We published a Technology Foresight brief recently about the future civilian applications of UAVs, so it was fortuitous that I happened to meet Rich Goodwyn, a retired Navy captain who works at Prioria Robotics, for lunch last week. Standing by his car, he pulled out a large poster canister and removed the Maveric mini UAV. The flexible ripstop nylon wings wrap around the carbon fiber body so when he removed it from the case, it literally "popped" as the wings took their natural shape. This is one slick bird... which its supposed to be. Thanks to the carbon fiber camouflage, the Maveric actually looks like one in flight.
Defense Review has a great writeup about the Maveric for all those interested. They also shot this video where you can watch it "pop" out of the canister:
While the Maveric is generally marketed to the military for its intelligence gathering and offensive strike capabilities, the potential civilian applications are also quite impressive. It can be fitted with several types of attachments, one of which is an optics system/Google Maps mashup. As the Maveric flies silently overhead, it continuously photographs everything below in high definition. When the images are downloaded, Prioria's software converts them into a detailed mosaic overlayed on Google maps which provide a near real-time, extremely detailed view of the ground below. This would be ideal for search and rescue missions where it could be easily transported, hand launched, and map the area within 20 minutes. Local fire and police departments could deploy these with an IR camera that would identify heat signatures to locate missing hikers or those trapped in rubble after a building collapse or natural disaster. Other immediate applications could include surveying land for the real estate and construction industries.
There are still major hurdles for civilian use of UAVs, which we reviewed in our Technology Foresight brief. One is the current FAA regulations which limit UAVs to fly below 400 feet and remain in visible sight of the controller. President Obama signed the FAA reauthorization bill this year which opens the door "to 'integrate' UAVs into national airspace," though some estimate the new rules won't take effect until 2015.
That means we might need to wait a bit longer before the Tacocopter makes those delicious unmanned midnight deliveries.
originally posted at the Trend and Foresight Blog.