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Master of Scaremonies
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Robotic Frisbees of Death

It ain't easy, picking out evil-doers in the urban canyons of the Middle East; there are so many places to hide. Taking 'em out can be even harder, what with all those noncombatants hanging nearby. But the Air Force thinks it might have an answer to this most vexing problem in counter-insurgency: frisbees.

Not just any frisbees, mind you. Robotic frisbees. Heavily armed robotic frisbees.

The Air Force recently tapped Triton Systems, out of Chelmsford, Mass, to develop such a "Modular Disc-Wing Urban Cruise Munition."

"The 3-D maneuverability of the Frisbee-UAV [unammned aerial vehicle] will provide revolutionary tactical access and lethality against hostiles hiding in upper story locations and/or defiladed behind obstacles," the company promises.

The circular drones will be lanuched "from munitions dispensers or by means of a simple mechanism similar to a shotgun target (skeet) launcher," Triton adds. Once in the air, they'll be tele-operated by soldiers on the ground. Or, if needed, the fightin' frisbees will pilot themselves as they hunt for guerrillas.

Once they catch up to the baddies, the drones will use a series of armor-piercing explosives, shooting jets of molten metal, to eliminate their targets. And these MEFP [Multiple Explosively Formed Penetrator] "warheads will be controllable so as to provide a single large fragment (bunker-buster) or tailorable pattern of smaller fragments (unprotected infantry or light utility vehicles)." The decision of whether to go bunker-buster or infantry-annihilator mode can either be determined by the drones' human operators, "or autonomous target classification routine built into the UAV."

Now, Triton's Frisbee-UAV concept isn't the first time roboticists have looked into disc-shaped drones. From 1992 to 1998, the Navy experimented with a set of unmanned, 250-pound, six-foot-diameter flying saucers. In 2002, Norweigan researchers showed off plans for a circular flying robot "inspired at least partly by the design of Star Trek's USS Enterprise," New Scientist noted.

Around the same time, at the University of Manchester, Jonathan Potts studied how best to control UAVs "based on the Frisbee TM sports disc shape."

"The Frisbee disc has proven its potential on the sports field as a platform for short free-flights," Potts wrote back in an '01 paper. Without "predefined flight orientation," a Frisbee drone "offers novel flight characteristics and manoeuvrability. It is potentially suitable for a variety of mission objectives fulfilling surveillance, communications, munitions and/or airborne radar warning systems."

These days, Potts is focusing less on Frisbee-shaped robots -- and more on Frisbee competitors. "In recent years Jonny has applied his scientific knowledge to develop a range of sports discs with improved aerodynamic performance," says the website of his new company, which makes a line of "super-durable" spinners for $16 apiece. Explosives and robotic controls are not included.
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