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Japan Defense Ministry Spins Flying Spherical Robot
11/11/2011

The Switchblade 'kamikaze' reconnaissance drone, one of the smallest used by Army and Air Force special ops forces in Afghanistan, is still larger at 24 inches than the 16-inch flying sphere from the Japanese Ministry of Defense.   (Source: AeroVironment, Inc.)
The Switchblade "kamikaze" reconnaissance drone, one of the smallest used by Army and Air Force special ops forces in Afghanistan, is still larger at 24 inches than the 16-inch flying sphere from the Japanese Ministry of Defense.
(Source: AeroVironment, Inc.)

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Beth Stackpole
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Flying robot orb and the plant floor
Beth Stackpole   11/11/2011 7:48:06 AM
Yet another great example of out-of-the-box thinking leading to some pretty cool designs. I like the idea you posed, Ann, of how industrial engineers should be thinking in terms of adapting similar capabilities to address hard to reach places on assembly lines or elsewhere on the factory floor. There's likely a lot of great applications there.

jmiller
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Re: Flying robot orb and the plant floor
jmiller   11/14/2011 10:58:50 PM
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Neat to see a solution like this where the answer isn't what you expect.  Rathe than the typical design that we would all expect.  Someone says why not design it in this shape. 

I agree that taking a look at the solution without the typical constraints or idea of the soluition before the work has begun can result in some neat solutions that might just revolutionize the industry.

Dave Palmer
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Low cost, off the shelf
Dave Palmer   11/11/2011 4:58:40 PM
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What's really amazing to me is that they built this for under $1500 with off the shelf components. At that price, we should be seeing these all over the place. I'm tempted to comment that if the U.S. military made this, it would cost at least $1.5 million, use all custom components, and not work. But it seems unnecessary to point that out. Still, not bad for a country which is constitutionally banned from having a military, huh?

Nugent_56
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pictures at 11?
Nugent_56   11/14/2011 9:12:48 AM
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I would have liked to seen a picture of the Orb and not the American model they are comparing it to.

Watashi
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Re: pictures at 11?
Watashi   11/14/2011 3:15:59 PM
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You have to use the video link

William K.
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Japanese "spherical" flying robot.
William K.   11/14/2011 11:09:23 AM
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The photo shohs that it is not really anything remarkable, but that a sperical frame has been placed around a more traditional flying platform. So while there are indeed a few advantages to this shape, it is certainly not a "revolutionary breakthrough". It is an interesting concept. and probably one that could be adapted to some of our current UAVs and provide a benefit. But aside from the spherical framwork, it really did not look that advanced. Probably similar devices, more of the toy quality though, could be found in some of the Chinese export catalogs.

REmember that what makes our military stuff so expensive is the amount of documentation  and the fact that tactical items must be far more reliable than any consumer item could ever dream of being. And verifiable reliability is not cheap.

Watashi
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Re: Japanese "spherical" flying robot.
Watashi   11/14/2011 3:13:49 PM
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I agree, it is an incremental improvement over current micro UAV technology at best.  But some of the best functionality comes because of simple improvements to current designs.

Making this prototype mil-spec and productized could easily add 10s of thousands to the unit cost. The test and qualification program, that would have to be amatorized or contracted separately, would cost over $100K.  Add another $100K to $200K if it is weaponized or used in targeting.  This, of course, assumes no requirement changes well into development propting a major redesign. The long DoD acquisition cycle leaves plenty of time for requirements creep. Most outside the defense industry have difficultly understanding the economics of working in the government monopsony.

Thinking_J
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Better vision.. not so easy
Thinking_J   11/14/2011 4:45:55 PM
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Per ..."there's no reason a small, higher-performing camera couldn't be mounted on-board."

Yes there is a reason, several reasons in fact.

Better camera.. means much higher bandwidth for the radio link. OLD standard video requires ~3.5mhz bandwidth.. HD quality requires a compression and additional bandwidth. Which means much higher power requirements...Not so easy on a product where weight is critical.

And for a product viewing from high in the air.. HD with advanced optics and stabilization (to get the most from the platform) makes the job even harder.

assuming a reasonable flight time is still required... (30-60minutes?)

It will happen.. but it isn't so easy or cheap at this time.

 

Alexander Wolfe
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Another flying device
Alexander Wolfe   11/14/2011 8:32:53 PM
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Apropos of this, check out the German "e-volo." Not a robot -- it's an electric helicopter (ok, multicopter). But it's the same basic idea in that there's incremental improvements to existing technology coupled with macro-level questions about utility. Here's the link: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1362&doc_id=235367

Rob Spiegel
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How will this be used?
Rob Spiegel   11/15/2011 9:39:06 AM
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Cool video. The gadget is relatively inexpensive. Do you know if that was designed to solve a specific problem? What are some of the applications this might be used for? Military drone. Spy device? I know the Japanese military is fairly limited. Was this designed for use by other armed forces -- such as the United States?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: How will this be used?
Ann R. Thryft   11/15/2011 2:46:47 PM
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Rob, the team from the Defense Ministry designed this robot for "reconnaissance," which pretty much implies some kind of UAV. Beyond that, we weren't told who's interested in buying it.

I think it's especially neat that they designed it more or less by accident while trying to solve some engineering problems in a design for what may have been a more ordinary plane.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: How will this be used?
Rob Spiegel   11/15/2011 2:49:25 PM
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Thanks Ann. I was very surprised by the $1,400 price. You know if it were developed by a Pentagon supplier, the cost would be $14,000 or more -- probably much more.

Charles Murray
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Re: How will this be used?
Charles Murray   11/15/2011 3:52:37 PM
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I agree with Rob. The shocking part of this story is the $1,400 pricetag and the fact that they built it with off-the-shelf products.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: How will this be used?
Ann R. Thryft   11/16/2011 3:33:37 PM
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I think one takeaway is what engineers can now do in their garages because of the enormous increase in the performance/price ratio of components. Only it's no longer primitive PC architectures, but gyroscope-equipped, vision sensor-equipped, flying robots that come out the other end of the creative process.

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