The Nighthawk Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) is a rugged, fully automated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made of carbon fiber composite. It uses GPS and autopilot technologies for navigating unfriendly territories to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. Its range is over 10 km (6 miles) and flight time is more than 60 minutes. The Nighthawk weighs 1.6 lb (725 gm), has a wingspan of 26 inches (66 cm), and a cruise speed of 18 to 30-plus knots. The MAV is equipped with 8-channel command and control, 4-channel video, and operates on batteries. It has forward and side-looking electro-optical cameras and a side or forward-looking thermal imager. A PC-based user interface provides real-time visual feedback and point-and-click waypoint navigation. The system can also be operated in semi-manual and manual flight modes. MAVs are stored fully assembled and ready to launch in a tube measuring 6 inches (15.2 cm) in diameter and attached to an assault pack. The assault pack's outer pockets hold a rugged laptop computer, the ground control station, and an antenna assembly. The pack's total weight is about 15 lb (6 kg). (Source: Applied Research Associates)
Funny you should mention hacking, William--WiFi is eminently hackable and that fact often crosses my mind when writing about the wireless comms used in these mobile, semi- or fully-autonomous robots. I've read that it's a secure version of WiFi, but have not checked that out: my charter is robots, not comms. Does anyone know what the secure military protocols are?
Jack, I think your comment is right on. I often think the same thing when researching these: what the heck are they doing that they aren't telling us about, if these are the publicly announced models? OTOH, some of the uses for the publicly announced models aren't really discussed in detail, but you can often read between the lines.
Some of these robots may be suyitable for "running point" in a hostile area patrol, and they appear to offer a lot of advantages. For starters they could be set to relay what they observe back to those behind them, so that even if they are destroyed or disabled, what they saw is available for others to see. That much alone is quite valuable. In addition they are smaller targets and more robust as far as taking damage. They may not yet have adequate judgement to be safe to use for asaulting, but they certainly would be a huge benefit for observing and defusing ordinance of all kinds. But until we have a control system that is completely immune to hacking it would not be very smart to deploy something that could be turned against us. That fact should be obvious to all, and it is why actual robotic warriors are still a ways off.
Elizabeth, It amazes me as to how quickly robotic systems advance and the great uses they are designed carry out. I would have to say that each is tremendously unique and their mission is well defined before development work begins. Thank you for giving us this great update.
The day I stand face to face with a military robot used to control me, is the day I leave whatever country I am in. The impersonal lifeless feel I get from this brings to mind a dystopian future, like THX or Cloud Atlas. The sad part is, many people come into contact with these types of devices all the time. Imagine living countless decades, then to be killed by a robot.
The fodder for science fiction for countless centuries to come.
Even in the consumer world the model aircraft electronics seem to double in performance every year. Brushless motors are now common, lithium battries weigh less than the motor and digital radios are about the size of a matchbook. The military deserves some credit for dreaming up the idea of using hobbyist technology.
Nadine and Elizabeth, glad you liked the slideshow. Like Nadine, I think the Nighthawk is kinda cute, too. Looking like an actual (if antique) plane, it's got a bit more personality than the quadrocopters that seem to dominate flying robots right now.
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