London, August 15 : The next time you spot a flying saucer, it may not be aliens on a visit to Earth, but man-made military aircrafts that are capable of detecting roadside bombs and insurgents without putting troops in the line of fire.
According to a report in the Times, the saucers, which are less than a metre (3ft) across, have optical and infra-red cameras and can fly over enemy positions without the need for a remote-control operator.
The unusual devices are among the entrants in a Ministry of Defence competition aimed at encouraging the development of urban warfare equipment.
Eleven teams taking part in the final of the Grand Challenge, which s being held on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, UK, will have the opportunity to show off their inventions in a purpose-built town that contains enemy snipers, roadside bombs, weapon-mounted vehicles and insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, as well as innocent bystanders.
Talking about urban warfare, Major Matt Kelly, of the Royal Irish Regiment, said, "In the future, there will be no alternative for us. So, we, as soldiers, need to know where the enemy is and why. This is where technology comes in."
The option of sending in a robot to check what is behind a wall or to survey a town before deploying ground troops could minimize British casualties.
"If our system works it will save lives," said Julia Richardson, who leads the Stellar team which created two unmanned aircraft and a robotic ground vehicle. "That's what motivates us," she added.
The Stellar system operates as a robotic team, with one unmanned aircraft mapping an enemy stronghold, and the second aircraft working with the ground vehicle to provide close inspections.
The devices, like others in the competition, are fitted with thermal and normal lens cameras linked to intelligent software that can interpret pictures to identify potential threats.
"The bottom line is, we want our technology to help our Forces," said Chris Mellors, of the Mira team which developed the flying saucers.