The SWAT team surrounds the compound.  An officer tosses a maple seed into an open window and checks the readout on his computer.  The team bursts in and, surprising the terrorists, rescues the hostages safely.

This scenario may become a reality, thanks to a new flying robot called Samarai, fashioned after the winged “samara” shape of the maple seed.  A high-energy video clip at Live Science tells the story of a tiny drone developed by Lockheed Martin for the military.  Engineers analyzed the shape of the seed’s wing and studied its flight dynamics.  Then they outfitted a plastic replica with a motor and a camera to create their miniature surveillance tool.

Like a maple seed, Samarai has the advantage of very stable flight.  It can be launched from the floor, by a flick of the wrist, or from an elevated platform.  A remote control allows the operator to make it rise or turn in an any direction, or hover indefinitely.  (See “Introducing the Maple Copter,” 10/21/2009.)

One problem was how to produce images on a spinning camera.  The team developed software that can take out the blur and stitch together the frames into a normal wide-angle motion picture, providing a stable 360° image.  This would allow our imaginary SWAT team to see inside the building to pinpoint the location of the terrorists and hostages.  The military would love to have these on the battlefield for reconnaissance….

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