Supposedly, Iran Has Supposedly Constructed a Robotic 'Flying Saucer' (Supposedly)

An Iranian news agency is reporting that Iran has, and I quote, "unveiled a home-made unmanned flying saucer"

2 min read
Supposedly, Iran Has Supposedly Constructed a Robotic 'Flying Saucer' (Supposedly)

Iran's Fars News Agency, which is generally acknowledged to be "semi-official" with ties to the Iranian government, is reporting the unveiling of "a home-made flying saucer." Here's the picture that they posted along with their article:

Seriously. Check the link. I mean, I would have just chalked this up to a hilariously misunderstood translation, but, well... That's their picture.

I apologize for simply quoting their article here, but I'm worried that if I don't, you're all going to think that this is just one big joke:

"The unmanned flying saucer, named "Zohal", was unveiled in a ceremony attended by Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.

Zohal, designed and developed jointly by Farnas Aerospace Company and Iranian Aviation and Space Industries Association (IASIA), can be used for various missions, specially for aerial imaging.

The flying machine is equipped with an auto-pilot system, GPS (Global Positioning System) and two separate imaging systems with full HD 10 mega-pixel picture quality and is able to take and send images simultaneously.

Zohal uses a small, portable navigation and monitoring center for transmission of data and images and can fly in both outdoor and indoor spaces."

Okay so obviously, if it can fly in indoor spaces, it's probably (probably) not the giant flying saucer blurrily hovering over a forest like in the picture. I did some digging, and a few other (less "semi-official") Iranian news sites refer to this thing as a "cuadrotor." Ohhh, okay Iran, you made yourself a quadrotor. Well that straightens that out, I guess, if we're going to assume that Fars News is just messing with us and Iran does not in fact have an actual robotic flying saucer.

And what if they did have an actual robotic flying saucer? It might not look like the thing in their picture, but it could easily be something like this:

Yep, that's an actual flying saucer UAV. It's called a Coandă effect UAV, in reference to the effect that causes air (or any fluid) to tend to stick to a curved surface. The UAV has a rotor at the top that thrusts air downward, and the air sticks to the body of the UAV, flowing around and down over the curved bottom edge to provide lift and thrust. Vanes around the edges of the UAV are used for steering and to counter the torque of the single rotor. While Coandă effect UAVs are generally not as efficient as helicopters, they're dynamically balanced in flight and have a rotor that's both enclosed and smaller than the body of the UAV, making them much more resilient.

So an Iranian Coandă effect UAV is within the realm of possibility, but I'm still betting that Iran has just put together a regular old quadrotor with GPS guidance and a data downlink. Pretty cool, but sadly, it's no flying saucer.

[ Fars News ] via [ Daily Mail ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

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

"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.

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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