Sat, Aug 06, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Japanese inventor develops sphere drone

AFP, TOKYO

Advanced Defense Technology Center Engineer Fumiyuki Sato displays his spherical observation drone in Tokyo on July 22.

PHOTO: AFP

A Japanese defense researcher has invented a spherical observation drone that can fly down narrow alleys, hover on the spot, take off vertically and bounce along the ground.

About the size of a beachball and jet black, the remote--controlled Spherical Air Vehicle resembles a tiny Death Star from the Star Wars movies, but has a more benign purpose — to transmit live images from a video camera.

It is powered by a propeller protected by a spherical shield with large openings for airflow, meaning a knock into a wall or a tumble to the ground will not damage it.

Research to improve the device is continuing, but its designer says that in the future it could be used as a formidable pursuit vehicle that can travel above traffic or spy on a target through a window.

Its inventor in pacifist Japan hopes it could also help with non-aggressive operations, such as search and rescue in disaster zones, where it could fly through buildings and even up and down stairways.

“This is the world’s first spherical air vehicle,” said its developer, Fumiyuki Sato, a research engineer at the Japanese Defense Ministry’s Technical Research and Development Institute in Tokyo.

The latest model, the seventh prototype, is equipped with a single propeller that is shielded by the shell, with flaps and wings to -control its flight, and can zip through the air at speeds of up to 60kph.

Sato said all its components can be found in shops in Tokyo’s electronic tech-geek heaven of Akihabara, at ¥100 stores where every item sells for about US$1, or on the Internet.

The motor at the core is contained by a modified plastic -bottle, and the total cost for the parts come to ¥110,000 (US$1,400) for the latest model, which weighs just 350g and has a diameter of 42cm.

Sato says that many hurdles remain before the flying sphere can be put to practical use, including adding an autopilot function and finding ways to cope with turbulence and poor weather conditions.

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