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Air Force Aims to Launch 'Spy Pigeon' Drone by 2015

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In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, U.S. officials often had to rely on grainy satellite photos to decide whether facilities on the ground were intended for producing weapons of mass destruction. Now imagine that instead of overhead satellite imagery -- or even high-flying unmanned aircraft -- they could send in a flock of microdrones that could actually fly right over, or even inside, such facilities.

Even better, these drones -- equipped with chemical sensors that could pick up possible weapons work with near certainty -- would resemble typical birds, like pigeons, making them nearly impossible to spot.

A prototype of the Air Force Research Laboratory's bird-like micro air vehicle is shown. Researchers say the so-called spy pigeon will flap its wings like a real bird, and even be able to land on power lines.

This high-tech spy vision is precisely what Air Force researchers are trying to build, and they believe such a microdrone is not only possible, but could be ready to fly in just five years.

"Ideally, it'll be a bird-sized UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle], with the current goal being a pigeon," Dr. Leslie Perkins, the lead for micro air vehicles at the Air Force Research Laboratory, told AOL News. The "birdlike" UAV would also be able to operate with minimal pilot intervention for up to a week at a time, she said.

The scenario that the Air Force envisions for its would-be spy pigeon is a cross between the high-tech military thrillers of Tom Clancy and the science-fiction novels of Isaac Asimov. It would fly with almost no human interaction and be equipped with advanced sensors capable of detecting nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

To date, the prototype hasn't progressed much beyond the world of RadioShack, which sells a variety of animal-inspired toy planes, such as a flying bat. The Air Force Research Lab recently displayed a prototype of its bird, built by Ohio-based Theiss Aviation, at a trade show in Florida.

Though the bird is supposed to eventually have flapping wings, the current model has fixed wings with a push propeller in back; it has flown for about half an hour in a test facility.

Air Force researchers hope that in a few years, however, the bird will look and fly like a real pigeon -- and even perch inconspicuously on power lines to recharge. While there are a number of universities and companies working on micro air vehicles, the Air Force Research Lab has laid out a specific goal to field a bird-inspired drone by 2015, and then one based on an insect by 2030.

As part of its research, the Air Force Research Lab in May officially opened a $1.5 million testing facility, called the micro-aviary, dedicated specifically for micro air vehicles. Perkins, who helps coordinate researchers' work across the lab's various locations, says everyone knows that they are pushing the envelope on technology.

Among the challenges faced with micro air vehicles, for example, is finding a power source that is small yet powerful enough to provide the drones with endurance. Though a number of private companies build micro air vehicles, like AeroVironment's WASP drone, they can typically only fly for less than an hour.

The Air Force Research Lab, by comparison, wants its micro air vehicle to operate for a week at a stretch. "When you talk with private firms, they don't necessarily laugh, but they do realize that's a holy grail," Perkins said.

The pigeon drone builds on a growing interest in biomimetics, which draws on nature to inspire technology. In the case of robots and drones, this means studying everything from spiders to hummingbirds to understand how they move.

At Brown University, aerospace engineer Kenneth Breuer has been studying bats, which are able to fly flawlessly through complex obstacles and tight spaces, such as in a cave. Breuer is looking at ways to better understand the physics and dynamics of the way bats fly, including their ability to flip themselves upside down to land.

"They do pretty remarkable things and we're interested in understanding how they do it," Breuer told AOL News.

Though Breuer thinks bat (or bird) flight may hold lessons for engineering, that doesn't mean that animal- or insect-inspired flight would necessarily always make for the best sort of drone. "[Living things] are optimized for evolutionary survival, not for a particular engineering mission," he said.

Mark Lewis, an aerospace engineer at the University of Maryland and former Air Force chief scientist, agrees that biomimetics, though good science, may not always trump traditional engineering and says it's wrong to assume that just copying nature is always the right answer.

"Nature," Lewis said, "never evolved a spinning rotor."


R.I.P Spooky 2004-2015

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Filed: Citizen (apr) Country: Brazil

Pretty cool. I wonder if it will poop thumb drives?


* ~ * Charles * ~ *

I carry a gun because a cop is too heavy.



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Filed: Citizen (pnd) Country: Indonesia

They still need to figure out the most efficient way to control the flapping of these MAVs.

It's a complex motion that needs to be simplified some.

Need to choose whether varying the amplitude and fixing the frequency of flapping is best, or vice versa.

People have been studying bat and bird behavior but IMO not enough data is available.

2015 seems kinda soon. But that'll be cool and exciting!

Pretty cool. I wonder if it will poop thumb drives?

Oh, hahahahah!! :rofl:

AOS 05/08/10 - sent05/14/10 - receipt date on NOAs - transferred to National Benefits Center06/14/10 - Biometrics Done - Lawrence, MA (original appt)07/26/10 - Interview - APPROVED!!07/30/10 - Welcome letter rec'd (notice date: 07/26)08/05/10 - Green Card (&EAD) Received! - 2 months and 28 days total!ROC 04/28/12 - ROC package sent05/03/12 - check cashed05/04/12 - NOA1 received - dated 05/01/1206/07/12 - Biometrics done02/07/13 - Approved (status update via text msg)02/14/13 - Ten year Green card receivedNaturalization07/26/13 - eligible (90 day window opened 4/27/13)02/24/14 - N-400 sent to Dallas03/04/14 - Check cashed & case accepted (update via txt & email)03/10/14 - Biometrics appt letter rec'd (scheduled for 03/28/13)03/28/14 - Biometrics done04/01/14 - In line for interview 04/03/14 - Case status change to scheduled for interview04/10/14 - interview letter rec'd 5/13/14 - interview 6/3/14 - in line for oath 6/30/14 - Scheduled for oath

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Filed: Country: England

Even better, these drones -- equipped with chemical sensors that could pick up possible weapons work with near certainty -- would resemble typical birds, like Yankee Doodle Pigeons, making them nearly impossible to spot.

Let's hope the other side are as competent as ####### Dastardly, Muttley and the rest of Vulture Squadron



Don't interrupt me when I'm talking to myself


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