Drone Catcher: Needs Biomimetic Inspiration

I, for one, have complained about the Drone Menace in the past, in part because snoopy little buzzers all over the neighborhood are certain to inspire countermeasures that are likely to be very dangerous. We’re likely to repeat the history of piloted air forces, with a escalating spiral of violent measures and counter measures. This will not be pleasant.

I’m really not eager to have my neighbor blasting away with a shotgun at another neighbors spy drone, and I’m sure drones soon will be equipped with firepower and ECM. Sigh.

The geeks at Michican Tech show that they are good at more than ice hockey, releasing a video showing a demo of a drone-catcher drone.

The main good point is that this concept is non-lethal for bystanders, and, as they explain, also is designed to quickly hustle the miscreant away, rather than blast it.

From the video, we can see that it worked at least once, though the target was just hovering there.

Of course, we have to note that conventional air forces don’t use this kind of technology, at least not for the last century. Why not? Because you have to get close enough to board, which is awfully hard to do in flight unless the target is cooperative.

Also, the net-on-a-string is a one-shot. If you miss, there is no reset or recovery.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting start.


So what might be better ways to solve this problem? Instead of recapitulating the horrific history of twentieth century air warfare, why not look to biomimetic inspiration?

The headline gives a good clue: “Robotic Falcon“. How do falcons intercept and capture their aerial prey? Not with a net or projectile, but with a kinetic collision and grasping talons. This is actually something that UAV’s could do, though the interceptor needs to be able to accelerate to quite a bit faster than the prey, at least for a short dash.

I not that falcons sometimes use a steep dive at high speed to overtake and surprise their prey. Can a small drone be engineered to fly high, execute a precise killer swoop and recover? I suspect so. (Note that, link a bird of prey, the same technique would work for land and water based prey as well.)

The other parts are grappling (not that hard) and guidance. The MTU net works as well as it does because it does not need to be precisely targeted. Close enough is good enough. But diving at 50 KPH at a moving target a few cm square is not trivial. But it should be doable.

The good thing, of course, is that, as long at the interceptor isn’t damaged it can recover from a miss and keep trying. It can also intercept a second and subsequent target without “reloading”, as long as it isn’t damaged. (Obviously, he interceptor will need to be ruggedly built to withstand high G maneuvers and intentional collisions.)

Avian interceptors are often trained to take specific selected prey. The interceptor should have at least some intelligence about what to attack (not birds, for example).

Avian interceptors are also deployed as a team with human handlers. In the case of birds, the human looks after their welfare, trains them to select particular prey, releases them for attack, and rewards their return. “Robot Falcons” should have handlers, too, who maintain them, train them for the current context, and directs the attack.

I think I have made the problem much more complicated. But also more interesting. 🙂



Robot Wednesday

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