Canada develops motorised parachute delivery bot
Forget food and bullets, we need batteries, damn it!
DSEi Here at the DSEi killware show there's a constant parade of robots: crawling, flying, swimming or just sitting still and killing people who walk past. It's relatively difficult for a jaded deathmech hack to muster up much interest... sometimes.
Robot motorchute leaflet dropping. It was inevitable, really.
Now and again, though, you come across something a little bit out of the ordinary - an actual clever notion.
Such a thing is SnowGoose - a flying robot with a difference. Its makers, Canadian company MMIST, were and are suppliers of satnav-guided parachute packs for air-dropping supplies. You strap one of their "Sherpa" GPS-guided parachutes to a pallet of cargo, push it out of a plane at high altitude, and the load flies itself down to land within 100m of where you want it.
Apparently, the US forces' psychological-ops teams were using Sherpas to deliver leaflet drops. Simply chucking leaflets out of a plane at height isn't very effective - the leaflets get caught by the wind and float away to Lord knows where. But you don't always want to fly low over places like Afghanistan. Hence the use of guided chutes.
But each Sherpa costs $20k or so and, in the case of leaflet drops, you don't get it back. Of course, $20k is the same sort of price one pays for a smart bomb - chickenfeed to the mainstream US forces. But the psyop lads don't have a mainstream-type budget.
"They asked us: 'Can you make them come back?'" said Ron Campbell, chairman of MMIST.
"So we came up with SnowGoose."
SnowGoose is essentially a motorised robot parachute, a bit like an automated sports paramotor. It adds a petrol Rotax engine and propellor to the GPS guidance and parachute and, after dropping its load, it will then happily fly away hundreds of miles to home base on its own.
Though designed for air drop, Campbell told the Reg that, in fact, more than 90 percent of SnowGoose operations in the field are launched from the ground. This requires no more than a small team of soldiers and a truck or Humvee to get the canopy up to flying speed. The SnowGoose has taken on many other missions besides leaflet dropping, and is highly prized by the US spec-ops community in Afghanistan for its simplicity and relative unobtrusiveness - as compared to a helicopter, say.
Normally launched from a truck, not a plane.
The SnowGoose is apparently used routinely to resupply US spec-ops teams lurking in the Afghan boondocks.
"It'll fly in, drop off a couple of hundred pounds of batteries, and fly out," says Campbell.
"Maybe some food and water, too, but mainly batteries. God knows what those guys have out there, but it's power hungry."
Apparently MMIST will do you a pair of SnowGeese and support kit for a tad under a million bucks (US), and it can normally be repaired and maintained in the field by ordinary soldiers, rather than needing a base and lots of skilled technicians. That's very cheap and easy to operate for an aircraft that can carry quite useful payloads, and Campbell says that MMIST might offer an even simpler diesel-powered job in future.
Other options apart from cargo modules include propaganda loud-speakers and FM radio broadcast, radio-relay equipment, meteorology payloads and relatively ordinary satcomms-connected spyeye rigs.
Can it carry people?
"That's the first thing that everyone asks," says Campbell.
"It's not supposed to, but these guys get in some situations. It could happen if the alternative is worse."®
>And the main one of course is ammo, but that is not even mentioned, which suggests that they are using energy weapons of some sort, or maybe invisibility cloaks.
They very well may be using invisibility cloaks; check out this video (shot by an "insurgent" & broadcast on what looks like al-Jazeera) of a Spec Ops-type bloke pulling a Predator (about 4/5 the way through the clip) after his tank gets hit by an IED.
600 lbs of fresh water dropped every 2-3 hours by even just a handful (4-6) of these machines could have saved lives, or at the very least improved the extremely poor conditions that existed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. That was in the US, imagine the relief it could bring to a region like Darfur as mentioned.
I am surprised that they have not been provided for that purpose yet. Maybe my MP needs to hear about this. Unfortunately, we Canadians can be very creative, very generous, but I had never heard of this SnowGoose before reading this article.
Of course, strap a hockey stick on it and it would be on the front page of every newspaper in the country ;-)
Sure, if the loss-rate were high, your math works. Mind you, the SnowGeese only have to complete 25 flights each, and they break even. After that, every flight reduces the cost. Plus, the million buys the support gear, too - Additional units are surely less then 500K each, and can be supported by that same gear. Then, there's the fact that the SnowGeese can do things the Sherpa could never do, such as service multiple locations on one run, and go places the Sherpa can never go, such as many, many miles *past* the drop point, or being launched from the ground when there are no aircraft about. How far you think the forward logistics camp is going to huck a Sherpa-equipped crate without air support? If they have a big enough trebuchet, they might be able to deliver to the base's outer sentries. Aircraft time is pretty heavily allocated. With this system, a couple clerks can load up a drone, drive down the main drag of the base in a borrowed truck to launch, then go get lunch, securely confident that their delivery is on its way. Likewise, I'd like to see a Sherpa try to do that nifty leaflet drop...
The Sherpa has its place, but don't be fooled into thinking that the SnowGoose is an expensive boondoggle. It's actually very inexpensive for what it does.
Oh, and about vulnerability - a helicopter has a body of up to 10X the volume of the SnowGoose, and is far, far louder. To shoot a SnowGoose down, you'd need to 1) notice it, and 2) hit a much smaller target. Not so easy as it sounds. Even if you *do* hit it, well... Its parachute is already deployed!