Japanese inventor develops flying sphere drone

Aug 05, 2011 by Miwa Suzuki
About the size of a beachball and jet black, the remote-controlled Spherical Air Vehicle resembles a tiny 'Death Star'
Advanced Defense Technology Centre Engineer Fumiyuki Sato displays his spherical observation drone in Tokyo. Sato has invented a spherical observation drone that can fly down narrow alleys, hover on the spot, take off vertically and bounce along the ground.

A Japanese defence researcher has invented a spherical observation drone that can fly down narrow alleys, hover on the spot, take off vertically and bounce along the ground.

About the size of a beachball and jet black, the remote-controlled Spherical Air Vehicle resembles a tiny Death Star from the Star Wars movies but has a more benign purpose -- to transmit live images from a video camera.

It is powered by a propeller protected by a spherical shield with large openings for airflow, meaning a knock into a wall or a tumble to the ground will not damage it.

Research to improve the device is continuing, but its designer says that in the future it could be used as a formidable pursuit vehicle that can travel above traffic or spy on a target through a window.

Its inventor in pacifist Japan hopes it could also help with non-aggressive operations, such as search and rescue in disaster zones, where it could fly through buildings and even up and down stairways.

"This is the world's first spherical air vehicle," said its developer, Fumiyuki Sato, a research engineer at the Defence Ministry's Technical Research and Development Institute in Tokyo.

Fact file on a spherical spy-drone invented by a Japanese defence researcher
Fact file on a spherical spy-drone invented by a Japanese defence researcher

The latest model, the seventh prototype, is equipped with a single , shielded by the shell, with flaps and wings to control its flight, and can zip through the air at up to 60 kilometres (37 miles) per hour.

Sato said all its components can be found in shops in Tokyo's electronic tech-geek heaven of Akihabara, at 100-yen shops where every item sells for about a dollar, or on the Internet.

The motor at the core is contained by a modified plastic bottle, and the total cost for the parts come to 110,000 yen ($1,400) for the latest model, which weighs just 350 grams (12.3 ounces) and has a diameter of 42 centimetres (16.8 inches).

Sato admits that many hurdles remain before the flying sphere can be put to practical use, including adding an autopilot function and finding ways to cope with turbulence and poor weather conditions.

The current model could not, for example, be used at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, crippled by the March 11 quake and tsunami, because it can only fly within the field of vision of the controller, he said.

"Even though I can see footage from the mounted camera, it would be very difficult to control this" using the video, Sato said, noting that the drone floats in the air at a very delicate balance and cannot stop quickly.

Nonetheless, Sato sees a range of possible missions for the in future.

A more advanced model, he said, could hover above a motorcade for security, or, if in pursuit of a fleeing target, "it could go below an electric cable, fly above the next one, and then turn a street corner."

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not rated yet Aug 05, 2011
Video: http://www.reuter...17093066
The sound of these reminds me of the "Mantrid Drones".
5 / 5 (1) Aug 05, 2011
No brakes...
2.7 / 5 (3) Aug 05, 2011
It's a helicopter with no landing gear....the body chassis has simply been made round & landing gear dropped. After he's landed this a few times to fix the rotating mechanisms that become damaged after hard landings, it'll just become another one of those curiosities with no practical applications.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 05, 2011
Not news. This was already reported about a year ago.
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 05, 2011
this would not last at all in the US, they look like really fun targets with a handgun.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 05, 2011
somebody at physorg must love this invention as they have already run articles about it before.

not rated yet Aug 05, 2011
Reminds me of that probe Darth Vader used on Leia in episode 4. :)
not rated yet Aug 05, 2011
8 minute run time makes this a tad useless, I would think.

Though I could see automated "drones" controlled by a central node or computer bank with long-term power supplies being adopted very quickly. Assuming we have a relevant, useful breakthru concerning battery technology.
not rated yet Aug 05, 2011
Aerial photo reconnaissance for Mars. Will keep track of all those pesky mechanical life forms we thoughtlessly let loose to scurry and roam the surface. Yes. Old news. New ideas for implementation.
not rated yet Aug 05, 2011
Mars, no, the atmosphere is far too thin. But here, perhaps with a lap-top's fuel-cell 'battery' and some extra smarts, it could be useful for house searches and security...
not rated yet Aug 05, 2011
Too thin? At least parachutes work. A colonized Mars with balloons and zeppelins. lol

One day I will have material goods enough to make searches and security useful. Wait. Having material goods means having a carbon footprint! A path leading directly to me. There's no hiding anywhere these days.
not rated yet Aug 06, 2011
I can totally see a LOT of uses for this...but seriously, making these things is a joke if they only fly for 5-10 minutes. That is effectively useful to get where you're going, die out, and fall onto the ground...congrats, you now have $1400 target for the criminal it was following.
Even stupider...jet packs...don't even say you have any of these flying apparatuses until they can last longer than an impotent in bed.
not rated yet Aug 07, 2011
I bought a small toy helicopter for about $30 - seems to do most of the things claimed for the sphere - doesn't have a camera and transmitter - but I bet if I went up market and paid say $200 for my helicopter it would have enough payload to carry a video link costing a few dollars. So all-in-all what's new here ( apart from the cost)?