New Urban Combat Drone Is a Shotgun Toting Hexacopter

The United Kingdom has developed a new drone devoted strictly to battlefield combat.The drone uses sensors and machine vision technology to detect targets. Once located, the drone can blast away at the target with twin shotguns.

The U.K. has developed a new fighting drone designed to help soldiers breach urban defenses. The i9 uncrewed aerial vehicle can navigate indoors, locate and identify targets, and then open fire with not one but two shotgun barrels. Like all weaponized drones, a human operator must make the decision to shoot or not shoot.

The drone, revealed by the Times of London, was developed for the British armed forces. The drone is meant to act as a breaching weapon, flying into a small room or house occupied by enemy troops and neutralizing them from within.

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Breaching operations are among the most dangerous in ground warfare. Ground troops must typically blow open a door and rush inside, shooting the enemy at point blank range. Casualties in such operations are typically very high, particularly for the first ones through the door.

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i9 allows a drone to do the most dangerous part of the job. With the new drone, British troops might break down the entry door with a demolition charge and then send the i9 in. Flying high and fast, the drone would outpace the defenders beneath it, identify them, and line up on an enemy target. The i9 operator could verify the targets are hostile and then authorize the drone to open fire.

British Royal Marine Commandos prepare to breach a building in Twentynine Palms, United States. In the future, these commandos would send a drone into the building first to neutralize enemy troops inside.

UK Ministry of Defense

The i9 is a hexacopter, meaning it uses a total of six pairs of rotating blades to achieve lift. According to the Times, the designers have eliminated “wall suck”—a phenomenon that occurs when a hovering drone flies too close to a wall or ceiling. The flat surface disrupts air flow to the drone’s propellers, causing them to stop providing lift and the drone to crash.

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One of the most important aspects of the drone is that it uses so-called “machine vision” to identify targets. The drone will automatically pick out enemy combatants that appear in its video camera field of vision, rather than having the operator do so manually via his or her handheld screen. The process is similar to a self-driving car identifying road signs and obstacles by recording them and then comparing them to a visual library of road objects.

drone enthusiasts gather for dronemasters 2017 convention

Commercial hexacopter drone.

Omer MessingerGetty Images

Human beings aren’t the only targets for the i9. The drone can apparently function as a flying “battering ram,” knocking enemy drones out of the sky autonomously. This autonomous capability is important as drones can fly quite fast, faster than a human can manually intercept them with another drone.

The i9 is one of the first drones available to Western armies equipped with weapons of its own. It won’t be the last.

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