Swiss researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, or EPFL, have made virtually crash-resistant drone. The highly flexible drone uses an unique body structure made of of elastic bands, visco-elastic foam and magnet to absorb and dissipate the force of an impact. See the video below (although it is admittedly a little bit of a let down!)
The drone is functional, but is still in an experimental state. But this kind of engineering awesomeness offers a lot of possibilities for the future of drone structure. The team here at Drone Dossier sees this as something the drone racing world will be quick to pick up on.
Every week there are news stories about near collisions of planes (usually coming in to land) and drones. A few days ago there was a near miss as a plane from Paris came in to land at Dulles Airport in Virginia. In that case the drone came within 100 feet of colliding with the plane.
Also this week, the Minister of Defense in Taiwan said the security officers can shoot down any drones that are found violating airspace above airports in response to the growing number of unauthorized drones incursions.
In the USA, the FAA reports that in 2016 there was a 50% increase of pilots spotting drones compared to the year before. The reason is simple, there is a lot more drones out there. FAA estimates that 4.8 million drones will be sold in 2017 (2.3 million consumer and 2.5 million commercial). This works out for 21% growth in sales of consumer drones and a 317% growth in commercial drones.
But the problem just isn’t the increase of drones, it is also a problem with drone operators. Some are not careful and do not consider airspace restrictions of the areas they are flying in. If you are new drone owner, please put safety first. Here is a great website to start at.
CNET published a list of drones from the CES 2017 in Las Vegas that wrapped up January 8th. While the list of 23 drones is not a comprehensive review of what is going on in the drone industry, it does provide some insight into trends in consumer drones.
Drones that have a ‘follow me’ me function have been hot for a while, but what we see developing now is versions of these kind of drones that are small, foldable and are referred to as ‘selfie drones’.
Basically, these drones open up a new way to share on social networks. While this trend could have legs the team at Drone Dossier is much more excited that normal consumer drones are starting to offer standard packages that have more than attached camera and video capabilities.
A number of drones at the CES, including the Yuneec H520, have options that include thermal cameras. While LIDAR and other sensors are still too expensive to include, this is definitely an exciting development for drone functionality. In a lot of ways a drone is just a flying platform for different types of sensors and as more types of sensors become affordable the capabilities of consumer drones will increase.
CNET’s list also brings up the work of two companies—GoPro and Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Xiaomi. At the CES, GoPro announced that they had found the reason behind the problems with their Karma drone (faulty battery clip) and said that in February they would release more information about the future of their failed drone. This could mean that Karma will go back on the market. Chinese company Xiaomi showed off their ‘Mi Drone’ which they launched in July. Xiaomi is taking the same approach was there mobile phones by loading their drones with a lot of features at a low price.
Researchers at a Swiss university have developed a drone that has flexible wings with synthetic feathers. The drone’s wings can retract which gives it the ability to adapt to changing flight conditions like a bird.
Most drones and aircraft are specially designed for the environment in which they will operate. For instance long-range high altitude aircraft will need larger wing spans while high-speed, maneuverable aircraft will need are a more streamlined swept-back wing configuration. When outside of their ideal operating environment these aircraft are not as efficient and may even face dangers. Birds on the other hand, can change their ‘wing’ configuration to adapt to the different conditions they are flying in.
The research is still ongoing but the Swiss team has already overcome many obstacles like finding the right balance between aerodynamic efficiency and the weight of the device. Maybe one day drones will look more like birds than anything else.
Even though drone package delivery is just taking flight, researchers in Switzerland are already looking into the possibility of a personal transportation drone which they refer to as a Personal Aerial Vehicle (PAV).
In order for this to work sense and avoid systems need to become more advanced and will have to consider the smoothness of flight, beyond just avoiding obstacles. While the research is still theoretical it is pretty crazy to think about.