Lockheed Drone is Inspired by Sycamore Seeds, Flies Like a Boomerang

Maple seeds, sycamore seeds, whirlybirds or — if you live up north — spinning jennies. Whatever you call them, winged samara seeds are the helicopters of the natural world, whipping their blades around in the wind to travel great distances.

That’s why defense contractor Lockheed Martin has been building an unmanned drone that mimics the movement of sycamore seeds. It’s called the SAMARAI, and Lockheed is showing it off at this year’s convention of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Washington.

The one-winged drone is a foot long, and flies using a cyclic lift motion like a helicopter. It has just two moving parts (making it perfect for 3D printing), a camera and it can be piloted with a remote control or an app on a tablet.

It can be tossed like a boomerang for instant deployment, dropped from a plane to collect ground-level images, or it can take off vertically and hover in place. It’s one versatile little machine.

Lockheed Martin’s New Jersey-based Intelligent Robotics Laboratories has been working on the idea of a samara seed-inspired bot for five yearsfunded, at times, by Darpa. At one point, the robot was going to be literally seed-size, and could deliver a tiny two-gram payload. Over the years it’s grown to the big boomerang you see today.

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