Aeryon Scout Quadrotor Spies On Bad Guys From Above

This small UAV has helped bring down drug traffickers in Central America and also monitor the oil spill in the Gulf

2 min read
Aeryon Scout Quadrotor Spies On Bad Guys From Above

aeryon scout quadrotor uav

Quadrotors are literally taking off. Just this year we’ve seen a quadrotor carrying a Kinect sensor, a mini quadrotor DIY project, and even a quadrotor that juggles. But quadrotors are also flying out of the laboratory and finding “professional” applications—like spying on bad guys from above.

Case in point: The Aeryon Scout, created by Canadian company Aeryon Labs, is a small UAV that can quietly hover in place and point its powerful camera to people and objects on the ground. The company claims that the machine has played a key role in a drug bust in Central America by providing visual surveillance of a narco-trafficker’s compound deep in the jungle (Aeryon won’t reveal the country’s name and other specifics).

The Scout has a range of 3 kilometers and maximum speed of 50 kilometers per hour. It can fly through wind gusts of up to 80 km/h, and even the brutal Canadian winter won’t affect its performance. It weighs just over a kilogram, and you can carry it disassembled in a case and put it together quickly by snapping its rotors into the main body. You can choose between an optical zoom digital camera or a thermal camera, for nighttime surveillance, and the machine’s camera mount is gyro-stabilized, so even if the UAV is moving, it can keep it locked on a target.

Here’s a video of the Scout carrying a 10X optical zoom camera:

But what the Aeryon Labs folks are most proud of is its usability. The Scout uses a touchscreen-based control interface, which the company says is much easier to master than traditional controllers. The Scout carries an onboard computer, GPS, gyros, and other sensors that do most of the heavy lifting in terms of stabilization and positioning. The pilot uses a tablet PC to direct the machine in a Google Maps-style view and monitor live video streamed from the UAV.

Aeryon Labs, founded in 2007 by Waterloo University graduates, says that one police force, the Halton Regional Police, in Canada, is already using the Scout, and others are testing it. A company called Geo-Rhea is flying it to collect environmental data, including, for example, the size of coal piles. And BP used several Scouts to monitor the oil spill during its clean-up efforts in the Gulf.

More images:

aeryon labs scout quadrotor uav

aeryon labs scout quadrotor uav

aeryon labs scout quadrotor uav

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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