2011: The Year of the Drone

This past year we have seen a dramatic rise in robotic inventions and implementations.  To name THE invention of the year is difficult as there has been so many worthwhile innovations.   There  has also been so many notable robotic news stories in 2011. First, South Korea is by far the leader of the robotic world with its own fully automated city.  Second, FoxConn, the Chinese factory that makes the iPad and iPhone, receives the labor award for its sinister plot to replace a million human workers with robots.  Then, of course, there are list of nonsensical machines like a laundry folding device and pet dog. However, if I had to award a grand prize it would go to the US Military’s fleet of drones.

This past year we have seen hundreds of successful drone attacks against terrorist worldwide. These hits have saved lives, and put soldiers in the center of the battlefield with their intelligence vs. just braun. The role of drones is not limited to killing, but anytime there is a situation deemed too dangerous for humans to enter.  This means we now can deliver aid to refugees in the middle of war torn Africa.  In fact, two weeks ago the US Marines used an unmanned aerial vehicle Squadron to deliver 3,500 pounds of food and supplies to its troops at Combat Outpost Payne.  The delivery system was the K-MAX helicopter.

The unmanned K-MAX is built by Kaman and Lockheed-Martin, and according to its designers i t can can lift its own weight — 6,000 pounds – at sea level.  In addition, using a carousel system the aircraft can lift four 750-pound pallets or drop supplies at four remote locations within a 10-meter circle using GPS coordinates.  “An entire mission can be done autonomously with nobody controlling the aircraft other than the person who programmed the mission beforehand,” said Dan Spoor, Lockheed Martin aviation systems vice president.

In addition, K-MAX is very affordable costing only $1,100 an hour to operate, acceding  “The cost savings come through not having to deploy a crew,” Spoor said. “The cost to operate and maintain the aircraft is significantly less than the cost of maintaining a manned aircraft in the field.”  Spoor states that the design is focused on removing the “threat of putting people in harm’s way when you are moving cargo around” (day or night he added).

While many kids play with remote controlled devices, more and more this fantasy is the reality of our new 21st century heroes. As we herald in 2012, let’s raise our glass to those fighting drones in green protecting lives and building a promising future. Happy New Year!


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