Thursday, May 15, 2008

Robo Eyes and Snooper Robos: The Science of Over the Edge

In Over the Edge, characters use robo eyes to obtain visual and audio information. Snooper robos add tissue sampling, soil, water and air sampling to their audio/visual collecting repertoire.

The June 2008 issue of Discover magazine article titled "Shrinking Spies" reports on efforts to miniaturize un-manned spy planes such as the Predator, pictured above, now in operation over Iraq. "Shrinking such planes so that they weigh less than two ounces would result in the perfect vehicle to get a bird's-eye view of the terrain" without the annoying tendency to be spotted and shot down quite so readily. However, developers have discovered that a plane only 4 1/2 inches wide has its own set of drawbacks.

Peter Ifju, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Florida, has created a flexible wing plane that can keep a steady course in the face of gusty winds. The bat wing inspired design consists of a "carbon fiber skeleton...covered with a latex membrane that pacifies gusts by acting as a shock absorber," Discover, June 2008, page 12. The downside: the little plane has a flight time of only 15 minutes--can't get a lot of spying done in fifteen minutes, but it still might have its applications even so; that's long enough to determine if a hostile is lurking in the immediate vicinity.

Clearly, the power issue must be resolved before these little planes can be put to serious use, but Professor Ifju is on his way.

photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Watch this video for an update:

Vijay Kumar: Robots That Fly and Co-operate