Aircraft

Lockheed Martin's Samarai monocopter - you won't believe how this thing flies

Lockheed Martin's Samarai mono...
Lockheed Martin's Samarai Flyer monocopter micro air vehicle, alongside a maple seed
Lockheed Martin's Samarai Flyer monocopter micro air vehicle, alongside a maple seed
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An early concept for Lockheed Martin's Samarai Flyer
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An early concept for Lockheed Martin's Samarai Flyer
A concept illustration of Lockheed Martin's Samarai Flyer
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A concept illustration of Lockheed Martin's Samarai Flyer
Lockheed Martin's Samarai Flyer monocopter micro air vehicle, alongside a maple seed
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Lockheed Martin's Samarai Flyer monocopter micro air vehicle, alongside a maple seed
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If you've ever watched a maple seed spiraling down from a branch, you may have marveled at how it looked like a tiny one-rotor-bladed helicopter. If you did, well, you weren't the only one. In 2009, students from the University of Maryland's Clark School of Engineering unveiled their remarkable samara (maple seed)-inspired micro air vehicle, which was billed as "the world's first controllable robotic samara monocopter." Flash forward to this Tuesday, and Lockheed Martin performed the first public flight of its similar Samarai Flyer, at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Washington, D.C.

In development as part of DARPA's Nano Air Vehicle program since 2006, the Samarai Flyer consists of a disc-like unit that contains its battery and electronics, joined to a single wing with a propeller mounted at the far end - the original design actually called for a fuel-powered miniature jet thruster, which may still be the plan for the final version. When in flight, the whole aircraft spins around in a circle, with the disc at the center. A remotely-adjustable trailing-edge wing flap allows users to steer it.

The Samarai can take off from and land on the ground, or be launched by being thrown into the air like a boomerang. It is 16 inches (40.6 cm) long, weighs less than half a pound (around 227 grams) and only has two moving parts, so it lends itself to being stuffed in a backpack, then pulled out for use.

Unlike the U Maryland flyer, it even has an onboard video camera that transmits a live feed to the operator. Because that camera (which is mounted on the disc) is constantly turning around, it doesn't obtain video in a normal fashion. Instead, it captures one frame at the same point in every rotation, those frames combining into one continuous relatively steady shot. By varying the point in the rotation at which the frames are grabbed, users can virtually "pan" the camera 360 degrees. Plans call for the disc to ultimately incorporate a sensor that would capture four frames per rotation, each at the same point.

Because its design is so robust and efficient, the Samarai is intended mainly for military surveillance and reconnaissance missions. It is capable of carrying and dropping small payloads, and can be inexpensively fabricated using a 3D printer - this also means that it would relatively simple to produce custom-designed Flyers for specific purposes.

The aircraft's first public flight can be seen in the video below.

Samarai flies at AUVSI

12 comments
Carlos Grados
What a cool way to make a videocamera hover!
Michael Mantion
nice
Denis Klanac
so whats forward and whats backward in relation to the person controlling it, how does this system work?
Steven Chang
this is really intresting. they useing the fin/wing not only lift but also as the control mechnisim to move it left and right it seems
agulesin
Love the way it captures video - one frame per revolution...
es
Similar concept presented back in 2006: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/09/25/phantom_sentinel/
Danie Clawson
So, it sounds like its taking pictures at a high frame rate as it rotates? Because he says you can see in 360 degrees... Really interesting. I think that\'d be great for surveillance. I would think the military would be very interested in this, especially since its so light and portable, and also easy to launch.
mdr
How would this system operate with 2 single rotor contra rotating blades? Could a gondola be hung on the bottom to carry a person with-out it spining around?
Jerry Simpson
Reminds me of a miniature UFO.
kalqlate
@es - Yeah, I don\'t get the big deal. The company behind the one you cited has everything this one has, including the 360 high-speed video, plus it has pattents! I don\'t see that the tech discussed in this article is in anyway innovative. More so, just re-application or reverse-engineered with slight reduction of scalable size from 2 ft to 1.5 ft. This article video and another video where the builder is interviewed present this as new technology. From what I have just learned, it isn\'t.