Flying saucer that can plant explosives or bugs set for frontline

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The Fenstar flying saucer

The Fenstar flying saucer is considered one of the front runners to win the RJ Mitchell prize
Photo: OLI SCARFF

The UFO-like object is among a range of gadgets that have been
developed by schools, universities and small companies as part of a
Ministry of Defence competition to develop everyday technology to help
troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Eleven teams enlisted
from the “anorak brigade” have made it to the final week of competition
to demonstrate their machines at the Army’s purpose-built urban warfare
town in Copehill Down, Salisbury Plain.

The Fenstar flying saucer
is considered one of the front runners to win the RJ Mitchell prize –
named after the Spitfire’s inventor – next Tuesday.

Without any
external blades and using a two stroke petrol engine, the unmanned
aerial vehicle can enter a building either through a window or door and
send back high-quality images on its video camera feed.

With
efforts being made to make an electric engine that generates little
noise, the Fenstar’s inventors, hope it could be quiet enough to snoop
into rooms and plant listening devices without being seen or heard.
Similarly it could also plant explosive devices to kill the enemy.

Controlled
using a Playstation joystick the 20kg (44lbs) machine is designed to be
easily handled by soldiers and is equipped with an infra-red camera,
laser scanners and has a top speed of 40mph.

It can operate autonomously after being given “way points” on its GPS system and can hover or land at will.

The
Fenstar was built by Team MIRA, that includes students from Warwick
University and the Royal Grammar School Guildford, who have already
developed a Frisbee like device that weighs just a few ounces.

The
public may soon be confronted by flying saucers over cathedral spires
as surveyors consider using the device to spots for cracks or erosion
on high or inaccessible buildings.

Similarly it could drop
buoyancy aides to struggling swimmers or mobile phones to stranded
climbers. Discussions are already underway with geologists to see if it
could be used to hover over steep rock faces to examine strata.

Other
technology devices at the competition include mini-buggies that are
equipped with cameras and can move at 40mph or sit at night near a
cross-roads spying on terrorists planting bombs.

Camera
technology is also being deployed onto model aircraft or helicopters
that can tell the difference between children and adults or a gunman
and a cameraman.

The Grand Challenge idea was developed by the
former procurement minister Lord Drayson who wanted to get “box-room
inventors” to see if high street technology could be used on the
battlefield.

The MoD invested £4.5 million in the project last
year and the return on the money had been “enormous”, said Prof Phil
Sutton, the MoD’s head of science and technology strategy.

“Britain
has a strong and rich history of inventors and innovators and they do
work extremely well under the pressure of a challenge,” he said. “We
now need to put these ideas to good use.”

Major Phil Nathan, an
infantry officer who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said:
“Aircraft that can look over walls or into compounds in Afghanistan
will prove a real asset to the troops. Your situational awareness is
drastically reduced in Afghanistan so anything that can get above it or
see around corners could be a major life saver.”

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