Not only are people still coming up with new drone applications, but they are also still coming up with new drone designs. How about the SQUID drone that is launched from a cannon mounted in the bed of a moving truck. Once the SQUID reached a certain altitude, it deploys and flies away like a ‘normal’ drone.

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Launching the SQUID drone from a moving truck

Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Caltech University came up with this innovative way of launching a drone quickly. The SQUID drone is launched from a cannon or grenade launcher and deploys once it reaches sufficient elevation.

It is one of those things, that when you first hear about it you may frown and wonder why you’d launch a drone this way. But, once you see the video it all starts to make sense.

In the video, the team of researchers launches the SQUID drone from a truck that is moving at 50 mph, in a way that seems so simple, effortless, and dare I say elegant, that it makes you wonder why nobody has thought of this before.

It is not hard to imagine that a first responder could launch a drone this way when arriving at the scene of an accident or fire to provide the command center with an aerial view of the situation quickly. Military operations would seem to make sense for the SQUID drone as well.

In the description on YouTube the team tells us:

The operation of multirotors in crowded environments requires a highly reliable takeoff method, as failures during takeoff can damage more valuable assets nearby. The addition of a ballistic launch system imposes a deterministic path for the multirotor to prevent collisions with its environment, as well as increases the multirotor’s range of operation and allows deployment from an unsteady platform. In addition, outfitting planetary rovers or entry vehicles with such deployable multirotors has the potential to greatly extend the data collection capabilities of a mission. A proof-of-concept multirotor aircraft has been developed, capable of transitioning from a ballistic launch configuration to a fully controllable flight configuration in midair after launch. The transition is accomplished via passive unfolding of the multirotor arms, triggered by a nichrome burn wire release mechanism. The design is 3D printable, launches from a three-inch diameter barrel, and has sufficient thrust to carry a significant payload. The system has been fabricated and field tested from a moving vehicle up to 50mph to successfully demonstrate the feasibility of the concept and experimentally validate the design’s aerodynamic stability and deployment reliability.

The name SQUID drone is derived from Streamlined Quick Unfolding Investigation Drone. The unmanned aerial system resembled the shape of a football when not yet deployed and measures a little over 10 inches and weighs almost 1.7 pounds. Once airborne the arms and props fold out in under one-tenth of a second and the aircraft is ready to be flown.

The cannon that fires the SQUID into the air works with a pneumatic baseball pitching machine and provides the drone with a 35 mph starting speed. The four rotors are activated at a speed of 200 milliseconds after the drone is launched and the unmanned aircraft can hover in place within a second of being launched.

The research paper was shared by the research team on arXiv and states that: “A rotorcraft greatly expands the data collection range of a rover, and allows access to sites that a rover would find impassible.”

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