Imagine a scenario where an earthquake brings down an industrial complex, trapping the survivors inside and as the disaster response team arrives, they unpack a grenade launcher and start lobbing rounds into the air. This may seem like madness, but there’s method in it. In this hypothetical case, the grenades are part of the Soldier Parachute Aerial Reconnaissance Camera System (SPARCS) built by Singapore-based ST Engineering. Instead of a warhead, each 40 mm grenade round has a CMOS camera sending back real-time images to a computerized receiver; turning disaster teams, police, and foot soldiers into recon units.
In military parlance, the fog of war refers to the uncertainty that incomplete knowledge plagues soldiers with. Even a glimpse over the hill can mean the difference between success and failure, which is why the use of drones has become widespread in recent years. Unmanned aerial vehicles present a far more attractive option that putting humans in the line of fire, but they are still expensive, and putting them in the field means carrying a lot of extra kit. SPARCS (also known as the S407 Round) is an alternative type of eye in the sky that ST Engineering says is low cost, simple to use, and requires no maintenance.
ST Engineering already makes a wide range of grenades from less-than-lethal rounds to mini bunker busters designed to blow through walls. Aimed at military, law enforcement, and civil disaster management agencies, the 8 kg (17.6 lb) SPARCS is designed to fit a standard low-velocity 40 mm grenade launcher. The solid-state electronics are capable of surviving being fired at 76 m/s (250 ft/s) to an altitude of 150 m (490 ft), where a parachute slows its descent. As it comes down, the camera transmits top-down view images back to a receiver, with software stitching these together in real time.
According to ST Engineering, the receiver can be any wireless device that can pick up the 2.4 GHz signal and the software is compatible with most operating systems. The images can be retransmitted to other handheld devices or back to headquarters. In addition, the receiver can be repackaged into a load-bearing vest and the images sent to a head-mounted display.