From Target Drone to F-35 Wingman

Drones have revolutionized how war is fought and as drone technology evolves further, their influence only grows. A new drone in the development for the US Air Force will shake things up even further.

In the summer of last year, the US Air Force awarded Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. a $41 million contract to develop Low-Cost Attritable Strike Unmanned Aerial System Demonstration (LCASD). Basically, they want Kratos to develop a cheap rocket-powered drone that can act as a wingman for expensive state-of-the-art fighters like the new F-35.

But Kratos is not starting from scratch, instead they are redesigning a popular target drone, the Kratos Defense’s BQM-167A. Here is what the the Air Force is expecting for the drone.

  • Approximate a fighter jet’s capability to conduct high-g-force maneuvers.
  • Fly 1,500 nautical miles in a combat radius.
  • Launch and land without runways.
  • Carry a 500-pound weapons payload — sufficient for two GBU-39 small diameter bombs, or up to four Hellfire missiles.

Kratos is planning on building these drones for a little as $2-3 million a piece, which makes them incredibly cost-effective for what they can do.

Surprise! Drone Sales Double

A new report from the NPD Group reveals that drone sales more than doubled (up 117% to be exact) from February 2016 to February 2017. That’s a big jump, clearly showing the strength of consumers drones in the market. These sales numbers include the a wide variety of drones from $50 mini-drones (which are really just toys) to the $3,000 DJI Inspire 2.

Here are some useful tidbits from the NPD report:

  • During the holiday season drones with a price tag between $50- $100 saw a significant uptick in sales.
  • For drones in the $300-$500 price range, there is a clear consumer demand for premium features.
    • Drones with auto pilot capabilities sold nearly five times more quickly.
    • Drones that feature follow mode functionality sold 19x more quickly.
  • During the first two months of 2017…
    • Drones with a price tag over $300 drove 84% of dollar sales and nearly 40% of unit sales.
    • Drones sold for $1,000+ saw the highest rate of sales.

In roughly the same time period from January 2016 to January 2017 the number of drones registered with the FAA when up by 123%. And according to the numbers in the last two months over 100,000 more drones have been registered with the FAA.

Drone Deliveries Move Forward in China

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One of China’s largest eCommerce business, JD.com, is at it again. In the next three years the company plans to open 150 drone launch facilities in China’s southwestern Sichuan province in an effort to create a local drone delivery network. Sichuan’s mountainous terrain has for centuries made travel and delivery a difficulty to isolated rural communities, now drones can change that.

Drone Dossier has reported on JD’s work before. Since June of 2016 they have been making live drone deliveries in four test areas throughout China. They are also working directly with Chinese authorities to set up a drone traffic management systems in the areas they operate.

JD has a variety of drones to deliver packages with the largest supposedly able to lift upwards of 50 kg and they are developing ones that can lift around 500 kg! JD’s CEO Richard Liu recently said that drone deliveries would reduce the costs of shipping freight by 70%, compared to conventional truck delivery.

JD is also streamlining the way its uses drones, deciding not to make deliveries to individual address, but instead deliver to one of the thousands of local distribution centers that is has both in cities and in rural areas.

The video below shows JD’s concept. In it a man orders diapers online from a local village. The order then goes to the nearest drone-capable distribution center which packs up the diapers and sends them to the local village via an autonomous drone. Notice that the JD drone in this video is a tri-rotor drone and it appears (3:34) that the box has hooks that latch unto the drones chassis itself to secure the package during transit. The drone drops the package off at another smaller JD distribution center where a local employee picks it up and literally walks it over a few houses to the guy who order the diapers online.

Drone Crash Compilation

The folks over at PC Magazine have put together a list of their top 11 drone crashes (which they call disasters…jeez guys calm down!). There list has some of our favorites including the guy who flew into the Seattle Space Needle and the video shown below of a guy who made the maxim effort to save his drone from a watery death after a battery failure!

A lot of these are crashes are the result of pilot error or stupidity, but some do show legitimate dangers when drones fail and crash because of battery failures or naturally caused reasons like birds and weather.

If you want to see more crashes check out the video below. Our favorites are at minute mark  2:28 when a bird takes out a drone, minute mark 4:51 when a pumpkin fired out of a cannon hits a drone and the scary moment at minute mark 10:06 when a terrible pilot crashes a drone through a window unto someone’s desk!

Remember to be smart and safe when you fly!

Drones Are Now Used to Build Bridges

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Forget observing construction projects, workers in China are now using drones to assist in building massive bridges.

In China’s Sichuan Province workers are currently building the Xingkang Bridge that when completed will be nearly a mile long and hang over 600 feet above the raging Dadu River. The southwestern province is famous for its river gorge valleys that impede travel.

The first step in creating these massive suspension bridges is to run a pilot cable across the expanse the bridge will traverse and then use this pilot cable to rig up larger and larger cables. Usually a helicopter or boat would be used to run a pilot cable. But this time a drone is being used.

In December, Chinese engineers used a large 6-rotor drone to carry the pilot cable to the other side of the bridge structure. The engineers claim this method is over 100 times more efficient and 80% less costly than traditional methods—not to mention safer. This is also not the first time China has used drones in this manner to help construct bridges.

Such innovative uses of drones show their ability to make things more efficient and cheaper—which when you think about it, are the two keys in making a technology stick. It will be interesting to see what other ways drones can aid construction project.

Canon Drone?

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World famous camera company Canon is making the jump into the drone world! Last September the Japanese camera maker partnered with Prodrone Co. to produce a drone that will be branded under the Canon name and be equipped with Canon cameras.

This week Canon started to show off their new PD6E2000-AW-CJ1 drone (please change the name Canon, please!) on their Japanese website. The drone is supposedly designed for search and rescue operations and is equipped with Canon’s high-end ME20F-SH camera.

There is no official announcement on when the drone will be available for sale, but the rumors suggest that when it does it will be in the $20,000-$40,000 price range…ouch!

Canon is the latest camera maker that is taking a stab at drones and they better hope they learn from the mistakes of companies like GoPro. According to reports, Canon hopes to sell $4.5 million worth of drones by 2020.