Sunday, 27 December 2015


           His suspicion grew. None of the ground sensors had been tripped but something was out there in the long savannah grass. As  casually as he could he stood up, stretched and moved into the guard hut. As soon as he was out of sight he pressed the button and dropped down low. A cloud of tinkerbells took to the air and spread out over the surrounding hectare of grassland. It was only seconds before three began to strobe red and circle above a thick clump of grass. An ancient assault rifle opened fire but the bandit was trying to hit the fleeting tinkerbells that had discovered his position. A foolish mistake! Lars brought the grenade launcher up to his shoulder...

            “Tinkerbell” is a generic term for a variety of very small helibots. Most are quadcopters or use paired contra-rotating rotors. A tinkerbell will fit in your palm and is so light that dozens can be carried by a human virtually unnoticed (SM-10, 30 to a lb). Tinkerbells can be controlled by a program in an individual’s companion AI. Tinkerbells are launched by simply tossing them into the air or instructing them to take off from where they are placed.

           A tinkerbell has a small camera that is sensitive to visible and near-infra red (NIR) light. An infantry unit that encounters an apparently abandoned building will often first deploy a few tinkerbells to fly in and look around. In addition to its camera a tinkerbell is also provided with a number of LEDs that can provide visible or NIR illumination for it cameras.
           It is their light producing capability that gives the tinkerbells their name. A SWAT team advancing into the dark will send a number of tinkerbells ahead to illuminate an area. A glowing tinkerbell can be used to guide someone to safety or through a minefield. Instructed to fly high a tinkerbell can be used for signalling instead of a flare.

           As well as their military applications tinkerbells see numerous other uses. Fire departments and rescue workers use tinkerbells to locate casualties. Off-road vehicles use tinkerbells to scout what is ahead over the next ridge. Inspectors use them to look into places they cannot go. In large buildings tinkerbells may be used to guide visitors to their destination.

           Tinkerbells are too light to carry items such as grenades or limpet mines. They can carry a very light object such as a written message or data-card/ flash-drive. Tinkerbells lack speakers so use their LEDs to draw attention to themselves or convey simple messages in Morse code (The basic language package of most AI companions includes Morse). Tinkerbells are too light do any real damage if used as weapons but may be used as distractions. Being relatively basic, very lightweight systems they are vulnerable to EMP weapons and jamming or signal interception. Grenade mesh is an effective obstacle to them and they are also vulnerable to strong winds.

           The video below will give some idea on how the smaller tinkerbells might behave.