New System of Propelling Drones out of Cannons Is the Fastest, Safest, and Most Exciting Way

JPL and Caltech designed the new launch system for their quadcopter.
Fabienne Lang
The photo credit line may appear like thisCaltech and NASA JPL

Drones come in many shapes and sizes and can be used for a variety of purposes. Up in the air, they're incredibly useful, but getting them up there can be a bit tricky depending on the surrounding conditions.

A team of researchers from Caltech University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have designed an elegant and eye-catching solution: launching a drone from a cannon. 

The new invention saves time and can work under a number of different scenarios, not to mention it's exciting.


JPL and Caltech's cannon drone

The engineers named their invention SQUID, and it stands for Streamlined Quick Unfolding Investigation Drone. It resembles a squid, as well as one of those spinning Nerf Vortex balls.

New System of Propelling Drones out of Cannons Is the Fastest, Safest, and Most Exciting Way
SQUID. Source: NASA JPL-Caltech

It measures 27 centimeters (under a foot), weighs 530 grams (18 ounces), and has four spring rotor arms that fall into place in under a tenth of a second after the drone is launched. 

The way the SQUID drone becomes airborne is through a pneumatic baseball pitching machine, aka: the cannon. The cannon gives the SQUID a starting speed of around 56 km per hour (35 miles per hour).

The four rotors start to move at 200 milliseconds after the SQUID is launched, and the drone is hovering in under a second. 

All very impressive. 

New System of Propelling Drones out of Cannons Is the Fastest, Safest, and Most Exciting Way
The SQUID propulsion. Source: NASA JPL-Caltech

By launching a drone ballistically, it starts operating much more quickly than if it were to launch from a standstill position. On top of this, the SQUID has more flexibility than standstill drones as it can be launched from moving objects. 

The team put the cannon and SQUID to the test as they drove at 80 km per hour (50 miles an hour) and launched the drone from the back of their moving pickup truck. 

This type of launch makes the drone useful for a number of operations. For instance, military units and emergency responders would be able to launch surveillance drones much more quickly.

The researchers shared their research paper on arXiv, where they explain that, "A rotorcraft greatly expands the data collection range of a rover, and allows access to sites that a rover would find impassible."

This isn't the first launchable drone to be built, however, it is the first of its kind to have multi-rotor designs — offering it more flexibility than previous fixed-wing ones. 


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