Intelligence: January 17, 2004

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At the  International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo, Seiko Epson Corp unveiled the world's lightest and smallest UAV helicopter, the Micro Flying Robot, which Seiko said it plans to be the vehicle for an equally small flying camera. Surprisingly, the machine looks a bit like a scaled-down version of DeVinci's unrealized 16th century plans for a helicopter. 

The manufacturer built the device so that it could  fly into dangerous areas or areas hit by disasters in place of  human beings and see what the situation is. Another example would be for the micro-UAV to fly into  a building flattened by an earthquake and see if anyone was trapped inside.

The prototype shown weighs an incredible 0.35 ounces and measures 2.8 inches in height. It can be operated by remote control but at present must be powered through a wire from a generator. Seiko Epson spent three years developing the Micro Flying Robot. The company is now working on developing a suitably light onboard battery, and showed the robot at the exhibition to generate such interest among battery makers.

Unmentioned were the potential military applications. Such a UAV could provide over-the-horizon reconnaissance capabilities for individual soldiers on the battlefield once suitable power and lifting capacity are achieved. Such a micro-UAV would also be very useful in urban combat, or investigating caves and bunkers. Even with a thin wire attached to power the UAV, and send pictures back, a tiny, hovering night vision camera would be a real lifesaver.

The flying robot uses two counter-rotating propellers powered by an ultra-thin ultrasonic motor, and balances in mid air by using a linear actuator-based stabilizer. In the last decade, the US military has been quick to adopt technologies like this for battlefield use, and this is the sort of thing that quickly shows in the hands of American troops. -- K.B. Sherman

 


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