Aircraft

Japanese Defense Ministry shows world's first spherical flying machine

Japanese Defense Ministry show...
The Japanese Defense Ministry's flying sphere (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
The Japanese Defense Ministry's flying sphere (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
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The flying sphere prepares to launch (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
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The flying sphere prepares to launch (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
The flying sphere hovers (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
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The flying sphere hovers (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
The Japanese Defense Ministry's flying sphere (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
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The Japanese Defense Ministry's flying sphere (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
Close-up of the flying sphere (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
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Close-up of the flying sphere (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
The Japanese Defense Ministry's flying sphere (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
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The Japanese Defense Ministry's flying sphere (Photo: DigInfo.tv)
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Star Wars fans (like me) will get a vague sense of deja vu when they see this flying sphere in action. Weighing in at about 12 ounces (350 g), the 16-inch (42 mm) diameter flying ball can launch and return vertically, maintain a stationary hover and zip along at up to 37 mph (60 km/h). Coupled with the ball camera we reported on earlier this month, it could become a valuable reconnaissance platform. Who knows? In time, more advanced autonomous versions might actually be used to train would-be Jedi knights. Once again, life imitates art.

Announced last summer by the Technical Research and Development Institute at Japan's Ministry of Defense (JMD) and recently unveiled at Digital Content Expo 2011, the world's first spherical air vehicle will likely be deployed in search and rescue operations deemed unsuitable for traditional aircraft. As for other possible uses, the sky just may be the limit.

"Because the exterior is round, this machine can land in all kinds of attitudes, and move along the ground. It can also keep in contact with a wall while flying. Because it's round, it can just roll along the ground, but to move it in the desired direction, we've brought the control surfaces, which are at the rear in an ordinary airplane, to the front," said a JMD spokesperson.

For something that looks so ungainly, the rig exhibits surprising stability. Thanks to three onboard gyro sensors, the device effectively maintains its orientation and altitude, even after collisions. Numerous control surfaces also assist with attitude control. The current prototype, which cost about US$1,400 in parts, can maintain a hover for a respectable eight minutes. Now, if only someone would perfect that light saber we've all been waiting for.

The DigInfo.tv video below shows the flying sphere in action.

Spherical Flying Machine Developed by Japan Ministry Of Defense #DigInfo

View gallery - 6 images
19 comments
Renārs Grebežs
Looks cool, but nothing revolutionary in my opinion, as it still uses air to move along. When will THAT change, huh..
Gonzalo Villouta Stengl
Para invitarte a viajar en pelota, por todas partes... ...y seguir siendo un caballero.
Shahar Shocron
this is more then a cool toy, you have to admire the AI algorithms involved here.
gafisher
Cool, but it\'s hard to see how it advances the art. What can this do that can\'t be done by other, simpler, quieter technology?
Guy Macher
It is not a sphere just a globe armature. It could have been shaped in a cube. A sphere has a continuous surface. This flying joke is not new and not important.
Facebook User
Recon, hover to 37 mph I like it, a larger version could make a killer 360% weapons platform that would be almost invisible to RADAR.
Sambath Pech
I\'d be too scared to be near it. If that thing accidentally falls on you and your fingers get caught in it, you\'d probably lose your fingers and thumbs.....and hands. Like others have said, this is nothing exciting. I actually have a toy that can do something like this - the only thing different is my toy can only hover for about 30 seconds between charges, it\'s harder to control it (unstable), and it doesn\'t have a camera.
Marcus Carr
It\'s just a toy. Anything that interrupts the airflow stops it from working, so adding a payload of any sort is impractical. They added gyros and controllers to an engine - nothing more.
Carlos Grados
This is so cool- I hope that it\'s range can grow with further innovation.If they get these to work together they could really cover a lot of ground to help find missing people.
Edward Maner
Usual sequence of criticism: It is impossible. It is impractical. It is too expensive. Is it too late to buy stock ? Once a proof-of-concept demonstrator flies, it is only a matter of time before it shows up at WalMart.