The military sees a need for a flying robot that can swoop into an enemy position, transition to wheel or track mode, and then get busy icing bad guys--something along the lines of the Griffon UGV/UAV Air Mobility System.
While unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can wing in quickly to reconnoiter or attack enemy positions, they can't follow a target into a cave or a building. Unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), on the other hand, can enter structures, search for targets, and examine them at close range, but they're slower than UAVs, have less range, and are limited by rough terrain.
Awhile back, the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command and the Armaments Research, Development, and Engineering Center funded an iRobot team led by Brian Yamauchi and Pavlo Rudakevych to develop a solution. They came up with the Griffon (PDF), an iRobot PackBot prototype strapped to a gasoline-powered, propeller-driven, radio-controlled, steerable parafoil system. The UVG hangs from a superstructure on which is mounted a 32cc Fuji engine behind an 18- by 8-inch propeller.
For the parafoil, the team considered a wide range of extreme sport kite surfing and traction wings but settled on the 11-meter Ozone Razor. This parafoil is attached by two hang points on the sides, with two arms to control the wing surface and a quick release to jettison the whole contraption on touchdown.The PackBot's on-board computer does the driving and controls the gas. Video, audio, and autonomous ground GPS navigation is also a standard PackBot feature.
The kit is designed to be man-packable and could be used by civilian teams for search-and-rescue in hazardous terrain in addition to military recon and strike missions in urban environments, according to the researchers.
A prototype was tested a few years age and apparently worked well, although it wasn't much to look at. It took off, soared up to 200 feet, landed, and then moved out at speeds of more than 20mph, all under remote control--a first, according to the inventors Yamauchi and Rudakevych. Unfortunately, that's the last it was heard of. The concept deserves another look; it has the makings of a great DARPA challenge.