Coming Soon to a Sky Near You: a Pentagon-Backed “Bat Drone”

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 15 2013 5:45 PM

Coming Soon to a Sky Near You: a Pentagon-Backed “Bat Drone”

V-Batt
The V-Bat

Photo courtesy DARPA.

It’s not quite the Batplane. But a new Pentagon-backed autonomous “bat drone" that can use a long claw to pluck objects off of the ground is ready for deployment.

Earlier this week, California drone developer MLB Company announced that it had completed a project, funded by DARPA, to develop a specialized “V-Bat” unmanned aircraft. Kitted out with high-res cameras and laser sensors, the drone is designed to be used for everything from urban surveillance to wildlife monitoring. It can take off vertically and hover steadily, and it can also fly like a normal winged aircraft at heights of up to 15,000 feet for 10 hours at a time. The V-Bat is able to fly pre-programmed missions using GPS navigation and the DARPA version can search for objects on the ground, which it can pick up with a 6-foot extending claw. Here’s a video of the drone during a test flight:

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Last year, DARPA said in a press release that the V-Bat technology “paves the way for precise long-range delivery of small payloads into difficult-to-reach environments.” It is another example of how the U.S. military has invested heavily in developing new drone technology, from stealth unmanned aircraft capable of flying pre-programmed missions to 1.8 billion gigapixel drone cameras. But the V-Bat isn’t only intended for military applications. MLB Co. is selling the drones for about $320,000 each and is marketing them for a host of purposes—like agricultural mapping and border patrol.

With the FAA working to open up U.S. airspace to drones by September 2015, it might not be long until you see a V-Bat in American skies.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Ryan Gallagher is a journalist who reports on surveillance, security, and civil liberties.

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