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The Future Commercial Drone


This blog was intended to be short, but at some point, it became a two parter.

In this first half we will cover Airframes, Batteries, Gimbals, and Flight Systems. The second part, due for release next week, features Safety, Extra Sensors and, Positioning and Metadata.

 

Where is it?

I have asked at trade shows, talked at conferences, highlighted problems to engineers, and questioned down the phone, but still no Drone manufacturer has released at least a hex Drone with full redundancies, a stable camera, and full 360 degree sensors.

 

Homebuilt

Most competent Drone companies build and maintain their own Drones. Extra features added from hardware and software are used to create safer and more stable aircraft. But what the sector really needs is a Drone for the commercial industry, a Drone with all safety features which come as standard and need little modification. A Drone which can Inspect, Survey, and offer the opportunity to take videos to be used for Promotional services.

Airframe

Let’s be honest, quad copters are redundant, dangerous, and have a limited future in commercial operations – they should all be converted to x8s for longevity.

DJI et al all offer a variation of hex, octo, or y6 configurations, but the most useful design of them all is Intel/Astec’s new Falcon 8+.  This isn’t really new at all – just a slight modification from the previous version, though their airframe is the best in terms of safety in urban environments, high winds, and operating in offshore rigours. The new features that Intel have brought in to enable double redundancies are the right way to go, but it may be too little too late for the ageing giant. The safety features inherent within the design may outweigh the awfully shaky gimbal, but only for Inspection and Survey purposes.

The airframe of the Future Commercial Drone is not important, apart from needing space for components and having 6 or more slots for motors and propellers. It would be nice however to be able to use Astecs design, but others can do a similar job. For this we either need smaller components or a modular design under the housing.

Batteries

The Drone industry desires fully modular systems with multiple batteries giving more redundancy. The DJI M600 is the best example of this. Why haven’t other Drone companies followed suit and developed these options? Commercial operations will demand more than two batteries in the future, it improves safety of the aircraft while reducing the chance of a catastrophic failure. I believe the major sticking point for a multi redundant battery system is the price and the recharge options. Once grounded, a M600 aircraft must have its batteries changed. All six. After four flights, 24 batteries need to be recharged. Even with the added flight time, it is very expensive to acquire sets of batteries and it is challenging to charge them all, especially in the field.

If the Future Commercial Drone had 4 batteries, it would be ample to offer exceptional redundancy features. Going with more just adds to the recharge time as well as the cost –  I believe some happy medium needs to be found.

Flight System

With these systems, you usually get what you pay for. Where this technology hopefully will be going, we should be able to get three different makes of flight controller and have them all work simultaneously through a controller board. The idea is that if one drops out, the other two can take the strain. It is even theorised that the data could be examined in post to determine further errors or accuracies present within the data. The issue with this at present is the size of the boards themselves. When modifying Drones, space is always the main concern. There is never enough space within the neatly designed housing, or on the legs, nor on the external sections. Often modifications need to be undertaken in a permanent way.

Miniaturisation of key components must occur soon for the progression of Drone technology. The Future Commercial Drone must have tiny components that may not be overly customisable due to their size. We are still in the days of Arduino and the Tinkerers (good band name!), but with any technological revolution, the hobbyists will get swept aside unless they can provide something the market needs (hint hint!).

Gimbal

Blurred images and footage are the bane of a Drone pilot’s life. Often a gust of high wind or a bit of sheer can ruin a well-timed shot. Steady Drones breed clear images and when combined with an open gimbal, many more services can be achieved with a single Drone. Any camera in its weight class can be added to the Drone with an open gimbal including infrared, multi spectral or LiDAR. The best gimbals, such as the MoVi range, have more depth so extra lenses can be added and the centre of gravity can be adjusted. This creates many more options for multiple payloads if the weight allows.

I want a system which can take our multi spectral, our IR, and a GH4 and for them all to be easily interchangeable through a modular system. I understand that DJI have been trying to do this but the cost of their equipment far exceeds the quality. The Future Commercial Drone needs an open gimbal to make it versatile.

…..

Part Two next week.

 

Charles Holmes