Could this chemical-sensing drone benefit the battlefield?

For a robot to save lives, it needs to be able to not just go into danger, but also to do something useful while it is there. The FLIR MUVE C360, a chemical-sensing platform announced Sept. 24 at the Airworks 2019 conference, wants to mitigate the hazards of hazardous material. It is a flying machine defined by the sensors it carries.

Built specifically to mount on a DJI Matrice 210 airframe, the FLIR-built MUVE C360 is marketed at public safety and enterprise customers. The 360 is for 360-degree situational awareness, both with cameras and especially in gasses it can detect.

“The MUVE C360 features an eight-channel gas detection sensor, including a photoionization detector (PID), lower explosive limit (LEL), oxygen, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and chlorine,” said a FLIR spokesperson. The drone can also mount a DJI-made Zenmuse XT2 thermal sensor and camera, offering “visible detection and clues on where to examine a scene to locate the source, both in visible and infrared light.”

Outside of industry use, FLIR sees the MUVE C360 as a tool for police and firefighters to use in first response, sending the robot in for valuable information about a potentially dangerous situation before risking a human. FLIR expects to ship to U.S. customers before the end of 2019 and to customers in Europe by early 2020.

While not explicitly marketed at a military customer, valuable sensor systems marketed at the commercial and public safety worlds often find their way into military acquisitions.

This is a situation that has put DJI in an interesting place in the past, as its explicitly not military-grade equipment ends up purchased by military customers, and then becomes the subject of congressional scrutiny over why the military went for a commercial off-the-shelf capability.

While the MUVE C360 is explicitly designed to mount onto a DJI-made airframe, the flexibility of sensor packages is such that, should it spark Pentagon interest, it could likely be adapted to a different airframe if need be.

When it comes to a flying camera that read the gasses in a room, the flying part is almost secondary to the overall sensor effect.

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