Drones are incredibly useful machines in the air, but getting them up and flying can be tricky, especially in a crowded, windy or emergency scenario, when speed is a factor. But a team of researchers at Caltech University and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory have proposed an elegant and very fun solution: fire the cannon.
The creation of the engineers is called SQUID, abbreviated for rational investigation into the rapid deployment of a drone and looks more like one of these whistling Nerf balls. It is long (27 centimeters) long, weighs 1
In order to get SQUID in the air, researchers launch it from a modified pneumatic baseball machine that gives it an initial speed of about 35 miles per hour. In a research article, the team noted that SQUID rotors start operating about 200 milliseconds after launch and that the quadcopter is "stable and hanging" in less than a second. It's fast.
Ballistic launching of a drone is definitely faster than stopping it, but another great advantage of SQUID is its flexibility. Ballistic firing means that SQUID can be fired from moving objects, as researchers have shown, by firing it from the back of a pickup truck at 50 mph.
This startup script has any useful applications. Ambulances and troops can fire drones to inspect the area without stopping, for example. Ballistic drones can also be useful for space exploration, with "subsidiary rotorcraft" launched by airborne aircraft and airships. "Rotorcraft greatly expands the data collection of rovers and allows access to sites that a rover would find impassable," the researchers wrote.
As noted by the scope in IEEE Spectrum (where we spotted SQUID), this is not the first ballistic drone ever made. But earlier examples, such as this Raytheon LOCUST unit, used a fixed wing instead of many rotor structures that have greater range and stability but are less maneuverable and may be more difficult to fly.
The SQUID design looks like a winner, but its creators say they are now exploring larger prototypes and "mission-specific versions of Mars and Titan."