Lockheed Martin's terrifyingly simple Samarai maple seed drone has emerged for another demonstration, promising swarms of remote surveillance small enough to be launched by hand indoors. The drone - which has just two moving parts and uses complex image stabilization processing to produce a stable video stream despite its tumbling movements - has been shrunk down along the way, with Lockheed developing a smaller, 17cm version of the 30cm original. The goal is simple: bypass expensive and vulnerable spy planes and large drones with a cloud of near-disposable Samarai.
Lockheed first widely showed the drone last year, though work on the project began back in 2007 as part of a DARPA project called "nano air." "Think about dropping a thousand of these out of an aircraft" the company's Intelligent Robotics Lab chief Bill Borgia told TPM, "Think about the wide area over which one collects imagery ... you could send thousands of these inexpensive aircraft."
The drone - which looks like an oversized maple seed - is remotely controlled from a tablet, and supports 360-degree panning and tilting from its single camera. The camera itself does not move; instead, the constant motion of the craft itself is relied upon and "algorithms sort of de-rotate the video and turn it back into a frame-by-frame view."
Both battery- and carbon-fuel-powered versions have been trialled, though Lockheed is keeping details like potential flight-time and range close to its chest. However, Borgia confirmed that it is not only in talks with possible customers but working on a Samarai that is smaller again, even down to the size of an actual maple seed. That would make it exceptionally difficult to target in anti-surveillance sweeps.