|Progress in the MoD Grand Challenge: Part 1||- Progress 1|
You can download a copy of the original pdf version in full.
See Introduction to helicopter flying: Part 3 for details on the Raptor 50 helicopter.
Marcel fuels the Raptor50 prior to its first flight. We plan to replace the fuel tank with a larger capacity tank to increase the flight duration.
Dominic, our "Test Pilot" watches preparations for the flight
Starting the high performance, 2 stroke, OS Engines Hyper 50 engine. This is not so great: needing to carry around a lead acid battery for the glow plug and a heavy starter to start the engine.
Both rotors turning: ready for lift off!
Amazingly stable hover capabilities...
We are going to need some more work on:
1. reducing the noise level
2. reducing the amount of smoke given off
3. increasing the amount of fuel carried to increase the flight time
Flying the Raptor 50 at our North London air test centre.
Now with both of us wearing safety glasses.
Hmmm... we will need to reduce that exhaust smoke.
Conclusions so far: the Thunder Tiger Raptor 50
Above: picking the large helicopter up from Marcel.
Below: starting up...
Up, up and away.
This helicopter is realy easy to fly, but far more noisy than we expected! The high pitch noise seems to us to be more than just helicopter blade noise: possibly a high pitch contribution from the brushless electric motor.
Above: Dominic keeping the large helicopter in a stable hover for just over ten minutes in an urban environment.
Below: you can clearly see the massive 5,350 mAh LiPo battery on the front of the helicopter.
Conclusion so far:
by Ian Sample, Science Correspondent from The Guardian
2nd May 2008
An unmanned aerial still camera helicopter, held by Joseph Barnard. Photograph: Martin Argles
"We call it boys' toys for warfare," bellows Chris Burgess, as the hip-hop act Stromkern roars "Come Armageddon come" from the plasma screen behind him.
On the video a radio-controlled buggy is zipping along a dusty street, its onboard camera swivelling left and right, on the lookout for snipers and roadside bombs that might lie ahead.
Burgess belongs to one of 11 teams unveiled as finalists in the Ministry of Defence's most ambitious - and unusual - attempt to bring hi-tech science to the frontline. Called the Grand Challenge, the £4m project calls on engineers to design a robot that can scour an urban area for enemy combatants and explosives and report back, preferably without human intervention.
Among the finalists are a swarm of tiny helicopters that can peer into windows, a flying saucer, and what looks like a scaled-down version of a JCB. By August the teams, a hotch-potch of defence companies, universities and sixth form colleges, will go head-to-head over three weeks to decide on a winner. The battle will be played out on the streets of Copehill Down, a mock-up of an East German village built in the Wiltshire countryside during the cold war.
The competition will test each robot's ability to go into the village and spot different threats, including snipers, groups of gunmen, armed vehicles and improvised explosive devices or IEDs. Teams will be docked points for missing threats, being slow and targeting harmless civilians lurking among the buildings.
"It's a very tough challenge," said Andy Wallace at the MoD. "They have to deploy, move around by themselves and avoid obstacles, while locating and identifying things that pose a threat before reporting back." The challenge is a tacit admission that the large defence companies which provide the British military's frontline technology rarely come up with the most imaginative ideas.
By throwing open the challenge to all comers the government aims to tap the brainpower of smaller companies and individual researchers. The idea was pioneered by the Pentagon, whose own Grand Challenge was set up to encourage new technology for driverless vehicles.
The winner will receive the RJ Mitchell trophy, named after the father of the Spitfire and moulded from metal recycled from one of the second world war fighter planes. Those who perform best will get backing from the MoD to turn their robots into gadgets that will support soldiers in the future.
Team Mira, one of the finalists backed by BAE Systems and involving students from Guildford's Royal Grammar school sixth form, has built a ground-based buggy that uses a laser scanner, thermal imaging and cameras to scan the streets for signs of danger. To check rooftops and other inaccessible areas the buggy automatically launches a flying saucer-like vehicle that can hover over buildings and send images back to base. "It's a bit like Wacky Races," says team member Richard Adams.
Another of the finalists, Swarm Systems, is putting its faith in eight "quadrotors" - small, flat helicopters the size of dinner plates that will fly into the village in formation and beam back video and sound. Microphones built into the aerial vehicles filter out everything except voices. The helicopters are designed to take off autonomously and can fly a few metres above the ground. "We're working on a version that you'll just pull out of your bag and throw into the air," said Owen Holland, an engineer on the team from Essex University. "Hopefully it's not going to give anyone a haircut."
At Bruton school for girls in Somerset three sixth formers joined the Silicon Valley team to develop surveillance vehicles for the challenge. The team plumped for a powered glider, a hot air balloon and a kite. The balloon and kite will be tethered and carry cameras high above the village, while the plane feeds back live video to glasses worn by its operator.
Burgess, of the Mindsheet team, says they hope to enter several robotic cars in the final that automatically drive to vantage points before beaming video of the village back to base. In his view many of the finalists' robots are too elaborate for war zones. "A lot of these teams have got flying machines or big vehicles, but they'll be on eBay within minutes of arriving in Afghanistan," he said. "And with ours, you could put some P4 explosive on the back, drive it into a compound and detonate it. It's fun and gets the job done."
Wallace, who says the MoD anticipates an "enjoyable and fun event", said: "Each of the teams has something unique and interesting.
"If we see something we like we'll either make them an offer or find another way to help them develop the technology."
Amoung the contenders