Drone Tech Digest - June 2017

Drones for spider mite control

The UC Davis department of entomology and nematology has received a grant from the US Department of Agriculture to investigate the use of drones in the detection of spider mite infestations in strawberry plants and then treating them with the introduction of predatory mites. The researchers aim to identify infested plants by using drones to analyse the plant canopy for differences in reflectance that might indicate spider mites undermining the plant. Drones will also be investigated as a means to disperse predatory mites at spider mite hotspots. The research is expected to end in 2020.

Large solar powered drone

According to China Daily, a Chinese solar powered drone named Rainbow has reached a flying altitude of 20,000 meters. Rainbow has a length of 14 metres and a wingspan of about 45 metres – the wings have an array of solar panels mounted to them to power the drone. The craft took off in the morning and arrived back at the same airbase in Northern China in the evening. The designers say that it will be several years before the drone would be ready to go on sale. It is believed that potential buyers include government departments and companies involved in communications, the Internet, earth observation, emergency response and marine survey and inspection.

3G network used for autonomous drone piloting

French Drone company Delair-Tech flew a drone 30 miles (50 km) beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) using a 3G mobile communications network for real-time communications to guide the drone. The demonstration was carried out with RTE, a French power company, to inspect its electrical power lines. Two pilots were used in both the landing and take-off phases of the experiment. In between the drone was autonomously piloted using GPS data for location. For the trial the company was granted permission by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (GDCA) to fly BVLOS in a designated flight path.

Lilium Jet takes flight

Lilium has demonstrated its electric, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), autonomous, fixed wing plane near Munich, Germany. In a video of the maiden flight the Lilium Jet is shown to land and take-off vertically by turning thrusters in its wings horizontal to the ground and then circle around in the air while performing simple maneuverers, all without a human pilot. The company’s website claims the jet will be able to travel over a 300km range at a speed of 300 km/s. Lilium sees the jet being used in on-demand taxi services in the future.

CSAIL makes a multimode drone

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL) have designed an autonomous drone that can both fly and move on the ground. They added the ability to drive by adding two small motors with wheels attached under the drone – a small custom-built drone that was the result of the teams previous work. In simulations the drone could fly for 90 metres or drive for 252 metres on a single charge. The driving component reduced the drone’s battery life meaning that the total flight distance on one charge was reduced by 14%. They tested the drone in a mock city environment and it completed a set route without collision. The team sees the technology being used in flying cars in the future.

Amazon fulfilment centre patent, drone hive

Amazon has filed a patent for a multi-storey vertical drone centre that would enable drones to land at docking bays on the exterior to be loaded with cargo by human staff and then set off to deliver it. Amazon proposes that these beehive looking structures be built in urban environments to enable faster deliveries. The drones would be able to recharge at the site and each site could have a drone command centre (air traffic control for drones).

Boeing and Huntingdon Ingalls partner for submarine drones

Boeing has announced a partnership with Huntingdon Ingalls (HI), a ship building company, to produce unmanned underwater military drones. The partnership should see HI continuing to help Boeing continue its work on producing an Extra Large UUV for the US Navy’s Advanced Undersea Prototyping program. Boeing is already testing its Echo Voyager UUV off the coast of California. It is fully autonomous, and requires no support vessel for launch or recovery enabling it to stay at sea for periods of months before returning to port.

Facebook Aquila

Facebook has carried out a second test of its Aquila drone that is intended to provide Internet to unconnected areas. The fixed-wing drone – that looks like a boomerang with four propellers attached – flew for 1 hour 46 minutes and landed with minimal damage (landing involves skidding to a halt on the ground). Aquila is powered by solar energy harvested by solar panels on its wings. It used less than 2000W of power on its first test which lasted 90 minutes. The device moves at a speed of 10-15mph when flying upwind and can fly for 60-90 days according to Facebook. The wingspan is about the same as a Boeing 737 but it weighs about the same as a grand piano. It is designed for a cruising altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet.

Seed bombing

Coinciding with World Environment Day scientists at IISc (Indian Institute of Science), in collaboration with the government of Karnataka and Dr HN Science Centre, used drones to seed bomb barren land in Karnataka, India. The seeds are soaked in water for 24 hours before being dropped from the drone to make them germinate more readily. The drones are guided by GPS systems and drop the seeds from canisters from 50m altitude at regular intervals. The team is currently working on the drone hardware which they see as being crucial to scaling up the experiment. The project is intending to cover 10,000 acres near Doddaballapura over the next three years.

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