better materials, autonomous navigation systems, and other technical advances have convinced a growing body of smart, wealthy, and apparently serious people that within the next few years we’ll have a self-flying car that takes off and lands vertically—or at least a small, electric, mostly autonomous commuter plane. About a dozen companies around the world, including startups and giant aerospace manufacturers, are working on prototypes. Furthest along, it appears, are the companies Page is quietly funding. “Over the past five years, there have been these tremendous advances in the underlying technology,” says Mark Moore, an aeronautical engineer who’s spent his career designing advanced aircraft at NASA. “What appears in the next 5 to 10 years will be incredible.”
The 50-ton craft can carry as much as 20 tons of sensors or other gear and operates at depths reaching 11,000 feet. While on the surface, it downloads route instructions from human minders via satellite.
The Voyager runs on batteries, which are recharged using diesel fuel every three days during a four- to eight-hour resurfacing. With a full 1,000-gallon diesel tank, the robot can travel a total of 6,500 nautical miles—enough to swim around Australia—vs. 200 miles tops for a typical drone craft.
Rwanda’s minister of youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana recently signed a new agreement with the San Francisco-based company Zipline, whose aerial vehicles — aka vampire drones — will be able to deliver blood to more than 22 transfusion facilities throughout the country. The life-saving potential of this technology has been tested by Doctors Without Borders, which used drones to fight tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea. And if the Rwandan experiment works, it won’t be long before other countries in the region decide to follow suit. For Rutayisire, the prospect of aerially connecting hospitals, tech hubs and markets across the continent is simply too exciting not to try. “With so much potential,” he says, “it’s hard to not be optimistic.”
When you hear the word "drone," you probably think of something either very useful or very scary. But could they have aesthetic value? Autonomous systems expert Raffaello D'Andrea develops flying machines, and his latest projects are pushing the boundaries of autonomous flight — from a flying wing that can hover and recover from disturbance to an eight-propeller craft that's ambivalent to orientation ... to a swarm of tiny coordinated micro-quadcopters. Prepare to be dazzled by a dreamy, swirling array of flying machines as they dance like fireflies above the TED stage.
When it is time to begin waste collection, the driver of the refuse truck presses a button. This starts the robot, and the drone simultaneously lifts from the roof of the truck. Flying through alleyways, the drone quickly finds the location of the refuse bins and communicates their positions to the robot. This is followed by automatic waste collection and emptying by the robot. In the cab, the driver is able to monitor the exact location of the robot and the emptying process.
The ROAR project, Robot-based Autonomous Refuse handling, is a collaboration between the Volvo Group, Chalmers University of Technology, Mälardalen University, Penn State University in the United States, and Renova.
Yamaha’s drones have been dusting crops in Japan for more than two decades and handle more than a third of the nation’s rice paddies. That’s helped farmers cope with an aging population that’s winnowed the agricultural labor supply. Yamaha’s drones also operate in South Korea and Australia and are used for research in France.
Although there are hundreds of rival agricultural drones, many are smaller, powered by batteries, and work mainly collecting data, monitoring disease, and mapping. The gasoline-powered, scooter-size RMax, which has two 2.1‑gallon tanks, can fly for an hour when fully loaded with chemicals. It is radio controlled and has an onboard GPS system to keep its flight precise. Aerial spraying can be done as much as five times faster than with tractors, says Brian Wynne, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Subcultron is a swarm of at least 120 self-directing, underwater robots being developed by scientists in six countries to monitor Venice’s polluted waterways and transmit environmental data to government officials.
Ehang says its 142-horsepower electric motor is good for an average cruising speed of 62 mph. The Ehang 184 has a span of 18 feet when fully unfolded, weighs 440 lbs, and can carry a passenger weighing up to 264 pounds. Its maximum flying altitude is 11,480 feet, and the AAV can fly for as long as 23 minutes at sea level.
And—get this—the Ehang 184 can be controlled entirely through a mobile app. In fact, Ehang says passengers only have to execute two commands: “take off” and “land.” Once you’ve set your course, the Ehang 184 will take off vertically, and use real-time sensor data (and presumably GPS) to keep you on course.
Buzzing along at 350 feet, it takes the ground-controlled aircraft just 11 minutes and 16 seconds to pass over 22.5 acres and capture 219 images.
If a yellow patch shows up on the near-infrared photographs, that alerts the staff at Highland Precision Ag — and eventually, the grower — that there is an issue with some of the plants. The drone team can then come back with more specialized cameras and lenses to pinpoint exactly the problem the plants have encountered, whether that’s spider mites, mold or something else that could kill them or hinder peak production.
Over the next three years, the system Highland Precision Ag is developing will give farmers custom computer dashboards on which they can monitor their crops, follow recipes for treating disease and treat only those areas of their fields that need it.
“Most farmers today just broadcast chemicals” across their fields, Maxwell said. “We want to get to the point we can build a recipe with fertilizer or chemical companies, a customized treatment plan. That will reduce the footprint, environmentally, while still producing the yields we need to produce for a hungry world.”
Known as FPV (first-person view) drone racing, or sometimes FPV quadcopter racing, the sport involves building and modifying quadcopters for speed and manoeuvrability, adding a virtual reality-style headset with a live video feed from the drone, and then finding safe and legal places to fly. Racers compete in heats or time trials, speeding around courses at anything up to 60mph (100km/h)—and having a load of fun in the process. This sport, which seems to appeal to aspiring pilots, makers, and computer game fans alike, has all the adrenaline of flight, while also providing enough crashes, smashes, and collisions to keep even the most ardent sports fans happy.