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.