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.
Erico Guizzo is the digital product manager at IEEE Spectrum. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.