:25 AM on July 17 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


Yeah, I was thinking less Mass Effect drone and more one of these.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:10 PM on July 18, 2011


Very interesting design choices compared to those quadrocoptors. A bit over a grand for off-the-shelf parts doesn't account for the engineering and manufacturing skills, but these things could be consumer- /disposable- cheap.

It looks like these things are electric; going to hydrocarbons could turn this thing from a toy into a tool. I suspect that the limitation is the weight for batteries, but are there electric turbines, that would fit inside this form factor, that are powerful enough to hover something like this if it was a hundred pounds or so?
posted by porpoise at 8:37 PM on July 18, 2011


A robot that flies like a bird
posted by homunculus at 11:33 AM on July 22, 2011


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