The SQ-4 UAV.

Middlesex students create flying camera that could save British soldiers lives

Three students from Middlesex University have designed and created the UK's first lightweight outdoor flying spy camera that can fit in a soldier’s backpack.

Named SQ-4, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is operational in less than a minute, weighs only 230 grams and is around the diameter of a frisbee. Controlled by a handheld remote control, it is designed to hover silently either day or night to spot hidden dangers and feed real-time footage back to goggles worn by the operator. It can inform the soldier of information such as the latitude and longitude of their vehicle, the distance between the location and the home point and even its direction, ensuring they remain orientated at all times. Its intelligent system also allows the SQ-4 to autonomously fly from its last position to its launch point.   

According to its student creators Mehmet Ali Erbil, Mantas Brazinskas and Witek Mielniczek, the SQ-4's size, hovering capabilities and night lens is unmatchable to the military's current devices which are larger and incapable of hovering; therefore much more likely to be detected. In addition, similar systems currently used in Afghanistan are much more expensive, resulting in fewer being deployed. As the SQ-4 is a fraction of their cost, many more soldiers could be equipped with them.

How the project came about

25-year-old Mehmet Ali Erbil graduated in 2009 with a Bsc Engineering Design degree from Middlesex University and is now in the second year of his PhD investigating reconfigurable landing gears for UAVs. The student team was lead by robotics expert Dr Stephen Prior and the SQ-4 was created in partnership with Cardiff-based BCB International.

“BCB International wanted to collaborate with us and asked us to submit a proposal to build a small UAV for the MoD," says Erbil.  “After several discussions with BCB we came to the final design of a UAV which can be deployed in 30 seconds and is man portable in a backpack,” he continues.

The project was not without its problems, but these were overcome.

“In small UAV's of this size, mass is always an issue,” says Erbil, “so we had to constantly watch the scales as we built up our system. Innovative fabrication methods helped in keeping the weight down and keeping the whole system looking sleek.”

Erbil would like to see the SQ-4 used in frontline military operations.

“The idea is to have these small UAV's given to the foot soldiers on the frontline where they need it the most: to look over the wall, around a building, over the trees etc.”

The SQ-4 was unveiled by the team at last month’s Defence and Security Equipment International 2011 exhibition, along with another UAV the team have developed called the HALO. Here they held a demonstration viewed by tens of thousands of visitors and military personnel from across the globe. Erbil and his teammates hope that the SQ-4 will garner interest from the show and in the future, help save lives on the frontline.

“This could make solders even more effective at scanning areas for bombs, traps or suspicious activity as current systems are cumbersome and costly so their use is more limited. SQ-4 could give British troops the competitive edge and reduce their vulnerability in unfamiliar terrains,” Erbil says.

Future projects

Looking forward, Erbil plans to continue his work looking at and adapting the UAV's landing gears.

“My PhD is about reconfiguring the landing gear of a UAV so that it can adapt to its surroundings and therefore land on multiple surfaces, in essence increasing its capabilities.” says Erbil, who would like to finish his PhD and then find a job in the field of military robotics.

Interested in seeing there SQ-4 in action? Here's a video of the SQ-4 being demonstrated in a mock war zone at the Defence and Security Equipment International 2011 exhibition. 

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