“SpiderMav, SpiderMav, does whatever a spider can…”
This little drone, created by the Aerial Robotics Laboratory of the Imperial College London, stabilizes itself by shooting a polymer webbing at a magnetic surface. The thread strikes the surface and can then be reeled in, allowing the drone to gain a purchase from which to hang taut without using its motors (and therefore potentially saving massive battery use). I could see this being used for all sorts of crazy shots, as well as by various spy organizations the world over.
Inspiration for technology often comes from the animal kingdom — after all, nature is the most successful experimental engine around and the vast swath of diversity within the animal and insect landscapes means that a lot of the problems inventors encounter may already have been solved in some subtle way.
Over at the University of Sherbrooke, the design team for a new type of drone that can land on, and take off from, the surface of a lake, did just that: they drew their inspiration from the vertical takeoff method used by Mallard ducks. The SUWAVE is a really cool device, capable of hopping from lake to lake, recharging using built-in solar panels at every stop. It can even flip itself over if it gets knocked over by a heavy wave, giving it a huge advantage over other aquatic landing UAVs.
Have you ever seen a bird land on a perch, or take off from a branch? For birds, this is a natural and instinctive process by which they can grasp onto odd-hanging locations and use their own thrust to take off directly into open space. Trying to replicate this with drones is a bit more difficult, but researchers at the University of Sherbrooke managed to figure it out!
By using a combination of range sensors, shock absorbers, and micro spine “feet”, they created a fixed-wing UAV that can sense when it approaches a wall and land vertically, clinging to the sheer surface like a bird or a bat might do! Equally impressive, the drone can push off the wall and gain a perfect flight trajectory in mid-air as well.
You might see the word “drone” and think only of a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), but the world of drone technology is advancing really quickly in all directions, with powerful applications for manned drones becoming realized every year.
The DCL Big Drone is especially cool because it is a racing drone designed for stunt and sporting events. Intending to totally transform the landscape of racing, the DCL Big Drone portends a future where manned drone sporting events are a major part of the social sporting scene.
Science fiction luminaries have been imagining a world of floating “air cars” for decades, but the reality is closer than you might imagine. Thanks to several companies working on manned drone technology, large drones are now capable of transporting humans in the most convenient manner ever.
Ehang, a Chinese company looking to push back the barriers of technology, is on the cusp of transforming the way cities are designed. In fact, they’ve even partnered with the Spanish city Llíria on an air mobility option for transportation, which would make Llíria the fourth city in the world to have a fully functional air-transit option available to the public (Ehang also has deals with Seville in Spain, Linz in Austria and Guangzhou in China).
We all know that climate change is one of the most pressing dangers to the planetary ecosystem, but finding ways to alter our habits and assumptions is not always as easy as recognizing that a problem exists. In the United States, massive regulatory hurdles (caused primarily by Airline lobbying) have made it difficult to expand into green alternatives to traditional airlines, but New Zealand has refused to let such things get in the way of a cleaner and better future.
Partnering with Kittyhawk, New Zealand hopes to introduce an air-taxi option that will allow for reliable and green air transportation, one part of that great country’s dedication toward advancing practical solutions to modern ecological problems.
With a Guinness Book of World Records entry as the fastest drone, the DRL RacerX clocks in at a top speed of 179.78mph, not too shabby at all. Drone racing has become a pretty popular sport in recent years, given the increasing availability of cheaper and lighter-weight drone technology. But, most drones can only clock in around the 50mph mark, which is speedy for normal racing but can’t hold a candle to the highest end of the professional range.
We’ve all seen the use of military drones grow during the past two decades, from something primarily concerned with reconnaissance to something that could deliver high-end payloads under conditions that normal aircraft can’t manage (and with more stealth opportunities to-boot). But it’s pretty clear that the limit of military drone technology has not even begun to be tapped, let alone spent, and the TIKAD by Duke Robotics is clearly aiming to fill that gap.
Designed to replace “boots on the ground” and therefore reduce the number of casualties during conflicts, the TIKAD is a mobile drone weapons platform that allows operators to plug in many automatic weapons and even a grenade launcher. Not, perhaps, the future we all want from drone technology, but still an impressive feat of engineering.
Another awesome transportation innovation, the Lilium Jet is designed to revolutionize commuter life by providing an easy-to-access travel option with the press of a button on an app. They’re still some ways away from the lofty goal of anyone being able to call in a flight with a button press, but they have established a number of landing ports in Florida and plan to have a fully operational service in place no later than 2024!
Given that the earlier versions of the Lilium Jet can travel almost 200 miles (and boasts a speed of 190mph), this could seriously change the way people look at travel. The Lilium Jet is also greener than current air travel options, boasting a completely electric battery-powered design.
A whole host of new drone designs are being explored, with the revolution in this technology constantly evolving based on new design findings, developments in battery technology, and advances in positioning systems and software, but some designs are trying to go even farther by completely erasing the line between a drone’s orientation and position in space.
With the Voliro drone, this decoupling of position and orientation is created through the use of six individually tiltable axes, designed to be intuitively controlled. The students who created Voliro, originally at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Zurich University of the Arts, have big development plans for their design which could revolutionize how we think about drone flight.
Getting started with the drone market can be a bit confusing, and dealing with expensive hardware on top of licenses for flying a drone can be a bit of a pain. As long as you’re not planning on using the drone for commercial work (which still requires a license), the DJI Mini 2 is a great option, weighing in just under the FAA weight regulations. It’s got a 4K camera and some basic autonomous flight patterns, as well as GPS/GLONASS functionality for positioning. It doesn’t have object detection, however, but given its low price that sorta makes sense.
The bigger brother to the DJI Mini 2, the DJI Air 2S is packed with cool features that definitely make the added price point worthwhile. Being a bit larger allows for more stability in windy conditions, and the collision-avoidance system is really useful when piloting in a more obstacle-dense area. It can also shoot up to 5K footage, so that’s an exciting feature for filmmakers looking for a great tool in the video arsenal.
Literally stratospheric, the PHASA-35 is a British-designed drone capable of staying in the air for up to twelve months — that’s right, a drone that can stay airborne for a whole year. Given the dramatically cheaper cost of putting such a vehicle into the air when compared to satellites, the PHASA-35 is designed to offer a huge range of advanced capabilities, from security to communications.
The PHASA-35 operates by collecting solar energy when in the sunlight and then switching to internal stored battery power when in darkness. The first successful test flight occurred in 2020, and the company plans on starting advanced tests in the United States in 2021.
Researchers from Germany’s Fraunhofer FKIE research lab have come up with an incredible concept for use in search-and-rescue operations: a drone system that can listen for screams and calls for help and locate the survivors, even in places where traditional search methods might prove untenable. The drone system isn’t specific to any one model, either, but could be mounted on any drone capable of carrying the weight.
We could certainly imagine a future, not far off, where drones with such audio-detection capabilities respond to a wide variety of dangerous situations, from fires, to car crashes, to the site of gunfire. The future of first responders is definitely different in the digital age.
Another incredible design for emergencies that shows the power of drone technology, the Tactical Robotics Cormorant is the only drone vehicle that meets NATO and IDF requirements for an unmanned medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) and casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) vehicle. Designed for the needs of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Tactical Robotics Cormorant is capable of lifting up to two injured people to safety, doing so in situations where helicopters are nonviable due to either hostile conditions or lack of a clear landing zone.
A student at TU Delft, Sander van den Berg was working on his Masters in Industrial Design when he came up with the inspired idea for a 3D printed drone fish capable of swimming at almost a meter a second, breaking previous records for flipper-based drone speeds in the water.
We all know that traditional propeller systems are extremely hazardous to aquatic ecosystems, causing noise pollution that can damage aquatic life, and even directly harming fish and animals that come too close to the spinning blades. A flipping design is not only safer and far quieter, but it’s also dramatically more efficient than a propeller design, allowing for aquatic travel for far less wasted energy.
Sander van den Berg is not the first to design a fish drone, with previous attempts by groups at MIT gaining much attention, but his 3D printed design is cheap and effective, as well as faster than the competition.
Have you ever wanted to explore the ocean floor firsthand? Well, the DTG3 makes that possible for the average consumer (for about the same price as a used car). With a depth of 200 meters, the DTG3 is no toy, fleshed out with a full suite of powerful tools of submersible exploration. It’s the next best thing to getting down there yourself, with the portability that makes it a dream for self-styled explorers of the seas.
RanMarine’s WasteShark is making the waterways of the world safer and healthier every day. The drones are capable of cleaning up to 350kg of trash in a single go, allowing them to clean even extremely trash-polluted environments in no time at all and maintaining the safety of the planet’s most precious natural resources.
RanMarine wants to expand the use of the WasteShark to more waterways in countries all across the world and is actively looking for more partners at every level of government. Why not petition your local government and see if the WasteShark couldn’t be used to help keep your waterways clean?
The applications for drone technologies are super vast with unrealized potential around every corner. One company, CollMot, is taking their use of drone technology into the entertainment industry, by using their drones to provide audiences with 3D “holographic” light shows. This works by using a combination of smoke-releasing drones and drones that emit laser light. The light-emitting drones “sculpt” the smoke with their lasers, creating vibrant shows against the sky.
One of the potentiality most exciting applications for this technology is to replace more traditional fireworks, which can be harmful to the environment and which, in places that are prone to droughts, are outright dangerous. Being able to have brilliant holiday light shows without the risk of massive wildfires sure is exciting.
We might be used to thinking about them this way, but actually, we’ve been sending drones into space for ages — in fact, they’re the alpha of all human space flight (and possibly the omega, if you believe certain sci-fi writers). In 2021, the first-ever extraterrestrial flying machine, in the form of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, made its successful maiden voyage up through the thin atmosphere of the red planet, forever cementing its role in the historic lineage of space exploration.
Ingenuity also paves the way for other planetary missions. One of the most exciting is the DAVINCI+ mission scheduled for 2029, which will see humanity’s return to Venus for the first time since 1978, a true testament to our commitment to exploring the cosmos within which we reside.
In 2027, the Dragonfly aerial drone will embark on its mission to Saturn’s moon Titan, where it will flit around (much like its namesake) in pursuit of cutting-edge information about one of the most important planetary bodies in the solar system.
The Dragonfly will come equipped with a huge range of powerful sensors and testing equipment and collection tools, allowing it to survey the large moon’s atmosphere and surface and send that important data back home to Earth.
Titan is exciting for a huge number of reasons, but recently made headlines for the detection in its atmosphere of a unique carbon molecule (cyclopropenylidene) that might be a precursor to the advanced chemical reactions that form life.
During the last few years, concerns from various world militaries have grown over the effective use of drones by guerrilla opponents and terrorists. Drone weapons of the past required some sort of signal to operate, but new classes of self-guided combat drones are becoming increasingly feasible, and affordable. These drones don’t have any signal controlling their direction or position, everything happens onboard the drone itself, meaning that you can’t stop the drone simply by blocking out any signal controlling it.
To deal with this new threat, DARPA initiated the Mobile Force Protection (MFP) program, designed to figure out counters to drone attacks. The result was the counter-drone interceptor, a combination of radar-tracker and drone launcher designed to be placed on small mobile platforms. The counter-interceptor system fires a drone into the air after detecting an income hostile drone and incapacities it with a shotgun blast of special foam that clogs the enemy drone’s rotors and brings it down (with a hopeful minimum of collateral damage).
If “Project Underminer” sounds like something that a supervillain would come up with for their war machine, you’re not far from the mark. DARPA and General Electric are working on a drone that can tunnel through the ground.
The earliest designs suggest that the drone would use an implementation of a hydrostatic skeleton, the same as is found in the common earthworm, to propel itself through the ground while digging its tunnel. While not yet operational, the likelihood of it becoming a common part of the military tactical playbook becomes quite likely in the not-so-distant future.
In case you’d like a nice serving of paranoia to go with the modern weight of existential dread, look no farther than China’s “Dove” drone, a spy drone that so perfectly mimics a dove in flight that it can completely fool radar systems into thinking it’s just another bird in the sky.
Drones of this sort are definitely strange, allowing for unobtrusive information gathering that, once married to advanced facial recognition and pattern detection systems, could monitor massive populations with little to no overt footprint.
Other drones attempt to mimic the flight of birds, like the Silent Flyer, and still, others that just attempt to capture the profile of a bird when seen from the ground (to avoid easy visual recognition as a drone) like the Maverick, but Dove seems destined for broad use considering China’s other pushes toward advanced civilian surveillance.
The Skeeter is designed by Animal Dynamics as a spearhead for the first wave of practical portable miniature drones, drones that are certain to soon be seeing heavy use in militaries around the world (but also in search and rescue, security, and even agriculture).
The Skeeter takes its inspiration from the motion of insect wings. Such a motion is far more efficient than spinning rotors, and also provides the drone with greater stability in windy conditions, something especially important for small drones that also need to be extremely lightweight.
The Skeeter will carry a range of sensors, including a camera, and the finished project is intended to be both under eight inches in size. It’s also intended to be cheap enough to be lost while on a mission without busting the budget of whatever agency is using it. Not long, now, before such drones are commonplace!
At Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Alec Momont designed a drone that can save lives. The Ambulance Drone, capable of reaching someone experiencing cardiac arrest in the narrow window required to save their life, is a groundbreaking piece of technology. Outfitted with an AED (Automated External Defibrillator), medication, and CPR aids, the Ambulance Drone could deliver life-saving support in minutes — far faster than the arrival time for most emergency services.
Already built and currently undergoing further testing and experimentation, the Ambulance Drone seems likely to be a major game-changer in the world of first-response medical aid.
In May 2021, for the first time in history, a human pancreas was transported using a drone on a flight intended to prove the efficacy of delivering lifesaving transplant organs via drones. Given the necessity for speed in organ transplant procedures, the swiftness of drone transportation could be a major breakthrough in getting transplant organs to their destination on time while they’re still viable and while the patient who needs them is still alive.
If the history of human sports has shown us anything, it’s that people will always love a gladiatorial showdown. Delft University of Technology’s Micro Air Vehicle Lab came up with the idea for “DroneClash” an event where teams compete to build better drones, and better drone defenses, and pit them against one another in a raceway-like course that completes with a massive drone-on-drone showdown to see who can knock the others out of the sky.
This event means that there is not a single type of drone, but rather a massive evolutionary crockpot of possible drone designs, each attempting to get better at evading potential defenses and taking out other drones. I think it’s safe to say that there is a major sporting event in the making here.
Sometimes it’s not enough to simply look at something and you need to go for the “hands-on” approach. That’s where the ProDrone comes in, with its twin claw-ended arms, perfect for terrorizing the popula— I mean, fixing wires and flicking switches?
It’s actually an incredibly cool design, with grasping arms that allowing the powerful flying drone to “handle” a wide variety of mission objectives that smaller “unarmed” drones simply couldn’t manage to “grasp.” Okay, okay, I’m done with the puns. That was an “arm-full” anyway.
Drones are the future of information gathering, as the researchers over at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory know all too well. Their design of the Corrosion Resistant Aerial Covert Unmanned Nautical System proves this point, with a drone that can be released from a submarine to sit on the ocean floor for up to two months before it returns to the surface and flies itself away for retrieval.
Since drone parts that are specially manufactured can be expensive, the team used off-the-shelf parts for the exterior casing (the sensitive sensor equipment is protected within), allowing for lower costs that means that such devices will be even more feasible to use.
No matter how intense the defenses against the drug trade get, the U.S./Mexico border remains as permeable as pumice for the cartels who keep finding increasingly innovative ways to get their product to the paying customers in America. One of the latest developments in the competition between the cartels and the border guard was the use of drones by the cartels.
One drone, a DJI Spreading Wings s900, crashed with its payload, alerting the border patrol to this latest unsettling development. Considering how effective the cartels have been at getting drugs across the border, maybe decriminalization really is the best defense!
Many modern drone designs have a serious problem when it comes to durability and safety - the moving rotors are easily broken and can cause serious harm if their quick-spinning blades impact something soft (like a human appendage). That’s what Flyability’s GimBall is designed to overcome.
The GimBall is built with a geodesic dome surrounding it, allowing it to collide with surfaces and simply bounce off, protecting both the drone and anyone it might accidentally bump into. Designed with search and rescue operations in mind, the hope is that the GimBall will be able to safely traverse areas that would be risky for other drones, like the inside of sewer pipes.
In some parts of the world, there’s long been a social stigma against working in the food industry, and with recent developments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer and fewer people in the United States are willing to sign up for the awful stress and terrible wages provided by the food industry, meaning that there’s a huge shortage in the service industry. Some restaurants are looking to combat this with technology, namely with service drones that can deliver food straight from the kitchens.
One restaurant chain in Singapore, the Timbre group, has already employed the use of Infinium-Server drones to help fill the gap. While they don’t replace servers altogether, they do handle the kitchen-to-table delivery side of things. Coming on the heels of T.G.I. Friday’s use of drones during the holidays to seek out couples and hover above them with a bunch of mistletoe to inspiring a good holiday kiss, it seems that drones in the restaurant industry are here to stay.
More and more beaches have implemented the use of drones to keep swimmers and surfers safe from sharks.