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Middlesex University experts create flying camera that could save British soldiers' lives

A team of engineers from Middlesex University have developed the UK’s first lightweight outdoor flying video camera which can fit in a soldier's backpack. 

A team of engineers from Middlesex University have developed the UK’s first lightweight outdoor flying video camera which can fit in a soldier's backpack. 

The ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ (UAV) is designed to help spot hidden dangers and feed the real-time footage to goggles worn by the operator. Unlike currently available equipment, the flying camera - nicknamed SQ-4 - is around the diameter of a Frisbee, weighs a mere 230 grams and is operational in less than a minute. 

SQ-4 reaches heights of up to 400 ft and can quietly hover or even perch on objects as it zooms in on suspicious activity or devices. Its miniature cameras also have a night lens for surveillance operations in the dark.     

Currently, similar systems used in Afghanistan are much more expensive, resulting in fewer being deployed.  As SQ-4 is a fraction of their cost, many more soldiers could be equipped with them. Existing systems are also usually larger, heavier and have fixed wings meaning that they are unable to hover above targets and are more likely to be detected and targeted.

The SQ-4 is controlled by a handheld remote control and goggles which provide the wearer with information like the latitude and longitude of the vehicle, the distance between the location and the home point and the direction to home point, ensuring the soldier remains orientated at all times.  The intelligent system also allows SQ-4 to autonomously fly from its last position to its launch point.   

The team who created SQ-4 is led by Middlesex robotics expert Dr Stephen Prior and is made up of students Mehmet Ali Erbil, Mantas Brazinskas and Witek Mielniczek.  They created the SQ-4 in partnership with Cardiff-based BCB International, which makes survival and protective equipment.   

Middlesex University robotics specialist Dr Stephen Prior: “It’s vital that soldiers surveillance work goes unnoticed and SQ-4 is far smaller than current devices which look very much like large model aircraft and are over a metre in size. We’re providing a bird’s eye view with a vehicle that’s literally the size of a bird.”

25-year old Middlesex University PhD student Mehmet Ali Erbil said: “This could make solders even more effective at scanning areas for bombs, traps or suspicious activity as current systems are cumbersome and costly so their use is more limited. SQ-4 could give British troops the competitive edge and reduce their vulnerability in unfamiliar terrains.”  

The SQ-4 together with another UAV the team have developed called the HALO will be unveiled at the world’s largest defence and security exhibition, ‘Defence & Security Equipment International 2011’ (DSEi), at the ExCel London from 13-16 September, where it will be viewed by tens of thousands of visitors and military personnel from across the globe. 

The team are hoping to impress the military and security services at the exhibition where they will be demonstrating its surveillance capabilities in a model of Afghanistan.  

To see the SQ-4 in action, take a look at this video

Fact box:

Range - 1.5 km

Altitude – 400 ft (120 m)

Endurance - 15 min per battery


Remote video downlink to head-mounted goggles

GPS technology

Return to launch switch

Night lens cameras

Altitude hold

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