Kamikaze Cameras

By Laura Wright|Friday, January 02, 2004

As a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Chuck Stancil often wished for an instant bird’s-eye view of the enemy. As an engineer at Georgia Tech Research Institute, he is satisfying that wish. Stancil bought a $70 camera lens, patched it together with an imaging chip and a radio-frequency transmitter, and attached a parachute.

Then he packed the whole thing into an 81-millimeter artillery shell. The resulting “reconnaissance round” is fitted with a timer that signals the capsule to open when it reaches 1,800 feet above the target. As the round floats down, it snaps four to five images and transmits them back to a soldier’s computer. The resolution is good enough to discern individual people.

The whole process, from load to image retrieval, takes about two minutes. “It will be a great advantage for a soldier when he can do recon before walking into a trap,” Stancil says. He estimates the device could be mass produced for as little as $700.

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