Drones are incredibly useful machines in the air, but lifting them and flying them can be grueling, especially in scenarios of crowded, windy, or emergency when speed is a factor. But a group of researchers at the University of Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory found an elegant and fun solution: fire that damn cannon.
The creation of the engineer is called SQUID, which stands for simplified high-speed explorable unmanned aerial vehicle, and more like one of those whistling Nerf balls. It is long (27 centimeters) long, weighs 18 ounces (530 grams) and has four spring rotor arms that snap to less than a tenth of a second after the drone is thrown.
To get SQUID into the air, researchers fire it from a modified pneumatic baseball baking machine, which gives it an initial speed of about 35 mph. In a research paper, the team notes that SQUID rotors start operating about 200 milliseconds after launch and that the quadcopter is "stable and hovering" in less than a second. It's fast
Unmanned drone launches are definitely faster than downtime, but another great advantage of SQUID is its flexibility. Ballistic launch means that SQUID can be fired from moving objects, as researchers have shown, by shooting from the back in a pick-up truck at 50 miles per hour.
This type of startup scenario contains all kinds of useful applications. Emergency services and military units could launch drones, for example, to inspect the area without stopping, for example. Ballistic drones could also be good for space exploration, with "daughter rotorcraft" launched from both land and airships. "Rotorcraft greatly extends the reach of the rover's data collection and provides access to places that would be considered impassable by the rover," the researchers wrote.
As stated in the cover in IEEE spectrum (where we noticed SQUID), this is not the first ballistic launch drone ever made. But earlier examples, such as this Raytheon-based LOCUST unit, used a fixed wing instead of multi-rotor designs, which have greater range and stability but are less manageable and may be more difficult to fly.
SQUID's design still looks like a winner, and its creators say they are now exploring larger prototypes and "mission-specific versions for Mars and Titan."