Imagine an almost silent drone, equipped with facial recognition software. It is a drone that can zoom in and capture the details on a license plate from a kilometer away. The innovative Locheed Martin engineers, at their Grand Prairie testing facility, demonstrated their newest small-size surveillance drone, the Indago 3.

This mighty little drone is transported in a box that is smaller than a carry-on bag. But, it can fly for almost an hour and travel up to 10 km away from the pilot. A few years ago, this would have been unthinkable, but today this very drone was demonstrated at a “press only” event for attendees of the AUVSI Xponential 2017 convention in Dallas, TX.

The Indago 3 is a significant upgrade over the former versions. The new drone can carry a specially designed 30X zoom camera. In the demonstration, with the drone barely visible on the far side of the testing ground, it could still zoom in for close-ups of the members of the press and the demonstrators.

Indago 3 Deployed with Project Lifesaver

The added power and resolution makes the drone ideal for search and rescue, and surveillance and it has already been deployed in Project Lifesaver. The program uses wrist bands on people struggling with Alzheimers or other disabilities that cause disorientation and wandering. The vulnerable person wears a wristband that can signal their location to the drone if they are missing. In preliminary tests, the Indago 3 has performed perfectly. It will certainly save lives, particularly in harsh climates where minutes count.

Using drones for search and rescue

But the improvements don’t stop with a super-powerful zoom lens. The newest version of Indago can stay aloft at full-power for almost an hour, in winds of 25 miles per hour. In fact, the developers said that the drone is rated to 25 mile per hour winds, but they have successfully flown it and tested it in winds of 50 miles per hour and more. And it can be flown in moderate rain.

Indago 3 is one of the most advanced small drones on the market. It packs into a box that is smaller than a carry-on bag and can be deployed and flown with minutes. Programming modes allow it to accomplish a variety of tasks, including visually focusing on a particular individual even as they move around randomly and the drone continues on its own flight path, or to track an individual or signal, or to perform mapping and other jobs over a vast area. Over 500 Indagos have been sold over the years, to a variety of public agencies and private companies. Indago 3 is just released and approximately a hundred have been snatched up.

One of the First Seagoing Drones

This is also one of the few drones which has been tested over water, from marine vessels. The U.S.Coast Guard has worked with Indago 3 and found it effective. Developers pointed out that Indago 3 may require manual control or adjustments if the ship moves while the drone is airborne. But the ability to switch seamlessly from autonomous to manual control is one of the important features of the Indago 3.

The work at Lockheed Martin demonstrates that the world of autonomous vehicles is advancing at a breakneck pace. Processing power and new lighter, tougher materials have changed the entire landscape. Teams at Lockheed Martin are already working on autonomous systems for combat vehicles and helicopters. They point out that this isn’t something that will happen next year, but it will happen sooner than we think. They picture a time when humans will fly with autonomous pilots augmenting their skills. The computing machines can handle the mundane tasks that require sheer calculating and processing speed, freeing up the human captain to focus on higher-level judgement decisions.

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