It’s called the SQUID (Streamlined Quick Unfolding Investigation Drone), and it’s a quadcopter drone, but it’s quite different from the usual kind of drones you might find at your local electronics store. Developed by Caltech and JPL, SQUID launches from a tube, unfolds in mid-air and then fires up its motors to stabilise itself and fly as normal.
It’s designed as a quick response drone, with minimal risk or energy required during takeoff to maximise the flight time. It also allows it to overcome some of the issues of launching regular drones. Issues like having to have a flat stable platform to take off from, and being able to get high enough, quickly enough, so that it’s out of the way of people and things on the ground.
It reminds me a lot of the PowerEgg drone we saw a few years ago at Photokina, except, the SQUID is much lighter, coming in at a mere 530g vs the 2,100g of the PowerEgg. Also, it has a ring of fins along the bottom to help guide it into the air after being launched from its cannon.
The prototype for SQUID was presented at IOS in Macau, pitched from a pneumatic baseball pitching machine, and then extending it outs rotors after reaching an altitude of around 10 metres. And as the video at the top illustrates, it can even be launched from a moving vehicle, as demonstrated by a truck travelling 50mph.
The implications for this type of a drone launching mechanism are pretty awesome. With the wildfires that have been going crazy in Australia and California this year, being able to quickly launch drones in the air to survey the surrounding fire or potentially look for victims stuck in blocked off areas would be a pretty big deal to fire and rescue services.
Of course, they could do this right now with existing drone technology. But they would have to stop and launch the drone manually which, in an emergency situation, is time they often cannot afford to waste. A launch system like that of the SQUID would mean they can just push a button from within the vehicle and send a drone up into the air to monitor what’s going on without having to even slow down.
Other uses for the SQUID concept include exploration of other planetary bodies. No, they’re not going to launch them into space (at least, not directly), but to take up on a probe, offering an improved launch mechanism over current systems. It should also help to increase flight time by reducing the need for rotors to make the climb from a standing start on the ground and draining the battery as quickly.
At the moment SQUID is just a proof of concept, but I think it’s one that should definitely be developed further. You can read more about its design and development here.