Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Maple Seed Drones are coming to a sky near you.
July 5, 2012 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Meet Samarai, Lockheed Martin's maple seed-inspired UAV (aka drone). Flight video
posted by fings (66 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
What's really interesting about this (putting aside all the UAV baggage for a moment) is that it's a robot vehicle that doesn't simply operate like a smaller human carrier. There's no relatively stable center platform and that's pretty exciting from a design perspective.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:14 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pull! BOOM! Pull! BOOM! Dammit, missed! Pull!
posted by Old'n'Busted at 3:16 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


But a Samarai must be wary of ambush by Nanjas!
posted by mr.ersatz at 3:19 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a robot vehicle that doesn't simply operate like a smaller human carrier.

Heh. Check out #1: Reinventing the Helicopter.
posted by Artw at 3:21 PM on July 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


We are at the dawn of the age of flying eyes.
posted by Catblack at 3:23 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


As kids we used to pretend maple seed pods were noses falling from our faces. Not in a hundred years would I've guessed they were tiny airplanes. But who controlled them and for what purpose? Those people must have been TINY.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:28 PM on July 5, 2012


2bucksplus, that is what struck me as well. It is very clever, and computation and software let them turn spinning to their advantage with the camera. You just need one because it will point the direction you want to look multiple times a second.
posted by fings at 3:29 PM on July 5, 2012


The software the stabilizes the camera image is what sounds miraculous to me considering the spin, but it also reminds me of the solution that was implemented on biplanes during WW1 so that pilots could shoot their machine guns through their spinning propellers. (A synchronizing mechanism that allowed the bullets only to fire when the prop blades weren't in the way).

Other than that, I love maple seed thingies, but this use by Lockheed Martin is stealing from the Maple Trees and I hope they plan on paying them proper licensing fees for use of this technology.

Also, the use of this shit domestically better be seriously, seriously controlled.
posted by Skygazer at 3:30 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Check out #1: Reinventing the Helicopter.

1915: Papin & Rouilly "Gyroptere"
Tests were carried out on 31st March 1915 on Lake Cercey on the Cote d'Or, and a rotor speed of 47 r.p.m. was reached. Unfortunately the aircraft became unstable and the pilot had to abandon it, after which it sank.
On the new, actually stable and reusable UAV , the video processing is pretty keen.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:33 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Skygazer: "Also, the use of this shit domestically better be seriously, seriously controlled."

Use of this ANYWHERE had better be seriously controlled. The guy talked about "hostage situations" but we should know better by now.

I wonder- when the cops start using drones to monitor for dope patches, will people feel more free to shoot them down because they're unmanned?
posted by dunkadunc at 3:36 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Use of this ANYWHERE had better be seriously controlled.

Well:
Asked about any potential privacy concerns presented by the Samarai, especially in light of the recent release of a voluntary industry “code of conduct” from drone manufacturers, [LockMart rep] Borgia said that “customers will have to work through the hurdles.”

What, you don't trust the buyers of these drones? Private security firms? Walmart parking lot patrols? But they're making us safer!
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:45 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm skeptical about whether this is any better than a very small quadrotor. Judging by the size of the battery that must be located at the heavy-end/hub-end, it's going to have a 10 to 15 minute maximum flight time, just like a small quad rotor. The question comes down to endurance over a period of time vs. vehicle weight vs. Wh per kg of battery.
posted by thewalrus at 3:54 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and you can lightly bounce a small quad rotor (with shrouded props) off the side of a doorway or wall without crashing it or causing damage, whereas this whole thing is spinning...
posted by thewalrus at 3:55 PM on July 5, 2012


Coming soon to an assassination near you!
posted by LarryC at 3:58 PM on July 5, 2012


Yes, but when will it be fitted with a corkscrew on the bottom so that I no longer have to embarrass myself in front of guests by struggling with wine bottles or screaming when a prosecco cork comes out?

Also, if it is based on maple technology, won't people smell the delicious waffle-like aroma coming?
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:58 PM on July 5, 2012


I wonder- when the cops start using drones to monitor for dope patches, will people feel more free to shoot them down because they're unmanned?

They will simply get hacked.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:59 PM on July 5, 2012


The way it takes images is pretty great in itself. No servo-wait to move a camera to look in a direction.
posted by hanoixan at 3:59 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Previous art.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:04 PM on July 5, 2012


Corporate image guy: "People are skeeved out by all the robots that look like dogs with rabies, centipedes, spiders and humans from the uncanny valley. Can't you make a killer robot that people won't be scared of?"

Engineer: "Uh, sure. Let's see, first a maple leaf spy drone, then maybe we'll go for a dandelion fluff missile launcher and thistledown killbot."
posted by 445supermag at 4:08 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


it's going to have a 10 to 15 minute maximum flight time, just like a small quad rotor.
If it could charge inductively from high-power lines, then 10-15 minutes would be plenty. Paint it green, and it just looks like ordinary foliage stuck up on the wire.
I wonder- when the cops start using drones to monitor for dope patches, will people feel more free to shoot them down because they're unmanned?
They say that porn is the first application of new technology, but it seems like smuggling of high-value, low-mass items is the killer app here.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:09 PM on July 5, 2012


In fifteen years the possession of 5lb test fishing line, fly curtains, lawn sprinklers or garden netting will be criminalised or licensed.
posted by cromagnon at 4:09 PM on July 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's probably much quieter than a quad rotor. Wish I could provide more analysis beyond that, but unfortunately this isn't really my field. I remember when they were developing this at U of MD, there was one problem they were having that seemed fundamental to the whole design concept. Lemme see if I can dig up the YouTube.
posted by indubitable at 4:10 PM on July 5, 2012


In fifteen years, the UAVs will be smaller than gnats.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:11 PM on July 5, 2012


People are skeeved out by all the robots that look like dogs with rabies, centipedes, spiders and humans from the uncanny valley. Can't you make a killer robot that people won't be scared of?

This is driving the industry more than you might think.
posted by indubitable at 4:13 PM on July 5, 2012


No way am I giving someone else the controller and then letting them launch it out of my hand. That looks like a recipe for some missing eyeballs.

Also, these revolutionary designs are nifty and all, but the one thing that's killing micro UAVs right now is battery life. Someone's got to build a better battery!
posted by backseatpilot at 4:15 PM on July 5, 2012


In fifteen years, the UAVs will be smaller than gnats.

FTFY From 2009
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:21 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder- when the cops start using drones to monitor for dope patches, will people feel more free to shoot them down because they're unmanned?

Oh, the sad sad tale of Buzzy Dunlop...
posted by Navelgazer at 4:21 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


FTFY From 2009
That's one hell of a gnat.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:23 PM on July 5, 2012


It's kind of sad that, rather then marketing this as, say, a fun toy for kids (or grownup nerds) all the money for robotics research is in "homeland security" - so these are marketed towards cops or whatever.

And of course all these "Homeland security" companies poor money into think tanks and lobbyists in order to keep the fear gland squeezed and the gravy train flowing. (Or rolling, I guess. Whatever a gravy train does)

Whereas in other countries like Japan robotics research is mostly geared towards helping people and the main product is consumer toys.
posted by delmoi at 4:24 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I read an article a year or two ago that predicted this design spookily well, including the 360 degree surveillance capability that results from the spinning. It made the interesting point that, in the same way that a helicopter's rotors are basically invisible when viewed from the ground, most of the drone's body will just be a faint blur when seen from a few tens of metres away, with a single stable-looking point at the centre of mass. Of course, with some clever design (e.g. two flight surfaces joined in a boomerang shape), you can avoid having anything solid at the centre of mass, so you don't have the problem of that central point. So spotting this thing from below will be basically impossible: you're looking for a tiny circle of motion blur in the sky.

Small, good at hovering, great for filming, basically invisible. Fun times.
posted by metaBugs at 4:26 PM on July 5, 2012


Piloting something via little touchscreen buttons has gotta be frustrating though. Tap-tap-tap-tap-hold-tap-hold...
posted by BungaDunga at 4:27 PM on July 5, 2012


I for one welcome our new UAV overlords!
posted by wuwei at 4:29 PM on July 5, 2012


Thistledown Killbot, the name of my new band.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 4:37 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lockheed Martin and Dubstep. A match made in heaven.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:42 PM on July 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


The way the rotor spins the blade around reminds me of the weird Curtiss-Bleecker SX-5-1 Helicopter.
posted by Authorized User at 4:46 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hah. Wow, I like dubstep and all but it seemed pretty spurious in this trailer. Somehow it irks me a lot more to have it in a mil-tech industry fluff piece than in far-too-many game trailers...
posted by Drexen at 5:04 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Similar target audience of belligerent early-20s males, though.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:13 PM on July 5, 2012


This is the part of living in the future that freaks me the hell out. Police forces all over the world are already slavering over UAVs.

Combine cheap and effective UAVs with CCTV network interoperability and wearable cameras and there's your shiny perfect (visual) surveillance state. And none of that even scratches the surface on the impacts of the data retention/data matching stuff.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:24 PM on July 5, 2012


I liked the outdoor tests where the UofM drone sort of drifts away on the breeze and it doesn't have enough power to fly back. What they have failed to consider is that maple seeds are designed to catch the wind and disperse as widely as possible.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:26 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jack Crossfire, an amateur drone designer and interesting character, has been workin on his monocopter, Marcy, for a couple years: http://diydrones.com/profiles/blog/list?user=JackCrossfire
posted by jjwiseman at 5:29 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have we started giving out a Nobel War Prize yet?
posted by hermitosis at 5:38 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


There might be good reasons to use a monocopter, but it strikes me as a particularly poor camera platform, except maybe for when you want low-resolution panoramas or very quickly make very radical changes in what the camera points at.

1. The constant, fast motion of the camera means you need a fast shutter speed or you're going to have blur, which is going to be a problem in low light. In any given situation, a camera on this platform is going to either need more light or give you blurrier images than a camera on a more static platform.

2. Having to align consecutive image frames means that video is probably going to have to be stabilized/smoothed, which also means sacrificing (a small amount of) resolution.
posted by jjwiseman at 5:46 PM on July 5, 2012


the use of this shit domestically better be seriously, seriously controlled

The police aren't the only problem here. What about private use? The tabloids are going to love them. These look cheap enough to manufacture that in time they could become a toy for children. Nosy, nosy children.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:03 PM on July 5, 2012


Did anyone try the "fly it yourself" iPad app? I considered linking to it in the post, but not having an iPad, was not sure if it would have been worthwhile.
posted by fings at 6:22 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


but it strikes me as a particularly poor camera platform,

And the long focal lengths needed for any useful surveillance images will need even more light and higher shutter speeds, which means larger apertures and less depth of focus. The amount of useful visual information these things can capture will be limited.
posted by tommyD at 6:23 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The tabloids are going to love them.

Reporters are already using quad rotor camera drones.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:29 PM on July 5, 2012


And here's the company that makes the drone used in that video: RoboKopter. They do make quad rotor models, but I think the drone used in the video had 8 rotors.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:34 PM on July 5, 2012


it also reminds me of the solution that was implemented on biplanes during WW1 so that pilots could shoot their machine guns through their spinning propellers. (A synchronizing mechanism that allowed the bullets only to fire when the prop blades weren't in the way).

Anyone interested in this topic can read more about it (and its implementation in Rise of Flight) here.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:29 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always wanted someone to make something like this. Very cool. Not sure what advantages it has over something like a quadcopter -- mechanical complexity is almost the same (4 motors, vs 1 motor, a servo and mechanical linkage). It would probably auto-rotate better.
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 8:05 PM on July 5, 2012


Spying robots designed by a Borgia. What could go wrong?
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 8:28 PM on July 5, 2012


Knowledge is power. Power is control. Total surveillance is nearly total power. Americans are programmed to consider such 'power' as a military advantage. We are warned repeatedly to understand that such advantages are easily turned against We the People.

These are the instruments of our undoing. Resist. Fold, spindle, and by all means, mutilate.
posted by Goofyy at 11:27 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


How does it land?
posted by sophist at 12:42 AM on July 6, 2012


If they have dozens of them up in the air transmitting video and basically wandering around in a drunkard's walk, no matter how blurry and grainy the video is, a couple dozen quad core i7s on the ground would be able to turn it into a real-time 3D model with walkthru capability that can be piped to an ocular HUD. You don't have to be able to read fine print to do this, just get some vague textures and a rough 3D position and let the software do the rest. There's no question what these are for: tactical situation analysis, not long-term surveillance. A backpack with fifty of them thrown into the air and sent wandering is followed 15 seconds later by a strike team. It scares the shit out of me, but whatever, WUB WUB WUB WUB it's cool DOOOOM WUB WUB WUB WUB.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:03 AM on July 6, 2012


How does it land?

It falls into a gap in your driveway, then you have to uproot a drone tree.
posted by Artw at 7:18 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Advanced drone technology. Controlled via a digital + pad. The same interface that makes all 1st person games on the iphone suck balls
posted by MangyCarface at 7:37 AM on July 6, 2012


The point of drones is they kind of fly themselves otherwise they'd just be RC aircraft, so the interface is kind of a non-issue.
posted by onya at 10:03 AM on July 6, 2012


The military drones that everyones up in arms about appear to be operating as basically RC Aircraft at least part of the time.
posted by Artw at 10:06 AM on July 6, 2012


Air force times article on what drone operators do - seems like most of the time it's just watching shit.
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on July 6, 2012


Here comes Skynet: Army drones almost ready to share sky with airlines. UAS industry promises to not be evil as domestic drone deadline looms.
posted by homunculus at 12:49 PM on July 6, 2012


Air Force Drones Trail Civilian Auto Traffic in New Mexico
posted by homunculus at 3:19 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Funny or Die - Wonderful World Of Drones with Christopher McDonald (video)
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:38 PM on July 9, 2012


Super Silent Owl Drone Will Spy on You Without You Ever Noticing
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:49 AM on July 19, 2012


Kill Decision, Daniel Suarez's (of Daemon/FreedomTM fame) new novel about drone warfare is out today.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:44 PM on July 19, 2012


FAA Creates Restricted Airspace for Drones To Test "Non-Eye Safe" Lasers
posted by homunculus at 12:50 PM on July 19, 2012


Europe Wants Drones to Spot Illegal Immigrants at Sea
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:41 PM on July 26, 2012


TNI: Flight for your rights
The FAA met its first deadline handily when, in mid-May, it debuted a simplified authorization process for public safety agencies. Its next big deadline is August 12, by which date the FAA must have established six test ranges where unmanned aircraft will be integrated into small chunks of the national airspace for both civil and public operators. August 12 is also the deadline for the designation of permanent areas in the Arctic where small unmanned aircraft systems will operate 24 hours a day for “research and commercial purposes.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:17 AM on August 1, 2012


« Older After much critical acclaim, the dramatic jury pri...  |  Rock band Def Leppard has deci... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments