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Watch this foldable drone get fired out of a cannon before flying away

Design of a Ballistically-Launched Foldable Multirotor

Firing a drone out of a cannon isn’t just a really cool way to put it into flight. There are some sound reasons for the design, which means it could become a real-world product at some point in the future.

Developed by engineers at Caltech University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, the SQUID (Streamlined Quick Unfolding Investigation Drone) is a football-shaped quadcopter that you can launch rather like a ballistic missile.

The drone itself is 10.6 inches long and tips the scales at 1.12 pounds, while the launch cannon is actually a modified pneumatic baseball pitching machine.

As the video above shows, the cannon can fire the drone high into the sky from a stationary position or from a moving vehicle traveling as fast as 50 mph. When it reaches its highest point, SQUID’s four spring-loaded rotor arms automatically flip into place before its internal motors fire up to send it into flight.

Caltech and Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The team behind the design says SQUID is ideal for launch in crowded, cluttered environments as the operator can use the cannon can select a direction of travel to ensure fast and safe deployment. It also lets you send the drone skyward from an unstable platform, making the start of a flight easier than it might otherwise be.

These features could make SQUID useful in emergency scenarios such as search missions in disaster areas where a drone needs to work quickly in potentially hazardous environments. With that in mind, the military could also utilize the system in dangerous settings where fast deployment is required, and where exiting an armored vehicle to launch the aircraft would be too risky.

The team also touts the idea of using the drone on space missions, where it could be launched from a planet-exploring rover. NASA is already planning to use a propeller-powered flying machine during its upcoming Mars mission, and with NASA’s own engineers working on SQUID, don’t be surprised to see it heading to space some time (on a rocket, not fired there …)

SQUID is 3D-printable and has enough thrust to allow it to carry what the team describes as a “significant” payload, which would expand its usefulness across a range of different missions.

It’s certainly an exciting design and we’re keen to see how its creators develop it from here.

If you’re looking for a more conventional drone for some aerial adventures, then you have plenty of choices that include everything from the Mavic 2 Pro at the pricier end to the more wallet-friendly Mavic Mini.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
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