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Monday, January 26, 2009

Robot of the Day: MQ-1 Predator

The MQ-1 Predator is probably the most famous UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) of all times. It was developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the USAF (U.S. Air Force) and the CIA.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

The MQ-1 Predator UAV has a wingspan of 47.8 ft (14.8m), can fly a maximum of 135 miles per hour, and can stay in the air for 14 hours. The cost for an early production was around $3.2 million.

Initially it was only a reconnaissance system allowing the remote operators to acquire aerial video in real-time. After the CIA deployed the Predator UAVs to Afghanistan, they expressed strong desire to add the capability of firing Hellfire missiles from Predator UAVs to kill terrorists. So it was done. On February 4, 2002, a CIA Predator attacked a convoy of sports utility vehicles, killing a suspected al Qaeda leader who the CIA thought were Osama Bin Laden.

The Predator UAV requires a satellite link and is operated by two pilots (most likely in a military base in Nevada) sitting in front of cockpit like devices. The control of the UAV falls under the tele-operation category because most decisions are made by human operators.

The first video below showcases the capabilities of the MQ-1 Predator to quickly track down a moving vehicle (note that it is much easier to tracking a lone moving car in a desert compared to tracking down the same car, say, in LA traffic). The second video shows firing of the missiles.

An unknown number of Predator UAVs are also used by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. I would guess these Predators don't shoot missiles at illegal aliens.

Picture of the Day:

Residents in Norway were stunned by the beautiful yet mysterious light show. Turned out it was caused by the malfunction of a Russian missile test. Follow this link to read more.