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Lockheed Martin's Samarai monocopter - you won't believe how this thing flies

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August 19, 2011

Lockheed Martin's Samarai Flyer monocopter micro air vehicle, alongside a maple seed

Lockheed Martin's Samarai Flyer monocopter micro air vehicle, alongside a maple seed

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If you've ever watched a maple seed spiraling down from a branch, you may have marveled at how it looked like a tiny one-rotor-bladed helicopter. If you did, well, you weren't the only one. In 2009, students from the University of Maryland's Clark School of Engineering unveiled their remarkable samara (maple seed)-inspired micro air vehicle, which was billed as "the world's first controllable robotic samara monocopter." Flash forward to this Tuesday, and Lockheed Martin performed the first public flight of its similar Samarai Flyer, at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Washington, D.C.

In development as part of DARPA's Nano Air Vehicle program since 2006, the Samarai Flyer consists of a disc-like unit that contains its battery and electronics, joined to a single wing with a propeller mounted at the far end - the original design actually called for a fuel-powered miniature jet thruster, which may still be the plan for the final version. When in flight, the whole aircraft spins around in a circle, with the disc at the center. A remotely-adjustable trailing-edge wing flap allows users to steer it.

The Samarai can take off from and land on the ground, or be launched by being thrown into the air like a boomerang. It is 16 inches (40.6 cm) long, weighs less than half a pound (around 227 grams) and only has two moving parts, so it lends itself to being stuffed in a backpack, then pulled out for use.

Lockheed Martin's Samarai monocopter - you won't believe how this thing flies

Unlike the U Maryland flyer, it even has an onboard video camera that transmits a live feed to the operator. Because that camera (which is mounted on the disc) is constantly turning around, it doesn't obtain video in a normal fashion. Instead, it captures one frame at the same point in every rotation, those frames combining into one continuous relatively steady shot. By varying the point in the rotation at which the frames are grabbed, users can virtually "pan" the camera 360 degrees. Plans call for the disc to ultimately incorporate a sensor that would capture four frames per rotation, each at the same point.

Because its design is so robust and efficient, the Samarai is intended mainly for military surveillance and reconnaissance missions. It is capable of carrying and dropping small payloads, and can be inexpensively fabricated using a 3D printer - this also means that it would relatively simple to produce custom-designed Flyers for specific purposes.

The aircraft's first public flight can be seen in the video below.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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12 Comments

What a cool way to make a videocamera hover!

Carlos Grados
19th August, 2011 @ 03:36 pm PDT

nice

Michael Mantion
19th August, 2011 @ 03:39 pm PDT

so whats forward and whats backward in relation to the person controlling it, how does this system work?

Denis Klanac
22nd August, 2011 @ 12:38 am PDT

this is really intresting. they useing the fin/wing not only lift but also as the control mechnisim to move it left and right it seems

Steven Chang
22nd August, 2011 @ 06:52 am PDT

Love the way it captures video - one frame per revolution...

agulesin
22nd August, 2011 @ 08:02 am PDT

Similar concept presented back in 2006:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/09/25/phantom_sentinel/

es
22nd August, 2011 @ 01:00 pm PDT

So, it sounds like its taking pictures at a high frame rate as it rotates? Because he says you can see in 360 degrees... Really interesting. I think that'd be great for surveillance. I would think the military would be very interested in this, especially since its so light and portable, and also easy to launch.

Danie Clawson
22nd August, 2011 @ 02:52 pm PDT

How would this system operate with 2 single rotor contra rotating blades?

Could a gondola be hung on the bottom to carry a person with-out it spining around?

mdr
23rd August, 2011 @ 12:27 am PDT

Reminds me of a miniature UFO.

Jerry Simpson
26th August, 2011 @ 11:45 pm PDT

@es - Yeah, I don't get the big deal. The company behind the one you cited has everything this one has, including the 360 high-speed video, plus it has pattents! I don't see that the tech discussed in this article is in anyway innovative. More so, just re-application or reverse-engineered with slight reduction of scalable size from 2 ft to 1.5 ft. This article video and another video where the builder is interviewed present this as new technology. From what I have just learned, it isn't.

kalqlate
29th August, 2011 @ 04:20 am PDT

Good idea but its good for indoor fly wind will effected too much to control out side. Militarized version has to manage too much wind and autonomous hover capability. Ä° dont know any gyro invented for this heli.

Halit Özbaşlı
13th September, 2011 @ 04:26 am PDT

It reminds me of a certain seed from a tree that "flies" in this manner as it falls from the tree to the ground.

Vaughan Pederson
17th September, 2011 @ 09:11 pm PDT
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