Small is beautiful: Nano drone tech is advancing
Rapid improvement in micro drone technology is providing defence interests with new nimble capabilities
Click Like to Follow Fliegerfaust Facebook page to get the News ASAP / Share to share this post now.
By: Rory Jackson
The technology behind unmanned air systems (UAS) has taken off in recent years and as a result UAS can fly faster and further than ever before – performing ever more sophisticated surveillance operations.
Developments in size, weight and power (SWaP) optimised technologies have driven these improvements, allowing smaller man-portable systems more flexible tactical capability, and enhancing larger medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) class UASs built by leading manufacturers like Northrop Grumman and General Atomics.
This jump in capability has been boosted by the development of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) variants on mission-critical components such as accelerometers and gyroscopes as well as the miniaturisation of various crucial supplied parts.
Enter the Dragonfly
The pursuit of ever-smaller and lighter subsystems has driven the development of nanotechnology and nanoelectromechanical systems. But the implementation of nano-scale technologies in UAS, in particular, presents unique challenges. One way research labs have sought to overcome these difficulties is by trying to replicate the aerodynamic systems found in insects and birds.
SEE ALSO: UAS detection market booms
Massachusetts-based Charles Stark Draper Laboratory is pioneering a particularly unconventional approach to insect-inspired miniaturisation; working in synergy with the natural world rather than trying to copy it.
The group's DragonflEye project is developing an insect-controlled backpack – with integrated energy, guidance and navigation systems – that turns dragonfly insects into cyborg drones. The tiny backpack – which includes a solar panel – is fitted to the back of the insect and combined with optogenetics to stimulate the 16 specific neurons that correspond to flight in dragonflies.
Unlike a man-made nano drone, the DragonflEye real-life dragonfly can hunt and consume biomatter from its environment to store and recharge energy in its body.
"Manmade systems at this size have serious problems carrying their own batteries," says DragonflEye project leader Jesse Wheeler. "As long as the DragonflEye is able to scavenge for food the system can continue operating. It is a significant advancement over mechanical UASs that require a battery to operate over a limited duration.
"And a man-made system would need an external power source to persist as long. Because we can do this at this scale, now you can be smaller, lighter, and stealthier than other vehicles. Plus, you're using natural camouflage, an organism that already exists naturally in the environment."
The DragonflEye is part of a new generation of biomimetic unmanned vehicles seek to