According to the experts, this design could allow for unmanned craft that work alongside soldiers on the field in real time, acting as an extra set of eyes to scout out potential dangers ahead

The US Army has revealed an experimental drone that resembles a flying squirrel, relying on tilt-rotors to ‘transform in flight.’

According to the experts, this design could allow for unmanned craft that work alongside soldiers on the field in real time, acting as an extra set of eyes to scout out potential dangers ahead.

While previous attempts to create drones of this kind combine a typical quadrotor and a fixed wing aircraft, the new approach allows the motors themselves to tilt, to optimize weight and efficiency.

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THE ARMY'S FLYING SQUIRREL DRONE  

According to the researchers at the US Army's Research Laboratory, the small unmanned craft relies on a tilt-rotor design.

This is much like the V-22 Osprey, they explain, which uses motors that tilt themselves.

The goal is to create a system that can work with soldiers as a team, the Army researchers explain.

Using a motion capture system, the team can track the position of the craft as it flies, and then use these coordinates for optimal control, according to the researcher.

Footage from the US Army Research Laboratory shows the tiny unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in action.

At this stage, it uses a large half-circle of orange paper to slow its movements, as can be seen in the video.

But eventually, the researchers hope to cut it down to a much smaller size, which is represented by the yellow plastic component seen closer to the center of its body.

Other efforts to create similar drones use four rotors in addition to extra propellers and several actuators, which allow for ease of design and control, the researchers explain.

With those methods, though, ‘you have a lot of wasted weight,’ explains Dr Steve Nogar, postdoctoral researcher for the US Army Research Laboratory in a video on the technology. 

‘And in an aircraft, weight is everything.’

 

‘The Army is researching many drone designs, but this one is special because it can transform in flight,’ Nogar says.

‘It uses a tilt rotor design that is kind of like the V-22 Osprey where the motors tilt themselves. 

'I mean, this is really going to allow these vehicles to better integrate with the soldiers.’

The goal is to create a system that can work with soldiers as a team, Nogar explains.

This means the vehicle has to be able to carry out tasks with no notice, being able to travel ahead of soldiers for reconnaissance or even follow their movements by flying overhead.

Using a motion capture system, the team can track the position of the craft as it flies, and then use these coordinates for optimal control, according to the researcher.

 
The US Army has revealed an experimental drone that resembles a flying squirrel (stock image pictured) relying on tilt-rotors to ‘transform in flight’
 
 While previous attempts to create drones of this kind combine a typical quadrotor and a fixed wing aircraft, the new approach allows the motors themselves to tilt, to optimize weight and efficiency

The US Army has revealed an experimental drone that resembles a flying squirrel (stock image pictured left), relying on tilt-rotors to ‘transform in flight.’ The new approach allows the motors themselves to tilt, to optimize weight and efficiency

 
At this stage, it uses a large half-circle of orange paper to slow its movements, as can be seen in the video. But eventually, the researchers hope to cut it down to a much smaller size, which is represented by the yellow plastic component seen closer to the center of its body

At this stage, it uses a large half-circle of orange paper to slow its movements, as can be seen in the video. But eventually, the researchers hope to cut it down to a much smaller size, which is represented by the yellow plastic component seen closer to the center of its body

As they move forward, the researchers intend to improve its landing capabilities so it can touch down more gracefully, or even perch upon a surface.

Currently, the drone comes to somewhat of a mild crash-landing when it needs to stop flying, first slowing down and descending before dropping to the ground.

They’re also hoping to achieve more efficient environmental assessment, to know with utmost speed how fast the conditions are changing in relation to the craft.

‘We can’t put a lot of sensors on this vehicle,’ Nogar said.

‘It’s basically what you can do with one camera. This is doing something that’s harder, but will definitely benefit the vehicle as a whole once it’s finished.’

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