Friday, Aug. 10, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Built in a variety of shapes and sizes, unmanned vehicle systems, commonly known as drones, can travel by land, air or sea and perform a wide variety of tasks.
Whether it’s search and rescue, wilderness exploration or cargo delivery, drones increasingly are being used in nonmilitary applications, and proponents say the potential of the technology is just being tapped.
The Mandalay Bay Convention Center played host this week to a range of vehicles — some sporting rotors, others with heavy-duty tire treads — as well as manufacturers of the chips, sensors and guidance systems that make them run.
The convention, sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, drew more than 500 exhibitors from about 40 countries.
Here’s a look at six vehicles that were on display and what they’re capable of:
Currently used in military applications and for border security, the Honeywell T-hawk uses a large fan to propel itself and its onboard camera through the air.
The vehicle can fly as fast as 46 mph in the air and soar to heights of 10,000 feet for up to 50 minutes at a time.
The T-Hawk is capable of hovering in a stationary position or traveling up to 6 miles from the control center, with its cameras and sensors providing real-time imaging for the entire flight.
Harris Corp. Redhawk
Designed for bomb disposal, the Harris Corp. Redhawk is an articulating robotic arm attached to a small, all-terrain unmanned vehicle made by another manufacturer.
The robotic arm, which stretches 4 feet long when fully extended, ending in a pincer claw, is operated by an intuitive controller that provides the user with tactile feedback for precise manipulation.
“It makes it really easy to learn quickly,” said Paul Bosscher, a chief technologist at Harris. “It’s designed to keep people safe from explosions.”
DJI S800 Hexacopter
This aircraft’s six arms each feature their own rotor, allowing the remote-operated DJI S800 Hexacopter to be easily maneuvered or hover in a stationary position, enabling its camera to get the perfect shot.
The Hexacopter’s gimbal system allows the camera to move independently of the aircraft, providing steady images during flight or in windy conditions.
The Hexacopter’s makers are targeting hobbyists and filmmakers with their product, which retails for $6,500.
“The potential for aerial cinematography is huge because the footage is so stable,” company spokesman Colin Guinn said.
Bluefin Robotics HAUV
For water-based exploration, Bluefin Robotics offers a number of unmanned submersibles, including the Hovering Autonomous Underwater Vehicle.
The HAUV can travel to depths of up to 200 feet and carries sonar imaging technology that makes it ideal for ship hull inspection, port security or scientific research.
“We’re taking divers out of the equation,” said Deanna Talbot, marketing manager for Bluefin.
Applewhite Aero ArduMega
Applewhite Aero's ArduMega isn’t an unmanned vehicle. Instead, it’s a piece of auto-pilot software that turns remote-controlled aircraft into drones capable of flying to precise coordinates miles away without the need for human guidance.
ArduMega retails for $600, about one-10th the cost of other commercial autopilot software, making it much more accessible for the average consumer or business, said President Paul Applewhite.
“It’s basically a toy airplane that we’ve added autopilot to,” he said. “What we’re looking at is potential humanitarian purposes, like delivering supplies to rural villages.”
Boston Dynamics LS3
Boston Dynamics is testing a number of machines that draw design inspiration from animals, including the Legged Squad Support System, which is based on a mule.
The quadruped LS3 is capable of carrying up to 400 pounds of gear up to 20 miles on a single tank of fuel. The robot’s computer vision allows it to follow a leader over uneven terrain.
Boston Dynamics has several other animal-inspired machines, including a cheetah capable of running 25 miles per hour and a flea that is capable of jumping up to 30 feet in the air.