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Invisible Unmanned Aircraft 241

Posted by kdawson
from the what's-that-noise? dept.
MattSparkes writes, "A Minnesota company, VeraTech, has applied for a patent on an unmanned drone that is nearly invisible to the naked eye. The Phantom Sentinel takes advantage of the phenomenon where fast moving objects appear as only a blur, so it fades out of view once it speeds up. This is achieved by rotating the entire craft. The center of gravity is in open air between two of the blade-like wings. There are some videos of a prototype in action on the VeraTech site." The company says you could get usable video of the terrain by processing the images from a spinning camera. One version of the drone is small enough to launch by throwing it like a boomerang. And it folds for travel.
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Invisible Unmanned Aircraft

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  • To protect us all from members of the House!

    Seriously - there's enough info here to craft your own.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 02, 2006 @03:48PM (#16282233)
    'Catch!'

    'Ouch'

  • Invisible (Score:2, Insightful)

    Is that really invisible? It looked like they just changed the focus of the camera. Plus, I really wouldn't want to be the pilot. Holy bed spins. Er, just kidding, but it really didn't look too invisible.
    • but it is close.... Yet another misleading /. subject header.

      The basic idea is that the plane flies by rotating and, just as a fan blade or propeller becomes close to invisible when spinning, this aircraft might too.

      Of course visibility to the naked eye is only a very small part of invisibility. This thing probably sticks out like dogs balls on radar.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by russ1337 (938915)
        >> "This thing probably sticks out like dogs balls on radar."

        Excuse my asking, but how well do Dog-balls stand out on Radar?
        • by onkelonkel (560274) on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:19PM (#16282775)
          Removing the dog balls from the B-2 bomber reduced its radar return by 42%.

          Really.
          • I've read a fair bit about reducing visibility since it's something some friends work on. Your comment is funny but a big underestimate. Some of the first attempts to make stealth planes ran into horrible difficulties because the hardware they used to hold the plane model in place had 1000 times the radar signature of the plane itself, and in one case a fastener that was sticking out a very small distance from the surface of the plane made its radar visiblity increase 10x. Invisibility is difficult.

            (Stev
      • by Dausha (546002)
        "Of course visibility to the naked eye is only a very small part of invisibility. This thing probably sticks out like dogs balls on radar."

        Hmm. Terrorists hiding in caves probably rely on eyes on target, not radar on dog balls. And, the scale of these is pretty small. So, I'm thinking that "dog balls" aren't that visible on radar.
        • And then is it chihuahua or irish setter dog balls we are talking about?
        • by gameforge (965493)

          So, I'm thinking that "dog balls" aren't that visible on radar.

          He said it would stick out like dog balls. Sure, this could be interpreted to mean that the drone had the same radar signature as a pair of dog balls. But that doesn't make any sense because, as you mention, dog balls are small and probably have no radar signature on that scale. So I took his comment to mean that it drew the radar operator's attention as if the screen had rendered a picture of dog balls right where the drone was. Clearly, th

      • by c6gunner (950153)
        At that size? It'd generate the same size radar return as a friggin seagull.
    • Re:Invisible (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Monday October 02, 2006 @03:54PM (#16282361)
      This looks designed to be robotic, so don't worry about the pilot.

      And, while not completely invisible, it has a much lower visual signature than anything else of comperable size. I'm just not quite sure what the use is: it probably has a higher radar cross-section, so it's fairly useless as a spy-plane. The only thing you are really hiding from are people. Or civilians. Might be usefull as a close-rage spybot on a battlefield, but anybody with smart weapons can see and hit it quickly.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Dan Slotman (974474)
        What was the last war the USA fought against anyone with smart weapons? My guess is that this is being marketed toward the needs of warfar against low-tech enemies using guerilla techniques. I could also anticipate use as a "look over this next hill" tool where you only need 30 seconds of flight. If a smart missile is only 30 seconds out I think you may have bigger problems.
        • True, that's probably the best use. But in all honesty, this thing is still going to be more detectable than just poking your head over the rise. It might be useful, but I doubt it overall.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Scrameustache (459504)
        it probably has a higher radar cross-section, so it's fairly useless as a spy-plane. The only thing you are really hiding from are people. Or civilians. Might be usefull as a close-rage spybot on a battlefield, but anybody with smart weapons can see and hit it quickly.

        So...
        Usefull against an insurgency.
        Not usefull if invading the swiss.

        I wonder if anyone concerned with insurgencies has got some kind of large military budget... they might want a few of these.
      • What about a transparent pillow shaped balloon tethered with fishing line, payload being a webcam sized video camera. Very simple, very small, stationary, very cheap. Could be hosted in a shoebox sized enclosure, dropped off at strategic locations.

         
      • And, while not completely invisible, it has a much lower visual signature than anything else of comperable size. I'm just not quite sure what the use is
        the use is to sneak close enough to the bad guys to engage your magic lasso and force them to admit to their crime
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ndrw (205863)
        In other words, it's perfect for the asymmetric battlefield that the US and other technologically advanced societies are on today, where the "enemy" and "civilians" are indistinguishable, and you need to watch them without being discovered. This will save lives.
    • by kthejoker (931838)
      "Invisible Unmanned Aircraft."

      Seriously - you didn't even RTFT.
  • Hmm (Score:3, Informative)

    by Crazy Man on Fire (153457) on Monday October 02, 2006 @03:49PM (#16282271) Homepage
    I see three poor quality videos that have been edited to make the craft blur out.
  • Hm, this system could make the visual identification harder, but the dual positive and negative doppler shift on a radar would be a dead giveaway to its presence. So is that SAM on the ground radar or optical? To paraphrase Client Eastwood as Dirty Harry: do you feel lucky?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      The site has a photo of two kids in flea market knockoff BDUs. One is wearing set of, probably broken, VR goggles and the other has $7.99 Tasco folding binoculars around his neck.

      Somehow I get the feeling these people are not going to impress anyone in US military procurement enough to get much more than laughed at.
      • by Dun Malg (230075)

        The site has a photo of two kids in flea market knockoff BDUs. One is wearing set of, probably broken, VR goggles and the other has $7.99 Tasco folding binoculars around his neck.

        Not to mention the kneeling kid is wearing BLACK combat boots with his (10 years out of current issue) chocolate chip desert camo... And neither of them is wearing an appropriate BDU shirt, they're just standing around in their brown undershirts... Nor are they wearing headgear of any sort... Nor do they have anything resembling

    • by Shihar (153932)
      The use this would have would be on a purely troop level sort of thing. You might throw one to see what is on the other side of some trees or a hill. You would hide it so that the enemy doesn't instantly spot where it is coming from and infer that soldiers are also there. Being harder to see, it is also resistant against being shot down by visual means. Does this thing show up like a big blip on radar? Probably, but what would the enemy do in response? Shoot a multi-thousand dollar SAM at a 100 dollar
      • by KDN (3283)
        Ok, I didn't go to the site, I assumed by drone they were talking about a predator size drone, not something hand held. For hand helds I'd go with the AeroEnviorment micro air vehicles. All you would need to do is add a laser range finder. Find the target with the video, lase to get range and bearing, calc gps differential and send a GBU after those coordinates. Or for a mobile target, chase the target with the MAV and have the GBU follow the MAV all the way in.
  • It might be invivsible but, since they liken it to a helicopter, I bet I'd notice even an invisible helicopter flying overhead simply from the noise and downdraft (if it was low enough)!
  • Wow! (Score:3, Informative)

    by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Monday October 02, 2006 @03:53PM (#16282349) Homepage Journal
    I opened the video in Kaffeine, and all I saw was a huge black square! Wow! These things are _really_ invisible!
  • Image Resolutions (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TeachingMachines (519187) on Monday October 02, 2006 @03:58PM (#16282425) Homepage Journal
    It would take another incredible invention to get usable photos from this thing, photos with any decent resolution. Seems like a fun toy, but how could a camera composite the images?
    • by MBCook (132727)
      Well, if you put the camera in the center of the thing and actually rotated the CAMERA the oposite direction, you could get the camera relativly stationary. Combine that with a fast shutter speed (daylight use only, probably) and you could get some pretty good picutes out of it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nelsonal (549144)
        Um if the camera is in the middle doesn't that effectivly negate the whole premise for why the thing is not visible to the naked eye?
        • It doesn't matter where the camera is as long as it's counter-rotated. The vibration from translation of an offset camera would be most noticeable in the near-field, and even that could be mitigated by timing the shutter to coincide with a specific point in the rotation. If the rotation is fast enough, two shutters per rotation could be pretty a effective stereoscopic camara.

          Of course, you'd have to get the shutter speed fast enough to avoid blurring in-frame, so low-light operations would be limited.. t
          • by MBCook (132727)
            On the shutter speed issue, it depends on just how fast the thing rotates, but this is also the government. If the CIA buys a bunch of these things, there is no reason they couldn't put in their new Camera 2,000,000 that only needs 1/1000th the light of a traditional digital camera (or whatever other cool camera gizmos they have that we don't know about).
          • by Mr2cents (323101)
            Or you could take a line scanner and the rotation will generate a 360 degree image. It will require some processing to align subsequent passes.
  • Problem/Solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hypnagogue (700024) on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:00PM (#16282467)
    Problem: new drone design rotates so quick the human eye can't see it.
    Solution: strobing LCD glasses.

    Once again a $50M defense project defeated by $30 worth of hardware.
    • by zippthorne (748122) on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:43PM (#16283243) Journal
      Yeah that works.. if you know where to look. How does that help you if you don't know they're coming?

      If the insurgents are wearing stroby glasses all the time or constantly look around shaking their hands in front of their faces, they're going to be pretty easy to identify.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Plutonite (999141)
        I'm a hippie and I find your comment mildly offensive. If you added long hair to that description I would have you reported to the blog's moderators.
    • by mnmn (145599)
      How do you know the hardware exists?

      Hey I have some magic too that you cant see, that will kill the terrorists. $1 million a pop. And I have the sole patents (pending).
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by RealGrouchy (943109)
      Meh. Just get them to think that looking for planes is somebody else's problem.

      - RG>
    • by aywwts4 (610966)
      Yeah, from the look on their website this deffinately looks like a 50 million dollar defence project.

      *does the eye rolling thing*
  • Not that great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zebra_X (13249) on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:02PM (#16282503)
    Have a look at the site. The first two demo videos blur the craft out towards the end of the clip to give the impression of being invisible. I reality, the craft is not that invisible - it certainly has a center of rotation that is clearly visible, and in many ways it looks like a very large boomerang.

    On of the largest drawbacks I can see is that the drone does spin around, and around and around. It will be very difficult to fit a useful payload on a craft like this. It's design is such that the cargo room for anything but the operational parts is severly limited. I might add, how does one determine the direction of travel when one's compass is constantly spinning around?

    Also the amount of post processing needed to create a useful video feed from such a craft makes it almost impractical for use. Not to mention that other detection systems (IR comes to mind) would be largely incompatible with the operation of this machine.

    Finally, the web site has clearly been created by the guy in the videos. It's also clear that he's completely infatuated with intellectual property. I think his craft is interesting, but in a novelty sort of way.
    • by 955301 (209856)
      Wireless airborne radar? Alright, so I'm half kidding.

      I might add, how does one determine the direction of travel when one's compass is constantly spinning around

      gyroscopes.
      • by Zebra_X (13249)
        Wireless airborne radar? Alright, so I'm half kidding.

        You actually have a point here. One that I didn't really bother to argue. The fact that it spins could be adventageous for radar mapping of terrain or some such task. There are issues though, such as compensating for turbulence, speed of rotation (not constant), accurately determining direction and movement. And spining of the entire plane as opposed to just the radar unit has debateable merits.

        gyroscopes.

        No not really. Gyroscopes work for a while - but
    • by mnmn (145599)
      I fail to understand the utility of the aircraft.

      First, the title is like 'invisible unmanned aircraft'. I thought wait isnt a bullet exactly that only better?

      Now if movement blurrs vision and makes it disappear, isnt it better to have more linear movement i.e. speed rather than spin the thing? Cruise missles are slow but still too fast for anyone to 'see' it and do anything about it.

      This aircraft is a good demonstration of a theory, but I wouldnt recommend he patent it soon.
    • by maeka (518272)
      how does one determine the direction of travel when one's compass is constantly spinning around?

      Take two time-separated GPS positions.
      • by Zebra_X (13249)
        Yeah, no. Relying on a single wireless data source such as GPS for navigation is unwise.

        Traditional means would include compass and gyro. Both have issues given the mechanics of the craft.
  • Waste of money... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ltwally (313043) on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:03PM (#16282507) Homepage Journal
    Military drones fly at extremely high altitudes. Thus, they don't have to worry about being spotted by the naked eye. They're also very small, so they have a little tiney-tiny radar cross-section, too -- making them look like a bird on most radar screens.

    Basically, this sounds overly-complicated and expensive to implement and is utterly unneeded. So... the military may well go for it! But it's still completely retarded.
    • Military drones fly at extremely high altitudes.

      completely retarded. [gatech.edu]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bmajik (96670)
      Your response is both factually incorrect and unimaginative.

      There are a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles in the US armed forces that serve a variety of missions. Surely you've heard of the UAV launched from Iowa class battleships as a targeting / BDA unit, that an Iraqi tried to surrender to ? (IIRC, this one was a "Predator").

      In any case, there is probably a role for a unit-deployable, short range, low altatitude, small form factor, long "hang time" (ability to stay airborne in a localized area for ext
      • that all sounds great, but how can Iraqi's surrender to something they can't even see? (cue the French jokes)
        • by dwbryson (104783)
          (cue the French jokes)

          I'll start!

          It isn't a real war until the French surrender!
        • by bmajik (96670)
          the Iraqi surrender story was to point out that not only are some of the current drones visible, but they are visible enough and fly missions low enough that an Iraq tried to surrender to one.. he either thought it was a munitious capable aircraft or knew that somebody was watching video of what it was recorded.. either way he didn't want to get bombed.

  • by drpimp (900837)
    Is it me, or do the boys in the article in fatigues look like they are like 13? Made for the Army, but cool enough for teens? Hmm, interesting!
  • Once it gets up to a certain speed, will the optical illusion cause it to appear to be spinning very slowly in the opposite direction? It might be easy to identify then.
  • And the point of making it invisible is.....?

    Somehow I don't see any super up-side to this feature. Most people keep their eyes near the ground anyway, and don't have eyes in the back of their heads, so just keeping the surveillance camera between the sun and the target is going to be beacoup camo anyway.

  • by ArcherB (796902) on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:29PM (#16282983) Journal
    Invisible Plane?

    I build one of these things years ago. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it since its first test flight.

  • Prior Art (Score:5, Funny)

    by El_Smack (267329) on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:31PM (#16283011)
    Man, will they be pissed when they see this [engadget.com].
  • If it can't see you, you can't see it!
  • Below you can see the video of the 'aircraft':

            X
  • Did anybody else think of the similarity between VeraTech and Veritech [wikipedia.org] of the Robotech [wikipedia.org] anime? The article summary even says "...it folds..." - a transformation just like the Veritech Fighter to humanoid form!
  • I'm getting the feeling that their server is the thing that is really getting closer to becoming invisible, rather than their UAV.
  • Has it's Ups & Downs (Score:3, Informative)

    by maggard (5579) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:57PM (#16283487) Homepage Journal

    First off its pretty clear this is an RPV (Remotely Piloted Vehicle), so no need to worry about anyone yakking up dizzy in the cockpit. Next it wont be invisible, itll be blurry to the eye. Thats still a good thing, itll make it harder to track, shoot, and be sure of what it has been up to.

    What it wont be is unobtrusive. Its gonna be noisy, have a RADAR/LIDAR signature, and be putting out a fair bit of heat. So unless it is pretty high up folks will be aware it is around, unaided have a general sense of where, and with equipment (including IR goggles) probably be able pinpoint it fairly quickly.

    As for images, yeah, crazy-spinning-photo-pans will probably be able to be reconstructed into something recognizable, but thatll require some significent processing power & are as likely to miss points of interest as they are to pan over them a few times.

    However there are other missions where other sensors would be useful, ones not dependant on a specific field of view. Audio mapping. Radio mapping. Radiation sensing. Specific chemical tracing (mmm... smells like high explosives by that warehouse!)

    Also dropping off small payloads could solve much of the in-motion issues, and if the craft is hard to see itll also be hard to figure out exactly where it has dropped off a suitable minituraized payload. Imagine what dropping your cellphone transmitting live audio & video into the middle of an armed camp would tell you. Next imagine if it was a device built to just do that, resembles a rock, and nobody is sure just where the drone was... Could it be found? Sure, eventually, after much disruption.

    The device may be being heavily hyped, but it is a clever hack nonetheless and could have some real applications. And the next time I hear the annoying musquito-on-steroids whine of a model helicopter nearby I wont be so confident if I cant see it/it cant see me.

  • The video doesn't seem to verify in any way that this vehicle is any more controllable than those $20 plastic UFO things you can buy in the mall... the only control is up or down... ?? Its going to take some seasoned software/hardware to control the flight since the entire vehicle rotates. I'm guessing > $2500 in hardware just to get an attempt at controlled flights. That's just a guess, but there is a persistent problem with things that rotate... orientation. I'm thinking it will be difficult to even ju
  • Wake me up when these things are good and cheap enough for "hobbyists" to spy into bedroom, bathroom, and lockerroom windows not normally accessible to the "naked" eye. It's just a matter of time.

  •   I'd be more impressed by high-altitude drone blimps that could move silently and take high-resolution videos in a variety of frequencies. Given that air currents would carry them far and away, perhaps they eventually collapse/drop their balloon sections and fly/glide home (or dive bomb). More interesting to me. There no end to the silly ways we can combine technology.
  • I heard that Wonder Woman was supposed to be an early adopter of this tech. She's buying 12 of these last I heard.

    It was an odd sales meeting as golden lassos were used on a number of the staff. Pictures of course have been sold to various porn sites and have generated enough revenue to make the down payments on the aforementioned aircraft.
  • But today it's an idea way behind its time. Current US military drones have optics that allow the big visible noisy planes to fly up so high that you cannot hear them or see them as they circle over you and relay high resolution video back home.

    Yes, there are limited situations in which something like this would be preferred (like for example, highly overcast weather conditions with low cloud cover). It's really a niche product though.
  • " The ability of U.S. ground troops to safely navigate the gauntlet of the urban battlefield " and I really would like to know why US ground troops are walking around inside heavy leather or metal gloves inside towns. And which piece of military hardware was used to gratuitously split that infinitive. Ouch.

    When you say that this company is all about drones, obviously the marketing department is intended.

  • wow, it really is invisible. and all it took was developing a new definition of the word "invisible".

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