Engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and CalTech have developed a quadcopter drone that can be fired from a cannon as a method of safe deployment in crowded and wind-driven environments. Known as SQUID (Streamlined Quick Unfolding Investigation Drone), the drone is a football-shaped quadcopter that is launched from a tube, deploys its rotors, and stabilizes itself before flying to its objective. The design offers minimal risk during takeoff (avoiding obstacles, debris, people, etc.), and becomes airborne faster than conventional drones.
The SQUID weighs in at 530 grams and measures just over eight centimeters in diameter and features passive arms outfitted with TMotors’ Air40 motors, which are powered by a Tattu 850mAh battery. The battery is placed in the nose of the drone to maintain stability, while the rest of the electronics are positioned below it, which includes a Pixracer running PX4 (for autopilot), DAL 5050 propellers, and a FrSky R-RXR receiver. The drone’s arms are equipped with torsion spring hinges that unfold the propellers immediately after launch.
The cannon that launches the SQUID is a modified pneumatic baseball pitching machine that fires the drone out of its barrel at 35mph at the height of 10-meters. It only takes the drone’s 3D printed arms 70 milliseconds to deploy after exiting the cannon, while the rotors get up to speed at just 200 milliseconds, meaning the SQUID is airborne and flying in under a second.
The engineers demonstrated the drone’s capabilities by launching it from the back of a truck traveling at 50mph, proving that the prototype can handle strong winds while achieving flight. They also note that the SQUID design is scalable, and are currently working on creating larger and smaller versions of the craft.