British Army develops AI shotgun drone with machine vision for indoor use

2020 just gets better and better

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Rise of the Machines The British Army has reportedly developed AI-equipped killer drones armed with twin-linked shotguns designed for blasting enemies of the Queen hiding inside buildings.

As if that wasn't terrifying enough, the Army is already looking at strapping a chain gun or rocket launcher to its i9 drone instead of the shotguns, according to The Times.

"It is the UK military's first weaponised drone to be able to fly inside, using a combination of physics and AI that allow it to overcome 'wall suck', which causes drones with heavy payloads to crash because of the way they displace air in small rooms," the newspaper reported this morning.

The weaponised craft is said to be loaded with "twin stabilised shotguns" as well as making use of "machine vision" to identify its targets. A human operator will have to press a button to actually fire the shotguns, though that is potentially the least of the civilised world's worries from this thing.

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Assuming that the drone is genuinely capable of firing a shotgun while hovering or in flight, this would mean the "unnamed British company" behind it has overcome some rather large challenges of physics. Basic Newtonian theory tells us that flinging an ounce of lead forwards at great speed causes an equal and opposite reaction backwards. In ballistics this force is called "recoil". It takes little imagination to realise that recoil in a confined space is likely to push a drone backwards into a wall, rendering it useless.

There are two ways of managing recoil. One is to make whatever the gun is mounted to so heavy that it absorbs the entire force without moving. This method works best for things like ballistic missile launchers. The other is to have a compensation mechanism: something that either dynamically absorbs the energy of recoil (i.e. a big spring) or applies an equal and opposite force to the launch platform at the same time as the gun is fired.

The Times' sole picture of the drone gave away few clues about the gun mount – so it may be able to dynamically compensate for recoil by setting its rotors to full forward power at the same time as a shot is fired. With a shotgun in a confined space not requiring great accuracy, this could be how that problem is overcome – though doing so without the drone losing its stability and crashing just seems unlikely.

The Ministry of Defence is but four years behind Russia in its armed drone endeavours. Back in 2016 a group of students designed an armed drone which first flew in 2019, though that appears to be an outdoors-only craft. The Belarusian Army also strapped an RPG to a drone in 2018, though footage doesn't show it actually being fired. ®

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