Thinking Tech

Killer drone by day, rescue drone by night

Killer drone by day, rescue drone by night

Posting in Technology

A new remote-controlled helicopter is able to detect human movement and breathing through walls, floors, and even rubble.

If you're hiding, it's a terror. If you're trapped, it's a godsend. In any case, the TiaLinx Phoenix40-A is an incredible creature.

Armed with an "ultra-wideband, multi-Gigahertz radio frequency sensor array" this disarmingly small heli-drone is able to survey structures for living things, sensing both movement and breathing without the need for direct line of sight.  The Phoenix40-A can be controlled live with a joystick, or sent to take readings along predefined waypoints. In both cases, it returns its observations in real time.

The drone borrows its RF scanner technology from its ground-based predecessor, the Phoenix20-H, which most closely resembles a bomb retrieval robot. The 20-H, like the 40-A, was developed with military funding, and both are touted first and foremost as devices for combat.

The mini-UAV system is capable of performing dual functions as a motion detector as well as probing for breathing of a hiding person in a compound...

The company's CEO, Fred Mohamadi, describes other, non-human-centric capabilities as well, saying, "[the 40-A] can scan a multi-story building and provide its layout. It is also capable of scanning in-road and off-road horizontally to detect buried unexploded ordnance."

This is quite obviously a useful tool in common military and police situations; it's easy to imagine how the ability to "see" inside a building, to estimate the properties of its interior, to gauge how many people are inside and to know where they are at the very moment would make a lot of soldiers'--or police officers'--lives much easier.

But civilian uses, which TiaLinx only hints at, could be where the Phoenix series of robots really comes into its own.

Imagine a drone hovering over the wreckage in an earthquake-ravaged Haiti, marking survivors amidst the sea of rubble. Or buzzing over a devastated Northern Japan, discovering the trapped and wounded before stunned rescue personnel have even been mobilized. The consequences of any kind of disaster that produces heaps of rubble and stranded survivors could be mitigated by one or both of these drones, which would be able to separate the human sounds from the inhuman, and provide a previously impossible glimpse into collapsed or inaccessible structures.

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John Herrman

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Herrman is a freelance writer based in New York City. He is also contributing editor at Gizmodo. He holds a degree from the University of Edinburgh. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure