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Invisible Unmanned Aircraft 241

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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  • Invisible (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TheRecklessWanderer ( 929556 ) on Monday October 02, 2006 @03:48PM (#16282235) Journal
    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.
  • by Hijacked Public ( 999535 ) on Monday October 02, 2006 @03:55PM (#16282389)
    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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Re:Invisible (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dan Slotman ( 974474 ) on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:07PM (#16282587)
    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.
  • Re:Invisible (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:11PM (#16282653) Homepage Journal
    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.

    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:14PM (#16282691)
    There's a reason that /.'s advertising is acceptable to a relatively hostile geek audience

    And that reason is called "adblock".
  • by nelsonal ( 549144 ) on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:18PM (#16282755) Journal
    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?
  • by bmajik ( 96670 ) <> on Monday October 02, 2006 @04:27PM (#16282923) Homepage Journal
    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 extended time) UAV. The scenrio here is that a small company of men and one or two armored vehicles needs to enter a town with an unknown enemy force deployment. On the outskirts of town, they unpack their suit-case sized UAV, start its engines, and hand-launch it into the sky. The trained operator (for now) watches the real time video feed on their laptop. The UAV gives the troops an aerial view of the town - they can map out block or unblocked streets/alleys.. they can spot rooftop snipers.. they can get early warnings of people spilling out of buildings in other parts of the town.

    The key here is distributed, localized intelligence gathering that is deployed and consumed by field units.. it is more pertinent and easier (and faster!) to act on then something more full size where intel goes back to an Air conditioned trailer hundreds of miles away from the theater of operation, and intel goes up and down the chain of command.

    small-unit sized deployable semi-autonomous robots are a cutting edge application of commodity hardware and software. You need something cheap, field proof, and easy for lower level enlisted men to launch, operate, and recover. The smarter the software, the less of a burden it is on the operator(s), and the more value it provides. Given the changing nature of combat (trained army goes through town hoping to not get ambushed), small-scale UAVs are absolutely worth persuing.

    Never mind that they're dirt cheap (as military hardware goes) - some prototypes are little more than the RC model aircraft you see at hobbyist stores with some cameras, radio control equipment, and a small embedded device.
  • 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:Invisible (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ndrw ( 205863 ) on Monday October 02, 2006 @06:49PM (#16285197)
    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.
  • Re:Videos? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by harp2812 ( 891875 ) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:15PM (#16285481)
    It's more of a question of the best tool for the job, IMO... The micro UAV's actually work quite well for Special Warfare teams, where the problems are more portability, quick launch, and short recon runs. You're absolutely right that the Predator drones are better for conventional warfare, but I think this was created to address a different set of requirements, and should do rather well from what I've seen (or not seen, as the case may be).

The absent ones are always at fault.