My 18 month old granddaughter is in the stage of imitating animal sounds as she begins her journey to learning a spoken language. Everything she hears she tries to echo – over and over and over again. Her favorite is uh oh! for any phone call or text message sound (Im not sure where she gets that from). J Next up is moo and then a pursed lipped buzz for a horse. But about that buzz the high pitched wine of an acrobatic mini-helicopter may have been just a bit too much for her lips to echo. Her eyes were wide with wonder though, as were those of everybody else present, on a recent sunny afternoon in June.
As it turns out, we had a somewhat unexpected visit from a college student who has flown a mini helicopter since his pre-teen years. In international competition he has placed 11th worldwide. The maneuverability of this little vehicle under his control is truly incredible. It can fly in virtually any orientation and at speeds up to 65mph. It can dart in and out of small places as long as there is enough room for it to fit and the operator can see to pilot it along its path.
He gave us a brief demonstration to instill confidence in us that he knew what he was doing. He then started to mount a small platform to the helicopter skids. To this platform he had attached a ScanLook Snoopy mounted upside down from its normal mounting position. Before we even had a chance to get some still pictures of the system sitting on the ground he was lifting off. In seconds he was hundreds of feet away zipping around the area. We were very impressed, but at the same time, not surprised either.
The ScanLook Snoopy system, among other things, is designed to be vehicle independent, small, and light. The mini helicopter is just another unmanned platform, be it air, ground, or water. Snoopy can be mounted conventionally with the system at the back of the vehicle or it can be mounted on the front of the vehicle, upside down, above or below the platform. In every case our goal is to provide a system that meets the users needs. Needless to say, the users continue to surprise us.
Is it at all significant that this little helicopter can fly and carry Snoopy? Well, for many projects the mini helicopter system described here would be perfectly suited. Anywhere you need to scan something inaccessible to a static or ground scan, where you may need an additional view point, or where a typical aerial scan would be either too costly, inappropriate for the airspace, or provide insufficient point density and coverage, these are all good candidates for this system.
Scanning really tall objects (towers, bridges, buildings) or rooftops are ideal applications. Mobile mapping is great for streetview results, but rooftops are inaccessible, especially on multi-story or flat-roofed buildings. For virtual reality, gaming, or simulations, the low-altitude aerial scan often would complete the scan of the outdoor environment adding to the realism. Why not do it all from one system that can move from platform to platform in minutes? Do the street scans and then move to the air. Do the whole job with the right tool and the right platform.
Is this mini helicopter the most appropriate UAV for Snoopy? Probably not. It takes a lot of training and experience to fly with the assurance that your expensive payload is always going to come home safely. Is it a viable solution? Absolutely. A more likely solution would involve a bigger platform with a longer flying time and a self-navigating system (by means of way points).
In closing, I am sure that it wont be too many years before my grandchildren will consider unmanned vehicles filled with all sorts of recording instrumentation very mundane and ordinary. Today these vehicles draw audiences at every showing. Consider that 50 years ago most people were watching black and white TV, had rotary dial (and often party line) phones, and generally one car per family. Compare that with today (flat screen TVs throughout the home, a cell phone for each family member along with a car) and we can only speculate what will happen in the next 50 years. The upcoming generation will truly be on the cusp of so much amazing technology that the Star Trek generation of Gene Roddenberry or Isaac Asimovs I, Robot may have finally arrived.
In the meantime, stay tuned as we unveil new opportunities for Snoopy. There is much more yet to come.