CSIRO launches Mantis

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Today, on the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' flight, CSIRO ushered in a “new era using unmanned aircraft”, by launching Mantis, an 'intelligent small helicopter'.

The CSIRO Mantis is a low-cost, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) helicopter for autonomous flight, which could be used in high risk situations.

Dr Peter Corke of CSIRO Complex Systems Integrations heralded a “new era using unmanned aircraft” and said Mantis could be key in saving lives in situations such as bushfires and air sea rescues.

“Mantis makes it possible for fleets of small drone helicopters to do jobs now done by conventional aircraft,” Corke said in a statement.

He also spelt out the financial viability of using UAVs for tasks such as mapping, traffic monitoring and reports on infrastructure over more expensive manual topographical research without laser mapping.

Comprised of an off-the-shelf model helicopter and existing non-specific computer parts, CSIRO said the big breakthrough with this unit was the software and gyroscopic “middle-ear” inertial measurement unit to help maintain stability whilst hovering by offering levels of remote control over pan, tilt and altitude.

Mantis features two underside mounted cameras for stereo vision, capable of determining altitude and airspeed, while a third front-mounted camera is for direction and recognition of any dangers in the flight path.

Although unable to confirm an actual price on a built system due to so many configuration variables, CSIRO was able to confirm the unit could in the tens of thousands of dollars.

In development for two years and piggybacking on the broader eight-year robotic projects research the unit weighs just 2kg, although the goal is to halve that weight to improve mobility and flight time. Test runs yielded approximately 30-45mins of flying although the migration to a different chassis may offer better results as the hardware is transferable between housings, according to CSIRO.

Designed for the commercial market, as yet there are no plans or research dollars being put into the military application of the units, according to CSIRO's statement. Corke assured that “CSIRO's mandate is for civilian [usage]” and “asset management”.

Although only in the stage of infancy, he expected the technology to progress in both ability and rate of deployment with maturity.

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